Friday, December 4, 2015

QUESTING IN THE FRANCISCAN-CAPUCHIN TRADITION

Let us try to explore the significance of the term questing, in both linguistic and cultural sense, and see how it serves as a vehicle for experiencing and expressing a fundamental religious experience. The usage of the term may be found in all the religions, though its nuances vary from one religious tradition to another. For example, in Hinduism and Buddhism, questing is a normal way of life for the bikshus (mendicant religious seekers) who have given up everything material in order to dedicate themselves wholly towards seeking the Divine. This study limits itself to the practice of questing in the Christian tradition as lived and experienced by Francis of Assisi and his friars, and later on embraced by the Capuchin friars as a part of their ‘reformed’ way of life. This explains the wording of the title of the first chapter: ‘Questing in the Franciscan-Capuchin Tradition’. Basically, the present chapter deals with Francis of Assisi and his brothers’ approach towards questing. For them, questing was intimately connected with working. Work was to be the ordinary means of their sustenance and when that did not enable them to make their ends meet, they were to go about as ‘questers seeking alms’. This chapter also focuses on questing and its religious value, its practice in the Capuchin legislations and some models in the Capuchin tradition.

1.1 Questing when Work does not suffice as ordinary Means of Sustenance

The term questing is derived from the Greek elemosina (ελεημοσύνη), meaning pietas or misericordia in Latin, or mercy or compassion in English.[1] Questing [Quest verb + ING = Questing/Seek + ING = Seeking] means to go about in search of something; to search or seek. According to Catholic Church, questing means collecting or asking for alms or donations.[2] It is the charity, mercy and Compassion of Jesus Christ[3] which Francis receives and shares with the poor and needy (the passion of Christ and the compassion of Francis).
Francis was a man of mercy and he showed mercy towards others especially towards the poor. According to Francis, the poor are the neglected ones of the society like beggars, lepers, robbers. Francis loved them and showed God’s mercy to them because he saw in them the image of Christ. He not only loved them but also became one of them like his Master Jesus Christ. He is known as the Poverello  ‘the Little Poor Man’ of Assisi, and he begged not only for his and brothers’ needs but also for the needs of the poor. In the Later Rule, he tells his friars not to be ashamed of begging. He writes,
As pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let the friars go seeking alms with confidence, and they should not be ashamed to beg because, for our sakes, our Lord made Himself poor in this world.[4]
Francis insisted that all the friars should work and, as far as possible, support themselves by the sweat of their brow. For the Franciscans, work is a form of solidarity among themselves and with the people, and is the primary source of support. Should that prove inadequate they should turn to ‘the table of the Lord.’[5] During the life of Francis and that of his Brothers, right up to the present-day questing has played an important role. It showed the dependence of the friars on the people among whom they lived and it served to establish a close relationship with them.
The Rule of 1221was completed in the midst of an internal crisis. Francis had resigned from the government of the Order, though not from his charismatic role as founder. The Ministers and the party of the ‘prudent’ were against having the Pope confirm it as it stood. In the face of this, Francis undertook the task of writing a new text more in accord with the style of a basic code. Creating a new draft was far from easy, given the positions of the Ministers. Cardinal Hugolino and even Pope Honorius III himself had to mediate. Francis had to give up certain cherished Gospel formulae, but on the whole he was able to affirm his ideals, some of which more forcefully articulated than in the Earlier Rule. These included, for example, the manner of “going about in the world”, the itinerant nature of the fraternity, with no permanent dwellings, the absolute prohibition of money and even what one might call the mysticism of most high poverty in Chapter VI.[6]
The prescriptions on work are right at the centre, between the ban on the use of money and radical poverty. Since money was totally excluded, either as remuneration or as a means of exchange, an answer was needed to the question of providing for the ordinary needs of an Order then consisting of thousands, a body of men increasingly involved in the ministry of preaching and shouldering other responsibilities.[7]
Br. John Garodi

[1] Cf. M. Bartoli, Appunti per una Storia della Marginalità e della Devianza nel Medioevo, Roma, 2014, p.140.
[2] Cf. J. A. SimpsonE.S.C. Weiner, Questing, in The Oxford English Dictionary, XIII, ed. R.W. Burchfield, New York, 2001, p. 6-7.
[3] Cf. T. Goffi, Carità e Elemosina, in Colla di Monografie sulla Carità, XXI, Roma (1958), p. 24-27.
[4] Cf. fRANCIS OF aSSISI, Later Rule, VI, in Early Documents, I, p. 103. The references to the Franciscan sources are from francis of Assisi, Early Documents, I:The Saint, II: The Founder, III: The Prophet, eds.  R.J. Armstrong - J.A.W. Hellmann - W.J. Short, New York, 1999-2001 (Hereinafter abbreviated as Early Documents, I, II, III).
[5] Cf. Francis of Assisi, The Testament, in Early Documents, I, 125.
[6] Cf. L.Iriarte, Living by our own Work, Living Poverty as a Fraternity, in VI PCO - Preparatory Documents for the Sixth Plenary Council of the Order, Rome, 1998, p. 40-41.
[7] Cf. Iriarte,Living by our own Work, 41.

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