“What are the servants of God if not His minstrels, who must lift people’s hearts and move them up to spiritual joy?”
The Assisi Compilation from Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, pg. 186
It seems every article I have read lately begins with the phrase, “In these unprecedented times….” So true. We have seen too much sickness and death. Too much injustice. Too much division. We hear voices of righteous anger, and cries for help. Many on the front lines are stretched beyond their abilities as the stress of this pandemic takes its toll, not to mention the social unrest and the political strife that surrounds us. Many are weary, many are frightened, and many are in need of hope.
I am among the weary, but far from losing hope. One reason for that is you, my Franciscan brothers and sisters. Throughout the long and challenging months of this past summer, my spirits have been uplifted by your words and witness.
A few weeks ago, our General Minister, Tibor K a u s e r, s e n t u s a v i d e o m e s s a g e o f encouragement. I hope you all had a chance to view it. Tibor shared a quote from our 1 Constitutions which is so applicable at this time: “ F o l l o w i n g t h e G o s p e l , S e c u l a r Franciscans affirm their hope and their joy in living. They make a contribution to c o u n t e r w i d e s p re a d d i s t re s s a n d pessimism, preparing a better future.” (GC 26.1)
I have seen this lived out by you in a great variety of ways these past months, and I have never felt more confident in the vitality of the Order. The pandemic is not squelching our desire for fraternity⎯it is strengthening it. We are moving forward in new ways, responding in faith to the signs of the times. As Donna Hollis recently said, “Just as Clare lived in an historic time and made a way for women to follow their calling; we are making a way to live through this pandemic, which is also a very historic time.”
In this issue of the TAU-USA are contributions from OFS members across the country. These words and stories give witness to the many ways Franciscans are living the Gospel, making visible the living and active presence of Christ, witnessing to the good yet to come, and calling all to believe in the transforming power of love and pardon. We journey together in love and compassion. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
I will share a little story with you. It was the end of a long day. I was tired and stressed. All I could think of were all the things I had hoped to do that day but had not yet accomplished. I turned on my computer to answer some emails and clicked on one from LaVerna Region. It was the latest edition of La Verna Vision. I took some time and scrolled through the pages of this newsletter, noticing all the news and happenings. I suddenly stopped when, right in the middle of my screen appeared a photo of Regional Minister Jeff Gumz holding out a slice of homemade cherry pie. Right there, in the mix of all the news, announcements and formation articles was an invitation to enjoy some cherry pie!
It’s hard to describe what happened at that moment. It was as if St. Francis himself had come into my room carrying a steaming bowl of porridge and, with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, he was holding it out for me to take and enjoy. All I know is that a big smile came to my face, and my worries just disappeared.
The words to a song come to mind as I think of it: “In the love come from God, I now entreat you, put away all your cares, and be free from every possession, coming freely to love, and to serve and to honor the Lord.” I had been visited by Sister Simplicity. Perfect joy filled my heart. It just goes to show how simple pleasures and the joy of good food are such a part of our charism⎯and how in the midst of all we are called to do we must sometimes just stop, put aside our to-do lists, pick up our fiddle sticks, dance a bit, and then enjoy some cherry pie!
Yes, in many ways our world has been turned upside-down, and the struggles are real, but so is the grace we have been given to live our Franciscan vocation. May the stories in these pages be a source of inspiration and fraternal encouragement, and may spiritual joy fill your hearts!
Each of us, as we follow God’s path for us, find ourselves in places we never dreamed we would be, doing things we never thought we would do. I was thinking about this as I returned from Guam earlier this year. On this long flight, I sat in a state of wonder. I had traveled half-way around the world over the vast Pacific Ocean to this tiny island. Never in my life did I think I would go to Guam even once, let alone twice. Yet this is where God led me.
Now, three months after my return from Guam, the world is dealing with a corona virus pandemic. Life has dramatically changed for all of us. We find ourselves in uncharted waters dealing with unbelievable physical and emotional challenges. Who would have imagined anything like this ever happening? Life is certainly a mystery, with all its twists and turns. We trust that we are being guided but find ourselves questioning. Where is it all leading? What is the meaning of it all?
