Franciscan Leadership: The Way of Humility – Part 1

Monthly Spiritual Message, June 2013
Fr John Cooper OFM Cap

On the 23rd May, Br. Michael Perry OFM, from the USA, concelebrated his first Holy Mass as Minister General of the Friars Minor. In his homily he spoke about the book of Sirach and how the Friars do not have to rely on any other strength than that of the Spirit of God. This is significant in that St Francis himself noted that the Holy Spirit was the Minister General of the whole Franciscan Order. (2 Celano 193) St Francis felt so strongly about this that it is said, he wanted it put into the Rule, but the Rule of 1223 had already been approved and it could not be done.

Br Michael continued to say that in today’s world young people are hungry for a meaningful life; the elderly are thirsty for someone to give them new spaces in life. The poor and marginalized are eager to be recognized in their human dignity, and we, friars, always need to give a shared and fraternal witness of God’s mercy.

Pope Francis had taken the previous Minister General, Br. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, (an extraordinarily gifted man I am told by some of our Capuchin friars who know him) as Secretary of the Congregation for Religious.  Br. Jose took up his post for the Vatican almost immediately he was chosen, but has since been ordained a bishop on May 18 at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella.

At the end of his homily the new Minister General, Br Michael stressed the importance of Franciscans becoming a prophetic fraternity, bearing witness to fraternity as a place of the sacramental presence of God, learning together how to read the desires and sufferings of our times and letting ourselves live by the Gospel, who is Jesus Christ himself. This will enable us to become a living mystery of the Spirit of God given to us by the Father through the Son. At the end of the Mass the new Minister General asked for the friars to bless him and his work and he in turn he blessed them all.[1]

So Br Michael Perry has reminded us that we owe obedience to the Holy Spirit as the true leader of Franciscans. The Holy Spirit is therefore the model for Franciscan leadership and one of the first things we should learn about the Holy Spirit is that he never points to himself.

With divine humility, as the “Finger of the Living God” (Luke11:20) the Holy Spirit always points us towards Jesus and gives us the grace and gifts to become transformed into Christ.

Nowadays we hear more and more about the concept of “servant leader” but it does not yet appear explicitly in any of the legislation of the Secular Franciscan Order. For that matter neither does the word “humility”. The word “humble” occurs only three times and then only in describing Jesus and his mother. It would seem that humility is completely unknown as a way of leadership or of animation.

So then, what ideas have our leaders been working with? Have we militarised our concept of leadership? Are we a military Order?  Are we like the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem founded in 1099?  Did I hear you answer, “No! Absolutely not!”  I would agree with you whole heartedly, however I do like their idea that to be a member you must pay $600 a year.

That would be $50 a month. It would make the Local Treasurer’s job a happy one and you would have plenty of money for Retreats and for the cost of Chapter.

Are we a Company?  Did I hear you say “No”?  Well legally the OFS is now a Company and can be sued as such. Not that I would recommend it, since you are almost bankrupt. So should we run the Secular Franciscans like a Business? Should you call your National Minister the CEO? (Chief Executive Officer) If so, then Sandie Tilley was greatly underpaid for the extraordinary work she put in over the last three years. If we follow business rules then those who don’t agree with management should be sacked and if we follow military rules then those who disobey should be shot!

A lawyer rang up the other day and asked to speak to the Superior. I said, “The Local Superior or the Provincial Superior?” He said, “The one in charge of the Friary.” “Oh,” I said, “You mean the Guardian!”  He said, “What does he look after, this Guardian?” “Well,” I said, “By virtue of the vow of poverty his first priority is to look after the Friars.”  “Well” he said, “I want the person who is responsible for the friary.” I said, in all humility, “I am.” “What is your title?” he requested. “Oh” I said, “I am the Local Superior according to Canon Law, but as a Franciscan I am called, “The Guardian””. “So you are Superior?” he said. I replied, “It’s nice of you to say so, but what do you want?” “I have a client who fell over in your driveway and broke her wrist, who wants to sue the Friary.” “Sorry to hear that,” I said, “But, it is not our driveway. It belongs to the Parish.” So there you go, everyone wants to know, who the “Superior” is! The one in charge, the one responsible, “king of the hill, top of the heap…A number one” top dog, leader of the pack! So they can sue them.

So then what does our OFS legislation actually say about our leadership? Well, it uses the word “Minister” or “President” (GC 21) as in, National Minister or Regional Minister or Local Minister. Its meaning in terms of the Government of the country as in “Prime Minister or Minister of Government” means the job of one who serves the Crown. As when, just before his head was chopped off St Thomas More OFS said, “I remain the King’s own servant, but God’s first!” So a minister in the secular arena and in the religious world is a lesser person “a servant” – one who serves. Christ when he washed the feet of the Apostles said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:13-17) Christ is The Master yet here he gives a striking example of “servant leader”. He gives us an example of astounding humility.

But we have not even begun to depth the Way of Humility. (Only two pages allowed) “We’ve only just begun…” (a beautiful wedding song from the Carpenters) But we have time in the next two spiritual letters to search a little deeper. This is only to get your attention before your Chapter.

Br John Cooper OFM Cap





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