OFS-USA Blog

Season of Caring for Creation: Sept. 8-14

Pope Francis recently proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as the Orthodox Church has done since 1989, to “draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation.” 

This opens the Season of Caring for Creation which ends on October 4, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. 

As our Seraphic Founder, St. Francis gives us a model to imitate, celebrate and reflect on as the Patron of Ecology and author of the Canticle of the Creatures.  Each week there will be specific prayers, readings and reflections. 

These materials were created by Carolyn Townes, OFS, National Animator, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation

Week 2:  Sept. 7-13

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures.

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace. We thank you for being with us each day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1: 46-55)

Moment of Contemplation (Take some time in silence.)
“The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it. For he founded it on the seas, established it over the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

Reflection Question:   How can I show mercy to my brothers and sisters and all of creation?
Action for the Week: Consider Meatless Mondays – think about the benefits of abstaining another day from meat for yourself and for the environment.

Prayer for the Week:   All-powerful God, Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

2020-09-21T22:03:40-04:00September 7th, 2020|Categories: JPIC|0 Comments

Season of Caring for Creation September 1 – 7

Pope Francis recently proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as the Orthodox Church has done since 1989, to “draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation.” 

This opens the Season of Caring for Creation which ends on October 4, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. 

As our Seraphic Founder, St. Francis gives us a model to imitate, celebrate and reflect on as the Patron of Ecology and author of the Canticle of the Creatures.  Each week there will be specific prayers, readings and reflections. 

These materials were created by Carolyn Townes, OFS, National Animator, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation

Week One: September 1 – 6

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Call to Prayer:  All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace. We thank you for being with us each day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reading:  The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (Laudato Si #48)

Moment of Contemplation (Take some time in silence)
“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (Pope Francis)

Reflection Question: What is the violence I do towards the environment – in what I do and in what I fail to do?

“Cultivating and caring for creation means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” (Pope Francis, World Environmental Day Homily, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: All-powerful God, Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pope Francis recently proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as the Orthodox Church has done since 1989, to “draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation.” 

This opens the Season of Caring for Creation which ends on October 4, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. 

As our Seraphic Founder, St. Francis gives us a model to imitate, celebrate and reflect on as the Patron of Ecology and author of the Canticle of the Creatures.  Each week there will be specific prayers, readings and reflections. 

Week One: September 1 – 6

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Call to Prayer:  All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace. We thank you for being with us each day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reading:  The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (Laudato Si #48)

Moment of Contemplation (Take some time in silence)
“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (Pope Francis)

Reflection Question: What is the violence I do towards the environment – in what I do and in what I fail to do?

“Cultivating and caring for creation means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” (Pope Francis, World Environmental Day Homily, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: All-powerful God, Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pope Francis recently proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as the Orthodox Church has done since 1989, to “draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation.” 

This opens the Season of Caring for Creation which ends on October 4, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. 

As our Seraphic Founder, St. Francis gives us a model to imitate, celebrate and reflect on as the Patron of Ecology and author of the Canticle of the Creatures.  Each week there will be specific prayers, readings and reflections. 

Week One: September 1 – 6

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Call to Prayer:  All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace. We thank you for being with us each day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reading:  The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (Laudato Si #48)

Moment of Contemplation (Take some time in silence)
“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (Pope Francis)

Reflection Question: What is the violence I do towards the environment – in what I do and in what I fail to do?

“Cultivating and caring for creation means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” (Pope Francis, World Environmental Day Homily, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: All-powerful God, Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pope Francis recently proclaimed September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation as the Orthodox Church has done since 1989, to “draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation.” 

This opens the Season of Caring for Creation which ends on October 4, the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. 

As our Seraphic Founder, St. Francis gives us a model to imitate, celebrate and reflect on as the Patron of Ecology and author of the Canticle of the Creatures.  Each week there will be specific prayers, readings and reflections. 

Week One: September 1 – 6

Most High, all powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Call to Prayer:  All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Encourage us in our struggle for justice, love and peace. We thank you for being with us each day. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reading:  The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. (Laudato Si #48)

Moment of Contemplation (Take some time in silence)
“Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (Pope Francis)

Reflection Question: What is the violence I do towards the environment – in what I do and in what I fail to do?

“Cultivating and caring for creation means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.” (Pope Francis, World Environmental Day Homily, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: All-powerful God, Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

2020-09-21T22:03:21-04:00August 31st, 2020|Categories: JPIC|1 Comment

The Final Test of Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order is Love

In the final extended exchange between our first “Minister,” St. Peter, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we read:

When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?”
And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”[Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep”
(John 21:15-17).

Most Biblical scholars agree that John is the last written of the four major Gospels, and this exchange is the final test that the Lord gives Peter before His Ascension. I say “final” because it is clearly not the first test.

Perhaps the first test of Servant Leadership is one not very popular in American culture. Most Biblical scholars agree that Mark is the first written of the four major Gospels. Spoken directly to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in this first Gospel, our Lord’s first word is “Come.” “Come after me” (Mark 1:17).

Well, how can we respond to “Come”? To me, I either say, “Yes, I’m coming,” or “No, I’m not coming.” “Come” does not really sound like a call to dialogue or discussion.

Thus, the first test the Lord gives his first “Minister” is obedience. Either Simon Peter follows the Lord’s summons or he doesn’t; either he obeys or he doesn’t. Simon comes, obediently, as do Andrew and the other disciples; note, please, not knowing what to expect in following the Lord. How could they?

How many of us would accept this “blind” test of obedience? I guess all of us who are permanently professed have accepted this test. I can honestly say that I did not know what lay ahead of me on June 12, 1983, when I made my permanent profession. Perhaps obedience is not a bad test to start with!

