At our May fraternity meeting we talked about obedience in the context of Article 6 of the Rule, "living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests." This month we will continue with Article 7 and our need to "conform [our] thoughts and deeds to those of Christ." For my part, we move this month from considering the Holy Fatherís words to our Order to his message to the whole Church at the end of the Holy Year of 2000 and the start of the third millennium (the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte). This Apostolic Letter is 36 pages long, and I have only read bits and pieces of it so far; the more I read, the more I understand how much of our call to be Secular Franciscans is "simply" taking our call to follow Christ seriously, as Francis did. What follows are some excerpts from Novo Millennio Ineunte and how I see them reflected in our Rule or in Franciscan spirituality in general.
- One of the Holy Fatherís key themes in this letter, in his letter to the SFO, and in many other messages during the Jubilee Year is "Duc in altum!" ("Put out into the deep" [Luke 5:4]). This was Jesusí command to Peter at the start of His ministry. The Holy Father is encouraging us all to do what Jesus calls us to do. We are "following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people." (Art. 4)
As the Holy Father calls us to action, however, he says:
It is important however that what we propose, with the help of God, should be profoundly rooted in contemplation and prayer. Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of "doing for the sake of doing". We must resist this temptation by trying "to be" before trying "to do". In this regard we should recall how Jesus reproved Martha: "You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful" (Lk 10:41-42).Compare this with our Rule, Art. 8: "As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do."
- "[The] duty of praise...is the point of departure for every genuine response of faith to the revelation of God in Christ." As followers of St. Francis, who praised God for Himself and in all creation, this is not just a duty but a joy. "Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks, and serve Him with great humility." (Canticle of the Sun).
- The whole second chapter of the Apostolic Letter is oriented toward contemplation of Christ in various ways. Our call is to "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." (Article 5).
The Holy Father calls us to a greater understanding of the Scriptures:
Remaining firmly anchored in Scripture, we open ourselves to the action of the Spirit (cf. Jn 15:26) from whom the sacred texts derive their origin, as well as to the witness of the Apostles (cf. Jn 15:27), who had a first-hand experience of Christ, the Word of life: they saw him with their eyes, heard him with their ears, touched him with their hands (cf. 1 Jn 1:1).
Of course, we are called to "devote [our]selves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel." (Article 4). The Pope also recommends the practice of lectio divina, which we have discussed previously, as a way of "renewed listening to the word of God." Our Rule puts us "ahead of the curve" in our recognition of the importance of Scripture in our lives.
- The Holy Father calls all the faithful to a deeper life of prayer, including liturgical Morning and Evening prayer for the laity. He cites the example of "many committed Christian groups, also those made up largely of lay people," who include Eucharist and morning and evening prayer with life in the world. Guess what? Weíre part of the example!
- The Holy Father says, "[S]haring in the Eucharist should really be the heart of Sunday for every baptized personÖ" For us, I think this quote should be a footnote to "Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist." (Art. 8), since it expresses the priority of Sunday Eucharist so clearly.
There is much more we could talk about from
Novo Millenio Ineunte, but I think this is plenty to think about for a while. One last thought from the letter which suggests the place of our Franciscan community:
[O]ur Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love". Intense prayer, yes, but it does not distract us from our commitment to history: by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God's plan.
May Godís peace and blessing be with you and your families this month and always! Vickie