1: Saved at Denny’s + The Part-time Friar

No matter what your specific beliefs, our world is touched and shaped by faith. Our faith–or lack of faith–influences who we are, how we interact with each other, how we interpret everyday life.

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In this episode we hear two stories. (Jump to the Short-term Friar.)

Saved at Denny’s

In the wee hours of the morning, college activity typically migrates to gathering places: bars, dorms, and for me…Denny’s.

A buddy of mine, Joe, and I would frequent the diner where college people like us would go and talk about the world, and solve problems, and just work through all the college issues that may be causing angst.

I would bring a deck of cards with me and deal out hands of Blackjack while waiting for food and waxing philosophical.

On this memorable night we were sitting on the edge of this restaurant, I’m in a booth and Joe’s sitting in a chair across the table from me.

Joe is also Catholic, and we had the kind of friendship that allowed talk of religion and philosophy, be it in a sailboat or in a Denny’s.

A young guy sitting next to us, wearing a tie, and is drinking a coffee if I remember right, and he turns to us and asks how we’re doing.

I don’t know this guy, I’m not the kind of person who accepts a conversation right away without a bit of skepticism of what’s going on. That’s not my first impulse to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

I keep dealing Blackjack in peace.

Joe on the other hand, was fine with the random conversation, and he played along.

Pretty directly after the greeting, the guy asked if we believed in Jesus—that’s to say, are we Christians. I continue to deal Blackjack, but Joe answers yes.

I stay quiet, and I’m still not looking over at the guy. I’m just waiting for my food–Moon Over My Hammy or whatever.

But then this guy in a tie looks at me and he asks, “what about you?”

I say yes.

And he asks me if I’ve been saved.

Now this could be taken in a few ways, but for the sake of this random encounter my answer is: I’m not sure.

He kind of looks at me, and sits up, and gets a little revved up, and he tells me he knows he’s saved, and he knows he’s going to Heaven.

“Whoa, really?!” I said.

Sure, he tells me, he accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that’s it.

At this point I put the cards down, and I say I really don’t know how he can be so sure. I like to think that I have a good chance: I believe in God, and I continue to work to be a good person, a charitable person.

But I can’t be sure.

I can’t say I’ve got it…I’ve won…call it a day, like this guy seemed to be saying. There’s the possibility that I come up short in the end. I hope not. I hope by the end I will have done enough to earn God’s grace, which means you’re just kind of working hoping you’ll be noticed at the end, and God says you did a really good job, and I’m going to help you the rest of the way, because that’s the only way you’re going to make it.

Part of this interaction might have been a difference of religious perspective. As a Catholic I don’t believe in justification by faith alone (Sola fide). That’s to say I need to believe in God, and have faith of course, but I also need to actively exercise that faith in my life doing good works.

Faith and works together is the Catholic thing.

Catholics also don’t believe in the principle of Once Saved, Always Saved. That is, once you’re saved (once you’re Christian) you’re always saved. Game over.

But just remember this back and forth is taking place in a Denny’s at midnight, or later. I wasn’t expecting a religious conversation with a stranger while dealing Blackjack.

The fellow and I had a few other short exchanges, including one about the importance of money which was much more a focus for the other fellow, than for me in the conversation.

But eventually this guy thanked Joe and me, and got up, and walked slowly out of the Denny’s. I don’t think he expected the interaction to go that either; to have been as robust as it was.

I didn’t really notice how the people around us reacted during this discussion, until I did. It seemed that most of our part of the restaurant had been listening.

A guy next to us dressed all in black, with metallic jewelry, and facial piercings, looking a little goth to me, turns to me and he says, “thank you so much.”

This is just part two of a surreal situation, really.

This guy has been listening intently on the other side of Joe and me says, “thank you so much for having an honest conversation, and having an open mind, and talking through things, and explaining what you believe in a measured way. It was so enriching.”

That meant a lot to me.

I had no idea how many people were listening, but it was a respectful exchange. It was a Denny’s full of faith.

Just talking about what you believe, and asking questions, and trying to understand each other a little better.

And that’s really part of the thought behind this podcast.

The Short-term Friar

Amid a shortage of men looking to join religious orders in Switzerland, one Swiss man—the only one at the time I spoke to him—was half-way through a trial period with the Capuchins. He signed up to live, work and pray with the brothers for three years and then he can return to life as before, or stay on for another three-year-term.

To reach this short-term Friar, one must traverse Rapperswil’s cobblestone streets from Lake Zurich to the towering stone walls and medieval castle.

Past a rose garden, a small vineyard, and a pair of water fountains is the entry to the city’s monastery—formed to keep a Catholic presence in St. Gallen on the border with Protestant Zurich.

Overlooking his garden stood Brother Fridolin.

“We grow here flowers for the church, and also vegetables, and fruits…and kiwis…we have kiwis,” he says, proud of the harvest.

When I met Brother Fridolin while reporting for World Radio Switzerland, he had spent the last year and a half as a Capuchin Friar with a limited contract. For three years he agreed to give up his work in Lucerne economic development to live with a Catholic order.

“It was my 45 birthday, and I realize the first part of my life is over. And I travel a lot. I was always traveling with the bicycle—more than 70 countries,” he says. “This was also the point that for me religion became much more important.”

Brother Fridolin was raised Catholic, but his religious interest really picked up during the last few years. He spent time with a religious community in Neuchâtel to distance himself from his past life, and to begin anew.

“It was not so difficult because I was always interested in new things. So after 10 years, after 15 years it is necessary to make change,” Brother Fridolin says matter-of-factly.

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Though he had dated, Brother Fridolin was never married, perhaps making the choice to leave Lucerne less difficult. To join the monastery even for a short-time he took vows, which he admits probably deters some prospective friars.

“A lot of people especially in this time, they are afraid for the future. And a second part is also because we have here no sexuality, and so I think also a lot of men my age the want to be married, they want a relationship,” he says, admitting this is a difficult part of attracting participants to the monastery or other orders.

But there’s something deeper at play for Brother Fridolin.  It’s about contentment outside what the modern world says is important.

“When I am outside I see a lot of people who is a little bit unhappy,” Brother Fridolin says seriously, but with compassion. “And I am thinking, people must thinking about why we are unhappy, and what can we do against it. Not everybody can go to the monastery, that is also clear, but this could be a possibility to give to your life a new change.”

Brother Fridolin was the only short-term friar in Switzerland, though he hailed the benefits. He said he doesn’t have stress anymore, because work gets done when it gets done. He got a day off to see friends, or ride his bicycle. He interacted with the public too, running the monastery store and caring for customers at the monastery guest house.

But he admits there were challenges.

“Our average of the age here in Rapperswil is 68. So my brothers a lot of them they could be my father. It is not a problem, but sometime I miss people in my age.”

And that is a problem facing religious orders all over the country—attracting the next generation.

To Brother Fridolin, though the community provides all he needs. He says turning to this life focusing so deeply on his faith…he felt free.

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