Transformative Revitalization for a Friar

by Mark Soehner, OFM
Provincial Minister
Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist Province
Our Lady of Guadalupe Province

Mark Soehner, OFM

There’s an old saying: “No one likes change, except a baby with a wet diaper!”

The restructuring and revitalizing experience of the US-6 Franciscan provinces has been in full force since the decision was made to engage this process in 2018. We are learning to walk together in trust!

Ignatius Brady was a friar from my province who was living with us novices during the novitiate of 1980 to 1981 (a shout-out to my classmate Jack Clark Robinson!). I remember Iggy, as an elderly man, praying during evening prayer that we novice friars might be “semper novus” – always new.

As a young friar, I wondered why an elder would pray this way. But I soon learned, after listening to Iggy’s fresh ideas, that this wasn’t his first rodeo.

St. Francis himself was about constant conversion – this releasing of what we might call the false self that holds us in bondage. The false self could be understood as a general over-identification with the way things are – our self-understanding, our jobs and titles, unconscious racial privilege, or our enneagram assessment number, to name a few.  But now, I am encouraged by God to understand myself in a new way as a friar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province.

As I pack up my belongings to go to Atlanta, I am struggling with things being different. Over the last six years as provincial, I’ve rediscovered Cincinnati, been able to see my parents in Dayton, and have grown close to the brothers with whom I live at Pleasant Street Friary, in particular, and in my Province, in general.

There is some sadness about leaving the beauty and support, the familiarity!  But after a moment of recovery, I find myself chuckling at my resistance to change and to a new adventure in Franciscan life.

We are on a Pilgrimage, as Keith Warner reminds us. I suspect that Francis felt this way as he moved from his place of privilege as a cloth merchant’s son to the world outside the protective walls of Assisi. He had one foot in one world and the other in the next. It culminated in a very definitive, theatrical gesture when he stripped off his clothes and handed them to his dad. I highly doubt that I’ll do that – although I am stripping away quite a number of books and accumulations as I pack!

As I anticipate my goodbyes, it leaves me with a combination of mixed emotions, from one end of the spectrum to the other – very sad and very excited. Bringing these feelings to prayer, I feel the reassurance of God: His deep Presence, telling me that I am His own! God is reshaping me – and all of us – into lesser brothers on the road, always reforming, semper novus.