Chapter Becomes Historic First in OFS History

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102)

By MARY STRONACH, OFS

As the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United State planned for the 2020 National Chapter, they accepted the fact that COVID pandemic would require a measure of flexibility and creativity, an understanding of the new technology… and the ability to imagine the possibilities.

Forty-seven regional ministers, spiritual assistants and guests from around the country and world embraced this historic step in building and maintaining a sense of fraternity virtually.

The event provided some special benefits for those who would have faced travel challenges – no heavy baggage to pack and carry, no expensive, long, tiring trips, no fear of COVID contagious.

On the downside, there were no early morning coffee gatherings where brothers and sisters could laugh and share, no late-night entertainment or long discussions about the future of the Church or the Order, and no Eucharist to receive and share.

However, the virtual model of Franciscan gatherings, including the National Chapter, has proven to be an uplifting, engaging, productive, welcoming way to bring the members of the Order together. With the exception of technological or serious health issues, there was no reason why a regional minister or delegate could not participate. We were all in the comfort of our homes, with a cup of coffee or tea in hand, the occasional grandchild or pet who would cross the screen. We had the best of both worlds – interactions with Fraternity brothers and sisters from around the country and a safe, non-COVID home environment. (Some had virtual backgrounds of beautiful landscapes and even outer space.)

Materials were submitted to everyone in advance, the program was planned to include opening and closing Masses – with readers, music and inspirational homilies; presenters were prepared with shared Power Points that could easily be seen by all participants; spirited and upbeat leaders who provided guidance and updates on every aspect of the Order in the United States; spiritual assistants who offered perspectives and tips on how to handle the new reality.

With this historic, virtual Annual Chapter, the National Secular Franciscan Order has taken a leap in faith into a new reality – one which can connect Secular Franciscans, next door and around the world.

2021-03-27T19:54:06-04:00March 29th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

A Franciscan Approach to Today’s Times

Secular Franciscans held the first virtual chapter meeting via video conferencing because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  This is one of a series of reports that appeared in TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102.)

By Sharon Winzeler, OFS

Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR celebrated the masses for the virtual national chapter from his friary.

Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR, helped set the tone for a pandemic-caused virtual chapter by reminding attendees to take a Franciscan approach and see opportunity.

In the opening mass streamed from St. Joseph Friary in Hollidaysburg, PA, Father Christopher noted that many were experiencing anxiety in the midst of a pandemic as well as civil unrest.

“I cannot stop all of the issues from swirling around in my mind — racial discrimination, fear and uncertainty with every breath we take, divisiveness in society, in our institutions, in our church, bigotry, lack of civility in public discourse, injustices against human dignity, preventive health and safety measures misinterpreted as restrictions on personal freedom, disinformation,” he said.

Disruptions Can Be Opportunities

Father Christopher called on chapter participants to “see the disruptions” as “an opportunity to be alone with Jesus and go deeper and deeper.”

Approach these unsettling times with a Franciscan heart, he advised, by maintaining a joyful attitude like St. Francis of Assisi while being penitent and seeking conversion.

“The call to conversion is a change of mentality,” he said. “It predisposes us to believe in the gift of the Kingdom of God proclaimed and inaugurated by Jesus. Being penitent introduces us to the extraordinary and intimate relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Fr. Christopher, who is past president-in-turn of the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants, urged Franciscans to listen to the Holy Spirit during these trying times. “Act in ways that bear witness to our vocation. This hidden treasure has not lost its value in the current conditions of the world and of the Church. To the contrary, it is even more valuable as a Gospel alternative to the lacerations that oppress and distress today’s men and women.”

Unwavering faith in the face of uncertainty helps us to accept and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared against the unexpected, he said.

Fratelli Tutti

In the chapter’s closing mass on Oct. 24, Father Christopher pointed to the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, as a way to spread harmony in these trying times.

“Pope Francis is surely right to think that a confused world urgently needs some Catholic common sense.” That is what he provides us in his latest encyclical, “universal fraternity put into dialogue with the Gospel. It points in the direction of the brotherhood and sisterhood of every human being.”

He referred to the Gospel in which Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Not just ‘love one another.’ Not simply ‘love one another as you love yourselves.’ No. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”

A Good Model

Franciscans have a good model for this type of love, he noted. “St. Francis lived and taught this reciprocal love as Gospel living. He showed us how to love the Father by being in harmony with all creation. How to love the Son by imitating his life. And how to love the Spirit to be Advocate of the Order.”

The encyclical is an expansion of  Catholic Social Teaching, he said, and a reiteration of the essentials of the Gospel, urging us to get back to the basics.

“Pope Francis stresses the importance of meeting others, of creating a culture of encounter, to really get to know one another. Covid-19 should not diminish our desire to connect with one another. Computers and smartphones and video communications are at the ready.”