What might be the second test? Well, early on in most of the Gospels, Peter and the other disciples face some serious challenges: for Peter, the sickness of his mother-in-law at a time of no professional doctors or emergency rooms (Mark 1:30), a storm at sea (Mark 4:37-40), and the inability to drive out demons (Mark 5:1-20), to name just three. And as the Lord allows Peter and the others to experience these challenges or tests, He will often counsel to the effect, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36).

Thus, the second test brings us to faith, the first of the theological virtues, faith that is a gift of God and the practice of which helps lead us to God. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence* of things not seen.” To me, this is not the same as obedience, and every Minister will be tested on her or his faith, I promise, as were Peter and the disciples. Let us pray that our tests as Servant Leaders will strengthen our faith, and with God’s grace, we can strengthen each other’s faith. As the Lord says to Peter: “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

This article cannot explore all the tests or challenges that the Lord gives in the Gospels, but since we started with and will finish with Peter, let’s stay with Peter, as the Lord’s first “Fraternity Minister” a bit longer. What other tests did Peter need to face? How did the Lord prepare Peter for Servant Leadership?

Well, although I have written about it before, I continue to be attracted Peter’s effort to walk on the water (Matthew 14:28-31). The Lord again says to Peter that one word: “Come.” Yet to me the test here is not one of obedience or even faith, but rather a test of focus. Peter obeys, and he trusts in the Lord, but he cannot keep his focus exclusively on the Lord. As long as he keeps his eyes focused on Jesus, he’s fine. When he thinks about the power of the storm or his own sinfulness, he sinks like a stone.

Although I have not seen any Secular Franciscan Ministers trying to walk on water, I have seen some of us attempting more than we can really do with our own obviously limited human abilities. In every case, when we have allowed our attention and concentration to turn from the Lord to the circumstances and personalities involved, we, or at least I, have sunk.

Then there is that test of recognition (Matthew 16:13-20). Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Peter has to know. It is impossible to be Secular Franciscan leaders if we cannot recognize our Lord and Savior, if we cannot proclaim that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man.

Another great test of leadership in the Lord’s service is the test of forgiveness. Who else but Peter will ask how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him. Seven times? The test here is on the limits of forgiveness, and I have talked to Ministers who just cannot forgive. We say we are Christian leaders, but we can be vengeful or passive/aggressive.

We just don’t like people for what they have done, or what we imagine they have done, and we fail this test of forgiveness since our Lord tells Peter in essence, there are no limits on forgiveness.
We don’t just forgive our brother (or sister) who sins against us seven times, but seventy-seven times (or in some translations, seventy times seven times) (Matthew 18:21-22).

Then during the Passion, when Jesus has been taken captive, Peter is challenged to stand with the Lord, and of course, he denies the Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-75). The test here may be that test of martyrdom. As a Servant Leader, could I remain faithful to the Lord even in the face of possible death?

I have never met this test, nor have I met anyone in the United States who has faced this test, but at the meeting of the International Fraternity in Assisi last November (and please forgive me for not publicly divulging names), I met good sisters from China, the Ukraine and Russia and good brothers from Bethlehem and Nigeria, for example, who gave me the sense that they could face this test sooner than later. Let us pray for all who have faced or will face this test!

Yet, even this test of possible martyrdom is not the final test the Lord gives to Peter and to us. Again, that final test is the test of love.

Why does the Lord ask Peter three times if he loves Him? Of course, neither the Lord nor Peter has forgotten Peter’s three-fold denial, but note that nowhere does the Lord blame or remonstrate with Peter for this denial. Rather, he wants Peter to practice from henceforth perhaps the greatest lesson that the Lord could teach him: Love.

Love is the answer to almost all of our problems and failures as Servant Leaders; not our own limited, imperfect human love, but God’s love for us, which never stops and is always there. If we are open to the Lord’s love, that love will flow from the Lord through us to our sisters and brothers before returning to the Lord.

Without that love, all our Secular Franciscan Servant Leadership is more or less hypocritical. Without that love, even great faith and the willingness to die mean nothing. As wrote St. Paul: “If I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2b-3).

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order is not about us. It is never about us. Servant Leadership, finally, is about love. Love and service. If we are seeking anything else, fame, attention, escape from boredom, revenge on someone in the fraternity, whatever, we are wasting our time; and worse, the fraternity’s time; and the worst, Your graces and gifts. You test us in many different ways with different people and circumstances as we journey on this Franciscan Way to salvation. When we fail, lift us up. Help us to learn from our mistakes to trust Your love and mercy more and more by showing that love and mercy to all our sisters and brothers. We pray in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions

1. What might have been our Lord’s first test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter?
2. What might have been our Lord’s second test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter? How are the first two tests different?
3. What might Peter have learned from trying to walk on the water?
4. What might Peter have learned from the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”
5. What might all Servant Leaders learn from Peter’s question on how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him?
6. What might have been our Lord’s final test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter?
7. Why is this final test perhaps the most important of all?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-18T11:03:24-04:00August 19th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“Jesus Never Invites Us To Failure!” Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order

This past August offered me the joyful opportunity to make a Visitation to the Divine Mercy Region with our National Spiritual Assistant Friar Stephen Gross, OFM Conventual. It was the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the Sunday Gospel included, in part, the famous story of Peter’s walking on the water, found only in St. Matthew:

When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:26-31

It is a Gospel we all know well, and I have been blessed to preach on this Gospel on occasion. However, I have never explained or heard the Gospel explained as did Friar Stephen. With apologies that I do not have enough of his exact words, here is what I remember:

“Jesus never invites us to failure!” When Jesus called Matthew from being a tax-collector, He did not invite him to failure. When Jesus called Andrew and Peter, James and John to “Follow me!” He did not invite them to follow Him to failure. So, when Jesus said to Peter, “Come.” He did not invite him to come and sink.

It always surprises me when I attend a fraternity election, and someone whom everybody else says will be the right person for the job, the right fit for the position, and that person tells me, “I’m not ready.” Or “I’m not worthy.” Or, my favorite, “But I’m a sinner.”

