Saturday, October 22, 2011

Revive our evangelical Franciscan spirit!

What a wonderful way to begin your visitation today by coming together to celebrate this Holy Mass today. And, how perfect God’s timing always is for us. Today, we celebrate the Memorial of Blessed Pope John Paul II or John Paul the Great. This is the very first time that we, as Church, get to celebrate this memorial since his beatification this past Spring. So, this is a wonderful day and our beloved former Pope has so many words that can inspire us today.

In preparing for Mass this morning, I also took a moment to look at the SFO Constitutions to see what they had to say about a fraternal visitation. This is what I read, “The purpose of both the pastoral and fraternal visits is to revive the evangelical Franciscan spirit, to assure fidelity to the charism and to the Rule, to offer help to fraternity life, to reinforce the bond of the unity of the Order, and to promote its most effective insertion into the Franciscan family and the Church.”

What a lofty and wonderful goal for us today. A day in which we can “revive our Evangelical spirit.” And we need that from time to time. I am just returning from two weeks of different meetings – a week with the General Minister and all of the Franciscan Provincials of the English Speaking Conference, and then more recently a week with all of the brothers of my Province as we gathered for an All Province Assembly this past week – meetings that have left me today in exactly that space – revived in my evangelical Franciscan spirit; and so I want to share a few thoughts on that in the hopes of setting your day off in the right direction.

First, a word of revival from our Scriptures today – again, so well planned by our Lord! Just look at what we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.” Isn’t this the heart of the Gospel that our Holy Father Francis so dearly clung to and encourages us to do? You know the Rule of the First Order begins with this sentence: Francis wrote, “This is the rule and life of the Minor Brothers, namely, to observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, in poverty, and in chastity.” That is the Rule of 1223. There’s often a question about that Rule; what took so long? Francis received his approval for our way of life in 1209 and we don’t have an approved written rule until some 14 years later. Why? My belief has always been that Francis would have simply said, “We have a Rule and it was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” And, so when Francis writes that first sentence, I like to think that it was a bit tongue-in-cheek or perhaps another way of thinking about it is that it was written as commentary. “The rule and life of the Minor Brothers is to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Period! End of sentence. I think if he could have, he would have ended there.

This is the heart of the statement in Romans, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.” This is what we celebrate as baptized members of the faith. This is what we celebrate as members of this Franciscan way of life. Freedom. We celebrate freedom. We live in this incredible freedom to be children of God. We live in this incredibly freedom – enshrined in our life as we pursue poverty, chastity and obedience in ways that are appropriate to our different states of life married, single, religious, lay – we live in a freedom that allows us to not follow the way of the world and instead follow the way of the Gospel. This is evangelical! This is liberation!

As I met two weeks ago with the Provincials and our General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, Br. José spoke to us about vocations. One of the things he said was, “We do have the strength to call young men to join us. The worst thing we can do is to think that we have reached a time when we cannot have vocations. Put all your strength into this. First of all, we must believe in our life and have the courage to propose our life to young people. If we don’t propose the Gospel life, many others will propose other values.”

While he was naturally speaking about the First Order, I think we can take his words and make them words for our Secular family as well and ask a few critical questions – do we live with the sense that we can still call other to join us in this way of life? Do we live with the courage that proposes as an option the Gospel life to others. We know there are many competing values in our world today; there are many options out there that are all asking people young and old to follow – the path to fame, the path to riches, the path to power; not to mention the many voices that clamor for violence and war and the subjugation of people (especially the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the sick); there are no shortage of voices out there. How loud is ours? How loud is our call to the Gospel – not by mere proclamation, but by example. We all know the quote, often attributed to Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words.” Is your Franciscan life evident simply by the way you live? Do other see your love and advocacy of the poor, your love and call for peace, your love and protection of nature, your love and respect for all life from natural birth to natural death and every moment in between? Are these Franciscan values visible? I would echo the General Minister’s words and say, Yes! We do have the strength to call others to this Gospel way of life!

The best way to do this is to be united as a fraternity; to “reinforce the bond of unity” that the Secular constitutions call for. I mentioned my second meeting was an All Province Assembly this past week. It was held at our retreat house in Wappinger Falls, NY. As you can imagine, we had wonderful moments of prayer, we had profound moments of sharing and of course, we had way too much food! It was a spirit accentuated by the famous words from Psalm 133: Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum. "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity." During our week, we laughed, we fought, we cried, we discussed important things about our life and about our future. But we all left with the giddiness that comes from brothers being together in united. Let today be like that for you. Let this visitation strengthen the bonds of your fraternity in the same way.

And finally, a word from our beloved Blessed John Paul. There is so much that can be shared from his decades as the Chief Shepherd of our Flock. But, I’ll just share one of my favorite quotes. He said in 1993, “Jesus wants to enter into a dialogue with us and, through His body which is the Church, to propose the possibility of a choice which will require a commitment of our lives. As Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus, so the Church must become our travelling companion today.”

As with St. Francis, remain close to one another, close to your sisters and brothers in fraternity. As with St. Francis, remain close to the Church, in particular close to the Eucharist where “the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation.”

Let us preach with our lives, call forth with our example, dialogue with Christ and be renewed and revived in our commitment today.

May the Lord give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. My SFO fraternity welcomed in 12 new members (a surge) through profession last month. I had the wonderful experience of serving as 'witness' - standing next to Candidate and Minister as the promise of profession was made.

    I am celebrating my 24th anniversity and can testify that the life of fraternity with its gifts of demands is a true path in the footsteps of Christ. I hope your visitation goes well.