Pope Francis’s example of ordinary human goodness working for the common good is exemplified in the life of St. Francis of Assisi as noted in Fratelli Tutti: “In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theater of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading throughout the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all.” (#34)

2021-03-22T08:18:08-04:00March 22nd, 2021|Categories: Fratelli Tutti, From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

Fraternity Life 2018-2021 National Priority

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102)

Brothers and Sisters All: Pope Francis Reflects on Fraternity

by Mary Bittner, OFS

Pope Francis introduces Fratelli Tutti by acknowledging his inspiration from the life and words of St. Francis of Assisi. He then sets before us his own purpose: “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Brotherhood between all men and women.” [8][1]

After a description of the many problems facing today’s world, Pope Francis moves to an extended meditation on the parable we know as The Good Samaritan. This teaching underlies the lines of action the Pope would have us consider in later chapters. He invites us to use the parable as an examination of conscience of sorts. Read the parable of the Good Samaritan ([56] or Lk 10:25-37, and [64-66]). In which of its characters do you find something to identify with? Why?

Aside from the traveler himself, the first characters we hear about are the robbers. We can probably come up with examples of “dark shadows of neglect and violence in the service of petty interests of power, gain and division.” What does the Pope mean when he asks if the wounded man will “end up being the justification for our irreconcilable divisions, our cruel indifference, our internal conflicts?” [72]

The passers-by undoubtedly had their reasons for ignoring the fallen man [73-74]. What are some of the justifications we might use to justify passing by or looking the other way when we encounter those who are suffering? What part do politics or the economy play in how we “see” (or don’t see) those who suffer in our society (the poor, the immigrants, those of a different faith or skin color or abilities)?

Pope Francis cautions us that the passers-by “were religious, devoted to the worship of God: a priest and a Levite. This detail should not be overlooked. It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God.” [74] How should our Franciscan vocation help us to “ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God?”

Collusion between the robbers and those who pass by can contribute to an atmosphere of “disillusionment and despair.” [75] What elements in our own culture might be like the “thieves” that rob people of their dignity? How do we support these thieves, or try to stop them? What might we do, as individuals and as a  community of faith, to counter disillusionment and be “messengers of perfect joy?”

“The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan.” [67] How might we be neighbors to those who are “wounded” in our own society? In the global community? Do we differentiate between the two? Choose one concrete thing you might do during Lent to be a neighbor to someone you might otherwise ignore.

The Pope warns us that “…there are those who appear to feel encouraged or at least permitted by their faith to support varieties of narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and he suggests that “For this reason, it is important that catechesis and preaching speak more directly and clearly about the social meaning of existence, the fraternal dimension of spirituality, our conviction of the inalienable dignity of each person, and our reasons for loving and accepting all our brothers and sisters.” [86 (emphasis mine)] How do each of the themes italicized above relate to our fundamental charism as Secular Franciscans? How can our lives speak “clearly and directly” in their regard?

[1] All quotations are from Fratelli Tutti. Numbers in brackets refer to paragraphs. A PDF version of the full text of the encyclical can be found on the national website secularfranciscansusa.org/resources/ongoing-formation-resources/

2021-03-12T19:21:01-05:00March 15th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

Minister’s Message: A Call to Prophetic Creativity

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter Issue #102 that is available online. )

By Jan Parker, OFS

National Minister

As Clare once said to Agnes, “Let us be filled with a remarkable happiness and a spiritual joy!” It is an exciting time for Franciscans as, one after another, God’s gifts to the Franciscan Order just keep coming! The newest three gifts to our Order arrived several months ago, and several months apart, but here in the light of this new year I call your attention to them. Let us look at these gifts carefully, for they will profoundly affect our Order as we move into 2021.

What are these three gifts? They are the new Instrumentum Laboris from our CIOFS Presidency, Pope Francis’s Fratelli Tutti and the 2020 Christmas letter from our General Ministers. Each of these documents is unique, but for the OFS I see them linked in a single purpose. They are the next set of markers on our journey of renewal. I believe that, by way of these documents placed so directly in our path, God is continuing to chart our course.

For some time now, we have spoken of our journey towards the total renewal of our Order and of the trajectory God has set us on towards its fulfillment. This journey began with the promulgation of our Rule 40 years ago. Here in the United States, it has continued with many notable events marking our progress, most recently the visioning gatherings, which led us to re-examine our approach to our commissions of Youth, Justice and Peace, and Formation. Now the Holy Spirit is speaking again, calling us to move forward.

To me, God’s purpose in sending us these three gifts can be summed up in two words from the Instrumentum Laboris that jumped out at me as I read them: prophetic creativity. As I studied these documents, it became clear that we will not be able to achieve the goal of the total renewal of our Order without prophetic creativity. I believe God is calling us to focus our prayer and energy in this direction.

