Photos courtesy of the Order's website:
The Union of Friars Minor of Europe met from October 21-25 in Rome to discuss issues common to their life together. Present were ESC members Hugh McKenna, OFM (Ireland), Michael Copps, OFM, (England), and Astijus Kungys, OFM (Lithuania). The group photo was taken following Mass at the General Curia of the Order on Friday. Today's liturgies were animated by the ESC.
Photos courtesy of the Order's website:
This originally appeared in the October 22, 2013 issue of Around the Province, the newsletter of the Sacred Heart Province.
ST. LOUIS, MO - October 19, 2013 marked a very important event for Macario Torres Torres, OFM. He made his solemn commitment to the Order of Friars Minor in the Province of the Sacred Heart. This solemn event took place at Saint Anthony of Padua Church in Saint Louis, Missouri, which is also the place where Macario previously had made his STiP year (supervised time in the province) from June 2012-June 2013.
Over sixty friars from Chicago and Saint Louis areas travelled to join Macario in his lifelong commitment to the Order. Many of Macario’s friends whose lives he has touched were also in attendance, as well as many parishioners of St. Anthony’s neighboring St. Cecilia parish where he also ministered.
During the homily, which was delivered by Gilberto Cavazos-González, OFM, he reminded Macario of the many joys and struggles that Macario will have to face, but he also encouraged Macario to reflect on the meaning of “following into someone’s footprints, and following into someone’s footsteps,” whereby the latter has the real meaning of following Francis.
The Mass was filled with a wonderful mix of bilingual music. Many friars combined their instrumental and vocal talents with those of the parish choir. Bob Barko, OFM and new parish Music Director Tim Jansen helped direct the choir and play the piano.
At the reception, which followed Mass, over 200 attendees were treated to a huge variety of Mexican foods (and Macario's favorite fried chicken) prepared by parishioners and friends of Macario. Many who were invited could not attend the Profession or reception because of their participation in a weekend retreat. Most of them still prepared their favorite food and dropped it off - a great testament to their admiration and love of Brother Macario. A local DJ and friends also volunteered their time and talent to provide festive music for the recep-tion.
“Our vision is to build a national brotherhood of Franciscan Friars
who give their lives to embody Gospel values.”
- Vision Statement of the Interprovincial Commission
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM
October 15, 2013 617-209-4410 • [email protected]
Last December, the administrations of all seven U.S. Franciscan (OFM) Provinces held a first-of-its-kind meeting in Milwaukee to begin a process to envision what Franciscan life might look in this country like as we head into the future.
Faced with fewer vocations than in decades past and ever-changing demographics of the populations we have traditionally served, the leaders of our Franciscan communities gathered to consider the best ways to organize resources and man power to strengthen the Franciscan witness in the United States in the years ahead.
One result was the formation of an Interprovincial Commission tasked with exploring the question of the mission, vision and values to enable U.S. friars to face the challenges of the 21st century; as well as, looking at new areas of collaboration and proposing possible models of restructuring provinces for the fraternal governance of the friars.
On Monday, October 7, members of the Interprovincial Commission presented the results of their monumental and historic report to the U.S. Provincial Ministers meeting in San Diego.
Today, the Provincials issued a letter to all of the friars of the United States inviting the more than 1,110 friars nationwide “to prayerfully reflect on the work of the Interprovincial Commission and the conclusions we, your Ministers, have drawn from our reading of their deliberations.” Each Province will hold a Provincial Chapter before July 1 of next year to discuss this important initiative.
The Provincials invite the friars of the United States, in the same spirit of those who founded each of their provinces, to “embrace the same faith, creativity and spirit of adventure as we envision our life here, together, for the future.”
NOTE: This story originally appeared in the October 9, 2013 issue of HNP Today, the newsletter of the Holy Name Province.
By Jocelyn Thomas
SAN JUAN. Puerto Rico — A New Jersey native and Siena College graduate, who has served Catholic communities in the Bronx, Boston, Texas and Puerto Rico, was honored last week for his 25th anniversary since he became bishop. Archbishop Roberto González, OFM, archbishop of San Juan, is known as a “champion to the people of this island, of their culture and language, of their neighborhood,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. The archbishop celebrated with clergy and with the public at a variety of commemorations on Oct. 2 and 3.
It was “a very happy occasion” for the people of Puerto Rico, where Archbishop Roberto was installed as archbishop of San Juan in 1999, according to the Oct. 3 article.
Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, participated in the festivities that included meals and liturgies in varied settings.
Being able to celebrate his anniversary with a representative of the Province meant a great deal to Archbishop Rorberto, who said: "The celebration was a very moving experience for me. I am particularly grateful for the presence of Fr. John, our Provincial Minister. I felt the solidarity and love of the entire Province at a time of great trial which has now concluded due to the Lord's merciful compassion toward me.
"The friars of Holy Name Province have always been a source of tremendous solidarity, understanding, support and affection," he added.
Commemorations of Anniversary
The milestone gave Archbishop Roberto a feeling of “profound gratitude to the Lord for his infinite and unconditional mercy and love,” he said. The events were covered in depth by the local newspaper, El Visitante PR, which published a special issue about the Archbishop and his anniversary celebration. Among the articles was one by Alfonso Guzmán, OFM, (Holy Name Province) secretary to the archbishop, titled "Friend, Brother and Boss" when translated from Spanish.
The main festivities were held on Oct. 3 — the date that Archbishop Roberto was ordained a bishop, as auxiliary of Boston in 1988. The day began with an 11 a.m. prayer service for the clergy of the diocese followed by a “very nice meal in a beautiful parish hall,” Fr. John said. That evening, a 7:30 p.m. Mass for the public was celebrated at St. Teresita Church.
Fr. John and the other visitors were taken by police escort to the church by the ocean, where the “major liturgy took place with the governor, members of the legislature, the mayors of San Juan and surrounding jurisdictions, and the public,” Fr. John said.
“After the liturgy, about 80 of us — visiting clergy, representatives of the Vatican, government leaders and ‘special invited guests’ — dined at a local restaurant,” said Fr. John, who enjoyed the local culture.
“The entertainment consisted of men and women in the national dress doing music and dances celebrating the different periods of Puerto Rican history,” Fr. John said. “The music and dancing were superb. They also unveiled a beautiful portrait of Roberto.”
The Provincial Minister began his visit the previous day at lunch with Archbishop Roberto, two bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Fr. John enjoyed the conversations, he said, recalling that “Cardinal Levada spoke of the great ministry that the Franciscans do in the United States. He also said what a great compliment it was to the Order that the pope took the name Francis of Assisi.”
On Wednesday, described as “brutally hot,” Fr. John and other visiting clergy members participated in several less public events.
That evening, he concelebrated a private Mass at 7 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Cathedral with Cardinal Levada and Bishop Álvaro Corrada del Río, S.J., former auxiliary in Washington. Afterward, the visitors attended a dinner hosted by Archbishop Roberto at the archbishop’s residence. Two cardinals were present, Fr. John said, “the other being Cardinal Amico Vallejo, OFM, archbishop emeritus of Seville, Spain. Bishop Corrada and several chancery officials and the representatives of the Apostolic Nuncio’s office were also present.”
“Roberto is really emphasizing his ties to our Province and is obviously proud to be a member of Holy Name Province,” Fr. John said. “I’m glad I came to the celebration, as Roberto was very appreciative. Several local clergy told me how honored they are that the Provincial would attend this celebration.”
The commemoration gave Archbishop Roberto “a unique opportunity to begin an entirely new chapter in my life,” he said, adding that he has “a much deeper awareness of the giftedness of brothers.”
The archbishop was born Roberto Octavio González Nieves in 1950 in Elizabeth, N.J. But when he was a child, his family returned to San Juan, where he grew up in a parish staffed by the friars of the Province. He describes himself as "a child of the Puerto Rican diaspora, my emotional and primary homeland."
He received his elementary education in San Juan, where he remembers first reading about St. Francis in a book called "Las Florecitas de San Francisco." Attracted to being a friar, he enrolled in St. Joseph Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., and then entered the Province's formation program at Siena College, graduating in 1972.
Archbishop Roberto entered the Order that year and was ordained in 1977, serving mainly at the Province's former parish, Holy Cross, in the Bronx, N.Y. Besides his theology degree from the Washington Theological Union, he holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Fordham University. He was made auxiliary bishop of Boston in 1988, becoming the youngest bishop in the country at that time at the age of 38.
In 1995, he became coadjutor bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, succeeding as ordinary in 1997. Two years later, he was named archbishop of San Juan. In 2009, Roberto was recognized by Fordham with its Sapientia et Doctrina award, honoring his contributions to Hispanic ministry.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.
NOTE: This article appeared in the National Catholic Reporter on October 3.
