“That All May be One”

Sonia and Jaime Bernardo, SFO
Chairs, National Family Commission

In less than one month, the third millennium will be upon us.  Many await the arrival with great hope and much joy, while an equal number are filled with caution and dread.  Still others are certain that “Y2K” will be the beginning of the end of the world, when computers will crash and everything will cease to function.

For us Catholics, this is the time to lead all Christians in joyful celebration of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We look at this event as an opportunity to restore unity and cooperation among all the Christian denominations.  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, expressed his desire to renew Christ’s call for unity to His disciples.  “That all may be one” is, after all, what Christ wants.  The separation of Christians is not supposed to be permanent.

Living in peace and harmony with all people, which is the basis for ecumenism, is not new to the Franciscans.  Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis of Assisi, by his life and example, was a witness to ecumenism.  His deep love for Jesus and for all God’s creation, his enduring commitment to peace and reconciliation, and his respect for human and animal life has made him a saint not only to Catholics, but also to other Christians and non-Christians.  The life of Saint Francis can be the common ground upon which dialogue among Christians can start.  The Rule of the SFO, the way of life we follow, is in perfect harmony with the Holy Father’s desire for communion, for unity among Christians, and for openness to conversion – the root of all ecumenism. Conversion is the most significant event in the life of Saint Francis.  For him, without interior conversion, without newness of mind and viewpoint, there cannot be reconciliation and peace among all peoples of the world.  As Francis told us, we must be instruments of peace.

What are we, as Secular Franciscans, supposed to do? We turn to our Rule of life:

Article 12 tells us “…obliged to acquire purity of heart because of the vocation they have embraced, they should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters.”  In Way of Life, Father Portasik said that Secular Franciscans must “recognize the equality of all men and women, regardless of race, color or creed, as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ… they must respect them.”  Secular Franciscans must seek ways to sow peace and harmony by showing genuine concern for the plight of minorities, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the refugees; to look into their needs and find ways to meet them.  As in the case of the immigrants, do they need to be tutored so that they can communicate well in English?  Can you spend an hour a day to sit down and help them learn to read or speak the language?  The other virtues necessary to accomplish this goal of peace and harmony are humility, forgiveness and charity.   Father Benet Fonck, OFM, in Called to Proclaim Christ, reminds us that everything we are and do comes from the Lord and flows back to Him. As we practice humility, forgiveness, and charity to our poor brothers and sisters, we become witnesses to others that Christ is the focus of our lives.

The SFO Rule, Article 13 says:

As the Father sees in every person the features of His Son, the first-born of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.

A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.

This Article gives the basis of all ecumenical initiatives. All of us whom God created are “gifts” from God.  We are created in His own image and likeness, but some persons decide not to follow His image.  They want to be on their own.  Secular Franciscans are called to accept them as they are, with understanding and kindness.  We are called not to be judgmental, not to focus on their failings, nor to criticize them for their faults.  Instead, we should build community with them and accept them as they are.  Once Secular Franciscans accept someone as their brother or sister, a sense of community is developed. This includes the lowly, the abandoned, children, prisoners, divorced, and poor starving families.

In the SFO Rule, Article 19, we find this directive to all Secular Franciscans:  “Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must built unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.”

Even in this troubled society, full of incidences of crime, death, cruelty, and individual and family tragedies, Secular Franciscans are called nevertheless to be “bearers of peace”.  The Rule suggests the promotion of dialogue.  This is not an easy task.  Dialogue gives people the courage to be open, to be truthful to one another, and to show faith in one another.  Father Benet points out that “Secular Franciscan ministry begins with justice and ends with peace”.  We can evangelize others by communicating to them our own peace and joy.  But we cannot give what we do not have.  Before one can be a peacemaker, one must have peace within oneself.

Questions for Discussion:

1.   In your own little way, how can you bring joy and peace to others?

2.   How can you promote unity and harmony in your own family?  In your neighborhood?