Formation

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

“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

Accompanying Young People: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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

Kathleen Molaro, OFS National Franciscan Youth and Young Adult Commission Chair

The National Franciscan Youth and Young Adult (FY/ YA) commission was formed in 1995, and members have contributed articles to the TAU-USA since its inception in 1996. In looking back at the very first FY/YA commission article published, it is interesting to note that right from the start, the intention of the commission has been to motivate Secular Franciscans to understand our role in accompanying youth. Young people, our society, and our Church have all changed dramatically. In this 100th issue of the TAU-USA, however, the current commission points out that the responsibility to accompany young people in their journey has not changed.

The opening of the 1996 commission article, written by Mary and Anthony Mazotti, states, “Spiritually motivated and dedicated youth are not formed in a vacuum. They are lifted up by those going from Gospel to life and life to Gospel.” Our Bishops recently stressed that in this pluralistic, confusing world, walking with young people toward wholeness and holiness is essential. They state in the final document of their 2018 synod on young people, “Being present, supporting and accompanying the journey towards authentic choices is one way for the Church to exercise her maternal function… Service of this kind is simply the continuation of the way in which the God of Jesus Christ acts towards his people: through constant and heartfelt presence, dedicated and loving closeness and tenderness without limits.”

As Secular Franciscans, we are called to this same mission. Isn’t that what fraternity is all about? Neither Jesus nor Francis sent their disciples out to spread the gospel alone. We work together, and our efforts would be blessed with young people by our side.

The 1996 TAU-USA article also said, “The Church recognizes that there is a great hunger among youth for deeper meaning and purpose to their lives. There is a strong desire among many of them to make the world a better place, to save it from its seemingly bent to self-destruct.”

The current commission agrees and Commission Chair believes we all need to rise to the challenge in offering young people opportunities to discover and utilize their gifts.

Our charism leads us to incorporate social justice action. Young people realize it is imperative to be “hands-on” in working for change. They are eager to offer their time and talents and to assume responsibility. We find young people at the forefront, seeking creative ways to combat social and environmental diseases, discrimination, racism and violence that permeates our world.

Recently, Pope Francis recognized this hunger and exhorted young people to view their lives as mission. He tells them they should refrain from asking “Who am I?” They will find more meaning in life by asking “For whom am I?” Don’t we all strive to know God’s plan for us? To seek purpose in our work? Walking with a young person is an important step toward holiness, not only for the youth, but for those who serve them. Through formation, fraternity, and service, we all grow in our faith. “In a world marked by diversity of peoples and variety of cultures, ‘walking together’ is fundamental if the initiatives of solidarity, integration and promotion of justice are to be credible and effective,” whether in 1996 or 2020.

______________________________

1 Wicks, William, A History of the Secular Franciscan Order, Vol. III, Smoky Valley Printing, Lindsborg, KS, 261
2 Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment: Final Document of the Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the

Synod of Bishops, 91
3 Wicks, William. [Ibid? some fuller citation?] 4 Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment, 69 5 Ibid, 126

2020-07-13T13:16:58-04:00July 13th, 2020|Categories: Formation, National Chapter|0 Comments

Reflection On Our Franciscan Senses

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the TAU-USA)

by Layna Maher, OFS

When we were very young, we learned that we have five basic senses that help us collect information and process the world around us. We see, we hear, we smell, we touch, and we taste. Our senses give us an awareness of the world around us.

As Franciscans, we strive daily to live a Gospel life and follow Jesus in the footsteps of our Seraphic Father Francis. We have the opportunity and responsibility to preach the Gospel with every encounter and interaction we have. Daily conversion calls us to do just that. We are called by our profession to let the Gospel values guide the way we perceive, interpret, and interact with the world around us. With our basic senses in mind, let us ask ourselves these questions and reflect on our answers.

Do I see others with Franciscan eyes? Do I use a Franciscan lens as I take in the world and see the imprint of the Most High? Especially when I meet others who are different and hold different beliefs, do I see and accept them “as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ?” (OFS Rule: Art.5) What do people see when they see me? Are my actions an observable example of Christ? What does God see as he looks into my heart?

Do I hear with Franciscan ears of love? Do I hear and answer the call of the Spirit? Do I hear the cry of the poor? Let us hear “The option for
those who are least, those whom society discards” (Evangelii Gaudium, 195). What do people hear when I speak? Are my words of love and a proclamation of Christ? What does God hear when he listens to my prayers?

Do I smell with a Franciscan nose? Do I recognize the fragrant beauty of creation? In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, the apostle Paul tells us “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the odor of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Do I smell of the fragrance of Christ’s love?