ROME - When Pope Francis travels to Assisi on Friday to visit the home of his 13th-century namesake, he might consider how St. Francis emphasized the individual person over institutions, the leader of the main group of the world's Franciscans said.
Franciscan Fr. Michael Perry said as the pope makes the pilgrimage with the eight cardinals he appointed to help him change the Roman Catholic church, the group should keep in mind a central message of the saint and the Gospels.
"I think the message from the Gospels is clear," Perry said. "Don't let any temptation of power or loss of prestige or loss of supporters -- don't let any of that get in the way of trying to respond honestly to what God might be calling the church to live and to give witness to today."
As the minister general for the Order of Friars Minor, Perry leads 15,000 of those who follow in the footsteps of the medieval saint. He spoke in an interview with NCR Tuesday.
An Indianapolis native who previously served as an adviser to the U.S. bishops and as a missionary to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for 10 years, Perry was elected to lead the order in May.
Speaking from his order's headquarters in Rome, Perry focused on how the Franciscans are interpreting the first pope to take the name of their founder and how they see his trip to their home.
The visit takes place Oct. 4, the day the church celebrates as St. Francis' feast day. The pope will be accompanied by the group of eight cardinals who have been meeting in Rome this week to advise the pontiff on reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. The pope appointed the group, officially known as the Council of Cardinals, in April.
Among the group is Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a member of a separate order of Franciscans known as the Capuchins. While the Vatican has not confirmed whether the cardinals will travel with the pope Friday, they have been invited to make the trip.
During his conversation with NCR, Perry mentioned some of the highlights of a pilgrim's trip to Assisi, including the church of San Damiano, a 12th-century monastery where St. Francis is said to have heard an apparition of Christ tell him to "repair my church."
Perry also focused on what he said he thought was a key need for Christians today.
"We're living in a time now where all of us need to reassume our Christian identities," he said. "We need to clarify what that means for our lives. We need to reframe the questions -- the way we think about our own lives, our use of resources, our relationship with others."
Following is NCR's conversation with Perry. It has been edited for clarity and length.
NCR: As the head of the Franciscans, what does it mean for the pope to go to your home, to Assisi?
Perry: Obviously, it signals to me something very spiritual. In fact, the whole day, if you look at the program of the day, much of what will take place is taking place quietly. The pope is going to be praying while he's there. He's going to retrace the steps of Francis' life, beginning with San Damiano and the call to rebuild the church.
And I think this is significant because he's not going alone; he's going with the commission [of cardinals] he's called to look at rebuilding the church. And then he's going to end with the place where St. Francis died -- he's going to end in Porziuncula.
More importantly, I think for me, what this signals is Pope Francis trying to tell us three things:
No. 1, that Francis of Assisi -- his message is a message that still speaks to the world today. No. 2, I think he's trying to remind us that our life as Catholics, as Christians, as believers, is a spiritual pilgrimage. And No. 3, he's not just going to visit the sites; he's going to serve the poor of Assisi while he's there.
So he's telling us that the relationship between faith and the social doctrine of the church -- reaching out to meet the needs of the world -- these two have to go hand in hand.
I think we've seen that already in other things he's said and in ways that he's demonstrated in his own life -- that the faith has to be a faith that changes the world, that proposes something to the world, that's positive and hope-filled and also is very challenging.
You're talking a lot here about the spirituality of the journey. There are lots of Americans who don't get to go to Assisi. What's the feeling the first time you go to San Damiano or the first time you go to the crypt where St. Francis is buried?
For people who don't have much of a background, the one thing that many people have told me when they left Assisi, without being able to say anything specific to the life of Francis, they've been able to say: When I was there, I felt peace, I felt a sense of sacredness, and I felt that God was speaking to my heart.
Those are the three things I've heard consistently from pilgrims.
I remember the first time I went, but I went as a Franciscan so I had some background already. And I simply went to place myself in the space of the cross that's found near St. Clare, to allow the cross to speak to me today. It was a little bit different experience because I came obviously being in the Franciscans, having made the novitiate, having taken some courses on Franciscan history and spirituality. So it said something very different to me.
But I think the other piece is the joyful Christ. This is the Christ who sits on the cross but who leaps off the cross in a sense and wants to jump back into the world to say that there's hope for the world, there's joy, there's reason for joy.
I know in recent days, there has been a lot more talk of the pope as a Jesuit. But he still has the name Francis. What signs are you seeing in the pontificate or in the way he's acting of a Franciscan spirit or of that name?
