In August 2016 the Councils of the seven OFM Franciscan Provinces in the United States met to move ahead with restructuring — a discussion that has been ongoing for years.
The result of this meeting was to delay a major step in the restructuring process and, instead, to compose a “white paper”, the purpose of which was to provide a “robust discussion and articulation of the contours and specifics of a revitalized U.S. Franciscan brotherhood in the United States.” (Letter from the Provincial Ministers, April 2, 2017).
Below is the result of the efforts of the three friar committee chosen to compose this statement.
A more attractive and readable version of this document can be obtained by clicking here.
Chapter 1: Primacy of the Life of Prayer and of Listening to the Word
Chapter 2: Fraternal Relations and Fraternal Life
Chapter 3: A Simple and Sober Lifestyle – Minority in Fraternity
Chapter 4: Welcome and Sharing of Life with the People and above all with the poor
Chapter 5: The Character of our Evangelization Mission
Chapter 6: Communion with the Local Church
Chapter 7: Willingness to Adopt Forms of Active Collaboration with the Laity and the Franciscan Family
Chapter 8: Incorporation of the Values of JPIC into Our Life and Ministry
This document – Making Fraternity Our Mission — provides us with an opportunity to offer a vision beyond simply our immediate and contemporary concerns. The Wedding Feast of Cana gives us some inspiration. In John’s Gospel we find a scenario in which a community has celebrated a wedding, but they are confronted by scarcity and confusion on the third day. We friars have a rich history in the United States, but we are also confronted at times by a scarcity of hospitality, a scarcity of trust, a scarcity of hope, and a scarcity of vocations to our way of life. Like we find in the story of Cana, a vision is needed in difficult times. Mary had that vision to move from scarcity to abundance, to place her trust in her son despite even his own hesitance. We too must seek a vision for our times just as the community celebrating the wedding once did. We must be confident that in difficult times God meets scarcity with abundance. Even while our brothers and sisters are meeting hostility and fear from those focused on scarcity, we have faith that God has “kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). The authors offer this White Paper as an opportunity to think about how that good wine is going to be found and with the confidence coming from all those who have maintained this vision of abundance over the years.
Rather than starting with a blank slate, this White Paper takes as its organizing principle the eight core Franciscan criteria found in the document “Ite, Nuntiate.” These eight criteria were discussed by all seven of the Provincial Councils of the United States, insights on the current and future state of Franciscan life in the United States from each provincial vantage point were collected, and those reflections have been synthesized here. The authors of the White Paper were tasked with avoiding both an “abstract vision” and a highly-specific “blueprint” for Franciscan life in the future. Instead, the authors of this White Paper have tried to take the reflections of the
Provincial Councils and develop them in light of appropriate material from Sacred Scripture, our Franciscan sources, and key church documents, which provided a substantive context for these reflections. Ultimately a White Paper is not meant to be an unalterable statement; rather, it is meant to help a group to think, discuss, discern, and make decisions. It is the hope of the authors of this White Paper that this document provides the friars in the United States with a helpful point of reference for the fruitful work of revitalizing, revisioning, and restructuring that lies ahead.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
As you consider and discuss each chapter of this document, please keep these basic questions in mind:
- What are the implications of this eight-fold vision for me, my local fraternity, my province and the national (U.S.) OFM fraternity?
- In order for this vision to emerge, what must change in me, my local fraternity, my province and the national (U.S.) OFM fraternity?
- What national structure(s) can best support this eight-fold vision for me, my local fraternity, my province and the national (U.S.) OFM fraternity?