Years ago, at a workshop on Christian initiation, I was introduced to a rainbow shaped diagram like the one pictured below. At the bottom were the words “My Story.” On the half circle band above it were the words, “Our Story”; and at the top, in an overarching band, were the words “The Story”. Kathy, our facilitator, explained the diagram this way: “We each have our own unique story – let’s call it My Story. My Story, as important as it is, is part of something bigger. Let’s call this Our Story. Our Story is the story we share with our families and friends in our homes and workplaces. It’s the story of our faith community and the wider Church, and it is even more. Our Story is the story of all people, the story of our world and all creation. But above all that, there is something even greater. Let’s call it The Story. What is The Story? It’s a story written by and known only to God.” This simple diagram gave me a way to see how it all fits together.
Each of us has a unique story, and a unique experience of God. At some point, whether suddenly or gradually, we recognize God calling us to himself. This realization of God’s presence in our lives is deep, real, and personal. It profoundly impacts our lives and set us on a particular path.
This is “My Story,” and it continues to unfold in our lives. My Story is no small thing to me, or to God. Nevertheless, it is part of something bigger.
My Story is part of Our Story. We are intricately connected with each other and our world. God leads each of us to play our part in Our Story, to care for each other and for all creation. What we do, or what we refuse to do, makes a difference in our worldwide community and to our planet. Old or young, believer or non-believer, liberal or conservative, we are all in the same boat. Ignoring others in the boat and leaning our own way will cause the boat to tilt and eventually sink. We cannot make it on our own. We live our best lives when we lean on each other, work together, and learn from each other.
As people of faith, we know we are also part of “The Story,” the story written by and known only to God. We will not know the fullness of The Story until we reach heaven, but faith tells us that God is ordering all things to bring The Story to fulfillment. In our daily lives, as we walk in that faith, we play our part in The Story.
Bishop Robert Barron talks about faith, stating, “We have an adventurous God, and faith is the proper response to such a God…. Faith is an attitude of trust in the God who is always holding out new possibilities to us.” Those possibilities may seem impossible to us, but they are not impossible to God. He may call us to something we are not sure we can do or ask us to accept a situation we would rather change. God’s ways simply do not always make sense to us. This is where our faith in God, and our belief in a greater story, comes in. God is with us and is guiding us. His guidance may be unseen, but it is not unfelt.
Empowered by grace, we can follow God’s call and play our part in The Story. We trust in divine providence, for “God’s love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory and made it one with his own in heaven.”
When we look at the events of our lives through the eyes of faith, we understand that My Story and Our Story ultimately only have meaning within The Story. God has called each of us for a time and a purpose. When it comes to the big questions in life, all we need do is look up in faith. “[God] has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, super-abundant answer to the questions man asks himself about the meaning and purpose of his life.” Our belief that God is using us to write The Story gives our lives great meaning, beyond what we can know. This faith bolsters our determination to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, even into the unknown. This faith gives meaning, especially to our suffering. No matter how difficult, no matter the missteps along the way, God’s providence is there for us. We get up again, turn to God, and keep going. All this because “God, who is rich in mercy,…made us alive together with Christ…” Alive together, yes, for The Story is ultimately the story of Resurrection, a story of hope and joy as we celebrate and live within the Paschal Mystery.
Does looking at all this have an impact on us as Franciscans? For sure, it does. My own Story started long before I became a Franciscan. My Story is rooted in Christ, and my Franciscan vocation stems from that initial encounter. I am not in the Order only to learn about Francis and be enamored by his life, but to live the Gospel. Francis himself said, “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ teach you what is yours.” Those around me may well see Francis or Clare reflected in my life, but ultimately it must be Christ that I proclaim as I live the Gospel.
When it comes to Our Story, that’s easy. For Franciscans, it’s all about fraternity and universal kinship. We are keenly aware of a story beyond ourselves. We are called to identify with the lowly and lift them up to their true dignity. We care for all of creation. Within the Order, the bonds of fraternity help us live our professions, conform our lives to Christ, and pour ourselves out as Christ did upon the Cross. When we stumble and fall, we know sisters and brothers understand and are there to help. Our fraternities depend on each of us to be active members of the Order at every level – local, regional, national and international. We cannot sit still. We need to keep moving forward, striving for ongoing daily conversion. Only in this way do we contribute to Our Story.
