THE ROLE OF THE SFO SPIRITUAL ASSISTANT IN FORMATION
Simon Peter Bourke OFM
I would like sincerely to congratulate Patrick Colbourne on his comprehensive and incisive paper on the role of Spiritual Assistant in Formation. It has been enlightening and
informative for all of us attending this seminar. I can only add my few cautionary and calculated points to his exposition.
The role of the Spiritual Assistant (SA) can be complex and difficult within the fraternity, as there can be competition for position and/or power for the role of:
a) the Minister; or the Minister insisting that certain non-Franciscan material be used for formation, e.g., the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and this against the expressed wishes of the brothers and sisters of the Fraternity.
b) within the Fraternity Council - disruptive person(s); over-aggressive, over- directive; over-zealous, or, at the other extreme, too compliant, etc., can make for difficulties.
c) with the Formator or the Formation Team - not bothering to consult the SA about the status or the acceptability of a candidate - using non-Franciscan material - using exclusively superficial material, e.g., Franciscan devotions, without earthing them, which keeps people from considering basic Franciscan principles and values.
All or some of the above takes considerable vigilance, patience, time-consumption and compromise, and inter-personal skills.
The SA has to be aware of and resist "taking over", even in the face of foreseeable poor end results. There needs to be a gradual and persistent effort to educate Secular Franciscans to accept responsibility for their own Order, the Secular Franciscans and their own decisions; even when they want the SA to, behind the scene, run the fraternity ("deferring to Father").
Yet the SA needs to be present to listen, to listen and listen; to encourage and discreetly and appropriately suggest ways and means to intensify the Franciscan life of the Fraternity.
The SA should be free and freed from these and other considerations to be an educator in the best sense of the word; that is, the revealer of the revealed Christ through the Church and Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels.
He is called upon to be an authoritative guide by means of his priestly ministry, through his Mass and the Sacraments and his spoken words, whether homilies or other instructions. This is not to forget the interior life (the prayer life) and the lay vocation in the Church (parish) - though not a parish group - of the brothers and sisters. This is no easy task when there is only a monthly meeting (and the SA may miss a month because of some other priority), as well as duties and responsibilities because of a more primary position.
To be open and have the time to form a trusting and easy relationship with each brother/sister requires humility, adapting oneself to that particular personality; to be available and affable, is an ongoing challenge. The wonderful ideal for the SA requires tailoring to his other responsibilities. For me, it inevitably comes back to the lack of TIME.
It would be a mistake for an SA to underrate the gifts and abilities of the brothers and sisters of any Fraternity; they have a wonderful capacity and resilience to absorb men and women who are not accepted nor perhaps acceptable to other organizations. I can't think of anything more Franciscan and of any more effective a way of giving Franciscan witness.
Formation Team: The SA can be in a difficult position when it comes to initial formation; he normally sees the candidate only at the fraternity meeting because of such factors as distance, time and his other priorities.
On-going Formation: To me this depends a good deal on the progress of our own prayer life - especially in the Holy Spirit - our own Franciscan reading - and of refreshment courses in Franciscan Life, e.g., at the Franciscan International Study Centre, Franciscan Challenge, Franciscan Pilgrimages, etc. How to blend the Franciscan Way of Life with the daily challenge of living in a secular society.
And, again, to suggest what I mentioned last year, that each year a Secular Franciscan be chosen to follow one of these courses, to return and pass on what has been absorbed