What Does a Capuchin Do? As Vocation Director, this is the question young men ask more than any other. “So… what do you guys actually do?” It is question which requires a nuanced answer. Certainly I can point to specific ministries in which our community works: homeless shelters, prisons, parishes, etc. But simply pointing to individual ministries does not get to the heart of what we do.
After all, we are not Jesuits. We were not founded with a specific mission of teaching and spiritual direction. We are not the Dominicans who were founded with a clear mandate to preach against heresy.
What then does a Capuchin do? To discover that answer, we have to look to St. Francis of Assisi. In the first lines of his Rule, he describes the essential identity of a Franciscan: “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity.”
For Francis, we are to live as Friars Minor (little brothers) striving to be faithful to the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ by living fully and joyfully the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
In summary, we are to encounter everyone as our brothers and sisters; we are to be a little brother to the homeless man, to those incarcerated, to the sick and the needy, to the lost and lonely. As their little brothers, we are to bring the good news of Jesus Christ, witnessing to this reality by the joyful observance of our vows.
There is often a false dichotomy proposed between truth and love. Some Catholics argue that we should simply take care of everyone without any judgment, concern or emphasis on preaching the truth. Others would argue that we must proclaim the truth boldly, in season and out of season, whether it makes the hearer uncomfortable or not.
In choosing his papal name, Pope Francis drew inspiration from the little poor man of Assisi. Clearly, in the mind of Pope Francis there is a special relevance for a Franciscan approach to evangelization in our time. What is Pope Francis doing? He is imitating St. Francis. He is going out to the poor and the marginalized. He is embracing lepers as St. Francis did. He is telling priests and religious to get out among the people as the early Franciscans did, to “smell like the sheep.”
In caring for the needs of people, in sharing their hardship and suffering, in being “little brothers” to them, we reveal Hesed
– the Old Testament, Hebrew term for God’s merciful love. Through our actions, our words and the work of our hands, we reveal that our God is a God of merciful love.
Does this mean we have no concern for the truth, for preaching and teaching doctrine? Certainly not! But in an age dominated by secular humanism and moral relativism, where everyone invents their own version of the truth, the truth is falling on deaf ears – their hearts are closed to the truth. The Franciscan approach of Francis of Assisi and now Pope Francis is to be a little brother to everyone, to show them the merciful love of God.
This is what St. Francis of Assisi did when he embraced the leper. He said with his actions: “You are not alone in your suffering. I am your little brother and I want to show you the love that God has shown me.” This is what St. Francis did in his kindness toward a lonely widow named Jacoba. Through his actions he said: “Neither are you alone in your sorrow and isolation. I am your little brother and I want to love you with the very love of God.” This was the approach of St. Francis to the people of his time and it is why he is still so beloved and honored eight centuries after his death.
This Franciscan dynamic of brotherhood creates in the other person a possibility of opening to the truth and discovering through their own experience that God is Hesed
. Through this encounter with God, the person discovers for themselves that God’s love is his truth and his truth his love. In this special encounter, a person is healed of the guilt of their past and freed for a new life in Christ. A person may then realize with the conviction of St. Francis of Assisi that the Lord is truly “my God and my everything.”
To learn more about the ministries of the Capuchin Franciscans, check out our ministry page