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23rd of July 2018

Men



A 4th of July Contemplation: A Friar Monk Goes to War - The Good Men Project

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I was a contemplative friar monk “only one with God” with tattoos and a sharpened cold steel U.S. Marine Corps Ka-Bar fighting knife in my cloister. I had already put some “hard time” contemplating his existence in the ancient Roman Catholic religious order.

I even had a new name. I had a new life! How could I be free in this new life? Ironically, I had always treasured my military service as an act of freedom. The friars were like the military, I joined exercising free will.

Brotherhood was not new to me, yet in this exercise of free will, I had been adopted by another group of brothers, brothers who wore robes instead of camouflage fatigues. Shortly after the two military stints of honorable service, I brought my worn eyes to the Dominican friars. It was a quest for an inner freedom in “…the home of the brave and land of the free.” I invested my mind, body and soul towards my new calling. I was a Dominican Order of Preachers friar.

When I joined the Order, I had renounced the world and even my name. In my robe, the young friar was known as Brother Augustine. As a younger man, I had a taste of a deep brotherhood in the US Marines, but now, I had joined another tribe and left the barracks for a monastery cloister.

The Dominican Friars are one of the oldest band of brothers. They do not bear arms, but they carry books to do intellectual battle in the war zones of philosophy and theology. This group was an intellectual fighting machine that ruled the complex debates of the Middle Ages. Who gave the Jesuits their intellectual foundation? The Dominicans.

These friars were not in a Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie eating meat pies and laughing with the merry men. Dominican Friars carry books to save the world by piercing the minds of others.

◊♦◊

I felt liberated in my new life of prayer and study. I had a “metanoia” (a Patristic Greek word meaning “transformation”) when I decided to join the Order. This transformation could not be interrupted by the harlot of the French Quarter or by those a la mode cosmopolitan femmes in the stacks of Yale’s Sterling Library. I chose a life beyond the conventionality of mowing a lawn with a good wife, some good kids and a good job. These are truly good. But I found a unique expression of the good, true, and beautiful.

St. Augustine is known for his confessions. My confession is a lust for what was happening in Babylon, and it  was drawing me away from the Order and everything else. I yearned to be “Over There”; The Iraq War started and I felt that I needed to be in the fight and not in the Dominican monastery.

◊♦◊

My confession let to a spiritual irony. My confession also let to my immediate superior. Father Marty, superior provincial, and I met to discuss my status in the Order.

Father Marty was new and did not know me. I had been under Father Alberto Rodriguez for 7 years before Father Marty became Provincial. I missed the Havana Club Rum filled chats about religious anthropology with the Pablo Neruda sounding Cuban friar.

And yet, I had a deep love for Father Marty. Father Marty had an endearing presence. And now, he was the Superior and desired to check on me. No, I wasn’t the friar down in the Bayou carrying a pistol. I had to share my confession. I just wanted dispensation from my vows.

Father Marty shared his fraternal words. There was just a polite stoic smile that exuded a mild intimacy. “Is there anything the Order can do?” Father Marty asked. A 600 year old ancient Roman Catholic Order flashed across my mind. Nostalgia flooded my mind, full of wonderment and exploration. I felt the space between two distinct hearts, loving the same story of tradition and brotherhood.

There was a looming fact: both I and Marty, the two of us, found freedom in one of the deepest fraternities in human history. The vows of the Order were not chains. The challenging lifestyle for friars was liberating for me because I found great peace in prayers four times a day with my community.

◊♦◊

As a young friar, I found the freedom in books and in many dusty libraries. I was liberated by my reading desk in the cloister cell. I felt that my freedom was also tied to a deep contemplative tradition. Hey, we all choose what makes us happy, right? I found this freedom in the Dominicans.

This tight spiritual fraternity uses the motto “Veritas” (“truth,” in Latin) long before Harvard used it as a trademark. Before Harvard, this deeply contemplative group pioneered the fields philosophy, education, the humanities, international law, art and science. The Black-hooded friars have a legacy tied to the knights of the crusades.

They even birthed the ultimate love story: Where did Shakespeare get the idea for “Romeo and Juliet”? The Dominicans A Dominican friar first wrote the story long before Shakespeare got a hold of it. Father Marty and I knew that we were part of something beyond ourselves.

In ironically gentle words, I asked my superior, “…Always will I be a Dominican Friar?”

The Superior responded, “Come on back when you are ready, we are your brothers.”

◊♦◊

After Marty’s endearing words, I left the Order. I gave up my freedom. I left an experience of true love for the badlands of Iraq. I returned to the military and left my robe for a rifle. I left a freeing love for sporadic intrusive thoughts of two dead Iraqi boys.

These days, I am shackled to two boys every night. There is a price to freedom in and out of a war zone: we struggle to be free.

On the 4th of July, besides the parades and fireworks, I will contemplate freedom. I will just contemplate it.

I invite you to contemplate your freedom on a day of Red, White, and Blue.—Join and crush a stereotype or two—Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

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