Fr. Trezza's Keynote Secular Franciscan Conference 2004

Bonjour! A bien venue! Welcome! Welcome! Good to see everybody!

Our first speaker, if you haven't met him before and I think most people here must have crossed paths with Richard Trezza certainly at some point in the last 36 years which is how long Richard has been ministering to the SFO, which is a long, long time. He looks kind of like a kid...kind of ... kind of like a kid. But too it is sort of amazing to consider that he has been so involved with our part of the order for the last 36 years. He joined the Franciscans in 1966. He began ministering to SFOs in 1968 so didn't waste much time. You can tell also by hanging out with Richard for any length of time the degree of empathy that he really has for Seculars and it's because practice obviously makes perfect. I could go on and say a lot of things about Richard and all that he has served as spiritual assistant to just about everything... SFO. And you can read more about that in your program. But I would like to say that this guy is above everything that he does, he is true to himself, he is true to the Faith, and he keeps things simple. And he is so effective because he has his priorities in order. It is a great pleasure for me to introduce to you, our first speaker, Fr. Richard Trezza.

Thank you and good morning to everybody. You know one of the great things about being on the commissions is that you get to share your vocation with other people and you get to hear their take on the world, on the church, and on their faith, which is most uplifting. I'm on the formation commission and all of the members on the formation commission as all the members on all your commissions are wonderful people. I have to single out one however and I don't mean to embarrass her, Anne Mulqueen, after one of our meetings was urged by the Spirit to write a prayer which I would like to use this morning as my morning prayer. Indeed, we probably will be reciting it throughout the conference. I'd ask you to turn to the inside cover of your program booklet. And I'd ask you all to stand as we place ourselves in the presence of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Together, let us pray. Eternal Father, source of all good, hear our one desire, that you set a blaze upon the earth that will not be contained until it accomplishes your holy and true will. Good St Francis, pray for our peace and justice commissions. Help us regard others as you did the Sultan, and seek ways of unity, harmony, and respect, regardless of ideology. May God bless us all as we labor to give birth to a more fraternal world, where the lamb can lie down safely with the lion. Holy St Clare, pray for our formation commissions. Pray that we who gaze upon the face of Christ will be formed and transformed by His image into His likeness. May God bless us all as we seek to embody and impart the Good News in our daily lives. St Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of the Secular Franciscan Order, pray for our work commissions. Pray that we never forget that our ability to work is a gift. May God bless us all as we seek to share in Christ's creation and redemption through the work of our hands. St Louis, patron of the Secular Franciscan Order, pray for our youth and young adult commission. You who fathered 11 children and raised them in God's ways, pray for us who work with the youth of today. May God bless us all as we walk with our future into a new day. St Margaret of Cortona, pray for our family commissions. You who bore the stigma of unwed motherhood, repented and lived an exemplary life, pray that families will thrive despite so many obstacles. May our families become places of peace, fidelity, and respect for life and a blessing to society. St Bonaventure, pray for our ecology commissions. Pray that all of us who behold the imprint of God in creation will remember that all creation is interdependent and must be protected. May God bless us all as we respect and care for the work of his hands. Almighty Father, enable our ministers and commissioners to reflect your light in a dark world and your warmth in a cold world. Mold them into the image of your son, Jesus the Christ, so that the world will know it is you who have sent them. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is, as Jane said last night, a tremendous energy in this room. When all of us get together for anything like this, there is tremendous movement of the Spirit and tremendous sharing of all the things that the Spirit has enabled each and every one of us to do for the good of the church, for the Order, and also for ourselves, as people on a spiritual journey. So I'm very happy to be here, and to suck up a lot of that energy this weekend with you.

