July 24, 2013

Unchained, Not Going To Ostia

Perhaps others with experience of religious life will feel some resonance when I say that one of the ordinary and persistent trials of religious life is finding out that one's expectations of it and presumptions about it are unfounded and erroneous, respectively.

My originary and archetypal experience in this regard came a few days into my first postulancy, when, in my innocence, I asked of one of the directors when I would be told which of the priests was to be my confessor. For better or for worse, the sort of lives of the saints that had formed my idea of religious life had made me think, among other things, that being assigned a confessor would be one of the important first moments of my religious life. Instead, I was informed that it was the policy of the formation program that whatever had been the individual postulant's use (or lack thereof) of the sacrament of Reconciliation prior to entering, he ought to continue it quietly.

At the time, this left me not only scandalized but also with the nagging feeling that religious life was not going to provide me, as I had presumed it would, with the structures and resources for living what seemed to me to be a religious life.

Now, almost twenty years later I have had the latest experience of this sort. I discovered that, to the best of my knowledge and inquiry, there is no longer any such person as the Cardinal Protector of the Franciscan Order, despite the concluding words of the Rule that all of us friars of the First Order have professed:
In addition to these points, I command the ministers through obedience to petition from our Lord the Pope for one of the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, who would be the governor, protector, and corrector of this fraternity, so that, being always submissive and subject at the feet of the same Holy Church and steadfast in the Catholic faith, we may observe poverty, humility, and the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as we have firmly promised. (Later Rule, XII: 3-4, FA: ED I, 106)
Why should I be concerned about this? Well, it has to do with another word we have from St. Francis, in his Testament. The question of the legislative weight of the Testament is an ancient and abiding one in Franciscan history. The problem derives from St. Francis himself, who says in the document itself that it is not 'another Rule' but at the same time seems to make commands by obedience. The Capuchin branch of the Friars Minor, of which I find myself a member at this stage of my Franciscan journey, has always maintained as one of its characteristics the tradition of holding up some of the alleged precepts of the Testament and cherishing it as the primary gloss on the Rule.

Quick and dirty excursus into Franciscan history done, here is the section of the Testament I have in mind:
And if some [brothers] might have been found who are not reciting the Office according to the Rule and want to change it in some way, or who are not Catholics, let all the brothers, wherever they may have found one of them, be bound through obedience to bring him before the custodian of that place nearest to where they found him. And let the custodian be strictly bound through obedience to keep him securely day and night as a man in chains, so that he cannot be taken from his hands until he can personally deliver him into the hands of his minister. And let the minister be bound through obedience to send him with such brothers who would guard him as a prisoner until they deliver him to the Lord of Ostia, who is the Lord, the Protector and the Corrector of this fraternity. (St. Francis, Testament, 31-33, FA: ED I, 126-127)
The Lord of Ostia mentioned here is, of course, that famous character of early Franciscan history, Cardinal Ugolino dei Conti di Segni, Cardinal Protector of the Order and the future Pope Gregory IX.

Therefore, one of the comforts I had always felt as a Capuchin, in this branch of the Order said to hold the precepts of the Testament dear, was that if it happened that I abandoned the Divine Office or somehow began to deviate from the Catholic faith, my ministers would put me in chains and deliver me to the Cardinal Protector of the Order for correction and, I imagined, some kind of remedy. But if there is no longer any such person, I now realize that my comfort was in vain.

If however, one wanted to do his best nonetheless and deliver me to the Lord of Ostia, that wouldn't be so simple either. Depending on how one wanted to read the intervening history of the Roman Church and her suburbicarian sees, it might mean delivering me either to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, or to Bishop Vincenzo Apicella, the latter being, incidentally, the bishop of our blogging colleague Fr. Z. But I leave that discernment up to my superiors, may God forbid that it ever be necessary.

1 comment:

Louis M said...

or who are not Catholics


Does this mean, who are no longer Catholics?