Superheroes are everywhere these days! So many movies feature heroes endowed with extraordinary powers, most doing good and saving the world. Though we may admire them, still we recognize that (in the main) they are depicted as individuals working alone and then taking all the credit for their amazing achievements. But that’s not how friars are called to play their part in the building of God’s Reign. Mission is possible only if it is based on unity in diversity and on a cooperative approach that values the gifts of many.
This is one of the insights emphasized by the members of the Plenary Council who are now in the process of summarizing key points that have emerged over the last ten working days. For sure, many new and well-established ministries need to be reviewed or properly implemented, but it is essential that this be done within the context of fraternity.
The Friars Minor are called to live the Gospel in fraternity. For many years now, the Order has affirmed that we are all brothers, and that in our living and working together as brothers we bring the inspirations of our Franciscan charism to the Church and the world.
While this is the ideal, our Minister General, Michael Perry, OFM, has observed that there are instances of friars who feel isolated, of others who live alone, and others who are lodgers — as if they were renting a room at the “St. Francis Hotel”! Another issue is that in some entities lay friars cannot fully participate in our common mission of evangelization, as is their right by virtue of their baptism.
The Council Members saw that training to be “fraternities-in-mission” must begin in our programs of Initial Formation and also be fostered through Ongoing Formation, with a particular emphasis on being contemplative fraternities. Finally, international fraternities have a special role in promoting diversity and cooperation. Mission is indeed possible when the Spirit moves in the band of brothers!
June 21st — with just a week of the PCO left, today saw the process of discernment continue, enriched by a review of the Mandates of the last General Chapter.
The 2015 General Chapter of the Friars Minor took place at the “Basilica of the Portiuncula” in the beautiful city of Assisi, Italy — where Saint Francis was born, raised, and reborn to eternal life. From May 10th to June 6th of that year, friars from all over the world discussed and celebrated Franciscan identity and produced a final document with decisions and mandates.
Vicar General, Br. Julio Bunader ofm, made a presentation on these mandates and detailed the efforts undertaken by the General Definitory over the last three years. He made particular mention of advances made in the following areas: guidelines on Franciscan life, mission, formation, JPIC, and the contemplative dimension of the friars’ lives; living vowed poverty more authentically through ensuring proper financial administration and accountability; fostering a closer relationship between the entities of the Order.
Br. Julio remarked that “the decisions and mandates of the 2015 Chapter are still relevant today and they need to be fully implemented in the daily life and service of the Provinces, fraternities, and every individual friar.”
Hope, enthusiasm, brotherhood, and continued deep reflection on the Franciscan charism were evident in how the Council Members engaged in today’s sessions. During the afternoon they made a short trip to visit the large Formation house in Langata, Nairobi, where a para-liturgy with a JPIC theme was celebrated. The joy and vitality of the young friars of the hosting Province of St. Francis (East Africa), and those from other entities, lifted the hearts of those who were privileged to be part of the fraternal gathering.
Today, on 20th June, the Plenary Council of the Order gathered at 9.00 am.
The reading of the passage of the Legenda Maior where St. Francis admonishes the friars to live “after the manner of the poor” and “as strangers and pilgrims” guided the councillors’ day to open their hearts to what God wanted to give them during the day in a spirit of discernment, vision and imagination.
Following the methodology of the “World cafe” this morning’s theme was: “Evangelization in the spirit of Laudato Si’”. Pope Francis in this encyclical highlights how one cannot expect to build a better future without thinking about the environmental crisis and the suffering of the marginalised. And how can we Franciscan friars be an “evangelical” fraternity, always open to the new challenges of society?
What might happen if we started a new way of presenting evangelization and catechesis to young people, using the vision and spirituality of the encyclical Laudato Si’?
The second theme addressed this morning was: “A rapidly changing world”. Our current society is characterized by the speed of the process of change and transformation, a fact that must be accepted. The councillors were invited to examine how our society affects our lives and is affected by these changes and to ask how might it be possible to make positive change, guided by the light of the Gospel.
In the afternoon, the councillors were instead invited to work on two themes: “Instruments of Peace in the face of contemporary violence” and “Religious life and Pope Francis’ vision.”
What would happen if we were able to respond creatively to the new forms of violence in our world today? And what would Pope Francis ask of us if he were here now and what have we friars minor in particular to offer to the Church guided pastorally by Pope Francis? These were some of the questions that helped our discussion.
Afterwards the friars were invited to view a documentary: “The Sultan and the saint” promoted by the University of St. Bonaventure in New York to celebrate the VIII Centenary of the meeting of St. Francis with the Sultan 1219-2019. The documentary was well made and showed the interior and exterior pilgrimage that led St. Francis to meet the sultan. This was very relevant in our current context characterized by disputes and fears among peoples.