I come recently from a workshop, a conference, given by my Province of the Most Holy Name, at our Sienna College, on the issue of globalization, something I know very little about but I found out a great deal about it during the conference to which our very own Carolyn Coburn was a member and Carol Gentile, in her position as national minister, was invited. It colored a lot of my remarks that I will make this morning because I believe that in this rapidly changing new world that is being forged, there is a tremendous urgency for us to be radical in our approach to Franciscanism and to give an adequate response to our brothers and sisters in the world so that we keep the values that are important to us as Christians and Franciscans intact. Unfortunately, as you and I as a society, as a Church, as individuals, interface with the terrible phenomenon of terrorism, we hear a lot about martyrdom on the part of the people who are terrorists. It's something like a martyrdom that you and I celebrate with the saints, but it is very different in an aspect. Whenever there is a martyr being celebrated in the calendar, I always take that option to celebrate that saint's feast because I think it's very important for us to reflect on the energy and the passion and the intensity that people had in belief in Jesus and His Gospel that would cause them to lose their lives for that cause. And I think it's very, very important, although some people are embarrassed by our martyrs, because they feel that, [with] a little more practicality, they could have saved their lives. If they were a little bit more sensitive to indigent [sic] cultures and did not try to convert people, maybe they would have been alive for a longer time. But be that as it may, there was a passion for the Gospel which caused them to put their life on the line for a principle, a spiritual principle, and that is something to be admired.

But whatever, the martyrs we hear about in the terrorist camp are made up of fanatical, fundamental followers, somewhat misguided followers of Islam, people responding to a call from God to give up their lives for a cause. And it is a martyrdom of sorts. I won't get into the ramifications of that religious gesture which of course claims their lives but also countless other lives in the process. Yet in all that craziness, there is sort of a veiled admiration on our part for the engagement of somebody's imagination and passion to the point of losing one's life for a cause, for a principle. And that's what this keynote address is about.

It's about that urging, that passion, that spirit, which causes us to put ourselves on the line for the things that we know to be true and the things we've committed ourselves to believe in - this Franciscan thing that constantly needs to be identified and finessed every day of our life. Our martyrs also engaged in fanatical things and I'm sure the Roman Emperors sitting in their stands in the different circuses and watching countless Christians give their lives for refusing to burn a little grain of incense to honor their gods, might consider them to be fanatical also. I mean, after all, the choice of having one's limbs ripped apart by some beast and being devoured by the same could be construed to be a bit insane, we agree, huh.

But there's the risk for us. Where is the nerve that we have to risk all for the will of God, which is what Francis did, calling to mind that unique struggle between our will and the will of God? Where is the courage to be driven by that unknown? You know, it is something that we know, the will of God, and yet it is something unknown because we're constantly being called to something day after day if we're serious about the process of conversion. And I really think that if we believe in the incredible, we can do the impossible.

It's our want of faith that holds us back at times. Look at St Peter. When did he begin to sink as he made his way across the water to meet the Lord? Well, the Gospel gives us the reason. He took account of the winds. He took a mental survey as he put his foot onto the water, and all of a sudden, he remembered that 99.44% of humanity cannot walk on the water. All of his incredulities and all of his problems were in the velocity of the wind and the tumult of the waves, and as soon as he remembered that, and took his eyes off Christ, he sank into the water. But, you know, Christ is our passion. Christ is our driving force. His agenda is our mandate, and I believe that only a radical Franciscan living out of the Gospel is going to really be the answer to what it is that we're being called to do.

This talk concerns itself with spirit. You'll not hear much about the Holy Spirit although it is that same Holy Spirit who is responsible for our selfless response to the grace of God to do more, to become more. But this talk is about the passion we have for the culture that you and I drink in, the culture of Franciscanism that you and I imbibe, even without knowing it, just by being members of the Franciscan movement. And I'm not even speaking exclusively here about Secular Franciscanism, but Franciscanism in general in its most radical form.

You know, as I was sitting at that globalization conference, we had a Sister of St Joseph who came to speak to us about the Franciscan perspective on globalization, ala, the theology of Duns Scotus. She was envious of the fact, that the people in her audience, which comprised our friars and also many lay people including many Secular Franciscans, who are our partners in ministry in all of our ministries in Holy Name Province, she said, here I am, I had to go to school to learn this stuff. You people, have already possessed this over and over again without even going to school. And it's true.

As I was reflecting on this with the other friars, I said, you know, as she was speaking, I felt, I believed in what she said. I felt I was doing that, not as a pat on the back type of thing, but I was able to resonate with that. And the friars said, yeah, we kind of like pick that up, don't we, just by being in the movement? And that's something I think we've got to capitalize on because we have a completely different world view of things that's going to help our sisters and brothers in this world.

We know we've become Franciscans, not to become little Francis's, but rather, to come to Jesus. Now Francis did that in his own life, by wishing to follow the Gospel radically, to search out the singularity of the Gospel, the one thing that separates it from just another nice story about some super prophet. He went for the jugular, he went for the kerygma [preaching the gospel of Christ in the manner of the early church], the kernel of the Gospel, and there he was able to find the roots of Gospel living, which is what the word "radical" means in the first instance.

Now we as Franciscans, Secular and Third Order Regular, and First Order, Second Order, endeavor to do the same thing with the grace of God. And so we will find those roots with one another's support to live this Franciscanism. This unmistakable preference for the poor, this association with and collaboration with, the poor, and their needs, and their uncomfortableness, almost to the point of being uncomfortable by not being around them. The hands-on things that you and I must do about peace and justice in this world, no longer merely to pray for peace and justice, but to become peace and to become justice in our own little sphere of influence because if we can't do it with[in] our own little sphere of influence, we're not going to do it out there.

If it's not happening in your fraternity, don't bash the politicians or the bishops, look into yourself and find out why you can't do it. And then how could you ever expect somebody out there to do it for an entire nation? It's got to start in your privileged places, in your fraternities, in your heart. We need to get going on that so that the Franciscan movement becomes that privileged place where people can look at and say, wow, that's different. They live life different[ly], they found some sort of secret, not only to tolerate what's going on in the world, but to make sense out of it. And people will run to your fraternities. And they will join your fraternities but, most importantly, they will stay in your fraternities. I believe truly that this is the Franciscan moment for our world, and we are going to be part of forming a response to what is happening.

The message of Assisi needs to be shouted out once again, and the commissions that we celebrate during this conference are the doors through which this message will pass. We need the courage and the cooperation with God's grace to unlock those doors so that the spirit of each commission will be able to live and to breathe and to transform us from within. Instead of bemoaning the terrible conditions in our world, Franciscans will be able to offer to a myopic world a new vision of the cross and how to live with it, not just how to tolerate it, but how to embrace it. You know as well as I that the cross is not something that has happened, the crucifixion is something that is happening, and it can be found at any place and at any hour in the human race.

Francis' love affair with the passion of Christ was not a morbid sensationalism, stooped in a misguided false piety of his time, but the unmistakable recognition that the cross is an inescapable thing and should be even wished for if only for the life and hope that it affords to those who believe. It was a natural consequence then of this understanding and conviction that Francis should die branded with the stigmata.

The cross comes in different forms. We all know about the suffering that comes with sickness, the different crises which visit us during our lives, and it is a truly Franciscan response to be with people who suffer that way, to be able to let them know that the marks of their sicknesses are the very passport which will get them to heaven, to be one with Christ forever. To offer that glimmer of hope, to offer a new way to be about this world, but there's also the cross of accepting the challenges which come with change, with rapid change.

When I was a student of world history in high school, 1960 to 1964, I studied an evolution of humanity, political life, cultural life, socio-economic life, religious life, which took many, many, many years to evolve. I would imagine, and of course, all the textbooks at that time ended with the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, and, if you were lucky, there was a little something there about Kennedy's election, but all stopped there. I would imagine that that same history book has had to have undergone I don't know how many revisions to keep up with the tremendous and dynamic changes taking place in our world.

We could go on and on about, gee, the world is changing so fast. It's terrible, all these new things happening, we can't keep abreast, but you know, the rapid changes... are not just changes, but they've been major shifts in the way that we live and the way that we think and the way that we worship, the way that we do business, the way that we recognize ourselves as members in a shrinking world, in a global village, in our interaction unfortunately with terrorism. But you know the fear about these changes should not be an excuse for inactivity. We still need to answer these challenges and to be in this world with a passion for Christ and his Gospel that Francis of Assisi had in his own day.

The commissions, which this conference celebrates, are the jumping off points to do the Gospel in our time. No one is going to hand you a recipe on how to be a Secular Franciscan. Your rule doesn't even do that. It's very broad in its approach. No one is going to tell you how to meet these things head on, as nobody told Francis. Your inner voices, because of your spirituality, will speak to you, as Christ spoke to Francis from that cross, and will encourage you to do things and take the creative initiative so that you can change your life and those of your sisters and brothers around you. We know that Francis found his way and encouraged others to do the same with the grace of God.

He was not mealy-mouthed in his approach, but as I said previously, he was radical, passionate, personal, and intimate. It was a response to the world that he took even his church into account, the church which he loved, a church which was in the throes of the aftermath of Lateran Council IV, tremendous political shifts, alliances of different kingdoms, and also the human condition of his sisters and brothers. He embraced his world in a very gutsy, wrenching, response to things that he knew he needed to pay attention to and, with the grace of God, needed to act upon.

