Religious Life Can Be Un-bearably Exciting

The black bear we saw that evening was full-size, and though Michael and I are both 6'2" and athletic, the bear very likely could have killed us. 

Welcome to Part 27 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Josh, a first-year novice at the Marian House of Studies in Washington, D.C. 

Start at the beginning here.

I stepped out the door of the Marian residence where we eat meals at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in rural Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It was an overcast, chilly evening. There were fields and a lot of trees near us, and a neighbor’s house.

My fellow novice Michael and a postulant named Philip were already outside. We walked casually toward our car. Then the calm mood was suddenly broken.

“BEAR!” Michael shouted.

He leapt backward two steps, his eyes wide. 

No joke
We joke around a lot, but I instantly knew from his sharp movement and tone, and his wide eyes, that he was not joking. 

I looked where his eyes were fixed and saw the animal at once.

A full-grown black bear was looking back at us. He was standing under a tree a mere 30 feet away. When he had gotten a good look, he turned around and walked toward the neighbor’s house.

We noticed that the neighbor’s trash can had been knocked over and their garbage strewn all over the road. 

“Oh, this is not good,” I told Michael and Philip. “He’s associating food with the scent of humans and their habitat. That’s not good for him or for people.”

We found out later that our neighbors had been outside only 40 minutes or so before, playing with their dogs.

Walk right in
Father Ron, our house superior, told me that, in the spring, black bears come out of hibernation hungry. Just a few days previously, our cooks were working in the kitchen of 4 Prospect with the door open because it was uncomfortably hot. Father Ron warned them that bears, attracted by the smell of food, could walk right in. 

Michael, Philip and I watched the black bear and followed it a short distance as it ambled away. It disappeared under the shadows of the trees near the neighbor’s house.

We drove around our neighbor’s driveway in our car to try to get another sighting, but the black bear had slipped off.

I enthusiastically said, “That’s the first time I ever saw a bear outside ...”

“I know, outside of the zoo!” Michael completed my sentence. 

Missed it!
Before long, we drove up alongside a postulant named Paul, who was walking with Joseph, another novice. We urged them into our car so that they wouldn’t risk encountering the bear as they walked.

Paul lamented, “I’ve been waiting to see a bear for the better part of a year, and I missed it!” 

Meanwhile, Michael and I were exhilarated. 

“I feel like celebrating!” Michael exclaimed. 

I agreed with him.

At a zoo in Colorado, I had had the marvelous surprise of a seeing a massive grizzly bear about an inch from me, right on the other side of the glass, with its head in front of mine. That was the closest I ever hope to be to a bear. 

However, this black bear was not behind glass, which adds another level to the experience. I was very, very glad to have seen it.

Deacon Jason mentioned that in 2020, a black bear and her cub were seen passing through the property of the Divine Mercy Shrine. 

Don't trip!
I frequently jog around the property of the Shrine in either the early morning or the evening. One time, one of our permanently professed members named Br. John saw me running in the dark while he was outside saying some prayers. 

He called out to me, “Don’t trip over any bear cubs!”

I laughed at the time, not guessing for a second that there might be a hint of sincerity in his funny warning. 

Paul commented that black bears are a species that humans can fight back against and win, physically. However, that depends very much on what size of a black bear and what size of a human being we’re comparing. 

The black bear we saw that evening was full-size, and though Michael and I are both 6'2" and athletic, the bear very likely could have killed us. 

“If Arnold Schwarzenegger were here, he could have taken it down, but there aren’t many men that could,” I said.

It was great to have the wild give us a call. 
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