In my 14 years as a friar, my family, friends and other many friars have cited my “great passion” for living the Franciscan way of life. I appreciate the sentiment but I’d like to quibble about the terminology. I find that I am less passionate and more purposeful in regards to my “calling.” Passion seems too charged or fleeting a term for my experience of becoming a friar. Instead of a rush of strong feelings, this way of life has engendered in me a deep sense of purpose.
As the psalm says, “The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Ps 19: 9) And it is my experience that the LORD’s precept for my life is to be a friar minor, in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi himself. So, it has been the precepts of the LORD that have given me purpose and joy. And this sense of purpose is much deeper than strong feelings. Honestly, I have felt up and down as I’ve attempted to live this way of life since 2006 when I first began formation to become a friar. But my sense of purpose has grown deeper as the years have gone by.
Additionally, as a millennial myself, moments of passion have not been helpful in relating to the abundant number of friars from the “Greatest Generation”. A millennial’s passions aren’t so much an asset across the wide generational gap that exists in much of religious life today. Not to mention that millennials are so few in number that one’s passion does not find much group support as in days gone by when formation houses were full of young friars of like age and maturity levels. But I have found quite the opposite to be true as regards purpose.
I have experienced that purpose can be appreciated across generational lines in a way that passion cannot. Purpose seems to have a deeper resonance that is more mature and lasting. And in a day when religious life does not have an equal distribution across the age spectrum, those qualities of purpose seem to have more value than strong feelings of passion. I’ve found that in these days of waning Baby Boomer dominance (both in society and religious life in the USA), too much passion just widens the generational divide. But on the contrary: Purpose seems to unite.
Unity of purpose will suit religious life much better than passions as millennials step up to the leadership plate. We will have to carry on the vast tradition that has come and gone before us. And it seems to me that that tradition has struggled (or even lost ground) over the course of the last 30-plus years. Maybe the passionate notions of, “This is where the Church must reform!” or “This is how life post Vatican II must be!” are somehow responsible for the current status of religious life in the Western world? But conclusive evidence to that point would take a decade of research that might end up as passionate as the question. Yet no matter what, I think, it will be purposefulness that can unify millennials with those who have come before us. For me and likely for them, to become a friar was to respond to the precepts of the LORD. And therein the LORD has given me, and other friars too, a rejoicing heart, because we have taken up the purpose we were called follow.
You see, the joy of my life is to follow the precepts of the LORD. And those precepts have been revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and the tradition and teachings of the Church as well as in the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi, and even in the mysterious recesses of my heart where I first heard the call to become a friar. Thus, even as the passions of humanity (friars included) assuredly shift with time, it will be the purposeful life of following the precepts of the LORD that will prove joyful. So, for me, joy comes from following God’s purpose, not Richard’s passions. 😉
(Based in Cincinnati, Fr. Richard Goodin, OFM, is Director of Vocations for St. John the Baptist Province.)