1 Cel. “The Life of Saint Francis” by Thomas of Celano (FAED 1:170-297)
“The Canticle of the Creatures” by Francis of Assisi (FAED1:113-114)
|GC||General Constitutions OFM|
|GS||General Statutes OFM|
|RnB||Regula non bullata (“Earlier Rule” of 1221)|
|RB||Regula bullata (“Later Rule” of 1223)|
Chapter One: Primacy of the Life of Prayer and of Listening to the Word
We Friars Minor insist on the importance of the life of prayer and of listening to the Word, but realize that they must come from the heart even though our General Constitutions and Statutes set out clear expectations (see GC 2:19-31 and GS 2:7-19). Guided by the Holy Spirit, we brothers aspire to a life of strong communal prayer by insisting on working together to ensure its feasibility, keeping in mind Francis’s admonition, “Let them pay attention to what they must desire above all else: to have the Spirit of the Lord and its holy activity, to pray always to Him with a pure heart . . .“ (RB 10:8-9). Different fraternities face different challenges in regard to communal prayer. The brothers are called to be mindful that, amid the good work they have committed to do for their sisters and brothers, “they do not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all temporal things must contribute” (RB 5:2). The contemporary distractions of technology and the temptation of “workaholism” may be challenges shared by all the brothers regardless of the configuration of one’s local fraternity.
Following Vatican II’s reminder that the celebration of the Eucharist is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; [and] at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10), we Franciscans insist that the Eucharist is at the center of our prayer lives. This will take on different forms in different communities. A sense of joy and thanksgiving emanates from the Eucharist that is widely identified with the followers of St. Francis. The Eucharist forces us to assert the primacy of prayer in our life. While many of our sources focus on a relationship with Jesus, this must be mediated by Jesus who constantly points to his Heavenly Father. Accordingly, our prayer life is rooted in the Word of God. These roots are fed daily in the prayer practices of our fraternities—such as the Liturgy of the Hours—as well as our own personal prayer practices. Both deserve attention, and it is the primary responsibility of the local Guardian to help the brothers maintain the communal and individual practices that are foundational to the lives they have vowed to lead. These daily practices are nourished by days of recollection and an annual retreat, a practice that many friars in the United States have recognized needs strengthening.
We lesser brothers see an important connection between prayer in the friary and a life in ministry that is consistent with this life of prayer. While prayer is always a value, the brothers desire to connect it with their active ministries. Our ministries must be informed and inspired by our life of prayer. We fear becoming a “resounding gong or clashing cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1) as a result of a ministry not rooted in prayer. This calls for constant renewal and restructuring of our prayer lives as we move into the future. One resource could be a renewed emphasis on the place of solitude and contemplation in the Franciscan tradition, such as what we find in St. Francis’s Rule of Hermitages (GS 2:15).
Faith-sharing shines forth as an ancient element in a new form that is emerging within our faith communities and echoed in the priorities of the Franciscan Order. Most brothers acknowledge faith-sharing as underutilized in our fraternities today, but something with which most brothers have engaged and found to be meaningful. Faithsharing requires a greater sense of trust among the brothers and in our fraternities. Our fraternal life must be restructured in such a way as to prioritize these bonds of trust so that faith-sharing is more natural and cohesive within them. Can we imagine practices of faith-sharing that are as consistent and as widely practiced as Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours?
Prayerful listening to the Word encourages transformation of our fraternities, making them signs of fidelity to the Gospel. Many brothers have described the difficulties of moving into new fraternities, but trusting fraternities convey faith and a belief that prayer helps the brothers persevere in the face of transition and difficulties. In a world beset by constant change, prayer and listening to the Word help the brothers to stay rooted in the hopeful vision of God that “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Renewal and restructuring will help us revitalize and stay close to one another and God as lesser brothers.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- How do we connect our fraternal prayer and our ministry as individuals, as local fraternities, as provinces and nationally?
- How can we move toward practices of faith sharing that are as consistent and widely-practiced in our local fraternities, in our provinces and among us as a national OFM fraternity as are Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours? What form would those practices take?
- What daily practices help us as individuals, as local fraternities, as provinces and as a national OFM fraternity to maintain our vowed life?
The hallmark of the early brothers who followed St. Francis was to live in fraternity.
