Acting on a Franciscan Moment in Time
Sally Buckley tssf
Assistant Provincial Minister, Australian Province
THIRD ORDER, SOCIETY OF ST FRANCIS
A Franciscan moment in time … the words have haunted me since I heard Sr Ilia Delio utter them at Mercedes College, on that Monday night of her visit to Perth.
We are standing at a Franciscan moment in time, she said … or words to that effect.
This is something which has been coming clearer into my conscience over the last few years, gaining momentum over the last few months, to the point where I knew God was trying to goad me into writing something.
Are we / am I living in a Franciscan moment?
I am so pleased I am here this year, at our annual Convocation. Each time I miss it, I feel the isolation of living so far from my beloved community more acutely. I feel as if part of me has been lopped off!
However, a Franciscan moment in time … I was reflecting upon this yesterday and what it might mean, when the thought of our Aims flowed through my mind.
- To make our Lord known and loved everywhere
- To spread the spirit of love and harmony
- To live simply
Or, as we pledge as we renew our profession vows:
“… seeking to spread the knowledge and love of Christ, to promote the spirit of love and harmony as the family of God and to live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service after the example of Saint Francis” [page H3 of the Manual].
Our first Aim exhorts us to make the Lord known and loved everywhere. What was it for you that initially attracted you to Francis and Clare?
I remember a few years ago down home, the various church leaders and pastors were asked to be involved in a Youth for Christ activity with our local State High School. At the training session the night before, they went round the room asking everyone (as one of those ice breakers / get to know you type things) what we wanted to be remembered for. As you can probably imagine there were a variety of answers, all very nice etc. Well, when it came to me, I said I wanted to be remembered as a lover. Well, you might imagine the stunned silence which followed!! I could see the look pass over the facilitators face “silly woman!” So I explained; “a lover of God and of God’s creation”. Well, you could hear the breath being let out in relief!
I thought slightly indignantly, why is it such a crime, why is it such a scandal to be remembered as someone who loves? Isn’t God the God of love? Isn’t all that we have and all that is around us, the blessings of a God who loves abundantly, wastefully?
I know I get very passionate about this – that God loves us, beyond our comprehending, that we are precious, unique individuals, beloved in God’s sight. This knowledge puts me on my knees in humble gratitude. But it is not just me that God loves excessively, it is the whole of God’s created order – every other living person, every tree and ant, every dog and cat, every worm, and every star in the whole of Creation. The blind, maimed beggar in the lowest of slums, the woman with a starving child at her dry breast, the rich man in his ivory tower, even the corrupt and cruel. God longs for each one to find themselves into a relationship with him.
Through Francis we have an example of someone who, I believe, caught this vision and understood it. We have many stories in our Franciscan tradition which illustrate this, which leads me into the second Aim of the Order:
To spread the spirit of love and harmony.
In 2005 I was privileged to have attended IPTOC (the Inter Provincial Third Order Chapter) in Canterbury, England. At that time there was a very real fear (which in many ways hasn’t dissipated) that the Anglican Communion would split with the Episcopal Church of the United States being kicked out of the Communion over the gay issue. From this meeting a letter was drafted to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Communion, pledging our support and putting the Franciscan way forward as a model for seeking reconciliation between parties. It read:
We, the sisters and brothers of the Society of St. Francis, write to you from our First Order and Inter-Provincial Third Order Chapters, which included the Abbess of the Second Order as an observer, meeting here in Canterbury, to send you our love and support as you lead the Anglican Communion during these times of division and difficulty.
In preparation for our Chapters, many of us studied The Windsor Report in which you and the Primates of the Anglican Communion called upon members of the Church to safeguard the unity which is ours through honest communication and fervent prayer. During our deliberations, we shared our heart-felt concerns about the life of the Church and about your personal pain as you lead us in preserving our unity. We appreciate your desire to appeal to the Anglican Communion to value diversity as a core element of that unity. As faithful members of the Church, we wish to give witness to the truth of the Gospel and to commit ourselves to live alongside our sisters and brothers who understand the Gospel differently than we do.
