Discussion Topic from Glenn Lowcock, ofs Oxford

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

17 thoughts on “Discussion Topic from Glenn Lowcock, ofs Oxford

    1. Thank you. Last night I decided that I di not have a vocation with the sfo. Now it seems I am not a lone vvoice.

      (II cannot see what I am typing so I hope my typingg skills are better than usual!)

      1. Hello Francis. I do hope you find a vocation within the OFS. To put it very briefly, I think it is an excellent to enable one to build a personal relationship with God, as St Francis guides us through Gospel life, and secondly to be for ever wondering how we might help others come to live in the joy of God’s peace. All best wishes, Glenn

    2. on behalf of Bro. Michael, Gospel to Life fraternity, Bedford.

      I think we should start repairing the Church by putting our own “house” in order. Jesus told his disciples to go rather to the lost sheep of Israel [Matt 10:6]

      I believe that if we are going to prevent the decline in Church attendance, we have to restore the atmosphere of awe and reverence in our churches, which seems to be often lacking, by restoring our “communion” with Jesus, which would lead to less talking to each other and a renewed holy atmosphere of prayer in our churches.

      · Stress the importance of silence entering God’s presence in his House
      · Do away with the “Communion Hymn”
      · Explain the meaning of the words “HOLY COMMUNION”
      · Have 5 minutes SILENCE after the last communicant has received
      · Re-teach prayers after Communion, perhaps stuck in to the hymn books
      · Priests to stress the true presence and the importance of LISTENING to Jesus in the silence
      · Provide children with suitable prayers for before and after Holy Communion
      · Stress the importance of leaving after Mass in silence so that those still “talking to Jesus” can do so in peace.
      · Encourage parents to pray daily with their children and take them on private visits to a Catholic church and help
      them to pray there
      · Take them sometimes to Exposition for a few minutes at a time and Benediction when available
      · Make sure that all people, especially children, have translation copies of any Latin used at services. Years ago,
      one of my little daughters asked me, “Why do they use a language we don’t understand?”
      · Altar servers should not be allowed into the Sanctuary until they show a mature reverence for the Blessed
      · If we were to do all these things I think we would keep our congregations and more of our children, the future of
      the Church. But we need to get the clergy on board the sinking ship!

      1. God bless for your insights.i agree with all that you say.just to say though that I believe god will never let his ship go under,but for me that may mean as faith is sinking in the west,in Africa the church is thriving,that missionaries are now coming from Africa to the west.i do believe that st Francis would also stand with the weakest and most vulnerable,today been the unborn and damaged families of our culture and those seeking asylum.god bless and pax et bonum

  1. I’d like to reply but cannot see what I am typing as the type is hile on a white background!!!

    1. ….As the reply has white on white, I will write this in pages and attempt to cut and paste, to see if this evades the problem. Or perhaps somebody can alter the font colour.
      Pasted, it still looks blank, but highlighted, I can see this.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Try this, Mags

      1. Sorry I didn’t see this – we also seem to have lost the automatic email to notify new posts.

        The site has a new template which is a nice update. However the CSS style sheet needs editing and the correct code for black text inserted.

        1. Apologies everyone that was me messing around with the colours and didn’t realise that you couldn’t post or see your posts! Theresa and James have sorted it now – praise God!

