BETWEEN THE NEST AND THE ROAD, the meaning of religious and Franciscan life today.

BETWEEN THE NEST AND THE ROAD
We present to you the article by the Minister General, Br Massimo Fusarelli, published in the L’Osservatore Romano, on the 4th of February 2022. 

BETWEEN THE NEST AND THE ROAD
The meaning of religious and Franciscan life today

A few days ago, I asked a young friar what he thought the meaning of religious life was today. After a brief pause for reflection, he replied: “Knowing that I have a place, a place where I can find myself”. I thought about how I would have answered, in the same situation as him, more than thirty years ago… Perhaps I would have said that I wanted to live the Gospel, to do something for others. Different ways of feeling religious life, and Franciscan life in particular, which prompted me to a series of reflections.

There was a time when some certainties seemed clear and individual needs were less conspicuous. A sense of meaning, a direction, an orientation for the journey could be found. Some questions were asked in the past – who am I? What is the world…? For whom and for what do I want to spend myself? Such questions were still alive, even if they were mixed up with other emotions.

I rewind the tape of my history, and I recognise that those questions were fundamental in the years of my youth. Even now, they continue to resonate in me, though in a new way because of experience and the time that has passed. Today, Franciscan life appears to me as a clear and “alternative” project in the evangelical meaning of the term: as one who listens to the Word and from this sees a new existence being generated, shaped by the Beatitudes, a life that is not opposed to the world, but is continually confronted with it.

St Francis shows us that living the Beatitudes is about discovering and encountering the God of mercy, who comes to us through lepers, brothers and sisters, the vulnerable, in short, our neighbours. It is freedom from the narrow perspective of our “ego”. It is the call to welcome the Gospel not alone but as brothers. This call has resounded in the various times of history: allowing ourselves to be touched by the questions, by the contradictions, by the unresolved points, is what has permitted Franciscanism to speak in an ever-new way throughout eight centuries.

In the beginning, I too grasped above all the individual aspects of the religious choice. In time, I learned to be open to meeting people in need, the vulnerable, and from there to new relationships, even with my friars.

St Francis understands that the embrace of mercy removes him from the shallows of an individual project of self-realisation, albeit spiritual. It is the poor, the marginalised, those who can give us nothing in return that help us discover, almost feel on our skin, the meaning of Franciscan life and with it, inevitably, of human life.

Openness to this encounter was fundamental for me and gave new energy to my vocation as a Friar Minor: I discovered that in the Minorite perspective, listening to the Gospel comes alive in contact with the poor that God places on my path.

It is no coincidence that one of the critical points that takes away the transparency of religious life is that of isolation from others, distancing ourselves from the service of the poor to adapt to a mediocre and repetitive style. To the point of only adopting certain types of service and mission, with the risk of no longer being in contact with the spark and the fire that generated them.

This is why I believe that Franciscan life can still speak to today’s young people, immersed in a historical time that is undoubtedly complex, fragmented and linked to immediate emotions, but also capable of stimulating a true search. Doesn’t the commitment of the new generations, for example, to safeguarding our common home, convey something of this impulse? Don’t the reactions of many young people to the restrictions caused by the pandemic, even if they are out of control, confirm their search for closeness and companionship, which are fundamental at that age? And isn’t their service, in such a challenging time with the elderly and the disabled, a message to be listened to carefully? In this vastly different landscape from where we are used to walking, the meaning of the fraternal initiative is even more eloquent and visible.

In the ongoing toil that accompanies the Franciscan movement – constantly strained between the highest ideal of the Gospel and the natural tendency to adapt – an essential element is precisely the attention to the other and the encounter with all creatures. This is where we can be the first to hear and then let the Word of salvation resound again.

In their search for high aspirations, many young people are attracted by the ideal of the authentic poverty of Franciscan life. Still, the disappointment in the face of what they find within religious communities is often bitter. The risk is encountering dull brothers and fraternities who no longer keep the flame of their charism burning and do not allow themselves to be questioned by the signs of the times.

In short, it is hardness of heart and insensitivity to the signs that the Spirit generates with abundance in us and around us, which is a great obstacle for young people in genuine search, although sometimes confused and uncertain.

So let us go back to the beginning of the reflection and the answer given by the young brother: “I am looking for a place”. I wanted to listen carefully to this word and not immediately brand it as the typical expression of today’s young person looking for a nest. Where does such a desire come from? It is easy to answer.

In our societies, especially in the West, there is a great lack of meaningful relationships and meeting places. Has not the pandemic crisis lifted the veil on the claim that life is all about the individual and his needs? As Pope Francis has reminded us of so many times, haven’t we had to recognise that no one is saved alone? Is it not precisely the conditions of isolation and the loss of social contact that have restored the value, the profound and necessary meaning to us?

For this reason, the Franciscan experience can open up a living and concrete space for fraternity, a precious form of spiritual friendship. In it, we recognise the call to become brothers in the name of our God, who is Father of all. Thus, the quality of relationships becomes a reflection of the Gospel and a proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

Then religious life’s value can take shape between the “nest” (a concrete place of relationships and belonging, the fraternity) and the street, the world. In the everyday life of people, to whom we are sent to be a sign of the Gospel, through witness and – when appropriate – with words, as our father and brother Francis reminds us.

As history strips us of so many superfluous elements, we want to cultivate the essential core of our commitment to discipleship. We want to do this with realism, joy, and the impetus of one who has been loved and recognises himself as sent.

It is certainly a call that is greater than us, but isn’t that, after all, its permanent strength and attraction? The Lord Jesus calls us to go beyond ourselves and gives us energies that are not ours alone.

In the encounter with Him, the measure of existence expands and becomes fruitful.
Perhaps the meaning of our life, quite simply, is all here.

Br Massimo Fusarelli, ofm
Minister General