27 Jun You will recognize them by their fruits – Homily of the Minister General for the Closing of the PCO
PLENARY COUNCIL OF THE ORDER
You will recognize them by their fruits
Br. Michael A. Perry OFM
The richness of the word that has just been given to us shines a providential light on the final stage of our Plenary Council. I repeat again what I said two days ago, namely, that this Eucharistic celebration, this sacramental moment, must impel each one of us to go and tell everything that the Spirit of the Lord has communicated to us, starting from the significant experiences of meeting one another and the conversations that we have shared.
Of the Word just heard I would like to focus on two expressions that I consider essential: to remember and to bear fruit, and then to present an appeal.
The first message places us at a decisive and significant moment in the history of the people of Israel. King Josiah symbolizes the one who managed to achieve what so many other kings had overlooked: our ancestors did not obey what this book says by practising everything written in it. The rediscovery of the “book of the Covenant” is an event that marks an era of recovery and represents the fundamental element of the religious reform that Josiah undertakes and brings to completion. The temple, in which the whole nation recognizes itself as belonging to one Lord, requires urgent restoration work. But what draws most attention is the wonder and amazement that the people experience in the discovery of the book: it contains all the norms that had not been observed for some time due to carelessness, especially by the kings,.
The episode recounts the restoration enterprise, not only of the walls of the sacred building, but above all of the temple of the heart. This requires a passionate faithfulness to the Word of God, which brings life and should be welcomed with great emotion and joy. This “stiff-necked” people (cf. Ex 32.9) needs to remember the moment when the Lord lovingly took the initiative in leading Abraham to the land of milk and honey, where God establishes the first Covenant. This Covenant is subsequently reconfirmed once and for all through Moses on Mount Sinai. Disenchantment, weariness and lack of interest easily lead to forgetting the foundational moment in which God solemnly declared: “You will be my people and I will be your God” (cf Lev 26:12). Therefore, the Lord stirs up in Josiah the ability to remember and this makes him an authoritative guide for the people’s life of faith.
The good fruits
The passage taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, short but incisive, offers us a useful key to discern: “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree produce good fruit”. Using this example, Jesus wants to warn his disciples against false prophets. The Sermon on the Mount, which has been accompanying us for a few weeks now, is nearing its conclusion, and Jesus offers some specific warnings to help the disciples fight hypocrisy and falsehood, widespread attitudes not only outside but also within the community of believers. The word fruit, directly linked to the concept of truth, represents the good or just deeds that the disciple does when he hears the voice of him who is the Truth. Jesus warns against false prophets because they do not tell the truth and put the integrity of the community at risk. Then, he encourages the community, based on criteria founded on the Word of God, to discern what is true and what is not.
We can ask ourselves: what are the fruits by which the disciple of Jesus is recognized? We already have the answer in our pockets: living the Beatitudes, that is, forgiving and loving everyone, including enemies, giving without demanding anything in return, praying, not judging. The true disciple of Jesus, who, living the Beatitudes, becomes a prophet of truth, will never cease producing good fruit, because he will always speak and act like Jesus.
Dear Brothers, the Plenary Council has been a place of grace in which the Spirit spoke to our hearts. Just as to Josiah and to all the people of Israel, the Lord today addresses to us a heartfelt appeal, inviting us to seek without ever tiring that “book” that has perhaps been lost or forgotten in some dusty warehouse: our Life and Rule, that is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the very person of Jesus Christ, who inspired Francis and today continues to inspire us too.
During the PCO we have frequently repeated the verse of the book of Revelationthat invites us to return to our first love(Rev 2:4). Today the Lord makes this message real for us. After realizing the preciousness of the book’s content, Josiah makes a series of penitential gestures that demonstrate how much he had been struck by that discovery. We too can do the same: having listened to what the Spirit of the Lord says to us Friars Minor in today’s world, we can adopt a penitential attitude in order to overcome any amnesia that, as an Order and as religious, might have made us forget our first love. As the text of the Book of Kings states, let us set out to follow the Lord and keep his commands, instructions and laws with all our heart and soul. Let us open our hearts to the voice of the Spirit: only in this way will we be able to truly produce good fruits, not because of any merit of our own, but only thanks to the goodness of the Lord.
During these days we have had the opportunity to rediscover the fruitfulness with which the Lord gifts us: our charismatic Franciscan identity, through which He continues to work wonders in the Church and in the world, with our cooperation.
Dear brothers, let us thank the Lord who will continue to be present in us and among us, helping us to remember what we are and to bear good fruit. Even if perplexity or fear knock at the door of our heart, do not be afraid, brothers: the Lord will lead us back to the place where everything began and will allow us to rediscover the wonders of our first love and the grace of our origins. With this certainty, I wish you a safe return to your entities, with the firm conviction that now the Spirit of God will speak through you.