25 October 2019


Richard (1954-2019) and Annie (1959-2019) Schenk
When I started this (now, sadly neglected) blog, many people asked me why I chose such an offensive title. One of the reasons, as I explained in my first post, was the reaction I (and many of my fellow lay brothers) receive when I tell people that I am not a priest -- "Oh, so you're just a brother." Rather than being offended by that remark, I find it to be ironic. Calling someone "just a brother" is like calling the Grand Canyon "just a ditch", or Mount Everest "just a hill". Being a brother to someone, I think, is about the greatest compliment that you can pay to someone. After all, Jesus came to be our brother, and if it is good enough for him, it is good enough for me!
This is a tribute to the first person to teach me about being brother -- my brother, Richard. We did not choose to be brothers to one another; we were just sons of the same mother and father. Over time, however, in increments too small to detect, we grew into being brothers in ways that went beyond genetics.
He was the trailblazer. Although I wanted to imitate him, in truth I could never match his bravery. To his credit, he never gave up on me and helped me to overcome some of my timidity. One instance that sticks clearly in my mind is the first time we went skiing in Colorado. I had spent a total of one hour on the "bunny slope" learning the basics of skiing, when he took me to the top of a black diamond trail -- the most difficult level -- and told me he'd see me at the bottom. I had some choice names for him when I finally caught up with him, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment that day.
It was only in my adult years that I learned that once, when he saw that I was being bullied at school, he let the bully know that he had better back off. That's the thing about being a brother -- you become so much a part of each other's life that you do not pay much attention to it. It is like the air; you only notice it once it is gone. Richard was like that for me -- always there for me, but never making a big deal of it. Now that he is gone, however, I feel the deep void in my soul. I know that the void will eventually heal, and as every wound does, it will leave a scar. I will cherish that scar, however, because it will remind me of what it is to be a brother.

15 September 2018

Before and After

Here is what twelve years on the general council does to you!



14 September 2018

Pope Francis encourages and challenges the Order

Early this afternoon, around 250 Capuchin friars, including the capitulars, capitular staff and a few friars from the General Curia, met briefly with Pope Francis in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican. He greeted the outgoing general minister, Br. Mauro J√∂hri, and the newly-elected Br. Roberto Genuin, and, after a few words of appreciation from both of them, Pope Francis addressed the assembly. He began by telling us that he had a prepared talk, but that it was "too formal for Capuchins" so he decided to speak without notes. If you want, however, you can find the text of the prepared talk here.

Leaving the Sala Clementina after the Papal Audience.
He began by noting that he has now personally met four Capuchin general ministers. He met Br. Flavio Roberto Carraro at a Synod of Bishops. He also met Br. John Corriveau, who "stole a friar from my country to make him a general definitor." He then added, "but we made John Corriveau a bishop so now we're even!" Pope Francis first met Br. Mauro in Argentina, when he was still the Cardinal of Buenos Aires.

He went on to note three distinguishing characteristics of Capuchins. The first, he said, was our nearness to the people. We are rightly called "Frati del popolo" (Brothers of the people) because we remain close to everyone, especially the poor and the marginalized. He recalled his recent visit to the Capuchin Day Center in Dublin, where the people are welcomed with no questions asked. All are welcomed and treated with dignity.

The second distinguishing characteristic is our ability to bring peace, especially peace within consciences through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Here he recalled a famous Capuchin confessor in Argentina, who spent hours each day in the confessional and helped to reconcile many people and families. [He refers often to this Capuchin friar, and once related how, after a long day in the confessional, he went to the chapel and prayed, "Forgive me, Lord, for being too lenient today, but remember: you were the one who set a bad example for me!"]

Thirdly, he spoke of our prayer life, and especially our contemplative prayer. He urged us to become schools of prayer for Christians.

The audience started about 45 minutes late due to his heavy schedule this morning, but he still took the time to greet each of us personally. It was almost 3 o'clock in the afternoon before we arrived back at the International College and could eat our lunch, but the smiles on the faces of the friars said that the chance to meet the Holy Father was worth the wait.

04 September 2018

Last thoughts

I realize that my posts have become less and less frequent in the past several years, in part because I began using Twitter and Facebook more, but also because my Muse seemed to desert me. Seeing that as of Thursday, September 6, I will no longer be a general councilor, however, I thought it appropriate to write something. I presume this blog will live on after my return to the province, but it will take on a different tone.

The last twelve years of my life have been an amazing journey, and not just in a metaphysical sense. I have flown almost 1.5 million miles during these years and have at least stepped foot in 53 countries. I have met thousands of Capuchins -- I only wish I could remember the names of half of them. My world has greatly expanded since the days when I was a small boy in Olmitz, Kansas.

I wish to express here my gratitude to the friars who had enough faith in me to elect me as a general definitor in 2006 and re-elect me in 2012. I likewise thank all the brothers who supported me, prayed for me, and welcomed me when I visited and made me feel at home. It was a great privilege and honor to serve in this capacity. The examples of faithfulness and cheerful dedication that I saw in so many friars confirmed me in my vocation.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to the other definitors/councilors with whom I worked during these twelve years. We sometimes had our differences, and once in a while we stepped on each other's toes, but at the end of the day, we were still brothers. Special thanks goes to Brother Mauro, under whom I served for all twelve years. He was and is a great brother, a man without guile. He taught me much about leadership. I can honestly say that I grew as a person and as a friar by my association with him.

I am very happy to be returning to my province, but I will always consider these years in Rome, while not without their moments of frustration and loneliness, as a time of grace in my life. I wish all the best to my successor, and pray that his experiences are every bit as rich as mine were.

18 December 2017

It would be a great boost to the Order if this project were to get the funding it needs to produce and air this documentary....

24 November 2017

500 Years After

When Pope Francis visited Assisi a few years ago, he challenged the various branches of the Franciscan Order to work together more closely. On November 23, 2017, about 400 Franciscans Friars — Friars Minor, Conventuals, Capuchins, TORs and Atonements — were granted an audience with Pope Francis in order to inform him of the progress that has been made in this regard, and to express their commitment to continue working together.

Together we have responded to that challenge in several ways. The three branches of the First Order (OFMs, Conventuals, and Capuchins) have worked together to plan a celebration of the 8th centenary of the Pardon of Assisi and a commemoration of the 5th centenary of the Papal Bull "Ite Vos" that cemented the division between the Conventuals and Observants. Earlier this year, a Capitolo generalissimo* was held in Assisi with participants from the three branches of the First Order plus representatives of various other Franciscan congregations. The chapter was held exactly 500 years after the Capitolo generalissimo that Pope Leo X called in order to heal the divisions among various Franciscan groups, but that never took place.

In addition to these celebrations, the three branches of the First Order have begun to collaborate in some very practical areas. The course for missionaries offered in Brussels each year is a joint effort of the three branches of the First Order. They also run an institute for higher studies in Lusaka, Zambia. Efforts are currently underway to combine the Antonianum, Seraphicum and Franciscan Institute of Spirituality in Rome into a single Franciscan University. The first steps have also been taken to establish fraternities with members from each branch of the First Order.

I have spoken to my OFM and Conventual counterparts, and we agree that much more collaboration could be done in North America. All of us, for instance, struggle to provide adequate preparation for those destined to work in the area of formation. Setting up a common course for formation personnel seems to make sense. There are also vast areas of the United States and Canada that have almost no Franciscan presence. Forming an inter-obediential fraternity in these areas could benefit both the local church and our Order.

Brothers, let us begin.

* It is difficult to translate Capitolo generalissimo into English. One might write: "Extra-general chapter", in the sense that while a general chapter (as opposed to a provincial chapter) is for the whole Order, an extra-general chapter is for all the Orders. 

23 November 2017

Franciscan Friars Walking Together

The Holy Father Pope Francis gave a wonderful talk to the 400 Franciscan friars present at a private audience this morning. A link to the text is provided here:
Minority as a place of encounter