Formation Update: ‘The Habit Doesn’t Make the Franciscan’

Abraham Joseph, OFM Friar News

The novices at the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate of the United States OFM provinces are roughly halfway through their yearlong stay in Burlington, Wis. In the reflection below, Holy Name Province’s student friar writes about the novitiate’s activities these past few months. An update about the Province’s postulants appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of this newsletter.

BURLINGTON, Wis. — “L’habit ne fait pas le moine.” I often hear this saying in my native country. The moral is that appearance does not show the true person. These words literally mean: the habit doesn’t make the monk or the Franciscan.

After seven months in this interprovincial novitiate, it is quite clear that being a friar is much more than wearing a brown habit. It is about accepting a form of life that connects both the material and the spiritual dimension of a person. To help the novice understand the depth of the Franciscan tradition, the program offers a variety of courses, workshops and activities.

In November, the novices started the hermitage weekends. We observe St. Francis’s rule for hermitage during that time. A maximum of four brothers go to a remote and quiet place. Two of them act like Mary, spending the time praying and meditating. The others act like Martha, taking care of temporal affairs: cleaning, cooking, and running errands. Each of us had a chance to go; we always return transformed by the experience. This way of doing hermitage combines the need for solitude with the support of the brotherhood.

During that second semester, we also enjoyed two workshops on St. Clare, one by the Poor Clares of Cincinnati and the other by Ronald Pecci, OFM, Holy Name Province’s liaison to the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate. Scholars are discovering more about St. Clare’s great contribution to the Franciscan movement. We benefited by taking a look at the unity of spirit and mind between Francis and Clare of Assisi. To increase our knowledge of the Franciscan charism, our in-house classes focused on studying the development of the Rule of St. Francis, his spirituality, and the Franciscan intellectual tradition.

The formation program also promotes activities that remind us that a Franciscan friar is part of the larger Christian family. After studying the general history of men religious in-house, we traveled to the Chicago area and met with other novices while attending a workshop on the history of women religious. For the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, some of us went to a parish in Milwaukee to serenade the Virgin Mother. In mid-December, we went to an evening of “Lessons and Carols” at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Milwaukee. One of our formators, Fr. Dennis Schafer, OFM, sang with the ecumenical choir. It was good to experience liturgy in a different Christian denomination.

During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we were invited to pay attention to the preparation of the liturgy and to pray while having in mind the whole Church of Jesus Christ. Finally, Fr. Kim Studwell, OFM, gave an interesting workshop on the various Churches within the Catholic lineage, and the non-Catholic Christian churches.

Spending more time with “The Canticle of Creation” of St. Francis made us discover the profound wisdom in this poem. Our founder invites his followers and all of Christendom to an awareness of our communion with the universe, which is full of the presence of God. Every single soul in God’s creation is a sister, a brother. Our different parties and celebrations like Thanksgiving, New Year, Haitian Independence, Chinese New Year, Australian Day, Super Bowl and Mardi Gras built in us that awareness of the unity of the world. Hosting the eclectic group of postulants from the different provinces reinforces that sense of membership to a wider community.

To become better brothers and deal with the challenges of our differences, we had two useful workshops: the first was about “Intercultural Living” by Br. Moises Morales, OFM, and the second was on “Conflict Resolution” by Br. Tim Lamb, OFM. Both provided us with tools to build a healthier community. Earlier this month, we spent a few days at Siena Center, in Racine. There, we gathered again with the novices of other congregations to attend a workshop on “Human Sexuality and Consecrated Celibacy,” given by Sr. Lynn Levo, CSJ. One of the many things we learn is that behind our sexual drive lies the profound human need to belong and to connect with all, to become whole.

In summary, the last few months of novitiate have been full of events and activities. All of them are designed to develop our identity as Franciscans, Christians and sons of the universe. St. Francis never considers a separation between our corporal and spiritual life. For him, all is united in God, the creator of all. Our daily life in the novitiate constantly challenges us to give a faithful response to the Franciscan way of life.

 Br. Abraham, a native of Haiti, is a novice of Holy Name Province. He is pictured in the above image, on left. Updates about the novices, along with photos, can be found on the interprovincial novitiate’s Facebook page.