  2. Glenn
    I tried to reply to this post a few weeks, ago but mechanical problems related to this site, which I reported to Teresa prevented my post getting through to you, so I try again!
    I cannot help feeling on a more general front that the mission of the Church is weak where its prayer is week, and this could be true in OFS too, we can get into the Pelagian Heresy is simply treating prayer at both the Contemplative and Intercessory level, simply as “Strength for our action” rather prayer being the very action of God itself at work in its church. Pelagianism is a home grown British Heresy and the oldest British heresy, this Heresy denies the grace of God, and believes, we have to make things happen, independently of the Grace of God and without reference to the Grace of God. One classic example of this Heresy is the saying we are familiar with in Britain “God helps those who help themselves”, It is an appalling saying for it contains within it what the Catechism of our Church calls “implicit Atheism” What about those who are not able to help themselves like those with severe learning difficulties (what we would call in the past in the lest politically correct days the severely handicapped). I think the key to the recovery and renewal of Franciscan Vocation, particularly in OFS, is to recover a contemplative dimension, it is present within our Rule, yet we could easily risk ignoring it or paying lip service to it. In the One Great Tradition of the Church in East and West, the Contemplative dimension is seen as a normal part of the life of the Church and not something hived off to “Experts” in that field. For instance in OFM and OFs, it should be a normal part of the Vocation of these Franciscan Branches, and it should not be necessary for those who feel called to express that part of Franciscan Vocation to paradoxically to have to De-franciscanise themselves and to Beneictinise, Cistercianise,or Cathusianise themselves and make Transfreence to more Monastic Communities and become Monks in order to fulfill this kind of Contemplative Vocation, nor become Hermits under Canon 603 in order to do this, but I would strongly argue that for the Health and full recovery of both OFM and OFS, they both need certain people who give themselves to the Contemplative life, a Vocation with it of Intercessory Prayer and special attention to the Divine Office throughout the day. For those OFS members who have recently retired from work, this might be something they could consider both as an important service to OFS and to the wider church. I would argue that not everyone is called to an active Apostolate, that some may be called within OFS to a more contemplative apostolate in service of OFS and the wider church. I would argue that unless we cultivate that side within OFS, OFS could die altogether,and we need some contemplatives within the midst of OFS, not outwith OFS to renew OFS from within and I would argue if we cultivated this within OFS, and made adequate provison for this both within our Rule and Statutes, it could renew the active apostolates of OFS and the Spiritual dividends could be very great. Glenn you have before you here in this blog a former Anglican Monk, who for 12 and a half years was a member of an Ecumenical Monastic Community and for 8 years following this was a Franciscan Friar under Private Vows within the Anglican Church before I became a Catholic and eventually found myself within OFS, so this comes second nature to me. I have been early retired for 3 years now and I have been able to develop a contemplative life. I have a few ministries within the Cathedral Parish in Edinburgh, but when I am not involved in these, My Main work is prayer. I in fact pray the 7 fold Office and sing these Offices and have times of quite contemplative prayer, I have an Oratory within my Flat. I use the Collegeville Benedictine Breviary, which I have adapted for Franciscan use. As well as drawing on our Franciscan tradition, I also draw a lot on the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, particularly the practice of praying the Jesus Prayer and I have slowly built up a library over 12 years, where I have Books both on the Franciscan Tradition and the Eastern orthodox Tradition, so I have points of reference within the One Great Tradition I can draw on. I feel that is How the Lord has called me to fulfill my Franciscan Vocation, and I offer what I do at the service of OFS and the wider church praying particularly foe the Unity of the Church and the Unity and Reconciliation of all.
    I think recovering the contemplative dimension with OFS is important for the health of OFS,and I do not believe it is contrary to Franciscan tradition, but when one reads Franciscan writings, one can justify a rightful place for this within the Franciscan Vocation. I thought I would share these thoughts with you Glenn for what they are worth. With my Love, prayers and greetings.
    T Jonathan OFS Minister in Edinburgh.

  3. Good Morning Glenn,
    I would not want to be controversial for controversies sake, not unwittingly nor irresponsibly stir the fires of controversy within our Great Order within the UK, yet I feel something needs to be mentioned, which I feel is very important and that we should not sweep under the Carpet, but face Head on, for the problem about sweeping things under the carpet in any movement in the Church and not honestly facing things head on, is that the Good Lord in his ongoing work of Judgement as well as of mercy, has a habit of occasionally lifting these carpets and making us face the dust we have swept under the carpet. In today’s world as well as today’s Church they see perception is one’s reality. I think we have to be very honest and truthful in our discourse with one another in OFS and face things as they really are. What I am about to share is a kind of conversation I have had with other members of our order. I feel within OFS in the UK, there is an elephant in the room that we have not properly faced, that elephant in the room is how people within our Order perceive themselves, and I think it can risk sending very confusing messages to people who are coming into OFS to test their vocation or people who have recently been professed and than are sent to represent their regions at National meetings, and to illustrate this I will share my own experience of a member who has come into OFS in recent years. In all our official documents, including the introduction to this website, we are described as “A Lay Order”, and as a member coming into OFS and reading these documents, that is the impression I got. However when I went to my first National Assembly in 2017, I heard one of our members and leaders describe us as “A Religious Order” This was news to me! No one had mentioned this to me in my own Fraternity! The National Minister at the time did not correct what this member said. Once I got back to my own Fraternity and shared this at Fraternity Meeting, our than Minister said “O yes that is right we are a Religious Order” Come a year later I am sent again to represent my Region at an electoral Chapter, at this Chapter I meet a member from another Fraternity who tells me that in their own Fraternity they have started using a Brown Hoodie as a form of Habit, when they go out on Apostolic Work, for some reading this, this might seem like confusing Secular dress with Religious dress and aping the habits of Friars, and also at this same chapter one hears one of our Spiritual Assistants describe our order in his public discourse and remind us all that we are “A Religious Order” Reflecting on all this, I think we are in great danger of OFS of sending out confusing messages to new members who are coming into OFS,and we need to be thoroughly honest with ourselves and publicly acknowledge that we are not singing from the same Hymn sheet about our perceptions of OFS in terms of OFS identity. Anyone looking at this as an outside observer like a journalist could conclude “OFS is suffering from an identity crisis!” To get even more up to date I
    noticed recently that in the reportage of elections in one Region, the members elected had the titles of “Brother” or “Sister” pre-fixed in front of their full names. As I have always understood it within OFS, we only use Our full names or Christian names without the usage of titles. Some within our order would consider using titles or adopting a form of Secular dress as quasi-Religious dress to be disrespectful of those in Religious Orders, who have taken Vows and do wear a habit. I can imagine a particular scenario within our Order, where someone comes into OFS, they are professed and they have been told by their formator and Minister that they are joining a Lay Order, than they are sent to their first National Meeting, whatever form that meeting takes, and than at this meeting, they hear a leader or a Spiritual Assistant describe us as Religious Order, and they think to themselves “No one told me this back at home, this is not what I came to Join!” They feel they have been brought into OFS under false pretenses and than they think to themselves “I want out of this!” and immediately on their return home they put their resignation from OFS on the table of the meeting! In the Unification Church otherwise known as the Moonies, the Founder Mr Moon operated on a basis of what he called “Heavenly deception” and lying was stock in trade with Mr Moon in his recruitment methods! I certainly would not want to suggest in OFS that we are practicing “Heavenly deception”, however I think as far as possible in the way we describe ourselves in all forms of communication there does need to be consistency especially where it concerns the identity of our order, otherwise we could risk sending out very confused messages. However saying this does not really solve the problem, because part of the root of the problems may lie in past history of OFS, where past Spiritual Assistants on Pastoral Visits to Regions and Fraternities, may have in their public discourse conveyed that idea of us being a Religious Order, and the part of the Catholic culture of hanging on every word a Priest says and believing what you are taught, that if any members have been told in the past they are a Religious Order, that has stuck with them, so that if any new Leader comes into OFS, like for example a Newly elected National Minister, or a newly elected Regional Minister, feels duty bound to correct the perception these long-term members have been given in the past by Past Spiritual Assistants in the past on their pastoral visits by telling them “No we are not a Religious order, but we are a Lay Order”, it can not only confuse these members but it can be like pulling a carpet of perception from under their feet, which for older and ageing members who take security in the past perception they have been given it can be a cruel thing to do. Here sensitivity and awareness is needed by Leaders in any level of leadership! In my former Church the Anglican Communion, which I was a member of for 46 years before I became a Catholic, when the matter of women’s Ordination to the Priesthood was debated, the Church of England came up with the novel idea of “Two integrities” to accommodate those on both sides of the argument, those for and against the ordination of women, to keep both within the same house and in the same church and encourage mutual tolerance. Are we mature enough as an order as OFS to live with two integrities of perception within OFS and keep both within OFS and under the same roof, without future schism down the line or with some members feeling they have to leave OFS because they no longer be accommodated with their particualr perception of OFS? I think this is the elephant in the room that needs to be honestly faced and acknowledged for the sake of the present and future Unity of OFS. I shared these thoughts with another member recently and I felt his answer was very wise, he felt that rather than using the words “Lay” or “Religious” we might be better to see ourselves as an ecclesial order, an order of the Church that includes both Priests and Lay people. I think he may very well be right on this, for however we perceive ourselves “Lay” or “Religious”, no one could deny that we are a community of the Church, and using the word “ecclesial” in our official documents in the future as well as in our public discourse,and what we tell members in formation may be the key to holding two integrities together in our order, avoiding future schism within OFS, and maintaining the Unity of OFS for the greater good of the Kingdom of God. T Joanthan OFS

  4. Hello Jonathan
    Wow! I’ve been rather tied up recently with ‘life-matters’ and so haven’t checked in to see your contributions. I STILL have not read them – just a glance – but will certainly have a good read through, and digest.

    A little note quite apart from your contributions, and aimed at all Members not only yourself, is to say that my hope is that this message trail is a place where we can all leave contributions which at some point in the not too distant future may be gathered together and given general consideration in the Order. Though I have written the initial letter, I really am in no position to consider whether one comment has more validity than another, which the Order might focus on and which not. If and when we receive contributions from a good few Members perhaps the Order can then circulate the gathered comments to get much broader feedback. I hope we do arrive at a consensus on some points at least, as I feel we really are in a privileged position to be able to offer our help to the Church.

