Formation

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

The Primary and the Four Marks of a Vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity

 Beloved Brothers and Sisters of Penance,

In my last article, I listed and elaborated the four marks of a Franciscan Gathering: “Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”(TAU-USA Winter 2011 Issue 69). In this article, please permit me to go back to the primary focus and expand forward to the four marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity at the local, Regional, National or International Level.

Not to be legalistic, but the last words of the last Canon of the Code of Canon Law offer the primary focus of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. Those last words read: “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes” (Canon 1752, Code of Canon Law http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P70.HTM).

Thus, we should first pray at every fraternity gathering because the primary focus or reason for the existence of a fraternity is “the salvation of souls,” where we are working with the great grace of God to achieve our individual salvation AND, at the same time, the salvation of our families, our fraternity, our friends, indeed, all souls.

We pray first because spirituality is the first mark of a vibrant fraternity. When I come to visit a fraternity, when I look at my own local, Regional or National fraternity, I look first at its spiritual life. If we are not about salvation, we are wasting our time. If the Spirit is not alive and well in a fraternity, then no amount of efficient bookkeeping, bubbling agendas or dynamic speakers, however important and stimulating, will bring that life back.

Formation is our second mark, both in individual meetings and in the fraternity as a whole.  Of course, the grace of God can save souls not well-formed, but a well-formed mind and heart humble and open to that grace make the Spirit’s work a lot easier! Our fraternities need to pray for, work and focus on, true Secular Franciscan formation. We need to be attracting new people, forming them, forming ourselves.

This formation is a threefold process of information to effect formation in a process of continual transformation. We take pertinent information from the Gospels, from Holy Mother Church, from the lives of Francis and Clare and all the Franciscan saints, from our own SFO Rule and General Constitutions, to structure and effect formation. With the grace of God, this formation, if effective, achieves “that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily” (Secular Franciscan Rule 7).

Formation must deepen and expand our understanding of our Catholic faith, our vocation within fraternity, our Franciscan charism and, finally, our Gospel witnessing out in the world. With the love and mercy of God, the example of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of this Trinitarian process of information, formation and transformation should yield better Catholics, Franciscans, workers, spouses, parents, citizens; in short, better people. Thus, formation must lead to the salvation of souls.

Third, we are called to fraternal sharing, to social time together, because we are called to be family, the third mark of every vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. With our Baptisms, we are already sisters and brothers of the same “Our Father.”  Our Professions summon us into fraternity, into a spiritual family.  One Secular Franciscan is never enough; there must be at least five of us to canonically establish a fraternity.  Our individual holiness must be built by service to that fraternity, service to our brothers and sisters in need, starting with “not turning your back on your own” (Isaiah, 58:7).

We cannot serve our brothers and sisters in need if we do not know what those needs are.  We cannot know those needs if we do not know who our brothers and sisters are.  We cannot know who our brothers and sisters are without true Secular Franciscan fellowship, spending time with one another, sharing with one another, breaking bread with one another, praying with one another. Salvation for all is salvation for each of us individually.

Fourth and finally, a fraternity must witness to Christ and to the Gospels. We are to be a “community of love” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22) to all in the world. As Saint 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).

This witnessing may well involve some form of sacrifice or suffering because in its original meaning, a “martyr” was a “witness.” We witness to save the world and save ourselves; again, this is our fraternity’s primary “business,” but the witnessing itself may take many forms.

Some fraternities have apostolates – courageous initiatives — as the National Fraternity has taken with Catholic Relief Services.  Your Fraternity may adopt a family through the Franciscan Family Apostolate, run by a Secular Franciscan (http://www.openhearts.org/). You may adopt a missionary through the Franciscan Mission Service (http://franciscanmissionservice.org/default.aspx). If you are concerned with national issues, you might contact the Franciscan Action Network (http://www.franciscanaction.org/). If you want to work with international issues, you might contact Franciscan International (http://www.franciscansinternational.org/). You may get involved though your parish outreach or a local soup kitchen, hospital or detention center.

