If you are a regular reader of the #FriarFriday posts, you know that there is a quartet of friars who take turns writing these short articles about Franciscan life. What you may not know is that three of these friar-authors—Jim, Michael, and Tom—all are on the move this summer to new assignments. It’s part of Franciscan life. Periodically, each of us pulls up our roots in a place and travels to a different region (or perhaps a different friary within a city) and takes up a new job.
This mobility is central to Franciscan life. People often ask us if we are monks. Our answer is, no, we’re not monks. We are friars, a word which simply means brothers. But there is more to the distinction between a monk and a friar. In the 13th century, a new form of religious life for men began to appear, with the founding of the mendicant orders. Of these, the Franciscans and the Dominicans are perhaps the best known. (I’ll define that term in a moment!)
Previously, religious orders of men were gathered into the monastic orders—the most important of these was the Benedictine Order. The members were monks, living in a monastery, to which they took a vow of stability. This vow meant that a monk remained attached to a particular monastery for life. He lived his life in a self-contained way there. (Occasionally a monk could be sent to make a new foundation, a new monastery; or be sent on a special assignment by his abbot-superior or the Pope; some monks might venture outside the monastery to do some service, but in general, monks stayed put!)
When St. Francis gathered men about him to live the Gospel life, he wrote a simple way of life. His brothers were to live poorly, without possessions. They lived in huts made by their own hands or slept under the stars. They worked or begged for their food. The Latin word mendicare, “to beg,” gave rise to the word mendicants to describe these itinerant religious. They went where God led them, to work, give witness, and sometimes preach (if permitted by the Church).
The itinerant quality of Franciscan life has survived since the 13th century. It’s true that the Order took on monastic qualities at various points in its history—with large friaries, which even here in the U.S. were called “monasteries” (like the place I live in Washington, DC, the “Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America”).But that description was not really accurate. Monks live in
But that description was not really accurate. Monks live in monasteries and are bound to a particular one. Friars live in “friaries” and can be transferred from place to place. By virtue of our vow of obedience, we are sometimes asked by our ministers—the friars who direct the life of the community—to take on a new assignment. These days, such a request is usually accompanied by dialogue. A friar can also ask for a change, for various reasons.Friars commit themselves to be open to reasonable requests, made for the good the Order or the Church. No friar can be commanded against his conscience or the Rule of the Order. But in most cases “obedience” needn’t be invoked. That vow means we remain open to what the Order and the Church needs.
Friars commit themselves to be open to reasonable requests, made for the good the Order or the Church. No friar can be commanded against his conscience or the Rule of the Order. But in most cases, obedience needn’t be invoked. That vow means we remain open to what the Order and the Church needs.
An active spiritual life includes prayer and ongoing discernment. “Where is God calling me at this time in life?” We dialogue regularly with our leadership and share the answer to that question! Honest prayer and self-evaluation must include the possibility of a request by the community for a change in ministry or residence.
Once in a while, someone will tell a friar—“Well, how can you really get involved in a ministry when you might be changed some day? Can you really care about the people here, if you know you will be moved in the future?”
I think I can speak for most friars I know: We don’t think that way! When God calls—through the discernment process and God’s will expressed through our leadership—we try to embrace the assignment totally. Our mobility doesn’t influence our commitment here and now. Personally, I have a spiritual connection to every place I’ve worked and to the Church communities with whom I’ve ministered. I learned from the People of God in each place I’ve lived and worked as a friar. I carry the memories on the road with me.
It’s likely that you’ll be hearing from Friars Jim, Michael and Tom about their new assignments and ministries in future columns. I’m staying put at the moment, having received an “obedience letter” recently from my provincial minister renewing my current ministry to the Franciscan mission on behalf of the Holy Land. But as a friar, “the world is my cloister,” and I am at home wherever the Gospel is to be preached. So someday, I, too may be “on the move.” That’s the mission and life of a mendicant!