Where’s our faith? Don’t we all know by now that Jesus really does have the love and the mercy to help and to save one more sinner like me or you? Doesn’t He? What have we not understood about “Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand” or the very last words of the same Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Brothers and Sisters who say No! to Servant Leadership at fraternity elections do not give the rest of the fraternity, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a chance to choose for themselves if they would like a FELLOW SINNER to serve them. We do not give God Himself the chance, as the saying goes, not so much to call the qualified as to qualify those whom He is calling. Sisters and Brothers, please give the Holy Spirit, and your own fraternity family a chance to say No! Who knows? They may say Yes!

Now, I readily admit there are legitimate reasons why one may decline Servant Leadership, and we all have to answer to our own consciences; but as Friar Stephen went on to explain, all service to the Lord and to His people will be successful if only we can trust and love the Lord more. One of the great deceits of the devil, the flesh and world is to trick us into convincing ourselves, for whatever reason, of our obvious sinfulness and unworthiness.

Of course, we are all sinners and unworthy! But our hearts lack sufficient faith, hope and love of God and neighbor to keep out the self-doubts, fears and distrust. It’s not really about us. We don’t trust God enough. We think God doesn’t love us enough, and thus we cannot trust Him or ourselves to step out into an admittedly new service to Him and neighbor. We will fail, we are sure, so we never try. We never accept Christ’s invitation. We never say Yes!

Shame on us!

“Jesus never invites us to failure!” Let us hold Friar Stephen’s words in our minds and examine our lives. It can be our Secular Franciscan life, our married and family life, our work life, whatever. What should we do when we feel called out of our comfort zone by the Lord?

I pray that we can say Yes! That’s the answer Mary and all the saints gave sooner or later. We should surrender our wills to Christ and stay focused on Christ, never minding the storms and rough seas around us or the weaknesses and fears within us.

That’s why I usually say at all elections, “If you have been nominated for Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order, the default position is Yes!” We have to trust that Jesus is not inviting us to failure.

Well, then, why do we fail? Why did Peter start by walking on water, and then begin sinking like a rock?

Again, I think Friar Stephen is correct. From my own personal experience and observation, our hearts are, my heart is, not full enough of the love of God and neighbor, and we, I, get easily distracted. Why shouldn’t we be distracted? Like Peter on the sea, the storms do rage, water is always fluid, and the correct way seems often uncertain and even dangerous. Internally, who wouldn’t feel self-distrust? In fact, we are all sinners, we are all weak and we have all failed.

Will we fail again? Only when we don’t trust the Lord enough, don’t pray enough, and start focusing on ourselves or on the difficulties enough to take our eyes off of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Well, what about if the Lord really isn’t calling us to service, what about if it’s our own ego alone? Okay, if it’s only about our egos, that’s usually a sure indication of failure, but honestly, after over 30 years in the Secular Franciscan Order, I haven’t seen many Servant Leaders invited to service by their own egos! I mean, have you been misinformed? Being an officer in a Secular Franciscan Fraternity at any level is not about fame, power or fortune. If you are currently an officer at any level, how many people in the greater world know or care what you do? How many people in your own family know or care? How many people in your own fraternity kowtow to your every word and gesture? How much are you paid? Please!

Of the hundreds of elected and appointed officers that I have met in Local, Regional and National Fraternities and in the International Fraternity, the vast, vast majority of the people are holding office not out of ego, but out of service, out of love of the Order and out of accountability to their brothers and sisters, to God and to themselves.

That service is from the Lord, and that invitation is not one to failure. Now, yes, will there be suffering? Indeed. Will that suffering give us pain on occasion? Hello? What have we not understood about the Cross? We are all called to follow Christ to the Cross. Do we have a Feast Day entitled “The Failure of the Cross”? No, every September 14, even if it falls, as happened this year, on a Sunday, we have the Feast Day entitled “The Triumph or Exaltation of the Holy Cross.”

We do not fail when we suffer in doing the Lord’s work. We do not fail when we carry our crosses yoked to the Lord. Deep down in our Christian faith, we must know that without the Cross, there can be no Resurrection. Don’t be afraid of suffering in service to God and neighbor. Don’t be afraid of the Cross.

Be afraid of not doing what the Lord wants us to do. Be afraid of walking away from what only we can do if we surrender to the Lord and fill our hearts with trust of Him, hope in Him, love with Him. How many times have we all missed opportunities to step out and serve our brothers and sisters, and in doing so, missed serving the Lord Himself (see Matthew 25:45)?

Let us pray. God, why are we so afraid at times of Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order? Why do we say No! and turn our backs? Help us to trust more, to hope more and to love more. May we keep our eyes and minds and hearts always on You. May we not focus on the stormy waves outside or the raging fears inside. And even if we begin to sink, may we always remember and believe that You never invite us to failure, and we need only pray three simple words, “Lord, save me!” And immediately You will stretch out Your hand and catch us. We pray in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions

  1. What was the Lord’s reply when Peter asked to walk on the water?
  2. Was it necessary that Peter sink? Why did he sink?
  3. When our sisters and brothers solicit us for Servant Leadership in the fraternity, what might be some good reasons to decline?
  4. What might be less good reasons to decline this request for service?
  5. After prayer and seeking advice concerning a request to run for office in the fraternity, and we simply don’t have a sure answer to give, what might be the best answer? Why?
  6. Could election to Servant Leadership in your fraternity bring you possible suffering? How should you respond?
  7. If your service to your fraternity makes you feel that you are truly sinking, what should you do?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

 

2020-08-16T20:59:12-04:00August 17th, 2020|Categories: Formation|0 Comments

COME AND MARCH FOR LIFE IN PRAYER

(From Winter 2010)

On January 22, (2010), I invite you to come and join me if not physically, then please, spiritually in the annual March for Life down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, past the United States Supreme Court.

