Homily of the Minister General at the Conclusion of the 2020 Meeting with Provincial Ministers and Custodes

The meeting with Provincial Ministers and Custodes concluded on 30 January 2020.  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 2018 PCO in light of the General Chapter, 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:

HOMILY

These days we have been following the story of David’s consolidation of power and the reorganizing of the kingdom of Israel. Of paramount concern is his desire to build a house worthy to host the Ark of the Alliance, symbol par excellence of God’s presence among the chosen people. While David is first encouraged by the Prophet Nathan to proceed with the construction of a physical structure, a temple, to commemorate the countless interventions of God on behalf of the people, later he is told not to proceed with this grandiose plan.

Some scholars perceive in the text a theological critique of David’s plan to use the temple project in order to consolidate his royal power.  To bring the Ark to Jerusalem would, following the logic of monarchy, signal a divine ‘stamp of approval’ on his larger ambitions to build a strong, united, kingdom. Other scholars suggest that the intersecting interpretations of the word ‘house’, indicating a kingdom (political entity), or a physical structure (temple), or the promise of a long-lasting dynasty – represent the divergent interests of those who contributed to the successive redactions to the original text. Despite these different manners of interpreting the original meaning, what remains constant is the not so subtle contradiction between the will of God, on the one hand, and that of human beings on the other. As the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). The message of both Samuel and Isaiah is something that is meant not only for the people of the early Covenant; it is meant for all of us who are disciples of the Lord Jesus, and most especially for those called to serve as Ministers.

Like David, one of the greatest challenges we face is that of keeping our eyes and ears, our mind and heart open to the voice that comes from above, from God. Clearly, there will be times when we become so convinced that we understand completely a particular situation, and, therefore, have no need to listen any further to the voice of others or even of God. This can happen to any one of us, especially when, over the course of our service, we become tired of hearing contrasting voices, or when we experience brothers giving a counter-witness to the Gospel. We can become so convinced of our self-sufficiency and infallibility that we no longer are open to seeking new possibilities but only to repeat old inevitabilities. When this happens, nothing new can emerge within the lives of friars, within the life of the Entity, or within our own minds and hearts. Rather than allow for the emergence of something new, we simply revert to repeating the old. This is precisely the point of the biblical text from First and Second Books of Samuel. God does not want us to come to the same conclusions and repeat the same practices that seemingly worked in the past. The fact that God appears ‘willing’ to entertain the construction of a temple is proof that God is also part of this process of change. God recognizes that to change, in the words of Saint John Neumann, is to become perfect, to choose life over death.

One of the most important insights of the 2018 Plenary Council of the Order was the recognition that life continues only to the degree that it changes. In the reports of the Conferences, we detect a growing awareness that change not only is inevitable, it is desirable. The only way for us to embrace change is to engage in a process of sincere, open dialogue, discernment, bringing together all of the various tools at our disposal –our spiritual lives; the strength of fraternal life; the embrace of a world in need of love, acceptance, hope. As II Samuel and Pope Francis (Evangelii gaudium, 45) remind us, the goal of our faith journey is not self-promotion, nor is it survival. This is the temptation of David, to build something to celebrate personal achievements. But there is no future, no life, when we go down this path. In the end, even King David relents and submits his will, his desires, his empire-building aspirations to the will of God, as attested in his prayer:

“And now, Lord GOD, you are God and your words are truth; you have made this generous promise to your servant. Do, then, bless the house of your servant that it may be before you forever; for you, Lord GOD, have promised, and by your blessing the house of your servant shall be blessed forever” (II Sam. 7:25-26).

Brothers, may David’s prayer become our prayer. May we renounce with courage those projects that are of human making, and not from God. May God give us the wisdom to know the difference, seeking only God’s will for our lives and the lives of those brothers entrusted into our hands.