A Reason for Hope
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
Spring is bursting out all over and soon the dog days of summer will be upon us. Spring is that season of the year when mother nature wakes us up from our winter slumber and helps us to embrace the beauty that surrounds us and to take in the smell of the flowers in God’s new creation.
It is also a time of renewal in hope, faith, and joy. Why hope? In his book, God or Nothing, Robert Cardinal Sarah states “hope is nothing other than Christian optimism. It allows man to remain firm in the faith, fully assured by God’s promises. In hope, God is the guarantor of my future and of my serene stability.”
God has given us the gift of hope not only for ourselves but to inspire others. I am always amazed by the number of people who, each year, come together to defend the unborn at the March for Life in Washington, DC. This gives me hope for the future of our Church.
As Franciscans, we are to be messengers of hope and joy, as our Rule and General Constitutions tell us:
Rule 19 Following the Gospel, secular Franciscans, therefore, affirm their hope and their joy in living. They make a contribution to counter widespread distress and pessimism, preparing for a better future.
Secular Franciscans should commit themselves to create in their environment and, above all, in their fraternities, a climate of faith and hope…
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We know that God is the God of hope, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
Hope is tied to faith. Where there is faith, there is hope. “By the death of your Son, you have given us hope, born of faith, by his rising again fulfill this hope in the perfect love of heaven”. (Holy Week – Liturgy of the Hours)
Our lives hang on the reality of hope, hope in our family, to be firm in faith, and hope in eternal life. Hope turns us away from despair because where there is hope there is faith in what we constantly seek. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1.
Hope sustains us when we feel all is lost, especially when we face trials and tribulations in our lives. Again, St. Paul tells in Romans 5:5 “Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” By having hope, we are drawn nearer to God.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1818 – The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which
God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that
inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the
Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him
during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of
eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness
and led to the happiness that flows from charity.
So, during these turbulent times in which we live, let us not give way to despair but be patient. We may not see it now, but God is certainly in control, as we have faith and hope to guide us on our way, to totally rely on God’s plans for us. Therefore, hope is trusting in the Lord. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 1:1
Challenges can help us to live a better Franciscan way of life
Another year has come and gone, we now remember Christmas past and to say a prayer for a healthier New Year. As we enter into this new year, let us ask the question, did we accomplish our goals in 2021? Did we live out our Franciscan vocation to the best of our abilities? Did we see ourselves moving forward on our Franciscan journey?
Yes, God has given us the gift of a new year to learn what we did not learn in 2021. A new year to accomplish those goals yet to be reached. Another year for the opportunity to grow in our Franciscan Spirituality.
The new year will bring many challenges, as we are faced with many unforeseeable changes in 2022. These challenges will allow us the opportunity to help enrich our spiritual life, to the point of sharpening our spiritual senses.
Our worldly and spiritual challenges will help us to strive to better live the Gospel life. Will we be up to the task of turning these challenges (especially negative) into something positive that will reflect who we are as Franciscans? Are not challenges the motivating factor needed to push us forward in living a better Franciscan way of life?
Our General Constitution states:
The Form of Life
— Rule 4,3 open to the challenges that come from society and from the Church’s life situation, “going from Gospel to life and from life to Gospel”;
- Aware that God wanted to make of us all a single people and that he made his Church the universal sacrament of salvation, the brothers and sisters should commit themselves to a faith-inspired reflection on the Church, its mission in today’s world, and the role of the Franciscan laity within it. They should take up the challenges and accept the responsibilities that this reflection will lead them to discover.
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When Pope St. John Paul II stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, after his election in October 1978, his first words were, “Be not afraid”. He is challenging us to be not afraid to step out of our comfort zone and make a difference.
In his first homily as pontiff, he tells us “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man”. He alone knows it.”
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If we start with the small challenges and work our way up to the really big challenges, we can make a difference. We can be an example to others by helping them embrace the challenges they fear accepting.
When we awake from sleep each morning and put our feet to the floor, the opportunity awaits us to face new challenges, whether it be at home, at work, or even in our Church. Challenges are needed for us to better understand the world in which we live and to put into action the commitment we made at our profession.
My 2022 challenge to you, is to turn your challenges into something fruitful. Challenges allow you the opportunity to show who you are that reflects your way of life as a Franciscan.
