Formation

Brothers and Sisters of Penance – Five Point Plan pg 19-21

When St. Francis called us into an Order in the very beginning and wrote our Rule, he considered and named us, “Brothers and Sisters of Penance.” Let us spend a few moments in this Lenten Season unpacking our name.

“Brothers and Sisters” are, of course, a family, mutually interdependent, hopefully loving, certainly related by blood, in our case, the blood of the Lamb.

Beyond that, in the Prologue to our Rule, Chapter One, Concerning Those Who Do Penance, we read:

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).”

Thus, loving God and our neighbors, hating our sins, receiving the Sacred Body and Blood and producing worthy fruits of penance make us one family in Christ, just as Christ will say, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt. 12:50).

What then is penance? What are “worthy fruits of penance”?

“Penance” is our Lord’s first call to us, seen in the very first words Jesus utters in what scholars tell us is the very first written Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 NAB revised).

This is the call of Lent. This is that call in our Rule ( Article 7): “United by their vocation as ‘brothers and sisters of penance’ and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

This is indeed our Christian journey, and St. Francis in the Prologue to our Rule presents a life of penance, a life spent turning away from sin and living in Christ, as the only possible response to our all-mighty, all-holy, all-loving God.

Living in Christ, living as Christ lived, then, produces the worthy fruits of penance: prayer, praise, humility, charity. For Francis and for his followers, Jesus Christ is the focus for our penance; Jesus Christ is the way of penance. The primary struggle of penance is thus that daily need to turn away from sin and self and to turn toward Christ and the Gospel.

Since Jesus is always present, so the kingdom of God is always present if we only repent and believe the Gospel. This is that third of the marvelous Luminous Mysteries announced by our late Holy Father John Paul II: The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Penance or Repentance since we need to do it again and again day after day.

When I pray this third Mystery of Light, I try always to offer this decade of the Holy Rosary for us, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Secular Franciscan Order and for all our Franciscan family here and throughout the world. Might I beg you to do the same?

Let us pray: “Heavenly Father, in Your great mercy, You have called us to imitate and grow closer to Christ, Your Son, by following in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare. Help us, please, to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel as Christ gives us the grace. Help us to go constantly from Gospel to Life and from Life to Gospel. Help us always to pray for and to support our brothers and sisters in our common call to Penance. Help us to offer ourselves as did Your Son in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Who are the “Brothers and Sisters of Penance”?
  2. In what ways are we truly “family”?
  3. What is your personal idea of “penance”?
  4. What would be some “worthy fruits of penance” that you might do?
  5. What is your personal idea of “conversion”?
  6. What are our Lord’s first words in what scholars tell us is the first written Gospel?
  7. How do we “do penance” all our lives? Why is this necessary?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former National Minister of the 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.”   were messages he sent out as National Minister   and   Each of them are excellent for reflection and/or ongoing formation,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. She Jan helped Tom publish these articles the 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.

2020-03-30T14:03:18-04:00March 30th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“Fraternity and Francis” In Following the Franciscan Way

By Deacon Tom Bello, OFS

At every step in following the Franciscan Way, from Inquiry to Ongoing Formation, in prayer, one should journey with Sacred Scriptures in one hand and the Secular Franciscan Rule and General Constitutions in the other hand, and with both eyes, as clearly as possible, focused on Christ and Francis.

The very first words of “Chapter Two: The Way of Life” of the Secular Franciscan Rule offer sufficient justification for such a stance: “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.”

Thus, in this reflection on the importance of the concept of “fraternity” to St. Francis, and to us, his secular Franciscan followers, let us begin with our own Secular Franciscan Rule and General Constitutions: “Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively” (Secular Franciscan Rule 14). We work together to build a more fraternal world.

“The Secular Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels — local, regional, national, and international” (Secular Franciscan Rule 20). Our smallest unit is not the individual; no, we join fraternities to which individual members belong.

Or perhaps most succinctly, we may read in the General Constitutions: “The vocation to the Secular Franciscan Order is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion.  For this purpose, the members of the Secular Franciscan Order gather in ecclesial communities which are called fraternities” (Article 3.3).

