Monday, April 27, 2009

Franciscan Charism Alive, Well, and More Relevant Than Ever!

I hope that the pictures that I recently posted on the occasion of the 8th centenary chapter celebration of the Franciscan movement held in Assisi communicates to some degree the fact that the Franciscan charism is alive, well, and more relevant than ever. I experienced this not only through the unprecedented gathering of nearly 2,000 friars but through the talks that were given during the celebration and in the context of two conversations that I had during the trip. The opening keynote talks of the chapter urged attendees to rediscover the original "bulb" (to use a springtime metaphor) of the Franciscan spirit from which has grown the wonderful and awe-inspiring "blossom" of Franciscanism. To do this, speakers urged a renewed emphasis on evangelization according to the itinerant lifestyle of Francis. This would involve shifting our focus from ministries centered on "preaching/ministering to the choir" and engaging a world that has become far more skeptical, secularized, diverse, and challanging regarding "preaching" the Good News in a way that is compelling and relevant. If the Franciscan spirit is to remain a vital force in such a world, creativity, ambition, and imagination are the "new wineskins" that the Spirit will pour the new vintage of a Franciscan charism deliberately adapted to the contemporary signs of the times. I had two very unique opportunities to discuss some of the above notions with persons very much engaged with the signs of the times. During the Mass celebrated in the piazza next to the Basilica of St. Francis (during which I was perched above the gathering of friars taking pictures), I met the producer of the Religion and Ethics programming for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) who happens to be an Anglican Priest. We talked about how engaging the signs of the times through a Franciscan lifestyle means diverting our energy from the often times obsessive focus on the minutiae of what divides us (i.e., ideology, political affiliation, worshipping style) to what unites us (i.e., Christ, Spirit, and fraternity). On the plane ride home, I happened to sit next to a Deputy Director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who was on his way home from a meeting of environmental ministers from the G8. The meeting he participated in pertained to working on the next major climate change treaty (the replacement for the Kyoto Protocal). We spoke at some length on the necessity of a spiritual and Franciscan approach to the signs of the times concerning global warming. It didn't take long for him to see the relevance and value of approaching the ecological crises not only through a political lens but also through the spiritual. The talks that were given at the chapter, the conversations that I had with the above persons who are in the trenches of engaging the "signs of the times" and even our own recent attempts to "renew the fire" of our Franciscan charism through our strategic planning process and the activities that have ensued convince me of the relevance of what we have to offer. As a matter of fact, the world hungers and thirsts for a taste of the fraternity, unity, and solidarity that binds us as Franciscans, as diverse as we are. Now all we need do is creatively and boldly imagine how we can give them a taste! Pat, TOR