The OFS Rule

The Final Test of Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order is Love

In the final extended exchange between our first “Minister,” St. Peter, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we read:

When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?”
And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”[Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep”
(John 21:15-17).

Most Biblical scholars agree that John is the last written of the four major Gospels, and this exchange is the final test that the Lord gives Peter before His Ascension. I say “final” because it is clearly not the first test.

Perhaps the first test of Servant Leadership is one not very popular in American culture. Most Biblical scholars agree that Mark is the first written of the four major Gospels. Spoken directly to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in this first Gospel, our Lord’s first word is “Come.” “Come after me” (Mark 1:17).

Well, how can we respond to “Come”? To me, I either say, “Yes, I’m coming,” or “No, I’m not coming.” “Come” does not really sound like a call to dialogue or discussion.

Thus, the first test the Lord gives his first “Minister” is obedience. Either Simon Peter follows the Lord’s summons or he doesn’t; either he obeys or he doesn’t. Simon comes, obediently, as do Andrew and the other disciples; note, please, not knowing what to expect in following the Lord. How could they?

How many of us would accept this “blind” test of obedience? I guess all of us who are permanently professed have accepted this test. I can honestly say that I did not know what lay ahead of me on June 12, 1983, when I made my permanent profession. Perhaps obedience is not a bad test to start with!

What might be the second test? Well, early on in most of the Gospels, Peter and the other disciples face some serious challenges: for Peter, the sickness of his mother-in-law at a time of no professional doctors or emergency rooms (Mark 1:30), a storm at sea (Mark 4:37-40), and the inability to drive out demons (Mark 5:1-20), to name just three. And as the Lord allows Peter and the others to experience these challenges or tests, He will often counsel to the effect, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36).

Thus, the second test brings us to faith, the first of the theological virtues, faith that is a gift of God and the practice of which helps lead us to God. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence* of things not seen.” To me, this is not the same as obedience, and every Minister will be tested on her or his faith, I promise, as were Peter and the disciples. Let us pray that our tests as Servant Leaders will strengthen our faith, and with God’s grace, we can strengthen each other’s faith. As the Lord says to Peter: “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

This article cannot explore all the tests or challenges that the Lord gives in the Gospels, but since we started with and will finish with Peter, let’s stay with Peter, as the Lord’s first “Fraternity Minister” a bit longer. What other tests did Peter need to face? How did the Lord prepare Peter for Servant Leadership?

Well, although I have written about it before, I continue to be attracted Peter’s effort to walk on the water (Matthew 14:28-31). The Lord again says to Peter that one word: “Come.” Yet to me the test here is not one of obedience or even faith, but rather a test of focus. Peter obeys, and he trusts in the Lord, but he cannot keep his focus exclusively on the Lord. As long as he keeps his eyes focused on Jesus, he’s fine. When he thinks about the power of the storm or his own sinfulness, he sinks like a stone.

Although I have not seen any Secular Franciscan Ministers trying to walk on water, I have seen some of us attempting more than we can really do with our own obviously limited human abilities. In every case, when we have allowed our attention and concentration to turn from the Lord to the circumstances and personalities involved, we, or at least I, have sunk.

Then there is that test of recognition (Matthew 16:13-20). Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Peter has to know. It is impossible to be Secular Franciscan leaders if we cannot recognize our Lord and Savior, if we cannot proclaim that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man.

Another great test of leadership in the Lord’s service is the test of forgiveness. Who else but Peter will ask how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him. Seven times? The test here is on the limits of forgiveness, and I have talked to Ministers who just cannot forgive. We say we are Christian leaders, but we can be vengeful or passive/aggressive.

We just don’t like people for what they have done, or what we imagine they have done, and we fail this test of forgiveness since our Lord tells Peter in essence, there are no limits on forgiveness.
We don’t just forgive our brother (or sister) who sins against us seven times, but seventy-seven times (or in some translations, seventy times seven times) (Matthew 18:21-22).

Then during the Passion, when Jesus has been taken captive, Peter is challenged to stand with the Lord, and of course, he denies the Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-75). The test here may be that test of martyrdom. As a Servant Leader, could I remain faithful to the Lord even in the face of possible death?

I have never met this test, nor have I met anyone in the United States who has faced this test, but at the meeting of the International Fraternity in Assisi last November (and please forgive me for not publicly divulging names), I met good sisters from China, the Ukraine and Russia and good brothers from Bethlehem and Nigeria, for example, who gave me the sense that they could face this test sooner than later. Let us pray for all who have faced or will face this test!

Yet, even this test of possible martyrdom is not the final test the Lord gives to Peter and to us. Again, that final test is the test of love.

Why does the Lord ask Peter three times if he loves Him? Of course, neither the Lord nor Peter has forgotten Peter’s three-fold denial, but note that nowhere does the Lord blame or remonstrate with Peter for this denial. Rather, he wants Peter to practice from henceforth perhaps the greatest lesson that the Lord could teach him: Love.

Love is the answer to almost all of our problems and failures as Servant Leaders; not our own limited, imperfect human love, but God’s love for us, which never stops and is always there. If we are open to the Lord’s love, that love will flow from the Lord through us to our sisters and brothers before returning to the Lord.

Without that love, all our Secular Franciscan Servant Leadership is more or less hypocritical. Without that love, even great faith and the willingness to die mean nothing. As wrote St. Paul: “If I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2b-3).

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, Servant Leadership in the Secular Franciscan Order is not about us. It is never about us. Servant Leadership, finally, is about love. Love and service. If we are seeking anything else, fame, attention, escape from boredom, revenge on someone in the fraternity, whatever, we are wasting our time; and worse, the fraternity’s time; and the worst, Your graces and gifts. You test us in many different ways with different people and circumstances as we journey on this Franciscan Way to salvation. When we fail, lift us up. Help us to learn from our mistakes to trust Your love and mercy more and more by showing that love and mercy to all our sisters and brothers. We pray in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions

1. What might have been our Lord’s first test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter?
2. What might have been our Lord’s second test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter? How are the first two tests different?
3. What might Peter have learned from trying to walk on the water?
4. What might Peter have learned from the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”
5. What might all Servant Leaders learn from Peter’s question on how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him?
6. What might have been our Lord’s final test of Servant Leadership with Simon Peter?
7. Why is this final test perhaps the most important of all?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-18T11:03:24-04:00August 19th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“On the Care and Feeding of Our Fraternities”   

In the Gospel of John, this story appears after the Resurrection and seems very warm and intimate, on the one hand; but on the other, not really necessary. I mean, Jesus has already risen from the dead. He has appeared twice to his disciples after the Resurrection. “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead” (John 21:14).  What is left to teach the disciples? They now understand, don’t they, that Jesus is the Messiah and that He has come to earth to save us from sin and death by suffering and dying Himself on the Cross and then rising on the third day? He has done all of that. They have seen it, but more is apparently needed

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’ ” (John 21:15-17).

Okay, you’re right: With the Lord, there are no wasted moments; and in John’s Gospel, as in each of the Gospels, there are no passages that should be overlooked as seemingly unnecessary. For example, why were some of the disciples returning to a previous occupation of fishing for fish when the Lord had already called them to be “fishers of men”? (Mark 1:17). Had they lost faith? Did they think they needed to return to business as usual?

And what is the Lord trying to teach Peter, the first “minister” of the first “fraternity” of the first “observers” of “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”? (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 4, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/sforule.html). As I look back as your elected minister on our National fraternity in 2011 and look forward to 2012, this Gospel suggests four lessons that I have learned and would like to share with you.

One, the Lord wants us to follow Him by keeping his commandments and remaining in His love (see John 15:9, 10; see Secular Franciscan Order Rule Prologue, Chapter 1), but, two, even if we fail badly and deny the Lord three times, lying that we don’t even know Him, the Lord will not fail us or stop loving us; rather, He will give us ample opportunity to redeem ourselves, to turn from sin and be converted to Gospel living. “Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily” (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 7).