Therefore, if at the heart of the Franciscan call is Christ, then around that heart is fraternity.

Where does this strong language for fraternity come from? Let’s start with God. By Divine Revelation, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and love is always more than self. Thus, God as God is not alone; Christ as God is not alone; the Holy Spirit as God is not alone.

God is a Fraternity of a Trinity. Three in One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the basic mystery of the Trinity reveals a unity in community that shows what fraternity should look like.

Further, Christ as man is not alone. He had a Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He called to Himself, not just one to follow Him, but Twelve, a fraternity of apostles.

When Christ raises the daughter of Jairus or is transfigured or is praying in the Garden, He is with Peter, James and John; again, not just with, say, Peter alone.

Christ will promise, “Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).

In John’s Gospel, the Lord will pray, “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” (John 17:20-21).

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

Like his Lord, Francis was not intended by God to go his own way. St. Francis writes in his Testament: “When God gave me some friars, there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High Himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel” (Omnibus p.68). Please note that according to his own Testament, Francis receives his friars, his fraternity, before he understands his way of life according to the Gospel.

His Exhortation, which offers the Prologue to the current Secular Franciscan Rule, is written to “the Brothers and Sisters in Penance,” again, not just to one.

In his Rule of 1223, or the Later Rule, Francis writes, “Wherever the friars meet one another, they should show that they are members of the same family. And they should have no hesitation in making known their needs to one another. For if a mother loves and cares for her child in the flesh, a friar should certainly love and care for his spiritual brother all the more tenderly” (Chapter 6, Omnibus pp.61-62)

In his November 22, 2002 Address to the Secular Franciscan Order, Pope John Paul II said that Holy Mother Church “wants your Order to be a model of organic, structural and charismatic union at all levels, so as to present yourself to the world as a ‘community of love’ ” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22).

Our Holy Father continued, “For this reason, you are asked first of all to bear a personal witness in the place where you live:  ‘before all:  in [your] family life; in [your] work; in [your] joys and sufferings; in [your] associations with all men and women, brothers and sisters of the same Father; in [your] presence and participation in the life of society; in [your] fraternal relationship with all creatures’ ” (General Constitutions Article 12.1).

Please note: “in [our] associations with all men and women, brothers and sisters of the same Father.” Fraternity is more than the local gathering. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to all in the Church. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to Moslems and Jews. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to sinners and lepers. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters with all men and women. Fraternity is with all the human family.

Further, “in [our] fraternal relationship with all creatures,” St. Francis calls us to fraternity with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Stars, Brother Wind and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Earth, even with Sister Death (The Canticle of the Creatures).

Thus, fraternity is a call to unity and harmony with all our brothers and sisters, all of whom are children of the same loving God. Fraternity is a call to unity and harmony with all of creation, plant and planet, all created by the same loving God. Fraternity is a call to build a community of love that reflects Love back to the God of Love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

  1. As professed Secular Franciscans, what should we keep in one hand and what in the other hand and upon whom should both of our eyes be focused?
  2. According to our General Constitutions, what specifically is our vocation as Secular Franciscans?
  3. Who or what is the heart of our Franciscan call, and who or what is around that heart?
  4. What is the meaning to you of the sentence: “God is a Fraternity of a Trinity.”?
  5. In what ways was Jesus Christ not alone?
  6. How was St. Francis called by God not to be alone?
  7. As professed Secular Franciscans, where does our call to fraternity stop?

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.

 

2020-03-30T10:00:57-04:00March 27th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

For All The Saints: St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation

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.

By Deacon Tom Bello, OFS

As I have said many times, we are wasting each other’s time in fraternity if we are not, as good Secular Franciscans, trying to bring each other to salvation. Please permit me to do my part and share with you Saint Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation, found in the very first words of the Prologue in our Secular Franciscan Rule:

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because ‘the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them’ (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make ‘his home and dwelling among them’ (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).”

Point One: “Love the Lord with (our) whole heart, with (our) whole soul and mind, with all (our) strength” (cf. Mk 12:30).