These and so many other apostolates are great as long as the fraternity realizes that the apostolate exists to build up the fraternity, not the fraternity to build up the apostolate.  Nor it is necessary that every fraternity have an external apostolate.  Witnessing may work best in our caring for our own – not losing anyone who can no longer attend meetings or even those who have fallen away, but still seek help, still seek conversion.

Spirituality, Formation, Family and Witnessing all for the sake of “the salvation of souls” offer us the Primary Focus and Four Marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. May God give us the grace, the Living Presence of Christ and the Fellowship 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.

We pray and live in the Peace and Love of our Risen Savior.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the last words of the last Canon of the Code of Canon Law?
  2. What is the first mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  3. What is the second mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  4. With the grace of God, what is desired result of this second mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  5. What is the third mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  6. Why must this third mark absolutely not be slighted or minimalized?
  7. What is the fourth mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity? What are ways to accomplish this mark?
2020-05-26T14:16:31-04:00May 27th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”

We all know from the Nicene Creed that the four marks of our Church, the Body of Christ, are that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

I write this article to remind you that from our Secular Franciscan Rule, General Constitutions and Ritual, the four marks of a good Secular Franciscan Fraternity, whether at the local, regional, national or international level, are: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business.

In the Jubilee Year 2000, our then St. Margaret of Cortona Regional Spiritual Assistant (and later National Spiritual Assistant) Friar Bart Karwacki, OFM Conventual, made a Pastoral Visitation to my local Fraternity, St. Thomas More, meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Arlington, Virginia. Perhaps we were conducting more “business” than we should have, but for whatever reason, Father Bart told us to the effect that, “Business is not the primary concern of a fraternal gathering. Actually, FRATERNITY is your primary business, and I wish to remind you that the four purposes of a fraternal gathering are: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and only as much Business as is necessary, and in this order!”

Well, obviously, I’ve never forgotten the spirit and thrust of his advice, and so I write:

First is prayer. We are wasting our own time and each other’s time if we are not striving to achieve our own and one another’s salvation. Without question, the essential element of “fraternity” is the spiritual; leadership must never sacrifice the spiritual to business. We should be always helping our brothers and sisters to get to heaven, to get closer to the Lord, and, with God’s great grace, to get ourselves to heaven through, with and in our Lord Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

How can we achieve this without prayer? We cannot “earn” or “deserve” heaven. This is all God’s gift, and to help one another and ourselves, we need prayer: first, last, foremost. Fraternities must nourish a vital prayer life for all their members.

Now, there are many forms of prayer. We have our Liturgy of the Hours; we have our Ritual. If we have an available friar or priest, we have the highest form of prayer in the Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not specifying what form of prayer, nor did Father Bart, but he said to vary the forms of prayer and not become “stuck” in the same “prayer rut” (my words, his thought).

At our October National Gathering at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, we celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each day, but with a different priest in different locales, including local Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares. Each morning we opened our days with Morning Prayer, but each session was led by different people with different forms of prayer, including the Liturgy of the Hours and an original Liturgy of Creation by Ed Shirley, our National Ecumenical/Interfaith Chair. We celebrated a prayerful Rite of Remembrance for all of our individual members nationwide who had returned home in the past year. And we opened and closed our Chapter in prayer from the Ritual and blessings from our National Spiritual Assistant, Brother Bob Brady OFM.

Second is formation. If fraternity itself is our main business, then our main fraternity business, after prayer, must be formation. Good fraternities need solid formation: initial formation, ongoing formation, formation leading to transformation and conversion of heart. Many, many excellent Secular Franciscan materials are available for you. Formation is the business of the whole fraternity.

At our recent National Gathering, each day we had formation, but in different ways. The first night (Tueday, October 26), even before our Chapter had even officially opened, our 2010 NAFRA Peace Award winner, OFM Brother David Buer spoke to us about his ministry to the homeless, the migrants and the marginalized.

The first official day (Wednesday) we shared our visions and priorities; we heard from our International visitors of their expectations of our national fraternity; and we learned from Dr. Kim Smolik about her great work as Executive Director of Franciscan Mission Service before attending an excellent and dispassionate panel discussion concerning the immigration issue in Arizona particularly.

