I realized when preparing this, that I have nothing new to share with you tonight. My basic thoughts about our Franciscan calling have already been expressed. So tonight I simply speak as one who has a need to re-discover the charism of Francis and to re-commit to this way of life. If conversion of heart comes from an empty heart, then I think that this is where I am coming from at this time. However, because the call to be "turned around" by the Holy Spirit is for each of us and happens frequently, especially as we live in this world of rapid social change, of different values, we probably need to look together at the obstacles, and the new challenges, to bringing the spirit of Francis to life today.
Fortunately, our very vocation as Seculars who live (loosely at times)
in Fraternity, provides or should, provide, the means of animation for us as we, diverse
as we are, are called to love and support each other and to encourage each other as we share
our journeys. At least, that is our intention even though at times we may prioritize other
aspects of our lives and find that we need to "turn ourselves around" and acknowledge our
brothers and sisters once again in fraternity.
WE need to be proactive and make the effort, not necessarily wait for other to reach out to us for it is in 'giving that we receive'. As one who tends to sit back a little, I know how easily I can lapse into a 'nobody- loves- me' attitude. I have friends all around me but until I actually reach out, they cannot know where I am at. This is the same in fraternity.
WE make our fraternity alive and vital by being genuinely interested in each other, by caring about each other but we can't sit back and wait for others to begin. It begins with each one of us!
This turning around and re-examining of our lives continues all our lives, with varying degrees of revelation and sense of conversion. We have a marvellous example of this in Francis. "The Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel" and the rest of Francis' life was spent searching the Gospel so that he could understand how he was to live this. He saw the essence, the central life of Love, and he grew in wisdom and compassion the more he understood human nature with its strengths and frailties. His faith and expression of Gospel living were not static but vital and ever-changing, as ours must be. At times, he was passionate and full of exuberance whilst at other times, he was almost overwhelmed by a sense of sinfulness and neglect. We, his followers, should not be surprised when we too find ourselves vacillating between ecstasy and agony in matters of faith and life.
With Francis, those who came to live his way of life, the life of poverty and simplicity, of humility and service, were not followers but brothers, of equal footing. All were followers together of Jesus. With that example we reflect on our fraternal life, on the loving acceptance of each other with our individual idiosyncrasies and varying spiritual approaches. We are brothers and sisters of one family and we have much to praise and thank God for even within our small fraternity. How varied we are, how unique! How much experience and wisdom is there within our members! How many years of Franciscan experience and knowledge to share with those who are still relatively young in Franciscan years! In our continued efforts to nourish our fraternity, we need to be creative and find ways to share our common life.
The essential characteristics we share are that we have been specifically called to Franciscanism and that call was initiated by God. We know that not all invitations from God are accepted. God coerces no-one. It is freely offered to be freely received - or not! Each of us has responded and accepted, committing ourselves wholeheartedly and as a result we have understood that our love of God requires expression in action, in service of others. Commitment is a pivotal element in Franciscan life and comes from a free will choice. And this choice we each made contains a promise. It is a promise made in the present, concerning the future. Commitment may seem, at certain times in our lives, to be a burden, a bondage especially when family and work requirements overwhelm or simply overtake us. Yet commitment to God is really a setting free- 'Set yourselves free to love God and your brothers and sisters'- for it asks poverty of spirit and simplicity in acknowledging God as our priority, as our yardstick of life. There is a price to pay, for when we commit to serve, we also surrender self-seeking and some of the accepted norms of the society. The call for commitment may require sacrifice and a re-setting of priorities in our lives. When God is our priority, faithfulness (the highest form of commitment) becomes a reality, an accepted way of life. Art. 30 in the Constitution tells us that we are all co-responsible for the life of the fraternity to which we belong. This requires personal presence, witness, prayer and active collaboration. Each of us can, and must, make a difference to the fraternity. None of us can sit back, we each must make the effort to live our commitment.
As Secular Franciscans, commitment and service must be priorities. It is in our fraternity that we develop and model relationships. The fraternity is the vital bond described in our Rule. It is our 'life-giving union with each other'. We are united by our vocation, trusting in the presence of God in everyone.
I have not been as committed to my God, my vocation or to this fraternity as I could have been and I am sorry for this. Preparing this talk have helped me to realise that many aspects of life have not been in balance. So once again, with St Francis I say, 'Hitherto we have done but little. Now, let us begin."
Contact: Jack Smith: phone 61-2-62583824 firstname.lastname@example.org