Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
Modern technology continues to help us make connections, even when one is "on the road." I write today's blog entry from St. Louis, Missouri, where I am attending the Province Chapter of Sacred Heart Province. Most of us think of "chapter" as a word that designates a part of a novel or book, as in "This book contains a chapter about. . ." However, the word "chapter" also refers to an ecclesiastical body. In the Franciscan Order, the legally elected leadership of the Province relinquishes its authority over the friars every three years for a period of about a week. Those who are assembled for the meeting or chapter become the authority for that period of time. Those friars then discuss what the elected leadership has accomplished over the past three years, look to the future and recommend or mandate certain action to be completed in the next three years, and then elect new leadership, thereby handing authority to a newly formed Province Administration. The Provincial Minister and his vicar are elected for a term of six years, but the council that advises them is elected for three years.
Franciscans do not use the word "superior" or "prior" to designate the man who holds authority. We refer to our leadership as ministers. So the entire Order is governed by a General Minister and a General Vicar. Each Province of the Order is governed by a Provincial Minister and a Provincial Vicar. Each local fraternity or friary is governed by the Local Minister, commonly referred to as the Guardian of the friary, and his vicar. (To better understand the term "vicar," think of the vice president.) St. Francis used the word minister or guardian to designate the leader because he believed the priority for those who governed the friars to be one of protection. This notion springs out of a story from the life of the friars.
As well loved and revered as he is now, St. Francis was not all that warmly received by the citizens of Assisi at the beginning of his religious journey. They thought he was a mad man. After all, he had shunned the rather lavish lifestyle of his father, given away every possession, even the clothes on his back, and professed a life of complete poverty. He did this not because he viewed money and material goods as evil but rather because he saw them as the foundation blocks of "power." His life was a life of total dependence upon God. He shunned power of any kind and thought of himself as a servant, a minister, rather than as some who was "superior." So sometimes when Francis and his brother friars approached people, those people would pick up stones and begin pelting the friars to keep them at a distance. In order to protect one another from the stings of the stones, the friars would rush to intercept the blows, allowing the stones to strike themselves rather than letting them strike their brothers. St. Francis used this detail to provide the friars with the true notion of leadership. The leaders were to protect the friars and their lifestyle from the assaults of the world.
For those of us who live in a democratic culture, every other year we participate in another election campaign. We are already witnessing the scramble of candidates for nomination to the slate of the next presidential election in our country. Unfortunately, this means that our airwaves will be filled with verbal assaults on the ideas and strategies of the various candidates. Too bad St. Francis isn't among us anymore. Perhaps he could think of a way to intercept these assaults just as he intercepted the blows of the citizens of Assisi.
Pray for the friars of Sacred Heart Province as they listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in electing their new leaders.