What's clear is that this pope has demonstrated, much like other people of faith who are willing to enter honestly into a journey of faith and a journey of life, that he's been transformed. He's been transformed by going and witnessing the strife of people who are hungry, of people who have been mishandled brutally by police or by military, who have experienced war and conflict, who are living with HIV and AIDS, who are under terminal illnesses.
If anything, the name that he chose in a sense is already emblematic of how he's lived his life over the years, taking the subway instead of the cars, living simply in a small apartment instead of a palatial building.
And then on top of that, the challenging words that he's offered to all of us, that faith calls us to be responsible for the world -- for creation, for the poor, for those who are homeless and migrants and refugees. Even challenging us religious that might have empty spaces that we really shouldn't hoard these to ourselves. We need to offer these as a gift to humanity.
Whatever he's going to say in Assisi, to my mind, will be a continuation and equally challenging to what he's already said and done and demonstrated in his own life.
You mentioned the famous apparition to St. Francis at San Damiano of Christ saying, "Go, repair my church" and that the pope will be bringing with him these eight cardinals. Is there something from the Franciscan heritage that you'd point to for the group to consider during the process of church reform?
I think the message from the Gospels is clear as well: Don't let any temptation of power or loss of prestige or loss of supporters, don't let any of that get in the way of trying to respond honestly to what God might be calling the church to live and to give witness to today.
I think that's one thing that the Franciscans have struggled with throughout our heritage.
We have been dragged back -- always by the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel, and the poor -- to have to recognize that no matter how confused we've allowed our lives to get and no matter how we've allowed institutions to take on a role they should never have taken on, too big of a role, instead of placing the human person as front and center.
I think this is something from our own Franciscan experience. And already, I've heard something from the pope from his own sharing, that the Gospel and the dignity of the human person, these should be the things that lead the church.
If that group of cardinals and all of us in the church have the courage to place these in the center, I think we'll be OK.
Placing the person at the center of the church?
That's something the pope has recently said again, and he says this is what Jesus is and what Jesus did and what Jesus does. He places at the center of his ministry, the center of his preaching, the center of his entire mission the human person. And as Franciscans, we would extend it to the entire world. This is what the pope is telling us we must return to.
The institutions have a purpose they serve, but they're at the service of, always: The service of the message of the Gospel, of Jesus, and of the center of God's own mission -- that is humanity and God's creation, so it can be restored, that it can be rejuvenated, that it can be given, in a sense, its original beauty again, its original grace.
What comes with that is also a responsibility. It doesn't just happen. We have to work consciously and seriously at this as human beings and as disciples of Jesus in the church.
Perhaps one other dimension is that Franciscans, although we've struggled over the centuries, we've always remained within the church. So we believe that it's on this foundation that we can build. It's on this foundation that transformation is possible, that change is possible.
And I think this is something that the pope and the cardinals will demonstrate to us: that you don't have to go elsewhere. Catholics don't have to leave in order to have a deep, abiding experience of the Lord Jesus and to be able to live their lives of faith with hope and courage. It can be done inside the church.
In my own reading of St. Francis, there are many key themes. You mention environmentalism, but there is also a very prominent theme of nonviolence. What did you think of the pope's message on Syria and on seeking nonviolent solutions?
We have Franciscans who are still present in Syria, and they are staying there in order to demonstrate that peace and reconciliation are possible. They are taking care of people of all walks of life irrespective of their backgrounds, irrespective of their religions or otherwise. And I think this demonstrates the fact that we stay there, that the church stays there, that there is cause for us coming together as human beings and pursuing the life of peace.
It's a simple theme in the life of Francis. Every place that he went to, he first announced, "May the Lord give you peace," and then he shared whatever message he had received from God with the people with whom he spoke.
We've started a new initiative in Sudan, and one of the central themes is going to be putting into everything the theology and spirituality of peace and reconciliation as a way of evangelizing, as a way of discipleship.
You mentioned that the order has gotten several phone calls from the pope. If he calls here asking for advice, what advice would the Franciscans give?
Be strong and continue to give the tremendous public face of the church and the hope that the church can offer. And continue to offer your humanity to people. This is what's transforming and making people feel like the church has a new place in their lives and in human history.
I think more than anything else, the human side of this pope is what is helping people become excited again about being members of the church. He's been able to recognize this as the starting point, even for God. In Jesus, he's starting with the incarnation in humanity.
