Each time I ride a roller coaster, there comes that decisive moment when the safety bar of the car is lowered into a locked position. It signals that there is no longer a way out of the ride. No turning back. Then begins the clink, clink, clink sound as the car slowly ascends the steep climb towards the first gut-wrenching drop. Inevitably, I find myself feeling, why did I ever get into this car?
We’ve been talking about forming a new province for years now. But as we rapidly approach October 2023, I have begun to hear some clink, clink, clink fears as it dawns on us all, in a much more visceral way, that the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Province is going to happen – and there is now no way out! No turning back. How gut-wrenching will it be for us?
At our final Provincial Chapter earlier this month, I heard two primary concerns voiced by the friars. First, will we be known anymore – especially by the new administration? Will we ever be able to gather again as we did at Siena College?
This understandable fraternal nervousness about losing identity points us toward one of the major tasks that the new administration will need to address: helping the friars get to know one another, and to, thereby, discover the richness of our diverse gifts.
There will be more friars in our new province, but I think the goal for us all remains the same: increasingly discovering the “perfect friar” by getting to know more and more brothers as gifts whom the Lord has given us. This will require each of us to deepen our fraternal relationships at the local level, to participate in future opportunities provided for friars to gather in their “hubs” (regions) and beyond, and to seriously consider joining CFIMs across the new province.
I was moved by a comment of Steve Kluge during the Chapter. He noted that the friars are “a can of mixed nuts salted with the Holy Spirit.” In the new province, we will still be a collection of mixed nuts who embody the Spirit! We’ll just be more nuts in a bigger can!
My experience working interprovincially for the past decade has confirmed for me, beyond any doubt, that friars from all the provinces have much more in common than I at first assumed. I can attest that it has been a delightful experience (rather than a roller coaster ride) to get to know a lot of “new” brothers with whom it has been possible to quickly feel comfortable, “safe,” and united.
I heard a second task for the new administration articulated by friars at Chapter – the desire of friars for revitalization as well as restructuring. In her Chapter presentation, Sr. Lynn Levo provided a possible roadmap for how we can revitalize. She described this time of transition to the new province as a singular opportunity for deep transformation, personally and communally.
Sr. Lynn invited us to see that our revitalization, to a large extent, will be the conscious choice on the part of each friar to “choose communion – to choose to be architects of unity and hospitality, embracing diversity, inclusion, equality and belonging” by means of a “growth mindset” open to that which is emerging with the new province, despite the inevitable uncertainties and setbacks that will be part of beginning something new.
Personally, I feel that deep transformation will require all of us to engage in a process of synodal discernment of our preferred future, by listening deeply (with humility) to, and speaking honestly and boldly (with parrhesia) with, each other and with our partners in ministry.
This will enable us to discern prayerfully together the “signs of our times” – those places where we can glimpse the activity of God present in the world, such as in the great hopes of all peoples across the globe for equality and participation, and to articulate together a provincial path (a set of provincial priorities) for our future that is responsive to these signs of the times in our day, faithful to our Franciscan tradition and values, and realistic in terms of our numbers.
Very practically, such a process of prayerful discernment will enable us to name clearly and put into practice (in the words of Sr. Lynn) “what we will stand up for and whom we will not pass by.”
Deep transformation won’t be easy. It may well be as gut-wrenching as a roller coaster ride. It will require us to stretch – to move beyond our comfort zones – and to move beyond merely repeating and perpetuating what we have done up to now (however wonderful).
It will be a summons to begin again. It will require us to walk in faith into a future that we cannot clearly define from day one – a future that the Spirit is gently drawing us into from up ahead of us, if we are willing to respond.
Only one thing is certain at this point: embarking together on a synodal journey toward deep transformation will save us from creating a “new” province that is little more than a collection of six coffins – remnants of six now-defunct provinces living the mantra: “we’ve always done it this way.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to be the true spiritual director of the new province.