What is implicit in these first two lessons is the explicit third lesson. How do we keep the Lord’s commandments and remain in the Lord’s love? By our love. How do we often fail to respond to the Lord’s unfailing, unconditional love? By not loving enough. Why else would Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” After a threefold denial of Him before His Crucifixion, the Lord expects a threefold Confession of love for Him from the first “minister” of the first “fraternity” of the first “observers” of “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

After all, at the heart of the Old Testament Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4); and at the heart of the great Shema is love: “you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Similarly, when tested by the scribes about what is the first of all the Commandments, Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Thus, love is the third great lesson of this Gospel story; love is the answer to the Lord’s expectations of us in lesson one and how we should respond to the Lord’s love in lesson two. Lesson four is how we should manifest our love. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-16).

How does one show love to the Lord? By the care and feeding of the Lord’s flock. The one “assignment” that Our Lord gives to Peter, the leader of his initial fraternity of disciples, once Peter satisfactorily answers the question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” is to care for and feed the Lord’s flock (John 21:15-17). Note, please, love of the Lord comes first, and then necessarily follows the care and feeding of the Lord’s flock.

Finally, how do we manifest that care and feeding of the Lord’s flocks? By taking care of our fraternities. Thus, I wrote in my 2011 Annual Report and spoke in my 2012 vision of our Order: “Perhaps no aspect of the Secular Franciscan life should be of more concern to those called to leadership than the vitality of the fraternity, be it local, regional, national or international” (http://www.nafra-sfo.org/meetings_and_resources.html).

So how do all of us called to leadership, called to the training and nurturing of leaders, provide for the vitality of our fraternities?

Article 92.1 of the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order states: “The purpose of both the pastoral and fraternal visits is to revive the evangelical Franciscan spirit, to assure fidelity to the charism and to the Rule, to offer help to fraternity life, to reinforce the bond of the unity of the Order, and to promote its most effective insertion into the Franciscan family and the Church.”

These are the Constitutionally mandated “life signs,” the specific “signs of vitality” that International Visitors must check when they visit National, what National Visitors must check when they visit Regional, what Regional Visitors must check when they visit Local, what Local Visitors must check when they visit a new or emerging group. These are the measures of how we all should be caring for and feeding our fraternities.

I have written in this publication about the four “signs of vitality” for every single Franciscan Gathering, whether an Annual Chapter or an “ordinary meeting”: “Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”(TAU-USA Winter 2010 Issue 69, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/tau-usa/articles/winter10/minister_winter10.pdf).

We need time to pray, to reform ourselves and our fraternities, to know and love each other better and to conduct whatever necessary business we have to do. Perhaps the key word here is time: it takes time to build and be a Franciscan family at any level. Please, leaders, allow enough time to ensure the vitality of your fraternity. We at National met from Tuesday, October 25 to Sunday, October 30, 2011. We plan to gather the entire National membership at our Quinquenniel from Tuesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 8, 2012.

Did your Regional or local fraternity gather even once in 2011 for an entire weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday morning? Do you plan to do so in 2012? How can you build the vitality of your fraternity on a few hours a month? Is this what you would expect from your own family? Often, I fear we sacrifice the vitality of our fraternity life to save time and money.

I followed up this past year with an article entitled “The Primary Focus and the Four Marks of a Vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity” (TAU-USA Spring 2011 Issue 70, http://www.nafra-sfo.org/tau-usa/articles/spring11/minister_spring11.pdf). In this article, I stated that: “Spirituality, Formation, Family and Witnessing all for the sake of ‘the salvation of souls’ (Canon 1752, Code of Canon Law http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P70.HTM) offer us the Primary Focus and Four Marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. These were precisely the reason why prayer, formation, fraternal sharing and only as much business as is necessary offer us the four purposes of a fraternal gathering, and I prayed in the article and every day that God will “give us the grace, the Living Presence of Christ and the Fellowship (now Communion) of the Holy Spirit when we gather to worship, to form, to share, to witness in Christ’s Name, always striving to keep our fraternities and our souls alive and focused on salvation.”