As we enter into the season of celebrations, we have so much to be thankful for. Many families and friends will gather around the Thanksgiving table to relive memories of the past, talk about the present, and plan for the future.
Advent, Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, are celebrations of joy. No matter the holiday, they all have one thing in common, they bring peace to the heart.
Advent will be upon us before we know it. The season of Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the baby Jesus. So, it is right and just to rend our hearts of the mundane and to joyfully and spiritually invite the King of Glory, the Prince of Peace to dwell within us.
In the small town of Greccio, of the province of Rieti in the Italian region of Lazio, at Christmastime in 1223, three years before his transition into eternal life, our brother Francis wished to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a new way by replicating that most beautiful night in his native Italy. To this day, you can see the stone used as the manger. Carved in the stone is a V-shaped indentation image where the babe was laid. Still at Christmas, in the town of Greccio, the traditional reenactment of the birth of Jesus can be found in the hearts of the visitors and townspeople.
Our holy father, St. Francis is for us the perfect example of the indwelling of the King of Glory, the Prince of Peace. He shows us what it means to have Jesus living within us.
In the First Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano tells us of Brother Francis’ experiencing the baby Jesus in the manger:
- The Saint of God stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy.
- The Saint of God was vested with Levitical ornaments, for he was a Levite, and with sonorous voice chanted the holy Gospel–an earnest, sweet, clear and loud-sounding voice; inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people who stood around, and uttered mellifluous words concerning the birth of the poor King and the little town of Bethlehem. (And often, when he would name Christ Jesus, aglow with exceeding love he would call Him the Child of Bethlehem, and, uttering the word “Bethlehem” in the manner of a sheep bleating, he filled his mouth with the sound, but even more his whole self with the sweet affection. Moreover, in naming “the Child of Bethlehem” or “Jesus” he would, as it were, lick his lips, relishing with happy palate, and swallowing the sweetness of that word.) There the gifts of the Almighty were multiplied, and a vision of wondrous efficacy was seen by a certain man; for in the manger, he saw a little child lying lifeless, to whom the Saint of God seemed to draw near and (as it were) to rouse the child from the lethargy of sleep. Nor was this vision incongruous; for the child Jesus had been given over to forgetfulness in the hearts of many in whom, by the working of His Grace, He was raised up again through His servant Francis and imprinted on a diligent memory.
At length, the solemn vigil was ended, and each one returned with joy to his own place.
And so, with the passing of Advent and the coming of the celebration of the birth of our Lord, we too can be filled with the joy of Christ in our hearts. Just as St. Francis experienced the joy of the sacred birth at Greccio, along with the visitors and the townspeople about 800 years ago, so can we rejoice in this miracle in our hearts—not just at Christmas time but throughout the year as well.
The St. Margaret of Cortona Regional Executive Council extends best wishes to you and your family for a most blessed Christmas Season and a most joyous New Year.
A Time for Renewal after COVID-19
As our lives begin to slowly emerge from a COVID-19 shell-like cocoon, after seventeen months, we turn our thoughts to coming back to public gatherings and shared events. A majority of us attended monthly gatherings by Zoom technology or did not attend the meetings at all. What became apparent to me, during the lockdown period, was how much I missed coming together at our physical gatherings.
As we return to normal, as much as possible, I thought, now would be a wonderful time to renew our commitment promises we made at our profession, our commitment to the Rule, and our commitment to the Order. To reawaken the Franciscan spirit that lives deep within each one of us.
By returning to fraternal life and getting back to attending to the responsibilities in our fraternity, our apostolates, and to one another, we will once again experience the joy of sharing the common ground that makes us Franciscans. The joy of becoming living stones in the Order, in our Church, and in the world.
As we often do, we take life for granted, or sometimes we do not appreciate what we have, and some of us may even take our Franciscan vocation for granted. Do we take to heart what it means to be a Secular Franciscan, or are we just clanging cymbals?
Our Seraphic Father St. Francis gave us a beautiful gift, our Order, which today numbers over 300,000 members worldwide, in over 120 countries. As you can see above, our Order bears much fruit as stated in Matthew 7:16 “By their fruits, you will know them.” I do believe our Seraphic Father knew what he was doing when he professed our first Sister and Brother of Penance, Blessed Luchesio Modestini and his wife, Buonadonna.
In Poggibonzi, Italy, Francis visited Luchesio, with whom he had become acquainted through former business transactions. Francis greatly rejoiced to find the desire in Luchesio and Buonadonna, to want to live, as a layperson, a simple life that would be pleasing to God.
Francis explained to Luchesio and Buonadonna his plans for the establishment of an order for laypeople; for he had in mind to give them a special rule according to which they could serve God perfectly even in the world. On learning of St. Francis’s plan, Luchesio and Buonadonna asked to be a part of this future Order. Thus, according to tradition, they became the first members of the Sisters and Brothers of Penance, which later came to be called the Third Order (and today called the Secular Franciscan Order).
From our first Franciscan sister and brother, and down through the ages, they have shown us how to be in the world but not of the world. They were examples of what it meant to live out a Franciscan vocation.
As our Rule tells us:
- 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.
So, this brings me back to the beginning of my message, “A Time for Renewal after COVID-19”. Now is the perfect time to rediscover our Franciscan way of life, to live more fully our commitment to the gospel life and to share the precious gift of our Order, not only with our Franciscan family but also with all those we encounter, our universal sisters and brothers.
Dear sisters and brothers in Francis and Clare,
Wow! what a quick three years since our 2018 Regional Elections. As we start the 2021 – 2024 term with a new elected council, I want to thank our sisters and brothers who served on the 2018 – 2021 council, namely:
Mary Catherine Bibro, Mike Coleman, Rita Colleran, Barbara Countryman, Gil Donohue, Harry Ford, Peggy Gregory, Michael Huether, Peggy Nicholson, Peter Noyes, Vera Stewart, and Monica Zevallos. Thank you for stepping up to the plate as servant leaders.
I would also like to thank our Spiritual Assistants who also served from 2018 – 2021:
Br. Matthew Hindelang, OFM Cap., Brother Michael Meza, OFM Cap., Fr. Charley Miller, OFM, Anne Mulqueen, OFS, (OFM Conv. delegated), Fr. Kevin Queally, TOR, Fr. Kevin Treston, OFM. The past regional council appreciates your work, time and efforts you unselfishly gave to the region and to our Secular Franciscan sisters and brothers.
I would like to introduce the newly elected 2021 – 2024 regional council, and a big THANK YOU for your desire to respond to the Holy Spirits call to serve:
Vice Minister – Mike Huether, OFS
Secretary – Mary Rohde, OFS
Treasurer – Peter Noyes, OFS
Formation Director – Rita Colleran, OFS
Regional Area Councilor for MD/PA Area – Jackie Holzel, OFS
Regional Area Councilor for Central & So.MD/DEL Area – Mary Tchida Badjo, OFS
Regional Area Councilor for Metro DC Area – Janice Benton, OFS
Regional Area Councilor for Northern/Middle VA Area – Randy Bender, OFS
Regional Area Councilor for Southern VA Area – Sita Chakrawarti, OFS
The new council would also like to welcome Br. Iggy Harding, OFM to the team, along with our returning Spiritual Assistants, Br. Michael Meza OFM Cap., Anne Mulqueen, OFS, OFM Conv. (Delegate), and Fr. Kevin Queally, TOR.
As all are aware, COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on our regional fraternal visitations and elections’ schedules, not to say local fraternity activities. Although we were not able to attend public gatherings, we were able to make adjustments by taking advantage of modern technology (Zoom).
In the past year, most fraternities were able to communicate by Zoom and hold monthly online gatherings. Although this must not be the norm, once we are able to meet together in public for our monthly gatherings, Zoom must not be an option.
As we slowly come back to some sort of normal, the area councilors will once again be contacting the local fraternity ministers to schedule in-person fraternal visitations and pastoral visitations. We will need to start from scratch to set up a new three-year schedule for each fraternity; please be patient with us.
As for local fraternity elections, many of the fraternities were able to publicly gather to hold their scheduled elections. Top priority will be given to fraternities that are overdue for elections.
We have two events scheduled for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not have a weekend retreat as originally planned at The Loyola Retreat Center in Potomac Maryland. Instead, we will have a one-day Zoom Retreat on Saturday, May 22nd from 9 AM to 4 PM. Our Zoom subscription will allow us to host 100 people for the retreat. We still have several slots open. If you would like to attend, please email email@example.com to be placed on the Zoom invite list. In your request, please indicate which fraternity you belong to.
