Today in England is the Feast of Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line and Margaret Ward. These three martyrs gave active support to many priests and faithful Catholics during the Reformation.
The Breviary has been taking us through the writings of the Prophets recently, others from past history who devoted their lives to bringing the truth of the will of God to the attention of those who were seeking their own way, not God’s, and leading the chosen people away from the Covenant relationship.
This Jubilee Year of Mercy has been reminding us that God is always ready to welcome back those who have lost their way. God remains steadfast and faithful forever.
God asks us to be co-workers in the Kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves. These are just a few reminders of the constant need to call on God, first for discernment, and then for the graces we need, to serve Him faithfully for as long as we remain pilgrims in this world.
These reminders serve also to help us keep things in perspective. This is far from the only period of uncertainty, instability and fear of the future that affects even people of faith, hope and love. The difference now is that we know much more about what is happening even in the most distant and remote of places. The information we have access to is often unfiltered and immediate and is therefore raw. In past times there was a process of editing and doctoring. This process was open to abuse but revision and editing meant some accountability and demanded reflection I believe we have yet to learn how to manage the constant stream of images and opinions that rain down on us every day. The mass of material in itself can make us feel powerless and overwhelmed.
On September 1st we are asked to pray for the care of creation. This year we could include prayers for our human brothers and sisters who are suffering in so many different ways throughout the world.
Just a quick reminder that you will find a novena of prayer which can be done beginning on that day under Mission and then Presence in the World on this website. Thanks to Debbie for preparing this and to Helen for putting it on Facebook National Fraternity.
I was delighted to be at the Cardiff weekend which was excellent.
The following weekend a few of us gathered at Pantasaph where I presented a weekend on this theme, which I adapted to present at a lovely gathering of our Scottish Regional the following week. On Tuesday 24th I had the joy of hearing the Redemptorist, Fr Jim McManus, give a day on mercy as part of the Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Consultation and this was wonderful too.
Another opportunity to teach again occurred when I was asked to present a day to the Spirituality Network of the C of E Diocese of Rochester last Saturday, introducing St Francis, the Franciscan Charism and elements of the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition – a small ask! It went very well.
I have now constructed a very adaptable resource on what the Year of Mercy might mean for us Franciscans which I would like to offer. Please let me know if you think there would be sufficient interest in your regions and invite me! We are not restricted to one year for building gin this year. I am thinking of using Barton for day/evening adaptations during times when I plan to be based there.
Whether this happens or not I wanted to share just a couple of points from the presentations with OFSGB members. Please pass this to any members you think might be interested.
Mercy has a much richer meaning that we generally give it today. A summary from Pope Francis:
“Etymologially ‘mercy’ derives from misericordis which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces it. It is God giving himself to us, accepting us and bowing to forgive.’
St Francis often refers to us as “miserable”. Miserable, the same root, has a much broader significance than we tend to give it – it can be applied to any experience of poverty, corporal or spiritual; to anything that causes me dis – ease; anything that takes me away from my relationship with God and neighbour. St Francis refers to us as miserable, in need of God’s grace, limited in our capacity to transform our wretched state. Only God is perfectly merciful. God sees into the heart of a person, knows what is causing that person’s specific misery or wretchedness and accepts each person, always ready to bow down and show mercy.
In my preparation for the presentations I was drawn to the encyclical (Rich in Mercy) of St John Paul II, 1980. I recommend this to everyone and believe that we are very fortunate to have Pope Francis with his down to earth, practical approach. This can lead us to want to rediscover other writings on mercy and see them fresh eyes. I found John Paul II’s reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son had great relevance for me. I give just a little taste of his conclusions:
* Mercy does not belittle the receiver
* Mercy does not offend the dignity of the human person
* A relationship of mercy is not a relationship of inequality, the giver is on no way superior to the receiver
Pope Francis writes about visceral love of God – the love of a parent in difficult times is perhaps as close as we get to this– it gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.
Pope Francis also writes that mercy is a key word, that indicates God’s action towards us and makes God’s love visible and tangible. God desires our well-being, and that we are joyful and peaceful.
I find great encouragement in the examples Pope Francis gave in the Name of God is Mercy to explain that God is looking for even the smallest opening – this book is very worth reading. A small taste of his conclusions:
* God waits; God waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and charity within us…The place where my encounter with the mercy of God takes place is my sin
* When you let yourself be embraced, when you are moved – that’s when life can change because that’s when we try to respond to the immense and unexpected gift of grace
* We stand before God who knows our sins, our betrayals, our denials, our wretchedness.
Paula ofs May 2016.
Cold Ash was wonderful. We were spoiled, welcomed and could relax when we were not around the conference table. The national council meeting was a very different experience to anything we have ever done before. It was our first meeting at the Barton premises. We did not have Franciscan accommodation and had to look for places to stay that were relatively cheap. This meant that we were some 3 miles from Barton, not on a direct public transport route. 3 people had cars but there was an overflow so we had to use taxis for some journeys. Breakfast and evening meals were quite cheap. The Friday evening meal was in a pub, next to one of our motels, and we planned to eat at 7.30pm in order to have a full working day on Saturday. This worked but it was all out of our comfort zone.
We learned a lot during our stay. The seat/office has not yet been fully cleared and remains too dusty so we have asked for both these issues to be addressed. It is basic. As Franciscans that should not bother us, providing it is serviceable and does not jeopardise health. One of our regional ministers was thrilled because this is the centre for the Crusade of Mary Immaculate. This is one group we are benefiting by our rent payments. We are also helping the OFM Conventuals to keep the building going. St Maximilian Kolbe would be the obvious Patron Saint if this site is to work. We will be praying to him as we continue our work there.
We had a packed lunch on Saturday. Pam had secured 2 urns, so we just made hot drinks when we were ready. This meant we had a very good and long working day. It was up to council members to decide if we can make this place work for at least the year to which we are already committed. I was relieved when the council agreed. We also met from 9.00 – 1.00 on Mother’s Day – of course we had not realised we would be away on Mothering Sunday when we fixed the date.
Since the council members have agreed, I have now to let you know that we have to pay £10 a day for the building. For this we have a lot of room – office space, storage and meeting facilities – plenty, providing our concerns can be addressed and, as I have indicated, these are considerable. We have no other outgoings for the accommodation – heating is provided, all insurance and maintenance is covered, we have wifi. It is the condition and dinginess of what was, after all, a purpose built printing unit, that we hope to be able to address when we have clear space. Councillors have already offered to come and help, whether practical cleaning and decorating, or on our paperwork – administration and archives. It is spacious so can house our archives. However, we cannot fund it without help from our members.
We decided the way forward is to turn this into a project. The increase in capitation was necessary to enable us to carry out our work – it cannot stretch to this. One region has already offered to pay a months rent. Other regions may offer to do the same. Some individuals and local fraternities will make it into their charity, or make this an additional charity, and agree to make regular or one-off donations. Some members might pay for paper or cartridges, or other stationery that we will need. Some might help with the cleaning costs. In time we may be able to fund raise at the premises.
So this is a major leap of faith. It was essential that national council came and saw, so we could discern. You will understand why it is only now that I can put you all fully in the picture.
I will fill you in on what we have been doing at another time. Here is a document on why we have to have a national seat.
Most importantly this whole project needs prayer.
I hope we all have a reflective Passiontide until Easter and then I wish everyone a happy and joyful Easter season.
What have we been up to at National?
You heard about the National Seat from Andrea and I have to admit this has been taking quite a lot of energy. You will hear a lot more about this soon. Otherwise I have been occupied with the National Executive which met from Wednesday to Friday last week. We are already preparing for the National Council meeting which will be at the beginning of March. This is when the council will all see our new premises. We are having a weekend meeting and have managed to arrange accommodation – close by was too costly, so we are going to be staying about 3 miles away.
