So today it arrives in print, a signed and official letter of obedience--I am going to be guardian of the friary. The guardian, our Constitutions say, is the local superior, that is, of a friary. It's kind of a curious thing. 'Local' is a good Franciscan word; the first friars simply had 'places' where they stayed. But 'superior' is a tough word in the Franciscan imagination. As Francis says in the earlier Rule: "Let no one be called 'prior,' but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of another."
I'm apprehensive about this new turn in my religious life, but I'm humbled by the trust of the brothers and I'm trying to trust God, who has given me thus far all of the graces I've needed to manage what I have tried to do in a sincere effort at living my vow of obedience.
I've tried to be attentive to my spiritual preparation since this first started to come into focus at the beginning of the summer. I've prayed over the Rule and Constitutions, reviewed some of the constitutional history of the Order, and I re-read Jacques Dalarun's wonderful book, Francis of Assisi and Power.
Sometimes it is said that 'guardian' is a translation of what Francis called a custos or custodian, but this isn't quite the same thing in the history of our governance. Francis talked about guardians, and one of the things I've done for myself in these days is to remind myself of all the times he speaks of this ministry in his own writings:
"And let all the brothers be bound to obey their guardians and to recite the Office according to the Rule." (Testament, 30)
"And I firmly wish to obey the general minister of this fraternity and the other guardian whom it pleases him to give me. And I so wish to be a captive in his hands that I cannot go anywhere or do anything beyond obedience and his will, for he is my master." (Testament, 27)
"I, Brother Francis, a useless man and unworthy creature of the Lord God, speak through the Lord Jesus Christ to Brother H., [i.e. Brother Elias] the General Minister of our entire Order and all the general ministers who will come after him, and to the other custodians and guardians of the brothers, who are and who will be, that they might keep this writing with them, put it into practice and eagerly preserve it." (Letter to the Entire Order, 47)
The letter concerns the devout celebration of Mass in our places, as well as devotion to Mary.
"If any one of the brothers, at the instigation of the enemy, shall have sinned mortally, let him be bound by obedience to have recourse to his guardian." (Letter to a Minister, 14)
"I wish to know in this way if you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours: that there is not any brother in world who has sinned--however much he could have sinned--who, after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not looking for mercy, you would ask him if he wants mercy. And if he would sin a thousand times before your eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him to the Lord; and always be merciful with brother such as these. And you may announce this to the guardians, when you can, that, for your part, you are resolved to act in this way." (Letter to a Minister, 9-12)
Translations from Francis of Assisi: Early Documents vol. I: The Saint