The next morning (Thursday) we were informed, formed and challenged by Fr. Larry Janezic, OFM, interim Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network (FAN); Fr. Michael Lasky, OFM Conventual, U.S. Regional Director for Franciscans International (FI); and  Alan Ouimet, SFO, Founder and President of Franciscan Family Apostolate (FFA). All of them were excellent speakers about their causes and concerns.

The entire afternoon (Thursday) was directly spent on Formation, specifically, the new Formation Manual to be presented by the National Formation Commission in May. The formation session transitioned to the day’s Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the celebrant, Father Richard Trezza, OFM, also the Spiritual Director of the Formation Commission, expanded ideas from the afternoon session in his homily.

Yes, good fraternities need solid formation, and solid formation takes time, attention, prayer and planning.

Third is fraternal sharing or the purely social aspect of our gatherings. No fraternity need ever apologize for spending time for socializing or fraternal sharing. Part II: Prayers for Fraternity Meetings Preface in the Ritual, Number 2 reads: “The goals of (fraternal) gatherings and meetings are indicated in the Rule, namely, to promote charity among the members and to foster their Franciscan and ecclesial life” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22, 24). Number 4 reads: “The following gatherings of the fraternity are required by statutes: a. a time for getting to know one another as brothers and sisters.” Note, the first listed is “a time for getting to know one another as brothers and sisters.”

Secular Franciscans should have a good time when they gather! Our recent National Chapter was celebratory as should be your Chapters! We made it our “business” to socialize and have a good time! Every night we gathered, and every meal we socialized. We even spent a day away going to local museums and the beautiful Basilica in downtown Phoenix. We took our “socializing” very seriously!

Of course, fourth, there is always business. Budgets have to be approved. Reports have to be given. Occasionally, bylaws need to be rewritten. Yes, but not first and not only! At our National Gathering, we approved a budget of over $200,000.00; we adopted a national statement on migration that received national attention; we amended our National Statues; we contributed charitably, not from the national budget, to the various organizations who had spoken to us; but most of this necessary “business” was conducted Saturday morning, October 30, the fourth and final full day of our Gathering.

Nationally, for our Chapter, we had the luxury of time because we only meet once a year, but we budgeted our time according to these priorities: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in that order! However much time your local or regional fraternity has to gather, please strive to budget your time accordingly. After all, they are not “our” fraternities; they are God’s, and if we seek first to spread the kingdom of God, all else will follow!

Reflection Questions

  1. According to Friar Bart Karwacki, OFM Conv, what is the primary concern of every Secular Franciscan gathering?
  2. Again according to Friar Bart, what is the primary purpose of a Secular Franciscan gathering? Why?
  3. What is the second purpose? Why?
  4. What is the third purpose? Why?
  5. What is the fourth purpose? Why?
  6. What is the proper order for the four priorities? Why?
  7. After all, whose Secular Franciscan Order, whose Secular Franciscan fraternities are they? Who is in charge?

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.

2020-05-25T12:08:43-04:00May 25th, 2020|Categories: Formation, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Franciscan Command to Smile!

Our Brother Bill Short, who blessed us at the Q, (2012) has a wonderful set of tapes entitled “The Treasure of a Poor Man: St. Francis of Assisi and Franciscan Spirituality” (https://www.nowyouknowmedia.com/the-treasure-of-a-poor-man-st-francis-of-assisi-and-franciscan-spirituality.html). In this set, Brother Bill gives 12 enlightening talks about various aspects of Franciscan Spirituality. In the 9th talk, entitled “No Gloomy Hypocrites! Spiritual Joy to Frustrate the Devil,” Brother Bill relates how St. Francis in the Rule of 1221 as much as mandates the spiritual practice of showing joy to all without exception.

In the Omnibus of Sources, page 38, 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,” exclaims Brother Bill! He then makes several points about what I call this command to smile.

First, paraphrasing Brother Bill, it is not true that this command arises merely to generate the simple-minded, jovial, heavy-set friars like one may see in the comics, the movies, or on cookie jars. No. Brother Bill says that the Rule of 1221 may have come out of a time of considerable sadness and even doubt for St. Francis. The Order he had founded may have seemed to be growing away from him; he didn’t feel at times that he had a place in the Order. St. Francis may have even been tempted to leave the Order, Brother Bill suggests. Thus, this command arises out of a genuine struggle against a darkness of spirit.

