For the past few years I’ve had the privilege of calling Mike Gannon my friend. I had the good fortune to meet him via social media, and although we’ve only had the chance to meet in person a couple of times since, the first time we did he gave me a terrific gift: a book surveying Superman’s comic book adventures in the 1970’s. Not everyone “gets” why I find the superhero genre fun and informative, but Mike certainly does.
During that time Mike has been trying to find his way in the world, after having faced a number of challenges in his life. Fortunately, he seems to have hit upon the right path, as he explains in this post detailing his arrival at this next, momentous point. For tomorrow, Mike is joining the Discalced Carmelite Friars, more popularly known as the Carmelites, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During his initial period there, known as the “Postulancy”, he will not have access to social media, and so I wanted to take this moment while I still can, to wish him well as he takes a truly heroic step this Phone Booth Friday.
I think the perception among many non-Catholics, and perhaps among some Catholics as well, is that joining a religious order and going off to live in a monastery or convent is a decision to run away from the world. Yet ask anyone who actually knows men and women who make this kind of choice, and you will be quickly corrected of that misconception. To spend your days trying to draw closer to God in prayer and in a life of service to Him and others, whether that be within the walls of an enclosure or out and about in the world performing selfless acts, is to strip away all of the things that distract us from a singular fate shared by all human beings, regardless of their race or creed.
All of this “stuff”, in the material world that surrounds us, is useless if it’s not something that brings us closer to God. Christ tells us repeatedly in the Gospels that although it is not impossible, it is very difficult for the materially rich to enter the Kingdom of God, if they are weighed down and burdened by their material possessions and concerns. No matter how successful you may become in your chosen profession, or how many awards, investments, cars, homes, and other indications of status you may have, at the end of the day you will be forced to relinquish all of it, and go and meet your Maker. Hopefully you will do so peacefully, in your own bed at home and after a long, full life unmarked by loss, illness, or pain. For most however, that reckoning will occur under less pleasant circumstances.
In choosing to strip away the things that could stand as obstacles in the way to his love of God and following his Faith, Mike is making a truly heroic decision, although I daresay he would not categorize it as such. The plain and scratchy robe of the Carmelite friar does not have the sheen and protective qualities of a superhero suit. And yet at the same time, it’s more beautiful and more real than any suit of futuristic materials that Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark could come up with.
What will happen in the coming weeks and months for Mike I do not know. My hope is that the Carmel will be everything he wanted and more. He will be working that out as he goes, and he needs our prayers and support as he does so. The choice to stop living for oneself, and start living for God and others, is not easy.
Saving kittens stuck in trees or planets from annihilation is all very well in superhero fiction. These stories remind us of the virtue of heroic selflessness, and putting oneself at risk in order to help others, by saving them from material distress. Yet through his pursuit of the religious life, Mike hopes to do something even more important, albeit in a humble, prayerful way, by trying to save souls. I wish him Godspeed in his journey, and ask my readers to please keep him in your prayers.