If physically and if you know the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol, we will meet on the steps of the National Gallery of Art West Building on 7th Street between Madison Drive and Constitution Avenue just opposite the skating rink.

I will be wearing the same green parka with the same banner that you see in the picture above. I am on the far left.

We have been having a bitterly cold and windy January so far, so please dress warmly in layers. We will not stay outside any longer than we need, and we will march.

If you cannot join us physically, and you are reading this on or before January 22, I would ask you to pray the following prayer from the National Basilica:

“Our Lady of Guadalupe, we turn to you who are the protectress of unborn children and ask that you intercede for us, so that we may more firmly resolve to join you in protecting all human life.

Let our prayers be united to your perpetual motherly intercession on behalf of those whose lives are threatened, be they in the womb of their mother, on the bed of infirmity, or in the latter years of their life.

May our prayers also be coupled with peaceful action which witnesses to the goodness and dignity of all human life, so that our firmness of purpose may give courage to those who are fearful and bring light to those who are blinded by sin.

Encourage those who will be involved in the March for Life; help them to walk closely with God and to give voice to the cry of the oppressed, in order to remind our nation of its commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.

O Virgin Mother of God, present our petitions to your Son and ask Him to bless us with abundant life. Amen.”

If you are reading this message after January 22, please pray:

“O God, our Loving Creator, all life is in Your hands from the moment of conception until death. Help us to cherish our children and to be grateful for the privilege of sharing in Your work of creation. Bless all those who defend the rights of the unborn, the poor, the handicapped and the aged. Enlighten and be merciful toward those who do not value the gift of life. Help them to seek and find you. Grant that by our care and respect for all people and all life, we might be a sign of Your Love in our world today. We pray as always in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Permit me to close by repeating those marvelous words of Saint John Paul II in his 1988 apostolic exhortation, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (Christifideles Laici):

“The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination (38).”

We Seculars have felt that need to march, to pray, to witness to Life: Secular Franciscans For Life (Pro Vita)! Please come and march with us in prayer!

Peace and Life,

Tom

 Reflection Questions

  1. On what day do I ask you to march with us?
  2. Where will we meet?
  3. Where will we march?
  4. Why will we march?
  5. If you cannot march, what do I ask you to do?
  6. According to Saint John Paul II, what is a “reflection of the absolute inviolability of God”?
  7. Again, according to Saint John Paul II, what is the most basic and fundamental human right, the one without which the other human rights do not make much sense?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-12T08:26:05-04:00August 12th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource|0 Comments

NAFRA Guidelines Concerning Secular Franciscan Prison Ministry

“I was . . . in prison and you visited me” Matthew 25:35-36.

It is good to consider how we might maintain the good things we are already doing, do some things in a different or better way, or even consider doing some new things.

One ministry that I would like to encourage in your Regions, local fraternities or even individually is greater outreach to our sisters and brothers in prison.

I have been active at the Alexandria Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia since 1987. Because of its proximity to Washington, DC and the federal court system, this facility has housed, among many others, the reputed “20th 9/11 terrorist” Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who chose to go to jail rather than reveal her sources.

I have had many blessed memories at the jail: many prisoners who have shared their stories, their prayers; one man whom we baptized and brought into the church; prison personnel who have received Holy Communion with us.

One favorite moment was the time Bishop Paul Loverde came to celebrate Christmas Mass with the prisoners, and it was my honor to assist him.

When the Bishop started his homily, he said, “I came to see Jesus. Where is Jesus?”

The prisoners looked shocked. What is he talking about?

The Bishop explained that in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus said “I was . . . in prison and you visited Me” (verse 35-36). He went on to make them feel that they were like Jesus and that they should be Jesus to one another. He gave them both greater dignity and a sense of mission.

This is exactly where the National Executive Council (NEC) began its Guidelines for Secular Franciscan Prison Ministry, which were unanimously approved by the entire National Fraternity (NAFRA) at our National Chapter on October 19, 2013, and which are included below and attached.

I believe that a careful reading of these Guidelines is self-explanatory. Permit me to stress again the value the National Fraternity sees in prison ministry for Secular Franciscans who feel so called. We do find Jesus in our prisons, but by the very reality of the situation, prisoners do not have control of their lives. They may be moved at any time; they cannot gather within the facility on a consistent basis; they cannot go outside the facility; nor is it easy for others to come in and observe or be with them.

For all these reasons and more, the time for formation and formal admission into our Secular Franciscan Order must come after release from prison, when both former prisoners and the local fraternity will have greater freedom to journey together in vital fraternity as permanently committed Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

Please note that these Guidelines do not address prisoners who have already been permanently professed; nor do we address permanent members of other institutions such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. These Guidelines specifically address a problem that had arisen in several Regions and are not intended at this time as a legislative norm that will cover all situations in all institutions. The NEC feels that common sense, guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit, with knowledge of the Rule, the General Constitutions and the National Statues will usually be sufficient to address other concerns. If not, recourse can always be made to the National Fraternity and its Executive Council.

Nor do we say that prison ministry is for everybody. I still get a little nervous every time those big metal prison doors clang behind me, and I have been “panhandled” by one or two “hustlers” even when vested as a deacon within the walls of the facility! Still, Pope Francis has called us to ministry at the margins by his words and example. St. Francis certainly did likewise. And prayer itself is a positive ministry. Do your fraternities, do you, regularly pray for prisoners? Has anyone in your local fraternity (including you) ever participated in prison ministry either by consistent prayer or physical presence? Is the Lord calling you and your fraternity in some way to this ministry?