The new council will be looking into possibly holding a weekend retreat for 2022 at The Loyola Retreat Center. This will depend where we are with COVID-19 in 2022.
At the May regional council meeting, we will begin to look for a host place for our November 2021 Chapter of Ministers Meeting. Again, this will depend on the status of COVID-19 as to whether we will be able to publicly hold the Chapter. If we are still under restrictions in the fall, we will have another Zoom Chapter. Stay tuned for updates.
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
We often take for granted our family, friends and work. We consider our fraternity our family, as we often call each other sisters and brothers. In our home family life, we work and in our Franciscan family we also work, we call this work apostolates.
What is the purpose of an apostolate in a fraternity? Simple, an apostolate is a ministry, a mission, a service to and for the Church. To bring others to know Christ and his love for all of us. An apostolate can be an instrument used to evangelize, to meet a need, to be of service to one another. An apostolate can be in the form of corporal works of mercy such as, feeding the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, and give alms to the poor.
We can also add, to cloth the naked, provide assistance when and wherever needed. Provide funding for rent, to keep the electricity turned on, provide transportation to and from appointments and the list goes on and on. An apostolate energizes a fraternity, it gives the members the opportunity to work together, to share their talents not only with other fraternity members but also with those they are serving.
An apostolate gives life and sustains the growth needed for a fraternity to exist. Our Church has gifted us with many, many opportunities to be disciples of Christ by providing for those in need, volunteering at soup kitchens. As Eucharistic Ministers for the homebound, visit the sick in hospitals and work in prison ministry.
Our SFO General Constitutions tell us:
- It is the duty of the council of the local fraternity:
— to make concrete and courageous choices, appropriate for the situation of the fraternity, from among the numerous activities possible in the field of the apostolate.
- The vocation to “rebuild” the Church ought to induce the brothers and sisters sincerely to love and to live the union with the local Church in which they develop their own vocation and realize their apostolic commitment, aware that in the diocese the Church of Christ is truly functioning.
- The secular Franciscans should fulfil with dedication the duties with which they are occupied in their relations to the local Church. They should lend their help to activities of the apostolate as well as to the social activities existing in the diocese. In the spirit of service, they should make themselves present, as the fraternity of the SFO, within the life of the diocese. They should be ready to collaborate with other ecclesial groups and to participate in pastoral councils.
- The Secular Franciscans should collaborate with the bishops and follow their directions in so far as they are the moderators of the ministry of the Word and of the Liturgy and the coordinators of the various forms of apostolate in the local Church.
- The fraternities established in a parish church should seek to co-operate in the animation of the parochial community, in the liturgy and in fraternal relations. They should integrate themselves into the pastoral apostolate as a whole, with preference for those activities more congenial to the Secular Franciscan tradition and spirituality.
Our fraternity apostolates and our individual apostolates can bring hope to those who feel there is no hope. To respect the dignity of all by our words and actions that will encourage us and others to grow spiritually. The offering of service will allow us to shine and be the light of Christ to others by our love for one another. This is what is meant by ongoing conversion, a conversion of the heart. As members of the Franciscan family, serving others, whether in fraternity or outside fraternity, is to live the Gospel life.
Sisters and brothers in Francis and Clare,
What does it mean to be in Fraternity?
Our world and our Church have been shaken to their very core these past few months. With the onslaught of the coronavirus and the new experience of a Lenten Season like never before, we have had to make changes in how we live and how we pray. Through all of this, I have come to appreciate my gift of faith as well as the gift of being in fraternity more and more. The songwriter, Thomas Haynes Bayly, in his song, “Isle of Beauty”, (1939) uses the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. And so, it does, when you are not able to receive the Sacraments or attend monthly gatherings.
Eventually, we will be able to return to having our monthly fraternity gatherings, so, I would like to take this time to talk about what does it mean to be in fraternity? I read with interest the 2019 Annual Reports I received from each fraternity minister, many of the fraternity’s apostolate(s) were filled with a genuine Franciscan spirit. Although we are not a religious Order but a Secular Order, as such we are a living Franciscan community, therefore, active fraternity life is essential for the growth of the Order.
