26 Jan Once again discover the overwhelming love and mercy of God – Conclusion of the Meeting with Provincial Ministers and Custodes 2018
The meeting with Provincial Ministers and Custodes concluded on Jan. 25 2018; it was both formative and informative. During the meeting, different topics were tackled, such as the service of authority, formation for the missions, accompanying brothers going through difficult times, defections from the Order, the Minister Provincial and Definitory, the document and mandates of the General Chapter of 2015, and Finance. All the participants were able to meet with the Minister General personally and were able to visit the offices of the Curia.
In his concluding homily, the Minister General shared these words:
Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle and Missionary
Less than one year ago, I visited the Franciscans in Damascus, a war zone, the consequences of internal and international divisions and thirst for power and the imposition of religious ideology. Together with the Custos of the Holy Land, and other friars, we visited the house of Ananias where St. Paul spent considerable time. As explosions rang through the neighborhoods of Damascus, we could not help but fall on our knees and pray – for peace, for truth, for conversion. It was a bit ironic that we were praying for conversion – personal and social – precisely in the house where St. Paul experienced kindness, welcome but also moments of intense self-questioning, the effort to respond to an inner voice whose echo progressively grew stronger, inviting Paul into an entirely new way of thinking and acting.
Most of us know St. Paul for his writings, the powerful theological images he employed to catch the attention of his audience, his rhetorical style, demonstrating the tremendous impact that his Jewish master, Gamaliel, had upon him. We also know St. Paul for his missionary journeys that took him into the heart of Judaism, and from this deep experience of faith, projected him outwards towards the Gentiles and leading him to the ends of the Roman empire. Paul was a man on a mission, before and after his personal encounter with Jesus ‘on the road’ to and beyond Damascus. And while the catalogue of missionary journeys reveals a man who never tired of inviting others into the same experience of forgiveness, healing, and renewal that continued to take place in his life, it also reveals a man who had to deal with his own weaknesses and inner struggles. For St. Paul, it was precisely because he was weak that he discovered, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus that God was even stronger in him. It is this insight, perhaps more than any other, that finds echo in the experience of St. Francis of Assisi: that in our human weakness God comes to unite Self with us, never abandoning us, never leaving us alone. God plunges into the darkness of our humanity in order to bring us to the fullness of life. There is no moment in history that can ‘hide’ from God’s will to transform and save.
As we reflect on the life and conversion of St. Paul, a lifelong process, let us draw courage for our own journeys of faith. Let us recall that one of the major responsibilities of those who have been appointed and anointed as ‘ministers’ is to invite the brothers to reach deep within themselves where they might once again discover and experience the unlimited and overwhelming love and mercy of God. As we allow Christ to draw us closer to the heart of the Trinitarian God, may we also allow our minds and hearts to expand, as happened in the lives of St. Paul, St. Francis, and so many other saints of God, enabling us to perceive in all things the presence of God who comes to meet humanity in all circumstances of life. Let us extend our arms to embrace other Christians who are on the road with us. Let us never allow ourselves to be defeated by evil and by those who propagate hatred and all forms of exclusion, using violence in the name of God. May we, like Paul, allow ourselves to come an understanding of the faith that is inclusive, that embraces difference, seeking the way of personal and social conversion, justice, and peace. May we together with Paul, Francis and the brothers of our respective entities and of the Order allow Jesus to lead us along the path of ongoing conversion, which begins and ends in personal encounter with the living and loving Lord Jesus, an encounter that blinds even as it illuminates.
My brothers, let us draw strength from the words of St. Paul to the Christians in Ephesus:
Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your inner self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth until, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God. Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3: 16-19).