by Walter Liss, OFM
“We’re called to be brothers and you’re going to spend the rest of your friar life figuring out what that means.” So said then-provincial John Felice, OFM, at a gathering of formation friars when I was an affiliate (postulant). It’s one of those things that stuck in my head for some reason.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like being a brother is a difficult concept requiring a lifetime to figure out. But the reality is we will never think, talk, or theorize our way into authentic fraternal relationships; it must be lived. And a “lifetime” presents us with daily opportunities (some of which are unwelcome) to give and receive fraternally. I sometimes forget this – and by evidence of the number of statements and reflections by the brothers in the Order on how to live fraternally with each other and all of creation, I am probably not alone.
Holy Name province provides me with rich soil for learning to be a brother; it inspires me with many role models. Even after twenty-two years I’m still amazed by the friars – their goodness, creativity, joy, energy, holiness, bravery, devotion, grace, and gentle acceptance of life’s challenges.
No, we don’t all have to exemplify these things every day, but it’s not about us individually. It’s what we bring collectively that makes the difference. And men exemplifying these characteristics are present in my life every day, which is an incredible gift.
To be fair, there is usually a daily dose of wackiness, disappointment, and falling short (perpetrated by myself and others). But maturity has taught me that’s just how life works. The weeds and the wheat, grace and sin abound side-by-side. Perhaps it’s only when we want to deny or ignore one side or the other that we truly stop growing and functioning fraternally.
One aspect of our legacy that makes this soil so rich, in my experience, is the commitment to cultivate and support the gifts and talents of the brothers. I think supporting the brothers to discover and share their gifts enables us to see more clearly the gift that each brother is – to us and the church.
Furthermore, the Province has empowered men to live our mission with a spirit of innovation and a risk tolerance that trusts and supports the brothers even if things don’t quite work out the way we hope. This spirit of innovation is discerned in the context of our life and mission, which makes it fraternal rather than individualistic. Even as we grow older and smaller in number, I don’t feel like we live in the past or fail to notice what’s happening around us. Like any organization we may move too slowly at times, but we do move.
I’ve had the grace to accompany over 80 postulants since 2016, and my experience working with men attracted to and discerning Franciscan life has shaped how I view the formation of the new province in two ways.
First, since 2017, I have lived and worked with friars and postulants from all the provinces, and as a result, I feel as though I already live in the new province. It feels natural and familiar. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know and enjoy the gifts of my new brothers.
Secondly, I see the necessity and promise of the new province more about the future generation of friars than my own. Most of the postulants I’ve accompanied were born after 1990. It’s hard to characterize the new generation collectively, and generalizations are often elusive and inaccurate.
But what I do know is their worldview and experience of Church is very different from when I was a postulant. We need to make room for them, for their gifts, and for what they bring to what is probably a vastly different culture from what most of us grew up in.
I believe this hard work on behalf of all the current provinces to build the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Province is our fraternal gift to them, so that they can focus their energy on developing their gifts and skills for fraternal service to the church and the world, rather than focus on dismantling the old structures of a bygone era.
Given this gift, I’m optimistic that our legacy of embracing the challenge to live fraternally in a spirit of innovation and service that’s cognizant of the realities of the world and the needs around us will live on.