Monthly Formation from the Regional Formation Director – June 2019

“You will be my witnesses”

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)

**********

The time between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost is quiet but thrilling. Quiet, because it is an in-between time of wonder and awe. Thrilling, because it anticipates Pentecost Sunday when we remember the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. During this interlude, we recall how the Risen Lord, after a period of time in which he appeared to the apostles and others, departed from them. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand.”1 Jesus commissions his followers: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation.”2 And he assures them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”3

These events and mysteries have special meaning for Secular Franciscans. They present to us the origin of the Church’s mission of evangelization. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), Pope St. Paul VI teaches that “the task of evangelizing constitutes the essential mission of the Church… Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”4

That task of evangelization is one that Secular Franciscans share, in a most definite way, by virtue of our profession. Our Rule says we “should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.”5 Furthermore, we “are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively.”6 Franciscan scholar Andrea Boni, OFM, wrote that Franciscans “have been entrusted by God with the task of rebuilding his house. The Church is rebuilt with the same tools with which it was constructed: evangelization and witness of life.”7

For Secular Franciscans, both in fraternity and in our individual lives, the role of witness is fundamental. Again, to cite Pope St. Paul VI, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”8 What does that witness look like? He offers a very Franciscan description: “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience, humility.”9 And he clearly intends this to be the action of individuals, adding poignantly, “In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another person one’s personal experience of faith?”10 Secular Franciscans know how to do this. We know how to go from “gospel to life and life to the gospel.”11

In our culture, evangelization is often associated with a particular form of proselytizing. However, to be truly evangelical is simply to embrace the gospel and proclaim it fearlessly. We evangelize by the example of our fraternities when we live as communities of love. We evangelize as individuals by following Jesus after the example of St. Francis. Our witness will look different depending on how we are graced and on our various situations in the world. But the Church’s mission of evangelization—to spread the gospel—is central to our vocation. The General Constitutions affirm this: “Secular Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. Their preferred apostolate is personal witness in the environment in which they live.”12

 **************************************************

 From the OFS Rule and Constitutions

  • They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they   should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words. [Rule, 6]
  • Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively. [Rule, 14]
  • Called to work together in building up the Church as the sacrament of salvation for all and, through their baptism and profession made “witnesses and instruments of her mission,” Secular      Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. Their preferred apostolate is personal          witness in the environment in which they live and service for building up the Kingdom of God       within the situation of this world. [Constitutions, 17,1]

For reflection and discussion

  • Pope St. Paul VI says that the “Church exists to evangelize.” How do you imagine an authentically Catholic evangelization? What form or modality might it take?
  • If the mission of the Church is to evangelize—to proclaim the gospel to all the world—what does it mean in your daily life to be a “witness and an instrument” of that mission?
  • Our Constitutions make the striking statement that for a Secular Franciscan the “preferred apostolate is personal witness in the environment in which they live and service for building up         the Kingdom of God within the situations of this world.” What are some of the ways you can develop such an apostolate in your own life as a Secular Franciscan?

Further study

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS

 

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  

  

  

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.