While this is a difficult task, we are learning to do this in our Franciscan way of life. As an international community with members in various provinces of the Anglican Communion, we recognize our common vocation as ‘lesser brothers and sisters’, united in faith and intentional living together. While bound together as one family, we struggle to cherish differences in gender, culture, theology, economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, and varied religious histories. We have learned to listen to each other, to read the scriptures together, to share our particular experiences of God, and to live in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, marginalized and to live with each other.
From this Franciscan vantage point, we offer to you, to the Primates and to the members of the Anglican Communion a model of moving forward as Church: walking in the way of Saint Francis of Assisi whose embrace of the leper and the way of non-violent love knit together a universal family of Christians, rooted in the Gospel, growing in joy and simplicity and extending a Reign of God marked by justice and peace.
We are very aware of the challenges set before you as the Archbishop of Canterbury and we support you in your continuing steadfast faith in the Gospel message of compassion and inclusion, as well as in your commitment to listening and dialogue. We pledge to you our daily prayers as together we strive to rebuild the Church in accordance with the will of God.
With our love and prayers,
And was signed by the Ministers General of the First and Third Orders and the Abbess of the Second Order sisters.
This was sent off on our behalf.
When it became clear that there was going to be some serious division at the last Lambeth Conference, it was decided, mainly by the international Third Order, to hold a prayer vigil and to have a place of peace and prayer in Canterbury, to which Bishops and others were welcome to come. This is a very real witness to the out working of our second aim – to seek reconciliation, to be peace makers.
At IPTOC, the various Provincial Ministers give extensive reports on what is happening in their provinces. When it came to reporting on JPIC – Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, I sat squirming a bit – firstly, I had never heard of JPIC, and secondly it was almost like our Province hadn’t heard of JPIC, because we certainly had nothing to report, nor did it seem like we were doing anything about it!
It was in Canterbury that I came across Franciscans International. One of our speakers was Fr John Quigley ofm a truly dynamic speaker and at that time the director of FI.
Franciscans International is a recognised Non Government Organisation at the United Nations. At the time they had offices in both Geneva and New York – the main office being Geneva.
Their main work is in advocacy for the poor – giving them a voice with those who are making the decisions.
Their Charter is to work at the United Nations in the three areas of Peacemaking, Care of Creation and Care of the Poor.
At that time their current projects were mainly in the field of human rights and their strong advocacy in the care of the poor, against the trafficking of persons and with refugees. The issues are always much bigger – trafficking of women & children has become “trafficking of persons”; the issue of migrant workers – migrant workers and their families.
They encourage the peacemaking work to begin at the grassroots level and are looking at supporting various initiatives in this area, especially by strengthening existing grassroots networks etc. Great concern about current situation in Africa – one of their projects at that time was assistance with conflict resolution between Burundi and Rwanda.
In the Care of Creation field, they were involved in an International Conference on the Environment which was to take place the following year.
They work with World Council of Churches but they don’t do much at a UN level. FI has representation on Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (a child of the WCC), with HIV/AIDS and Fair Trade as priorities.
He said: “we have a profound obligation to speak for the poor in forums everywhere. The train is moving and the world doesn’t wait for us.”
It is the first time in 800 years that Franciscans are working together!
Anglicans have been in FI from the beginning and a much needed and very important witness to working together.
So that was my wake up call … but I had gone to sleep! After my initial excitement and enthusiasm, the passion had cooled.
I was excited with the opening of an FI office in Bangkok, and pleased that some from our Province had gone to training seminars, but some things are a long way from sleepy, isolated Esperance and the rigours of serving a parish!
Then the Global Financial Crisis hit. The greed and corruption in and of the corporate world is just staggering. I remember a random thought going through my mind, we need to get back to a more simple way of living, may be the Franciscan way of life has something to offer. But the thought was gone before it had time to put down roots, but it does lead conveniently into our third Aim: to live simply.
My husband, Chris, and I saw some of the fall out of the GFC first hand when we were in the UK and Ireland last year – brand new housing developments lying empty because no one could afford to buy them, banks going belly-up, or refusing to lend money. One of my parishioners, emigrating from the UK to come to live in Esperance with his family, was caught up in the mess. He was literally weeks too late in putting his house on the market, by the time he did, the market had crashed, mortgage companies were declaring bankruptcy left right and centre. He will have been in Australia two years in January and the house is still unsold. It took them 12 months to find someone to rent it.