           

As Spirituality is the initial and essential element of fraternity, then that Spirituality and love of the Lord must be witnessed out in the world, not put under the bushel basket of the fraternity gathering. Therefore, in the same article I wrote, “We are to be a ‘community of love’ (Secular Franciscan Order Rule 22) to all in the world. As Saint Pope John Paul II told us directly at the Xth General Chapter in 2002: ‘The church expects from you, Secular Franciscans, a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realization of the Kingdom of God’ (http://www.ciofs.org/per/2005/lca5en14.htm#b).”

These aspects of vital fraternal living were the focus of our National Meeting in October 2011 in California. We prayed and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together; we formed together; we shared, ate, laughed and learned together; we did what business was ours to do together. These aspects of vital fraternal living will be our focus for our 2012 Quinquennial Gathering of all the Nation.

I urge YOU, yes, YOU, one from every fraternity in the United States, to make every effort to join your wonderful Order’s International, National, Regional and Local leadership at the 2012 Quinquennial to be held at the Holiday Inn Chicago North Shore Skokie Hotel (http://www.nafra-sfo.org/q2012.html). We have secured this hotel for only $87 a night (if you order before June 9), with free shuttle service to and from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, based on scheduled routes. We will start with 5:00 Dinner and 7:30 Opening Liturgy with Bishop George J. Rassas, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Chicago on July 3, enjoy a wonderful July 4 Picnic and Fireworks Display, and depart after Breakfast, Morning Prayer and Closing Remarks on Sunday, July 8, 2012 all for only $275, all meals included, if you register before June 1. This happens only once every five years, and we will focus on building the vitality of our fraternities at every level.

Our keynote speaker and major presenter will be Sister Ilia Delio, OSF, a renowned author on Franciscan Spirituality, with well-received books on St. Clare, St. Bonaventure, the Humility of God, the Emergent Christ and Franciscan Prayer.  The theme for our Congress is Why Francis? Claim the Gift.

           

Other presenters include noted speaker, author and Professor at the Berkeley Theological Union, Friar William Short, OFM and two of our own Secular Franciscans: Patricia Brandwein-Ball, OFS, a former Regional Minister and National Councilor; and Edward Shirley, OFS, Professor and Theologian at St. Edward University in Texas and National Ecumenical Chair.

Please come and introduce yourself to me as we continue this discussion on the care and feeding of our fraternities at every level. I would be honored to meet and talk to you. If you cannot be with us, your personal prayer and holy life contribute greatly to the care and feeding of all our Franciscan flock.

Peace, with love and prayers,

Tom

Reflection Questions

  1. What is one lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  2. And even if I fail that first lesson, what is the second lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  3. Closely related to the first two lessons, what is the explicit third lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John?
  4. What is the fourth lesson that the Lord teaches me through Peter in the Post-Resurrection Gospel from John? How might this lesson be applied by Secular Franciscan Servant Leadership?
  5. For review, what are the four “signs of vitality” for every single Franciscan Gathering, whether an Annual Chapter or an “ordinary meeting”? Do you agree or would you change the four signs, adding to or subtracting from?
  6. Again for review, what are the primary focus and the four marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity? Do you agree or would you somehow shift the primary focus and/or add to or subtract from the four marks?
  7. How might each of us better fulfill Saint John Paul II’s expectation of “a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realization of the Kingdom of God”?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-05T11:32:35-04:00August 5th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

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

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

Prepare The Way of The Lord!

Don’t you think John the Baptist (pointing the way to the Lord in this painting by Leonardo da Vinci) would have made a great Franciscan? Or, to be more chronological, don’t you think Francis would have been a good disciple of John before the coming of the Lord?

After all, Francis would call his lay Third Order, us, his Seculars, “the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.” We are an “Order of Penance.” The entire Prologue of our SFO Rule contrasts between those “who do penance” and those “who do not do penance.” Thus Chapter Two, The Way of Life, Rule Seven reads:

“United by their vocation as ‘brothers and sisters of penance’ and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

And what does John say? In what scholars say is the first written Gospel, the very first chapter, we read,

“John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit'” (Mark 1:4-8; all Biblical quotes are NAB Revised).