Finally, we look to “Our Franciscan Story” as part of The Story. It was God who inspired Francis, and God led others to follow him. God continues to guide and help us as an Order. Grace comes when we most need it, at times unbidden and unexpected, giving us the impetus to move forward as an Order. Whether Franciscans are journeying halfway around the world or standing together (six feet apart) facing the challenges of a pandemic, we know our witness is part of The Story —something greater and far beyond us, embracing all. St. Francis encourages us to “follow the Lord’s most holy commands to the very end” as we look towards the Son of Man’s coming in glory. In that moment, we will know the fullness of The Story, as we hear Christ saying to all who “acknowledged, adored and served him in sincere repentance: ‘Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.’”
With your help, the Q Committee has created a special tee-shirt blanket for the 2021 Quinquennial Congress (the “Q”.) When I first laid eyes on it, I was filled with delight! How amazing to think that each donated tee shirt was worn by a fellow Franciscan somewhere across our country, or perhaps by someone beyond our borders. Look at “us”, all stitched together. Truly this is “fraternity in a blanket” – a great image of “Our Story.” The eventual winner of this blanket is known only to God, but what a gift it will be! Details about the 2021 Q, and how to win this blanket, will be posted on our OFS-USA website (secularfranciscansusa.org) starting in August 2021. (By the way, my shirt is the yellow one, bottom row, in the center.)
Peace and all good!
This article appears in the Spring 2020 edition of the Tau.
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 Council meetings
Initial formation sessions
Some fraternity events require personal presence:
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.
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 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 Professionwill 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.
We have just received a letter from our Minister General regarding the Coronavirus (attached, in both English and Spanish). Please read it and distribute widely. We will also share this letter via our website. I am thankful for Tibor’s approach which calls us to both prayer and action, and sets the proper tone for us as Secular Franciscans facing these unusual times.
At the national level we have received questions about whether to cancel or postpone Regional gatherings. We have no set policy at the national level but beg all to be properly informed and make wise decisions as a Council. Check local health directives and look at what the CDC says, and evaluate from there. None of us want to cancel things we have planned, but we need to carefully consider if we are putting folks at risk, or contributing to the spread of this virus.
Are we safe if it is a smaller gathering? Or if everyone commits to exercising the recommended disciplines? I don’t have the answer to these, or to other questions. We might need to consider the facility where we might be meeting, and consider who has traveled somewhere recently who might be a carrier. We should not be driven by fear, but we do need good common sense and caution, given the current environment. There are alternatives such as rescheduling, or meeting by webinar or conference call.
The National Executive Council joins you in prayer during this time. Let us remember who we are, and be guided by the Holy Spirit in our prayers and actions. Living our theme for this year, let us continue to journey together in love and compassion.
Peace and all good,
Jan Parker OFS
Secular Franciscan Order – USA
Journey Together in Love and Compassion
2019-2020 OFS-USA Theme
Letter from Tibor Kauser, Minister General
In English, followed by Spanish
Prot. n. 3233 Rome, March 12, 2020
Dear sisters and brothers all over the world,
May the Lord give you his peace!
We are living extraordinary days, weeks, that needs extraordinary decisions and extraordinary attitude.
We do not know so far, what is in God’s plans that we can use from this grave situation, but I am sure that God is preparing a great surprise for us.
We hear the news from all the corners of the world about the coronavirus epidemic that is spreading very quickly. In some parts of the world the situation is really grave and makes us concern, while other parts are still free of it or less affected.
Being Secular Franciscans, living in the world, we have to faithfully fulfil the duties to our various circumstances of life (Cf. OFS Rule 10). This is more demanding today, as we have to leave many of our comfortable habits and attentively adopt to new circumstances. Solidarity and fraternal life becomes a new meaning.
First of all I invite you all to join my prayers for those who are affected by the epidemic, particularly for the people of Italy, China, South Korea, which are the most impacted country for now, but this is changing day by day and others are affected seriously. Let us pray for those, who suffer from this illness, for those who are caring for those being sick, and for all to have the wisdom and patience to behave properly, both physically and spiritually, and to be able to bear this material and mental burden.