NAFRA GUIDELINES CONCERNING

SECULAR FRANCISCAN PRISON MINISTRY

Adopted October 19, 2013

  1. “I was . . . in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-6). Ministry to people in prison is a good gospel-based ministry for OFS members. We encourage such a ministry for those who are called to it. “As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ” (Secular Franciscan Rule 13).
  2. Individuals who are in prison can be encouraged to learn about the Franciscan charism. People in prison can read and learn about St. Francis and begin to live his spirit in prison. Prayer groups, Christian education and Bible study can be established to offer prisoners hope and a sense of belonging to a faith community.
  3. It benefits neither prisoners nor Secular Franciscans to invite prisoners to enter formation to become permanently professed members of the OFS while still in prison. Prisoners lack control of their own lives. They may be moved at any time and therefore lack a sense of permanence in a set place. They cannot congregate consistently to participate in a common formation program with approved spiritual assistance. Nor can they work together in fraternity performing apostolic ministries. In addition, by very definition, it is impossible for prisoners to participate directly in the life of a local fraternity outside the prison (cf. National Statutes Article 18.5a). Similarly, the local fraternity cannot witness formation and profession of a prisoner.
  4. Therefore, the time for formation and formal admission into the OFS must come after release from prison. These individuals would then be able to begin formation in a fraternity of their choice. They and the members of that local fraternity would both be free and able to discern a Secular Franciscan vocation in the same way as any applicant.

These guidelines were approved and adopted by the OFS National Fraternity Council gathered in Chapter on October 19, 2013

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the corporal work of mercy discussed in this article?
  2. Is this ministry for every Secular Franciscan? Why or why not?
  3. In the article, what did the Bishop mean when he asked, “I came to see Jesus. Where is Jesus?”
  4. What are, say, five problems with serious formation of permanently professed Secular Franciscans within a prison facility?
  5. Besides serious formation of permanently professed Secular Franciscans within a prison facility, what are, say, three other “Franciscan” activities that might be done by Secular Franciscans with prisoners?
  6. What do the NAFRA Guidelines urge as the best time for local fraternities and prisoners to think seriously about permanent formation in the Secular Franciscan Order? Why?
  7. Do the NAFRA Guidelines suggest that perhaps it might be best for Secular Franciscans to have nothing to do with prison ministry? Why or why not?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-10T19:12:56-04:00August 10th, 2020|Categories: National Chapter|0 Comments

“On the Care and Feeding of Our Fraternities”   

In the Gospel of John, this story appears after the Resurrection and seems very warm and intimate, on the one hand; but on the other, not really necessary. I mean, Jesus has already risen from the dead. He has appeared twice to his disciples after the Resurrection. “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead” (John 21:14).  What is left to teach the disciples? They now understand, don’t they, that Jesus is the Messiah and that He has come to earth to save us from sin and death by suffering and dying Himself on the Cross and then rising on the third day? He has done all of that. They have seen it, but more is apparently needed

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’ ” (John 21:15-17).

Okay, you’re right: With the Lord, there are no wasted moments; and in John’s Gospel, as in each of the Gospels, there are no passages that should be overlooked as seemingly unnecessary. For example, why were some of the disciples returning to a previous occupation of fishing for fish when the Lord had already called them to be “fishers of men”? (Mark 1:17). Had they lost faith? Did they think they needed to return to business as usual?

And what is the Lord trying to teach Peter, the first “minister” of the first “fraternity” of the first “observers” of “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”? (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 4, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/sforule.html). As I look back as your elected minister on our National fraternity in 2011 and look forward to 2012, this Gospel suggests four lessons that I have learned and would like to share with you.

One, the Lord wants us to follow Him by keeping his commandments and remaining in His love (see John 15:9, 10; see Secular Franciscan Order Rule Prologue, Chapter 1), but, two, even if we fail badly and deny the Lord three times, lying that we don’t even know Him, the Lord will not fail us or stop loving us; rather, He will give us ample opportunity to redeem ourselves, to turn from sin and be converted to Gospel living. “Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily” (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 7).

What is implicit in these first two lessons is the explicit third lesson. How do we keep the Lord’s commandments and remain in the Lord’s love? By our love. How do we often fail to respond to the Lord’s unfailing, unconditional love? By not loving enough. Why else would Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” After a threefold denial of Him before His Crucifixion, the Lord expects a threefold Confession of love for Him from the first “minister” of the first “fraternity” of the first “observers” of “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

After all, at the heart of the Old Testament Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4); and at the heart of the great Shema is love: “you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Similarly, when tested by the scribes about what is the first of all the Commandments, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Thus, love is the third great lesson of this Gospel story; love is the answer to the Lord’s expectations of us in lesson one and how we should respond to the Lord’s love in lesson two. Lesson four is how we should manifest our love. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-16).

How does one show love to the Lord? By the care and feeding of the Lord’s flock. The one “assignment” that Our Lord gives to Peter, the leader of his initial fraternity of disciples, once Peter satisfactorily answers the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” is to care for and feed the Lord’s flock (John 21:15-17). Note, please, love of the Lord comes first, and then necessarily follows the care and feeding of the Lord’s flock.

Finally, how do we manifest that care and feeding of the Lord’s flocks? By taking care of our fraternities. Thus, I wrote in my 2011 Annual Report and spoke in my 2012 vision of our Order: “Perhaps no aspect of the Secular Franciscan life should be of more concern to those called to leadership than the vitality of the fraternity, be it local, regional, national or international” (http://www.nafra-sfo.org/meetings_and_resources.html).

So how do all of us called to leadership, called to the training and nurturing of leaders, provide for the vitality of our fraternities?

Article 92.1 of the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order states: “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.”

These are the Constitutionally mandated “life signs,” the specific “signs of vitality” that International Visitors must check when they visit National, what National Visitors must check when they visit Regional, what Regional Visitors must check when they visit Local, what Local Visitors must check when they visit a new or emerging group. These are the measures of how we all should be caring for and feeding our fraternities.

I have written in this publication about the four “signs of vitality” for every single Franciscan Gathering, whether an Annual Chapter or an “ordinary meeting”: “Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”(TAU-USA Winter 2010 Issue 69, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/tau-usa/articles/winter10/minister_winter10.pdf).

