Monks and the poor

I feel a certain attraction to the monastic life, particularly the Benedictines or the Cistercians. One thing that’s holding me back, though, is Christ’s admonitions to help the poor. I realize the strict monastic life has produced great saints and I recognize the value of their continual prayer, both in their own lives and in the life of the Church; I certainly don’t think we all have to give up everything and go join the Franciscans. Still, I’m having a hard time reconciling “whatsoever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for Me” with the life of separation and solitude practiced by some orders. Anyone have any insights they care to share?

Maybe you are called to a sort of middle-ground, like Conventual Franciscans. (Technically it isn’t a middle-ground it is a different charism/calling.) You will still have to give what you own to the poor, but you will live in a monastery-like setting (a friary instead of a monastery) but you will help the poor.

Since most of my contact is with Franciscans I can’t help a lot with the other orders but like you said, everything all the Orders does helps the Church, the world, and the poor.

By the way, the Conventual Franciscans aren’t the only ones that live in community and still serve the poor. There are several Third Order congregations that do the same thing. Brother JR (JReducation on here) is in a community that serves both the poor and pro-life causes.

There are many ways of helping the poor. Monks, at a bare minimum, can pray for them and for those who work directly with them. (In our utilitarian culture, we tend to severely underestimate the power of prayer.) I also know an abbey where the monks have some sort of assistance program for the poor, even though the monks themselves do not have much contact with them. Some monasteries make money off their land or farms or businesses and can donate money.

I work as a volunteer director at a homeless shelter, and believe me, not everyone is cut out to work directly with such populations on a regular basis. It can easily lead to burn-out and profound frustration for people without a certain gift. I myself contribute on an administrative level, although I have done work with the poor one-on-one as well. But some of our volunteers have found that they are much better at certain types of tasks other than direct service–fundraising or public awareness, for instance. We all have different gifts.

I guess I’m taking the long route to say that Christ can call us to help the poor in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly, and your vocation will not impede you from helping the poor in whatever way God thinks is best for you.

Thanks for the reply. What really does set the Conventual Franciscans apart from the Observants or Capuchins? I’ve had a hard time finding a simple explanation of the differences.

That’s more or less the conclusion I’ve come to, but I still struggle with the issue nonetheless. Maybe I’m called to a more active life, such as the Franciscans of the Immaculate or the Carmelite friars, or maybe I just need to accept the explanation and trust God. :shrug:

What sort of work with the poor have you done? What aspects of the monastic lifestyle appeal to you over against a more “active” vocation? If this is really weighing on your heart, you might want to try a variety of volunteer activities first (ideally with a Catholic or religious group), as this could help in your discernment. If you’re like me, it’s tempting to leave everything in the realm of theory and remain indecisive :slight_smile:

I’ll admit, I’ve not done too much with the poor, aside from charitable giving. Like you, I tend to keep things abstract, but I spent this past weekend at a Benedictine abbey and that definitely helped make my thoughts about that life more concrete. I need to do the same sort of thing with other groups/orders.

Good to see your post because I am meeting someone tomorrow about starting the process to join the Third Order of Franiscans.

I think that working on it as you are doing is a valid part of the journey. Have you thought about the Third Order by the way where you take the vow but as a Tercery (spelling) and yes working with the Spiritual Director they guide us on poverty as in what we give up etc. I

I would discuss this with your priest who would be quite valuble source of hope. It was my priest who indirectly lead me to look at the Third Order. He not mentioned it at all. I found it but through his advice etc…

I’m leaning towards fully professed religious life, meaning a First Order, but, if I decide against that, I’ll almost definitely be looking at the Secular Franciscans or something like that. I’ll pray your meeting goes well!

It depends on what you want to know about the differences. If what you want to know is how are they different today, then the answer is it depends on the group. Every friary, province, group is different. You will find everything from people with liberal ideas to ultra orthodox within both groups. The Franciscans as a whole are reinventing themselves and trying to return to the ideals of the founder.

If you mean why the differences exist. You probably know that in general a Franciscan is someone that gives up everything they own and tries to not be attached to anything. The earliest Franciscans took it to the extreme and wouldn’t own buildings, they wouldn’t stay in the same place long and things like that. Eventually due to needs in cities some Franciscans would come together in convents (now known as friaries) so that they could administer to a city, college, hospital, or something else. Eventually there was a split between these groups and the main OFM branch. The new branch was called OFM Conventual since they tended to live in convents. Many early colleges are a result of OFM Conv influence.

A little while longer some within OFM felt that many within OFM had lost some of the ideals of St. Francis. This group eventually split away. They were known for having long hood or Capuches and they became known as Capuchins. All three branches are 1st Order Franciscan. All three are equally part of the Franciscan family.

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