Fr. Jim Friedel, O.S.A., has been an Augustinian since his first profession of vows in 1958. Over the course of his ministry, he has spent many years in Augustinian formation and as a retreat leader. Fr. Friedel is now assigned to St. Jude Catholic Church in New Lenox, Illinois. He is a member of the Augustinian Executive Committee for the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign.
What was it that called you to be an Augustinian?
It began for me with my parents. We were a lower middle-class family, no car, never owned a home, but there was a profound simple faith that said it was important to pray, to go to Mass on Sunday... but also to share with others what we had even though it might not be very much. So I would see them quietly helping people in need in so many and varied ways.
The coach of the local public high school visited my parents and asked if I could baseball and basketball there. My parents were understanding but said, "No, you are going to a Catholic high school." Well, the closest Catholic high school was Mendel which meant a four block walk to the bus and then the train (the Illinois Central Railroad) and then another six block walk to Mendel.
After my initial disappointment wore off, I truly enjoyed Mendel. The monastery had not yet been built so the priests lived in the high school. I learned to like them quite a bit. A couple in particular took me under their wing and brought me from a so-so student to being on the honor role. My parents loved that!
I had no idea of being a priest. In grade school, I had gotten kicked off the altar servers before I served my first Mass.
I graduated and went to college in Iowa. While there I realized it was time to get serious about my future. I thought of the priests at Mendel: Fr. Bill O'Rourke and Fr. Jimmy Lyne, in particular. That June I spoke with them and told them of my thoughts and wonderings. Long story short, they said why not give it a try. I talked it over with my folks and they told me what most parents told their sons pondering about priesthood, "We would be thrilled for you, but do this for yourself, not for us... If it works out, fine; if not, we are here for you." The rest is history.
What would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today? How are the Augustinians still relevant in today's society?
The first line of our Rule states, "Before all else, the reason you have come together is to search out the presence of God..." I believe this is the primary reason we are relevant in today's society. We are to make manifest the presence of God. My homespun definition of spirituality is that it is the awareness that we are more than who we think we are, that "the more than who we think we are' is the very presence of God deep within."
We are called to be signs (Augustine would call the vows 'sacraments,' signs) to others of God's presence, God's love. This is not done out of arrogance or from a stance that we are better than others, but simply as a sign, a reminder of God's presence. We believe we do this best in a community.
It seems to me that is what the world aches for: an awareness of God's presence, that they are the beloved of God, and of their need to share this love with those in need.
Why do you think this campaign is particularly important at this time?
If we as Augustinians are to continue to strive to be a sign, a reminder to others of God's love for them while serving as teachers, missionaries, parochial ministers, etc., then there must be a financial base upon which to draw to meet our obligations. Besides friendship, encouragement, and prayer, this will demand a structured monetary system of support. We have been blessed with very fine people who are willing to assist in this effort. Indeed, this is their area of expertise, and we are most grateful for it... both to support those interested in following the Augustinian way of life, as well as to assist those who have borne the heat of the day and are entering the final stage of life.
Do you have any advice for those currently discerning a religious vocation?
A couple things. Find a spiritual director or a good friend with whom you can walk the path of discernment, someone with whom you can speak quite openly. The Augustinians sponsor "Come and See" days where you can visit formation houses to get a taste of what life is really like there.
Have a warm humanity. Be in touch with yourself... this seems so obvious, but I would suggest that it is not so obvious... but it is so very necessary. We need people who are warm, compassionate, prayerful, and intellectually competent people (you would not got to a medical doctor who flunked out of med school). Irenaeus said that the Glory of God is a person fully human, fully alive.
Edward Leen, an old time spiritual master, was giving a retreat to a group of Trappists. During his first conference he said, "Have any of you guys never been in love?" Well, who is going to raise their hand to that question?! Of course no one did. Leen then continued, "Well, if you have never been in love, go out, fall in love, come back, we will speak of God's love." Not bad avice, I'd say.
Why should others go the extra mile to make a special gift to this campaign?
The simple answer is because they believe in the same things we as Augustinians are trying to do... to be a sign to our world of God's love and the belief that we best do this by being surrounded by like-minded people who support, encourage, love, and if necessary forgive one another. All people are called to poverty (that we use God's gifts to use wisely and well)... all are called to chastity (that we are warm, sexual beings called to be compassionate and loving people, especially to the poor)... all are called to obedience (that we are called to listen to the cry particularly of the poor).
We are all in this together... we need one another to be this sign, this sacrament in our sometimes troubled world.