In Matthew’s Gospel, John will say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). I don’t see this as some moralistic browbeating to scare us into godliness. Rather, I think John is offering a realistic assessment of our human ways to God’s Way and truly wants us humans to repent and turn to God.

Finally, don’t John’s words in Luke’s Gospel below seem less like finger wagging and more like good advice within reach of people honestly seeking how to convert from their sinful ways?

“And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He answered them, ‘Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is it that we should do?’ He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages’” (Luke 3:10-14).

St. Francis and all of us can surely admire John’s great humility in face of the coming of the Lord.

“You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:28-30).

It’s the same thing, isn’t it? John realizes human unworthiness in face of the divine, just as he understands his own human insignificance before the coming of the Christ. Likewise, with an honest appraisal of our own human weakness and sincere need to turn away from sin to prepare the way of the Lord, let us look to our Father Francis and to the great Advent Apostle John the Baptist to see how we might decrease so that the Lord might increase in our lives.

Let us pray, “Dear Lord, in this holy Advent Season, let us prepare for the coming of the Lord by lowering the mountains of our pride and selfishness, by raising the valleys of our self-pity and despondency, by making straight the crooked ways of our self-will and sinfulness. Help us be always ready so that at the Lord’s Coming we will found watchful and awake, humble and loving. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Why might Francis of Assisi have been a good follower of John the Baptist before the Coming of the Lord?
  2. Why does John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel tell the people of his time to “repent”?
  3. Why does our Secular Franciscan Rule call professed Secular Franciscans to “conversion”? Why does the Rule say that that conversion needs to be “daily”?
  4. What was John the Baptist’s advice in Luke’s Gospel to people wanting to “repent” or “convert”?
  5. How did John the Baptist compare himself to Christ? Why?
  6. Again, how might Francis of Assisi have been like John the Baptist in comparing himself to Christ?
  7. How might all of us learn from the examples of Saints John the Baptist and Francis of Assisi in preparing ourselves for the Coming of the Lord?

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.

2020-05-05T21:10:23-04:00May 5th, 2020|Categories: Formation, The OFS Rule, Uncategorized|0 Comments

What Does It Take to Get to Heaven – Five Point Plan Pgs 97-100

[Note: This is meant for November but it applies to our situation in these times]

According to St. Padre Pio: Prayer, meditation, confession, reception and reflection

Dear Sisters and Brothers called to Penance,

November should be the one month when we feel closest to the parts of the Church that we don´t physically see day in and day out: the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. After all, we open the month with the Feast of All Saints; the following day, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls; and we of the Franciscan family celebrate on November 29 the Feast of All Saints of the Seraphic Order, those women and men, known and unknown, First, Second and Third Orders, Regular and Secular, who followed Father Frances into Heaven.

So what does it take to get to Heaven?

On Sunday, September 27, 2009, I had the honor of serving at a special yearly Mass at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, to celebrate one of the most popular of the recently canonized Franciscan saints, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. The main Celebrant was Father Jacob Smith OFM, and he offered St. Padre Pio’s advice to this question that St. Pio often gave to those under his spiritual direction: Prayer, Meditation, Confession, Reception, Reflection. St. Pio said that these five were available to all striving to be holy.

With apologies to Father Jacob, who only outlined his homily, and to St. Pio, about whom I could find no print or online reference to these five, what follows is my recollection and reflection on the five.

First, prayer. St. Pio said, “Pray, hope and don´t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” He also said, “Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.” Prayer is the breath of the Spirit; prayer is our communication with God. Like all communication, prayer involves our active listening, clearly and correctly, to God, followed by our active response, appropriately, politely and effectively. We may pray by words, silence, sighs, tears, actions. Prayer comes from God and returns to God.

Second, meditation. Most of us probably spend most of our prayer time in one of the recognized forms of verbal prayer. The greatest prayer of the Church is, of course, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We have the Liturgy of the Hours. We have the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, which all serve when we pray the Rosary. Yet meditation takes us deeper, closer to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we pray, we need to meditate on what we are praying, for whom and to Whom we are praying, and why we are praying. When we act, whatever actions we perform, we need to do the same: meditate on what we are doing, to whom and for whom we are doing what we are doing, and why are we doing what we are doing. Prayer may be noisy; meditation should usually be silent.

