MALIBU, Calif. — Members of the Provincial Councils of eight provinces of the OFM English-Speaking Conference gathered for a Retreat at Serra Retreat House from July 8 to 12. Participating in the three-day retreat were 53 friars from the provinces of St. John the Baptist, Sacred Heart, St. Barbara, Assumption, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Immaculate Conception, St. Casimir and Holy Name. Representing HNP were Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, Joseph Nangle, OFM, Bill Beaudin, OFM, Thomas Conway, OFM, Brian Belanger, OFM, Provincial Secretary Michael Harlan, OFM, and me.
The purpose of the retreat was two-fold: an opportunity for the provincial councils to become personally acquainted as they reflected together on the nature and challenges of Franciscan leadership. The retreat also served as a prelude to the joint meeting of the councils with Fr. José Carballo, OFM, General Minister, in December at the Interprovincial Novitiate in Burlington, Wis., where the future consolidation of U.S. provinces will be discussed.
Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM, Provincial Minister of St. John the Baptist Province, facilitated the retreat. It began with dinner, Evening Prayer and a social on Sunday. The succeeding three days followed the same format: Morning Prayer, a major presentation, Eucharist, small-group discussion, Evening Prayer, supper, Night Prayer and social.
Scripture and Communities
On Monday, Fr. Garrett Galvin, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, spoke on “What does Jesus/Gospel say aboutleadership?” Stressing the importance of “horizontal theology,” Garret distilled from Scripture a portrait of Jesus as a pastoral leader who sought to create community first, as a precondition for conversion. Jesus’ pastoral priority was, therefore, that of fostering relationships of trust among human persons, rather than moralizing. Citing the current climate of deep distrust in institutions, Garret stressed how we are challenged by Jesus’ example to build up communities of faith that allow our contemporaries to experience not only the goodness of God but also the goodness of God in others.
Garret challenged us as leaders to resist the temptation to turn in on ourselves. Rather, with eyes open to the signs of the times, we are to live the new commandment of Jesus (Jn 13:34) in ever-expanding horizontal relationships that recognize, respect and respond to the presence of God still at work in a myriad of persons and institutions within and beyond the Church.
Following Garret’s talk, John O’Connor presided at Eucharist. Brian Belanger preached on Jesus’ consistent ability to respond so well to “interruptions”— serving the people who came to him when, how, and where they needed his help. Prayer and time apart to “put all the pieces into a meaningful frame” made it possible for Jesus to be so pastorally present, focused and efficacious. Leaders today are called to that same discipline and availability.
On Tuesday, Br. William Short, OFM, of St. Barbara Province gave a talk on “what Francis says about leadership.” Describing Francis’ style of leadership as both charismatic and authoritarian, Bill explored at depth Francis’ exercise of leadership (as opposed to office) as grounded in the moral authority of his lived personal example, in his direct appeal to God’s personally-revealed will, and in his utter rejection of domination through coercive ecclesiastical power of office. Citing the Canticle of Creatures where Francis sang of Mother Earth sustaining and “governing” us, Bill suggested that “to govern” for Francis was similar to the role of a “governess” who cares for children effectively and in such a way that they develop and flourish humanly.
Franciscan leadership is at its best, Bill suggested, when through both instruction and example, it inspires others to follow the words, or teachings, and footprints, actions, of Jesus.Bill noted that friars do not expect their leaders to be perfect. But they do expect them to be authentic — living Gospel values so that their actions match their words. Friars seek leaders who can infuse even everyday actions with a greater meaning and purpose rooted in the Gospel. And friars desire leaders who can point to issues of significance, even while pointing the brothers toward the teaching and example of Jesus.
Challenges of Leadership
On Wednesday, Bill Beaudin spoke of the challenges we face today as Gospel/Franciscan leaders. In a talk described as “over the top,” that combined “wisdom, humor and practical insight” and that received an extended applause, Bill outlined the internal and external challenges to exercising a Franciscan style of leadership (which he identified as being lesser brothers: ministers, servants, washing others’ feet, mother). Internal challenges include gross insecurity as to our own self-worth (vs. being grounded in the unconditional love of God); self-delusion (vs. self-awareness and true humility); and perfectionism.
External challenges include: the need to resist being converted into “wizard saviors” who can save the friars from pain; caring for sick and aged friars without losing our evangelical forward thrust; secularism, that has made belief one purely-personal option among many; litigation; current cultural models of leadership that stress power, perks and privileges; and an ascendant dogmatism/triumphalism/clericalism in the Church.
Bill stressed that Franciscan leaders are called to be instruments of reconciliation, neither fleeing from nor condemning the world, but instead fostering meaningful dialogue and alliances that help to rebuild God’s house (i.e., the world) where human beings can flourish. Franciscans are called to be loyal to the Church (not creating an “alternative” one) because to separate from the Church would violate the principle of Incarnation — the humble advent and presence of love in earthen vessels. Finally, Bill suggested that Franciscan leaders are called to be credible witnesses of the humility, hospitality and compassion of God.
The prayer services — beautiful, simple and deeply moving — were ably led by Rufino Zaragoza, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and his team.
The retreat was “better than anything we had hoped for,” said Provincial Minister John Hardin, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, at its conclusion. Indeed, the friars all expressed how rich, supportive and empowering the input, prayer and fraternal sharing together had been.
— Fr. Larry, who has been a member of the Provincial Council since 2011, is stationed at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C.