A Spirit of Itinerancy

As itinerants, friars are constantly on the move: we change dwelling places, ministries, friar communities, and schedules. As I’ve alluded to here and there, the reason we do this is to avoid attachment and to remind us that all we have and use is borrowed, not owned.

If all of these consequences are true about itinerancy, there is not a more detached and sharing group of men in the whole world than the postulants (and director) of Holy Name Province: having settled into Saint Bonaventure University for a few weeks, I have now slept in twenty-one different beds since August (not including those I slept in while on breaks). That’s what I call itinerancy! On almost a bi-weekly basis, we were forced to adapt to not only new locations, but also new people, new situations, and new ways of doing the same things we were used to doing differently at home.

Herein lies what I believe to be the true benefit of becoming an itinerant: flexibility and openness. While communities that never change may be more efficient and comfortable, they run the risk of stagnation and stunted growth behind the killer of inspiration, “This is the way we do it.” Groups such as ours, ones that are always changing environments and forced to incorporate different members and situations, remain much more flexible in routine, are open to new possibilities, and can experience much greater growth.

Nothing could have prepared us better for our experience here among the other postulants. With men represented from seven different Franciscan provinces across the United States and Canada, we are now all faced with (at least) seven different ways of doing something. Prayer, chores, meals, recreation, personal time, and entertainment now have seven different voices coming together as one, each saying, “This is the way we do it.”

With no established routine or majority, there are two possible results: growth fueled by listening, respect, and compromise, or anarchy.

So far, we’ve leaned towards the former. With two of the seven directors present to facilitate, the nineteen of us have met multiple times already to discuss the needs and expectations of both self and community. So far, we’ve established a signup sheet for particular chores and responsibilities around the house and voted on a prayer schedule that works for most. So far, we’ve avoided anarchy.

The entire experience, big picture as well as here at Saint Bonaventure’s, has been something I believe will better prepare us for lives as friars. Though we will probably never move as frequently as we do this year, we will be periodically faced with situations that upset our status quo, situations that can either make or break community life in our friaries. It is my hope that I may always live with a spirit of itinerancy, flexible and free of attachments, so that I may always be open and attentive to the needs of both brother and neighbor.

[Pictures to come soon]

2 Comments on “A Spirit of Itinerancy

  1. Brother, I’ve been following your path for a couple of months now and I am very much intrigued by both your writing and your experiences. I myself am going through the initial stages of discernment of looking for a community. While I do enjoy the spirituality of the Holy Father Francis, I was wondering how much actual Theological studies you as Friar-Brothers at this point are allowed to interact with? I am trying to discern between the Franciscans and the Dominicans and while I do enjoy the spirituality of Holy Father Francis, I feel more particularly inclined towards the mission of the Holy Father Dominic. Your insight so far would be appreciated, based on your experiences.

    • brgiles,
      While the first year is not devoted to academic study, we have been exposed briefly to Bonaventure and Scotus, and have been encouraged to read all of Francis’ writings. As far as advice goes, I say the most important thing is familiarize yourself with the spirituality and charism of both Orders, and then witness them in action. Your decision cannot be based on ministry because each order does almost the same sets of things. The real question is how the charism effects the way one’s life and ministry is lived out. Move as quickly as you can away from the theoretical, i.e. what the founders and theologians said, and into the practical, i.e. how are their followers living TODAY? In a sense, who cares what they originally meant if their order is not living true to it or if you can’t possibly call a group of men “brother.” Meet them, ask questions, try it out. I wish you the best of luck!

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