But, by and large, Esperance, and Western Australia have been shielded from the worst of it. The greed and unaccountability came home to me at the beginning of the year when BHP Billiton walked away from their Ravensthorpe Nickel Project; literally walking away from an investment of some 4 billion dollars.
Chris and I went over to Hopetoun soon after the announcement that the mine was closing and were shocked at the utter waste which was taking place – brand new equipment being thrown away in the boxes they had arrived in, placed into landfill dumps on site. A lucky few (very few) voluntary organisations had managed to “be in the right place at the right time”, or rather knew someone in the right place at the right time, and managed to receive some of these discarded goods. We went to the brand new FESA Head Quarters in Hopetoun and were shown round. Most of the office and operations rooms had been kitted out with mine discards – desks, urns, toasters, bain maries, even computers! All had arrived in their original packing, not having been opened.
Then there was the human cost – people who had lost their jobs. Their own employees they kind of looked after, but it was the contractors, the businesses they had encouraged to start up, even days before the announcement was made, who were left high and dry. Anyone who has opened up their own business will know of the incredible set up costs, which generally takes two years of hard slog to recoup, here were people who had made the move, started to set up new businesses and suddenly found that their major customer was not going to be there.
There was and has been no accountability – no one has been called to account for the waste – money which would have run a small country – just a convenient tax write off on the corporate balance sheet.
Last weekend I attended the Perth Synod and our Bible study was run by Professor Ian Harper, from Melbourne, who is a university lecturer and is on the Fair Pay Commission. I had meant to make proper note of his credentials before I left home. As well as the Bible Study, Archbishop Roger asked him to speak after morning tea on Saturday morning. I found him an interesting and inspiring speaker, and a devout Christian and I think I’m right, an Anglican to boot.
He spoke of a corporate world gone mad with greed, selfishness and excess, and which had lost touch with reality. He spoke of the absurdity of these executives going cap in hand to the US congress for hand outs, arriving in Washington in their private jets and helicopters. Prof. Harper suggested that the GFC had awoken peoples’ moral sensibilities and the ordinary folk are no longer prepared to put up with the greed and opulent lifestyles of these corporate highflyers.
Jesus tells the parable of the man with the barns as a warning and in Matthew 6: 19-21:
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This goes just before one of the passages in the Gospels which remind me most of Francis, Matthew 6: 25-34:
25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
In Archbishop Roger’s Charge to Synod he spoke of a prophetic moment missed by the Anglican Communion. At the Lambeth Conference of 1998 there was a resolution passed unanimously which has faded into virtual oblivion and certainly overshadowed since by the great debate about human sexuality.
Does anyone remember the “Make Poverty History” campaign?!
He writes in part:
“… in our total obsession with the human sexuality question we have missed out on our church engaging in a prophetic way with what has turned out to be one of the most devastating periods in the economy of the world. The lack of moral and ethical standards by financiers, international investment agencies, individuals and boards has infected the whole global market. Anglican churches and dioceses across the world have been seriously impacted with subsequent cuts to jobs and mission initiatives. …
Offer a though for those who have lost jobs, houses and whose lives have been shattered by the financial greed of a few. Consider that the swine flu pandemic was caused by a culture of destitution in which humans and animals live together in single dwellings eking out an existence that barely keeps body and soul together. The effect of the financial crisis on the poor is catastrophic as charity dries up and compassion loses its charm when financial loss is sustained. The unbridled greed that was assisted by a total lack of moral conscience has touched every aspect of life on this planet.
… [he continues:]
While the emphasis was on alleviating the debt crisis for the poorest nations, the call to transparency and accountability in the area of loan portfolios and investment was clearly articulated. The report called upon the Anglican Communion, worldwide and in each local scene, to counter the culture of greed that was leading to bad investment and risky debt procedures. It called upon the church leaders to engage passionately with governments, banking institutions and global investment personnel to exercise extreme caution in the lending market.
