Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 7)

“To keep alive the charism of the Order and the sense of ‘being with the Church’”[1].


This passage from the Constitutions refers to the service performed by Superiors, but it also contains a formation program for each friar: to develop our charism and our sense of being with the Church. We have probably all heard someone ask what makes up the special charism of our religious family. People look at us, together with the Friars Minor and the Capuchins, and see that we live similar lives. Each branch of the Franciscan First Order has its own friaries of varying sizes and facilities of one kind or another. Each serves in parishes and missions, does pastoral ministry, and runs schools, charity centers and retreat houses much in the same way. We note, however, that these three branches of the Franciscan First Order have their differences, too. These differences go beyond dress, structural features or history. Each branch shares a similar spirituality, but at the same time, they each have different charisms and slightly different lifestyles. It is not a question of evaluating who is better or worse, but of distinguishing what is characteristic for us, and recognizing the particular accent with which we have always spoken. When we are clear on key issues, we learn how to develop that lifestyle and find ways to embody it.
When we look back on our own history and tradition, our saints and our distinguished friars, we can read what gift the Holy Spirit gives to our religious community today. Indeed, the very idea of our life and a brief description of our spirituality and charism is contained in the name of our Order: Friars Minor Conventual. Perhaps the specific ideas that define Conventuality have begun to fade somewhat, since there is so much more material devoted to Franciscanism than there is to the spirituality of the Friars Minor Conventual. Perhaps this is also why we are often misnamed (or call ourselves): “Conventual Franciscans.”
Looking at this more closely, we should remember that the first friars gathered around St. Francis were called penitents. Only later was the official name of “Friars Minor” adopted[2]. However, both names remind us of the basic undercurrent of the lifestyle we call “Franciscan.” This is something we have in common with the other branches of the First Order of St. Francis.
In St. Francis’ day, the suburbs and cities were a particular challenge and a terrain for evangelization. Because of the Church’s mission, the “Conventual” friars committed themselves to living among people in the populated areas. They gave up life in the hermitages, created small friaries on the margins of human settlements and took up an itinerant and preaching lifestyle. To evangelize more effectively, they focused on study, pastoral ministry and the beauty of the liturgy that was being celebrated. Friaries became large centers of pastoral ministry, staffed with trained preachers, confessors and friars who dedicated themselves to scientific, educational and literary work. The friars lived in community where they learned to renounce individual aspirations and to cooperate with each other in rendering excellent service to God and his people[3]. Compared to the formation direction of the other Franciscan lifestyles, the Conventual community was characterized by a strong tendency to remain in communion with the Holy See. It was not so much the friars who interpreted the Rule, but the Pope. He determined how the Franciscan spirit was to be lived in his day, defining specific places and services. It was generally agreed that the interpretation of the Holy See was to be accepted as justified and good, without discussion or controversy, since these could lead to bitterness and rebellion[4]. Unfortunately, it also happened that handing out dispensations instead of promoting new efforts in evangelization, “put some friars to sleep” and gave them reason to slacken their original zeal. This still happens today. When we lose sight of the main, supernatural reason why we chose to enter the Order, other purely human motivations, ambitions and aspirations (what I personally call the human factor), quickly develop.
Today, “city” not only means a large population center, it also refers to an area inhabited by people of different cultures. It is a melting pot of different customs, opinions, ideas, religions and spiritualities.  In this sense, we can apply the concept of “city” to suburbs, towns, villages and settlements, too[5]. Perhaps in this context we can think of a “city” as a “space inhabited by people.” This can be true in the physical sense, but also in the virtual sense, through social media. For us Friars Minor Conventual, the “city” is a terrain for evangelization and pastoral ministry, a place for welcoming as many people as possible and leading them to salvation.
Many friars today, as friars did in the past, express the need to “get out of the city,” to return to a life of silence, prayer and meditation, a life dependent on alms, a life of manual labor and doing penance, and a life that reflects a simple and poor lifestyle. Looking at this personal interpretation, it would seem that this is what the Rule encourages us to do. Therefore, the ideal place to carry this out might be in a hermitage or a small friary. However, we set this aside when we really listen to what Christ the Lord tells us through the teachings of the Church and the voice of the Holy Father. Embedded in our lifestyle is the path of renouncing our communal or personal, often somewhat self-directed, ideas about religious life. Therefore, we usually take a “breather,” for a while, at our hermitages or retreat houses, during a sabbatical period or a retreat, in order to return to our Areopagus with energy and love. We develop our charism when we undertake our mission in today’s “cities” with our gaze turned to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Delegate General for Formation

[1] Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Rome 2019, art. 60, §1.
[2] Cf. W. Di Fonzo, J. Odoardi, A. Pompei, OFM Conv., Bracia mniejsi konwentualni. Historia i życie 1209-1976, Niepokalanów 1988, p. 264.
[3] Cf. Lázaro Iriarte, OFM Cap., Historia franciszkanizmu, Cracow 1998, p. 114.
[4] Cf. Roland Preis, OFM Cap., Za Franciszkiem. Dzieje Zakonu franciszkańskiego 1209-1517, Cracow 2011, p. 269-284.
[5] Cf. Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, no. 73.