This post is just a sketch, as many final decisions await national approval. First I want to say how welcome we were at Cold Ash. The sisters make us feel very much part of the same family. We had time to catch up with their news and work. The food was really good and plentiful. For anyone interested, it is possible to arrange to stay there as individuals or in small groups for a retreat time.
All members attended the National Executive meeting, including our 3 national Spiritual Assistants. We all worked very hard. Every time I went into the conference room I found people working, often a couple of members helping one another or in dialogue about something.
A lot of work is pending:
- Handbook survey and follow up – a good response to this so far
- CIOFS questions on “Managing an Order like Ours” – a reminder is probably helpful and timely as I have to meet a deadline on this
- Completed work on amending National Statutes as required was agreed and will be brought to National for approval
- Candidacy Module of the Initial Formation programme. We intend to agree the core topics in March. John has been working on this with a team since the election
- Moving archives and setting up the National Seat – for which we will be seeking donations. You will be updated fully after the March meeting
- The new website will be a main item in March. Roger will give practical help and give more insight into the workings and what we need to know.
- We have made good progress on the database – more on this to follow
As usual, we were delighted to hear from Christine Frendo on the rapid development of the young Franciscan group in Gibraltar. This local fraternity is in a unique situation as we know but, nonetheless, their commitment, prayer, formation, range of activities, generosity, celebration – in a nutshell, the spirit of fraternity – is inspirational and very encouraging. Anyone who has access to the National Fraternity Facebook will see how much they do.
We asked Michael for a draft budget which he brought and we discussed in detail. This enabled us to see how things stand. We know that there is a three year cycle, given the nature of our Order, and it was helpful to see a plan emerging for this three year term.
Debbie is another new member on the executive. She has decided to promote the new day of prayer for the environment which will be annually celebrated on September 1st. Debbie will be sending a novena and making suggestions about how we might become involved locally and/or regionally.
Andrea has been doing a lot of good work in dialogue with Michael Hagger (who administered the old website) and did much other valuable work for our national fraternity. More on this after the national council – keep some time free to digest all these things I am promising you!
For the present, Pam is visiting the national seat to deal with correspondence and stock. This seat address will come to be used more and it makes sense to keep stock there.
It emerged that there are two consecutive weekend meetings on Mercy, marking the Jubilee year. As it happens they will both be in Wales. It is possible that another event will be held later in the year, perhaps in Manchester. For now, you can find details of these weekends on the website.
We watched the new DVD “Finding St Francis” during the first evening. It is an interesting presentation of Francis’ life, telling the human story rather than the inner journey and spiritual growth of Francis. It led to a good discussion and some ideas about how we might prepare future audiences. By the way, we were all struck by the Anglicisation of Italian names. This came from the Anglican Franciscans and it is intriguing to discuss different emphases.
Our Spiritual Assistants were able to give us their perspective on Ofsgb. They work very hard on our behalf and contributed a lot in the group that will help us reflect on the state of our national fraternity today.
All of us appreciated having time to get to know one another, time to discuss and consider. It is not our intention to always have overnight meetings but this was a very positive experience. As Francis rejoiced when the brothers gathered for a chapter, we sensed that we are truly a fraternity and time well spent together can only be to the benefit of Ofsgb.
Please pray for us as we continue preparing for the National Council in a very different setting. As you will realise, if you have read this far, we have much to do in a weekend.
OFSGB National Office
The Secular Franciscan Order in Great Britain now has a fixed national address
All Saints, Redclyffe Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 7LG. Our office is in the former printing press building of The Greyfriars’ (St Maximillian Kolbe’s) Crusade of Mary Immaculate and The Franciscan Mass Association. The Greyfriars, The Order of Friars Minor Conventual of Great Britain & Ireland have made this redundant building in the grounds of All Saints Friary and Church available to our Order on an annual rental basis. In taking up their offer we are fulfilling a requirement of the General Constitutions that all national councils must have a “National Seat” a fixed address for communication purposes.