We need time to pray, to reform ourselves and our fraternities, to know and love each other better and to conduct whatever necessary business we have to do. Perhaps the key word here is time: it takes time to build and be a Franciscan family at any level. Please, leaders, allow enough time to ensure the vitality of your fraternity. We at National met from Tuesday, October 25 to Sunday, October 30, 2011. We plan to gather the entire National membership at our Quinquenniel from Tuesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 8, 2012.

Did your Regional or local fraternity gather even once in 2011 for an entire weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday morning? Do you plan to do so in 2012? How can you build the vitality of your fraternity on a few hours a month? Is this what you would expect from your own family? Often, I fear we sacrifice the vitality of our fraternity life to save time and money.

I followed up this past year with an article entitled “The Primary Focus and the Four Marks of a Vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity” (TAU-USA Spring 2011 Issue 70, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/tau-usa/articles/spring11/minister_spring11.pdf). In this article, I stated that: “Spirituality, Formation, Family and Witnessing all for the sake of ‘the salvation of souls’ (Canon 1752, Code of Canon Law http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P70.HTM) offer us the Primary Focus and Four Marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. These were precisely the reason why prayer, formation, fraternal sharing and only as much business as is necessary offer us the four purposes of a fraternal gathering, and I prayed in the article and every day that God will “give us the grace, the Living Presence of Christ and the Fellowship (now Communion) of the Holy Spirit when we gather to worship, to form, to share, to witness in Christ’s Name, always striving to keep our fraternities and our souls alive and focused on salvation.”

           

As Spirituality is the initial and essential element of fraternity, then that Spirituality and love of the Lord must be witnessed out in the world, not put under the bushel basket of the fraternity gathering. Therefore, in the same article I wrote, “We are to be a ‘community of love’ (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 22) to all in the world. As Saint Pope John Paul II told us directly at the Xth General Chapter in 2002: ‘The church expects from you, Secular Franciscans, a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realization of the Kingdom of God’ (http://www.ciofs.org/per/2005/lca5en14.htm#b).”

These aspects of vital fraternal living were the focus of our National Meeting in October 2011 in California. We prayed and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together; we formed together; we shared, ate, laughed and learned together; we did what business was ours to do together. These aspects of vital fraternal living will be our focus for our 2012 Quinquennial Gathering of all the Nation.

I urge YOU, yes, YOU, one from every fraternity in the United States, to make every effort to join your wonderful Order’s International, National, Regional and Local leadership at the 2012 Quinquennial to be held at the Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore Skokie Hotel (http://www.nafra-sfo.org/q2012.html). We have secured this hotel for only $87 a night (if you order before June 9), with free shuttle service to and from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, based on scheduled routes. We will start with 5:00 Dinner and 7:30 Opening Liturgy with Bishop George J. Rassas, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Chicago on July 3, enjoy a wonderful July 4 Picnic and Fireworks Display, and depart after Breakfast, Morning Prayer and Closing Remarks on Sunday, July 8, 2012 all for only $275, all meals included, if you register before June 1. This happens only once every five years, and we will focus on building the vitality of our fraternities at every level.

Our keynote speaker and major presenter will be Sister Ilia Delio, OSF, a renowned author on Franciscan Spirituality, with well-received books on St. Clare, St. Bonaventure, the Humility of God, the Emergent Christ and Franciscan Prayer.  The theme for our Congress is Why Francis? Claim the Gift.

           

Other presenters include noted speaker, author and Professor at the Berkeley Theological Union, Friar William Short, OFM and two of our own Secular Franciscans: Patricia Brandwein-Ball, OFS, a former Regional Minister and National Councilor; and Edward Shirley, OFS, Professor and Theologian at St. Edward University in Texas and National Ecumenical Chair.

Please come and introduce yourself to me as we continue this discussion on the care and feeding of our fraternities at every level. I would be honored to meet and talk to you. If you cannot be with us, your personal prayer and holy life contribute greatly to the care and feeding of all our Franciscan flock.

Peace, with love and prayers,

Tom

Reflection Questions

  1. What is one lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  2. And even if I fail that first lesson, what is the second lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  3. Closely related to the first two lessons, what is the explicit third lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  4. What is the fourth lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John? How might this lesson be applied by Secular Franciscan Servant Leadership?
  5. For review, what are the four “signs of vitality” for every single Franciscan Gathering, whether an Annual Chapter or an “ordinary meeting”? Do you agree or would you change the four signs, adding to or subtracting from?
  6. Again for review, what are the primary focus and the four marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity? Do you agree or would you somehow shift the primary focus and/or add to or subtract from the four marks?
  7. How might each of us better fulfill Saint John Paul II’s expectation of “a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realization of the Kingdom of God”?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-05T11:32:35-04:00August 5th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

From Humble Beginnings. . .St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Fraternity

                  Founding members, 1979

By Consuelo Wild, OFS

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis. It is good to begin with a quote of our Holy Father St. Francis. In this simple quote, I find what our Deaf Catholic Fraternity, is all about. It is a seed planted and still growing. More than 40 years later, we may still be the only Deaf OFS fraternity in the United States and elsewhere.

Our humble beginnings started with Deacon Paul Pernecky, OFS, who was also among the first deaf persons to be ordained a deacon. He is our group’s founder. Forty-one years ago, on January 14, 1979, the St. Francis of Assisi Fraternity of the Deaf was established in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at the Catholic Deaf Center (now dedicated as Pope Francis Center) in Landover Hills, Md.

The fraternity was started in 1978 with Francis Cannon as its first Minister, who served until 1985. In January 1979, the first members were professed. This included Deacon Pernecky and Francis Cannon, as well as Elise Pernecky, Patricia Porreca, Alan Porreca, Lucia Equiguen, George Bisaha, Paul Blicharz, and George Babinetz.