Placing the human person at the center -- this is something which is not a politically correct thing to do, and it's what God does. God's intention is that we live and become free, full of life, that we care for each other, that we care for creation, that we become instruments of peace -- that we re-humanize the world.
For someone looking from the U.S. at Rome these days, how do you summarize it?
There's tremendous excitement, and there's also fear. The excitement is the person of this pope and what he's been able to do to make people feel dignified. They feel that they're blessed by God and not condemned by God, that they're loved by God, that God is a God of mercy and forgiveness.
The Italians who I've talked to have seen this -- taxi drivers, bus drivers, other people I've met on the street -- they're all seeing this as a sign of something new for them. They're really excited about who this person is. Not just what he's saying, but who he is.
You said there's a fear as well?
I think the fear is that he's unpredictable. We have some contact with the security who are supposed to guard the pope, and I'm certain they have some fears about his physical well-being. They have little control over this because he does not want to be blocked from meeting people, from being able to have a face-to-face encounter.
I've also heard fears from some circles, people working in the Vatican, that there are some laypeople who aren't sure about what's going to happen about the future of their jobs. People have invested money in the Vatican bank, and they're concerned about some changes that have to take place to make it more transparent.
There are people who are clerics, who have positions, and I think they're also uncertain. They don't know what this commission is going to suggest in terms of trying to respectfully renew and reinvigorate the structures of the church so that they respond to the needs of the world today in a way that's faithful to our tradition, to our identity in Jesus.
Is there something you wanted to say that we didn't get to?
One thing, more than anything else: I think all Christians, all Catholics, we're living in a time now where all of us need to reassume our Christian identities. We need to clarify what that means for our lives. We need to reframe the questions -- the way we think about our own lives, our use of resources, our relationship with others.
It should lead us to feel that there are demands being placed upon us: to open our lives, to open our homes, to become much more communitarian in focus. That we need one another, we need to build communities -- real communities, not virtual, where people are meeting each other and where we're placing this identity of who we are as disciples of Jesus.
This is something all of us have to think of. It's not just Pope Francis or the Franciscans.
And we need to start moving. We need to stop talking and we need to get moving. We need to start coming together and doing some concerted actions together and letting those actions help us re-establish the bridges for human community and for solidarity.
I don't want to be too banal about this, but let's feed the poor, together. But in feeding the poor, let's know we're not just helping them. We're actually allowing them to help us recover our human dignity.
Let's reach out -- let's share our resources with the world that's still struggling on less than $1 a day. Let's pool our resources. What can we do to encourage our governments in times of tremendous challenge and fiscal restraint? What can we do to remind our governments that we have to help the poor and the suffering of the world?
It's not a choice. The choice is that we simply don't live the Gospel life, our discipleship. We live something else, but it's not that.
It's a choice we can make, but it's not a good one. It's not the option Jesus is calling us to, nor that Pope Francis is calling us to.
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR national correspondent. His email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]
NOTE: General Minister Michael A. Perry, OFM, gave an interview to Vatican Radio as he prepared to welcome the Holy Father Pope Francis to Assisi yesterday. This nearly 10-minute interview gives wonderful insight into Br. Michael's impressions of Pope Francis' hopes for the Franciscan Order under his Papacy. Click the link below to listen:
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW WITH THE GENERAL MINISTER
(Vatican Radio) Among those to welcome Pope Francis to the Umbrian hill top town of Assisi on Friday 4th of October was the Minister General of the Friars Minor of the Franciscan Order, Brother Michael Anthony Perry. Brother Perry did so at the Church of San Damiano where he specifies, in one sense the journey of Saint Francis began.
Earlier in the week Linda Bordoni went round to call on him in an effort to better understand the significance of the Holy Father's visit to the town of Saint Francis. Brother Perry began by telling her how the Pope was not going there alone:
"The Holy Father Pope Francis is not going alone. He's going with the Commission that's looking at needed changes within the Vatican, within the Church. So I think it's very significant that he's going together with these cardinals.."
In this interview Linda Bordoni asks Brother Perry why San Damiano is symbolically so important a venue:
"San Damiano was the place where Saint Francis began to understand what it was that God was calling him to. It was here that he experienced tremendous upheaval in his own personal life and a process of inner reflection and changes that led him on a spiritual journey.."
As Brother Perry points out Pope Francis who has never visited Assisi before, symbolically begins his pilgrimage to Assisi at San Damiano where this spiritual journey began and ends it at the 'Porziuncola' where Saint Francis died. This one day pilgrimage filled with encounters with the poor and the disabled is an invitation, he says, for all to follow in the footsteps of this popular Saint.