What is prophetic creativity? It is to see as God sees– to see with spiritual eyes–and then to act, allowing God’s grace to strengthen us to do his will. It is innovative action we take in response to the Holy Spirit working within us. Pope Francis is a master of prophetic creativity; so inspired and innovative are his words and actions that lives are converted. In Fratelli Tutti he calls all of us to be creative in building relationships, using the word “create” no less than 44 times. The General Ministers, in their Christmas letter, remind us that “change (conversion) is impossible without a motivation and a process.” They then call us to a prophetic stance, stating, “Jesus, more than anyone, teaches us how to live a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle.” St. Francis of Assisi, who followed Christ most closely, is an excellent model of prophetic creativity. How many times did he hear the Word of God speaking directly to him and immediately put it into practice?

In the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) the term “prophetic creativity” is applied directly to the OFS. Here the focus is on servant leadership, always accompanied in our legislation by two verbs “animate and guide.” This function of servant leaders, to animate and guide, is not limited to administration or bureaucracy but, most importantly, applies to the heart of our call– the full realization of the Secular Franciscan life, both as individuals and as Fraternity. This “full realization” is the renewal we long for. It is the goal given to us by the Church and emphasized repeatedly by our Popes. The IL states emphatically that to achieve this goal “prophetic creativity is required.”

As servant leaders, we need to implement prophetic creativity and plan for the future. This goes beyond the “day to day” running of the fraternity. The IL states, “We should always seek new ways that help the development of the Fraternities and the spiritual life of the sisters and brothers, being open to and responding to the signs of the times.” So we must ask ourselves, what will move our fraternities, and our Order forward, so we become what the Church expects of us?

A good question at this point might be, does this requirement of prophetic creativity in the IL apply only to servant leaders? Certainly, the focus is on leaders, but the IL equally stresses the concept of “co- responsibility,” which applies to every member. Our General Constitutions states, “The brothers and sisters are co-responsible for the life of the fraternity to which they belong and for the OFS as the organic union of all fraternities throughout the world.” (GC 31.1) Think about this. We are responsible not only for the life of our own local fraternity, but for the entire Order. The IL stresses this point as well, addressing all of us and stating that “in order to achieve our goals, we must deepen our sense of co-responsibility.” All members must be attentive to the call to prophetic creativity. We must ask ourselves⎯what is my part?

Let us all respond to the Holy Spirit’s call⎯a call to a season of prophetic creativity. Imagine the result of this. We would grow closer to God and to each other. We would engage more deeply in our vocation. Our lives and our fraternities would be more alive with enthusiasm, joy, and hope. We would experience a more intense commitment with unconditional participation. Our Order would become stronger in its witness. We would reach out in the world to build relationships and share the joy of fraternity with all we meet. We would live up to our potential, individually and as an Order.

I believe these three documents give us tools to accomplish this, so let us study and unpack them in the months ahead. Please make them part of your ongoing formation in your local fraternities. My hope is that we might have some teleconferences, perhaps on both a regional and national level, to share and discuss what we discover in these three gifts. God is calling us more strongly than ever to live a life worthy of our call, and as always, he is providing us with all we need.

I will close with a story. Five years ago, I was captivated by a photo and a quote from Pope Francis that appeared in a “Year of Mercy” calendar. I cut it out, and it has hung on the wall next to the doorway of my office ever since. This photo of Pope Francis encourages me every time I walk through the door.

His “thumbs up” makes me smile; his words spur me on:

“It is true that our God is the God of surprises. Each day carries another surprise! …We will never move forward if we do not have the courage to break the mold, for our God impels us to do the following: to be creative about the future.1

Pretty prophetic, right?

May this image, and these words, cheer us on as we enter this season of prophetic creativity.

2021-03-07T19:00:49-05:00March 8th, 2021|Categories: Minister’s Message|0 Comments

Reclaming the Bay!

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall 2020 Issue #101)

How one fraternity rebuilds an ecosystem.

Spirituality, fraternity, science, and some good old elbow grease work together in an apostolate sponsored by the St. Francis of Assisi Fraternity on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Taking a page from St. Francis’s love of the environment and Laudato Si, the fraternity works to improve the fragile ecosystem of Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor by raising tens of thousands of clams each year.

Fraternity members participate in the nonprofit Reclam the Bay project sponsored by Rutgers Cooperative Extension. To date, the project has deposited upwards of 10 million clams in the bay since its inception in 2005.

The fraternity joined the effort three years ago after a presentation by Rick Bushnell, president of Reclam the Bay, and we became one of 11 groups in the bay area to host the project.

“We saw it as good volunteer effort, and we liked being able to see a beginning and an end to the project,” said Jim Collery, OFS, one of the team of fraternity members who volunteers on the project.

