From the very beginning of its foundation as Order in the Church, the title of the Superior of the Franciscan Order has been Minister General and, for any of their independent entities, Minister Provincial. The title itself is reflective of what leadership authority meant to Francis. This is particularly evident when compared to other religious groups, e.g., Dominicans (Master General and Prior) and Augustinians (Father General). Most cloistered congregations call their superiors Abbot. All the titles that the religious groups have, tend to emphasize the hierarchical structure of their community with their superiors as their head. The emphasis on hierarchy unintentionally results in role reversal, with the superiors being on top being served by those at the bottom of the organizational ladder, rather than the superior being the servant of all.
Like most communities of human beings, the Church and other ecclesial gatherings tend to be hierarchically structured. There is a need for a superior in any religious congregation just as there is a need for a parish priest in any community. Leadership is a key ingredient for groups such as these, in large part due to the need to identify and organize the various charisms of its members in order to facilitate the delivery of services to its members. In this case, the hierarchy exists to serve and not to be served.
The fact that Francis called leaders “ministers” was precisely to emphasize that the role of leadership is primarily to serve. In the early rule of 1221 6:3, Francis insisted that “let no one be called ‘prior’ but let everyone in general be called ‘lesser brother’”, referencing the gospel passage “let no one wash the feet of the other.” At one point he even expressed his desire to name the OFM order as the “Order of the Lesser Brothers.”
This theme of service and humility is very appropriate for the season of Lent. The gospel being proclaimed and dramatically acted upon during the first day of the Triduum is the washing of the feet. In this single act, we see a reversal of roles, with the master becoming a servant, a humbling act of someone who is called Lord and Master. In this symbolic act we see both service and humility that cannot be separated. Any act of service is a humbling act; just as humility can be expressed in acts of service.
As published in the March 26 issue of the Parish Bulletin.