Sunday, April 22, 2018 is the 4th Sunday of Easter and is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This year in his message for Vocation Sunday Pope Francis highlights the areas of listening, discerning and living. Key areas for any vocation whether marriage, religious life, priesthood or single life. He states, “at the centre of our life, is the call to joy that God addresses to us and how this is “God’s plan for men and women of every age.”” (Synod of Bishops, XV Ordinary Assembly)
The call to joy… every day? Every day! This is not easy to embrace with demands, expectations and commitments. It requires us to stay focused on and centered in Christ and to root ourselves in his life which is true joy. This is where listening, discerning and living becomes the cornerstone of our lives. This is the crossroads we are currently at as Franciscans in Canada.
Vocations Sunday launches the Franciscans into a Chapter of Mats (fraternal gathering) in lead up to our Chapter of Union in October. The Chapter of Union will be a significant moment in Canadian Church history as the O.F.M. Friars merge together to form one Canadian province uniting the East and the West. Before this union can happen a lot of ground work has had to be done, a lot of committee work has been ongoing, a lot of personal reflection has had to take place, and a lot of questions have been raised. Has this been a call to joy? It may depend which Friar you ask, but yes, it has to be for our way of life is that of the Gospel. Is it always joyful like a wedding day? Ummm, no, no it is not, it is more joyful like a long marriage that has its ebb and flow, its highs and lows, its togetherness and yet uniqueness. Is it is an easy joy? Definitely not, the gospel way of life never is, but it is a rich joy that will not only require patience and dreaming but most definitely listening, discerning and living (which are at work already).
The listening, discerning and living has been ongoing in this process. It has caused great insights, moments of frustration, a bit of fear, a sense of hope and the deep promise that Christ is with us and inviting us to live and be heralds of the gospel. We as Friars, we are working at not making ourselves the center but rather ensuring Christ is our center always. We are moving beyond fear, beyond looking at the unknown blankly, beyond our current comforts and moving deeper into the reality that the joy of the gospel calls us to. This will be key over our time together at the Chapter of Mats. During the Chapter we will listen to presenters and each other, we will pray together, we will continue the discernment process for what the future will hold and we will live our fraternal reality; embracing each brother. We must also embrace this time with hope as this is a key sign of joy. We must embrace this time with faith as this is central to the gospel. We must embrace this time with love as love is the face of Christ we meet in each Friar, in our brothers and sisters, in creation and each place the Friars live.
We are trusting in the work and movement of the Holy Spirit, or we will be in trouble. We are trusting that the Holy Spirit will heighten our listening, guide our discerning and infuse our living. It is here and now that old deadening ways will begin to be buried, life-giving ways will emerge and the gospel will continue to be our center and call to joy. It may look different or new to us and our communities but what is constant is that the joy of the gospel is Christ – who is our faith, hope and love now and always.
So at this time of the Chapter of Mats we must listen as Pope Francis reminds us, “God comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom.” Yes, listening to each other and to our presenters, listening to the laughter and stories, listening to the words of our prayers, but also purposefully listening to the silence that God invites us into at this specific time so we can hear God’s voice and see God’s vision.
We must discern “in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit” (Synod of Bishops, XV Ordinary General Assembly). Here Christ will speak to us and prompt us to new horizons. Here Christ will invite us to conversation and to break open the new pathways for Franciscan life in Canada. Here the Spirit will whisper, will shout, will enliven, will call out to us and remind us of the joy of and the need to share the gospel.
We must be living the joy of the Gospel, “which makes us open to encountering God and brothers and sisters… it will not fill our hearts without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision. Vocation is today!” (Pope Francis). This is the work of our Chapter of Mats, of the revitalization and restructuring that we have been discussing for many months now. This is the living that St. Francis envisioned for himself and his first followers and which we now as those who continue in his footsteps must risk. This is the risk that we the Franciscans in Canada are trying to embrace and live and bring to wherever we are today, tomorrow and well into the future.
It is indeed an exciting time to be a Franciscan in Canada. It is also challenging and can be overwhelming, but so is every vocation. As we continue to preach the gospel of Christ and walk in the way of St. Francis we depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of you our supports, friends, benefactors, neighbors and family. May listening, discerning and living deeply the joy of gospel truly be a light on to our path.
God Bless this Chapter of Mats. We humbly ask for your prayers, know of ours for you.
St. Francis – pray for us.