Transforming our Historical Memories into Trails of Holy Newness: General Minister’s Homily to the New Province of San Bonaventura

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life …” (Jn 10:27-28).

Dear Brothers of the new province of Saint Bonaventura of the Friars Minor,

John’s Gospel proclaimed today flows from the preceding narrative of the good Shepherd, where he highlighted the closeness of the Shepherd to his flock, that is, the Lord Jesus to his disciples. It is a narrative that speaks of relationship, taking up the metaphor, used from the beginning of the Gospel, through which St. John conveys the meaning of life in the light of Jesus Christ as disciples and children of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (Jn 1:1). Everything happens within the deep and unbroken relationship that Jesus enjoys with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity.

This narrative of relationship continues in verses 23-27. The disciples are called to open their ears, eyes and heart to the Lord’s voice. And this call echoes the text of the Shema, Israel in Deuteronomy, namely: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (6.4 -5). The context of the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, stresses that the Lord God feels and hears the cry of his people and intervenes to save them from death. It is God that transformed their lament into dance and has adorned his people with joy (Cf. Ps 30:12). God never abandons God’s people. God is always present in their midst, indeed, always very close. The miraculous olive oil and the Menorah are a reminder of the special relationship that the chosen people have with God because of God’s love and mercy. This special relationship is the result of the victory of God’s light over darkness and is a story of permanent Alliance, through which God calls the people to live in a deep and lasting friendship, rooted in the trust and willingness to enter the horizon of God’s own creativity.

At the same time the Gospel text reveals an unresolved tension between what God seeks to accomplish in us and how much we are willing or able to receive, both personally and as community. This has to do with trust in our willingness to cooperate with God’s saving grace. The invitation to listen to the voice of the Teacher and to enter into a deeper communion with the Good Shepherd is God’s gift to us. Only with the eyes of faith can we recognize Jesus’s true identity, his mission and the overwhelming experience of mercy, love and trust that he offers to each of us. It is God that makes possible this relationship, without forcing us to accept it. Indeed, God does nothing more than to continually encourage us to enter into this Covenant of friendship through his Son (Jn 10:29). This divine initiative compels our hearts to cry “Abba, Father”, generating new life in each of us.

Today this invitation to let our lives be renewed is realized in the creation of the new province of San Bonaventura. For this reason, we come to a Shrine that speaks to us of the possibility to dedicate our life to hearing God’s voice, which is heard through the gift of the Incarnation. In fact, right here in Greccio with his first companions and his friends St Francis celebrated the light and hope that come into a world torn apart by the forces of division, violence, lack of confidence and a sense of people’s progressively distancing themselves from God. We recognize that right here, in this cave on this mountain in the plastic evocation of Jesus’s birth, the special love story of God with his people took flesh once again. For Francis, this was not just a miracle play, with which to remember a sacred event far off in space and time. In this re-enactment, God once again returned in the guise of a newborn and drew near to his people, to those who had gathered here to relive that unforgettable event, to all the friars of the Order of the era as well as subsequent generations of friars, to all members of God’s people, to all humanity and all creation, revealing again and forever his avid love and faithfulness.

Dear brothers, like Francis, his brothers and the faithful gathered in Greccio to revive the great event of God’s offering of love and friendship through the Incarnation, we gathered here to experience a new birth for each of the brothers of two now ex-provinces, combined into one single entity. Like Francis, we are called to listen carefully to the voice of the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd, who continues to speak to our hearts, transforming our historical memories into trails of holy newness. This same voice invites us to become involved in a deeper relationship with God and to mutually trust each other. This same voice invites us to open ourselves to give up everything, like Francis and his first brothers, fixing our gaze on Jesus alone and following in his footprints. Francis, just because of his willingness to listen to God’s voice, a willingness shared by the brothers and that enabled him to discern how God was working in their midst, was able to leave for new horizons and embark on absolutely new initiatives. It is only by listening that we can recognize the presence of God in our midst. And it is this presence that enables us to enjoy a lasting relationship of trust toward God, towards the Brothers, respecting everyone and ourselves. This is exactly what happened to the early followers of Jesus and in the life of Francis and his first companions. All this confidence will allow us to free ourselves of all our fears and embrace the dream that God has for us, God’s dream for the new Franciscan Province of San Bonaventura.

Dear brothers, I ask you to let go of your fear and your concern and I urge you to put all your trust in God who saved the people from death and destruction and invited them to dive back into a life of love and trust of God and neighbor. Pope John XXIII wrote: “don’t consult your fears but rather your hopes and your dreams. Don’t think about your frustrations, but your unfulfilled potential. Don’t worry about what you have tried and failed, but what you can still do. ”

In this spirit I invite you, dear Brothers, to invest all your energy in listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who dwells in of each of your hearts, members of the new province, and in the hearts of all those who have been called to serve as Ministers and Brothers.

May this voice of love and mercy allow all of you to aim for the best as co-disciples and co-missionaries called to go out to the fringes and margins with the message of profound joy that burns in your heart.

(Greccio, 9/05/2017)