[This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 Issue 99 of the TAU-USA
Also – Resources – Meeting Documents and Proceedings – 2019 National Chapter – State of Order Address OFS-USA 10-16-19 ]
National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order – USA
TO HOLY NEWNESS
By JAN PARKER, OFS, & MARY BITTNER, OFS
In consultation with the National Executive Council
“In these last times, a new Evangelist, like one of the rivers of Paradise, has poured out the streams of the gospel in a holy flood over the whole world. He preached the way of the Son of God and the teaching of truth in his deeds. In him and through him an unexpected joy and a holy newness came into the world. A new spirit was placed in the hearts of the elect and a holy anointing has been poured out in their midst.” (1 Celano 89)
Praise God for the holy flood of the gospel life poured out over all the world by St. Francis who brought an unexpected joy and holy newness to us all. Let us give thanks for our Franciscan vocation and the gift of fraternity.
I am thankful for this gathering, and for the many wonderful gatherings that we have experienced this past year; thankful for the work of the International Council; and that of the councils at every level; and very thankful for each of you. This week God has brought us, brothers and sisters all, into yet another privileged place – this gathering of the National Fraternity Council. May we experience the joy of fraternity, as fraternity is not only our priority, but our true help.
This past June we concluded a year of celebration for the 40th anniversary of our Rule, a Rule that was a response to the call by Vatican II to all religious to return to their roots. We recalled that when the 1978 Rule was presented, our Minister General, Manuela Mattioli, wrote: “With the promulgation of the new rule, the renewal of the Secular Fraternity has reached a decisive and powerful moment…” The Order rejoiced and looked forward in hope that this Rule would indeed renew us and help us become what God had called us to be.
Much has happened in the intervening 40 years, beginning with writing the new Rule and Constitutions, the unification of the Order, and the establishment of structures to serve a worldwide Order. Our International Council (CIOFS) first focused on formation as the most important element of our renewal. Launching into the “management of the Order” project, the Presidency noted that “Structurally, unification has occurred, but we still experience problems on how the sense of unity and belonging are perceived. We have not fully embraced the implications of our Rule and Constitutions; have not fully understood our vocation, identity and mission; and have not yet lived up to what the Church expects of us.” The fulfillment of our hope for renewal has not yet been fully realized. We still wait in longing for the holy newness that Francis himself yearned for.
Let us look to another passage from Thomas of Celano to deepen our understanding of what holy newness meant to Francis.
“Francis burned with a great desire to return to his earliest steps toward humility; rejoicing in hope because of his boundless love, he planned to call his body back to its original servitude, although it had now reached its limit. He cut away completely the obstacle of all cares and silenced the noise of all concerns. When he had to relax this rigor because of illness, he used to say: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have done little or nothing.” He did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again. (1 Celano 103)
Francis burned with a great desire to return to his earliest steps.
We too have a great desire to return to our first love, our roots.
We too long to cut away cares and concerns.
We too want to tirelessly pursue holy newness.
It is time to begin again.
We recall that when the 1978 Rule was promulgated, the four Ministers General of the Franciscan Family wrote:
“The hope of renewal hinges upon returning to the origins and to the spiritual experience of Francis of Assisi and of the brothers and sisters of penance who received from him their inspiration and guidance. This renewal also depends upon openness to the Spirit in the signs of the times.”
(next blog continues with THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES)