May 2, 2015 was the date we (Peggy, Helen, Fred, Marie and Leah) visited Padre Pio Fraternity as they were visited by the Region (Fr. Kevin Queally, TOR), and Regional Minister, Marie Thomas, OFS. We anticipated the Canonical Approbation to take place but the paperwork wasn't quite ready yet as is often the case with those things. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to visit with our Sisters and Brothers at St. Martin de Porres Church in Jensen Beach.
In the heyday of the Order, when St. Francis was still alive, many inter-Fraternity visits were undertaken and to this day it is the norm in other parts of the Franciscan family. Bear in mind that fraternities are really run by it's professed members, not only the Minister and Councillors (they give form and purpose to our spirituality) but all members. We are family! We are the family some of us never had. That's why we give primary allegiance to this family, not to the half a dozen other organizations we belong to. That is why OFS members give fraternity and related meetings priority over our social structure.
There are four elements that are to be a part of every fraternity meeting.
Lets talk about "Ongoing Formation." A Franciscan's formation does not begin and end with the time of formation before Profession takes place. It is a life-long process. At Divine Mercy Fraternity we have covered the two-year program on St. Elizabeth of Hungary (2009 onward), then we talked about the Saints and Blesseds of the Order and what we can learn from them.
I (Fred), as Formation director, in conjunction with Spiritual Reflections have talked about various areas of Scripture, and other spiritually-interesting topics. We hope to continue that. Anyone of the professed or even candidates can volunteer to pitch in and help with these formation topics.
Collectively, we have a ton of Franciscan experience among us. Many of us have been professed since 1994, some even longer ago, and Marie joined in 1948. That's over 66 years. One learns a lot from visiting other fraternities, such as Fred did in 2008 when he attended an OFS General Chapter in Hungary with CIOFS. It was a special blessing because as a result I have visited with the current General Minister (Tibor Kauser) and Vice-General Minister (Chelito Nunez). Having met them I know the Order is in Good Hands, along with the Holy Spirit. Unless a fraternity has a firm devotion to the Holy Spirit, it will not prevail.
As Sisters and Brothers of St. Francis of Assisi, we must strive to always be friendly to one another. In an earlier day, one of the hallmarks that drew me most to investigating the First Order as a possible Vocation, was that there was always laughter coming over the walls of the enclosure: Joy. That fraternal joy is present in the Secular Fraternity too. Unfortunately this Franciscan joy is often held back by sisters and brothers who cannot get along and make no effort to break the barrier. So some fraternities just do not work and great effort should be made to remedy this situation.
We love God. God loves us. Let's tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to all we meet but most of all to those with whom we share our fraternities, our Franciscan Sisters and Brothers.
Peace and Good,
Fred Schaeffer, ofs