Thomas of Celano tells of the arrival of Bernardo, “a man from Assisi with a holy and simple character, who was the first to follow devoutly the man of God” (1 Cel. 10:24). Soon, enough brothers joined St. Francis that he felt compelled to write “a form of life and a rule” (1 Cel. 13:32). Reflecting on these events later in his life, St. Francis states in his Testament, “And the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel” (Test. 14).
Our General Constitutions begin by stating clearly in Article 1: “The Order of Friars Minor, founded by St. Francis of Assisi, is a fraternity. The friars, as followers of St. Francis, are bound to lead a radically evangelical life, namely: to live in a spirit of prayer and devotion and in fraternal fellowship . . .” (GC 38-54). The Franciscan Order is not an organization structured to carry out specific duties or ministries. “We are a community of brothers, who within the communion of the Church, united with all who are animated by the spirit of Francis, wish simply to live a Gospel type of life, convinced that such a life is a particular contribution to the overall teaching of Christians.” Therefore, we are not unified by a particular ministry or ministries but as a fraternity in mission.
As a means to develop deeper fraternal bonds, we brothers are called to engage in activities in common such as local chapters, communal prayer, and the celebration of the Eucharist, fraternal days of prayer, and Lectio Divina. Although these activities are engaged in different ways from house to house within the United States, there is general agreement that it is necessary to work at forming fraternity. We are called to strengthen our fraternal bonds by means of these activities, with special attention given to the local house chapters. Given the cultural challenges present in the United States, especially regarding the socialization of men, we are challenged to move beyond “business only” meetings and strive to develop a fraternal space of trust that embodies St. Francis’s exhortation that, “Wherever the brothers may be and meet one another, let them show that they are members of the same family” (RB 6:7). In this space at these privileged times, aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we should always strive to hear the voices of all our brothers and encourage one another to speak freely and respectfully. A good Guardian is attentive to these dynamics and the gifts and needs of the brothers.
In the summary of the research report on the state of the Order of Friars Minor, Professor Renato Mion of the The Pontifical Salesian University in Rome suggested that a lack of interpersonal communication is a problem that afflicts half of the friars of the Order. “This concerns communications between brothers, built in the daily interpersonal relationships . . . And instead, each goes his own way, immersed in his own problems, in an individualism which over time becomes isolation, solitude, autonomy . . .”
In any renewal of our life and restructuring of our entities, there will be challenges we must face in accepting “a different way” of being in the world. Pope Francis calls us to “bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community” (EG 92). What structures or activities will we put in place to develop deep fraternal relationships? Perhaps even more importantly, upon what values will these structures and activities be built? The once familiar structures of the past may no longer serve our needs in building up our fraternity as the numbers of lesser brothers in the United States decreases and our membership ages. Today, we are faced with tremendous workloads in our ministries. The brothers wear multiple hats and are frequently pulled in numerous directions. Former Minister General, Brother José Rodriguez Carballo, and our present Minister General, Brother Michael Perry, among others, have both noted that the brothers have become distracted by the use of computers, tablets, phones, and an overuse of the internet. How can we use these tools of modern life so that they contribute to the building of relationships and not the alienation of isolation?
Fraternal relationships are founded on mutual trust. It is a trust that needs to exist between the members of the provincial council, between the provincial minister and individual brothers, and among all the brothers within our houses. Faced with the realities of a “post-truth world,” replete with “fake news” and the mistaking of opinions for facts, we are challenged to develop trust in our everyday relationships and institutions. As Pope Francis exhorted consecrated religious in 2014, “I would ask you to think about my frequent comments about criticism, gossip, envy, jealousy, hostility as ways of acting which have no place in our houses.” These behaviors and attitudes can quickly erode the foundations of trust, respect, and fraternity in our own local communities. To be seen as lesser brothers who live fraternity in mission, a respectful dialogue may need to be re-learned in our renewal. This dialogue will need to extend to new relationships with our brothers in other Franciscan entities.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- If it is true that, because of our aging and diminished numbers, “the once-familiar structures of the past may no longer serve our needs in building up fraternity,” what might be some new structures that are emerging/could emerge to sustain our fraternal life in the 21st century U.S. as individuals, as local fraternities, as provinces and as a national OFM fraternity?