Our Lord in St. Mark’s Gospel (12:30) quotes the great “Shema” or “Call” from Deuteronomy. Scholars have argued that this great “Shema” is the heart of the whole Jewish Torah, and the heart of this “Shema” is love: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As Sister Ilia Delia shared with us at the Q, St. Francis’s prayer before the Crucifix at San Damiano begins, “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.” Sister Ilia went on to explain that the heart is the key to St. Francis, not the mind; and love is the highest good. To St. Francis, love is the deepest form of knowledge, for love offers the knowledge and power of God, Who is love (1 John 4:8, 16), a relational love in the Blessed Trinity, an outward-moving love toward all Creation.

Thus, Point Two: “Love (our) neighbors as (our) selves (cf. Mt 22:39).”

We know we cannot love the divine God we cannot see if we do not love our sisters and brothers whom we do see. That self-giving love must start with the love God has already given us in creating and sustaining us, and with that divine spark in our spirits, minds and hearts, we must try to reflect, in our feeble, human way, God’s love for all of Creation by our love for one another.

Nothing can be more important than Love, Which comes from God, Which is God, Which reaches out to our sisters and brothers, and Which returns to God, Love without end, Love without sin.

Thus, Point Three: “Hate (our) bodies with their vices and sins” does not mean that we hate ourselves. Rather, we hate anything within us that might separate us from God since nothing outside us can ever separate us from the Love of God. As Saint Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

We all know we have three great enemies: the devil, the world and the flesh, and perhaps the most tempting of these enemies is within us, in our fallen natures. Again, as St. Paul confessed, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want . . . taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Romans 7:19, 23). We must actively hate, or fight against, anything in us that would push out the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and turn us toward the devil and sin. St. Paul knew it was not easy struggling against him: “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).

Thus, Point Four: “Receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Since Christ Himself proclaimed in all truth, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and as St. Francis wrote in his Testament, “in this world I cannot see the most high Son of God with my own eyes, except for his most holy Body and Blood,” then we must cling to Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

As the Testament continues:  “Above everything else, I want this most holy Sacrament to be honored and venerated.” Christ is our only hope against the devil, a fallen angel far superior to us, yet vastly inferior to God. Christ is our sure defense against the world with its “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes and a pretentious life” (1 John 2:16). Christ alone is the one way out from self and sin as He urges us to a daily, ongoing conversion: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What else is there to do?

Well, Point Five: “Produce worthy fruits of penance.”

For the rest of our lives, as Brothers and Sisters in Penance, anything that turns us closer to God and away from sin is a worthy fruit of penance. Certainly, the great fruits of the Holy Spirit offer focus here: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Again, we start with love. We are called to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). As good Franciscans, we must be instruments of the Lord’s peace; and to do so, we need unending patience and kindness. Our hearts must be like the Lord’s: generous, faithful and gentle. We must exhibit self-control.

As St. Paul said, “Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

Interestingly, St. Paul goes on to say, “Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25), leading us to conclude where we began: with the Prologue.

Through the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit at our Baptisms, as children of God and “spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we love God first, and with God’s love, love one another as we love ourselves. We consciously fight to turn away from sin with the direct help of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We produce worthy, lifelong fruits of penance.

Of course, the three chapters and twenty-six paragraphs of our Secular Franciscan Rule that follow these initial words will detail the living out of this Five-Point Plan of Salvation. The focus is Christ. The end is salvation. The way is love.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where can one find St. Francis’s Five Point Plan for Salvation?
  2. What is the First Point? Explain it in your own words.
  3. What is the Second Point? Explain it in your own words.
  4. What is the Third Point? Explain it in your own words.
  5. What is the Fourth Point? Explain it in your own words.
  6. What is the Fifth Point? Explain it in your own words.
  7. Which one point (choose only one) is most important or most vital to you at this point in your Franciscan journey closer to God through Christ? Why?
2020-03-30T12:00:19-04:00March 25th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

Take a Mindful Franciscan Pause to Thwart Bias

Carolyn Townes, OFS, national animator for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Matthew (13:54-58) recounts how, when Jesus came to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue, people were as- tounded, and even took offense. They knew him as the carpenter’s son; not this new Jesus.