There are two sizeable meeting rooms which can be used for national council and executive meetings and possibly formation days/days of reflection. The space which is centrally heated and WiFi accessible also comprises an office, a small kitchen area equipped with kettle and microwave, a large walk-in room, formerly the photographic dark room, a useful storage area, and a toilet. It is rather basic and a work-in-progress but we can make it our home. Paula has taken some regional archives for storage, thereby freeing up space in her home, much to the delight of her husband. My husband will also be delighted when our spare room is emptied of archives from the midland region. Paula has driven up from Kent to spend time organising, one day for a meeting with the OFM.Conv. Custos, and a further two three-day stays, in December January, accompanied some of the time by our national secretary, Pam Thornton, Peter Bamford, north west regional minister, and myself. It has been hard work especially for Paula but then nothing worthwhile is easy. Our hope is that this centre will energise our sense of belonging not only to OFSGB but to the whole Franciscan family. Pam will drive down from Liverpool once a week to deal with any post and admin. Paula will also spend more time there this year.
This is a historic moment for OFSGB and if we can make it work financially it will give us a new national identity built on the many hours of dedicated time and effort over the years by members both living and dead. A line incorporated in our national letter headed notepaper states OFSGB Building the Kingdom of God with Living Stones. We are those living stones so let’s get to work! Watch this space for developments.
Peace and All Good
OFSGB National Office
Season’s greetings to everyone. Here are a few thoughts from Paula ofs, National Minister.
We are into the Advent season already and the Year of Jubilee is almost upon us.
If you have not yet done so, search for the Jubilee Year of Mercy website and you will find the logo, an eplanation of the logo and lots of resources. The following is a paraphrased explanation of the logo:
The Son taking the lost soul on his shoulders. We see the love of Christ as the Good Shepherd who wants to touch our lives. He takes humanity upon himself yet his eyes and that of the lost soul’s merge. All can find their humanity in Christ.
The concentric ovals suggest the movement of Christ who carries humanity out of the night of sin and death. The deeper colour suggests the impenetrability of the love of the Father who forgives all.
Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction #2 gives us an idea of the richness of the meaning of “Mercy”.
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it. The word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental las that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
The experience of God’s unconditional love and mercy changed Francis of Assisi’s life forever and it a message he wanted everyone to hear. He spent his life spreading this message of joy. Pope Francis is giving us a renewed opportunity to be radically changed in this special year. There is a lot of material that has been produced to help us on this journey.
First to remind ourselves of some instances in which mercy is at the heart from the life and writings of Francis.
From the Life of Francis, Celano 1, Chap III #6 and #7
He prayed with all his heart that the eternal and true God guide his way and teach him to do his will. He endured great suffering in his soul…different thought followed one after another and their relentlessness seriously disturbed him. He was burning inwardly with a divine fire…He repented that he had sinned..he was not yet fully confident of refraining from future ones… One day when he had invoked the Lord’s mercy with his whole heart, the Lord showed him what he must do. He was filled with such great joy, failing to restrain himself in the face of his happiness.
And the Lord Himself led me among them (lepers) and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them what was bitter in me was turned into sweetness of soul and body
From The Letter to a Minister
I wish to know in this way if you love the Lord and me… that there is not any brother in the world who has sinned, who after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not looking for mercy you would ask if he wants mercy….. always be merciful with brothers such as these.
The Sunday readings for the First Sunday of Advent include parts of one of the psalms of mercy, psalm 24 (25).
This psalm, these memories of Francis and our world situation today made me think how little human history has changed us. Just as we have been made so conscious recently of enemies who cannot see things the way we do, these remind me of how true this has always been. Faith in our merciful good God, the example of Francis, now the inspiration of Pope Francis, provide us with encouragement as we seek to grow in trust and love of God.
Just as the psalmist turned to God to show the way, teach him the right path, to walk in God’s truth and recognised God as Saviour, so Advent is a time of preparing for the coming of our Saviour, the Way, the Teacher, Goodness, Justice, Friend, the new Covenant. The Psalm mentions the humble and the poor, the characteristics that would inspire Francis and we see in our Pope Francis today.