Living in the world calls us to be attentive to all those who have more difficulties in this situation, or are facing more risks. There are many elderly sisters and brothers in our fraternities, who need more fraternal care and more attention. I ask you to pay special attention to those in need. We have to be more disciplined as each one of us has an even greater personal responsibility for our brothers, for our neighbours. I am sure that God gives us an opportunity to strengthen fraternal life, even if sometimes there are less of the personal encounters.
The measures of the official authorities declare the situation day by day more critical. Some of the measures and calls from both secular and ecclesiastic authorities may surprise us, or can even be shocking. However, we have to believe that all these are for the common good, and since there is no authority except from God (Rm. 13:1), we shall respect them also if sometimes it is not so simple to understand them. God is always providing for our spiritual and material good.
Let us open our hearts to hear what does the Lord intend to tell us with letting this situation happen. May God help us all to know what is our duty also today.
Your minister and your minor brother,
Prot. n. 3233 Roma, 12 marzo 2020
Queridos hermanos y hermanas de todo el mundo:
¡El Señor os dé su Paz!
Estamos viviendo unos días y unas semanas insólitas, que requieren decisiones insólitas y una actitud insólita. No sabemos todavía qué planes tiene Dios que podamos utilizar en esta situación tan grave. Sin embargo, estoy seguro de que Dios está preparando una gran sorpresa para nosotros.
Recibimos las noticias de todas partes del mundo sobre la epidemia de coronavirus que se está extendiendo rápidamente. En algunas partes del mundo, es especialmente grave y nos preocupa, mientras que otras partes están libres (del virus) o poco afectadas.
Como Franciscanos Seglares, viviendo en el mundo, tenemos que cumplir fielmente los deberes de nuestras diversas circunstancias en la vida (Cf. OFS Regla 10). Hoy, esto es todavía más exigente, ya que tenemos que dejar nuestros cómodos hábitos y adaptarnos atentamente a las nuevas circunstancias. La solidaridad y la vida fraternal obtienen un nuevo significado.
Primero de todo, os invito a que os unáis a mis oraciones por todos los que se están viendo afectados por la epidemia, particularmente por la gente de Italia, China y Corea del Sur, que son los países más afectados por el momento, pero esto está cambiando día a día y otros también están siendo afectados seriamente. Oremos por aquellos que sufren la enfermedad, por aquellos que cuidan de los enfermos y por todos para que tengamos la sabiduría y la paciencia para comportarnos adecuadamente, tanto física como espiritualmente, y para que seamos capaces de superar esta carga mental y material.
El vivir en el mundo nos llama a que seamos más atentos a aquellos que tienen más dificultades en esta situación o que están afrontando más riesgos. Hay muchos hermanos y hermanas mayores en nuestras fraternidades que necesitan más atención y cuidado fraternal. Os pido que prestéis especial atención a aquellos en situación de necesidad. Tenemos que ser más disciplinados ya que cada uno de nosotros tiene una mayor responsabilidad personal por nuestros hermanos, por nuestros vecinos. Estoy seguro que Dios nos está dando una oportunidad para fortalecer nuestra vida fraternal, incluso si hay menos encuentros personales.
Las medidas de las autoridades declaran la situación más crítica día a día. Algunas de las medidas tomadas y lo que nos piden tanto las autoridades seglares como las eclesiásticas nos pueden sorprender o incluso chocar. Sin embargo, tenemos que creer que son para el bien común y, como no hay otra autoridad más que Dios (Rm. 13,1), tenemos que respetarlas, aunque a veces nos cueste entenderlas. Dios siempre nos está proveyendo de bienes materiales y espirituales.
Abramos nuestros corazones para oír lo que el Señor nos está diciendo dejando que esta situación ocurra. Que el Señor nos ayude a saber cuál es nuestro deber hoy también.
May grace and peace be yours in this season of repentance..
The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert. Let us simply ask the Holy Spirit to lead us, too, during this Lenten season. I know God will give each of us a very personal answer.
I hope you saw our sister Carolyn’s wonderful Lenten message. Along with her reminder about our H2O project, I’d like to add two more suggestions for almsgiving: (1) donations to NAFRA’s Charitable Giving fund, and (2) donations to the Good Friday Collection for the Holy Land.
What is NAFRA’s Charitable Giving Fund? Each year, prior to our annual Chapter, we ask everyone to submit names of charities that they would like to see our National OFS Family support. Donations are then made to the particular charities chosen by the National Fraternity Council, oftentimes we are able to send nice donations to 8-10 charitable organizations. The money for these donations comes from our Charitable Giving fund, and the donation is sent on behalf of the National Secular Franciscan Order.. In 2019, we were not able to make any donations as the fund had been depleted. Donations for NAFRA’s Charitable Giving fund can be sent to our National Treasurer (see address below.) Thank you for any contribution you are able to send.
Secondly, I encourage donations for the Franciscans’ ministry in the Holy Land. The name of this collection is the “Pontifical Good Friday Collection” and contributions can be placed in the collection baskets on Good Friday at your local parish. For more information, see https://myfranciscan.org/good-friday/
Please share this invitation with your local fraternities.
I am thankful to be with you on this Lenten journey of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Your sister and minister,
Please make checks payable to “NAFRA”, noting “For Charitable Giving”, and mail to:
Claudia Kauzlarich OFS
2007 Maverick Trail
Harrisonville, MO 64701-1545
“May the fraternal bonds of community always be our help, so that we may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.”
— from the Secular Franciscan Rite of Profession to the Gospel Life
“How big is love?” I asked my family. My reflective 14-year-old granddaughter, Miranda, replied, “As big as you want it to be!”
“Do you know why we give gifts?” “Because God gave us the gift of Jesus!” said Joshua, 12. His thoughtful brother Caleb, 13, added, “To build relationships.”
“What will you name your new elf?” I asked 8-year-old Levi. “I will name him Emmanuel because he is little, like Jesus.”
What joy and wonder are ours in the gift of Jesus, God-with-us, who came to us as a child! I am so thankful for the gift of family, and that certainly includes the gift of our wonderful Franciscan family. A blessed Christmas to you! Thank you all for your greetings, and for the love and joy that shines in each of your hearts.
May your Christmas be bright with the light, love and joy of Christ!
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you, as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you (all of us!) a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you (we!) come to know …what is the hope (the great hope!) to which God has called you (to which God has called us!), what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among saints…(Think of it! This is our inheritance!) For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them…. and you also (all of us!) are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Reading: Bonaventure, The Evening Sermon on Saint Francis (emphasis added)
“The heavens encompass everything, they contain all things, yet they are contained by nothing… There is no star however small whose immensity would not fill the earth and give it light. Though the lights and rays of each star coalesce in the atmosphere, they are found to be distinct when we look up at the stars themselves. It is something similar with devout souls whom the Holy Spirit enlightens with divine radiance. These are the posterity of the Holy Spirit and this posterity is as the stars of heaven, for the Holy Spirit brings forth devout souls in an altogether wondrous way.” (FAED II, 729)
In my prayer this morning I asked God to continue to guide each professed member of our Order, to grant each of you the wisdom and strength and perseverance that you need. I am honored to be your minister. You are the devout souls spoken of in this passage above; and I do not cease to give thanks for you, as I remember you in my prayers. Thank you, my sister and brother devout souls! Thank you for being such shining stars, as we are being built up into a dwelling place of God. This truly is wondrous!
May God’s grace help us as we do what is ours to do, as we have been called. And, “let us not take our minds off of God, but rather with a pure heart and mind, and in whatever way we are best able, let us serve, love, honor and adore the Lord God, for that is what God wants above all else.” (Cf. Earlier Rule 22:25-26)
With love, prayers, and a grateful heart,
P.S. Happy New Year! Let us look back in gratitude, and look forward in hope, as we journey together in love and compassion.
(This article originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2019 issue of the TAU-USA)
All of us like to get things done, and like many of you I have quite a to-do list. My list is kept on individual note cards, one task per card. I like to shuffle through the cards to prioritize what’s next and then work to get it done. There is something very satisfying about accomplishing a task collegially, creatively and joyfully, knowing you have done what is yours to do. What a great feeling to get something off our to do list!
