We fear the loss of faith. Americans have consistently been obsessed with religion since the Puritans fled England to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony. National Public Radio ran a weeklong series just after the New Year about young American adults losing their religion. One of the people interviewed for the series is a Franciscan priest by the name Father Michael Surufka.
When I heard his name my brain at first froze and then went into overdrive. Mike Surufka? How many guys are there by that name in the world? Probably several, but only one that I knew and he is a Franciscan priest.
Almost thirty years ago I met a very alive and energetic young Mike Surufka in the Franciscan novitiate at St. Michael’s Parish in the heart of the Milwaukee, WI, ghetto. I had met one of his superiors while on retreat at New Melleray Abbey. Father James Kendzierski and I began our acquaintance while on retreat and continued it in Milwaukee. It was from men like Fr. James and his confreres that I discovered a truly deep, mature adult faith in the Divine.
St. Michael’s was a very alive place to be. In spite of it being a novitiate where the men in formation are normally cut off from outsiders for their time of personal spiritual growth, both the superiors and the novices welcomed me. I was given the honor of joining them for meals, prayers and recreation. I was very nearly tempted to apply to join the Assumption Province of Franciscans.
While the radio series talked about how young people now seem to be losing their religion because they no longer attend public religious ceremonies or belong to religious faiths as in earlier generations, it’s important to keep our eyes on men like Fr. James and Fr. Mike.
Totally out of the blue, I decided to look up the Assumption Province and see what more I could learn about Fr. Mike. It is pure Divine providence to discover that he is now living in Chicago and serving as the vocations director for the Franciscans. The young man I knew was brand new to religious life. The voice I heard on the radio was the man who now travels around the country meeting young men who are interested in joining a very young eight hundred year old way of life.
Fr. Mike and the other novices helped me during a very difficult time in my life. They gave me a place where I felt I belonged. They were a bunch of men who cared. Period. They didn’t care if I was rich or poor, on top of the world or looking up to see bottom. They cared because I was another human, like them, searching for answers in my life. They gave me a place where hard answers came in little ways. They let me eat with them, but they also let me clean up the dining room with them. They let me watch tv with them, but at the end of the night I drove through the dark streets to my apartment. They gave me a place to learn practical love in action.
Discovering Fr. Mike’s address on the Province’s website, I sent him an email. I have no expectation that he remembers me even vaguely, but he was kind enough to respond. He said that if I knew of any young men who might be interested in their life, to let him know. I asked him to come to the South. There are many people, men and women, whom I have met here who want what Fr. Mike has. They have just never seen in it action.
It is far less important in this life if we belong to the right religion or any religion at all than it is that we have faith. We have a deep rooted need to feel our belief, to know and feel that we are loved beyond reason and reasoning. The most enlightened men and women are those who have known and shown that they are loved by a Divine Love without explanation. They pass on that love, that very source of the divine within themselves, by reaching out to us with their love. We can imagine Divine Love. We experience It through other people.
It may make for good advertising sales to talk about losing religion, but America is a land of remarkably resilient faith and spirituality. It is too easy to mistake change and growth for loss. Religion in the entire world has undergone tremendous change in the last fifty years, possibly the greatest actual change in hundreds of years. Yet, faith remains.
Men and women of faith bring faith. They extend to others the desire to live good lives. The example of Divine Love that we see in others, in a church or on a beach or a playground, leads us to pass it on.
The people who extended their faith to me and gave me a sense of faith in myself are those I most desire to emulate.
Heaven is always present. Heaven is always here, now, active in our daily lives. Seeing heaven lived helps us live heaven.