Poco a poco. The spirituality of making the next best step.
It’s become a bit of our catch phrase. It’s been the name of a CFR album, our Ascension Present’s send off, and the name of our podcast. “Poco a Poco” has been thrown on stickers, bracelets, and tattooed on at least one fellow pilgrim’s ankle. It’s part of our patrimony and at the heart of our charism. And it’s true…for all of us.
Poco a Poco, Little By Little
“Poco a Poco” was birthed on a dusty Honduran road between a convent of cloistered nuns and the friars’ medical center. It’s actually part of a larger phrase:
Somos Peregrinos. Poco a poco, vamos a llegar.
We are pilgrims. Little by little, we’re going to make it.
It was generated from poverty for the poor.
For a little over ten years now, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have been running a medical center called the Saint Benedict Medical Center in Comayagua, Honduras. The medical center offers totally free care to the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus and His Church. Our patients come from literally hours away to receive the medical attention they couldn’t possibly afford, but desperately need.
The number of patients we’re able to help each day is much larger than the number of people we can fit in our medical center at a given time, which means that there are frequently dozens of our suffering neighbors waiting outside the clinic each day.
And every day, one of our friars would go to accompany and encourage them, with one catch: he couldn’t speak Spanish.
Constancy and Encouragement
Br. Anthony moved to Honduras as a forty-five year old with a great desire to be with the poor, but learning Spanish was practically futile. Every day he would go to visit the patients waiting to be served, many of them sick and suffering, and try to encourage them.
One day, an idea came to his mind, it was Spirit-inspired word of encouragement, and he asked one of the friars to help him:
“How do you say, we are pilgrims?”
And Br. Anthony wrote it down.
“Little by little, is ‘Poco a Poco,’ right?”
“We’re going to make it?”
“Vamos a llegar.”
“Somos peregrinos. Poco a poco, vamos a llegar?”
“Yup, that’s it.”
Day after day, Br. Anthony would speak these words to the patients. The staff would hear them as well. Slowly it became a thing, “Poco a Poco.”
Often times, he’d throw in one last question:
And, ain’t it the truth? The more and more life goes on, the more and more we can often relate, at least interiorly, to these suffering souls waiting for help at our medical center. Beat up. Struggling. But fighting. Pushing forward. It’s the pilgrim way.
We’re All Pilgrims
In the official document declaring our Community a Pontifical Order (meaning we’re all grown up), the Holy See described our charism in these words:
In imitation of St. Francis of Assisi, the friars seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as a prophetic witness that life is a pilgrimage to the Father…
It’s at the heart of the Franciscan life and witness: We’re pilgrims. Life with the Lord is journey and often times, it ain’t pretty and success isn’t immediate, but we just keep going. We keep trying to, as one of our founders would often say, “Make the next best step.”
Sometimes the next best step is waiting on the Lord and His timing. Sometimes the next best step is a good Confession. Sometimes the next best step is stepping out of the boat at Jesus’ invitation. But it’s one step at a time. Life’s a pilgrimage and we are all pilgrims. We’re not “home” yet, but we’re going to make it. Little by little.It’s one step at a time. Life’s a pilgrimage and we are all pilgrims. We’re not “home” yet, but we're going to make it. Little by little. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
The Spirituality of the Poor
Why has this become so influential in the lexicon and spirituality of a generation of friars? It’s struggle bus spirituality. It’s the spirituality of the poor. Hopefully our life as friars is “hardcore.” But it doesn’t mean we’re any less beggars than our brothers and sisters waiting outside of the clinic.
Part of the genius of our life, when it’s well lived, is it gets us in touch with our own poverty. We learn to pray, from the core of our souls, “Lord, I need Your help. I can’t do it without You.” We understand that we don’t learn all things overnight and we probably not going to reach the peaks of holiness by our 24th birthday.
But each day we begin again, simply seeking to keep making the next best step. We never compromise journeying toward the heights of holiness, but we don’t get scandalized if it takes time. As long as we keep on our spiritual pilgrimage, we’re going to make it.We never compromise journeying toward the heights of holiness, but we don’t get scandalized if it takes time. As long as we keep on our spiritual pilgrimage, we’re going to make it. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
The Next Best Step
We’re poor, but we also work with the poor. How often do we encounter the materially or spiritually poor who are discouraged by what they can’t do. They know what they want to do, they know what they “should” do, but they can’t do it. But can you make the next best step? Can you surrender a little more, love a little deeper, trust a little firmer, today? My sisters, we can all make the next best step.
The consolation this offers was brought home to me in a conversation I was having with a young adult woman. She was sincerely seeking the Lord; a really beautiful soul. She was aware of the heights of the call, but she was also aware of the fact she wasn’t there. Talking about trust, I asked her, “On a scale of 1-100, how much do you trust the Lord.”
“Maybe 80%,” she replied. (Which is pretty darn good! But she, like most of us, was discouraged by the 20% that was lacking.)
So, applying “poco a poco spirituality,” I asked her, “Can we try and get to 81%?”
And in an instant a burden was lifted from her shoulders. It was written all over her face. It was a revelation. “Yeah, I can do that. I can definitely do that.”
1% at a Time
Here’s the thing, we’re journeying toward 100%, but the Lord’s patient and merciful as He showed with His Apostles. Let’s try and get to 81% and then we’ll start working on 82%. And then we’ll go to 83%…
Why? Life is a pilgrimage and we’re all pilgrims on dusty roads.
And that’s why we chose to name our podcast The Poco a Poco Podcast. It’s a podcast dedicated to helping our fellow pilgrims make the next best step. We understand the messiness and the difficulty of life and the discouragement that comes from thinking we have to have it all figured out yesterday. We can handle messy. Because God can handle messy. But also, with grace, we can always make the next best step.
That is our prayer for you: that with God’s help, you may never cease making the next best step.
Poco a poco, vamos a llegar.
We’re blessed to be on the journey to you. If we don’t meet along the roads of life, we look forward to meeting you in our Father’s house.
Poco a Poco // The Spirituality of Making the Next Best Step #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Written by Fr. Mark-Mary Ames, CFR.