In the midst of change, the community anchored its life in Jesus – Homily of the Minister General at the Meeting with Presidents of Conferences

The regular meeting of the Presidents of the conferences of Provincial Ministers with the general Minister and the general Definitorium was held at the OFM General Curia from May 15 to 17, 2017. The individual Presidents presented their reports. Everyone had to address a few topics regarding the entities of its conferences: life issues, issues of brotherhood and minority? How were the “guidelines” prepared by the General Definitorium, for the years 2016-2017 received?

The focus of the meeting was the “plenary Council of the order” (CPO). On the last day moderated by the general Minister, the Presidents heard various reports: that of General Economo Br. John Puodziunas; those of the secretariats for Formation and Studies, for the Missions and Evangelization, of the Office of JPIC; Finally, there was the report of the General Minister, Br. Michael A. Perry.  After assessment, the gathering ended with the celebration of Vespers.


Homily of the Minister General at the Conclusion of the Meeting

Antonio Gramsci, Italian political theorist, once wrote: “Crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

In chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, there appears a crisis in the early Christian Church, replete with morbid symptoms. The crisis discussed throughout Chapter 15 was the result of a collision between competing, even contradictory, understandings of what God was doing in and through Jesus. The identity of Jesus and of the conditions for membership in the primitive communities were under severe scrutiny. Funny, the question of identity has never been fully resolved, neither in the Church nor in the Order of Friars Minor. As a result, a series of different teachings and practices arose within each of the diverse Christian communities. Diversity was in full splendor and contributed to growth of the Church. However, diversity also created specific challenges requiring special attention if the Church was to survive

In the context of this same chapter from Acts, we witness the first, serious efforts to resolve conflicts within and between the various ecclesial communities.  Missionaries were not always clear, consistent, or faithful to previously agreed upon aspects of the faith, thus provoking confusion. There also were rivalries between the different Church centers located in Antioch, Jerusalem, Athens, and elsewhere. Later in Chapter 15 of the Acts, there is a showdown on matters of faith, ritual, and identity. Peter and the ‘Judaizing’ forces insisted on maintaining the primary elements of the faith of the Jews as the litmus test for authentic faith. Opposing these forces were Paul and those seeking to open the Church to new religious and cultural realities, to the gentile world. The writer makes no effort to hide the tensions and in-fighting in the early Church. Rather, he shows that the Gospel has the power to transform hearts and minds, proposing new possibilities, and allowing something new to be born. We see also the tensions between the ‘center’ and the ‘peripheries’, between Jerusalem, and that of the other communities.

In this process of conflict resolution, the members of the Church undertook a serious process of discernment, referring to the rudimentary accounts of the life of Jesus – the proto-gospels. They also recognized that their world was rapidly changing: politically, socially, and most especially religiously. In the midst of these uncontrollable and unpredictable forces of change, the community made a conscious decision to anchor its life in Jesus, seeking to identify the essentials of what it means to be an authentic disciple and member of the Church. Because of this, the Church progressively was led by the Spirit to break free from the limiting forces of Judaism, and to experience the transformative power of the Spirit of God at work in the minds and hearts of all believers.

My brothers and sisters, may we, like the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, only on Jesus, as St. Francis was known to do. Let us ask God to help us open our institutions to listen His word and to respond with faith and courage. Let us pray that God also might open the hearts of each of the brothers in our conferences, provinces, custodies, and foundations so that they – indeed, all of us – might remain in communion with God and discover new possibilities for responding to God’s call to become instrument for dialogue, peace, and justice in the world today.