Work begins in June when 50,000-60,000 clams the size of a pencil head are delivered to the upwellers located on the campus of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Long Beach Island. Some oysters are also included.

Upwellers are a sort of nursery for clams, which are housed in silo-shaped tanks that have a steady supply of bay water. A sump pump siphons water from the bay, and the clams extract food from it, returning cleaner water back into the bay, said Jim Heimlich, OFS, who organizes the project for the fraternity.

The weekly job of the volunteers is to clean the clam excretions and other debris from the upweller. Some members work cleaning the tubs and cylinders where the clams reside. Others help record statistics such as the temperature and salinity of the water, as well as measuring the size of the clams.

Besides the weekly cleaning and data collection, fraternity members also check regularly to make sure that the water pump is operating. As long as the clams have fresh water, they will continue to breathe and filter the water. If the pump stopped because of a power outage or other factor, the water would lose its oxygenation and the clams would suffocate

The cleaning occurs after 9:30 a.m. Mass on Tuesdays.

Project members welcome children and relish the opportunity to describe how the ecosystem works. They explain how upwellers replenish the clam population, which has been on the decline since the 1980s, when nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from sewers and farms flooded the bay and stimulated algae growth.  Other factors such as overharvesting also contributed to the decline.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis states that, “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself” and that is working amidst this project.

“Interfacing with the environment certainly helps build fraternity,” said Heimlich.

Fr. John Frambes, OFM, agreed, “These are good times for fellowship and lots of laughter.”

Fr. Frambes is the fraternity’s spiritual assistant and has a daily view of the upweller from his office window. He regularly volunteers to help clean the upweller.

Fr. Frambes is also called on to the bless the clams at the traditional blessing of the animals each Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

Heimlich says the reclamming project is a way to help the ecosystem.

“The health of the bay clams and oysters are important to the health of the bay. They clean up the chemicals and debris that make it unhealthy for the fish,” he said.

“One oyster filters 40 gallons of water per day. A clam will filter 10 gallons of water per day. Their presence contributes to the health of the environment and helps others in the bay environment thrive,” said Heimlich.

By November, the clams have grown large enough to remove from the upweller and turn over to other volunteers from the Reclam the Bay project, who plant them in protected plots in the bay. The clams are covered by mesh nets to keep crabs, mollusks, and birds from eating them.

A year later, when the clams are 1.5 inches wide, they are distributed in secret locations throughout the bay, where they will continue to grow and reproduce. Any clammers and fishermen lucky enough to find them can harvest them.

Unfortunately, the reclamming project was put on hold this season because of Covid-19 and a storm that damaged a structure next to the upweller that limited access to the area. The fraternity is looking forward to continuing the project next summer.

2021-02-04T15:37:49-05:00February 15th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

Ecumenical Interfaith Committee Joint Committee on Franciscan Unity

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall Issue #101)

CADEIO 2020 INTERRELIGIOUS SUMMER INSTITUTE

By Kelly Moltzen, OFS

As a representative of the OFS-USA Ecumenical Interfaith Committee, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2020 Interreligious Summer Institute with CADEIO, the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers. As Catholics, we are called to ecumenical and interreligous dialogue in the foundational Vatican II documents of the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). We focused this summer on the call to interreligious dialogue in Nostra Aetate. While the institute was held virtually instead of in person due to the pandemic, it was a rich experience with much wisdom shared about the traditions of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It is with my understandings and additional thoughts from John Borelli, Ph.D., Special Assistant to the President for Catholic Identity and  Dialogue at Georgetown University and coordinator of the CADEIO summer institute, that I offer to you the teachings given at the 2020 CADEIO.

These traditions have been practiced for millennia, developed by their founders mainly to provide guidance for living in the world. Although they each contain multiple theological traditions, which differ significantly from Christian theology, they provide spiritual sustenance for half the world’s inhabitants. Nostra Aetate focused on sharing the spiritual, moral and cultural values we hold in common with the followers of these traditions through dialogue and collaboration, although mutual enrichment through theological dialogue is also encouraged. Citizenship is viewed as a contract, and contracts are sacred throughout the world where religion and society interpenetrate. Like Christianity, Judaism and Islam spell out practical realities of law and history and are guides and inspiration for putting belief in action, as they emphasize living according to the divine law. Jews and Muslims also believe their guidelines should be subject to changes based on circumstances that arise over time. Doctrines and practices change, as we observe with them, and as Vatican II taught in so many ways.

