Monthly Spiritual Message
My brothers and sisters, a New Year is upon us, and with each New Year come opportunities for new beginnings. Francis’ thinking regarding new beginnings was this: “Brothers and sisters, let us begin again to do penance, for up until now we have done nothing!” This may seem a bit harsh. But in order to understand such thinking we need be aware that for Francis all is “Grace,” that is, everything is dependant on God, and we need to co-operate with him. The invocation to “begin again”, then, is based on a presumption that you and I want to live ever more deeply a life-giving union with God that is flavoured, infused and animated with a Franciscan approach.
In order for this to eventuate, we need to begin again to be discerning. What is discernment? Well, it can be many things, but for it to be a holy thing operating in our lives it must comprise the seeking of the will of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and actively putting into practice in heart, mind and deed that which is discerned as coming from God. It is a religious-spiritual approach which then forms and informs the basis of the attitudes through which we manifest our life.
The subject of discernment is twofold. It can be the individual person asking him or her self what is better for him or her before God. Or it can be the local or even the national fraternity seeking the best decision regarding an apostolic commitment, a question or problem, future direction, etc. Both personal discernment and communal discernment need to be integrated if they are to be true and genuine. So, my brothers and sisters, let us examine in a holy way some of the principles that govern a life-giving discernment process.
The Discernment of
The Attitude of St. Francis: At the end of his Letter to a Chapter, Francis adds a prayer that reveals his fundamental attitude: “Grant us, O Lord, by your grace to do what you want, and to will what pleases you.” This is a guiding principle in his life. Is it a guiding principle in our life?
As an act of discernment it may be worthwhile asking yourself the question: what is the guiding principle of my life? When I’m in conflict; when I pray; when my fraternity meets; towards my Franciscan sisters and brothers?
Actively Seeking the Will of God in Prayer: One of the moments when Francis needed to seek God’s will for the direction of his life was whether he should live a more active life among the people or be more contemplative. Francis favoured contemplation. “The servant of Christ, not trusting in his own experience … placed his trust in prayer to definitely discover what was the will of God in this matter.” (Leg. Mag. 4.2).
Our Seraphic Father never made any decision great or small without having recourse to prayer. He acted on what was revealed even if it went contrary to what he thought was the best way to go. What about us? Do we want a share in the joy and peace that dominated Francis’ life?
Discovering God’s Will in the Scriptures: Francis at times would seek God’s will in Sacred Scripture. He opened the Bible with firm, prayerful and profound conviction that he would find God’s will for his life (1 Cel 22; 2 Cel 15). From the references, there emerges some indispensable and fundamental principles of Franciscan discernment: The fervent request made to our heavenly Father to send the Spirit to enlighten us; the belief, once the request is made, that the Spirit is enlightening us; the faith that God takes an active interest in our lives and that he is guiding us by speaking through his Word; and most importantly, the interior disposition of complete readiness to hear from God and to act on his communication. Have you ever opened Sacred Scripture in this way?
Guided by the Church: Another means by which Francis discerned God’s will for him in life was
through the voice of the Church. Francis
acknowledged that the Church was an extension of the authority of Christ (Mt
28.16-18). The Rule of
Interior Reflection: Francis professed an interior sweetness that flooded him with joy when he did the Father’s will (2 Cel 9). Even if this was something highly repugnant to his nature, like embracing a leper. Francis discerned God’s will for him through interior reflection: here am I, Lord, I come to do your will (Mt 6.10; 12.50; Jn 4.34; 5.30; 6.39-40; Rom 8.27; Eph 5.17 among many others). Have you experienced this flooding with interior sweetness? Would you like to? Perhaps more contemplation is needed in your personal mix of spirituality?
Dialogue With Our Franciscan Sisters and Brothers: Another preferential way for Francis to discern the will of God for him was to enter into dialogue with the brothers and sisters that God gave him. We have examples of this in his Letter to a Minister and in Leg. Mag. 12.2. Are there those we have written off in our local fraternities? Have we withdrawn and keep to ourselves because we can’t be bothered with all the hassles? Have we opted out of a very real pathway to God’s will for us and our sanctification?
In summary, Francis based discernment on prayer, listening interiorly to the Spirit, listening to Sacred Scripture, being in dialogue with the Church, fellow Franciscans and wise “others” in order to be filled with an authentic- ness that left him open to the peace, sweetness, love and joy of God.
In this current New Year, we can make New Beginnings and be infused with New Life, if this is what we choose to do.
Happy New Year and may the Lord grant you peace.
Friar David M. Huebner OFM Conv, National Assistant SFO – Oceania.