franciscan - May 1997
© The Society of Saint Francis, 1997
Brother Damian, Minister Provincial of the First Order Brothers in the European Province, writes:
How time flies! It was 1st July 1991 that Brother Brian and I took up ministerial rôles in the First Order. Brian is about to step down as Minister General, having given enormously of himself to his brothers and to the Church. A great deal has happened in the First Order in the meantime. I am tempted now to reminisce and to spell out in this column one of the significant developments in this period: our training. As in other education courses within the Church in Britain, we have in SSF given more energy and made more opportunity for ‘growing into our vocation’. It used to be said that study was the Cinderella of our three occupations, prayer and works taking precedence; experience had been relied upon as the means of learning to be a brother. Now our novices know that they have a clearly-defined training. I heard one novice expressing it thus: “We are given three different places to pick up the three aspects of our vocation: community, prayer and spirituality, and urban ministry. So our houses at Hilfield, Glasshampton and Birmingham have been the places to which we invite our aspirants to test their vocation to our life and to work through the syllabus of the training programme.
In pursuit of genuine knowledge and experience in the urban year, we have moved from a detached house in Gillott Road in Edgbaston to a council flat in Ley Hill, in the Northfield district of Birmingham, to base ourselves more precisely in a place of deprivation. I seriously beg your prayers for Alan Michael and the brothers just settling in now.
Of course, in my mind, it is a jolly good training in Christian discipleship. Most would readily admit its worth and the deepening effect of such training on their lives. The purpose and hope is that this will lead our novices to the making of vows towards a life-long vocation of prayer and active service.
That is not always, of course, our experience. As the last telling edition of franciscan made clear, some stay and many leave. Brother John Francis, who currently responds to the flow of letters from would-be aspirants, suggests there is no shortage of enquirers. People want to come. But many would appear to want to be free to go again. While the modern expectation is for choice, I suspect we shall continue to experience many comings and goings.
Within that climate, however, we continue to learn the essential value of our vocation within the Church today
which, according to our SSF Principles (if you have never read them, I will gladly send you a free copy!) may be
recognised through the marks of humility, love and joy. That is how we are to show our response to Jesus’ command
to all his followers, ‘that you love one another.’ We are there in London and in Ley Hill, in the first place
to show forth the fruit of the Spirit, and to co-operate with the Holy Spirit who is the director of God’s mission
for the world. This we do by living in community, by praying in the kingdom and by service to God’s needy people.
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