Two weekends ago you might recall the Church celebrated a World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and each year this “Vocation Sunday” is celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s a time to reflect upon all kinds of vocations in the world but especially church vocations such as ordained diocesan and religious priests, men and women called to the consecrated life either living in community or as a consecrated virgin or a hermit, and also men and women who feel called to join a secular institute, a lay association in the Church, and various forms of lay communities within the Church.
In the bulletin I took the opportunity to give a brief synopsis of the beginnings of the Franciscan Movement which evolved into two groups of followers of Francis of Assisi: the Friars Minor and the Poor Clare Sisters. Both of them lived a life in community with a Rule of Life and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. As Francis and the original brothers continued to go about Italy preaching the Gospel and thereby reforming the Church of their day, more and more laity wanted to become part of this Movement as well, and this lead eventually to what was called the “Third Order” or “The Brothers and Sisters of Penance” and finally the “Secular Franciscan Order.” This group consisted of men and women, some of whom were married, others single, who wanted to share the ideals and values espoused by Francis and Clare, to do so in their chosen occupations and way of life, but to live simply, faithfully and dedicatedly as followers of Jesus in the Catholic Church.
They realized that their basic call resulted from their baptism and of course they were to observe the Commandments and the laws of the Church, but they also wanted to have the support of other people who, like themselves, wanted to grow spiritually together. Like the friars and the Poor Ladies, they had a Rule that was approved by the Pope. They often came together for prayer and for sharing how they felt called to live the Gospel daily. They became a real force in society since often they banded together in specific ways, e.g., they were not to carry guns and they founded the early expression of what today we call credit unions so that the poor could borrow money in order to meet their needs or to develop their talents.
Today the Secular Franciscans still try to exemplify these ideals. They go through a period of formation—usually a year after a period of probation—and then make a profession of wanting to follow the Rule as best they can by following the Gospel in spirit and in truth. They meet as a group at least once a month to reflect on their life and to support each other in faith. They usually do not have any exterior garb to set them apart, but often they may wear a wooden tau cross around their neck as a sign of their profession. They could very well be your next door neighbor or the person kneeling next to you in the pew at church. Let me give you a sense of who they are by quoting a few paragraphs from their Rule:
“The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people. Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.
“Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of St. Francis, who often said, ‘I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,’ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.
“They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words. Called like St. Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.
“United by their vocation as ‘brothers and sisters of penance’ and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal, the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father’s mercy and the source of grace.”
Earlier this month we celebrated the profession of six new secular Franciscans (four women and two men) during a Mass which was attended by family and friends of the newly-professed. It was a time to rejoice that these six individuals had felt a call to this way of life and then followed through on answering that call. You may want to investigate the seculars in order to see whether becoming one of them might be something God is pointing out to you. You can go to the National Fraternity’s website: http://www.Secular FranciscansUSA.org or on Facebook: Secular Franciscans USA, Twitter @SecFranUSA, or the Local Regional Website of the Mother Cabrini Region: http://www.ilsof.org.
Here at St. Peter’s we have three fraternities of Secular Franciscans:
The San Damiano Fraternity that meets every Wednesday from 12:10-12:55 PM.
The Minister is Robert John Connor, OFS ([email protected]).
The St. Francis-St. Louis Fraternity that meets on the First Sunday of each month at 1:15 PM. The Minister is Norman Mosk, OFS ([email protected]).
The Brother Jacoba Fraternity that meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 6:00 PM.
The Minister is Araceli Ramos, OFS ([email protected]).
Please feel free to contact any one of the above for more information and for ways that you may become more acquainted with the fraternity, ways of welcoming, the prayer life, how persons live the Gospel life more intensely, etc.
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
The Gospel reading shows Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure. He promises them the gift of peace, a peace the world cannot give, since Jesus’ sacrifice of love on the cross brings about a reconciliation of humanity with God. Jesus reassures his followers that although he will not be physically present among them, he will continue to be present spiritually through the Holy Spirit. One of the Spirit’s tasks is “to teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Spirit’s inspiration enables Jesus’ followers to fathom more deeply the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. This provides the foundation for our Catholic teaching on the sensus fidei (“sense of the faithful”), that the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as “the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” (#92).
The First Reading notes the early Church’s dependence on the Holy Spirit. In their outreach to the pagan world, the early Christians encounter problems that bring disagreements. Of major concern was the question about whether the pagan converts were still subject to the Jewish laws.
Today’s reading gives insight on how to resolve similar issues: by prayer and open dialogue under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.” The Holy Spirit operates at the heart of the Christian community by guiding it toward wise decisions. This example shows that all plans and decisions must begin under the guidance of and in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gives his followers a peace that the world cannot give. But what if a community possessed that peace because all of its members were followers of Christ? In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis points out the difference embodied in a culture that is imbued with faith. He states: “The immense importance of a culture marked by faith cannot be overlooked. An evangelized culture has many more resources than the mere sum total of believers. An evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society” (#68).
In the Gospel, Jesus connects keeping his word with loving him. Pope Benedict XVI notes that joining our will to God’s unites us to God in other ways also. This union is never finished, the pope states in Deus caritas est: “Acknowledgment of the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never ‘finished’ and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself.” (#17).
For Your Reflection: How does your faith calm you when you are troubled? What does Christ’s peace offer you? Have you considered the Holy Spirit as part of your life of faith?
RENEW MY CHURCH
Renew My Church is the Archdiocese of Chicago’s program to revitalize parishes and parish communities in order to not only make the parish a more vibrant Christian family but also to help all Catholics be willing to reach out to others in order to bring the Gospel of Jesus to more and more people. It is not that we have not been aware of this before, but often we get so involved in merely our own spiritual lives that we do not realize that each follower of Jesus is responsible to build the Kingdom of God, and that means transforming our world into what Jesus has preached and proclaimed while he lived among us on this earth. Renew My Church is based on three main principles or themes:
Through Renew My Church we must reflect on how each of us invites others—today and in the future—into a personal encounter and lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.
Am I a disciple of Jesus Christ? What holds me back from following Him more closely and from introducing others to him?
Through Renew My Church we aim to ensure our communities have enough resources to carry out our mission. But we also recognize resourcing alone does not address all of our challenges. Parish and school communities that today are well-resourced and vibrant still face significant challenges because of the changes in society. That is why we need a spiritual renewal at the foundation of all we do through Renew My Church. And that spiritual renewal begins with each and every one of us.
What is my relationship with the parish community? Where can I give of my time and talents to strengthen the larger Catholic community?
In keeping with the urging of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis is calling the Church to go out into the world as a field hospital to bring healing to a world torn by division, violence, racism, poverty and to promote respect for human dignity and life.
As a disciple of Jesus and a member of His Church, what witness do I bring to my local community and to the wider world?
Use these questions in your own quiet prayer life. Allow them to open a conversation between you and the Lord. Perhaps He is calling you to greater trust, to a decisive moment in your relationship with Him, to a more active role in your faith community.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
An eccentric philosophy professor gave a one-question final exam after a semester dealing with a broad array of topics.
The class was already seated and ready to go when the professor picked up his chair, plopped it on his desk, and wrote on the board, “Using everything we have learned this semester, prove that this chair does not exist.”
Fingers flew, erasers erased, and notebooks were filled in furious fashion. Some students wrote over 30 pages in one hour attempting to refute the existence of the chair. One member of the class, however, was up and finished in less than a minute.
Weeks later, when the grades were posted, the rest of the group wondered how he could have gotten an “A” when he had barely written anything at all. His answer consisted of two words: