August 20, 2008

We're Not Monks

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the greatest lights in the history of religious life in the western Church. Whenever one of these great monastic saints comes around, I get to thinking about religious life. One of the great dissonances of my own religious life is that I have always seen my own Franciscan vocation within the context of the whole tradition of religious life, while many other friars seem to see our particular vocation as unrelated to the earlier, more monastic forms. How often I have heard the protest, "We're not monks."

It's true, there are critical differences between the monastic and the mendicant forms of religious life. Stability and place have always been constitutive of monastic life in the Benedictine traditions, while the mendicant life is based on homelessness and itinerancy. The concept of religious poverty is very different as well. Monastic religious typically follow the vision of poverty found in Acts 2:45-46, in which all who believed held all things in common and gave to each according to need. Franciscans, on the other hand, are inspired by the vision of poverty associated with Gospel passages like Matthew 10:9-10, "Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick." The first is the vision of a stable community which supports the individual renunciation of its members, while the second is a vision of an itinerant life without stable or reliable support.

In practice, most Franciscans actually follow the monastic model of individual poverty within corporate security.

What gets me about us is that the suggestion that we ought to follow a more strict or regular pattern of common prayer (up to and including what we have promised in our own Rule and Constitutions) is often met with the objection, "We're not monks." But if you then suggest that by that same logic we ought to reject the monastic model of religious poverty as well, along with the comfort and security it affords us, well then the real motives of the "We're not monks" brethren will come through.

1 comment:

Tausign said...

Yes the distinction is important and the mendicant has much to offer to the Church as a whole. Whatever the living situation willed by God the important factor is that those in love with Lady Poverty understand the weight and burden of material possession.

From a recent comment I made on another blog: "Love of poverty" sometimes stirs confusion because poverty WITHOUT full trust in God is unnerving and the basis for anxiety. So as loving union with God grows (and perfect love casts out fear), so too does an immense desire to trust and become fully dependant on Him (poverty). We actually begin to suspect and loath our own self-sufficiency which is sterile and foolish (humility)." That's my take on the Franciscan path.

Our 'Lady Poverty' who is delightful and sets us free has been confused with the 'wretchedness and woundedness' of those who lack trust in the Lord's providence and who suffer angst because of their fear and insecurity.