Muslims believe Muhammad was the last prophet, in line with the Abrahamic prophets who came before him. Muhammad, once he was established with his wife as a successful merchant, withdrew from society for meditation on the One God and heard a profound spiritual call that motivated him to warn people about their actions. Muslims honor Mary and are strongly monotheistic: the first Muslims preached monotheism to the polytheistic Meccans and other Arab tribal peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. They even worry that Christians can be polytheistic, because their Qur’an presents the Christian trinity as three different gods, divine father, mother and son. Muslim scholars point out that the trinity in the Qur’an is not the trinity in which Christians believe; however, their warning is helpful to Christians to understand that Father, Son and Spirit are all substantiations of the one God. But even so, in line with the unifying call in John 17:21 “That they all may be one,” Muslims call on Jews and Christians to come together to serve God: “O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah (God in Arabic)” (Qur’an 3:64). Further, the goal of Islam is to establish peace and stop oppression: [“Whoever saves one—it is as if he had saved mankind entire” Qur’an 5:32). The Qur’an includes rules that promote democracy, human rights, healthy interactions with neighbors, women, rights of minorities, finance, and equality. Nostra Aetate acknowledges that over the centuries there have been not a few conflicts and clashes between Christians and Muslims, despite the call of both traditions for greater unity in love and service, due largely to the integration of religion with the civilizations of the past.

Hinduism is also monotheistic, despite the many forms of gods and sectarian groups devoted to different gods. The characterization that Hinduism is polytheistic came about when India was colonized by the British, who tended to view Hindus from their British perspective as Christians and to focus on the scriptural traditions rather than to understand the rich devotional life of Hindus. There is a movement among Hindu scholars to find “decolonized epistemologies,” that is, to come to an internalized understanding of the tradition apart from the theories of outsiders and return Hinduism to its original meaning. Their murti (images, statues) are symbolic icons–the embodiment, manifestation, incarnation, or personification of a deity. Their belief is one of panentheism, that there is an essence of the divine that abides in all, and that there is an “Ishvara” (God, the Lord, the Supreme Being). Hindus believe in simple living and high thinking, have “Sanskaras” (rites of passage), which parallel the Christian sacraments; and believe the environment is sacred and deserves protection, though many Hindus, like Christians, are not environmentalists.

In Buddhism, there are the Four Noble Truths, the basic teaching of the Buddha: there is suffering in the world; suffering has an origin, which is craving/thirst; the way to get rid of suffering is to extinguish the thirst; and there is a path that leads to the end of suffering (the Eightfold Path). To crave another re-birth is to not have achieved nirvana (enlightenment). Our lives are never satisfactory as long as we crave more and more and fail to understand that ceaseless craving leads ultimately to sorrow. Similar to the teaching from St. Augustine, who said in the opening passage of his Confessions, “You have created us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” to achieve nirvana and the end of suffering is to escape the cycle of rebirth. The concept of the impermanence of worldly things is strong in Buddhism, as everything is constantly changing. One can achieve enlightenment with or without a body, because the body of the Buddha was once on earth, though the truth body of the Buddha has never ceased. Similarly, the body of Jesus is not here on Earth anymore, but the body of Christ is. Thus, as Buddhists believe that nirvana is the one and only reality, for them true resurrection is not the soul’s escape from the body, but allowing oneself to settle into nirvana, while for Christians the resurrection is an embodied experience of oneness with the resurrected Christ. For Buddhists and for Christians, we are more than a soul, we are physically embodied beings; however, the ultimate condition of resurrection and salvation are understood quite differently.

While we can examine the similarities between these traditions and Christianity, the richness of dialogue may come in examining the differences. There are four forms of interreligious dialogue: dialogue of everyday life; dialogue of action; dialogue of theological exchange; and dialogue of religious experience. The main goal of interreligious dialogue should not be about doctrine, but about building social solidarity, and we can build solidarity by acknowledging differences. This has been the emphasis of Pope Francis—dialogue is about accompaniment, journeying together, each in our own religious ways, but building solidarity for the greater moral and religious values we share. John Borelli of Georgetown University says, “dialogue is not a strategy but a way of salvation and friendship.” Borelli, who once worked at the U. S. Bishops’ Conference and served as a consulter to the Vatican, draws this quote from the teachings of John Paul II and Pope Francis. Both took the message of Nostra Aetate into their ministry as popes to provide example and leadership for Catholics. Interreligious dialogue should be a lifestyle, and something we approach with humility. By participating in grassroots interfaith dialogue, we can connect with others on a human level. There are important lessons for us to learn from practitioners of other traditions, which can even help us deepen our own understanding of Christianity and Catholicism. This can allow us to create new, interreligious rituals and prayer services. Further, by learning the practices of other traditions, such bowing one’s head in a Buddhist temple or taking one’s shoes off in a mosque, we can demonstrate our respect for those whose model of worship is different from our own. Interreligious dialogue can be a powerful way of promoting peace as well, as St. Francis demonstrated when he approached Sultan al-Kamil during the Crusades.