Our SFO General Constitutions is the foundation of what it means to be in fraternity:
- In the fraternity, the brothers and sisters should promote mutual understanding and they should see to it that the atmosphere of their meetings is welcoming and that it reflects joy. They should encourage one another for the good. (Article 26.2)
- The fraternity of the SFO finds its origin in the inspiration of Saint Francis of Assisi to whom the Most High revealed the essential gospel quality of life in fraternal communion. (Article 28.1)
- The sense of co-responsibility of the members requires personal presence, witness, prayer, and active collaboration, in accordance with each one’s situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity. (Article 30.2)
- Participation in the meetings of the local fraternity is indispensable presupposition for initiation into community prayer and into fraternity life. (Article 40.3)
- Profession does not only commit those professed to the fraternity, but also in the same way it commits the fraternity to be concerned with their human and religious well-being. (Article 42.4)
- Fidelity to their own charism, Franciscan and secular, and the witness of building fraternity sincerely and openly are their principal services to the Church, which is the community of love. They should be recognized in it by their “being”, from which their mission springs. (Article 100.3)
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A Fraternity is only as strong and productive as the members who contribute to making it, an active and vibrant community. Just as each one of us is on a Franciscan journey, so too, is each fraternity. A fraternity, to remain alive, needs the involvement of each of its members.
Below are suggestions I would like to offer to help your fraternity become an active community:
- create a spirit of belonging to each of its members, a true sense of community, as participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the Secular Franciscan Order
- communication between the council and the fraternity members is extremely important
- survey the needs and wants of the fraternity members periodically, for as times change so do the needs of the fraternity
- the council works for the good of the fraternity and the Order
- a good formation team is needed to ensure growth and vitality, especially for ongoing formation at monthly gatherings.
- during initial formation, encourage future professed to be servant leaders by holding an office at the local level and at the regional council level
- participate in other fraternities’ activities
- nurture the fraternity members’ Franciscan vocation, so they may continue seeking the desire to be spiritually fed
- a good way to strengthen a fraternity is to have an apostolate, this will help bring members together by being actively involved
- make use of the talents and special gifts that each fraternity member brings with them
- excused members must not be forgotten, and should never be excluded from the fraternity because of their inability to attend gatherings; we should help them feel they are still connected to their fraternity. Remember one day we may also be unable to attend gatherings!
At our October 2019 National Chapter meeting in Corpus Christi Texas, our National Minister, Jan Parker, OFS stated:
“Our National Priority for the next three years is Fraternity. God has called
us to this fraternal gathering, a privileged place, where we must listen together to God and to each other, to do the business of the Order, sharing our needs, hopes and joy with each other. To build a fraternity and not just a prayer group, you must build relationships.”
We can also apply Jan’s statement within our own fraternity.
As we eventually recover from this coronavirus pandemic, let us pray for the virtue of Hope, that people will return to God and seek a deeper religious experience in living the Gospel life.
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
I would like to touch on our Secular Franciscan vocation. Our vocation is a gift from God, a call to a certain way of life. Our Franciscan vocation is a part of God’s plan for us to seek a deeper, more meaningful spiritual life.
Remember when you entered candidacy and received your Tau Cross and how it made you feel. Think about how you felt at your profession when you said:
“Therefore, in my secular state, I promise to live all the days of my life the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order by observing its Rule of life.” How has your life changed since the day of your profession?
These are moments to be shared with those outside our Franciscan communities. Who knows, this could be a wake-up call for someone who may be searching for a deeper inner spiritual life and may have a Franciscan vocation and not realize it.
Our Franciscan vocation is a precious gift, for as Matthew 22:14 tells us “many are called, but few are chosen.”
Sharing our Franciscan journey with others, to evangelize both verbally and by our actions is what will draw faith-filled Catholics to the Secular Franciscan Order. We live in a world of uncertainty, a Church that has become more challenging. Yes, these are hard times, but a time when saints are made.
This early writing of Saint Francis is an exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Penitents, lay people who desired to share in Francis’ Gospel vision:
The First Letter to the Faithful
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, their whole soul and mind, and with their strength, and love their neighbor as themselves, and who despise the tendency in their humanity to sin, receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and bring forth from within themselves the fruits worthy of true penance.
How happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them because “the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon them,” and the Lord will make “His home and dwelling place with them.”