Immediately afterwards the friars celebrated Mass presided over by Br. Julio Bunader and animated by the students of our formation house in Langata.
The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, in v.1 offers us a principle that defines the text when it says: “Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Mt 6,1).
Normally, the liturgy proposes that we meditate on today’s Gospel (Mt 6,1-6,16-18) during the Lenten season. On the occasion of the Plenary Council, a time to listen and discern, I consider it important to let ourselves be challenged by the words of Jesus, who warns us: do not act in order to be seen by others (see Mt 6,1). It is an exhortation where the term “righteousness” is used, in the sense of “good works” performed according to the will of God. Let’s consider some aspects:
Do good. We know that an action can be transformed into ineffective or incorrect practice, when the intention of the person who performs it is corrupted. If we apply it to the three typical works of piety: almsgiving (vv 2-4), prayer (vv 5-6) and fasting (vv 16-18), we can see that the evangelist highlights two different patterns of acting, which refer to two types of people: those who seek to be recognized by others, and those who perform the works in obedience to the will of God. Two expressions, two truths and intentions: those who seek self-fulfilment and gratification, and those who seek God in the secret of their own heart – the Father “sees what is done in secret” (Mt 6,6) -, stripped of themselves and possessed by God, a principle that influences them in the practice of good.
Honesty. Those whom Jesus is addressing, according to the Gospel, are the pious believers of his time. He clarifies that “doing good” may be motivated by the pursuit of self-interest. The exercise of righteousness may be threatened by the danger of the superficial, and even of hypocrisy (cf Mt 6,2.5.16). Let’s remember that “pretending holiness” has little or nothing to do with good works. On the contrary, they are actions taken to obtain prestige, including using people or the community to affirm one’s own ideas or interests. To this action and/or religiosity, the Gospel contrasts the faith that arises from an intimate relationship with the Lord – in secret (cf. Mt 6,4.6) – and grounded in sincerity. They are those who do not seek to be known by others (cf. Mt 6,18).
Gratuity. The gospel begins with the warning: Be careful! (v.1) Beware, he says, of the practice of righteousness and the motivations for exercising it. Jesus asks us to be alert to what lies beneath, that is: if I practice righteousness to look good, then it acquires a “negative nuance”, because the outlook is altered. It becomes a lack of authenticity and even injustice. If the achievement of good is expolited, with deeds that seek recognition of the people, applause will be received. On the contrary, “to practice righteousness” according to the Gospel, must be done in favour of others and for others, to be in tune with God’s will; these will be “rewarded” (cf. Mt 6,4.6.18). This affirmation comforts and encourages those who act in silence, in a hidden way and do not boast about the results.
I wish to conclude by recalling the exhortation of St. Francis of Assisi, in the earlier Rule: “Therefore, let all the brothers, beware of all pride and vainglory. Let us guard ourselves from the wisdom of this world and the prudence of the flesh.” […], because “he wants and desires to have a religion and a holiness outwardly apparent to people. In everything, let us strive “for humility and patience, the pure, simple and true peace of the spirit. ” (Rnb 17,9-16).
Brothers, let us ask God the Father to help us with the Spirit to follow Jesus Christ, in simplicity and truth of life, so that our mission may be the proclamation of the “joy of the Gospel”. May the closeness among the brothers help us in the “practice of righteousness”, in making visible the treasure that is hidden in our hearts (cf. Lk 6,45): “the good things the Lord reveals to us” (Adm. XXI). Amen.
At 9 am a new working session began in this second week of the PCO with a new methodology presented yesterday (the “World Café”). This will allow us to move towards addressing all the various issues that emerged last week.
The first session looked at the topic “Migrants, refugees and people in exile”. Our keynote text described the unprecedented magnitude of migration today and the issues that arise. We asked: How does this phenomenon challenge us? How can we respond to this reality of migration?
Shortly after 11:30 am the second session of the “World Café” began with the theme “Young people”. The keynote text spoke of some of the aspects of young adults from around the world. After finishing this session, a brief summary of the morning’s work was made, and the participants were summoned to resume the work in the third session of the day, at 3 pm. The fourth phase of this session was cancelled to allow the moderators and the facilitators gather and collate the contributions of all the groups.
At the scheduled time, the third session of this day began with the same approach with the theme: “Fraternity in mission.” Our keynote text presented a challenge: How can we undertake new initiatives of “fraternity in evangelizing mission” that integrate the lay brothers in the mission all the brothers, as they sometimes feel excluded from it? From here, the third “World Café” session took place.
At 4 pm the work of the councillors concluded. After giving the moderators and facilitators their tasks, all the participants of the PCO were driven at 7 pm to a restaurant in the area to enjoy an African barbecue, after which, they returned to the Council headquarters to close the day.