Second, again paraphrasing, this command focused not merely on the individual, but on the effect the individual produced on the people the individual encountered. In other words, this command to be “happy in God, cheerful and courteous,” pointed as much outwardly as inwardly. Indeed, just one line before the command above, the Rule of 1221, Chapter 7, reads, “Everyone who comes to them, friend or foe, rogue or robber, must be made welcome” (Ibid.)

I pause to ask myself, “Do I always greet everyone, without exception, with cheer and joy? I must answer that I do not, yet St. Francis exhorts his followers that welcome and gladness must be on our faces, even before a “foe, rogue or robber.”

More than this, these Franciscans were living in fraternity, and they must not show their inner doubts and depression to those with whom they lived and worked and prayed lest the others lose their own spiritual joy. Brother Bill relates how the others around him constantly described St. Francis as “cheerful,” but when St. Francis felt that inner darkness, he would withdraw into prayer so as not to bring those he so loved down.

Again, I pause to ask myself, “Am I a cause of joy or do I bring sadness and doubt into the family circle, into the fraternity gathering?” And what about you?

Third, the deeper spiritual importance of this command to show joy was to combat the devil. Thomas of Celano writes in Chapter 88 of the Second Life in the Omnibus of Sources page 465:

“St. Francis maintained that the safest remedy against the thousand snares and wiles of the enemy is spiritual joy. For he would say, ‘The devil rejoices most when he can snatch away spiritual joy from a servant of God. He carries dust so he can throw it into even the tiniest chinks of conscience and soil the candor of mind and purity of life. But, when spiritual joy fills the heart,’ he said, ‘the serpent throws off his deadly poison in vain. The devils cannot harm the servant of Christ when they see he is filled with holy joy. When, however, the soul is wretched, desolate, and filled with sorrow, it is easily overwhelmed by its sorrow or it may turn to vain enjoyments.’

“The saint, therefore, made it a point to keep himself in joy of heart and to preserve the unction of the Spirit and the oil of gladness. He avoided with the greatest care the miserable illness of dejection, so that if he felt it creeping over his mind even a little, he would have recourse very quickly to prayer. For he would say, ‘If the servant of God, as may happen, is disturbed in any way, he should rise immediately to pray and he should remain in the presence of the heavenly Father until he restores unto him the joy of salvation. For if he remains stupefied in sadness, the Babylonian stuff will increase, so that, unless it be at length driven out by tears, it will generate an abiding rust in the heart.’”

Again, to paraphrase Brother Bill, other spiritual traditions in the Catholic Church may stress seriousness and gravitas, but the Franciscan spiritual tradition takes joy very seriously. The devil’s “dust” and “an abiding rust in the heart” must be avoided both in ourselves and in our influence on others.

Yes, my beloved sisters and brothers, there is much in the world around us to cause great dismay. We see hatred and war, violence and abuse, poverty and starvation. Yes, there may be much in our families and fraternities to cause us to worry and doubt. We see faction and discord as we pray to be instruments of God’s great peace. And yes, speaking for myself, I am a fallen creature, always beset by the devil, the world and the flesh. Sometimes I fall down. Sometimes I don’t do what I should do to help others. Sometimes I may cause others to fall.

Nonetheless, as children of the same all-loving, all-forgiving, all-powerful God, as permanently professed followers of Sts. Francis and Clare in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us heed seriously this aspect of spiritual joy so firmly grounded in the Franciscan spiritual tradition.

Let us strive to be cheerful and welcoming to all we meet, to combat that darkness in ourselves and in others.

Let us never cease praying and working for our families and fraternities to be places where true spiritual joy in the Lord resides and where we are recognized by all as people “happy in God, cheerful and courteous.”

And may the Peace of Christ and the Spiritual Joy of Sts. Francis and Clare abide always with us, we pray in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

  1. Perhaps unlike other major Catholic spiritual traditions, what did St. Francis himself virtually mandate for all his followers?
  2. According to Brother Bill Short, OFM, why might this mandate be unique?
  3. Again, according to Brother Bill, how might this mandate have arisen out of a real struggle against spiritual darkness?
  4. Specifically regarding this mandate, what might be our obligations to our sisters and brothers in our Secular Franciscan fraternities?
  5. Specifically regarding this mandate, what might be our personal obligations to ourselves? Why?
  6. According to St. Francis, what is the single best remedy against the onslaughts of the devil?
  7. What specifically might we do to bring more love, peace and joy to ourselves and our Secular Franciscan fraternities?