So what are we passionate about? Where is the spirit that guides us? You know Mel Gibson put the passion of the Christ in our faces this lent. What's the passion according to Mary, SFO? What of John, SFO? What is the passion of Richard, OFM? More than ever before bookstores and library shelves are filled with books concerning Islam, that mysterious, much argued about religion, whose misinterpretation and abuse on the part of some of its followers could lead to a dangerous fundamentalism and fanaticism. Although misguided, it is still a passion of sorts, and somehow we admire that. Sometimes we look at the Mormons and all those other people that knock on our doors, and we complain how bothersome they are. But in the next breath we say, you know, you've got to hand it to them, they're out there knocking on the doors. They're talking about the Gospel. They're out there.

There's is a religious, visceral, response to injustice. Would that we be so infected to use that passion for the good! There are two classes of people in the world: those who are afraid to find God and those who are afraid to lose God. Some are afraid to find God, lest in finding Him they lose all their selfish desires, believing all the while, that if they possessed Him, they would have nothing else. Others are afraid to lose God, because in losing Him, they would lose all there is and find in return only their petty selves, which are so useless for giving true and lasting happiness.

This recognition is the starting point for all reformers and those who truly wish to follow the Lord. In losing self, Francis of Assisi found the God within and found himself, and in that wonderful Franciscan contradiction, Lady Poverty, poverty of things and self, Francis actually became the richest person of his time. And here's the passion for all that followed. He possessed, if we can speak in those terms, he (some words blanked out) and that was the beginning of the passion of Francis of Assisi. How, how could Francis live for anything or anyone else if he had the Lord? How could he choose anything or anyone else in the world because he was so in love with the Christ?

It follows then that Francis, would, from that point on, embrace the world, yes, embrace the world that his God had created, a world which Francis of Assisi could so easily have complained about constantly. It was not Disneyland during the time of Francis, but you know he did not merely tolerate his condition, obsessing about life here below in the valley of tears, the human condition tainted by original sin. But his life and convictions gave vent to the ultimate and all-consuming graciousness of God because he saw evidences of his Lord in all creation.

It's the quintessential Franciscan gift to the world, to shift people from a useless harboring [sic] and obsession about sin, although it exists and we are sinners, to move them to the much more salvific idea of the graciousness and goodness of God, is a traditional Franciscan thing for which we should not apologize. It does not of course give us license to sin. It is a reality, but the obsession with it is not a Franciscan thing. It is the quintessential gift of Franciscanism to be able to be in the world and to allow that shift to happen with our brothers and sisters.

A galloping globalization has taken place right underneath our noses. It begs for a radical living out of Franciscanism, the gift to the church, which forever offered humanity the ultimate way of viewing things and people, of regarding one another as worthy of God's love. We do not do this, my sisters and brothers, without passion. We cannot do this without spirit, without the Spirit. Now we've been on fire about this before. Just think back - on the day that you said yes to your vocation, on the day that you made your final commitment in the order, for myself, the day I received the habit, the day I was ordained, the day I was finally professed. You know we wouldn't dream of approaching those life-changing ceremonies in a lukewarm fashion or in a way which told those attending those ceremonies that we were just jumping through the hoops to achieve our goal. It's all about Him, and that's what makes the spiritual life difficult - the constant struggle between our will and God's will. Fulton Sheen liked to say that there were no planes in the spiritual life: you were either going up or coming down at any one point.

This all-commissions conference reminds us that the going forth is definitely worth the while. Whatever discomfort or pain, the other nagging challenge, the constantly turning up the flame which is that ready and selfless response to our gracious God, doing the will of God will take up most of our efforts and a goodly part of our lives. It takes real spirit to see ourselves in proper relationship to God. The person who thinks only of themselves is the person who prays prayers of petition. Give me this, I want that. The one who thinks of their neighbor says prayers of intercession. God, help so and so. Bring this person through this problem. But whoever thinks of loving and serving God in loving and serving their neighbor is a person who is involved in saying prayers of the abandonment to God's will, which is the prayer of all the saints.