- What structures or activities can we put into place as individuals, as local fraternities, as provinces and as a national OFM fraternity to develop deeper fraternal relationships?
- How can we individually, as local fraternities, as provinces and as a national OFM fraternity, use the tools of modern life (e.g., computers, tablets, phones, the internet) so that they contribute to the building of fraternal relationships rather than to the alienation of isolation?
“If there are any who wish to accept this life and come to our brothers … then they may be given the clothes of probation, namely, two tunics without a hood, a cord, short trousers, and a little cape reaching to the cord . . . Those who have already promised obedience may have one tunic with a hood and another, if they wish, without a hood” (RB 2:9, 14). Discerning the Spirit’s call to revitalization and renewal as lesser brothers in the United States, we are called to live sine proprio at all times and places in our Franciscan lives (RB 1:1). This includes striving to keep our embrace of evangelical poverty consistent from the first days of our initial formation until the last days of our religious life.
St. Francis stripped himself of his father’s clothes in front of Bishop Guido of Assisi to wear instead “only a cheap tunic” while working in the kitchen at a cloister of monks (1 Cel. 7:16), which symbolized his break with his social class, privilege, and entitlement. Since that day, the followers of St. Francis have engaged in lively arguments about living poverty, owning property, and embracing a simple lifestyle. Certain brothers who understood themselves as especially loyal to St. Francis were ostracized following his death and the early Franciscan movement divided, leading to the one Franciscan family becoming three branches on the one tree—much of the dispute originating over the understanding of poverty.
Another movement towards living a simple life surfaced after Vatican II when religious orders were told to rediscover their respective charisms. In response, our brothers reminded us that we are to be “Disciples of Christ the Poor One” and directed us “to serve the Lord in poverty and humility living as strangers and pilgrims in the world.
As we read in the Sacred Exchange Between Saint Francis and Lady Poverty, “Poverty is the only thing that everyone condemns so that it cannot be discovered in the land of those living comfortably.”6 For many Franciscans the relative comfort and affluence of many in the United States is taken for granted, and therefore the reality of the suffering of their sisters and brothers—from the abject poor to the disappearing middle class—goes easily overlooked. As a society, we have built a “house” in the United States for the “1%,” but the Bible tells us that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build” (Ps. 127:1). As lesser brothers we are called to renew our prophetic commitment to living sine proprio and to challenge such structural injustices in our midst by word and deed.
In the Old Testament, the prophet “forth tells” more than she or he “foretells.” We must tell the stories of our inner cities and rural blight. Some of our inner cities appear deserted as jobs and wealth relocated to other parts of the country and even outside of the United States. Small rural towns have become islands of unemployment, with substandard schools, little access to quality healthcare and a rise in drug use. Immigrants who have come to the United States searching for a decent wage and a way to care for their families are often robbed of wages by unscrupulous bosses and left unprotected by a government whose primary purpose, according to Catholic teaching, is to promote the common good. Within our United States borders and beyond we also witness the continuation of slavery in the form of human trafficking and sexual commerce, which disproportionately affects women and girls, immigrants, refugees, and others already located in precarious social locations.
We can strive to live as better disciples of the Poverello, the Poor One, by critically and honestly examining the wealth of our provinces, the buildings and properties for which we have responsibility, and the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. As lesser brothers in the United States, we have an honorable history of working with and for the materially poor, the immigrant, and those most vulnerable. We must recall this history and renew our commitment to this way of being in the world as we move forward into the future. Will our fraternities be sanctuary communities? How can we continue to walk with, care for, and advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and the marginalized in our world?
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- Of what have we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) stripped ourselves, and what still needs to be stripped away, so that we can be free to embrace the Gospel life?
- How does where we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) live affect – for good or for bad – our understanding and living of a simple and sober lifestyle?
