As we approach the end of the liturgical year and the end of the calendar year, we are encouraged in many ways to take time to reflect on the year’s events and how we might learn from them as we move forward. Our life in fraternity is no exception. We will spend our November meeting in evaluation (reflection) on our fraternal life in 2004 and consideration of how we want to improve in 2005.
As we prepare for this reflection, I want to point out a few items that emphasize the importance of this activity and suggest what we are striving for. (Even if you are reading this after the November meeting, these points are worth ongoing reflection as we participate in our fraternity meetings.)
- The local fraternity "should be the privileged place for developing a sense of Church and the Franciscan vocation and for enlivening the apostolic life of its members." (Rule #22)
- The fraternity council "should adopt appropriate means for growth in Franciscan and ecclesial life and encourage everyone to a life of fraternity." span style="font-size:smaller;font-style:italic; "> (Rule #24)
- "In the fraternity, the brothers and sisters should promote mutual understanding and they should see to it that the atmosphere of their meetings is welcoming and that it reflects joy. They should encourage one another for the good." span style="font-size:smaller;font-style:italic; "> (Constitutions #26.2)
- "Insertion into a local fraternity and participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the SFO. Appropriate initiatives should be adopted according to the directives of the national statutes, to keep those brothers and sisters united to the fraternity who — for valid reasons of health, family, work, or distance — cannot actively participate in community life." span style="font-size:smaller;font-style:italic; "> (Constitutions #53.3)
- In her statement at the National Fraternity meeting in October 2004, our Minister General, Encarnación del Pozo, described life in fraternity as absolutely essential. (I was most gratified to learn that our Minister General and I share this emphasis on the importance of life in fraternity!) She also pointed out that our life in fraternity is our gift to the church:
Fidelity to their own charism, Franciscan and secular, and the witness of building fraternity, sincerely and openly, are their principal services to the Church, which is the community of love. They should be recognized in it by their "being," from which their mission springs.< span style="font-size:smaller;font-style:italic;"> (Constitutions #100.3)
- In the CIOFS (International SFO) Newsletter, we find the following reflections in the context of keeping members connected with the fraternity:
The problem of the brothers and sisters who are, in effect, isolated from their local Fraternities is important because one of the fundamental values of being Franciscan-Christians is, in fact, living in fraternity.
"Tonight, I wish to linger on the one sign about your family that better than any other one characterizes you and recapitulates the aim the Church is striving for in this Jubilee: fraternity. ... in the fraternity, Saint Francis introduces the sense of responsibility for the need of what he calls a "reciprocal service" and also a "mutual obedience" even within a religious community. ....The franciscan fraternity appeared as the prophetic image of a humankind in which everyone fully recognizes one another as brother or sister .... Never has the true fraternity been at the same time so longed for and so little lived. ...... we choose friends but not brothers and sisters, and this is what renders, due to its indelible character, the fraternity so burdensome." - Cardinal Roger Etchegarray, on the occasion of the Franciscan Jubilee span style="font-size:smaller; "> (CIOFS Volume: 10 - N. 20 - 2004 - April - IV)
- The International Presidency has written two letters to national fraternities this year which relate to the importance of life in fraternity, one on the pastoral care of those who want to participate in fraternal life but are unable to do so for one reason or another, and another on the more general problem of inactive members. These letters reinforce the vital necessity of fraternal life and the responsibility of all members to keep each other connected to the fraternity in whatever way makes sense for their situation in life.
So, for those of us who sometimes have trouble explaining what Secular Franciscans do, here is another perspective: we live in Christian fraternity and demonstrate that it can be done. No easy task here, but it is really a blessing that we have such a high standard to aspire to! If requires our engagement and willingness to examine ourselves and consider how we measure up and what we can do as a fraternity (and as individuals) to work toward the ideal of life in fraternity.
I hope to see you at our November and December gatherings. As always, our Advent morning of reflection will be a special “time out” from holiday busyness to prepare for the coming of the Lord. May Christ who humbled himself to be born of the Virgin fill your hearts with joy and peace this Christmas and in the year to come!
Peace and good...Vickie