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.

2020-05-19T18:50:56-04:00May 20th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

Lady, Holy Queen, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Virgin!

“I greet you, Lady, Holy Queen, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Virgin…chosen by the most holy Father of heaven; consecrated to holiness through His most holy and beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. In you was and is the whole fullness of grace and everything that is good” St. Francis.

“Mary, mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now” Blessed Mother Teresa.

Beloved National Family, May the Lord give us Peace!

Please permit me in this last article that I will write as National Minister to focus on the Blessed Mother, my Mother, your Mother, the Mother of our Order, the Fifth Gospel.

Of course, we all know the names of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

How many of us know the name of the fifth Gospel: Mary.

She is the Gospel written by God through Her life.

We are each called to be living Gospels like Mary.

Mary is our mother in faith. She is the first believer in Jesus Christ, the Son announced to her and conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit.

Our Secular Franciscan Rule Four calls us devote ourselves “especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.”

As the fifth Gospel, as the first believer, as our Mother, Mary can lead us all into a closer encounter with all the Gospels and with her Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Our Secular Franciscan Rule Nine tells us of the great love our Father Francis had for the Blessed Mother: “She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.”

Blessed Thomas of Celano, whom Franciscan scholars identify as directly knowing St. Francis, supports our Rule when he writes and praises:

“Toward the Mother of Jesus he [St. Francis] was filled with an inexpressible love, because it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother. He sang special Praises to her, poured out prayers to her, offered her his affections, so many and so great that the tongue of man cannot recount them. But what delights us most, he made her the advocate of the order and placed under her wings the sons he was about to leave that she might cherish them and protect them to the end.

“Hail, advocate of the poor! Fulfill toward us your office of protectress until the time set by the Father.”

Having lost my own Mother just the last year and facing my own possible loss to this world, I feel myself drawn more and more to the Blessed Mother. I feel her consoling presence and find great peace whenever I pray to her.

I pray that none of you ever has serious surgery requiring total anesthesia. My health had always been good until this past June when my small intestines “telescoped” (in the words of the doctors), and I couldn’t process any solid foods through my system. A wonderful female surgeon, a wife and Mom and Catholic, removed four dangerous tumors, leaving another ten smaller and less dangerous ones for treatment at a later date, all of which, when biopsied, confirmed what the doctors had feared would be metastatic melanoma, which had first appeared as just a small dot on my back, easily removed, in 2005.

When I woke in the hospital after the surgery in a groggy consciousness, there was honestly nothing I could do for the next twelve hours except pray the Rosary and talk to my Mother.

Those prayers gave and have given and, I believe, will always give peace.

As we live in the Americas, I have always had a special devotion to our Blessed Mother’s appearances to St. Juan Diego, the miraculous image of herself that she left on his tilma as Our Lady of Guadalupe for us, and her consoling words to him and to all.

Much has been written about the history of this appearance, the miracle of this image on the tilma and the conversation between Juan and the Blessed Lady. I would encourage your online or other research for your own personal faith formation and consolation.

More importantly, I would encourage your greater prayer and devotion to the Blessed Mother, our Mother, my Mother. I try always to carry this image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, along with an image of the Sacred Heart, St. Francis and St. Anthony on my person, and if you could come to my bedroom where I am writing you right now, you could find her and them immediately!

I pray to her daily, and she always takes me closer to her Son, closer to Peace.

If you don’t want my advice, I give you the advice of one of my favorite 20th Century Franciscan saints, whose Shrine, church and museum I have all visited and prayed at in Niepokalanów, Poland: St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM Conventual, who wrote:

“It is beyond all doubt that Mary’s will represents to us the will of God himself. By dedicating ourselves to her we become in her hands instruments of God’s mercy even as she was such an instrument in God’s hands. We should let ourselves be guided and led by Mary and rest quiet and secure in her hands. She will watch out for us, provide for us, answer our needs of body and spirit; she will dissolve all our difficulties and worries.”