- Do we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) let the poor and marginalized evangelize us so that we can better name society’s reality? If so, how? If not, what could I do about this?
As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, “The Church is herself a missionary disciple” (EG 40). We are called by our baptism to be members of the Body of Christ that reaches out into the world, especially to those at the margins of our societies and those excluded by contemporary cultures. As lesser brothers, our commitment to evangelical poverty serves as a cornerstone of our fraternal life of prayer and mission. The Franciscan way of being missionary disciples is lived out at the peripheries of societies in which we find ourselves. And, therefore, we are sent out to the margins, particularly to those who have been left behind, overlooked, or discarded by the globalized economy.
The nature of evangelical poverty in the Franciscan tradition is always incarnational, modeled after the example of Christ, who “though He was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself taking on the form of a servant being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7). St. Francis consistently called his brothers to recall this Christological model of kenosis when they were discerning their way of being in the world: “Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!
Our embrace of evangelical poverty is never to be an end in itself, but always a means to a greater end: solidarity. We are called to live sine proprio rather than in penury, because abject poverty is always an evil to protest. Our voluntary embrace of evangelical poverty also is a means to aid in enriching those who suffer abject or material poverty. Just as Christ emptied himself, surrendered the trappings of divine wealth and majesty to draw near to us; just as Francis rejected the social standards of his time that emphasized the quest to become maiores and elected to enter into relationship alongside the minores, we too are called to divest ourselves of all those things that get in the way of relationship with others. This is what Pope Francis highlights when he says in Evangelii Gaudium that “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (EG 49).
Our task as lesser brothers is actively to seek a place in the world—wherever we find ourselves—that prioritizes solidarity with all people, especially the materially poor, the historically disenfranchised, and all those who suffer injustice. This should be our aim as individuals living out our baptismal vocation and as a fraternity of brothers living out our charism in the modern world by means of diverse ministries and work (RB 5:1-4).
We see many possibilities for our place in the world. Friars Minor have always gone to the Missions since the earliest days of the Order. Our Minister General Brother Michael Perry has spoken of wanting to send 70 men to the foreign missions in the next five years. And the brothers in the United States have recognized the enormous spiritual and pastoral gifts that returning missionaries bring back to their provinces as well as the ongoing inspiration coming from the missions and missionaries. We must envision a future of greater contributions to the foreign missions so that we can tap into the abundant life of the foreign mission. We recognize that we receive so much more than we give there.
Newer generations have introduced new challenges to pastoral ministry and new insights for our own renewal. Some of the challenges include the lack of catechesis or even a complete disinterest in organized religion. Some of the insights are an increased openness to diversity, dialogue, other cultures, and other new ways of thinking and relating. As lesser brothers, we can relate to new ways of thinking and relating to others: the Franciscan movement emerged from St. Francis and St. Clare–two young adults responding to the Spirit in their own time. Today, there is still a great need for evangelization, and yet other parts of shifting generational priorities have much to offer our Franciscan life. While things like the Franciscan Volunteer Ministries (FVM) exist, we see a great need for a national platform for collaborating with youth. Additionally, if we were able to improve our relationship with the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities (AFCU), we might have a natural forum for greater collaboration with youth. A reciprocal relationship with them will allow us greater access to groups of young people both vital for vocations and open to new models of ministry.
We brothers have a long tradition of education, which gives us the opportunity to dialogue with many different partners in the modern world. We meet many different cultures as well as the unchurched in our educational institutions. We can envision a common enterprise to coordinate our schools so that they more intentionally reach out to the poor and are seen as model institutions for empowering the poor, and we can better share our Franciscan life with others. Many models already exist for this in the United States, but this seems like a natural place for a more articulated Franciscan vision.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- What things, ideas, attitudes, prejudices, fears (etc.) get in the way of our (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) being in solidarity with others?
- Do we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) choose our own security over possibly being “bruised, hurting or dirty”? If so, what can we do to change this stance? Do we want to change this stance?
