Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
Relationships are important and indeed one of the most revered throughout the years has been that of friendship. The Greeks revered philia, a love between friends that in their view was a dispassionate virtuous love. We love friends because we choose to love them and that choice is based upon sound judgment, reason. Christ took this concept further, referring to agape between friends: no greater love than this than a man laying down his life for a friend. Even the Beatles of our time have taken to emphasizing friendship in their song “With a Little Help From My Friends”:
What do I do when my love is away
(Does it worry you to be alone?)
I feel by the end of the day,
(Are you sad because you're on your
No, I get by with a little help from my friends
Realizing the importance of friendship, Benet Fonck describes fraternity as an extended friendship. To understand the profound nature of this remark, it worth pausing to reflect upon what we mean by friendship.
If we look at the nature of the Trinity, we can get a glimpse perhaps. Although the trinity is mystery and nearly impenetrable, we can perhaps at the very least say that the trinity is relational. Acting relationally, we might be able to say that it has perfect unity, is co-responsible for one another, and has a common will. We learn from this several things. One is that relationships are important. We learn too that it is important that relationships have a unity, or a wholeness about them. We learn that mutual responsibility ensures the success of the relationship as does its common purpose.
Reflecting on these key characteristics of relationship are valuable, but for this reflection even more so if understood through the Franciscan framework. Francis actually begun alone. He had every intention of remaining as such as a penitent hermit. The encounter with the San Damiano cross, to rebuild the Church, was something he intended to be a new mission that he was do alone in perhaps the model of the Order of Penitents. But, as Francis points out, the Lord gave him brothers.
Once Francis had brothers, he realized the importance of rebuilding together with the help of companions. He also realized that they had to develop a way of life. The call to rebuild required him to preach the Gospel to the world, so the rule of St. Benedict for monks would not work. And while he realized the importance of community, the Augustinian rule would not work because his concept of poverty was radically different. The Augustinian rule held that all goods be held in common for the good of the community, while Francis held that the brothers not own anything of their own. The difference? Collectively the Augustinian rule had a collection of goods owned by the group, whereas the brothers collectively owned nothing. As such, Francis developed a new way of life. Fr. Dominic Monti holds four values that he think differentiates the Franciscan charism:
- minority (lesser brothers)
- eremitical prayer
All of these characteristics shed light on the whole of the Franciscan family, which will help us to understand how the Secular Franciscan branch relates.
Indeed the brief remarks on trinity and also on the development of the Franciscan origins help us to understand fraternity as Secular Franciscans. Part of the issue in translation for us is that most, even the friars, are confused as to how we fit into the family. How do we? As baptized Catholics we all should strive for humility, a sense of community within the Church (i.e. parish), constant prayer, and evangelization. The friars and Poor Clares are removed from the world it thus makes sense that there should be a need for them. As baptized Catholics, why do Secular Franciscans need each other? Such a question either misses the value of the Secular Franciscan fraternity or of the value the general Franciscan mission.
Starting with the latter, it would seem that the question betrays a lack of understanding how the three branches work together. Like the trinity, the three are of one mind and heart, co-responsible, and with the common mission of rebuilding the Church. Indeed the friars rebuild by going from the outside into the world, preaching the Gospel and bringing Christ to the the world. The Poor Clares rebuild by surrounding the Franciscan family with the prayer relationship they have built with Christ through their privilege of poverty. The Secular Franciscans, however, rebuild from within by going outward in prudent witness to the truth of the Gospel. All the branches need each other if any of us are to be successful.
The former part of the question can be answered through examining the mission of the Secular Franciscan Order. The essential ingredient for the success of Secular Franciscans in rebuilding from within is fraternity. We remain in the world in part because we love Christ who is in it. But how do we know love? We know love as we experience love, first from God whose love is gratuitous and then from the relationships around us. Certainly anyone who has had the fortune of having a true friend knows the importance of that kind of love. That kind of love becomes useful for us, as realizing the importance of it (or of any important relationship) we are better able to see Christ in others. Even more important is that encounter with Christ we are in relationship. We in a sense participate in the relationship of the Trinity. Indeed, Secular Franciscan fraternity meetings take on a sacramental quality as Christ is present among us. We can then say that our relationship in fraternity is sacramental. We are then brought back to Benet Fonck's remark that fraternity is an extended friendship -- we extend even the strongest bonds of friendship because together we take on a uniquely Franciscan sacramental quality. Moreover, as we rebuild each other we encounter Christ. And this gives us tremendous credibility with the world. If we cannot love each other, how can they trust us? As the hymn goes, they will know we our Christians by our love. Indeed, they will know we are Secular Franciscans by the way we love in rebuilding the world around us.