The Rev. Myron Flax prepares to deliver Mass on Saturday to a packed house at the Catholic Center, a storefront drop-in site at The Citadel mall in Colorado Springs. (Special to Post / Chuck Bigger)
Colorado Springs – Just outside Mervyn’s department store in The Citadel mall, a brown-robed friar bearded and smiling, waves to shoppers, with absolutely no self-consciousness that here, directly across from Corral West Ranchwear and the gum-ball machines, he is dressed like St. Francis in the year 1209.
The Rev. Matthew Gross, 69, is one of the "mall monks" – the five Capuchin brothers who staff the Catholic Center, their storefront drop-in spot at the mall. The friars are ordained priests who hear confessions, console the troubled, or simply chat.
These Capuchins are an order of Franciscan friars with a strict adherence to a vow of poverty and a tradition of contemplation. What are they doing in the cathedral of consumerism?
"We’re the modern version of Francis in the marketplace," says the Rev. Curtis Carlson, 45, director of the center. He describes how the original friars of Francis’ community in medieval Italy visited the plazas where people bought and sold merchandise.
The people are here indeed. The center has welcomed more than 100 visitors a day, on average, since its opening in November 2001. Many folks come for Mass – celebrated twice each weekday and once on Saturdays – in the center’s 60-seat chapel. Noon liturgies are often filled to capacity.
…Poverty, obedience and chastity notwithstanding, the Franciscans maintain a spirit that appears, above all, to be joyful – playful, even.
It’s a handy trait to have while moving through contemporary society in a hooded robe and sandals. Carlson laughs, recounting a time when he was pumping gas and a fellow customer called out, "Hey, did you just come from the Renaissance Fair?"
"No," answered the friar. "I’m the real thing."
"Cool," said the other fellow. "Accept no substitutes!" [Source]
I think it is pretty cool that the modern temple of materialism should have within it Capuchins with vows of poverty. I could also see some other religious orders setting up their own storefronts. Carmelites could have a shoe store called "Dark Night of the Sole", or maybe that would be too ironic for discalced (shoeless) Carmelites. Or maybe more appropriate would be Carmelite kitchen supply store since St. Teresa of Avila said "The Lord walks among the pots and pans." Contemplative nuns would make good salesmen in a kitchen store since they are used to speaking behind a grill. Dominican’s of course would have a book store specializing in books 1000 pages or more. Possibly a St. Lawrence Barbeque supply store or a St. Joseph of Cupertino’s store that specializes in model airplanes would also be in order.