- How are we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) open to learn from those whose life experience is different from our own?
As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the lesser brothers are following someone who was from the margins. Nazareth was far from the power and glory of Jerusalem,
and Jesus’s followers were identified in Jerusalem as outsiders (Matt. 26:73). Jesus consistently used a model of dialogue as he preached through the towns and villages of Galilee (Matt. 9:35). His ministry of itinerancy contrasted with John the Baptist’s ministry where people came to him. We find a similar ministry in the example of St. Francis who travelled around the Umbrian countryside as well as to Rome and Egypt.
We lesser brothers desire to emulate this ministry of Jesus and St. Francis, both of whom reached out to foreign enemies and the internally displaced, be they lepers or heretics. We find ourselves in an age of great pluralism and diversity. We feel uniquely blessed at a time when so many speak of exclusion to be part of a tradition of moving toward difficult and risky areas. There is a desire to follow shifting demographics both in the United States and throughout the world. Many friars have had powerful experiences in the Global South and a hope exists that more and more opportunities will be present for our vocations to continue to be nourished in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. When we revisit our traditions and history, we see the friars frequently going to these places.
Many acknowledge the danger of clinging to older forms of evangelization in which there is no dialogue and we perceive ourselves as the sole bearers of truth. This mentality can be seen at times resulting from a fear of new cultures. Today we require adaptation, a renewed missiology, and a new evangelization. Rather than risk following Jesus’s self-emptying ministry of encounter, we brothers in the United States recognize the temptation to cling to ways of working with the people of God that are more familiar at the expense of starting something new and closing off the Holy Spirit. A Missio inter gentes mentality does not fear the unchurched or religious pluralism, but rather allows us to see our brothers and sisters, each of whom is a Child of God and from whom we still have much to learn. We will have to leave many ministries in order to fulfill the mandates of missio inter gentes and new forms of evangelization.
The prophet Jeremiah told Israel to have children as well as build houses and gardens in Babylonia rather than to pine for the past so that they will increase (Jer. 29:56). We too must imagine how our Franciscan vocations will increase in the future. The Global South is a place of abundance and these communities of immigrants are expanding our Church in the United States. We see renewal and revitalization as coming both from these communities as well as dialoguing with both the young and the many cultures now foreign to Christianity. We are challenged to move beyond of our individual and collective comfort zones out to the margins in order to renew and revitalize our charism of itinerancy.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- While I can acknowledge that everyone is a child of God, are there nonetheless people and groups that in fact we (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province and as a national OFM fraternity) do not relate to as God’s children? Who are these people for me, my local fraternity, my province and the national OFM fraternity? Why?
- How could I, my local fraternity, my province and the national OFM fraternity learn from the people and groups that are “beyond the borders” of my/our life?
- I, my local fraternity, my province, our national OFM fraternity normally live within familiar “borders,” but I recognize a call to greater itinerancy and dialogue in the following ways:….
The documents of Vatican II remind us that the Church is first and foremost the “People of God” (LG 9), which is the body of Christ formed through the sacrament of baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). As lesser brothers, our primary identity and vocation is grounded in our baptismal identity just as it was for St. Francis. Joined as we are to one another in Christ, we are not an alternative ecclesial community but brothers who accompany and serve our sisters and brothers in communion with the local Church in a variety of ministries including at the parochial and diocesan levels, in parishes and in administration, in traditional capacities and in innovative ways. While many bishops welcome the brothers into their dioceses as brothers and ministers in a spirit of fraternity and gratitude, we must continue to recall that our collaboration with the local church is vocational rather than one of expedience. Instead, our priority must always center on fostering that “spirit of holy prayer and devotion” (RB 5:2) that stands at the core of our identity as lesser brothers in fraternity.