So, when will we touch this passion again? Where will we find it? It is there you know. Is it under stubbornness? Is it perhaps a prisoner of laziness? Is it being held captive by feelings of frustration or feelings of an inability to make changes for the better? Without heat that passion will cool. The Franciscan movement and gift to the church is ever-needed in all the seasons of our church and world. We would be hypocrites to bear the name without the responsibility.

One credit card company says that membership has its privileges and so, brother and sister of penance, anyone worthy of the name Franciscan has divine privileges and earthly responsibilities. The new world order being forged now need not be wicked and self-serving. It need not widen the gap between rich and poor. It need not be anti-Christian or anti-spirit. It need not make us fearful, but it will take another Franciscan uprising to make it God-driven with something in it for everyone.

If globalization is to reshape our society, it will take the radical and passionate living out of Franciscan principles and a good deal of sacrificing to make it in God's image and according to His design. We will have to make choices, my friends. We will have much to lose, a sense of the spiritual in our world, for one thing. Those who practice religion with a passion could be sidelined. Will we be ready for that preferential treatment? What will be our guiding principles? Those principles which have made our lives easy and carefree with little regard for the suffering around us in our own country or abroad? Francis loved the cross for all the right reasons....(rest of first side blank)

(first part of side 2 cut off) preserve our spiritual freedom. We cannot serve we are told both God and mammon. We cannot save our life for both time here and for eternity. We cannot feast both here and hereafter. We cannot make the best of both worlds. Either we will have the fast on earth and the feast in heaven, or we will have the feast here and the fast in eternity.

There's real spirit in doing the commissions. It's unfortunate that as I make visitation after visitation, the idea of the commissions seems not to have caught on. I know however that each and every one of us actually does the commissions somehow in our own lives, whether we know it or not. I myself have comforted Seculars with that sentiment at many a gathering where the spiritual burden of passionately doing the commissions seems an impossibility. But I don't think we can rest on that feel-good theory anymore, lest people begin to consider us to be spiritually challenged and tunnel-visioned in our approach to the spiritual life.

Whether we know it or not, no. It's time we knew what we were doing and who we are, what we are about, living Secular Franciscan life on purpose not by accident but by choice. We shouldn't be on automatic pilot but living fully aware of who we are and what we are doing. The potential Franciscan, Secular or Friar, will be that person who will admire the passion with which we pursue peace, justice, mercy and compassion; and who will be willing to leave mother, father, sister, brother, possessions to follow Christ; who can engender that spirit of passion in his followers.

Looking at Cimabu's representation of Francis it is obvious that people were not following Francis because of his looks. It was because Francis knew that it was not enough merely to have an intellectual understanding of another person's difficulty. He needed to go further to feel it as his own. He reminds us it is not important to be constantly asking ourselves if we love our neighbor. What is important is to act out that love. We learn to walk by walking, to play by playing, to love by loving. If we do anybody we hate a good turn, we find that we hate them less. If we do them an evil turn, we find that we hate them more. Doing kind acts to people makes us find all people lovable. And if love is not there, we put it there. And then we find everybody lovable.

That is spirit and passion to be courageous in giving Christ a home here on earth; to reveal His face to those who need to gaze upon it. Benet Fonck would write in formation manual that the Seculars are Christmas people, always re-birthing Christ and uncovering Him for all to see. This calls to mind the most tragic words ever written about Christ found in the prologue to John's Gospel, "He came among His own, and His own received Him not." Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born. Nazareth had no room for Him when He lived, and Jerusalem had no room for Him when He died.

Little by little, Christ is being removed from us by those who think they know best about the destiny of humanity. The Franciscan ethos, on the contrary, seeks to fill every nook and cranny with the presence, love and mercy of Christ.

Let this All Commissions Conference, then, be for each and every one of us a cause to renew our commitment to the Franciscan way of life. Let it renew in each of us the flame of the spirit in Baptism. Above all, may this conference make us holy. Yes, may a conference make us holy. Sanctity is not giving up the world, it is embracing the world. It is a continuation of that sublime transaction of the Incarnation in which we can hear Christ saying to us, "Give me your humanity. I give you my divinity. Give me your time, I will give you my eternity, give me your limitations, I will give you my power. You give me your slavery, and I will give you my freedom. You give me your death, I will give you life. You give me your nothingness, I will give you my all.

Let this conference then, my friends, find us with generous and open hearts to do more, to be more, to feel the heat of the flame previously ignited by Him who turns up that flame to give us all his warmth and vision.