NOTE: Br. Joseph Powell, OFM (Immaculate Conception Province) made his Solemn Profession of Vows on September 21. Below is his reflection on that important day. This article appeared in the October 4 issue of IC News, the online newsletter of the IC Province.
By Br. Joseph Powell, OFM
It’s good for the sun to be out. Aside from the banal reason that things tend to freeze over and die without the sun, it’s just good to have that boundless ball of energy alive in the sky. Life pours from the sun like water from a hydrant. It is the original source of blessing — the bright and blazing sign that earth receives all good things as a gift. Every society has honored the sun, given it a name, recognized the divine blessing it signifies.
The Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra, bearer of life; the Greeks honored Apollo, driver of the sun’s golden chariot and giver of wisdom and culture; St. Francis praised Sir Brother Sun who was the image of the Most High. I’m not ancient Egyptian, but I am definitely Franciscan. To me, a bright sun in a clear sky witnesses the benevolence of God: “He who lets his sun shine on the good and the wicked . . .
The sun was out for my Solemn Profession of vows. When I left the parking lot of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Derry, the sky was an ominous grey, but as my car neared Boston the yellow rays pushed persistently through. By the time we gathered in Waltham for the ceremony the good old orb was blazing away, doing its thing, cradling us and everything else in its life-giving fingers from ninety-three thousand miles away. A sign of blessings on a day of blessings. It’s easy to imagine Francis of Assisi basking in the warmth of such a sun and praising the Lord for all His good gifts, all His blessings — especially the blessing of the gift of faith.
That image of Francis strikes me strongly as I think on my Profession day. It was, again, a day of blessings: beautiful sun, music (three choirs! gosh.), surrounded by family and friends and friars. There were nieces and nephews two-by-two, and a Noah’s ark of brown-robed Franciscans. And as we all celebrated this special moment, I thought back to the words of a friar from the day before: “Remember this is not just your day — it is our day. We all participate in this.” How true that is! We all participate in whatever good which comes from each other’s life. God’s sun pours out its gifts to all. And what greater gift than faith to believe in the One who loves so indiscriminately, so vastly, so generously?
A Solemn Profession is more than a profession of vows. It is a profession of faith — and not by one person only, but by the whole community. We believe in
the Good God who gives us all that we have: life, family, friends, and all the rest of it. We believe that this God continues to bless us. We believe that He calls each of us forth, to belong to one another, and to bind ourselves to one another and to Him.
“Praise be You, My Lord, for all Your creatures, especially my Lord Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom you give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor. Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.”
Br. Joseph is an occassional blogger at The Blue Wilderness
ASSISI - Pope Francis today celebrated Holy Mass for the Feast of St. Francis in St. Francis Square outside of the Basilica of St. Francis, the holy church that holds the body of our beloved founder and saint. Below is the text of his homily:
*I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to babes” (Mt 11:25).
Peace and all good to each and every one of you! With this Franciscan greeting I thank you for being here, in this Square so full of history and faith, to pray together.
Today, I too have come, like countless other pilgrims, to give thanks to the Father for all that he wished to reveal to one of the “little ones” mentioned in today’s Gospel: Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant of Assisi. His encounter with Jesus led him to strip himself of an easy and carefree life in order to espouse “Lady Poverty” and to live as a true son of our heavenly Father. This decision of Saint Francis was a radical way of imitating Christ: he clothed himself anew, putting on Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor in order to make us rich by his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.
What does Saint Francis’s witness tell us today? What does he have to say to us, not merely with words – that is easy enough – but by his life?
1. His first and most essential witness is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him.
Where did Francis’s journey to Christ begin? It began with the gaze of the crucified Jesus. With letting Jesus look at us at the very moment that he gives his life for us and draws us to himself. Francis experienced this in a special way in the Church of San Damiano, as he prayed before the cross which I too will have an opportunity to venerate. On that cross, Jesus is depicted not as dead, but alive! Blood is flowing from his wounded hands, feet and side, but that blood speaks of life. Jesus’ eyes are not closed but open, wide open: he looks at us in a way that touches our hearts. The cross does not speak to us about defeat and failure; paradoxically, it speaks to us about a death which is life, a death which gives life, for it speaks to us of love, the love of God incarnate, a love which does not die, but triumphs over evil and death. When we let the crucified Jesus gaze upon us, we are re-created, we become “a new creation”. Everything else starts with this: the experience of transforming grace, the experience of being loved for no merits of our own, in spite of our being sinners. That is why Saint Francis could say with Saint Paul: “Far be it for me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).