No matter what method we use to help us get things done, there are times in life when we are stopped dead in our tracks. It may be loss, conflict or confusion, but when something big lands right in our path, we are often stopped short. We are consumed by what is before us, with little energy to do anything else. I had a profound experience of this a few years ago. I was paralyzed by a gut-wrenching quandary. My stress level was high, deadlines were upon me, and I faced a situation with seemingly no Franciscan way out. It was horrible. I kept asking myself what is the right thing to do? I went back and forth. I prayed and prayed. I consulted with friends, but I was stuck. On top of everything else, I was a new minister, and our council was preparing for its first visitation. More stress! Little did I know; it was this visitation that would change everything.
On the day of our visitation, our fraternal visitor asked to meet with each council member one-on-one. Somehow, I knew I needed to go first. I sat down to talk with her, filled with both hope and fear. I knew she was there to help me, but what could she do? She began by simply asking, “What’s going on, Jan?” and that was all it took. I could not hold back my tears. She listened with compassion as I poured out the whole story. When I was finished, she looked directly into my eyes, and said, “Jan, you must have purity of heart.” Her words cut keenly. She was right. Her wisdom at that moment was God sent.
It may seem odd to you that this answer would be so very helpful to me, but purity of heart was exactly what I needed.
Purity of heart sets us free. St. Francis calls us to this freedom, to “put aside every care and anxiety, to serve, love, honor and adore the Lord God with a clean heart and a pure mind.”
Purity of heart begins with prayer. We must “pray always with a pure heart.” I had been praying, but where was the center of my heart? Was it in God, or in myself? Purity of heart means we must clear our hearts of any ego attachments – our self-image, self-concern, self-preservation. Surrender is key. I needed to put aside the workings of my mind and let go of my obsessions – all my questions, doubts and fears. Only then would my heart be pure – and free to be open to the direction of God’s Spirit dwelling within me.
Purity of heart gives us new sight – a new way of seeing things. I was seeing things from my perspective, not as God sees them. “A pure heart sees into the depth of things. Our hearts are pure when we see earthly things from on high, that is when we see their true value.” What was the true value in this situation? I needed to see this clearly. Once I could see the activity of the Holy Spirit in the midst of all that was happening, I was no longer paralyzed.
Ever since that day, the words “pure of heart” jump out at me. My understanding and appreciation of being pure in heart have steadily deepened. I see it in Francis’s prayer before the crucifix, “bring light to the darkness of my heart,” and in his Later Rule, “Desire above all things (supra omnia) to have the Spirit of the Lord and its holy activity [and] to pray always with a pure heart.” Most especially I see it in our OFS Rule: “Witnessing to the good yet to come and obliged to acquire purity of heart because of the vocation they have embraced, they should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters.”
Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago I learned that the Chinese word for “intelligence” or “bright” (慧) has a connection to purity of heart. The word consists of two pictograms: at the top is the word for broom (扫); the bottom is the word for heart (⼼). The bright person, the person of wisdom, has a heart swept clean. Blessed indeed are the pure of heart!
“We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh,
but, instead, we must be simple, humble and pure.”
(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Tau-USA)
NATIONAL MINISTER’S MESSAGE
by Jan Parker, OFS
The Rule: Rebar for Concrete Christian Lives
Thirty-five years ago, a wise Capuchin friar handed me a copy of The Ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, and suggested I read it. It was a pivotal 1 moment. I can still picture the outdoor wooden stairway where I sat down, opened this book and read for hours. I remember the cool breeze as night fell, and how thankful I was for the porch light. I did not want to put this book down. Each chapter made my heart sing a joyful “yes!”
That book was my first study of Franciscan spirituality. Here I began to learn what distinguishes St. Francis, and what constitutes his individuality, his personality, his soul, his spirit, his genius – his ideals. This book explores these ideals one by one: “Francis and the Gospel,” “Francis and Christ,” “Francis and the Eucharist,” “Francis and the Church,” “Francis and His Love of Poverty, ” continuing with chapters on Franciscan Livelihood, Humility, Obedience, Simplicity, Chastity, Penance, Joy, Brotherliness, Charity, Peace, Apostolate, Science (yes, science!), Piety, and Nature. It was during this time that I was beginning to learn, too, about the Franciscan Order. How delighted I was to discover that there was a Rule that incorporated these ideals! I embraced this Rule as a way to develop and live the ideals of St. Francis. I made my profession, and from that day forward, the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order has been the rebar of my life. Rebar?