They are the children of the Heavenly Father whose work they do. They are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are his spouses when the faithful soul is united by the Holy Spirit with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are brothers when we do the will of the Father who is in Heaven.
We are mothers when we bear Him in our hearts and bodies with divine love and with pure and sincere consciences, and we give birth to him through a holy life that should enlighten others because of our example.
Our General Constitutions tell us:
- The promotion of vocations to the Order is a duty of all the brothers and sisters and is a sign of the vitality of the fraternities themselves.
The brothers and sisters, convinced of the validity of the Franciscan way of life, should pray that God may give the grace of the Franciscan vocation to new members.
Let us pray for Franciscan vocations for all three Orders, that others may hear the call to seek a deeper more meaningful spiritual life.
Almighty and eternal God, in your unfailing care you provide your Church with witnesses of your love for us. We pray for those whom you call to a way of life to rebuild your Church, following the way of our holy seraphic father, St. Francis of Assisi. Inspire in them a generous response. Grant them courage and vision to answer the challenge of living the gospel life in fraternity. May their lives and service encourage people to respond to the presence of the Spirit. – Amen
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
What is Franciscan Joy? In order to understand Franciscan Joy, we need to start at the very beginning of our Franciscan journey. Why did we become Franciscan? What were we searching for? What was to be our ultimate goal? All of us can come up with a handful of reasons for coming into the Order. Once professed, we are expected to put these reasons into practice and ultimately experience Franciscan Joy.
As human beings, we are all searching for happiness, and what does happiness bring? It brings joy. According to the Webster dictionary, “joy is the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; to be glad; rejoice, to gladden.”
Does your Franciscan joy fit into any of the above definitions? If yes, how, if no, why? Each and every one of us experiences joy in a variety of ways and at different levels; it all depends on where we are on our Franciscan Journey.
As Franciscans, our joy comes from the Holy Spirit, who gives us peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and love. Our Franciscan commitment fosters growth in a very special way, to live the Gospel life, the source of our joy.
When you experience the Holy Spirit within you, you have joy and peace that others see and desire. St. John Paul II often told us, “Be not afraid.” Let us be not afraid to share this beautiful gift of joy with others, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.
Peace and joy are gifts from God, who is, and these gifts dwell within us. True joy is contagious. It needs to be set free so that it can be shared with others. Our Pauline Rule and our General Constitutions tell us to be messengers of Joy and Hope:
Rule 13 […] A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.
Rule 19 Following the Gospel, Secular Franciscans therefore affirm their hope and their joy in living. They make a contribution to counter widespread distress and pessimism, preparing a better future. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.
Article 26 General Constitutions
- Even in suffering, Francis experienced confidence and joy from:
— the experience of the fatherhood of God;
— the invincible faith of rising with Christ to eternal life;
— the experience of being able to meet and praise the Creator in the universal fraternity of all creatures.
- In the fraternity, the brothers and sisters should promote mutual understanding and they should see to it that the atmosphere of their meetings is welcoming and that it reflects joy. They should encourage one another for the good.
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At Greccio, our holy father St. Francis found joy in the reenactment of that most holy night in Bethlehem, just as we will experience joy during this Christmas Season as we celebrate the birth of God’s beloved Son.
Luke, Chapter 2:8-10 tells us:
8 In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night.
9 An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified,
10 but the angel said, “Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all the people.”
I can only imagine Francis experiencing this great joy when he held the baby Jesus in his arms at Greccio, “a joy to be shared by the whole people.”
Joy is God within us. If we are filled with joy, the Holy Spirit can use us as His instrument to overcome the evil in our midst. In our joy we bring hope to the hopeless and comfort to those in need of comfort, for joy brings peace not only to us but to all we meet. Joy is the love we give to others. As Saint Augustine tells us, “we become what we receive.” He is talking about the Eucharist, but we can apply this to joy as well.
Wishing you and your family a most blessed Christmas Season.
August 2019 Regional Ministers Message
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
In June 2019 the Franciscan Conventuals ended their month-long General Chapter and met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. In his message to the Conventual Franciscans, Pope Francis invited them to live in a spirit of fraternity, littleness, and peace.
After reading the papal message, I realized that this message can also apply to the Secular Franciscan way of life.
I would like to summarize a few of our Holy Father’s comments from his message:
- Your Constitution guarantees the Order’s charism and its extension into the future.
