Living Boldly in Jacksonville, FL
Alex writes about the new burst of life he is witnessing
After having discerned out of seminary, I chose to live and work in South Florida as a teacher at a Catholic school where a few friends from the Movement were also working. The pastor was incredibly welcoming and I quickly felt at home. However, after going through the pandemic, and ultimately having missed the company of my loved ones, I made the hard decision to move back to my roots in Jacksonville, FL, or as the natives call it, “The Last Bold City of the South.”
Being bold is a phrase I would never use to describe Jacksonville. The lights, the sounds, and the Spanish flare of Miami or Fort Lauderdale are not in the city we just call “Jax”. However, it definitely was home. I moved into an apartment that is ten minutes from where my high school graduation took place and I could drive anywhere and remember something of my upbringing. I did not desire to move back to Jacksonville, but it has undeniably become my home again.
One of the things that worried me about moving to Jacksonville was not being able to have a School of Community. I discovered the Movement through my professor and friend Joep at the seminary in Miami and my experience of the charism was fostered over the summer of 2015 in Gainesville. Back then, we would meet at the house of a memor domini, with a young couple, and two young women would travel from Jacksonville. It seemed that there was always one or two people who followed the Movement in Jacksonville. However, It seemed like all the friends in Jacksonville never had certain plans of making Jacksonville a permanent home. On the other hand, the School of Community in Gainesville always got bigger as more students joined them and others made the city home.
I shared this concern with one of my friends and I was struck by his response - “the work of the School of Community happens wherever you are. You do the work of School of Community no matter where you are. Follow the Movement that has captivated your heart in the reality of your circumstances.” I was so struck by his words and declared that I would not travel to another city for School of Community. I was convicted to do the work and to allow the providence of God to generate a School of Community if this was His plan. I felt prophetic when I made the decision, however soon after I began to lax in following the gestures of the Movement that help me live my life. It was a constant struggle of better days and not so great days, but I knew one thing - I wasn’t going to make the drive to Gainesville. I didn’t want to make the drive because I didn’t want to drive an hour-and-thirty minutes back, feeling envious or frustrated of why Christ couldn’t give me this in Jacksonville. I wanted to give my all in the circumstances that I was in – in Jacksonville, following the gestures that helped me live.
Close to five months of living in Jacksonville, one night I received a text from a friend I met in the summer of 2015 in Gainesville. I would run into her here and there, but I had no idea that she had discovered the Movement the following summer in her hometown of Palm Beach, FL from mutual friends, Esmeralda and Fr. Mike. In her text, she greeted me and told me that she heard about me wanting to start a School of Community in Jacksonville. After trading two texts I immediately called her and we planned on meeting the following week for dinner and School of Community with her and her husband. We began meeting consistently and slowly more people started to join us. Slowly we were becoming a community and a real friendship was emerging.
It wasn’t always perfect. Sometimes it felt like what I assume the early church was like. Some people would join us and never come back and other people tell us they will join us one day soon and have not yet. I remember a friend asking often, “I just don’t understand what is the School of Community. When does it start? When does it end? How do I know that I am doing it? What is the method?” I took all of these questions and frustrations seriously and at the same time I found joy in them. These questions challenged me to explore what School of Community is and why I follow it. At the same time, I felt like a child who didn't know the answers. I would laugh like the lyrics of Fr. Rich’s song that is dear to so many of us - “got me laughing like a baby”.
In the midst of all of my questions regarding whether I was doing things right or wrong, I remember one friend always telling me “Alex! Keep doing the thing that helps you live! Don’t worry about the rest, with time they will learn and understand.” He was right! In a city where it seemed like there were never enough people to have a School of Community, something is happening; a miracle is taking place. Our miracle here is a simple “yes”. We have all said “yes” to that thing that gives us life. People are coming to School of Community because they recognize something about the charism that helps them live their life in Christ. Close to a year later, I talk to these friends from the School of Community and am amazed by what I see and hear from them. I am struck by the companionship we all share. We are a small community, but I see Christ in them and they help me see Christ in all of my circumstances. All of this is because of our “yes”.
Alex, Jacksonville, FL