Of course, our Mother Mary continues to care and pray for me and you and all of creation. She continues to be that fifth Gospel as she “treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart” just as Pope Francis shared with us this past Pentecost on May 24, 2015, in his beautiful Encyclical “LAUDATO, SI” (PRAISE TO YOU, O LORD) when he wrote at Number 241:

“Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, ‘clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom.”

Permit me to leave you with my undying love, gratitude and prayers this depiction of the conversation between our Blessed Mother and St. Juan Diego that I read when in need, which recently has been frequently:

“Know for certain that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God … here I will show and offer all my love, my compassion and protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows … their necessities and misfortunes. Listen and let it penetrate your heart.

“Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the fold of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Reflection Questions

  1. What are some of the names St. Francis used for the Blessed Mother?
  2. Explain which name means the most to you.
  3. What is the name of the fifth Gospel? Why?
  4. What is each of us called to be? How might we better do this?
  5. Which image of or devotion to Mary speaks most to your heart? Why?
  6. What honor or prayer or devotion does your fraternity give to the Blessed Mother at every gathering? Why this particular one?
  7. When do you most need your Blessed Mother?

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.

2020-05-18T21:24:45-04:00May 18th, 2020|Categories: Formation|0 Comments

Guidelines for Fraternal Life During Social Distancing

By Jan Parker, OFS

National Minister

The National Priority of Fraternity Life has never been more important than at this time of social distancing.  Some of you have asked how to maintain fraternity activities during this time.

The following events can be held using video conferencing or conference call:

  • Fraternity gatherings
  • Fraternity Council meetings
  • Initial formation sessions

Some fraternity events require personal presence:

  • Elections
  • Visitations
  • Rite of Admission
  • Rite of Profession

These must be postponed until we can meet safely in person, however, initial formation should continue in the manner described below.

Please see the following sections for detailed guidelines on all the above.

Fraternity Gatherings

We encourage fraternities at both local and regional levels to maintain fraternal bonds as much as you can.  Be creative.  Make phone calls, send cards or letters.  Use technology to meet as a group (conference calls or teleconferencing, etc.)  if possible.  On a video conference some members will not have the ability to be “on screen,” but they can join by phone.  Do your best to incorporate prayer and ongoing formation.

Fraternity Council Business

Fraternity Councils and Regional Executive Councils can conduct business by phone or teleconference.  Decisions can be made by consensus or voice vote.  (Note: A secret ballot is only required for elections or for approval of a Candidate for Profession.)

Fraternity Council Elections

Fraternity members, the appointed Presider and Ecclesial Witness must be physically present for an election.  Elections involve voting by secret ballot, and this cannot happen by teleconference, phone or email.  Mail in ballots are not acceptable for the following reasons:  the reading of ballots must be overseen by the Presider and Ecclesial Witness, and there are multiple elections and a changing slate.  Elections that cannot be held safely must be postponed.

What if postponement of an election is not a good option?

If a Council member is not able to continue to fulfill their duties during a term that has been extended due to the pandemic, then that person may resign.  In this case the Council fills the vacancy in the usual manner.

Official Fraternity Visitations

Fraternity members and the Visitor(s) must be physically present for an official Visitation.  An official Visitation cannot take place by teleconference.  Visitations that cannot be held safely must be postponed.

Initial Formation

Initial Formation should continue during social distancing. However, every effort should be made to maintain the same standards followed for an in-person formation session.

  • Material can be sent out by email or surface mail but discussion is still key.
  • Engage everyone in discussion as it would normally take place at a formation gathering.
  • This can be done by phone, conference call, Face Time, Zoom, Google Classroom—whatever is the most comfortable for the formation director and those in initial formation.
  • Please resist the urge to combine classes. Orientation, Inquiry, and Candidacy sessions should be held at separate times as you would usually do.
  • For those in initial formation, it is even more crucial at this time to have contact with their sponsors or a prayer partner.
  • Formation team involvement is very important at this time.