    But once again Jonathan, great to see you are enthused to really put your heart and mind into it; and I will read through.. soon!! Peace and all good, Glenn

  5. Jonathan
    I must say, I am not ‘up to speed’ on heresies (if I may put it like that!) but your concern brings to mind a misgiving I have about the way the Church has embraced the streaming of Mass online. Every lay person I speak to, as well as priests, OFS, religious, bishops, even the Vatican, all appear to accept that viewing these transmissions is a form of attendance. I really cannot understand how this can be: I wrote a letter to The Tablet about this, which was printed on 16 May 2020, as I rather suspect there is something more wrong about it than people realise. To watch a Mass, simply is not Mass. Call it prayer, or a time of peace, but it is not Mass. I don’t understand how it is any more ‘Mass’ than is watching Songs of Praise or a Christmas celebration. If my concern is misplaced and virtual Mass is Mass, then I wonder whether I have been following the Catholic faith under some delusion. I would ask, what is the difference between this form of Communion and that of the Anglican Churches: because is not a virtual Mass but Communion in Spirit? Did God become Man, was Jesus ‘God made flesh and blood’, or was Jesus but Spirit? I cannot help but see that this takes us very close to the realm of heresy. I believe the The Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord to be of paramount importance; without it we can follow many ways to God, but unless we receive the true Eucharist we are as but spectators at a football game: it is not Mass.
    I hope I haven’t diverted you from your train of concern regarding identity for Members of the OFS but it was your mention of heresy which caught my eye(!)

    Indeed, regarding the matter of whether the OFS is a Lay order or a Religious Order, I agree, I think it is important and does need clarification. However, I don’t know where I could point you for help except to suggest you write to the OFS GB National Council. Given the lack of clarity in the way the terms and concepts are used which you cite, I’m sure the Order would benefit from more precision on this point.

    As for the point you make on ‘contemplatives within the OFS’, it is very interesting and rather inspiring. Perhaps, as a Fraternity Minister, you might bring this to your Regional Council for discussion? I could see it filtering through the whole of the OFS.

    Thank you for sharing the points you raise Jonathan. And if you have any suggestions as to how the Church may remain an important pillar in people’s lives then please add them to these messages. …And other Members too!!
    Glenn Lowcock OFS Oxford

  6. Good Evening Glenn!
    I think during Lock down Life streaming has provided a point of Contact with the Local Parish but in the long-term it can be no substitute to actually attending Mass, as being a Catholic Christian involves a Community of Faith which is incarnate in the flesh, as an exstention of our belief as Christians in the great truth and mystery of the Incarnation. At its worst it can after Lock down be an invitation to Spiritual laziness! That Christians can get into undisciplined habits of life, get so used to seeing Mass on TV and life streaming that they do not want to return to the real thing at Church. In the Anglican Church the Bishops has to bring a certain practice under discipline, as it was leading into superstition and the worst kind of Eucharistic Theology being developed on the hoof, where some laity in the Anglican Church (particularly the Church of England) were putting Bread and Wine in front of their TV screens and believing that Eucharistic consecration was being extended and that they were giving themselves Holy Communion! The Church of England Bishops had to issue a statement making it clear that this did not extend Consecration, nor would they be receiving Holy Communion by doing this, the Scottish Episcopal Bishops firmly discouraged the practice. In the Catholic Church this would be absolutely forbidden as it would verge on both Blasphemy and Sacrilege, as well as being a matter for the Confessional! I think as soon as it is feasible health wise to do this, the Bishops need to re-introduce the Sunday obligation and order all Live streaming to cease. For one cannot have Christian faith without discipleship, nor discipleship without discipline, they are go together otherwise without these things, calling oneself a Catholic Christian can be a contradiction in terms. I am very glad personally with Mass beginning in Scotland to get back into the daily discipline of both Sunday and daily Mass, as well as going back to Confession again. For if we do not fuel the fire spiritually it will quickly go out. If you ever want to phone me Glenn for a good chat my number is 0131-554-8157. I hope to be moving House soon, but at present this is still my number. With my prayers and greetings T Jonathan OFS

    1. Hello Jonathan. Firstly, apologies for the delay in responding. Rather a time of upheaval at the moment, being stuck between house moves thanks to a house sale collapsing because of the virus pandemic. I hope yours goes smoothly! Regarding contact, phone times are often rather difficult/complex/disorganised, so if you would like to be in touch outside of the OFS GB site, please do use my email: glennlouislowcock@gmail.com
      all kindest best wishes, Glenn

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