Having just arrived in Durham and being around a lot of new people, I’ve been going through the usual suspects of questions quite a bit: “How did you know you wanted to be a Franciscan?” “How old are you?” “How much longer do you have left?” and my *favorite* one, “Are you going to be a priest or a brother?” Regular readers of the blog will know this question (and my feeling towards it), and will understand why I generally choose to be difficult with people by saying, “Yes,” or “Well, we’re all brothers…”
When it comes right down to it, I don’t ever blame people for not knowing the subtleties of being a Franciscan or that certain phrasings of the question are highly offensive (e.g. “Are you going to remain a brother or go on to be a priest?”). The question reflects a culture in the Church that is very common, and at the core, it’s not a bad question to ask: Knowing that not all Franciscans are priests, they want to know if I will be.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a teaching moment either. Whether acknowledged or not, there is often an underlying assumption in people that one is better than another, that one is a “higher calling” or more important life, and so there is an unconscious hope for “priest.” Given the shortage of priests in our country, I completely understand why someone might be disposed that way. But at the same time, it is an attitude that undermines our understanding of what it means to be Franciscan. We are not two groups in one, the priests on one side and the lay brothers on the other. We are one brotherhood. Some of us live out our baptismal call to discipleship behind an altar and some behind a desk, but our place in the brotherhood is no different.
It may seem like old news to the faithful readers, but a topic worth emphasizing every so often. I hope you enjoy the newest Ask Brother Casey segment as I explain once again the difference and share my own reason for choosing the path of priesthood.