Willing to embrace the life of penance – Homily of the Minister General at the Capitolo Generalissimo

 

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has removed the judgment against you…

The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear” (Zephaniah 3: 14-15).

 

In the first part of the ‘Preparatory Document’ for this Capitolo Generalissimo, we are told that one of the most alarming consequences of globalization is that of a fragmentation of identity and action. Without a set of shared core values, it is impossible to live and collaborate together. This also can lead to apathy and a disconnect from life, the common good, and even from God. Competition, fear, and insecurity replace collaboration, trust, peace and security. We also are told that the Umbrian context in which the Franciscan family finds itself today is challenged by the consequences of this fragmentation.

Fragmentation and its consequences were experienced by the people of the Covenant in the time of the Prophet Zephaniah, prior to the spiritual reforms undertaken by the King Josiah. Many of God’s chosen people, suffering from political occupation by the Assyrians, and from a deep corruption of their spiritual and political leaders, gradually turned away from the demands of the Covenant – love of God and neighbor with all one’s heart, mind, and soul – and embraced the gods of the Assyrians, and a myriad of other local deities.  In spite of this, the quality of their lives continued to deteriorate. This led to a growing dissatisfaction and a sense of guilt for having abandoned the faith of Abraham and Sarah, setting the stage for call to conversion and message of hope and restoration announced by the Prophet Zephaniah.

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!…The Lord has removed the judgment against you…The King of Israel is in your midst..!”  Zephaniah tells the people of his time: all is not lost; God is present even in the midst of your sinfulness and sense of despair. God will not hold your past ways against you. Rather, God is inviting you to turn once again to Him, to open your lives to God’s presence and invitation to seek the way of wisdom, holiness, and communion with God and with one another.

My brothers, we who are gathered here today on this feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary are hearing the same message hope and joy proclaimed by the Prophet Zephaniah. Mary also heard this same message, a calling to open her life to God’s surprising grace, which would turn her life upside down and bring her into intimate communion with God the Father, with the Christ, and with the world. But God’s call did not stop with Mary or St. Francis. God is inviting us to allow our historical memories to be healed, our relationships with one another to be transformed, and our structures and world to be turned upside down. God is willing to work with us so that our failures to love and respect one another might serve as the seedbed for the birthing of a new love and care for one another. In order to respond to this calling, we like the Virgin Mary and also St. Francis, must be willing once again to embrace the life of penance – facere penitentia – allowing the gift of God’s reconciling grace to transform our minds and hearts into receptacles of grace, love, peace, and joy. In this way, we too, along with Mary and Francis, might place ourselves with Jesus – together as authentic and beloved brothers – on the road towards God’s Kingdom, reaching out from the strength of our communion and fraternity to a world that is wounded and in need of authentic witnesses to hope. But this will be possible only if we allow Jesus to be at the center of all of our structures, all of our missionary and apostolic endeavours, allowing Him to give birth within each of us to a new hope and a new sense of communion with God, with one another, and with all of creation.

In honor of the feast of the Visitation, I conclude with a prayer to the Virgin Mary in Evangelii gaudium (par. 288) composed by Pope Francis:

“Mary, Virgin and Mother, you who, moved by the Holy Spirit, welcomed the word of life in the depths of your humble faith…help us to say our own ‘yes’ to the urgent call, as pressing as ever, to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection, that we may bring to all the Gospel of life, which triumphs over death. Give us the courage to seek new paths, that the gift of unfading beauty may reach every man and woman…

Star of the new evangelization, help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world…” 

Foligno, 31 May 2017

Fr. Michael A. Perry, OFM