12 Mar Through grace of believing, life is once again renewed | The General Minister’s Homily for the International Congress of Formation and Studies
On March 12, 2018, the General Minister, Br. Michael Anthony Perry, shared the following words during the Opening Mass of the International Congress of Formation and Studies at the General Curia in Rome.
My dear brother participants in this International Congress of Formation and Studies, the Lord give you peace!
In the Gospel of St. John, we are taken to the region of Galilea where Jesus was recognized and celebrated as a great wonder-worker who could transform the bad and the ugly into goodness and beauty, mastering even the malevolent forces of nature. Yet, despite all of his miraculous powers, Jesus could not force the people who came to hear his words and see his actions to embrace the new vision of God he was proposing; it simply was too radical and demanded too much of a change within their hearts and their lives. They were not prepared to undertake the hard work involved of unlearning what they had learned in their families, neighborhoods, and synagogues, and allow God to carry out within them a process of ‘restructuring’, of ‘revitalization’. No matter how miserable the state of their lives was, to change, to become something new and different was not in the cards for many if not most of those who followed Jesus from a distance.
It is wonderful that you who are engaged in all stages of formation – Ongoing and initial – are here at this gathering where ‘change’ IS the order of business. Unless I have misunderstood the Ratio formationis franciscanae; unless I have failed to see what the document Called to Freedom dealing with the challenges related to ongoing formation proposes; and unless I have failed to perceive within the document Pilgrims and Strangers the call to undergo a Copernican-like revolution in the way we understand the vital and inseparable link that exists between our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters who are kept in the chains of poverty, marginalization, and exploitation, the same chains that bind and strip our Mother Earth of her vitality, dignity, and capacity to sustain our misbegotten way of life; then perhaps I have understood something of what the Franciscan formative experience is all about.
In the Gospel of St. John, we encounter a father who faces the existential limits of his existence, the possibility of losing his beloved son. He comes to Jesus in order to obtain a favor, a response that will transform the conditions of his child’s illness and open to him a new possibility for life. In the process, the official who is part of the repressive political structure erected and controlled by Herod the Tetrarch, a detail that does not go unnoticed by the evangelist John, comes face to face with Jesus. It is clear that the official does not come to request that Jesus demonstrate his miraculous powers in order to ‘wow’ the crowd. This encounter is absolutely personal: he comes on behalf of his dying son. He had no where else and no one else to who he could turn. But this also is true in the lives of those who come to the Order in search of a response to something that burns within them: a sense of loss; a feeling that God is offering them a new opportunity and a new life; or simply the fact that they feel a desire to respond to some vague and unclear call to embrace a new form of life that will make it possible for them to experience in a new way that they are alive, that life has meaning, and that they have a role to play in shaping the world in a way that is positive, holy, sacred.
What is amazing in the Gospel story is the simple acceptance on the part of the court official of the words, the promise of Jesus that, in fact, his son was already healed. The evangelist wants us to enter in to the experience of what it means to ‘believe’, and to understand that through this grace of believing, of trusting, life is once again renewed!
My brothers, the Franciscan formative experience, which lasts from the day we begin our ‘vocational journey’ to the day we return to the Father through sister death, is about creating the conditions necessary for placing all of our trust in God, and for enabling all brothers of the Order, all novices, all postulants, and all aspirants to come face to face with Jesus; to experience his love and compassion; to feel his embrace and acceptance; to abandon our lives, placing them entirely into the hands of God. The Franciscan formative experience is about coming face to face with the choice between death and life. It is about providing the necessary tools so that at all moments of our life we might continue to choose to seek life: life in God; life with one another; and life for our brothers and sisters and for our Mother Earth.
God is here! Love is near! Let us begin!