As the psalmist brought God’s mercy to mind at a time of earnest supplication, I understand that he is writing, late in life, about enemies within and without. He is repentant of his own sin. Also he is seeking comfort and refuge in God, from the people in the world around him who have turned to other gods and make fun of his faith. He finds certain comfort in the constancy and refuge of the one God in Whom he has faith and hope. He knows that God is always ready to offer compassion and mercy for those who wait for Him and try to follow His ways. He believes that God will always offer a covenant, will always be faithful. The history of his people show him that this is true. God reveals all that each one needs to sustain those who trust and believe in Him. The psalmist was able to recall many experiences, from history, that reveal God’s mercy at times of earnest supplication.
One book I have been reading, “The Parables of Mercy”, one of the several Pastoral Resources for Living the Jubilee, has the following on page 20-21:
“ As for compassion and merciful love, the Lord acts with a maternal womb and knows how to love with the same intensity that a woman loves her own child. This kind of mercy characterizes the intimacy of God’s action and is a characteristic ‘from of old’. A characteristic written into God’s DNA so to speak.”
The psalm opened with the Psalmist lifting his soul, his entire being to God. The Church chose this as the opening prayer for Advent, Sunday, Year C. Our Francis and Pope Francis exhort us to do the same, to enter into a time of repentance, renewal and thanksgiving, praying with our whole heart and soul to God to show us His will and His way. All these sources reveal and give witness to their faith in our steadfast, merciful and loving God. May we grow and be strengthened in faith, love and mercy as we enter this exciting, challenging year of opportunity.
May God bless you and all those dear to you during this Advent Season and throughout the Jubilee Year.
Paula, 1sr December 2015.
On Wednesday 25th November, at 7.00pm, Michael Cusato OFM, will present a lecture on Francis and the Sultan.
Extending as far back as 19th and 20th century colonialism, the aftermath of the First World War, and certainly since the events of 9/11 in the States and 7/7 in Great Britain, the relationship of the West with the Islamic world has been marked by bitter tensions, harmful stereotyping and outbursts of violence from various quarters on both sides. A similar, if less complex, relationship between Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims, also existed in the Middle Ages during the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi.
However, Francis’ famous encounter of the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, in August of 1219, marks a decisively different approach to this relationship fraught with mistrust, fear and hatred. Indeed, in the light of recent events, it stands as a potential, even promising model for bringing faithful believers of both religions together on the basis of mutual respect and the recognition of our common sacred dignity under God. This presentation will lay out the specifics of this story and explore the reasoning behind Francis’ voyage to Damietta in 1219, how that encounter affected the Poor Man of Assisi for the rest of his life and whether any of his brothers – Christian or Muslim – took up the challenging paradigm of the saint and the sultan.
For more information, please call 01227 769349 or email email@example.com
Some happenings since the election by Paula, National Minister concerning National Seat and “Finding St Francis” DVD
Immediately after leaving the electoral chapter at Wistaston Hall, I took Tibor, our Minister General, to visit the OFM Conventual Custos, Fr. Peter Damian. Tibor was a very easy travelling companion but I was quite exhausted by the time we reached the friary in Waterloo on Sunday evening. Fr Peter Damian informed us that we would soon be able to visit the OFM Conventual friary in Barton, Manchester, to see the premises of our proposed national seat. I was relieved and quite excited by this news.
Incidentally, I learned from Tibor that even a short visit is worth making.
We had been invited to stay with Betsey Hart that night and she gave us very welcome hospitality. Next day she drove Tibor to Gatwick.
A couple of weeks ago, Fr Peter Damian invited me to a meeting in Barton on 26th November. I asked Pam Thornton and Andrea Hambleton to join us.
