Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Everyone...must be made welcome." My March Fraternity Newsletter Column

Backstory: For almost fifty years, my Secular Franciscan fraternity has held it’s meeting in the auditorium of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA. Recently, the friars of the Shrine saw a need to provide a food center for poor families with very young children. They converted a portion of the auditorium into such a center. Since it’s opening the demand for the Center services has increased, requiring more space..

“No matter where they are, in hermitages or elsewhere, the friars must be careful not to claim the ownership of any place, or try to hold it against someone else. Everyone who comes to them, friend or foe, rogue or robber, must be made welcome.” (Chapter 7, The Earlier Rule of the Order Friars Minor)

“Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.

Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.” (Art. 11b-d, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

It is perhaps a sign of the difficult economic times we are in right now, that the demands for the services of the Franciscan Food Center at St. Anthony Shrine has grown so much that the Center requires more space. So they have moved into the auditorium, which means that we had to restructure how we run our gatherings; meeting in different locations within the Shrine.

Now at least one person has come to me; and others have spoken to other members of the Council; basically telling us that we should have stood up for our “rights.” They believe that our fraternity has been meeting in the auditorium for decades and should still be allowed to use the auditorium unhindered.

I know that this has been a difficult adjustment for some of us, but I would refer them to above quote from St. Francis of Assisi. It is part of the Franciscan charism to not claim anything as our own, but to see everything we have as gifts from God; gifts that are meant to be shared, especially with the poor. We have now an opportunity to live that charism in a real way today, by willingly and joyfully, by sharing our meeting space with the poor. We have the opportunity to see and rub elbows with the poor and make them feel welcomed. It is one thing to comfortably give to charity by dropping our donations in a basket. It is a true test of Franciscan charity, when we are willing to be discomforted so that needy parents can get food and clothing for their children.

On behalf of the Council, I want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding during this time of transition. I know that Father David and Father Paul both appreciate our efforts to adjust, so that so many more people can be helped. It is not the meeting place that makes a fraternity; it is the people who gather, no matter where, that makes a Franciscan fraternity alive.

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