Do I touch with Franciscan compassion? Do I reach out and relate to others with love? Am I willing to open my heart to love others with the same acceptance St. Francis gave as he embraced the leper? Do I keep in touch with my Franciscan brothers and sisters and participate in fraternity life?

Do I taste with a Franciscan tongue? Do my thoughts and ideals have the flavor of the Franciscan? Consider my Franciscan palate. Do I savor the Gospel? Do I pray for vocations and ask others to taste and see? We are reminded and reassured in Psalm 34:9 to “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” Do I trust in the Lord? Has what seemed bitter “changed… into sweetness of body and soul?” (Testament of St. Francis) Do I taste the sweetness of body and soul?

Sisters and Brothers, we are called to be messengers of perfect joy as Secular Franciscans, members of an evangelical order. We must ask ourselves, do our words, thoughts and actions exude Franciscan love and mercy so others experience Christ’s love? Are you using your Franciscan senses?

2020-07-05T16:34:50-04:00July 6th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter|1 Comment

A Culture of Contempt

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the TAU-USA)

By Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR

“Grant all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel.” (III Mass for Various Needs)

This Prayer of the Church and the Profession of the OFS Rule direct our witness and mission to build a more fraternal and Gospel-centered world. In St Francis’ day, and in our own day, the members of the Franciscan Family are in a continuous struggle to build an alternative society. The dominant paradigm in our world is division, polarization. Herein lies the challenge: Is our world God’s world? And in my own quirkiness, why can’t people stand each other?

Attitudes are difficult to change. One attitude has come across my radar: “We know…but so what?” Charmed, no. Chilled, yes. Such an attitude infects and poisons truth. Lying voices fly 24/7, while the truth of the Gospel at Sunday Mass gets less than 20 minutes…a week!

You’ve heard these voices. They tell you to swap personal integrity for what they sell. They persuade you barter your convictions for an easy deal; to exchange your devotion for a cheap thrill. “We know…but so what.” Lies and deception eat away at the human spirit, tear at the fabric of society. They taunt and tantalize; they flirt and flatter. It’s ok; don’t worry, no one will know.

Evil breaks down the doors of our hearts. Jesus stands and taps gently. The voices of lies and deception scream for our allegiance. Jesus softly and tenderly requests it. They promise shiny new objects. Jesus invites us to dine with Him at table.

Our Rule challenges us as Franciscans to build the Kingdom of God in temporal situations and activities. We do not live in two worlds, nor do we live two lives. We may not accept everything that people develop, nor embrace ideas that oppose the Gospel. Like it or not, we live in one world. And it belongs to God. (Thank you, dear brother, Father Lester. May God be good to you as you have been to us!)

Our Constitutions reiterate the fact that we have membership “both in the Church and in society as an inseparable reality” (20.1). This world is where we implement the Gospel. Here is where we work to build the kind of society that offers light and life rather than darkness and destruction. Our political systems need to be constantly called to accountability. We will do our best to fulfill what the Gospel asks of us. We support the Church when we accept personal responsibility to be Gospel- oriented. We discard any approach that makes us two-faced.

Our Profession mandates that we be the best servants we can be. Formation in fraternity, enriched by life experiences, having intimacy with Jesus in prayer—these are key in being good and responsible Franciscans, whose primary contribution is to build a Gospel society.

St Francis experienced polarization in the Order, in the Church, and in the society of his day. It was painful indeed, but he showed us that pain can be quenched by mercy and forgiveness. Habits and temptations will always be with us. What’s needed is a change of heart, a heart filled with mercy and forgiveness.

Let us, then, pray with St Francis’ the Salutation of the Virtues, where he reminds us to take to heart and not forget the virtues—simplicity, poverty, humility, charity, and obedience, led by holy wisdom. May we stand firm in the challenge of social transformation, for a world governed not by sin and evil, but by virtues. Virtues proceed from the heart of God. We pray that we may have God in the heart.

2020-06-29T06:43:59-04:00June 22nd, 2020|Categories: CNSA, Formation, From the Newsletter|1 Comment

2018-2021 National Priority: Fraternity Life–Living Fraternal Communion

By Mary Bittner, OFS

During the Easter season, we read at Mass about the growth of the early Christian community as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

“These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone. The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.” Acts 2: 42-47

What should we note from this passage? The most obvious fact is that there, in first century Jerusalem, the Gospel was being lived. The Reign of God spoken of by Jesus in the gospels was becoming a reality in the lives of ordinary people. This reality was a powerful sign to the people around them, Jews and pagans alike. Yes, there were “miracles” and “signs.” Probably just as impressive to their audience was the fact that these Christians “lived together” and “sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds” according to need, that “they shared their food gladly and generously.” In short, they both worshiped and lived as a community, a community of those whose lives had been transformed by the Good News.