As it was a morning meeting, I stayed with Pam in Liverpool the night before. I am always very pleased to be able to stay with a member of the OFS. Hospitality seems to come easily and it gives us an opportunity to get to know one another better. I am not familiar with much of the North of England and was surprised that it only took about 45 minutes to travel from Pam’s home to the friary.
We met the two friars who live at All Saints Friary, Fr Brendan and Br Christopher. I had never met Fr Brendan but I remember Christopher from the Franciscan International Study Centre some years ago. Andrea had a difficult journey and arrived a bit later.
As you know, we have no central office, no fixed address nor place of contact so our archives and resources are either looked after by individual members, often at home, or stored where we hold meetings. CIOFS made it clear that we need to have a national address and the OFM Conventuals have provided this space. The premises we are being offered is the old printing press and it is more than adequate for us. It is situated in the grounds of the church and friary and we will have direct access to an office space, leading into a good sized room, with additional storage space that will meet our needs. We will have a contract. We will have to budget for this and it would make sense to use the venue for meetings. I hope I will manage a week there before Christmas. It was important that we saw the place, met the friars and that I did not go on my own.
A mini holiday with my husband
I have since had a few days’ break in East Anglia without computer access. I was more than ready for some time away and Dave and I enjoyed it very much. We managed to meet Debbie Bool and Rob (and Clare) Hardie. We found Norwich lovely, small enough to see in 3 days.
“Finding St Francis” DVD
I got back to attend the Premier of the DVD “Finding Saint Francis” at the BFI, South Bank. London. Fr Tom Reist, Principal of FISC, Fr Stefano, one of the lecturers at FISC, Salvina and Declan from Croydon fraternity were there. We were invited by John Wiltshire, TSSF, one of the directors who has had a limited involvement with FISC.
A booklet accompanying the DVD contains the aims which I paraphrase:
- To tell the story of Francis and give selected details to show many facets of his character
- To make the story relevant to a modern audience by placing the story in a modern context
- To show the cast, including the audience we see as part of the film are on a journey to find St Francis
First of all I think we owe sincere thanks to those who took this step of producing another resource about Francis. A lot of thought went into this production which was completed on a very limited budget. Paul Alexander spoke to us after the DVD and told us that he had been wanting to present a film about St Francis for many years. He produced a film based on John’s Gospel about 20 years ago and he wanted to do the same with Francis as his subject. The production was set at Hilfield, a significant community of the Society of St Francis, in Dorset.
There is a film within the film. A visitor comes to Hilfield, for personal recovery, only to find himself agreeing to act the role of Francis of Assisi in a film that is being made there. Throughout, the story of Francis is being told to an audience of visitors with many significant episodes in Francis’ life being acted out and filmed in breaks away from the narration. The actors are dressed as friars or in modern day clothes, and actors often play more than one part. The set moves between episodes from Franciscan sources and the audience and cast of the internal film in situ at Hilfield. It is a bit like the idea of “The Little Flowers”, consisting of snapshots of Francis’ story. Care has been taken with the selection of major episodes from the wealth of stories we have about Francis. It is for the observer of “Finding St Francis” to go deeper than the events.
There are drawings and pictures of Assisi, and the other places where the episodes occurred, but the actual location is summer in Dorset. Knowing Assisi and many other key places, I found this strange initially but in the end it really worked for me. I have to admit that I found the anglicising of Italian names strange to my ears, having spent years trying to learn to say these in recognisable Italian. I soon recognised that this was merely a distraction and I got used to it.
I found that the English setting is in keeping with this interpretation, because, this, like every other Franciscan source, is a personal interpretation so can never be the same as mine or that of anyone else who has taken time to develop a relationship with “their” Francis. The advantage of this, for me, is that it makes me reflect on what I feel is different and then question myself about why.
For those who do not know the story of Francis, there is nothing I would feel I had to add or take away from the film. With some audiences I would certainly find areas of interest to discuss and reflect upon. This would depend on knowledge of Francis and experience of the Franciscan charism.
For details of streaming/downloading/ purchasing the DVD, visit www.littleportionfilms.com/shop