Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Spirituality of Little Brothers

What words come to mind when you think of Franciscan spirituality? These are a few of mine:


At the urging of Fr. Bill Hugo, the brothers' verbal vapors coalesced into a word cloud of their own in class on Monday. Our group emphasized poverty, simplicity, and detachment. It also focused in on the Eucharist. Brother Bill thought these aspects were notable, as were our highlights of social justice. He also found it noteworthy that we did not emphasis obedience, Jesus Christ, or Mary, as Capuchins of generations past would have done. Historically, Franciscans' spirituality has been Christ-centered and focused on poverty and obedience.

After examining our spiritual keywords and our religious ancestors' values, Brother Bill offered fraternity -- or, to be more inclusive, sister-brotherhood -- as the key that unlocks the spirituality of Francis of Assisi and his descendants. Just look at the official name of our religious community, he said: it is Order of Friars Minor. "Friars Minor" means "little brothers." The very title of our religious community points to the value of relationship. We are not named for our founder, as the Benedictine monastics are (Order of St. Benedict); or for a function, like the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, are; or for a devotion or virtue, like the Sisters of Mercy or Sisters of St. Joseph are. We are the order of little brothers. We're not "poor minors," as Francis called the group in its earliest days; he made the decisive change to "friars minor" because poverty, as significant as it was in his revolutionary way of life, was only the means to the end of fraternity.

Why fraternity; why sister-brotherhood? Why is relationship the key? For Francis, the metaphor mattered. In a world governed by political, social, and economic hierarchy, Francis found salvation by jumping off the step of the ladder on which fate, the accidents of birth, clan, and class privilege perched him, and landing with the minores, the poorest of the poor, among whom he found the "poor and humble" Jesus Christ, the image of God. Put into radical relationship with the minores, Francis was converted, liberated, and saved. In order to make sense of what God had done to him, and to illuminate the new way he was living, Francis turned to a common image -- sibling relationships -- to make everything comprehensible. The core of his spiritual insight was that men and women were being called by the example of the poor and humble Christ to be family in a different way. Taking down the ladder of hierarchy and laying it on the ground, Francis and his followers transgressed the system of worldly values represented by hierarchy and introduced forgotten egalitarian dimensions of Gospel discipleship -- collaboration, cooperation, compassion, humility, nonviolence, self-emptying -- to the people of their time and place. The metaphor of sister-brotherhood best illustrated these values, which Francis and his companions lived out not only in community, but also in their ministry, their minority, and their witness to God's mercy and justice.

Okay, time to stop for now. I hope to pick up this subject again and show you how Brother Bill unpacked the metaphor of sister-brotherhood.

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