What is Religious Life, Part 3

Having talked about the difference between diocesan life and religious life, and giving a brief history of religious life in my last post, I wanted to be more specific about how we as Capuchins live that religious life as well as living our charism. While this entire web log is filled with my experiences of learning to live in the Order, I'll try to give a more objective account...in hopes that you may better understand my situation, why I think and act about certain things, but most of all so that religious life is more understandable to everyone.

I mentioned earlier that each Order is bound to a Rule: a governing document by which the community should live, pray, and serve out their commitment to God. Some orders have a long and extensive list of rules by which to live by. The Rule of St. Francis, a document that can be read in just a few minutes, shows how austere, obedient, penitent, and brotherly we should live as Franciscans. Today, the Capuchins still follow the Rule of St. Francis, but we also have a Constitution by which we can understand and govern many of the smaller concerns with religious life.

As most of you know, a territory of the church is known as a diocese. Each diocese is governed by a bishop or archbishop, depending on its size. Each diocese is answerable to a council of bishops as authority works back towards the Vatican. The Capuchins, as well as most other Orders, are divided into what is called a province. The size of a province depends on the order, the number of members, and ministry with which they are involved. I am a part of the St. Joseph Province (mid-west). The area includes all of Michigan, northern Indiana and Illinois, Wisconsin, down to Iowa, and westward to Montana. Since our ministry is to the poor and marginalized, our efforts are focused in Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, and a mission at the Crowe Reservation in Billings.

Because we live a social lifestyle (sharing of goods, income, responsibilities), leadership is neither permanent nor hierarchical. Every three years, a chapter is convened in the province where all available friars get together. Issues of ministry, future, vocations, and living are discussed. Along with these topics, a Provincial Minister is elected from among the friars. There are specific term lengths that a Provincial Minister (Provincial for short) can serve. There are also chapters on the international level in Rome, where the General of the order, along with other offices in Rome, are voted on.

Currently our Provincial is Jon Celichowski (we call him Jon Cel for short), a younger friar who spent the last few years as a priest at St. Martin de Porres: the African-American Catholic Church that my friary is connected to. While Jon is the head of our province, one would hardly recognize it when seeing him in community with the rest of us. He prefers to get his hands dirty, and I've often seen him help clean up after an event and doing dishes (something not often seen of a bishop). And while he has the right to be called by his title, "Jon" is how we talk to him, and it is how he prefers to be called.

This sense of community is our major charism, or focus of ministry. When asked by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind." And in the same breath, said: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matt: 34-40 We as Capuchins try to live those commandments both by contemplative prayer and by treating all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, and by focusing our aid to those who have been alienated or cast aside by society. By choosing to live a life of poverty, celibacy, and obedience while focusing on the brotherhood of all people, we hope to follow the directive of Pope Paul VI when he says: "the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others." (Octogesima Adveniens 23)

Charisms change, depending on which Order you are looking at. The Legionaries of Christ have a charism of fidelity to the Magisterium and to the Pope. The charism of The Order of Saint Augustine is the love of Christ. The charism of The Order of Saint Benedict is work and prayer (ora et labora). And finally The Congregation of St. Paul focuses on spreading the Gospel through modern media.

While each of these groups works to spread the Word of God, they each do it through different means. Even the term "charism" is something that can be debated; no one likes to be pigeon-holed into a specific role. However there is something noticeable about each of the examples I've listed. The Orders are either a. Named after their patron, or b. Named after the work they do. The full name of my Order is Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin. What exactly does being a "minor friar" or "lesser brother" mean?

In trying to understand that role of "lesser brother," I chose to spend a year of my life living amongst the friars. The process is a long road, but is filled with opportunities of learning, prayer, reflection, and experiences that will help guide me in discerning my vocation. Next time, I will further explain the process that I will go through in order fully be a part of this order.

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1 Response to What is Religious Life, Part 3

January 6, 2009 at 8:10 PM

Dearest brother, I can relate to you. I myself is waiting for the proper time. Im also in a situation wherein I am literally unable to answer his call. Im already 31 and my anxiety has always been that the order might not accept me when I turn 40 etc. As of this moment i am doing the best I can to discern while I wait for my situation to change. I too am so attracted with the capuchin order that it has been one of my inspirations on my blog.

Pax et Bonum Brother