If we had engaged on this resolution with a minute part of the passion and fire we have exercised on the sexuality debate, the world’s poor would be in a different place today, and so would we.” [Archbishop’s Charge to the First Session of the Forty-Seventh Synod of the Diocese of Perth, pp. 23-24]
As I said at the beginning, I am haunted by Sr Ilia’s comment: We are at a Franciscan moment.
One of the down sides I find about being so isolated is that when I happen to miss the annual Convocation, it hurts beyond belief. I rarely am able to get to one of the normal meetings, but I have always tried to attend the Convocation, it is vital to my sense of who I am as a Franciscan. I think in the 21 years I have been involved in the WA Third Order, I have missed 2, and one of them was last year. With the lack of a regular newsletter, I have felt I had really drifted aimlessly. Like being sent to some far off land with no contact from your family and the people you hold dear.
By April this year I was really beginning to struggle and so Sr Ilia’s visit came a just the right time and it was such a blessing to be able to attend and to make contact with many of you again.
Then, through a Facebook friend, a Tertiary from South Africa, I was put in touch with a book which I felt re connected me with my Franciscan roots. It is a book called Chasing Francis. The book is purely fiction, and is the story of an evangelical pastor in the US who is burnt out and has a breakdown in front of his congregation and is basically booted out by his elders who put him on stress leave. He travels to Italy where he has a much loved uncle who had become a Catholic Franciscan Friar and is based in Assisi. Throughout the book there weaves the fictional story of the pastor, the stories we love so much of Francis, vivid descriptions of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside and something else going on just below the surface – encounters with people who were living out the Franciscan vocations and making a real difference in their world. Whether these stories are pure fiction or whether they are based on true stories and actual people I don’t know, but it spoke to and stirred something deep within me – a reconnection with my Franciscan vocation, and certainly prepared me spiritually for what was to come in Sydney. [For those interested, the book is Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron and is published by NavPress, and Koorong have it in stock!]
In Sydney, as you have heard, the Province of Australia, PNG and East Asia proudly launched JPIC! Yippee!!!! The whole Sydney conference was around that social justice theme, as you will have seen from David Noble’s report which you have in your folder. It is only in its infancy, but things are moving and certainly Glenys McCarrick of Queensland [Day 19 of the prayer list!] is a very enthusiastic driving force, so watch “this space” in future Provincial newsletters.
I guess this is a very long winded way of leading to the question, if we are living at a Franciscan moment in time, and we are called to live a Franciscan vocation, what can we do?
Professor Ian Harper said that part of what we must do as Christians is to build communities of hope – hope is essential to life.
St Paul writes in Romans 5: 1-5:
1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”
I believe as Franciscans we are called to be the Hope bearers at this time. That it is through our vocations, through the aims of this society by which we aim to live that we can fulfil this calling at this Franciscan moment in time.
Ignatius and Benedict have been all the rage for years, now it is Francis’ time!
Francis is not the saint of the bird bath, or the slightly mad, before his time tree hugging hippy. I believe ours is a holistic spirituality which embraces and encompasses the whole of creation, the whole of the human condition. Ours is Jesus’ commission from Isaiah 61:
1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor,
So what can we do?
Who are we in all this?
What is it that attracted us to Francis in the first place?
Do we live our Franciscan charism?
How can we be more intentional / more vocal / more “out there” about living and promoting the Franciscan way?
About living out our belief in Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in our world?
How do we make the most of this Franciscan Moment in time?
At this point I was going to suggest split up into small groups to discus some questions, but much of this ground we covered yesterday in the Community meeting. I was thrilled to see the resolve to “get out there” and up our profile with stalls at YouthCARE and the diocesan Synods. I really believe that this is the right time for us to get our message “out there” and pray that what came out of the brain-storming session will be followed up on.
Perhaps we can discuss this further, informally over morning tea?
So, I would like to finish with the prayer that Archbishop Roger used to finish his charge:
May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation,
that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain,
rejection, starvation and war,
that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.
May God bless you with foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference,
that you may do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you now and always. Amen.
Revd Sally Buckley tssf
Tssf WA Convocation 2009.