The word itinerant comes from the Latin word ‘iter’ which means “way” or “journey”. Such is the life of a friar. The ‘iter’ of a friar involves continuous conversion as he experiences daily a personal encounter with the Lord in everyone and in everything, and this transforms his whole life gradually.
In 1205, while wandering along the cliff of Mount Subasio, Francis stopped at the dilapidated Chapel of San Damiano where he knelt and prayed. The Lord was with him for from the cross, Jesus spoke to Francis, “Francis, repair my church, which as you see is falling into ruins.”
Francis’ life was changed by this encounter with the Lord. He thought that Jesus wanted him to repair the chapel and he hurried to collect bricks and stones. People thought Francis had gone crazy but their words did not dampen his joy and enthusiasm.
Then, in a church on the feast of Saint Matthias, he had a new revelation on hearing the reading from the Gospel of Matthew: “And going, preach, saying ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ is at hand. Freely have you received, freely give. Take neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses … nor two tunics nor shoes nor a staff … Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves …”. The words cut into his soul like a knife and, taking the words literally, he began the life of an itinerant. This was the beginning of the spirituality of itinerancy.
It dawned on Francis that “repair my church” referred to the people of God whose faith had deteriorated, and Christ had asked him to reinvigorate their faith.
Embracing his mission wholeheartedly, he cast off his shoes, staff and leathern girdle, keeping only his rough woollen tunic, which he tied about him with a rope. This became the habit he gave his friars the following year. The next morning, he went to Assisi and, with moving warmth and sincerity, began to speak to everyone he met about the shortness of life, the need for repentance, and the love of God. His salutation to those he passed on the road was “Our Lord give you peace!”
Following Christ in the way of Francis, the ‘iter’ of the Friars Minor means that the friars strive to preach the Gospel of the Lord with their lives and with words (if necessary), and they too carry peace in their hearts and offer it to everyone they meet.