There is a great need to offer opportunities for religion education to young Catholics, in high schools, seminaries and formation houses. One way of doing this could be through bringing in different faith perspectives on ecology during a study of Laudato Si. We can also get involved in interreligious dialogue through local interfaith councils, by sharing meals together, and through Interfaith Power and Light chapters, which are affiliated with CADEIO.

2021-02-03T18:17:31-05:00February 8th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

ENCOURAGEMENT, FELLOWSHIP AND PRAYER IN THE AGE OF PANDEMIC

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall Issue #101)

By Roberta Oliveira, OFS

St. Francis Fraternity, Milton, Mass.

“ … For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” ( Romans 1:11,12)

It is believed that Paul wrote these words to the Romans while on mission to Jerusalem. He was separated from the church by distance, but not in spirit, and writes to encourage them on their faith journey. In fact, the New Testament is filled with examples of early church members encouraging one another during times of separation, persecution, and fear from the very beginning. So why would it be unusual for us to want to encourage each other now?

Most of us can play the news reports in our head. Something bad is happening in China! Italy is going through the same thing! People are sick and they are dying! They are overwhelmed! All of Europe is bending to a horrible virus! A nursing home in Washington State! New York is on lockdown! Dear God, please protect us. Please do not allow our churches to be closed. Fear, sadness, and loss were mounting. As this unfolded, our fraternities were scrambling to determine what we were going to do about meetings, retreats, etc.

For our fraternity, there were a few emergency conference calls by the Council. We had planned our first Lenten Day of Recollection for March 14 and were scheduled to meet the following Tuesday as a fraternity. Can we or should we meet? We were working with a minimal and everchanging amount of information of what was being called a Pandemic. Can we still offer our first annual Lenten day of retreat? It includes other fraternities and, of course, food. Is that safe? What about our monthly gatherings? Before too long, in a matter of days, the decision was made for us, and we had to cancel our meetings, retreats, travels and organized prayer meetings. We had already cancelled our events when the Massachusetts Governor and the Archbishop made the decision for us. Overnight, it seemed, the unthinkable had happened. We could not meet. We could not ask to have a mass celebrated with our fraternity! We could not attend mass. Everyone paused, waited, cried … and then, before too long, as the anxiety settled, the Council met via teleconference once again to discuss what we could do to keep our fraternity alive and active; to encourage one another and to attempt to soothe the pain of isolation. Like all, we were stunned and broken but a remarkable thing happened… a way was opened with a strongly committed leadership… to begin again. Nunc Coepi!

We had heard about Zoom. Schools were using it. Government agencies were using it. Why couldn’t we? So, we scheduled our first Council meeting via Zoom! It worked. We decided to begin offering evening prayer to the fraternity members one or two nights per week. Another member of the Council wanted to pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. Another fraternity member thought perhaps praying the rosary together might be a good idea and so we began on Sunday. Suddenly we had a busier “meeting” schedule than ever; but it was working! We COULD be together to encourage one another and so we did!

As I write this, we have been meeting via the Zoom platform for several weeks. Yes, it does have limitations. We decided that inclusion is particularly important. If we are going to be meeting in a virtual way, we need to include all members of the fraternity, not just those with internet capabilities. Additionally, the free version of the software limits all meetings to 40 minutes after a trial period. With these limitations in mind, we decided to sign up for the paid version of the software so we would be able to include those who do not have a computer or smartphone, and meetings could be held without a time limit. Security is also superior to the free version.

I would like to note here that we did become aware that some management of all of the online meeting providers have beliefs not in accord with our beliefs on life issues. We decided our best option here was to add a prayer intention at every one of our meetings that their hearts may be changed. Our Savior is above earthly issues and can work in the hearts of the developers. We are persistent in this plea.

All do not feel comfortable using the platform for a variety of reasons, and the times of additional prayer are not always perfect; but many of our fraternity members are attending. We are getting to know each other more deeply as we are meeting more often. What a blessing! Some of us who live in senior housing are unable to be with family and friends, and we can support and encourage each other… to share our tears and to know we are not alone. We are building community through a technology that prior to this time was anathema to most of us.

On Easter Sunday, many of us gathered for prayer, rejoicing through song, scripture readings and prayers of thanksgiving! We shared the fun and hardships of a modified Easter feast, how we were communicating with loved ones, our tears and fears. This was organized by one of our fraternity members who was so inspired, and it was a wonderful time. I believe each one of us who attended was greatly blessed by this celebration, and we will be sharing the experience with our children and grandchildren when we are past the time of pandemic and have settled into our lives once again.

In addition to Zoom, we have been committed to making sure that each member of our fraternity is contacted by phone or letter to encourage and uplift them. We understand some are not comfortable with the technology, and we continue to try to find ways to reach them. It is remarkable that our fraternity has been able to continue to support our ministries financially and to remain an alive and active body during this time of separation. What began as an act of inspired desperation has become a great blessing!

