My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In my OFS Handbook I keep a prayer card which shows the San Damiano crucifix along with the famous text from the dream of St Francis:
‘Go Francis, and repair my house,
which as you see, is falling into ruin’.
There are some variations in the English version of this but I like the way this one uses the word ‘house’ for church; plus it does correctly use the word ‘repair’ rather than rebuild. Whichever version I read or hear it always makes me think, what am I doing to repair God’s house, what are we OFS doing?
Over the years since my profession in 2006 I have seen many discussions and much work on ‘repairing’ the OFS. Keeping the true heart and essence of what it means to be a Secular Franciscan as well as ensuring the Order is properly suited for the way we live today. Eternal truth meshed with temporal reality.
But of course St Francis does not ask of his brothers and sisters only to repair the rooms in God’s house in which we live but the entire house of God on earth: the Church.
Over the years I have seen how OFS members have supported the work of the Church, from being personal witnesses to the faith to helping in parishes, or support of international initiatives. In so many ways, OFS members have been involved.
However, and this is my reason for writing, I’m sure we do all note something far bigger going on, at least in our own corner of the Church here in Britain. Over the years we have seen the closure of OFS Fraternities, the closure of houses of Friars and Poor Clares, the loss of priests, the reduction in church services, and the number of people attending Mass falling. Of course there are exceptions but overall the picture is not good: the faithful are ageing and dying.
As an Order charged with the upkeep of God’s house it is for us all to ask, ‘what am I doing to repair God’s house, what are we OFS doing?’
Effort has been well spent building a firm Secular Franciscan Order and I would like to suggest that it is time to turn outward and do the same for the Church. The OFS has now become an ‘Order for today’, speaking of human rights, of ecological matters, of the right to faith, love and life for all individuals regardless of the myriad of human differences. Now, I suggest, is the time to take “courageous initiatives” (Rule art.15) to offer to the Church ways in which we may help in this great task of repair.
The kernel of the matter is about how we can help the Church speak to people of today. ‘Eternal truth meshed with temporal reality’. To be blunt, if the Church only reaches the ageing faithful it is doomed. If we remain but uncritical faithful supporters of the Church we are, in effect, accepting her slow decline. Francis and Clare expected more from the Secular Order and Popes through the ages have expected more. The Franciscan voice of our Pope Francis brings such energy that now really is the time for the OFS to help repair the Catholic Church and make her relevant to all who call out for God.
As an Order we stand right at the point where secular and religious meet – the OFS are so incredibly perfectly placed to be the eyes and ears of the Church. And the Church really needs us; Pope Francis is doing what he can and so should we. Bishops and Cardinals can only make changes based on the information they have. We the OFS can bring them information.
Those already within God’s house are not the ones to ask. It is a sad truism that those present are happy with the way things are (largely). Our attention should instead be upon the ones who do not attend. To coin a phrase from my old dad, it is ‘the great unwashed’ we should focus on, to find out why people do not find faith inside the Church. What is it that prevents them?
Please, think and pray, and add your comments for discussion to this message. Perhaps as an Order our suggestions might in time be assembled and forwarded on. To CIOFS? To Church leaders in this country?
I’m sure we all have something to offer on this matter. To repeat the oft used expression, ‘if not us, then who; if not now, when?’
Wishing you peace and all good,
Glenn Lowcock OFS Oxford