Moreover, within a short time the community of believers included members of diverse social groups (slaves and freemen, pagans and Samaritans, Jews and Greeks), whose lives were characterized by a unity that would have been undreamed of a few years earlier. This was not an easy, painless coming together of like-minded individuals. No. Numerous references in Acts and Paul’s epistles make it only too clear the difficulty people had in accepting others whose backgrounds differed from their own. But unity was of utmost importance to them, and they persevered.

Jesus spoke of this sort of unity in a solemn moment at the Last Supper. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory that you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

This is such a stupendous prayer that it’s hard to believe it’s true. Think about it. Jesus asked the Father that our unity with Him and with each other might be as profound as the unity between Himself and His Father. We may forget to be surprised by this because of our familiarity with the text, but this has to be one of the most amazing and challenging passages in Scripture. Furthermore, wonderful as it may be, this unity is not just for our own benefit. Jesus asks that we “may be brought to perfection as one” so that the world may know the truth about Himself. Our unity is meant to be profound and blatantly obvious, a sign to the unbelieving world.

You can probably see where this is leading. What was true for the followers of Jesus in the year 34 A.D. should be true for us living in 2020. As Franciscans, we have pledged ourselves to live the Gospel life as Francis did, as those early Christians did. The unity Jesus called for is as critical now as it ever was.

1. Is your local fraternity a relatively homogeneous group? If so, would someone of a different background feel welcome? How do you know?

2. Are those in your fraternity deeply committed to unity, or do you have a surface, “feel good” unity that falters as soon as people disagree? Is it possible to disagree and still have unity?

3. Does your fraternity display the sort of unity that can convince the world? If not, what should you do about it?

2020-06-15T20:55:40-04:00June 15th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter, Uncategorized|0 Comments

We need to Be More Welcoming to Build Our Church & Our Fraternities!

Good Sunday afternoon, beloved National Family,

May the Lord give us Peace!

Please forgive me for letting a week pass to share some (and at the end all) of what our Holy Father Pope Francis said last Sunday, July 12, 2015. It will help if you remember last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) when the Lord sends, with instructions, the Twelve out on mission, just as the Holy Father himself was on mission in his native Latin America.

As he considered the Lord’s instructions, Pope Francis observed, “It strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed.  It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: ‘welcome.’  Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality.  He says to them: ‘Where you enter a house, stay there.’  He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.  We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

“Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.

“These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

“How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

“The Church is a mother with an open heart (as I pray are our individual fraternities).  She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.  The Church is the home of hospitality.  How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome!  How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!  Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic.  Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.  Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed.  Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed.  Welcoming sinners.”

To me, Pope Francis is not only speaking to evangelization for the whole Church, but he also speaks to outreach for our local fraternities so that both Church and fraternity, both “communities of love” (see Secular Franciscan Rule #22), might better accomplish the mission the Lord has given to us all.

Pope Francis continues: “God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity.  So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving.  He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation.  He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

“And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelize, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people.  ‘We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).

“One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

“The Church is a mother, like Mary.  In her, we have a model.  We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.

“We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.”

What a beautiful message for all of us! Permit me to repeat the one paragraph that I pray always to carry with me:

“One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life. How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, (fraternities) wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.”

Peace and love to all,

Here is the entire homily:

“The Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase”.  These are the words of the Psalm.  We are invited to celebrate this mysterious communion between God and his People, between God and us.  The rain is a sign of his presence, in the earth tilled by our hands.  It reminds us that our communion with God always brings forth fruit, always gives life.  This confidence is born of faith, from knowing that we depend on grace, which will always transform and nourish our land.

It is a confidence which is learned, which is taught.  A confidence nurtured within a community, in the life of a family.  A confidence which radiates from the faces of all those people who encourage us to follow Jesus, to be disciples of the One who can never deceive.  A disciple knows that he or she is called to have this confidence; we feel Jesus’s invitation to be his friend, to share his lot, his very life.  “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”.  The disciples are those who learn how to dwell in the confidence born of friendship.

The Gospel speaks to us of this kind of discipleship.  It shows us the identity card of the Christian.  Our calling card, our credentials.

Jesus calls his disciples and sends them out, giving them clear and precise instructions.  He challenges them to take on a whole range of attitudes and ways of acting.  Sometimes these can strike us as exaggerated or even absurd.  It would be easier to interpret these attitudes symbolically or “spiritually”.  But Jesus is quite precise, very clear.  He doesn’t tell them simply to do whatever they think they can.

Let us think about some of these attitudes: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money…”  “When you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place”.  All this might seem quite unrealistic.

We could concentrate on the words, “bread”, “money”, “bag”, “staff”, “sandals” and “tunic”.  And this would be fine.  But it strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed.  It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: “welcome”.  Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality.  He says to them: “Where you enter a house, stay there”.  He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.  We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.

These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

The Church is a mother with an open heart.  She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.  The Church is the home of hospitality.  How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome!  How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!  Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic.  Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.  Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed.  Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed.  Welcoming sinners.

So often we forget that there is an evil underlying our sins.  There is a bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives.  There is an evil which, bit by bit, finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life: it is isolation.  Isolation which can have many roots, many causes.  How much it destroys our life and how much harm it does us.  It makes us turn our back on others, God, the community.  It makes us closed in on ourselves.  That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others.  A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father, for “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

In this way, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking.  He opens before us a horizon brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfillment.

God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children.  God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity.  So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving.  He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation.  He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelize, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people.  “We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters” (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).

One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

The Church is a mother, like Mary.  In her, we have a model.  We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.

We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.

That is how we want to be Christians, that is how we want to live the faith on this Paraguayan soil, like Mary, accepting and welcoming God’s life in our brothers and sisters, in confidence and with the certainty that “the Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase” (http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/07/12/pope_francis_celebrates_final_mass_of_his_visit_to_paraguay/1157949)

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is one word that Pope Francis feels people might overlook in our Lord’s instructions to the Apostles as He sends them out in Mark’s Gospel?
  2. According to Pope Francis, to those on mission, what is the goal of the Christian journey?
  3. Again according to Pope Francis, in the mentality of the Gospel, how do we convince people to our way of life?
  4. Whenever he speaks or writes, Pope Francis can often come up with wonderful images. One of my favorites here is when he describes the Church as a . . .
  5. By speaking what language can all of us do so much more good?
  6. As God is never outdone in generosity, what is the greatest help that God sends those on mission?
  7. On the one hand, we cannot force anyone to receive us or welcome us, but on the other hand what is one thing no one can force us not to 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.

2020-06-02T14:31:58-04:00June 3rd, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

A “Trinity of Be-Attitudes” with an “Examination of Conscience” Concerning the Vitality of our Fraternities

When my Mom’s health really began to plummet after the death of her younger son, I needed to take her to her wonderful and wise General Practitioner, Doctor Leibowitz. I remember his asking her to the effect: “Jackie, do you know the number one positive thing you can do to maintain a high quality of life? I mean you know the negative things: Don’t smoke. Don’t drink or eat too much. Avoid stress. But I’m talking number one positive. Do you know?

Neither Mom nor I had a quick answer.

He said in essence: “Be active! Get up! Show signs that you’re still alive and kicking. Don’t stay in bed all day. Don’t lock yourself in the house. Get up and go out! Be seen! Don’t mope around. Be joyful!”

And he added, “Check yourself at the end of each day, and ask yourself if you have done these things.”

It was good advice for Mom and good advice for our fraternities.

Be-Attitude Number One for the Vitality of our Fraternities: Be active Spiritually, Formationally, Socially and Apostolically!

Examination of Conscience: If a stranger were to walk in off the street to attend your next fraternity meeting, how would he know that your fraternity was “alive and kicking”? What signs of life has your fraternity evidenced recently? When was the last time that your fraternity actually DID SOMETHING other than attend a dry business meeting? What did it do?

The number one sign of life in a Secular Franciscan fraternity is spiritual vitality. How is the vitality of your fraternity’s prayer life manifested? For example, do a variety of members share a variety of modes of prayer? Do you go to Mass as a fraternity? When you pray as a fraternity, are you truly praying as one or just repeating the words out of the Ritual?

Formationally, do ALL the members participate in Formation as is specified in the General Constitutions (GC)? “The journey of formation, which should develop throughout life, begins with entrance into the fraternity.  Mindful that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of formation and always attentive to collaboration with Him, those responsible for formation are: the candidate, the entire fraternity, the council with the minister, the master of formation, and the assistant” (GC Article 37.2).

Please note that the entire fraternity is third only after the Holy Spirit and the candidate, and before the council, master of formation and spiritual assistant. Also note that Formation “should develop throughout life.” At no time is an active fraternity excused from Formation.

Socially, do ALL the members take turns bringing snacks? Do you ever go to one another’s homes for a change of scenery? Is there some form of active social sharing at each meeting?

