In the next few months, a percentage of religious in the United States will be making a move. They will leave their current home and move to another assignment, determined in the dialogue of obedience with their Provincial. And that includes me!
I am moving from St. Anthony Friary in Cincinnati to the new home of our Postulancy Program, Duns Scotus Friary in Berkley, Mich. (The postulants are men who are at the very beginning of our training process. They leave their jobs for one year and “try on” Franciscan life. Should both they and the community determine that there is a “fit”, then they apply for the Novitiate and become novices.)
St. Francis and the first brothers were itinerant – brothers who were not fixed to any particular place. This made them different from monks, who even took vows of stability. For us Lesser Brothers, “the world is our cloister!” This itinerancy left us free to preach the Gospel, with words and without, in the places where few wanted to go. But even more, it leaves us dependent on God and one another to be our true home.
I must admit that one of my frequent temptations is for more permanency. There are times when I’m traveling through a neighborhood at night, seeing the warm light coming from homes, I wonder, oh, wouldn’t it be great to have such a family, a place where you actually know where your toothbrush is, where your loved ones eagerly await your return. Of course, anyone who is in such family situations knows that this egocentric view is actually hard won, developed by difficult communication, lots of surrender. As it is in our friaries!
Itinerancy helps me to remember that my true home is in God. When a friar brother dies unexpectedly, it reminds me that this life is “not a dress rehearsal”. It makes this present time, this now, sweet and sad, the important opportunity, a grateful gift.
In the end, we are all on a pilgrimage to God. We start living that life now, not just in some faraway heaven. Maybe the transition that I need to make is as close as my back yard. Transitions always feel like dying. But what an adventure! What an opportunity to know more concretely the loving arms of God who will never let us go.
Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM