Peace and all good!
When I started being unwillingly catapulted to the ministry, I considered myself relatively young in the Order being barely 13 years in my religious profession and less than five years being ordained to the Holy Priesthood. I have always considered this gift of service a favored but frightening “surprise” from the Lord.
Now, it is almost a year since we started this triennium. And one of the most important questions asked of me, one which even in the beginning I have asked myself as well is the question to where am I leading the Province? Soon I realized that the right question to ask is: Where is it does the Lord would want us to go? So I have often prayed to the Lord to show me the way, to enlighten me with His wisdom in the decisions we make and to guide the course of the Province toward His Holy will.
The Province’s economic security and stability had always been a matter of serious discussion among the brothers almost every time we gather in Chapters or in Easter assemblies. This may give a hint that it is of a major concern for the Province. The Province is eternally grateful for brothers who have worked hard to put us on the road to economic “well-being.”
Though this aspect may give us the comfort and convenience of “worry-free” operations in the Province, I believe this could not be our primary goal as a Province. As religious we are called to live a “healthy” insecurity giving witness in faith and hope in Divine Providence rather than laying in the laurels of our own resources, capacities and capabilities.
The thought that repeatedly comes to me as to where to direct the oar of our ship is to honor what my able and respectable formators have taught me in my years of formation in their words and more impressively by their example- to live a life of Franciscan Gospel brotherhood in simplicity, minority and prayer- “to rebuild My Church.”
You may say that there is nothing new with that! But from what I have seen and experienced and what I have heard from the sentiments of some brothers specially those who are mature in profession when I first began my role as Provincial Minister, there had been perceived in recent years a growing complacency among us in living our Capuchin Franciscan charism. It appears to some that we had lost some bearing in these which are very fundamental to our life and identity. I do not know when we exactly misplaced our compass but the effects are very much seen and felt even before the triennium started.
Our identity colors the manner we live and the choices and decisions we make. Judging from the choices and decisions we have been making or attempting to do, it looks like we have gone through a dilution of who we really and are supposed to be. Once more in these times, we are called to live our life “with passion.”
A Fraternity in Dialogue Within
Our life in authentic Gospel brotherhood, which is the root of our charism seemed to have suffered the blow. How have we lived as brothers? Let us examine ourselves through our Constitutions:
“As true disciples of Christ, let us love one another from the heart, bearing one another’s burdens and faults, applying ourselves without interruption to divine love and fraternal charity, striving to give an example of virtue to one another and to everyone, and doing violence to our own passions and evil inclinations.
Let us cultivate mutual dialogue, sharing experiences with confidence and manifesting our needs to one another. Moreover, let the spirit of brotherly understanding and sincere esteem permeate everyone” (Constitutions 1990, 84:1b-2).
Even recognizing the particular gifts that each of us have we remain “brothers without distinction” (Constitutions 1990 84:3). And so we engage in dialogue since no brother has the monopoly of God’s grace, neither of wisdom nor of an intelligent opinion which may be the sole option bringing us to the betterment of our fraternal living, ministry and apostolate. We lay down our views and opinions on the table of our fraternity, especially in our local chapters. We make our thoughts known in chapters because we know that as we leave and close the chapter door what has been collegially and fraternally decided becomes personally our own. We make ourselves heard but we don’t impose ourselves on others because much that we want ourselves heard, others must be listened to as well. The dynamics of fraternal dialogue seems to be one essential trait which we as a Province are not as dexterous enough.
At the start of the triennium, the Provincial Council, recognizing the gift of each particular brother, assigned distinct ministries to each brother in the fraternities. We tried to avoid putting a bulk of responsibilities to a particular brother in his local fraternity as best we could. One extraordinary example is seen in formation houses where the Provincial Council placed the responsibility of formator and guardian to distinct brothers. This practice is different from that of the recent years when one brother holds both the role of guardian and formator. This previous practice is indeed very convenient apparently avoiding the alleged “confusion” in the obedience of the formandi. Conflicts between the brothers may have been avoided because there is but one to be listened to, one in command.But one essential element in our fraternity dynamics is lost and that is dialogue. In the same manner that in parish fraternities, the guardian and the parish priest engage in dialogue concerning parish ministries we had hoped that in formation houses the formator, the guardian, the local Economo and the other brothers engage in dialogue concerning the plan of formation and fraternal life. There are other fraternities with complex ministries all together and we are grateful that they have remained intact lending an ear to one another’s views and opinion.
The perceived “confusion” of the formands may even result to a formation in mature and enlightened loving obedience leading to authentic commitment to our way of life. Such situation can be seen as a worthwhile avenue in the formation of brothers who in making a decision are not merely influenced by the strong current of an equivocal majority nor of strong-willed persons who take upon themselves the task of deciding for them but brothers who are equipped and ready to discern the will of God becoming generously courageous in accomplishing it.
We should examine whether some of our practices lead us to conversion, whether we are renewed by following them, and whether they become means of being faithful to our life even if they challenge us and inconvenience us.
Fraternities Engaging in Dialogue with Other Fraternities
A fraternity in dialogue is a fraternity in solidarity not only within but also without. No fraternity is an island. We know by experience that what happens to one fraternity echoes to the other fraternities, the whole Province and is eventually reflected to the whole Order as well.