Third, confession. All Franciscans are called to Penance, a turning away from self and sin and a turning toward the Gospel Life. Article Seven of our Secular Franciscan Rule says it so well: “United by their vocation as ´brothers and sisters of penance´ and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls ´conversion.´ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father´s mercy and the source of grace.” St. Pio spent hours and hours celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and urged frequent Confession, certainly as soon as possible after the commission of a major sin and as often as needed, at least once a month, since human memory is so short.

Fourth, reception. Our Lord Himself said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Again, our Holy Rule, Article Five, guides us: “The faith of St. Francis, who often said, ´I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,´ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.” Because of the power and efficacy of proper reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament, St. Pio urged frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion, if and only if the recipient were properly disposed.

Fifth, reflection. St. Pio urged constant, even daily, reflection on “The Four Last Things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. He urged that this reflection not be done in a fearful manner because of his quote above to pray, hope and not worry, trusting always in the love and mercy of God. Rather, the reflection on the four last things was to focus our lives. Where are we going? How are we getting there? If the basic purpose of our lives is not to know, love and serve God in this life with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, then what are we about? What is more important?

Note that St. Pio has made no comment on what exactly else we are doing with our lives. We may be Poor Clares spending our lives in cloistered contemplation, or we may be busy wives, mothers and workers out in the world. It doesn´t matter. Prayer, meditation, confession, reception and reflection can apply to all.

Reflection Questions

  1. Why is November a particularly good month for a Franciscan to pray seriously about how best to get to heaven?
  2. According to St. Padre Pio, what is one best way to get to heaven? Why?
  3. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a second best way to get to heaven? Why?
  4. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a third best way to get to heaven? Why?
  5. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a fourth best way to get to heaven? Why?
  6. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a fifth best way to get to heaven? Why?
  7. Of the five ways suggested by St. Padre Pio to get to heaven, which one do you feel you most need to work on? Why?

Note: This is meant for November but it applies to our situation in these times

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.

2020-05-01T18:21:54-04:00May 2nd, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Blessed Mother, St. Francis & All of Us (from Five Point Plan)

The Blessed Mother certainly does not need me to sing her praises! Our Father Saint Francis did a far greater job both in word and in action; in word, by his Praises and Salutations, and in action, by entrusting the whole Order to her protection.

Thomas of Celano wrote of St. Francis, “Toward the Mother of Jesus he 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” (Second Life of St. Francis, 198).

Our SFO Rule 9 states: “The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. 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.” (See also General Constitutions, Article 16.)

The only way that we can see the Blessed Mother directly, outside of private revelation, is through Holy Scripture; and each time she appears, she is, to me, fascinating and unpredictable. I am filled with wonder. Although this Monthly Message is not enough to share all of her moments in Sacred Scripture, permit me to speak on two of them, both in John’s Gospel, one at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry and one at the very end.

As we know, just three days into our Lord’s public ministry and call of His disciples, there is a wedding at Cana in Galilee (Chapter 2). The Blessed Mother has been invited and perhaps because of her, Jesus, and perhaps because of Jesus, His disciples. We don’t see St. Joseph because presumably he had already died. The wine runs short, perhaps because of the unexpected presence of the recently called disciples, and the Blessed Mother tells her son, “They have no wine” (vs. 3). Jesus replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not come” (vs. 4). Mary says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (vs. 5).

Jesus promptly tells the servers to fill six twenty to thirty gallon stone water jars with water and take some to the headwaiter. The water miraculously turns to wine; the headwaiter does not know from whence it comes and cannot believe why the bridegroom would save the best for last, so high is the quality of the wine. John concludes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (vs. 11).