Another member of our Catholic Deaf Community joined OFS not long after the original members. Dorothy Steffanic began her formation in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1977. Later, she relocated in the Washington, D.C, area and became a professed Franciscan in St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Fraternity in 1979. Ms. Steffanic became the second minister of the fraternity in 1985. Another five members became newly professed between 1981 and 1999. Since then, many of these professed members have gone home to their Father, and others have moved away. Dorothy shared how much becoming a Franciscan meant to her at the 25th Anniversary celebration of St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Fraternity. She said, “I am very interested in and marvel at St. Francis of Assisi’s way of life and his depth of love for God and his people, no matter where he was. He was a lover of animals and nature. He built a strong Church by the power of God through his weakness and great love and trust in Him.”

It was our Dorothy who, now 91 years old, remained faithfully with her community and welcomed five new candidates who were eventually professed. Around 2004, in prayer and with hope, Dorothy reached out to Janice Benton, OFS, who is currently the Minister of St Francis Fraternity in Washington, D.C., and part of the St. Margaret of Cortona Region. Together, Fr. Hugh MacSherry, OFM, (a friar at that time and spiritual assistant) and Janice worked with Mary O’Meara as interpreter to guide the formation of the current candidates. On December 14, 2008, the following made their profession: David Koch, Eleanor Culas Ward, Godwin Ofodu, Peter Noyes, Janet Noyes, and Sally Mooney. It was our sister-in-Christ Dorothy who, persevering in her Franciscan vows, once again brought the fraternity to life.

While several of the members have moved, the fraternity continues, with God’s grace, to learn and flourish. Two additional members, Paul Sweeney and Consuelo Wild, were in Formation in 2011 and professed on April 19, 2015. Peter Noyes was elected to the Regional Council around six years ago as treasurer. Peter shares that he became a Franciscan because “God knows how difficult it was for me to be deaf in a hearing world. I met every challenge thrown in my life…. I looked for a way to deepen the intimacy between myself and God. A friar suggested that I might be looking for ways to improve my prayer life”… and so “the most important thing about being a Franciscan is serving others through servant leadership. We Franciscans are formed to serve one another in a big or little way.”

While we do not currently have a Spiritual Assistant, we have been blessed with our “nurturing mother” sister-in-Christ, Janice Benton, who has continued to walk with us through every blessing and challenge. In many ways she is the glue that teaches and supports us. We currently have seven professed and two Inquirers meeting monthly. We have been in a ’transition mode’ since I became Minister last April. We are all learning together; as deaf individuals our challenges are many. We are learning to be “understood and to understand”… our culture, our language, our diversified ways of communication, our education (not only schooling but religious upbringing or lack of it) and personal experiences with and among Deaf and Hearing.

But it goes beyond that now. Half of us live in other states, and so we cannot always see each other or do things together as Franciscans. How to solve the problem? Technology has helped. As deaf individuals, we use a system such as you would for video conferencing. In this way we bring all our members together for monthly meetings. We see each other and can use our ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate. We pray the Divine Office and have formation and business meetings. In order to spend more time together, we have another optional meeting every Thursday afternoon. We share reflections and prayer intentions and support each other on our life journey. We also encourage each other and share ways to be Franciscan in our local communities. It is through God’s wisdom and power that we bond. Janet Noyes shares “I like the Franciscan way of life and the beautiful prayers.” And Paul Sommer, an inquirer, says “Right now I am in discernment. I love the simplicity of Francis’ spirituality. I want to learn more. Francis seems to keep his focus on God and how God reveals Himself in the scripture, which helps us know how to live our lives.”

Together with our sister fraternity, St. Francis, in Washington D.C., we have fed the homeless and joined in special Masses and prayers. With our Regional Fraternity of St. Margaret of Cortona, we share in their retreats and days of recollection, as well as other special events that arise. This is all possible through the hiring of interpreters some of which are paid by our Regional Council and others by donations to our fraternity. “To love as to love”… a very positive perspective of being Franciscan is that among other Franciscans we are so warmly accepted and loved. It is such a blessing to be greeted and feel welcomed and to have a voice with our hearing peers. God is Good, ALL the TIME.

There is so much that we would love to share with you about our deaf fraternity. It is in prayer that we hope what you read here gives you a glimpse of how much deaf people, just like you, want to know and love God and see Him in everything as did our Brother St. Francis. Pray for us! Pray that we can persevere faithfully in our vocation as Franciscans and help open many doors for more of our deaf brothers and sisters to experience the Franciscan life. It’s a true and perfect fit for us to know and serve God. Humbly we thank St. Francis and you for opening the first door. “Lord, help me to live this day quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy Will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.” St. Francis of Assisi

✤ Resources: NCOD’s Vision magazine on OFS early history, 2003

2020-08-02T23:56:55-04:00August 2nd, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

ST. PADRE PIO SECULAR FRANCISCAN FRATERNITY, GUAM

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Spring 2020 ISSUE #100)

 GUAM, U.S. TERRITORY

by Sharon Winzeler OFS

(with contributions by Joann San Nicolas, Ben Diaz, Therese Babauta, and Birdena Toves)

With the canonical establishment of the St. Padre Pio Fraternity on Jan. 4, 2020, in Guam, the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order USA now reaches to the westernmost part of the United States. “The Holy Spirit has found a welcome home in the hearts of the brothers and sisters of St. Padre Pio Fraternity, and these are not just pretty words. These Secular Franciscan have opened their hearts; they have each said: “yes, let it be done,” and “yes” to their vocation and all it entails,” National Minister Jan Parker, OFS, said at the establishment ceremony.

A festive Mass celebrating the new fraternity was held at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Agana Heights. The celebration included the distribution of 1,200 homemade almond cookies to all attendees. (Almond cookies, baked by Lady Jacoba, were such a favorite of St. Francis that he asked her to bring him some when he lay on his deathbed.) Afterwards, all gathered for a grand ocean-side reception, which included brunch, the singing of Christmas carols honoring Christ’s birth, and a splendid cake on which was written, “Let us begin, for up to now we have done little or nothing,” (a famous quote from St. Francis of Assisi). All 28 members of the newly established fraternity, along with their families and six friars from St. Fidelis Friary in Agana Heights gathered for the reception. The patio was filled with laughter and joy.