2021-01-31T14:50:24-05:00February 1st, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|1 Comment

Bringing Peace

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall 2020 Issue #101)

L. Dorothea McNeil OFS

Minister, Father Solanus Casey Regional Fraternity

Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Article 19

I had originally intended to write on a completely different subject, but as I began, I was led here. There have always been political, religious, or moral disagreements among people. In the past 15-20 years, we have seen people expressing their opinions in ways that are more and more extreme. Instead of reason, we have emotion; in place of discussion, we have insults. Social media adds to this by giving the shield of anonymity to the most hurtful remarks. It isn’t so much what people believe, as the way they say it, that is driving us apart. Anger and insult cause divisions. Those divisions make common ground impossible and prevent us from working on the real problems in our communities, our country, and our world.

What can we, as Secular Franciscans, do about this? Probably not that much, on a grand scale. But, as you must know, this culture of argument and insult has invaded our communities, schools, workplaces, churches, and families. In those places, where we live out our vocations, we can make a difference.

In writing this, I thought of my family. Our political opinions range from libertarian to the most progressive liberalism. We differ in our politics, religion, and philosophy. Yet my children and children-in-law are in constant contact with each other. Our gatherings are happy and filled with love. I will not say they are free from “discussion,” or even “intense discussion,” but we always end up eating together around the dinner table. We support each other in times of sorrow and rejoice together in times of joy. We are a family, and the love that binds us together is far stronger than any differences we may have.

Even in the midst of our “discussions,” my children would never say anything really insulting or hurtful. Our shared love as a family prevents it. In the past 20 years, the ties that have united members of families, churches, communities and our country have been eroded. The loss of those connections has enabled people to be as nasty as they wish. So, back to the question: what can we Secular Franciscans do? We can establish, and re-establish, the connections that help us to have respect and love for each other. We can do this by listening.

First, we can listen to what people are saying: all that is said, not just the first two words. You don’t have to agree, just listen. Try to understand the facts of the story, or the reasons for the argument. Second, listen to the person speaking. Listen with an understanding heart. Why are they saying this? How do they understand the words? Are there emotions behind what is being said? Is agreement, or a connection, possible? Third, listen to yourself. Are you shutting yourself off from discussion? Are your own beliefs interfering with your ability to understand? Do you interrupt the other person to score a point? Is your own anger or impatience a barrier? Fourth, listen to God. (This should also be first.) Are you treating this person as a child of God or as an enemy? Is your purpose argument or discussion? Do you want to learn or to win? Do you understand that you are already in relationship with this person?

Listening seems like such a little thing, but it isn’t. When we don’t listen to people, they feel devalued, and then they devalue the lives of others. The turmoil in our society comes from millions of people who are talking and shouting, but not listening. This brings us further and further apart from each other. Listening begins relationships and keeps them together. Listening is not agreement; it means that we respect each other. It confirms the dignity of each person. It opens the path to real discussion, and from there leads to understanding and peace.

We cannot solve the world’s problems by ourselves. But, through listening and forming connections with those we meet, we can change the world we live in. May we bring our Franciscan peace and goodness to all our brothers and sisters.

2021-01-22T17:50:46-05:00January 25th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

Franciscan Living

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Fall 2020 Issue #101)

GOD’S ENCOURAGEMENT

By Francine Gikow, OFS

“Blessed be God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement; who encourages us in every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.” 2Cor. 1:3-7 (NAB)

You may recognize this scripture verse using the traditional word, “consolation” rather than “encouragement.” However, I chose the New American Bible version for a reason. First, sometimes reading the same passage in a different version of the Bible may open up new ways of thinking about it. It breaks open the complacency of “oh, I know that one” to bearing what we weren’t expecting, so we pay closer attention.

Have you thought of God being an encourager? Have you experienced our merciful God urging you into areas of your life where you did not want to go? He encourages us in those small “whispers” or nudges to do something out of our comfort zone. Sometimes God has to drag us reluctantly to take that leap of faith. I’m sure God’s encouragement impelled many of us to explore the Secular Franciscan Order for the first time. For many, myself included, God had to do a lot of encouragement over and over again before we stepped into our first fraternity meeting. I know it was this way for me—it took about four or five years of dragging my feet before I relented!

In this age of pandemic and social unrest, we definitely need encouragement. Social distancing can be very lonely. Sometimes, encouragement comes by a specific thought returning time and time again. It may be a whispered idea that keeps nudging us. It may even be a sudden unsettling conversion which pushes us until we follow the urging of the Holy Spirit. God, the Master Encourager, cheers us along the path to what He created us to become.

The “status quo” for God is not acceptable. He wants us—rather he yearns for us—to be His disciples and grow in holiness. So, God allows hardships to bring us to Him and then He encourages and supports us through those difficulties as we learn to rely on Him alone. It’s another form of penance and conversion; being stripped of our own will and offering it to God. God as my encourager not only consoles but supports me in my journey through life’s tribulations. In fact, God’s encouragement is “overflowing,” never ending, lavish and abundant —for our God is the God of abundance. His mercy is never ending!

Like Francis, we look at the cross of our Savior and see His sufferings. But the cross is not just about suffering. For Franciscans, it is the way to redemption. It is the way to resurrection. It is a way of hope and joy.

The passage goes on to say, “Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.” In other words, God gives us His encouragement so we can “pay it forward” and build up the Body of Christ here on earth.

Many we meet may not yet be able to “see” God or hear His word for themselves. Our experience of God as the kind and gentle “encourager” can introduce others to Him through our experience: the yearning, urging, encouraging God wants a relationship with Him. For after all, God’s main plan for us is salvation—to live in His Love forever.

“Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.” (OFS Rule, Art. 19)

2021-01-15T20:55:16-05:00January 18th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|0 Comments

“If Today You Would Hear His Voice, Do Not Harden Your Hearts”

(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of TAU-USA #101)

Formation Commission

by Francine Gikow, OFS

National Commissioner

 

“IF TODAY YOU WOULD HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS[1]

As a Secular Franciscan during this time of coronavirus, I have been forced to confront my own racial biases and the inequality that exists in our society based on race. From the earliest days in initial formation, we are told “go from gospel to life and life to the gospel” with a careful reading of the gospel.[2] But what do the gospels say to us at this time? How do we act/react as Secular Franciscans? How can I make sure that I do not “harden my heart”?

Since Vatican II, the Church has directed us in this essential element of our vocation: “At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel…”[3]

“… [the Church] can draw from the Gospel the most profound reasons and ever new incentives to promote the generous dedication to the service of all [people], the poor especially, the weak and the oppressed – and to eliminate the social consequences of sin which are translated into unjust social and political structures… the Church…leads toward freedom under all its forms — liberation from sin, from indwelling or collective selfishness—and to full communion with God and with [people] who are like brothers [and sisters].”[4]

The message is clear. The Church invites me—no, actually demands of me—as a secular, professed Franciscan, to work toward the equality of all people in our society. Of course, depending on our particular gifts and personalities, what I do may be different than your response to the call of the Holy Spirit. But we are all the body of Christ, here on earth. What DO scripture and the gospels say? In search of the answer, I have compiled some of my favorite passages for your prayer, meditation, and consideration. They are not a complete listing; for that you would need to read/meditate on the ENTIRE Bible! However, they are a start. You may want to take a different specific passage each day to prayer and meditation. You may want to share at your fraternity meeting which passages “spoke” to you and why. You may want to cut up all the Bible citations, put them into a bowl and pray a different one each day.

Make an effort to be open to the Word of God and not “harden your heart,” let go of any pre-conceived ideas and see where God leads you, then act on it. Make a decision to change a behavior. Decide what you can do differently. Do penance. Ask forgiveness. Open a respectful dialog. The list is endless. As Francis said to his brothers:

“I have done what is mine; May Christ teach you yours.” (Lmj14:3)

Scripture Citations:

Essence of the Law (Deut 10:17-20)

The Beatitudes (Mt.5 1-10 or Lk 6 20-26)

Sheep Amidst the Wolves (Mt 10”16-23)

Parable of the Sower (Mt 13: 1-17)

Forgiveness (Mt 18:21-22)

The Rich Young Man (Mt 19:23-27)

The Greatest Commandment (Mt 22:34-40)

Persecutions Foretold (Mt 24:9-14)

Welcoming a Stranger (Mt 25:31-40)

Judgment of the Nations (Mt 26:31-36)

Woman at the Well (Jn 4: 4-42)

Love for Enemies (Lk 6:27-36)

Do Not Judge… (Lk 6:37-38)

The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37)

The Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31)

Woman Caught in Adultery (Jn 8:1-11)

Transformation (Romans 12:2)

Mutual Love (Heb 13:1-3)

Mercy and Judgment (James 2: 12-13)

Justification By Works (James 2:22-24)

Judging Others (James 4:11)

—————————————————————

[1] Psalm 95:7b-11. (NAB)

[2] OFS Rule: Art.4

[3] Guadium et Spes, 4.

[4] Synod of Bishops, “Evangelization of the Modern World,” Third General Assembly, October 26, 1974, in The Gospel of Peace and Justice: Catholic Social Teaching Since Pope John (Maryknoll , NY: Orbis Books, 1976. p.597

2021-01-11T11:05:32-05:00January 11th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter|1 Comment
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