Allow me to set fraternal economy as an example. Within one’s own fraternity, because of the graciousness of God, material needs may not be a worry. One might belong to a fraternity which could promptly answer to one’s personal material needs. And I know one would be grateful to God for this. But one is challenged not to go beyond what is really necessary considering that other brothers who are in other fraternities which may not be as “blessed” as one’s have also their needs. One and one’s fraternity engage in dialogue with the other fraternities when one also listens and become compassionate to their needs. The amount one spends in one’s fraternity affect the amount they give and contribute for our brothers in the other fraternities- the brothers in formation, our sick and elderly brothers, our brothers in non-earning fraternities.
Consider the renovation of our house in Baluan, General Santos City. One of the resolutions of the 2011 Provincial Chapter is for the Provincial Commission on Economy and Properties to draw up a final plan for the construction of a new friary in Baluan to be submitted to the then Provincial Definitory for immediate action. There have been plans submitted with the help of the Mindanao Commission but we have yet to start planning for the construction. The renovation in Baluan remains a backlog from the previous triennium. In the last Provincial Chapter we also resolved to establish a Provincial Infirmary in Lipa City. These are not merely projects of the Provincial Administration but of the brothers, the whole Province. The challenge for every fraternity is to be in solidarity with the others and to engage in the dialogue of compassion turning our face to the other brothers’ needs and extending our hand in every little significant way we can.
Some of us are blessed with friends and benefactors who often bring us to expensive restaurants and offer us exciting luxurious vacation getaways inside and sometimes outside of the country. I agree with Archbishop Socrates Villegas in his circular “The Priests in the Year of the Poor,” that it is not wrong to take some rest from our ministry from time to time but one should be sensitive to the plight of the ordinary faithful the poor as well who could not even afford the simplest of tours in the country much more in a foreign land.
Our sensitivity also extends to our brothers who through no fault of their own are not acquainted with “well-to-do” friends. We could politely decline the offer of friends in deference to our brothers and even suggest to them that if they are indeed eager to give for our benefit to use their means to support our Provincial Projects and endeavors in that way they not only benefitted us but the other brothers and the entire Province as well.
Our Holy Father in his Apostolic Letter to all consecrated people on the occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life “calls on different religious communities to come together, mutually enriching one another and serving as a source of mutual help and apostolic synergy.” Our fraternities could also participate in such a call.
The 1990 Constitutions has a corollary to what Archbishop Villegas wrote and what we are discussing here: “As for undertaking journeys, let each brother before asking permission, conscientiously weigh the reasons in light of our state of poverty, spiritual and fraternal life and the witness given to people.” (1990 Constitutions 91:2). This brings us to the awareness of the third point of this circular letter that our fraternity should also engage in dialogue with people, these are whom we are called and seek to serve.
Fraternities Engaging in Dialogue with the People and History
As the Holy Father writes in his Apostolic letter for the Consecrated People, we dialogue with people when we mirror a “life of authentic joy and fulfillment,” when we become “prophets pointing to the reality of God who is life and Love Incarnate by our lives and concrete works,” “when we come out of ourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries,” and when we consider seriously what people “in their current state are asking us.” We should never shut out those whom we are called to serve, even how insignificant we deem them to be. We should not leave them behind and set ourselves apart from them. We listen to what they are saying and acknowledge and respect the contribution they have done.
Awkwardly, it is not an uncommon occurrence in the Province that with new assignments comes not only changes in personnel, but after a little while, changes in the physical plant of our fraternities, houses and parish churches. Although it is commendable to be creative and innovative or to make renovations in physical structures in attempting to properly care for them, caution and prudence should be exercised in preserving the patrimony and tradition the communities we serve and of the Order. We should be sensitive to the brothers and the benefactors who have helped and labored tirelessly setting up these structures. We dialogue not only with these persons but with history.
The physical structure of most of our churches are the history books of the communities from which they rose and this may warrant us to diligently respect what had occurred in the life of these communities. We all know that permission should be sought from the Provincial Council if major alterations and renovations are planned in our houses more so in our parish churches. Although the physical structure of the church or fraternity is discussed here, the concern for alteration refers also to church furnishings, images and even sacred utilities.
I hope that before the end of the triennium, the Commission on Parishes comes up with Statutes of Capuchin Parishes which not only discusses the intrinsic identity of parishes under the Order but maps out as well, among others things like pastoral concerns means by which we can preserve the patrimony of the Order and communities we are serving.
Dialogue is a tool by which we can enhance the spirit of our life in fraternity, to rediscover our bearings. It does not only remind us that every brother in his uniqueness is a gift but keeps our minority in check. It is a means to examine ourselves and to audit our ways- a means for check and balance within our fraternities and without.
In our desire to see where we are heading, let me quote the Holy Father once more from his Apostolic Letter, “No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her own efforts alone but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance. Such a communion inoculates us from the disease of self-absorption.”
In the end, as Gospel brothers let us not forget to engage in the most important dialogue of all- that dialogue with God and His Word. Oftentimes have we exchanged this dialogue with what the world offers.
The Lenten Season calls us to conversion and renewal. Let dialogue be a signpost directing us to authentic Gospel fraternity, one of the essentials of our life. Let us courageously and willingly practice it within and outside our fraternities so that with the dawn of Easter the “new man” in us may also rise.
I pray for a blessed and holy Lent for you all! God bless you!
Br. Eugenio Juanilo P. Lopez, OFMCap.
Capuchin Philippine Province