“This image of him in the synagogue did not fit the Jesus they had in their heads,” Carolyn Townes, OFS, told National Chapter attendees. They couldn’t reconcile the image of the Je- sus they knew with the one standing before them, said Townes, national animator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and a member of the International Commission for JPIC.

It reminded her of a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

A person in the latter case preserves an image as a way of keeping his thoughts in harmony. The harm in this selective perception is that it becomes the basis of bias; that is, a preference for or against a group or individual, Townes said.

“It can be positive or negative. Conscious or unconscious. Assumptions and stereotypes. It can be based what we iden- tify as labels — skin color, ability, age or gender preference.

“Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and is often incompatible with one’s conscious val- ues,” she noted. This makes bias in oneself harder to identify, especially when working under time pressure or in a per- ceived threatening situation, Townsend said. In those cases, we react automatically with what we already know. As a result, we use shortcuts based on prior knowledge to process the 11 million pieces of information coming at us at any one time.

For example, Townes used some sentence starters that members of the audience automatically answered:

“An eye for an…”
“What goes around…”
“Fight fire with…”
“Better late than…”
“An apple a day…”
“Birds of a feather…”
“Let sleeping dogs…”
Responses to these are part of the millions of bits of information that are stored in our subconscious mind.
“We have heard them so many times, we don’t even need to think about the answer,” Townes said.

This type of thinking can lead to snap judgments while making important decisions.

“This leads to hiring someone based on our personalpreference and not on the candidate’s skill. It also causes us to cross the street when we see someone  as threatening.”

Our minds formulate shortcuts to make it easier and faster to make decisions. If these are based on biases, preferences against groups or individuals, they need to be changed.

“Two things I want you to know about biases. Number one, everyone has them. Number two, they can be disrupted or changed,” Townes said.

How do we reverse our biases?

“Ask yourself: Why am I so dead set on maligning this person? What if I took an opposite view?”

First, pause. “As Franciscans, we are called to pray for right judgment and right decision. Before you make a judg- ment based on that subconscious judgment in your head, take a Franciscan pause. We form our impression of a person in that first millisecond. Remind yourself that you are aware of your first impression.”

“Second, when you know you already have an image in your mind, make yourself come up with two pieces of opposite information about that image.”

“Third, define your inner focus. Once you become aware of your bias, do your counter activity until it becomes habitual. Do it mindfully, with prudence, caution and right judgment.”

“Fourth, be curious and cultivate conversations. Conversations help us find what we have in common,” Townes said.

Townes cited Article 19 of the Rule as a way of changing our bias. She calls it “taking a Franciscan pause.”

“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…”

2020-02-28T19:40:42-05:00February 28th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter, JPIC, National Chapter, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Prayer: The Soul Of All We Secular Franciscans Are And Do

“Let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do . . . going from gospel to life and life to the gospel” (O.F.S. Rule, articles #8 and #4).

How are Secular Franciscans called to pray communally, privately and liturgically?

Consider these reflections in a digest article by Teresa Baker, OFS.

Prayer: The Soul Of All We Secular Franciscans Are And Do

by Teresa V. Baker, O.F.S.

© National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, U.S.A

2020-01-02T21:05:40-05:00January 2nd, 2020|Categories: Formation, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

National Minister’s Message – Formation Visioning Workshop

“The Vision of God for the OFS” – an image inspired by the Holy Spirit, painted by Pat Serotkin OFS at the recent Formation Visioning Workshop

The journey of transformative visioning has begun – a journey that will test our readiness to authentically live the Franciscan life. Our experience at the recent Formation Visioning Workshop awakened our souls. We must now allow God to work this great change in us.

Through a dedicated page on our website we are making available to everyone the materials from this gathering. Those who were present need to enlighten others and share what was experienced. The vision given to Francis and Clare can unfold once again in our time.

Guide us, O Lord, by your Spirit’s transforming power, that we may come to be, as Francis was, formed into a more precise embodiment of the likeness of Christ. Amen.

2018-09-15T16:31:43-04:00September 15th, 2018|Categories: Formation, Minister’s Message|0 Comments