An open letter to Murray Bodo

(An open letter to Murray Bodo upon reading his latest book, Gathering Shards: A Franciscan Life.)

Dear Murray,

I have just completed reading your latest work, Gathering Shards: A Franciscan Life, and as your brother in Francis, I just want to say a simple word of thanks. As you gathered the various shards of your own life, you did the same for me.

You transported me to my own days at St. Francis Seminary where you taught me English literature, which was the beginning of my own love for words. Your stories about Aubert Grieser, Aldric Heidlage, and Kenan Hozie reminded me of my own interaction with them. You put me again into the classroom at Duns Scotus College where Leander Blumlein taught us about the intentional and affective fallacies, as well as introducing us to works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor and so many more. Leander directed our plays where I, too, pretended and cultivated imagination (I had the lead in Paddy Chayefsky’s Gideon during my senior year!), which taught us poise and presence and confidence. Roy Effler introduced us to Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, though I did not realize what important Franciscan lights they were at the time. Your memories of Benno Heidlage helped me remember the guidance of my own Novice Director, Joe Rayes, through some dark and confusing times. As I read, I gathered my own shards.

Though not an only child or from the Southwest, I took a geographically shorter but similar journey to Franciscan life. Like you, I was baptized by a friar (Ed Overberg), mentored by the friars at St. George in Cincinnati, served early morning Masses, played priest with Necco wafers, played Cowboys and Indians and with red fire trucks. Like most everyone I would guess, I, too, had to move from piety to spirituality, to come to a more mature appreciation and integration of the gift of sexuality, and my relationship with my father and mother. From my year in the province at Jemez Pueblo, N.M., I can appreciate some of your love for the beauty of the desert, the mountains, and the culture of Native Americans. I was in Jemez during my last year of temporary profession, and, as I was pondering solemn profession, I can still remember reading in the chapel there a line from one of your books: "No vow to God is ever one-sided," and it gave me courage to take the risk. As I read, I gathered my own shards.

Though not as constant a visitor to Assisi as you, I too, know its power and peace. I remember coming to a deeper relationship with Francis and Clare by going on pilgrimage, visiting the sacred places, walking where they walked, praying where they prayed. I can remember the geraniums, the gates, the olive trees, the plaza, and of course the gelato. Assisi feels like home to every Franciscan. As I read, I gathered my own shards.

I have attempted once or twice to write poetry, but that is not my gift. But I have come to appreciate the beauty and power of words. I experience some of what you wrote about the creative processing and encountering the Word through words that emerge in writing and preaching. As I read, I gathered my own shards. Thank you for introducing me to your parents, to Denise Levertov, Bertie Lomas, Fr. Francis Halpin and the other guides of your life. Thank you for introducing me to Francis and Clare and for sharing this journey and dream as brothers. Your insights have given a generation of Franciscans a way to understand and talk about our Franciscan calling. You have opened up the mystery of the Advent and Christmas of the Soul, and by gathering the shards, to prepare a dwelling place for God who will overflow and bring forth Christ in our lives. Thank you for helping me find my own way into this mystery of God’s great mercy.

Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

Purchase Gathering Shards, a Franciscan Life from Tau Publishing