Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Lord gave me brothers

Today, October 4, is the feast day of our Holy Father St. Francis, arguably one of the most renowned and celebrated saints in Church history.  While popularly characterized as the great lover of animals and an ecological pioneer, those of us who seek to follow his way of life are inspired by his love for Jesus and the holy gospel, and his desire to follow in the very footsteps of his Lord by living a life of prayer, poverty, penance and obedient suffering.  And yet, for us Franciscans, his appeal goes even beyond these qualities.  St. Francis was not only a great lover of God, but a great lover of men.  He understood the two to be inseparable.

In is Testament—a short document written at the end of his life entrusting his spiritual legacy to his brethren—Francis, makes the simple, yet profound statement that “the Lord gave me some brothers….”  It seems as if it were merely mentioned in passing, but the rest of the document and the testimony of his whole life bear witness that this remark is charged with meaning.  His various biographers detail story after story revealing the strong, but tender love that the poor man of Assisi had for his brothers.  For example, on one occasion a brother woke in the middle of the night seemingly dying of hunger pangs as a result of intense fasting.  St. Francis, whose own fasting seemed to know no bounds, rather than chastise the young brother, ordered all of the brothers to get up and eat grapes with the young man so that the he would not be ashamed of his weakness.  St. Francis recognized his brothers as one of the greatest gifts God had given them and he loved them deeply.

In our own community, the tradition of Franciscan brotherhood lives on!  It is days like today, when in honor of St. Francis, almost twenty priests and over fifty brothers and sisters gathered around the altar of the Lord for the holy sacrifice of the mass that I am reminded that the Lord gave ME brothers.  It is days like today, when our liturgical celebration extends onto the basketball court for some healthy and holy competition or into our evening festivities when we seek to entertain each other with some self-deprecating skits that I am reminded that the Lord gave ME brothers.

However, my most powerful experience of Franciscan brotherhood is on the non-feast days, when I am struggling day-in and day-out with the few brothers that I live with to live the Franciscan life.  It is the moments when I am able to share my heart and my pain with a brother or encourage him in his pain that I am reminded that the Lord gave ME brothers.  It is the moments when I need to repent for not loving a brother as he deserves and I hear him say “I forgive you from the bottom of my heart” that I am reminded that the Lord gave ME brothers.  It is the many moments of laughter brought on by the brothers’ antics that remind me that the Lord gave ME brothers.

Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II document on the renewal of religious life, says that it is much easier to live the vow of chastity in an environment of genuine fraternal charity.  I would extend that statement to the living out of poverty and obedience as well.  Fraternal life and charity is meant to be a particular source of joy and strength for a religious in any community.  St. Francis understood this completely and he continues to teach it to us, the brothers whom God has given him!

Coming soon:  an introduction to the three new members of the vocations team.

God bless you,

Fr. Isaac Mary, CFR
St. Joseph Friary
Harlem, NY

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