- The Gospel is the Franciscans’ “rule and life” and the mission is to be a living Gospel.
- Fraternity is a central aspect of life for those who follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. “Fraternity is a gift to welcome with gratitude. It is a reality ever ‘on the path,” in construction, which requires each person’s contribution.”
- Littleness is a difficult path because it is opposed to worldly logic, which seeks success at any cost and desires to occupy the first place.
- Francis told Franciscans to be humble and to spend their lives in the service of others.
- Preach peace, in the spirit of the traditional Franciscan greeting: “Pax et bonum.”
Peace can be interpreted as reconciliation with ourselves, with God, with others, and with creatures.
Reconciliation consists in concentric circles that begin in the heart and extend out to embrace the whole universe. But in reality, it begins in the heart of God, the heart of Christ.
This type of peace is more than an absence of problems because it emanates from the presence of God within us.
- Living a life of fraternity, littleness, and peace requires continuous formation that promotes gradual conformation to Christ, in every sphere of life. It is a personalized formation of the heart, that changes our way of thinking, feeling, and acting; a formation that teaches fidelity.
As Secular Franciscans, how do we live our way of life both in our fraternities and outside of our fraternities?
Our Rule tells us:
- [The local fraternity] becomes the basic unit of the whole Order and a visible sign of the Church, the community of love. This should be the privileged place for developing a sense of Church and the Franciscan vocation and for enlivening the apostolic life of its members.
Our General Constitution gives us guidelines as to what it means to be in fraternity. I have cited a few Articles for you to ponder:
In the fraternity, the brothers and sisters should promote mutual understanding and they should see to it that the atmosphere of their meetings is welcoming and that it reflects joy. They should encourage one another for the good.
Sections 1. The brothers and sisters are co-responsible for the life of the fraternity to which they belong and for the SFO as the organic union of all fraternities throughout the world.
Section 2. The sense of co-responsibility of the members requires personal presence, witness, prayer, and active collaboration, in accordance with each one’s situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity.
Section 3. Participation in the meetings of the local fraternity is indispensable presupposition for initiation into community prayer and into fraternity life.
Section 4. Profession does not only commit those professed to the fraternity, but also in the same way it commits the fraternity to be concerned with their human and religious well-being.
Section 3. Insertion into a local fraternity and participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the SFO.
Section 4. The fraternity remembers with gratitude its brothers and sisters who have passed away and continues its communion with them by prayer and in the Eucharist.
Section 2. The secular Franciscans should fulfill with dedication the duties with which they are occupied in their relations to the local Church. They should lend their help to activities of the apostolate as well as to the social activities existing in the diocese. In the spirit of service, they should make themselves present, as the fraternity of the SFO, within the life of the diocese. They should be ready to collaborate with other ecclesial groups and to participate in pastoral councils.
Section 3. Fidelity to their own charism, Franciscan and secular, and the witness of building fraternity sincerely and openly are their principal services to the Church, which is the community of love. They should be recognized in it by their “being”, from which their mission springs.
Sisters and brothers, as we continue on our Franciscan Spiritual journey let us keep in mind the importance of coming together in fraternity. The Secular Franciscan Order is not just an Order within itself, but plays an important role in the Church and thus helps make up the Church. Therefore, our Franciscan roots make us successors of St. Francis.
May 2019 Regional Ministers Message
Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent, surely those who do so will never be lost. – 2 Peter 1:10
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
As we come to the closing of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of our Pauline Rule, I would like to reflect on the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, “The Proclamation of the Kingdom,” and how our Rule plays an important part in living out the gospel life. A large portion of our Rule invites us to proclaim the Kingdom of God to others daily.
Below are a few examples of our Rule for you to meditate on, to help keep us grounded as we live out each day, keeping in mind “The Proclamation of the Kingdom”:
Rule 6. They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.
Rule 8. As Jesus was the true worshiper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.
Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.
Rule 10. …Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.
Rule 11. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel, they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.
Rule 12. Witnessing to the good yet to come….
Rule 13. As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.
A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.
Rule 14. Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively….
Rule 15. Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives….
Rule 16. Let them esteem work both as a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community.
Rule 17. In their family they should cultivate the Franciscan spirit of peace, fidelity, and respect for life, striving to make of it a sign of a world already renewed in Christ.