 

For those fraternities currently meeting virtually, (by teleconference or video conferences)

Question: We have new members whom we want to welcome into the fraternity even though we are not meeting in person. Can we do this?

Answer:  Ceremony of Introduction and Welcoming (p. 9 of the Ritual)

The Ceremony of Introduction and Welcoming can be celebrated by conference call OR video conference if the following conditions have been met:

  • The individuals had been attending in-person fraternity meetings before the quarantine. (At least 2-3 meetings)
  • They have been participating in the fraternity Zoom or conference call sessions. (At least two or three regular virtual fraternity gatherings)
  • The fraternity council and the fraternity itself have had the opportunity to get to know them. (Either prior to social distancing or by talking to them on the phone and exchanging emails during social distancing.)
  • The initial interview and faith summary have taken place. (This might have already been done prior to social distancing or it can be handled by phone or video conference [preferred, if possible].)
  • Orientation lessons have been completed. (Not less than three months) This can be handled by phone, email or videoconference. Full sessions should be held, just as if you were meeting in person.
  • Ensure that they have access to a short biography of St. Francis.

If all of this has been completed, the Ceremony of Introduction and Welcoming (p. 9 in the Ritual) lends itself to taking place during a videoconference (ex: Zoom, Go To Meeting). The Ritual says that it is to be kept as simple as possible; it is not a liturgical rite and should take place during the regular virtual fraternity gathering at the time of ongoing formation and socializing.

Question: We have Inquirers who are arriving at the time for the Rite of Admission. Can we celebrate the Rite during social distancing?

Answer: Rite of Admission (p. 11 of the Ritual)

It is not recommended that the Rite of Admission be carried out virtually.  The Rite of Admission takes place within a liturgical celebration (not Mass). The fraternity really should be gathered in person for this to take place. (Depending on the social distancing guidelines of particular dioceses, it might be possible to have the Rite of Admission with a small group representing the fraternity. [See Ritual pp. 4 and 5 section 3.2 description of those to be present.])

However, determine if the following has taken place:

  • Inquirers should have completed at least 6 months of focused discernment-(Inquiry classes—of the same length and nature that would have taken place before social distancing began. Once again, material can be emailed or surface mailed, but sufficient time should be taken for explanation and discussion.)
  • Prior to the interviews, all sacramental certificates, and letters of recommendation should be received and reviewed by the Council.
  • Two interviews (one by the Spiritual Assistant) to assess the readiness of the Inquirers to become candidates. (These can take place on the phone or via video conference.)
  • A letter written to the Council by each Inquirer requesting admission to Candidacy. These can be emailed to the Formation Director who will share with the rest of the Council.
  • Discussion and collegial decision of the Fraternity Council (GC 39.3)
  • The Inquirers should be made aware of the seriousness of the Rite of Admission and why it is being delayed until the community can gather.
  • Once all of the above has been completed, Candidacy classes can begin via video conference or conference call. Again, these should be of the same length and nature as prior to social distancing.
  • When social distancing has ended, the Rite of Admission can take place in person. It should be noted in the fraternity register that the Rite of Admission was delayed due to social distancing and that Candidacy classes began on ___ date.
  • The Rite of Profession will also need to be delayed until the fraternity can gather. This is necessary for two reasons:
    • The Council needs decide by secret ballot on admission to profession of each candidate. (GC 41.1)
    • The Fraternity needs to be present to witness the profession
  • Even when social distancing ends and the Rite of Admission takes place (if it has not been possible beforehand), an appropriate interval (below) should elapse between the Rite of Admission and Profession. (As long as Candidacy does not extend beyond three years.)
  • Explanation of appropriate interval:  

The Rites of Admission and Profession offer separate and distinct opportunities for celebration, reflection, and the action of the Holy Spirit. Under the pandemic guidelines, someone could proceed through candidate formation for many months before participating in the Rite of Admission. Care should be taken to maintain an appropriate interval (at least six months) between the two rites to preserve the dignity and efficacy of each and to allow grace to act in the life of the candidate.

The National Executive Council thanks the National Formation Commission for their work on these guidelines.

2020-05-13T10:38:08-04:00May 13th, 2020|Categories: Announcements, Formation, Minister’s Message, New Resource|1 Comment
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