What is Religious Life, Part 2

I touched lightly on the differences between diocesan life and religious life in my last post. What I wanted to do this time was to explain further in depth what it means to be part of an Order, and more specifically, what it means to be part of the Order of Capuchin Franciscans (OFM Cap.) As always, if you feel I didn't answer a specific question fully, don't hesitate to let me know.

Religious orders began in the early history of the church, around mid 200's. They began as hermitages, people known as Desert Fathers who fled the chaos and evils of the city to connect better with God. It was believed that there, where there was peace, quiet, and purity, one could easier connect with God. Through the example of John the Baptist and Jesus when he spent 40 days in the desert, they tried to learn self-discipline and prayer. This was the beginning of what we call today monastic life.

In the 400's, people would begin to group together. Some people preferred to live in communities; others saw the Gospel as a communal covenant. Either way, cenobitic monasticism began in this fashion. Living and praying in groups, they were more social than their priors or eremitical monks as they were called. They lived in large structures called monasteries or abbies, rather than the huts and caves of old. The even came into contact with the laity (through means of a local church) while hermits preferred solitude.

In these large structures, men and women followed a specific Rule. The Rule of Benedict, The Rule of Augustine, The Rule of Daniel - the rule that was followed would stipulate how the brothers were to live their life. The rule would later be the gateway to what is called the Charism of the Order.

Many of these old monasteries focused on separation from society to better understand God, until about the 1100's. Men like St. Francis and St. Dominic would revolutionize the way Orders were structured. Rather than hiding from society, they both found God in the world, and chose for their Orders to be part of that world. They saw the monasteries as huge structures with land ownings, serfs, and riches - things leading them away from the teachings of the Gospel. They began what are called the mendicant orders: the brothers traveled and spread the Gospel, but lived off of whatever donations they could.

In 1525, Matteo de Bassi began a reform movement within the Franciscan community. Feeling that they had strayed too far from the original charisms of poverty, austerity, and community, the Capuchin Franciscans were founded, named so because of their pointy cowl (not because of the monkey or the frothy coffee).

I hope this has further helped your understanding of religious life and how it plays a part within the Church. Next time, I'll try to explain from a personal experience how we as Capuchins today continue to live the vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience, and staying true to the original ideals of our founder: Francis of Assisi.

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