Part 3 - Jesus, today, amongst us.
As I sat in Church this morning, a Tuesday, I began to realize how present and visible Jesus is to us today. We are Church: you may have heard someone say that already. Yes, the Church is a building, but for many, it is still open air. Jesus is the Word made flesh, and that is what we celebrate in this Eucharist, the "sacrament of the encounter with God.¹" God came on earth and was able to be heard because he made himself like us. He was fully human, and yet He was divine. He does not share our sinful heritage with us. Jesus has a mission, defined for Him by the Father. That mission was to redeem us, to make possible life everlasting. He died for the forgiveness of our sins.
In the days of Saint Francis, after Our Lord had called him to begin an Order, young Francis realized that there was a lot of dissatisfaction inside the Church - rebellion, confusion. There was disunity, and Our Lord appeared to Francis and commanded him to go and repair My Church. We understand now that Francis initially took this the wrong way, perhaps, and began to physically repair broken down churches. I think in hindsight we can say that Francis had been directed to repair the rebellion, hypocrisy, dishonesty and lack of unity in the Church. Francis participated in the Fourth Lateran Council. And since St. Francis was given the Gifts of the Spirit, when God commissioned him to do these things, he was bold and totally dedicated to found the Order, to preach the Gospel to those who needed it. But Francis preached largely by example and he and his friars were successful in bringing reform to the Church.
The Franciscan charism is a Gift of the Holy Spirit. Here we have a movement toward Gospel poverty needed for the renewal of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the true "Minister General" of any order in the Church. Vatican II said, "Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from them."¹ Our part is to be as open and transparent as possible to whatever the Spirit wishes to effect in us.
"We are called a community of brothers and sisters under one Father, bound together for the sake of Christ and through his love, brothers and sisters in the Spirit, possessed by "Spiritual" love that is greater than any natural love. St. Francis wished to make an addition to the final Rule of 1223; he wanted to say that the Holy Spirit is the true "Minister General" or "Superior" of the whole Order. The canon lawyers patiently explained to him that once the Pope had approved the Rule, no changes could be made. The Spirit is our first "Superior" nevertheless.¹"
St. Francis also had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He considers her the Queen of the Franciscan Order. That is why in the SFO Rule, we find Article 9, "The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to his every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently." (SFO Rule) The entire Franciscan family has great devotion to Mary. The center of the Order is the Portiuncula, the little portion, that poor little Church now encased in a Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels.
As Franciscans we constantly hope to turn to God and away from sin. To sin no more takes enormous self-discipline. The ego must be broken, and that is painful and a penance. As good Catholic children, especially those a few generations ago, moderation in food and drink was still practiced, parents were stricter with their children than they are now. I was raised by my parents in a very strict manner, so that I might learn discipline. But sometimes that is not so good either. When my parents laid down the law, I obeyed. In the long run it had the opposite effect. As I entered adulthood, I became rebellious and went my own way. Of course as I matured I realized my parents had been right. Then penance became conversion. And, self-denial didn't mean giving up a piece of candy, rather, it means giving up my will.
Having been, for almost 7 years, a friar and then a monk, I had to give up my will in a very real way. And is was tough, but I feel I am more prepared and ready to do it on a daily basis now. The only penance that makes sense is "conversion penance."
In the next reflection on "Seeking Franciscan Perfection," we will discuss how St. Francis did penance, especially for conversions.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #3, 10/13/2008, 2014
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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