Guam, an organized U.S. territory in Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean, is a 12-hour plane ride from San Francisco and eight hours from Hawaii. Seventy-five percent of its population of 160,000 is Catholic. The island is 30 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest point.

Violeta Manibusan, OFS, is minister of the fraternity, with 23 professed members, four inquirers and one in orientation. They began their journey toward establishing a fraternity on Guam in 2011.

In the beginning, professed members were formed by Fr. Patrick Castro, OFM Cap., who was appointed Spiritual Assistant by the Vice Provincial Fr. Joseph English, OFM Cap. Fr. Castro presided at the Mass celebrating the establishment of St. Pio. “It took nine years with the Lord’s guidance and the guidance of the National Executive Council. Let us thank God,” he said.

Fr. Castro challenged fraternity members, “This is a time of blessing and joy. It is also a time of admonition. Are you willing to continue to die to yourself and live for Christ? We die with the Lord, so we can live with the Lord.”

He also praised the members for the solidarity they express as fraternity. “We are called, like Francis, in humility, service and love, to be Christ’s 23 light in the world. This fraternity carries the light of Christ. They are always communicating with each other – 24/7 – always encouraging each other,” Fr. Castro said in his homily.

The Capuchin friars have a strong influence in Guam, according to Manibusan. “The first Capuchins arrived on Guam on August 12, 1901. Until the 1990s, the majority of the parishes were staffed by Capuchins. Today, five parishes are headed by Capuchin friars. The majority of our members are current parishioners of, or have been in, Capuchin parishes,” she said.

Fraternity members represent a variety of backgrounds. “Our members come from all walks of life and represent 10 out of the 26 parishes island-wide. Our member’s ages range from 35 to 73. Our professions vary in the local and federal government, specifically as educators, administrators, finance, civil service, engineering, warehousing, and the judicial branch. In the private sector, we have banking, airlines, finance, baker, and a few domestic engineers,” Manibusan said.

The fraternity meets twice a month at St. Fidelis Friary in Agana Heights. “We meet on the second Saturday of each month for prayer and initial formation class and on fourth Saturday for our monthly fraternity meeting, prayer, ongoing formation and fellowship,” Manibusan said. Members participate in a number of pro-life activities and serve in apostolates that help feed, clothe, and visit the sick, poor, and elderly on the island. Several members are members of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, a group that arranges a Christian burial for unclaimed bodies. St. Pio Fraternity hosts a long list of annual events, including Transitus, service retreats, Advent and Lenten Days of Recollection, Padre Pio Monthly Novena, and Mass devotion, as well as a May crowning of the Blessed Mother.

Plans for the fraternity meant years of collaboration between the members and the National Executive Council (NEC), which sponsored St. Pio. “We sought guidance from National Executive Council and traveled to Denver, Colo. in October 2012 for the NAFRA Chapter. This was our first physical interaction with the NEC. We were invited by Bob Fitzsimmons, OFS, who at the time was part of the National Formation Team, to a formation training in Hawaii in the latter part of 2012, where we were introduced to the For Up to Now (FUN) Manual. We used the FUN Manual from 2012-2015. In 2016, Mary Frances Charsky, OFS, was assigned as our NEC point of contact and introduced us to the Franciscan Journey book. which we continue to use. On February 20-23, 2017, Tim and Kathy Taormina, OFS, from the Queen of Peace Region, Minn., volunteered their time and talent and came to Guam to conduct a formation workshop. In October 2018, the National Formation Commission, under the guidance of Diane Menditto, OFS, provided supplemental resources to enhance our formation,” Manibusan said.

Support from the NEC is continuing. “Diane continues to support us in our formation. In 2019, Francine Gikow, OFS, established communication with our local Formation Director, Therese Babauta, OFS, to offer additional assistance as needed. Our current NEC point of contact is Joshua Molidor, OFS, who witnessed our canonical establishment on January 04, 2020, along with Jan Parker, OFS, and Elizabeth Ishimitsu, OFS,” Manibusan said. Elizabeth Ishimitsu is the Minister of Ohan ’O Ke Anuenue Region in Hawaii, of which St. Padre Pio Fraternity is now part.

Jan Parker noted the significance of the new fraternity, as well as all the other local fraternities. “The local fraternity is the most important part of our worldwide Order. It is here in this fraternity that the brothers and sisters will find the help they need to go forth as witnesses and instruments of our common mission – to proclaim Christ, to see Christ, to be Christ in the world. In this way, all Franciscans do their part to rebuild the Church,” Parker said.

Other members of the St. Pio Fraternity Council are Vice-Minister, Teresita Flores; Secretary, Joann San Nicolas; Treasurer, Ben Diaz; Formation Director, Therese Babauta; and Councilor Birdena Toves and Deborah Tenorio.

2020-07-28T11:57:20-04:00July 29th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

Lockdown

(This poem originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the TAU-USA #100)

By Brother Richard Hendrick, OFM Cap.

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
 Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.

But,
They say that in Wuhan
after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
 The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other
 across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
 so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the west of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the
housebound.

Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number through the neighborhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.

To what really matters.

To Love

So we pray and we remember that
 Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.

Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.

The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul
 And though you may not be able
 to touch across the empty square,

Sing.

Brother Richard Hendrick is a Capuchin Friar and guardian of the Ards Friary and Retreat Center in Donegal, Ireland and teaches Christian meditation and mindfulness on social media. He has also been active in youth ministry. Through his poetry, he shares his message through social media, calling for solidarity and empathy. Shortly after posting “Lockdown” on Facebook it went viral around the world touching people’s hearts and giving by giving them hope.

2020-07-27T19:54:23-04:00July 27th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, Uncategorized|1 Comment
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