We strive to live out the charism of being lesser brothers in the manner of St. Francis and St. Clare by embracing the call to stand in solidarity with, minister to, and work on behalf of those women and men who are most vulnerable, overlooked, and marginalized in our Church and society. As Pope Francis has said in Amoris Laetitia, families today face numerous challenges. Our history of Franciscan ministry in the United States reflects this commitment, such as in our work with immigrant communities and the undocumented, divorced couples, victims of violence and abuse, HIV/AIDS patients, LGBTQ persons, and others. We recognize that our efforts to reach members of the faithful that have experienced alienation in any form have been a gift to the local and universal church. And yet, we also know that, as Pope Francis has reminded us, our task is not complete—“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20). This is our continued call and challenge, grounded in the experience of an ad intra renewal of fraternal life and prayer, we then—like St. Francis—go out to the peripheries of our local churches and societies. This can be our response “to the urgency of reaching all men and women of our time there where they live; of getting closer to all and particularly the neglected ones; of activating that ‘Francis, go!’ which the Crucifix continuously repeats to us today, while educating our ear to be able to hear the call of our brothers and sisters: ‘Francis, come!’; of sowing the hope and the longing for new heavens and a new earth.”
As we continue to discern the Spirit’s call in the modern world, “scrutinizing the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4), we recognize the importance of prioritizing our Franciscan life in order to be effective ministers in manifold settings. Our future collaborations with the local and universal Church will require respect, creativity, and patience. We must be realistic in acknowledging that the way we have always done things may no longer be sufficient and that the natural inclination to maintain the status quo should not override our prophetic vocation in the Church to serve each other “as pilgrims and strangers in this world” (RB 6:2) or, as Pope Francis reminds us, our “absolute priority is that of going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters” (EG 179). We must continue telling the stories of the pilgrims and strangers in our world today.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- I am proud that the Church has made it possible for me, my local fraternity, my province, our national OFM fraternity to minister to ….
- I am saddened that the Church has overlooked the needs of …
- I hear the call to come and minister in a new way (individually, as a local fraternity, as a province, as a national OFM fraternity) to…
By the grace of the Holy Spirit, St. Francis came to recognize that authentic Gospel life was lived in community and through relationship with those women and men God placed in his life. He learned that one does not live Christian discipleship alone or independently, but always in community and through an encounter with the other. As Friars Minor in the United States, we pattern our life of fraternity and mission in a spirit of collaboration, never going it alone but always working with others, thereby rejecting the increased individualism often found in the contemporary United States.
Recalling our own Franciscan origins as an ecclesial movement that welcomed both lay and cleric brothers, not intended to be simply a clerical or a cloistered congregation but a mendicant community of lesser brothers in relationship with all those we might encounter, collaboration in ministry with the laity is of great importance to us. The women and men with whom we minister and upon whom we so frequently depend to continue our way of life are a gift and indispensable partners in ministry and members of our Franciscan mission and Gospel life. As Pope Francis has reminded us, the evangelizing mission of the Gospel is the responsibility of the whole churchand not something limited to the ordained or consecrated religious (EG 111). Therefore, the priority of collaboration with the laity finds grounding in the shared baptismal call we all have received and finds expression in the creative ministries, outreach, advocacy, and presence we provide together.
Though our history bears witness to the pain of division and mutual misunderstanding, we celebrate the centrality of our shared charism and calling, to live the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by walking in the footprints of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi. Furthermore, calling to mind our own sisters and brothers in the Franciscan family, we commit to collaboration with our other brothers in the First Order, our sisters in Second Order, and all the women and men who compose the richly diverse Third Order Regular and Secular Franciscan Order. What we hold is common is far greater than what our respective difference might otherwise suggest. For this reason, innovative and creative ministries, novel outreach and service, as well as the possibility of new forms of inter-obediential community life should be prioritized and inform future decisions about where, when, and how we live out our Franciscan vocation in the modern world.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- Do my, my local fraternity’s, my province’s, the national OFM fraternity’s attitudes, words, and actions reflect that ministerial collaboration with the laity is a priority?