Finally, does your fraternity AS FRATERNITY have an apostolic action? This Apostolic Action could be 30 minutes writing letters at the meeting to missing homebound or hospitalized members. Each member could bring one item of food or clothing at an announced meeting to take to a local shelter. Have you ever gone as the entire fraternity, for example, to sing Christmas Carols at a local nursing home or to a homebound member’s home?

Be-Attitude Number Two for the Vitality of our Fraternities: Be visible Spiritually, Formationally, Socially and Apostolically!

Examination of Conscience: Does anybody in your local parish, community or diocese, your local pastor, other local priests, the Bishop, know your fraternity exists or know when and where you meet or what you do? How many know? Who are they? How would they know? When was the last time public mention was made of your fraternity in the local media?

Spiritually, has your fraternity ever been seen OUT IN PUBLIC in prayer to God? Ever? For example, has your fraternity, as a fraternity, gone on a retreat together or made a pilgrimage together with the local parish or other fraternities? Has your fraternity ever not only attended Mass together, but actually sponsored a Mass with a local pastor or Franciscan friar on a Franciscan saint’s day or feast day AND invited the whole parish or local Catholic community to attend? Has your fraternity ever organized a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome or a local site? Has your fraternity ever organized a Greccio service, a Transitus or a Blessing of the Animals for your parish or community? Even once? Every year?

Formationally, has your fraternity ever invited a Franciscan speaker, like, say, Friar Kevin Queally TOR or Anne Mulqueen OFS, to your area AND invited the whole parish or local community to learn with you? Has your local fraternity leadership ever held a “public” sharing on any aspect of Franciscan life?

Finally, does your fraternity, as a fraternity, have an active, visible apostolate in the parish or out in the community? For example, do you march as a fraternity, with a banner, in the March for Life or a Corpus Christi Procession? Do you work as a fraternity at the local soup kitchen or nursing home? Why not? How often?

Be-Attitude Number Three for the Vitality of our Fraternities: Be joyful Spiritually, Formationally, Socially and Apostolically!

Examination of Conscience: If a young person were invited to your next fraternity gathering, would she or he feel enough joy in your fraternity’s walk with Sts. Francis and Clare in the footsteps of Christ to want to come back and share that joy permanently?

As Brother Bill Short has said, St. Francis in the Rule of 1221 as much as mandates the spiritual practice of showing joy to all without exception. The Rule of 1221, Chapter 7, reads: “And all the friars, no matter where they are or in whatever situation they find themselves, should like spiritually minded men, diligently show reverence and honor to one another without murmuring (1 Peter 4:9). They should let it be seen that they are happy in God, cheerful and courteous, as is expected of them, and be careful not to appear gloomy or depressed like hypocrites.”

“This may be the only Rule in the Catholic Church that has a positive command about being cheerful,” Brother Bill has said.

How are we going to attract any new life by being an active, visible group of grumpy, grouchy old folks? I agree we have no control over our ages, but we can control our attitude and demeanor. Sure, the world may indeed be going to hell in a hand basket, but most of us have good, safe lives lacking none of life’s necessities. We have so much to be thankful for. Show it! Smile. Actively, visibly evidence the Joy of the Gospel, the Joy of the Lord whenever we pray, teach, socialize or engage in apostolic action!

To recap:
Be active.
Be visible.
Be joyful.
As fraternity.
Spiritually, formationally, socially and apostolically.
As we live our lives.

In season and out of season.

Final Examination of Conscience: If I were to walk into your fraternity meeting, would I be able to share in any active visible joyful praying? Would I learn from any active visible joyful formation?  Would I enjoy any active visible joyful socializing? Would I be able to participate in any active visible joyful apostolic outreach? If not, why not? If yes, how often? Is it more planned or unplanned? Shared or dictated?

Let us pray to God in Jesus’ name that when we do what we can do, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the number one positive thing you can do for the vitality of your own life and the life of your fraternity?
  2. What might your fraternity do to be more spiritually active, visible and joyful?
  3. What might your fraternity do to be more active, visible and joyful in terms of formation?
  4. What might your fraternity do to be more active, visible and joyful in terms of its social gatherings?
  5. What might your fraternity do to be more active, visible and joyful in terms of its apostolic activities or acts of mercy?
  6. In all honesty, what do you praise God most for in your fraternity?
  7. In all honesty, what do you pray to God most for in your fraternity?

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.

 

2020-06-01T11:57:12-04:00June 1st, 2020|Categories: Formation, Uncategorized|0 Comments
Load More Posts
Go to Top