Brother John Bosco is a Franciscan Friar based in East London, UK.
Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.
Last week a lady brought her new-born baby girl into our soup kitchen and invited me to hold her. As I took her into my arms I became aware of the beauty and fragility of the human condition and the miracle of new life. Here was a tiny human being, a unique creation, living and breathing, entirely dependent upon others for her survival and growth. I could feel her little heart beat and her warmth as I held her and it was as if time stopped for a moment. The stresses of the day disappeared and I felt as though I had glimpsed eternity.
How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?
I would define wonder as child-like openness and reverence to the beauty and mystery of creation.
Awe is the humble realisation that creation is so incredibly intricate and complex, so beyond our capacity to fully comprehend, that its first cause must be an all-powerful and supremely intelligent Being.
Curiosity is the innate sense in us to explore and find meaning in things.
Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
It comes from having a child-like, open and innocent heart and the realization that we stand before a great mystery – the created universe and the Being behind its creation. To cultivate a sense of wonder requires wasting time in contemplating creation and exploring things that fascinate us without wanting to grasp them or to over-analyse them. To stand before them in contemplation and let their Creator speak to the depths of our own being
What is a Franciscan Friar? Can you tell me about the vows, dress, daily routine and mission?
A Franciscan Friar is a disciple of Jesus Christ who follows the rule of life laid down by St. Francis of Assisi at the beginning of the 13th century. The Franciscan family has existed since that time in many forms and variations throughout history. Our small community was founded in the Bronx in New York in 1987 by eight Capuchin Franciscans as a reform movement. We are consecrated and make three vows known as the evangelical counsels. They are poverty, chastity and obedience. We dress in the traditional grey habit of the early Franciscans, with a cord around our waist with rosary beads attached and we wear sandals. The Greyfriars as we are known have been in England since 1223 and there are many places named after them throughout the country.
We are called first and foremost to be men of prayer and so we have times set aside for prayer, both communal and individual for about four hours during the day. Our first Office begins at 6.00am and last Office is at 9.15pm. We have two hours of the four set aside for silent prayer, one in common the other together. We are called to pray always though, and to guard against anything that could extinguish the spirit of prayer.
Our mission, or apostolate as we call it, is two-fold: to live and work with the poor and to bring the Good News of Jesus to our world (evangelisation). Our work with the poor varies between the different houses. Here in East London we have a friary from which we run a soup kitchen for about 50-60 people and we also have a day where we offer medical care, showers, haircuts and clothes. Our work of evangelisation is varied and takes many forms; missions, retreats, street evangelisation, chaplaincy, media broadcasts and pro-life work being some of them.
We live simple lives. We don’t have TV or internet in our friaries, and we beg for our needs as we don’t charge for anything that we do. Our life in community is very important to us and it is from our prayer and fraternity that all our other activities flow.
Can you tell me about your own journey and what drew you towards becoming a friar?
When I was 22 years old I had a spiritual conversion after a period of seeking Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Oneness. I had been looking for them in the wrong places – in created things and man-made philosophy and ideas. I found the One who I had been seeking, the source of all things, in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and I committed my life to following Him wherever He would lead me. I studied piano technology and eventually set up a business working as a piano technician. I bought a flat in South East London and although I achieved the goals that I had set I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus in a more radical way. I met the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal when they planted a house in East London in 2000. Their radical expression of Christian living impacted me – especially their gritty work with the poor and homeless, their simplicity, their life of prayer and their joyful proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. I joined in 2002 and moved to Harlem, New York for my time of formation. I lived in the USA for five years and then in 2007, the year I made my profession of vows for life, I was sent to the friary in East London. Since becoming a friar I know that this is what I was created to do, that this is my destiny, and I experience ever deepening levels of peace, joy and wonder, although not always without challenges. In fact it is as a result of challenges and difficulties that great growth takes place and leads ultimately to greater joy, freedom and peace.
There are now 60+ interviews on this website from a diverse group of people. One of the repeating themes is the curse of busyness and how it zaps both creativity and curiosity. What have you learnt from leading (I’m assuming here) a quieter and less frantic pace of life?
Having set times of prayer built into our day is vital. I would say that everybody needs to have at least some time everyday where they can be alone, away from distractions to spend time in prayer. We probably need to apportion some time in our busy schedules where we have nothing set so we can ‘waste’ this time in contemplation. Social media is one of the main reasons we are so busy. Turn off the phone for an hour or a day or even a week! Just as we look after our bodies (sometimes very carefully!) so we need to make conscious and bold decisions to look after our souls. Some of the greatest discoveries and solutions have been made not through frenetic thinking and doing but through resting in the quiet of contemplation seeking the Source of all that is True, Good, One and Beautiful.
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