Dear brothers and sisters,
During the holidays, I had time to read part of a very different book on St. Francis - St. Francis of Assisi by Raoul Manselli. This out-of-print book was cited by one of the National Spiritual Assistants, Fr. Stephen Gross, OFM Conv., as an important step in modern scholarship that seeks to understand Francis more deeply, based as much as possible on what we know of his own writings. (The book I mentioned last month, Francis of Assisi: Writer and Spiritual Master, is a product of the same type of scholarship.) There are a couple of points Manselli highlights that are worth our reflection over the next month or two.
The point I would like to ponder this month regards meeting in chapter. Manselli (pp. 177-178) refers to chapter as "reunion" of the friars, and says that "the custom of everybody's meeting twice a year...emerged from the desire to see and visit with each other. ...Affective needs moved them more so than did any organizational requirements, however valid." He also talks about the joy of the friars' reunion.
I can tell you that my own experience of the NAFRA chapters is one of joy. Through the necessity of traveling and staying apart for several days, we have the time to visit, renew friendships and make new ones. Paradoxically, since our region is close in comparison with most others, we have LESS time for such reunion/socializing/joy at our regional chapter meetings; however, we do have our August Gathering, the regional retreat in the fall, the Mother Cabrini celebration, and other regional events where we have this same opportunity to meet our sisters and brothers from other fraternities. I am very glad we had such a good turnout for the Mother Cabrini celebration this year; the article in the SFO News by the minister of St. Anthony - Rockford underscores the importance of our being "family" to them. While it can be a challenge to set aside the time, our efforts to be community, I am confident, will be richly rewarded.
However, the point that occurred to me during my reading was that our monthly fraternity meetings are OUR "chapters." Like the friars, we are sent forth into the world each month to be an example, a living presence of Christ's love in the world. Like the friars, we return to our spiritual home regularly to recharge our spiritual batteries amidst our fraternal sisters and brothers.
Do we recognize this time, our fraternal time together, as a time to be joyful, to express our happiness at seeing people we share our Franciscan lives with? Do we let those who have been away, for whatever reason, know how glad we are to have them back among us? Do we anticipate our meetings with the prospect of having our faith and enthusiasm revived by being among like-minded sisters and brothers?
Note that what is most significant here is not the formal content of the meeting but our presence to one another. We have to conduct business (just as the friars did in their chapters, to be sure). We pray together because that is as basic to our lives as eating (and of course we do that too). Our formation time, too, is vitally important; formation is mental and spiritual food for the life we are called to lead. But the love we give each other and the life we lead TOGETHER is what helps us change how we live the rest of the month...and that is the light in the world that we are called to be.
After the necessary cancellation of our December meeting, I hope you will all be looking forward to being together in January as much as I am! Peace and blessings to you all as we start 2009. Vickie