Writing this on Wednesday morning, I am still reflecting on a meeting of the Guardians of the Province in Portarlington, beginning on Sunday evening and concluding yesterday at lunchtime. For those who are not familiar with Franciscan structures, a “guardian” is the traditional name friars use for the brother who is the leader of the community.
The term is gentler than the term “religious superior” which has been used by some groups in the past. I can still remember a retreat in which the preacher was speaking about this terminology and said that “the problem with superiors is that they think they are superior.” Other orders of friars, like Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians call their leaders “prior,” but that has problems too, with its links to the concept of being first and before everyone else.
So our term has a warmer tone, signifying a carer or protector, which is becoming more and more relevant when communities are growing older and experiencing health problems.
So, the Guardians of the Irish Province come together a few times each year to support one another in a fraternal atmosphere, sharing difficulties, celebrating prayerfully, and addressing practical issues such as finance and staff matters (Human Resources). This time the meetings was largely overshadowed by the announced closure of two friaries, Athlone and Clonmel, which I mentioned in previous reflections, together with an acknowledgment of a significant list of deaths since the last meeting.
We were painfully aware of the fact that at our next meeting in March, there will be two fewer guardians present as the two houses close. But we were not disconsolate or lacking in hope as believers in resurrection and the possibility of new life. We know we are being looked after by a compassionate God who accompanies us in life and in death.
Back at home in the friary, it was good to return to community singing on Sunday after a long time of recorded music, which had its own beauty at times, given the wonderful acoustics in our Church. Hearing the soaring voice of Judy Collins singing Amazing Grace certainly moved me. Fr John added to the occasion on Sunday with his accordion accompaniment which certainly enhanced our liturgy. He was also involved in leading the singing at our Tuesday evening devotions in honour of St Anthony.
At ninety there is “life in the old dog” yet! Covid will not have the final word!