The Future of the Franciscans in the US Begins with ‘Fraternitas’

Monday 27 June 2011

One of the real great aspects of this month-long experience of retreat with friars from all over the United States, all of us preparing to profess our solemn vows in an increasingly short time, is the bond that is formed among us. Last night several of us, representing four provinces from New York, Cincinnati, Chicago and California, spoke informally of our experiences – both good and challenging – of living the Franciscan life today, while looking toward the future with an eye toward how we might collaborate and continue the relationships we are forming during these days. As the number of Franciscan friars continues to decrease in years to come, it will be increasingly more important that those of us across the country collaborate and communicate more readily and often.

Today we formally began the second week of our retreat. Last week was art, this week is a preached retreat led by Richard McManus, OFM, a friar from St. Barbara Province (California), who is leading us in a weeklong series of reflections on fraternity. It is a fitting theme following the very organic discussion that developed last night after a game of cards among brothers and friends.

We hope to look to Scripture and the Franciscan sources to help illuminate what it means to live this way of life today, to better understand God, ourselves and others. One of the first things we began with, mostly for the sake of this week’s retreat director who is new to the scene, was to introduce ourselves. We provided the basic information, which was followed by the question, “what is one thing that you haven’t told the other friars yet about yourself?” The first to go (sitting to the right of the director), I provided the basic “Dan Horan info” he had requested, but asked for a second round of sharing to offer something about myself not yet shared.

See, I was thrown off by the request, not having experienced such a direct (yet good) question for sharing. I needed some more time to think about what I could say that I hadn’t yet shared. It is important to appreciate how much some of us have shared with each other at this point, having become close over the course of several days.

What ensued in the second round was absolutely incredible. Just beginning the second week, I cannot believe the level of intimacy, comfort, trust and sharing that is taking place. I certainly would have never expected this. Personal, yet appropriate, reflections were offered to one another that really helped build the experience of fraternitas of the community.

The previous night our temporary Guardian – the religious superior of the retreat – had commented that his expectations were entirely blown out of the water by what he had witnessed during the previous week and the previous week’s retreat director said that it was clear that this was a group of very well-integrated and healthy men. These things were yet again confirmed in our morning of sharing.

The same thing happened again during the shared homily at our daily celebration of the Eucharist. Each of the friars contributed some reflection about the readings and how today’s Scriptural texts spoke to their lives – it was again very substantive and moving.

This retreat has so far assured me of the vitality, the sanctity and the hopefulness of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States for years to come. Sure, the numbers will continue to decline –fewer and fewer young men and women are entering religious life today – but the quality is certainly high! Each man is different and brings to religious life different experiences, challenges and gifts, yet each man demonstrates an openness to growth, prayer, ministry and service. It makes me very hopeful!

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