Rule 18. Moreover, they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which “bear the imprint of the Most High,” and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.
Rule 19. Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.
Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.
Sisters and brothers, just because the celebration of our Rule is coming to a close does not mean we stop proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Our visibility and our actions are a sign of hope, love and peace to others.
February 2019 Regional Ministers Message
Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent, surely those who do so will never be lost. – 2 Peter 1:10
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare,
Our celebration of the birth of Christ has come and gone and another year has begun. At the celebration of the Epiphany, we heard the story of the Magi on their journey, bearing gifts, and searching for the Christ child. The journey of the Magi recalls our Franciscan journey and the gifts we bear throughout the year.
As we continue to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of our Pauline Rule, the Rule is that gift that keeps on giving, our way of life is that gift. Our profession tells us, and the world, that we have made a commitment to live the gospel life and to share this beautiful gift with others by our words and actions.
Our Rule is our daily guidepost and I would like to bring your attention to Rule #4, #5 and #7:
#4. 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. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.
#5. 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.
#7. United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father’s mercy and the source of grace.
Sisters and brothers, our world needs us now more than ever before. Our cities are crying out for peace, for justice, for love, but most of all for the loss of faith. We Franciscans can bring that peace, justice, love and faith to all those we meet daily. You may say, I live the gospel life. But do we live it daily? I am reminded of the reading from the book of Micah: 8 “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God”. I would like to leave you with these thoughts:
If you see someone looking sad and alone, give them a smile, or even better, strike up a conversation.
If you see someone in need of help, give them a helping hand.
When you receive something from someone, say thank you with a smile and even say “Bless you”. You never know whose life you may change or even make for a better day.
Talk to others as if you were talking to Jesus.
These small gestures can brighten a person’s day.
Our gospel way of life could not be any easier to live than this.
November 9, 2018, Regional Ministers Message
Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent, surely those who do so will never be lost. – 2 Peter 1:10
Be not Afraid of Who We Are
Sisters and Brothers in Francis and Clare, may the Lord give you His peace!
I attended our National Chapter in St. Louis Missouri last month and much discussion focused on the current crisis in our Church. Once again, as was in the year 2000, our Church is shaken to its very core with new accusations of sexual abuse by priest and bishops, not only in our country but around the world. We are not unique in what is happening in our Church; other confessions of faith are experiencing the same problems, we can even find this crisis in our public institutions and in families.
Those priests who engaged in abusive acts need our prayers. We have many, many good priests who, through no fault of their own, are caught up in this crisis and need our encouragement, support and prayers as this is the beginning of difficult times for them.
Just as important, we need to pray for the victims of all kinds of abuse. We need to be a voice for them, to be present for them by listening, being available to support them whenever and wherever possible, and if possible, to help them in their struggles. Let us also not forget the vulnerable and hurting young people who need healing and direction in their lives.
We can be a light in the world for those who continue to hide in darkness because some have no one to turn to for consolation.
Our Rule and General Constitutions tell us exactly what we need to do:
Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.
Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others…..
Article 22 of our General Constitutions
- Secular Franciscans should “be in the forefront … in the field of public life.” They should collaborate as much as possible for the passage of just laws and ordinances.
- The fraternities should engage themselves through courageous initiatives, consistent with their Franciscan vocation and with the directives of the Church, in the field of human development and justice. They should take clear positions whenever human dignity is attacked by any form of oppression or indifference. They should offer their fraternal service to the victims of injustice.
We Franciscans are also hurting, but, we need to be supportive of all our sisters and brothers who are feeling the pain of this crisis. We all need to stay focused on the real meaning of our faith, that is Jesus our Lord and the Holy Eucharist. He is our hope, and He will help us through the trials and tribulations yet to come.
“Let us not allow painful memories to take possession of our heart, even in the face of evil’s repeated assaults; let us not surrender. Let us do, rather, as Noah did, who after the flood did not tire of looking at the sky and of releasing the dove many times, until once it returned to him carrying a tender olive leaf (Genesis 8:11): it was the sign that life could be taken up again and hope could rise again.” Pope Francis
Yes, we are living in troubled times and our visibility as Secular Franciscans is needed more than ever. I say “DO NOT DESPAIR” and as St. John Paul II often said, “BE NOT AFRAID”.