Keeping Community at the Center of Our lives
By Friar Jude Winkler OFM Conv.
Assistant General of the Conventual Franciscan Federation (CFF) of North America, Australia, Great Britain and Ireland
By definition, the Conventual Franciscan Friars are brothers who live in a community, in a fraternity. They are the brothers of the friary (the meaning of the word conventual). But given the tendency to individuality in the religious life and the larger society, it is not always easy to witness this fundamental value of who we are.
One of the most important moments in our friars’ community’s life is the house chapter meeting, especially the spiritual part of that encounter. This meeting presents friars’ opportunity to share their most profound beliefs with the friars with whom they live. One might think that these ideas are shared at the table or in other communal life moments, but that is not often the case. A good rule of thumb is that the chapter’s spiritual portion should be at least as long as the meeting’s business portion.
While house chapters are to take place every month, some communities worldwide have opted to celebrate them every week.
The house chapter meeting is also a time to share what is happening in the friars’ lives and their apostolates. The friars must not be strangers to each other, living a pleasant but somewhat distant relationship. The other friars should be a safe sounding board for hopes and fears, challenges, and successes. Furthermore, no matter the apostolate in which a friar is involved, they are an apostolate of the fraternity. For this reason is why the recent General Chapters, which revised the constitutions and general statutes of the Order, speak of pastors sharing pastoral and financial information with the other friars in the friary chapter. The rationale is that while the pastor has been appointed to his office by the bishop, it is, nevertheless, the fraternity that has taken responsibility for the parish’s care.
At the same time, a great challenge and a great witness to fraternity is the multi-cultural fraternity. In a period of heightened racism, the very fact that friars from different nations and different cultures attempt to live together in harmony is a powerful witness to the world of the possibility of overcoming those things in our background that could so easily divide us. Some of these communities are simply the consequences of pastoral need (friars of a different culture serving an immigrant community); others are conscious decisions to give witness in this manner (e.g., the friary in Kazakhstan).
Many communities have adopted a simple witness in how they identify themselves, using the word “we” more than “I.” People notice these things. They can sense whether we genuinely believe that the community is the center of our lives.
Finally, communities often give witness to their fraternity by spending time with each other. Some of the countries in which friars take a day off identify that day as a time which is to be spent in the community (visiting a museum, going to a park, going to a movie and a meal, etc.). The rationale behind this choice is that this is what families do. They do not view “a day off” as the time to escape from one’s family, but rather as a time to nourish one’s family bonds.