We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Teach us to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and recreated by his love.
2. In today’s Gospel we heard these words: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:28-29).
This is the second witness that Francis gives us: that everyone who follows Christ receives true peace, the peace that Christ alone can give, a peace which the world cannot give. Many people, when they think of Saint Francis, think of peace; very few people however go deeper. What is the peace which Francis received, experienced and lived, and which he passes on to us? It is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross. It is the peace which the Risen Jesus gave to his disciples when he stood in their midst and said: “Peace be with you!”, and in saying this, he showed them his wounded hands and his pierced side (cf. Jn 20:19-20).
Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. Hardly! That is not the real Saint Francis! Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos… That is not Franciscan either; it is a notion some people have invented! The peace of Saint Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who “take up” their “yoke”, namely, Christ’s commandment: Love one another as I have loved you (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12). This yoke cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart.
We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Teach us to be “instruments of peace”, of that peace which has its source in God, the peace which Jesus has brought us.
3. “Praised may you be, Most High, All-powerful God, good Lord… by all your creatures (FF, 1820). This is the beginning of Saint Francis’s Canticle. Love for all creation, for its harmony. Saint Francis of Assisi bears witness to the need to respect all that God has created, and that men and women are called to safeguard and protect, but above all he bears witness to respect and love for every human being. God created the world to be a place where harmony and peace can flourish. Harmony and peace! Francis was a man of harmony and peace. From this City of Peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world.
We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Obtain for us God’s gift of harmony and peace in this our world!
Finally, I cannot forget the fact that today Italy celebrates Saint Francis as her patron saint. The traditional offering of oil for the votive lamp, which this year is given by the Region of Umbria, is an expression of this. Let us pray for Italy, that everyone will always work for the common good, and look more to what unites us, rather than what divides us.
I make my own the prayer of Saint Francis for Assisi, for Italy and for the world: “I pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies: Do not look upon our ingratitude, but always keep in mind the surpassing goodness which you have shown to this City. Grant that it may always be the home of men and women who know you in truth and who glorify your most holy and glorious name, now and for all ages. Amen.” (The Mirror of Perfection, 124: FF, 1824).
LETTER OF THE GENERAL MINISTER & DEFINITORIUM
Solemnity of Saint Francis
Let Us Persevere in the True Faith
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!
On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi we wish to share with you our life and wish you all the best in God, our Highest Good. We live in a time where change – often used as a category to describe our era – is now also visible in the Church and the Order of Friars Minor.
It is in this climate of innovation that the ecclesial community is experiencing the Year of Faith, while coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The community is furthered invited to renew itself through the New Evangelization and the witness offered by the lives of believers. As Pope Francis wrote in his Encyclical, Lumen Fidei, that “There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (LF 4).
It is our desire to continue to shine the light of faith, following the example of Francis of Assisi, because it is the foundation of our life, the passion in the mission, and the lamp which “opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time” ( LF 8).
Believe truly and humbly
St. Francis, in the Earlier Rule, exhorted to remain in the true faith, stating that we must “persevere in the true faith and in doing penance, for otherwise no one can be saved” (Rnb 23.7). The experience of faith of the Saint of Assisi remains illuminating for our Franciscan vocation; it is an exemplary encouragement to make our own the unique way in which he lived the experience of the Most High God, Trinity and Unity, and the personal encounter with the poor, humble, and crucified Christ, while making the Gospel, the Rule and Life of the Friars Minor.
The same Earlier Rule, in Chapter XXIII, offers us a marvelous and profound profession of ecclesial faith in the form of thanksgiving and praise. Even through it, he invites us to persevere in the faith and believe truly and humbly. Such faith, which expresses itself in honoring and worshiping, is closely linked to the experience of desiring nothing else, wanting nothing else, and delighting in nothing else except our Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, the only true God …the true and supreme good.
For the Saint of Assisi such faith has its foundation both in God’s Word and in the Eucharist, that is, in relationship with these two types of presences of the Risen One. When Francis listened to the Scripture, he recognized it as being addressed to him personally. Like Origen, who said that the Gospel is the Body of Christ, so Francis had a sacramental perception of God’s Word. For him the word is spoken in the present
through the sign of fragile human words. For this reason, in his Letter to the Order, he reminds us of respect and reverence for the Lord’s Body and veneration of Sacred Scripture (cf. LtOrd I.IV).
The Year of Faith invites us to return to this essential part of the faith and of Franciscan life, which is the word of God and the Eucharist, while aware that such an encounter always leads toward the “sacrament of the brother,” the poorest people, and to evangelization, that is, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God to
be offered through the our witness of life and words (cf. GGCC 89). In the Eucharistic spirituality, we are called to remember the beginning of our vocation when we encounter Jesus Christ, and through a process of prayer, penance, and conversion, to “return to our first love, the inspiring spark” from which our discipleship
came forth (cf. SAFC 22).
Lord, to whom shall we go?
We all know that the Christian faith is not a central aspect of contemporary culture, and “now it happens not infrequently that Christians give more concern for the social, cultural and political conditions of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition of common life” (PF 2). Our environment is marked by forms of religious indifference and by the seduction of the sacred according to man’s way of measuring things. This reality leads many men and women to “believe” without belonging and closed in the solitude of his own religious experience.
In faith, the aspect of personally deciding to accept the call to follow Jesus Christ acquires more and more importance, while relying on Him and drawing nourishment from his Word. This is what the Gospel of John (Jn 6:60-70) also highlights when it presents the challenges of the Word and reveals the difficulty of the disciples over the statement of Jesus, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you are some who do not believe” (Jn 6.63-64). Like so many of our brothers and our communities, we are going through issues of faith.
The Gospel reveals that, though belonging to Jesus’ group, some lived without faith in Him, resisting his spirit and life. In fact, the crisis within the Christian community has to do with this question: Do you or don’t you believe in Jesus? The fact that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn
6:66) is a way of understanding that it referred to the true followers of Jesus.
The choice is as decisive for those who pull back as for those who remain with Him. The group of disciples, then and now, thinned and thins out, but to those who remain Jesus asks a question, “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67). The same question is addressed to us who remain in the Church and the Order: what
do we want? Are we convinced to remain in order to follow Jesus and live like Him? Of course, it is not possible to live in ambiguity, nonetheless, it is necessary to persevere decisively.
Peter’s response is exemplary, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Those who remain have to do so only for Jesus and commit to follow Him. This is the only reason to stay. One of the services that we can offer to society is to put within the reach of both men and women of today, the person and message of Jesus, to put them more and more in contact with the His Words and less and less with our words.
Dear brothers, we are in a moment of grace, moving us to praise with all our being the Most High God, as St.
Francis did, saying, “You are our faith” (PrG 7). We are in an favorable era where we can deepen “our faith” in God and entrust to Him both our Consecrated Life and Mission, while sharing it with the laity in the Church and for the world, so that it may be clear that “we believe and know that [He is] the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).
As believers and Consecrated Persons, despite the various difficulties in which we find ourselves, we have to
answer Jesus’ question: “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67). We cannot get used to living a faith to fit our interests and desires. The Lord Jesus renews the call to set out and be on our way with fidelity and perseverance, in order to “to set out to find the One whom we would not be seeking had he not already set out to meet us. To this encounter, faith invites us and it opens us in fullness.” (PF 10).
The Lord comes to meet us in order to overcome the bitterness, the temptation to flee and leave our fraternity, because we feel tired and disappointed in front of the institutional, community or personal problems, confident that “Faith is the channel through which the Lord touches us, cures us of our sicknesses and our inherited burdens, reconciles us and guarantees the existence of things which we hope for and which He sends to us. The life of faith is the absolute source of our joy and hope, our discipleship of Jesus Christ and our witness to the world” (cf. LSR 18).
With the help and prayers of Mary, Queen of the Order, may we encounter everyday God who loves us and on whom we build our lives! As we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we invite you to renew your faith by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (Jn 6:68). “You are our faith” (PrG 7)
Rome, 17 September 2013
Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis
Your Brothers of the OFM General Definitory:
Br. Michael Anthony Perry, ofm (Min. gen.)
Br. Julio César Bunader, ofm (Vic. gen.)
Br. Vincenzo Brocanelli, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Vicente-Emilio Felipe Tapia, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Nestor Inácio Schwerz, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Francis William Walter, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Roger Marchal, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Ernest Karol Siekierka, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Paskalis Bruno Syukur, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Vincent Mduduzi Zungu, ofm (Def. gen.)
Br. Aidan McGrath, ofm (Seg. gen.)