Messengers of Perfect Joy
A Reflection of Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Every Franciscan should have a copy of their Rules, and certainly Secular Franciscans may obtain from the usual sources a little red book that fits in any pocket, entitled: "The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order" published by the National Fraternity in USA. Realizing the importance of knowing the Rule, I glanced at Rule XIX. That's the Rule about fraternity harmony. A line struck me in particular: "Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others."
Oh, Oh, I thought, I need to look into that because I can be a regular old grouch! I complain a lot. Can't be a messenger of perfect joy unless I'm always joyful. I know people, even friars, who were grouches but whose writings and homilies were good examples of what brings joy. Among Franciscans in other ways of life, we have all kinds. We are all gifted in some area but not always in the "giving joy" department. Still we have an obligation to try to spread joy. Why? Because Rule 19 tells us so.
If we weren't all bearers of perfect joy, we would have fraternities where harmony was in jeopardy of falling apart. There is really no room for in-fighting in a fraternity, but it happens. It is unfortunate. A sign that all is not well to the occasional visitor is that a lot of people are complaining about this, that or the other thing. Joyful people do not even want to complain! Those who live in the Presence of the Lord, in the Holy Spirit, are uplifting people no matter what personal problems they might encounter.
For people visiting a fraternity to "look us over:" See if you would fit in, and, more importantly, if you feel just a little curious what we do, why we do it, and for whom we do it, should be welcomed but not pushed into joining. A vocation is a special thing, and it needs a warm and joyful atmosphere to grow. We are always worried if a new person would fit in, because part of having "community" is agreeing to admit someone to our fold. Let's say a newcomer is a gossip, talks about everyone they met - those might not be ideal people to have around, so we are careful. But the newcomer him or herself would also be expected to discern if he/she fits in with us. If people are bickering or shooting nasty glances at one another, a newcomer's stay will most likely be short-lived.
On the other hand, a fraternity should never be a clique. People should be made to feel welcome among us because St. Francis, our Seraphic Father, welcomed everyone! He still does! He is that impossible dreamer who would invite us in, even if we stood on our heads! If anyone was a fool for Christ, it was certain St. Francis and that's why we love him so much! Likewise, if it seems foolish in any way, to you, to be always cheerful (believe me, it's not foolish at all!), then go to it, don't even hesitate!
Why is it that long-standing fraternities often become "run down" or maybe "stale" is a better word? Their meetings are boring, they go through the motions, and it's not fun anymore. Fortunately, none of the Fraternities I'm associated with are that way, but some comments about other fraternities which I hear from time to time cause me to reflect on these thoughts. If your meetings are boring, begin with the first page of the Rule, and keep reading. Then examine yourself and ask yourself, "What have I done recently to bring joy to another person? If there is a negative answer to that question, go talk with your Spiritual Assistant, and if there is none, talk to your Fraternity Minister or perhaps see a priest or deacon you know.
In 1996, as some of you remember, I joined for a brief time the Order of Friars Minor. It turned out I was really looking for something more contemplative, and even spent five years as a contemplative monk in another order, but I left even there. It has taken me a long time to figure out that my vocation was always to be a Secular Franciscan (OFS). I have learned and accepted that the OFS is a place where people live the Gospel and bring the Gospel to all they are privileged to meet. Our charism is in the life and mission of the Church, not as priests or deacons (although they can be professed OFS, too), but as ordinary lay people who wish to follow St. Francis of Assisi, particularly the Rule he wrote 800+ years ago for the laity. And here's something else, if we study Holy Scripture (we can only bring the good News to others if we know it, right!?) and try to live the Word - then we come closer to that contemplative example that draws me so. Contemplation is a gift of God. Be open to it when or if, He gives you this gift.
I love some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ... Holy Boldness! I used to be a shy person, somewhat afraid of my own shadow when I was younger. Then I came to Vero Beach and joined our prayer group in our parish, and I learned something about boldness... I found out that you cannot teach others with enthusiasm about Jesus and His life, unless you have a certain amount of boldness. To me, "boldness" is "guts" or "Intestinal fortitude." Some people might call it Chutzpah. Well, maybe that's a little strong, but anyway you get the idea. You speak up, otherwise people do not listen. If you have ever walked on a New York sidewalk (I did for 30 years), and you talk... nobody listens! They are all withdrawn into themselves with their own pet problems, right? And if you have too much Chutzpah and you shout out for their attention, you might get killed. In New York City, you learn to mind your own business. But that is not true in smaller towns, not to that extent anyway. So, if you feel called to have boldness to talk about Joy and where this Joy comes from, go ahead. I knew a fellow from Mississippi, when I was with the friars, who, at every opportunity, went out to talk to strangers in the street. Maybe that was a little too strong, there is a right and wrong place for telling others about the Lord and how much He loves us. I prefer to talk about Jesus to at least a somewhat receptive audience. But there are others who are fearless in that regard.
When you show enthusiasm in what you're talking about, others listen, maybe politely, but still they pay attention. Joy and enthusiasm go hand in hand, they come from deep conviction, from a total immersion in God. If you truly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the most Holy Eucharist, as all of us Franciscans and many others do, then it is not possible to live life with long faces! I pray that our fraternities will be places of joy and openness, a reflection of the Joy of Christ, and of our Mother Mary. Jesus suffered so much on the Cross, and yet he has eternal joy. Similarly, our life is not a bed of roses either, we are mostly walking on the thorns, and so we can offer these little inconveniences up to Him, which will hopefully bring much Perfect Joy.
And if you read through the entire Rule 19, you'll learn that we are preparing ourselves for the true meaning of Sister Death, which is the eventual and ultimate encounter with the Father. That is what St. Francis did this evening, so very long ago, when the first "Transitus" took place in Assisi. Let us never stop preparing for Sister Death. Let us be messengers of perfect joy on our trip home, to the Father.
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
October 3, 2010, rev. 2018
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Officers as of 1/10/2016
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS