As someone who grew up in subtropical south Florida, spring wasnít all that different from other seasons. While winter can bring many hardships, without winter itís really hard to appreciate the abundance of new life that spring brings! Iíve lived in Illinois for more winters than I spent in Florida, but Iím still fascinated by the changes that each season brings.
While spring brings new life and new possibilities, summer opens into the opportunity to grow and develop that new life. Several people in our fraternity have celebrated new beginnings this spring. Nick and Gingie have started their lives as professed Secular Franciscans, Judy has begun her formation as an inquirer, and Betty and Jerry have transferred to our fraternity. Each of these beginnings creates new opportunities for all of us.
One of the defining features of Secular Franciscan fraternities is that each one is the unique product of the individuals belonging to it. This means that a fraternity develops and changes with each new member. When looked at in this way, itís easy to see why a fraternity that has stopped attracting new members is viewed as being on "life support"; when we stop developing and changing, we die. Having Nick, Gingie, Betty, Jerry, and Judy with us will bring new blessings and encourage us to grow in new ways, and we rejoice in their presence!
Obviously, those of us who have been around for a while (and that includes me, since the 20th anniversary of my profession was June 2!) arenít staying static either. However, itís easy to get in a comfortable pattern of behavior unless other events cause us to change. For me, an important part of my development as a Secular Franciscan was transferring to our fraternity. I first became an SFO because I was searching for a community of others who were serious about growing in their faith. However, when I was professed in 1985, my close-knit formation group dispersed within a very large fraternity. With many responsibilities at work and at my church, it was easy to skip the relatively anonymous monthly gatherings and simply send in my offering in the envelope provided. I prayed my daily office, and I got to meetings "sometimes" - but was I growing in my Secular Franciscan vocation? No.
When we moved to Batavia, it got worse - there was basically no way I was going downtown on Sunday afternoon to attend meetings. So, after a few months, I asked to transfer to our fraternity. Did my bad habits go away immediately? Certainly not! I attended meetings in Aurora fairly regularlyÖbut not all the time (I had things to do with my family, etc., etc.).
ThenÖit happened. Irene (minister at the time) asked me to help plan an upcoming program with a guest speaker. One thing led to another, andÖI was INVOLVED. Instead of coming to meetings as a spectator, I was part of making things happen. Not surprisingly, life in fraternity became more of a priority for meÖagain! Some of the events in my own life in the past few years have made it so clear that the fraternity is my extended family, I canít imagine being "away" again!
Why have I shared this story? Because I donít think itís all that different from anyone elseís story. Some of you who havenít known me that long may think that Iíve always been very involved in the fraternity. Others may think that it doesnít matter if youíve stopped coming to meetings regularly, or that once you HAVE stopped, itís over - youíre "lapsed" and thatís that. What I see is quite different - as members of a SECULAR order, life "happens" and our priorities change from time to time, and you may need to be away for a while and come back when the time is right. In my case, I didnít have a good reason to not attend meetings, but many others do.
I pray for all of us that the fraternity may indeed be "the privileged place for developing a sense of Church and the Franciscan vocation" (Rule, Art. 22). For all those who are no longer able to attend fraternity meetings due to infirmity or illness, I give thanks that the Ministry of Prayer and Praise provides you a means of contributing to our common spiritual good. For those who do not attend regularly for other reasons, I hope that this column encourages you to reconsider the importance of life in fraternity; know that your brothers and sisters are waiting to welcome you with open arms.
May the Lord of Life bless you abundantly with new growth in faith, hope and love this summer and always! Vickie