Unable to Succeed at the Time: Conventual Franciscan Formation 
– A Reflection on Failure 
Inspirations (Part 16)

“Often when one attempts to follow Christ and serve one’s brothers, there are moments that lack acknowledgement or even comprehension by others. It is even possible to experience moments of failure, misunderstanding and suffering. At times, even when one is giving generous service, one’s dedication to one’s vocation might weaken, putting into question the motivations for one’s discipleship and vocational, journey, which until then had been travelled in peace. These difficult and delicate moments in one’s life, moments of crisis, must be met with patience and faith, uniting them to the Pascal mystery of the Lord Jesus. They can actually reveal the mysterious path to salvation.” [1]

Life is certainly more than a series of successes; it has its share of failures, too. We regard our failures harshly and have difficulty accepting them. Why are they so painful? Maybe they hit an inner narcissistic part of us. Perhaps we feel this sharply when we realize that we do not succeed in everything. We often conclude we are not very smart or resourceful, that we have done something wrong or are unable to face everything. We may feel ashamed, sad or depressed. We may retreat into ourselves and withdraw from relationships with others. Sometimes we react more expressively and externally: we feel rebellious and angry, we complain about those whom we accuse of causing our failures, and so on.
When we experience failure, we may see ourselves as being worse off than others. We may dismiss projects with the easy assumption that they will not work. When new challenges arise, we may lack the enthusiasm to meet them because we fear our actions will again lead to failure. Thus, it is easier to just avoid new activities. On the other hand, we may overcompensate for such fears. It’s easy to put ourselves and our ambitions first. At the same time, we have difficulty appreciating our successes because we are always on the lookout for new challenges. We keep ourselves constantly active in order to prove to ourselves and others that we can succeed.[2]
I am convinced that even when we do enjoy success (or at least not suffer failure), we still must spiritually prepare ourselves for failure in the future. Why? Because failure is a part of life. Therefore, we ought to consider and pray about how we want to react and carry on when failure comes. Traveling close to Christ is not a journey of continuous triumph. Examining His life, we see He experienced situations that, on a human level, ended in defeat, particularly the scandal of the cross.[3]
It is in this context that I think of St. Francis and his failures: his difficult relationship with his father and his difficult relationship with the friars. In his biography there is an episode where Francis was worried about friars who caused scandal in the Order. Thinking about them, he probably felt a sort of failure. He himself wanted to be close to the Lord, to live for Him, and he demanded the same from his followers, but he could not make all his companions become sincere penitents. Feeling uneasy about these friars, Francis gained insight during prayer; Christ told him that these friars did not belong to him. These friars were called by Christ and He is their shepherd.[4] Having had this spiritual experience, Francis probably decided to talk about these friars in the Later Rule: “They must be careful not to be angry or disturbed at the sin of another, for anger and disturbance impede charity in themselves and in others.”[5]
The times in which we live are no better or worse than those of St. Francis. They are just different. On the other hand, adversity, difficulty, scandal, anything that goes wrong, in other words, failure, these things have been, are, and always will be. The question is how to deal with them. I am convinced that when failure has brought us low, it is a good time to be with the Lord and to entrust whatever has gone wrong to Him: “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” [6] It is a time for spiritual growth. It is a good time for us to learn what we truly live for and what our main purpose in life is. Furthermore, we should examine what we did wrong, where a mistake was made and what was done well. Did we wrong someone? Is there someone we should forgive? This is worth discussing with someone we trust– a friend, a spiritual director, etc. We should also look to the future: What did we learn from this situation? Perhaps we should consider what we would do differently, what actions we might take at another time, in a different way or place, and examine the positive results that emerge from that experience.
Undoubtedly, the Author-Who Gives-Us Life―when we lack life in these difficult situations―is the Holy Spirit. We must ask Him to help us see with His eyes, now, and whenever we are unable to succeed.

Delegate General for Formation

[1] Order of Friars Minor Conventual. Franciscan Discipleship. Ratio Studiorum, Rome 2022, no. 142, https://www.ofmconv.net/en/download/discepolato-francesc-ratio-stud-2022/ July 5, 2023.
[2] Cf. Przemysław Mućko, Porażka – przykłady z życia, https://www.psychowiedza.com/2017/10/porazka-przyklady.html, July 4, 2023.
[3] Cf. 1Cor 1:23.
[4] Cf. II Celano 158 FF 742.
[5] Later Rule 7:3 FF 9.
[6] 1Pt 5:7.