In February, when we were all trying to settle in again after the holiday break, we recalled the advice of St Francis on the need for faithful adherence to those aspects of our living together that should keep us in touch with our God and the people we serve, namely, an appropriate balance between honest work and devout prayer; and a practical sense of moderation in our use of material things.
We also looked at St Paul's advice to his Christians that carried special interest for us as friars minor. Paul's exhortation becomes even more apposite further on:
Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending, but make real friends with the poor. Do not allow yourselves to become self-satisfied. Never repay evil with evil but let everyone see that you are interested only in the highest ideals. Do all you can to live at peace with everyone."
To have friars putting these high ideals into practice in their lives is indeed a great blessing to any community and perhaps one of the greatest stimulants to us to do the same. To see the faithful and generous friar praying, working and supporting his fellow friars is a powerful sermon in itself, as we know well from St Francis. For Francis, good example was a power for good. "Yet even if an activity is good in itself, it will only do good when it fits the circumstances. Even good example loses its power to build up other Christians unless it is given with discretion, just as food needs salt for better taste. So, do what good you can, but show good judgement in how, when, and why you do it." [St Bonaventure, The Six Wings of the Seraph (The Character of the Christian Leader)]
Unfortunately, we must sometimes see the other side of the coin. Bad example is a power for evil and we are not free from its influence. The good that the majority does can so easily be diminished and even spoiled by the minority. The gossip, the negative critic, the intolerant friar who seems to be so swift to point to another's weakness or to publish his mistakes can become skilled in his trade and become like a Judas. For the momentary gain of an audience for his drama, he would sell his brother's reputation ... and it takes two parties to trade! St Francis had to deal with this in his day.
"Blessed that friar who loves his brother as much when he is sick and can be of no use to him as when he is well and can be of use to him. Blessed that friar who loves and respects his brother as much when he is absent as when he is present and who would not say anything behind his back that he could not say charitably to his face" (Admonition XXV).