Well, books have been written and paintings painted about the Wedding of Cana, which now forms the Second of the great Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. My question to you and to myself is, “Who was the couple?” Why do they receive Christ’s first miracle (not to mention 180 free gallons of the best quality wine)? To me, this couple is you and I, ordinary lay people trying to live our lives in the world not quite having all that we need without some divine help. Note that Jesus does not say it is “their concern,” but says to His Mom, it is “your concern.”

Flash forward to the very end of His short life. Jesus again has saved the best for last, only this time it is not wine but Himself, hanging on the Cross pouring out His blood and His life for all of us. He is alive and around Him are exactly the people that we find in the Cross of San Damiano and see in John 19:25. And seeing his Mom and the disciple whom He loved, both present at the Wedding of Cana, Christ “pays back” His Mom. His hour has indeed come. Since she was so concerned about ordinary humanity at the very beginning of His ministry, so He will keep her concerned, “Woman, behold your son” (vs. 26). And to the disciple, “Behold your mother” (vs. 27).

Just as Jesus did not say “No” to His Mom at Cana, so Mary does not say “No” to her Son on the Cross. She has been concerned with all humanity at the beginning, so Jesus wants her concerned now. She is truly our Mother.

Let us pray: “Lord Jesus, Your Mother made her concerns Your concern, and You repaid the compliment by making Your concerns her concern. Help us to respect her role in Your plan of salvation. Help us to love and praise Mary as Your Mother and our Mother, as St. Francis showed us so well. We ask this grace in Your name, You Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. How did St. Francis feel about the Blessed Mother?
  2. How did St. Francis evidence this feeling?
  3. How should Secular Franciscans feel about the Blessed Mother?
  4. Besides private revelation, where can most of us meet the Blessed Mother most directly?
  5. Who are the wedding couple in the Wedding at Cana?
  6. Who is concerned about them?
  7. Whose mother does Mary ultimately become at the foot of the Cross?

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.

2020-04-29T10:29:52-04:00April 29th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Heart of Our Faith is the Person of Jesus Christ pg 72-75

Our faith begins not in a thing, nor in a doctrine, nor in a church, though things and doctrines and churches flow from where our faith begins. Our religion is founded not at a great battle, convocation nor discovery; not in assertions of great ideas of persuasive arguments; not in messages from “the heavens” nor “angels” nor “the clouds;” not in an overarching code of ethics, morals nor system of philosophy.

No, our founding stems from none of these, although many things of various natures may stem from our one foundation, who is not a what, nor a when nor a where nor even a why. The heart of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ, true God and truly human.

Article 4 of our Secular Franciscan Rule tells us: “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people. Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.”

Article 5 continues: “Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of St. Francis, who often said, ‘I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,’ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.”

The General Constitutions (9.1) follow our Rule: “The spirituality of the Secular Franciscan is a plan of life centered on the person and on the following of Christ, rather than a detailed program to be put into practice.”

Article 10 of the General Constitutions elaborates: “‘Christ, poor and crucified,’ victor over death and risen, the greatest manifestation of the love of God for humanity, is the ‘book’ in which the brothers and sisters, in imitation of Francis, learn the purpose and the way of living, loving, and suffering.”

Whatever “preaching” we may do, whether best by our lives or even by our words, that preaching must start and finish with Christ. Whatever we do, may we never forget Christ.

Let us pray, “Holy Father, through the Holy Spirit, bring us ever closer to your Holy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. He is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22:13). He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). Our faith is Christ. Our entire Franciscan Way of Life must strive to stay true to Christ, in Christ, with Christ. We pray in faith in the name of your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Does our religion begin with a what, a where, a when, a why or a who?
  2. Who did St. Francis make the inspiration and center of his life, both with God and with people?
  3. What, where, when, why, who is the inspiration and center of your life?
  4. According the Article Five of the Rule, where might Secular Franciscans FIRST encounter “the living and active person of Christ”?
  5. Where, when, how have you best met “the living and active person of Christ”?
  6. Where was the only place that St. Francis saw Christ “bodily”?
  7. According to the General Constitutions, what is the plan of life for a genuine Secular Franciscan “spirituality”?

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.

2020-04-16T17:29:08-04:00April 17th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments
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