Every three years, dating back to St. Francis himself, the Franciscans gather together in what is called a Chapter. A combination of business and fraternity, a Chapter is a time for the brothers to take a break from their daily ministerial lives to be with each other, share about their experiences, and to readjust the fraternal mission. This generally includes various speakers, discussions of important topics, votes around important issues, the election of the provincial council (the advisory board to the provincial), and if the provincial has finished his term (six year followed by an option for three year), the election of a new provincial.
In such years, as it is this year, the province goes through a process called a Canonical Visitation. The best way that I can describe this process is that it is the most fraternal and least binding audit one can imagine. Essentially, a friar is chosen from a province outside of our own to give an objective report of the life of the province so that it can best correct itself into the future.
This is no easy task. Besides sitting in on provincial council meetings and thoroughly looking over important documents, the “Provincial Visitator” as he is called meets with every single friar in the province for an hour to discuss three areas of critical importance: Personal Life, Local Fraternal Life, and Provincial Life. For example:
- The state of your health: physical, mental, spiritual, vocational.
- What gives you life in ministry?
- Are you a happy friar?
- What do you think of the different dimensions of your local friar life?
- Do you have any proposals to better the life of the local fraternity?
- Is there a transparency between the Provincial administration and the friars regarding finances?
- What are you thoughts around provincial movement and collaboration?
- Do you have any suggestions of friars that would be good in leadership positions?
These are among the two pages of questions I have been given to prepare for my meeting tomorrow, a meeting that I am very grateful to have. What a blessing it is to have an outsider visit each of us every election year, to listen to us in confidence, and to collate our responses into a comprehensive report! It is an opportunity to understand who we are at the moment so that we can best determine who we want to be in the future. It is an opportunity to receive affirmation for what we are already doing, and to correct what might have gone astray. It is an opportunity to bring forth new life in the Franciscan Order and in our world.
As it is my first chapter I know little of what to expect. I look forward to seeing everyone in June, to hearing what the visitator has to say, and to see where the Spirit decides to lead us next. Certainly more to come on this topic as plans unfold! Please keep Holy Name Province, as well as all of the other United State provinces, in your prayers as this is an interesting time of collaboration and new endeavors in this country.