It was Cal Prewitt who introduced me to the importance of rebar. Cal was a great friend, a fellow parishioner, and an engineer who helped oversee the construction of our new church. One day, as we toured the newly-poured foundation, Cal explained that rebar (short for reinforcing bar) is a steel bar or mesh of steel wires used to increase the tensile strength of concrete. He went on to say that rebar greatly increases the amount of stress that concrete can withstand before breaking, then added, “You know, the values we hold onto in life are like rebar – like steel giving strength to concrete.” The image stuck.
Rebar is a good image for how I see the Rule working in my life. The ideals embedded in our OFS Rule are very much like steel bars, encased deep in the center of my being. They give fundamental support to my life. They reinforce me, keep me from breaking away, and help me stay strong and true to my vocation, especially in times of stress. These Franciscan reinforcement bars guide and direct my actions.
This analogy of rebar returned to mind a few months ago when Pope Francis gave a homily about how our Christian lives need to be concrete. He reflected on the different opposites stressed in Matthew 7:21-27, notably between “saying and doing”:
“To say is a way of believing, but very superficial, half-way: I say I’m a Christian, but I don’t act like a Christian. To say it simply, it’s a bit like making oneself up as a Christian: only to say it is to make oneself up, to say without doing.” On the contrary, “Jesus’ proposal is concrete, always concrete. When someone approaches you and asks for advice, it’s always for concrete things. The works of mercy are concrete.”
Another opposition: rock and sand. Sand is “a consequence of saying”; it leads to a life “without foundations.” The Lord is the rock, “He is the force. However, very often one who trusts in the Lord doesn’t seem to have success; he is hidden . . . but he is solid. He doesn’t have hope in words, in vanity, in pride, in the ephemeral powers of life,” but in the Lord, stressed the Pontiff. “The concrete aspect of the Christian life makes us advance and build on that rock which is God, which is Jesus, on the divinity’s solidity — not on appearances or vanity, pride, recommendations… no, on the truth.”
Third opposition: the vain and the humble. The Holy Father quoted the Magnificat: “The Lord raises the humble, who are in the concreteness of the everyday, and brings down the arrogant, those who build their life on vanity, pride . . . they don’t last.”
Secular Franciscans should certainly exemplify this concrete living our Holy Father speaks of – living solid Christian lives on the foundation that is Christ. The rebar of our Rule is there to reinforce our efforts. As our sister St. Clare says, “Hold fast.”
As we close this Jubilee Year in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of our Rule, let’s make it a celebration not just of our Rule, but of our lives as Secular Franciscans. We must be resolute. There’s no point in celebrating the Rule unless we celebrate how we are living it. Let’s celebrate today and every day by living concrete Christian lives, grateful for the Rule and the rebar that it is.
 The Ideals of St. Francis of Assisi by Hilarin Felder OFM Cap., translated by Berchmans Bittle OFM Cap., published by Berziger Brothers, Printers to the Holy Apostolic See, copyright 1925
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
We are in troubling times. We hear the news of migrants and refugees at the border, and we ask, “what is ours to do?” As directed by our Bishops, we need to put two feet of love in action. We need both social action and charitable works. Certainly, there are root causes that need to be addressed, and our country’s immigration laws need revision, but meanwhile, we must meet the immediate needs of these brothers and sisters. To that end, the National Executive Council OFS-USA offers this Mission Opportunity for Secular Franciscans to assist Project Oak Tree.
Some of you may be called to come to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to assist as a volunteer (individuals and small groups are welcome). Others may want to collect and send items that are needed, or send financial assistance. I ask all of you to share the word about this project. The flyer can be downloaded from link above, and is also attached.
Project Oak Tree is supported by the Diocese of Las Cruces, and many churches in the area. Project Oak Tree gives much needed assistance to hundreds each week who have been released from detention and are awaiting relocation. They are in desperate need. This is our opportunity, as Franciscans, to help them.
May God bless us and guide us always!
Peace and all good, Jan
Jan Parker OFS
Secular Franciscan Order – USA
See Christ, Be Christ! Share the Vision!
2018-2019 OFS-USA Theme