November-December 2006

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am writing this article at the National Fraternity meeting in Marathon City, Wisconsin (a very small town near Wausau). I want to share with you something that struck me during the ongoing formation session that started our meeting. Teresa Baker, National Formation Commission chairperson, shared a presentation on the significance of profession that was given by a priest at the International Formation workshop in Italy. The most arresting point, for me, was the statement that a fraternity is (or should be) “re-founded” each time a person is professed. Teresa compared the situation to that of a family with a newborn; the “routine” is turned upside down and reorganized out of necessity. She suggested that something similar should happen within our fraternities! Some Franciscan religious communities tear up their “house rules” and rewrite them when a new member joins them, to make this sort of reorganization concrete. Teresa used another analogy, comparing a fraternity to a beautiful vase made of pliable clay; each time a new member (more clay) is added, rather than just sticking the lump on the vase and trying to make it look OK, the vase would be reshaped into a completely new vase.

This is striking to me for several reasons. First, as Teresa observed, perhaps if we really worked this hard at integrating new people into the fraternity, we wouldn’t have as much trouble with people just dropping out! Second, this fits very well with the Franciscan concept of unique expressions of Franciscan life within each fraternity based on the gifts and needs of its members. As Article 33.1 of the General Constitutions says,

In the guidance and co-ordination of the fraternities and of the Order, the personality and capacity of the individual brothers and sisters and of the individual fraternities should be promoted.

Lastly, I tend to be “evolutionary” not “revolutionary,” so the whole concept of turning everything upside down makes me a little anxious…but at the same time, the vase analogy helps me see the necessity for rethinking the way things work. Our fraternity – any fraternity – is a living, entity, and all living things change – only death is static.

While Teresa’s talk focused on the significance of profession, fraternity elections provide another opportunity to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” and change what we SHOULD change to suit the needs of the fraternity and of the Order, while keeping what we already have that continues to serve us well. Jesus compared a scribe – one versed in the Hebrew Scriptures – who learned the Good News to a householder who can bring both old and new from his storeroom. I think we too need to be like that householder, valuing both new and old, and use all the gifts represented by our members to further the Kingdom of God. I ask again for your prayers for our new council to be elected on November 18, for the new National Executive Council elected on October 28, and for the new Regional Executive Council that will be elected on December 9.

It has been a privilege to serve as your minister. Thank you for the trust you have placed in me. I look forward to serving the fraternity in other ways during the next three years. I am excited about the new council and new possibilities, and I hope you are too!