Seeking Franciscan Perfection
A Reflection on the Franciscan Life by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Part 12 - Fraternal charity, Repair my Church, Setting a Good Example.
Fraternal Charity happens all over the place, not just at Fraternity Meetings. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and through Him with all who live around us, our acquaintances, our family, the guy who delivers the mail, the lady at the bank, the person in the street, the laborer who is digging a drainage ditch, the astronaut, the senator or congressperson (even though we may not be happy with them at the moment) and yes, even President-Elect Barack Obama. We are brothers or sisters to those whose lifestyle we cannot accept, well, you get the idea. In our universal and global setting, you are my brother or sister. (the base of the word: Fraternal - comes from frater, (L.) which means brother)!
Most people, except perhaps devout Christians and Franciscans, will say one of two things to such a statement. They'll say "Get real," or they'll say something I cannot repeat here, in derision - because the concept of "universal brotherhood" hasn't taken yet in this world of ours. Up till now we've failed miserably to demonstrate brotherhood, although there are some notable exceptions. Take Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now a "Saint" in the Church. The link goes to EWTN. They have a beautiful web layout on St. Teresa of Calcutta. This courageous lady has taken the concept of "Fraternal Charity" to a new level.
The sick within our Franciscan Fraternities are companions of the Suffering Christ. "Before considering how we should treat the sick, we should consider the Christian meaning of suffering itself. In themselves, sickness and suffering are tragic and senseless, the inheritance of original sin. But Christ has sanctified even the wounds of human nature. This terrible scourge of mankind can be changed into a blessing, by being united to the sufferings of Christ. This is why the Constitutions call the sick "the companions of the suffering Christ.¹" (Art. 85)
Our Franciscan tradition calls us to maintain the spirit of Francis especially in suffering. In the Rule of the First Order of St. Francis (and also in the Rules of the other Franciscan religious groups) there is great emphasis on Fraternal charity to the sick and infirm. Whole friaries have been set up especially to accept the aging friar who can no longer maintain a 10-12 hour day because of reasons of health and age. In the sense of fraternal life, these special houses are no different from any other friary, except that they are for "retirees." In the Secular Franciscan Order, the sisters and brothers pray daily for those who cannot get to meetings because of health issues and geriatric problems.
This fraternal charity extends to prayers and deeds that reach into eternity, because Franciscan Perfection is our goal - and the culmination is entry into the intense love of God, the full vision and embrace of Our Lord.
Repair My Church. One of the greatest experiences in the life of St. Francis of Assisi occurred when God told him: "Francis go and repair my Church which you see is wholly in ruin." Francis took this to mean the little Church of San Damiano, which was indeed in need of repair. But Our Lord meant the general state of the Church. Not the building but the Body of Christ. And, we are still broken. There is constant need to "Repair My Church." Now it is our turn as Franciscans to seek to repair His Church! That can be done through strict adherence to the Rule of St. Francis and the laws of the Catholic Church. Christ is the Soul of the Apostolate. "On one occasion when Francis became discouraged, Christ said to him, "Tell me, you simple and ignorant little man, why do you grieve so when a brother leaves the Order and the brothers do not follow the way I showed you? Tell me, then who has founded this community? Who converts them to penitence? It is Christ alone who is the missionary. He works through us, and he succeeds only to the degree that he can create his life in us first.¹"
What should we do? Christianity is spread by the Holy Spirit. Tell people what is true and good. Do not deal in negatives or innuendo. If you have nothing worthwhile to say, don't say anything. Many people excel in needless conversation, in the minutia of personal lives, it's all a "control" game, and it really has no place in the Franciscan family. Explain beliefs and practices of the faith to those who ask. Tell people of God's love for them, when they need compassion and a sympathetic word. Do not talk in the abstract, looking everywhere except at the person you are addressing. Rely on the Holy Spirit for inspiration how to tackle the more difficult people, but never speak to them when they appear not interested in your message.
Be of good cheer, setting a good example. As you grow as a Franciscan, you will find great joy at doing the little favors to people every day. We are not holy or elite, we are just ordinary people. But we are striving to become worthy of the biggest reward of all, meeting our Lord in person and seeing Him in all his glory. And then we will also meet that little friar, our beloved Father, Saint Francis, and all the other Franciscans. It is in Heaven where we shall find true Brotherhood, but we've got to start here and now.
As our Seraphic Father said all the time, "Let us begin again, because till now we have done done nothing." Each time as we "start again," we will become stronger in our resolution to reach Franciscan perfection.
May you have joy in your heart and prayer on your lips.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #12, 11/07/2008, 2014
This ends the 12-part reflection "Seeking Franciscan Perfection"
1. "The Third Order Vocation" Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM.1976 Published by St. John the Baptist Province of the OFM (my writing follows the subjects in this books, to guide me along a certain path in this writing).
A Gift of a New
by Fred Schaeffer, OFS 2019
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
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