November 11th, 2019 @ 09:03 |

Noel Muscat OFM


The newly elected Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, Fr. Michael Perry, together with the members of the General Chapter of the Order taking place in Assisi on the occasion of Pentecost, have had a special meeting with Pope Francis in the Sala Clementina in the Vatican on Tuesday 26 May 2015. The Pope’s words to the Order, uttered in the usual soft-spoken voice and delicate style of Pope Francis, convey meanings well beyond simple words. They can be taken at face value as a paternal appreciation of the perennial evangelical freshness of the Order founded by the poor and humble Francis of Assisi. They can also be understood as a tender chiding of our conscience as Friars Minor. According to what I feel, this is the way they are meant to be. To whoever reads these lines I apologize for sounding pessimistic. It is with a sense of personal preoccupation regarding my own calling that I am writing these thoughts.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for the trust you place in our Franciscan Order. Thanks for having chosen to speak about the two themes that the Chapter members have chosen to reflect upon, namely fraternity and minority. To tell you the truth, these are the two columns upon which the Order has been founded. To dwell on them after 800 years of history could be a sign of an inner fear that we have still not discovered them.

Thanks for having asked two young friars from Argentina to tell you what they feel about minority. Their answers are the exact mirror of what young friars all over the Order feel today. They are looking for minority in us, their elder peers. They are aware that it is God who gives the gift of minority, but they also know that they have to work hard to be minors. They badly need models to encourage them, but these are hard to find in our fraternities.

Thanks for having reminded us that we, Franciscans, need God’s mercy, because we are sinners. Maybe we need to take the Gospel more seriously and believe in Christ’s saving power over those of us who feel discouraged about our own sinfulness and unfaithfulness. Thanks, Pope Francis, for your encouragement. Sometimes, it is easy to remain comfortable in sinfulness, because, as you say, we do not want to go out of ourselves, out of our mindsets and out of our personal views. Individualism is killing our Order. We are afraid to go beyond our habits, our traditions, and our sense of security. That would land us bang in the midst of the poor and marginalized, and we would have to begin serving and not being masters or managers of commercial enterprises.

Thanks for having reminded us that fraternity was born in the first Christian community. Sometimes we tend to think that fraternity was born with Saint Francis and, worse still, that we are the experts in fraternity. But you do not speak about an ideological fraternity that exists only on paper and in scholarly studies and documents, for which our Order has gained fame and prestige in these last decades. No, you speak about concrete fraternity, and you base its realization in the rediscovering of mutual trust. The rediscovering of mutual trust in interpersonal relationships, so that the world can see and truly believe that Christ heals deep wounds in human hearts.

You have hit the nail on the head. Thanks for these words. What we need to look for is not fraternity or minority. Indeed, we should just live as if they were part and parcel of our DNA. What we need to live is trust. Trust in God, trust in Jesus Christ, trust in Saint Francis, trust in our vocation, trust in our Order, trust in our institutions, trust in our brothers. Trust has been undermined among us. The end result is that there is no minority and no fraternity worthy of note.

Thanks for having reminded us of our calling to be bearers of mercy, reconciliation and peace. But you also told us that we can realize this only if we are an “outreaching” congregation. Well, we do go out often, and we are often found among peace activists the world over, hopefully with our Franciscan habit. But it is much less evident to see us silently being instruments of peace and reconciliation in our Franciscan houses, in our day-to-day business of prayer and openness to pastoral ministry.

Thanks for reminding us that the world should be our cloister. We often boast about this image taken from the Sacrum Commercium. Maybe you have seen some of our cloisters. They are true works of art and architecture. They should be preserved and well cared for, of course. But they shut us off from the world out there. We want to reach out, but in our cloisters we are self-sufficient. Indeed, we are not content to live in a community cloister. This, in many ways, is a value to be cherished. No, we are striving to create personal cloisters, in which we can live virtual relationships in the comfort of our room, of our curial and parish offices, in the use of the latest mass media technology, in the employment of all kinds of dependent personnel to make our ministry more efficient.

You said it all when you told us that it is important that we live a Christian and religious existence without being lost in empty words and discussions, cultivating a serene dialogue with all, with meekness, humility and poor means, and being able to be content with what we have and to be grateful for what is offered to us. You also hit the nail on the head when you gently reminded us to be transparent in the use of goods in a spirit of solidarity, in a style of life which is sober and imitates Christ’s self-emptying. Then you threaten us with the black clouds that are looming up in our horizon: “If, instead, you hold on to the riches of the world, and place your security in them, the Lord himself will despoil you of this mundane spirit in order to preserve the precious patrimony of minority and poverty for which he called you through the example of Saint Francis. Either you are freely poor and minors, or else you end up naked.” Thanks for knowing us inside out, dear Pope Francis. I hope you managed to see us blush in that Vatican hall and outside it as well.

You tell us, dear Pope Francis, that in spite of this unfaithfulness, “the people of God still love you.” Indeed you go even so far as to quote a cardinal who states that Christians and other persons would criticize secular clergy, but not the Franciscan habit. That is, if they happen to see it! The Franciscan habit is our way of expressing our authoritativeness with minority, humility and poverty. And you plead with us to cherish this gift that we have received.

Thank you, Pope Francis. May your words serve as a serious examination of conscience for our dwindling numbers in the next six years. May we wake up from the bad dream of a bleak future and be reborn in the joy of serving the Gospel and of being credible to the younger friars who do not want to go into a blind alley. You have asked us to pray for you. Please pray for us, so that Saint Francis will help us do our part before it is too late.