- Are there now, or should there be in the future, policies and procedures which challenge local and provincial fraternities to embrace a ministerial model that demands collaboration with the laity? What are they or what should they be?
- Do I, my local fraternity, my province, the national OFM fraternity accept that fraternal living and working with other members of the Franciscan family should be a priority of the process of Revitalization & Restructuring? If so, how? If not, why not?
Pope Francis famously exhorted us to recall that, “No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles” (EG 201). Indeed, this is also an excuse found within the Franciscan family. We are reminded that, “none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice” (EG 201). While commendable effort has been put into shoring up provincial offices for Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of
Creation (JPIC) in the United States, it is still often the case that many individual Franciscans struggle to incorporate this commitment into their respective understanding of vocation and ministry. In many of our ministerial and outreach efforts on behalf of the materially poor, the historically disenfranchised, and our Sister Mother Earth (Cant. 9), we do so from a place of comfort and security, frequently risking little and avoiding the chance for greater solidarity.
As Friars Minor living and ministering in the United States, we must commit ourselves to working to end not just particular or discrete instances of injustice, violence, and abuse, but also work to change the structural, institutional, and cultural causes of systemic injustice witnessed in such forms as misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and environmental degradation, among others. Vowed to live in this world as lesser brothers, we are committed to standing with the minores of our time, always mindful that it is our duty and salvation to attune our ears not only to the “joys and the hopes” of our sisters and brothers, but also “the griefs and anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted” (GS 1).
Our need to hear the cry of the poor is not limited to the impoverished within the human family alone, but extends to all creation. Like the human poor, the poor Earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS 2). As lesser brothers, it is our particular responsibility to promote a renewed understanding of our place within the community of creation as members of God’s cosmic family for, “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7); our bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (LS 2).” Now is the time for us to protect and to advocate on behalf of the entire family of creation.
In addition to our corporate commitment at the worldwide and provincial levels, we must also strive to prioritize this personal commitment to become lesser brothers in our modern world for the sake of our sisters and brothers, opening our ears to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Each brother must ask what he is doing to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalized. How is this a priority in our lives? We cannot leave to our JPIC offices to live out these values for us.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- Do I agree that the integration of JPIC values into the “DNA” of a Revitalized and Restructured Franciscan experience in the United States demands more than the establishment of a provincial or national office of JPIC? What is the “more” that is called for from me, my local fraternity, my province, the national OFM fraternity?
- In my judgment, are works on behalf of justice and the advancement of the cause of peace core elements of living the Gospel? Can I foresee any circumstances in which an individual friar or a local fraternity would be able to opt-out of this commitment?
- Are there now, or should there be in the future, policies and procedures that demand that local fraternities, provincial fraternities and the national OFM fraternity live in such a way so as to reflect our commitment to live in solidarity with the poor and marginalized?
Matthew ends his gospel with a long sentence starting with the command: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations . . .” (Mt 28:19). This command
sits at the heart of our positive and hopeful outlook on the world. It commands itinerancy and an openness to all peoples. We are trying to envision a Franciscan presence in the 21st Century that remains faithful to this gospel imperative. The eight criteria of this White Paper are all about living out this command.
- We must be men of prayer.
- Rather than embody the ethos of “I, me, and my,” we are to be about “we, us, and ours.”
- We are called to sine proprio living.
- We are to live with the poor and share our lives with them.
- We are called to a missionary mentality that allows us to see God in all people, especially those society struggles with the most.
- We recognize the importance of communion with the local church.
- We must strive for greater collaboration with the laity and the Franciscan Family.
- We are to make values of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation reside at the center of our life and ministry.
We have been inspired as we have seen the responses of the friars to these criteria. Most importantly, we trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the general minister of the Order, in all the processes of discernment that led to this White Paper.
ONE FINAL QUESTION:
Before concluding your reflection/discussion on this document, please take the time to reflect on one final question:
What is the next step I (my local fraternity, my province, the national OFM fraternity) need to take at this time?