From what I hear, it will be just a year and a month from now when the Franciscan friars in Canada will all belong to one province covering the entire country—a mari usque ad mare. I do not know by which name we will call a province of such expanse and where our small band of brothers will live and work, but from now on, things will move quickly. One thing is certain: the future will be very different from the present, and this is a good thing. Close to dying, Francis reminded his brothers of the importance of new beginnings: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.”
A Delegate General was appointed by our General Curia in Rome to see us through the transition, and he is in Canada now, and he has begun the process of meeting everybody and asking us about our hopes and plans for the future. I had my meeting with him a little more than a week ago.
New beginnings are an opportunity, and I look forward to this one. When I decided to enter religious life, I saw an opportunity to begin something new and study the relationship between science and Christian faith. I even wrote a paper about it and got it published. It is about whether the relationship between Christianity and science can be understood as an interreligious dialogue, somewhat akin to a dialogue with adherents of an ideology.
It seemed like a good idea to me back then, but when I think of the relationship now, granting science such autonomy seems a mistake. Science does not suffice in itself to be a worldview, and science’s historical and intellectual roots are in the Christian tradition. I cannot see how science can emancipate itself from this tradition without losing its core. Therefore, when I speak with scientists today, my ambition is to bring to awareness how much science needs to recognize its debt to the Christian view of the human person as individual beings empowered to seek and discover true knowledge through the rational understanding of the world that is our home. My emphasis on the importance of the Christian tradition in the pursuit of science may be a position held by very few, but this only shows that Francis’s words are still true: “Up until now, we have done little or nothing.” We always remain at the beginning, and this need not discourage us.
So, what will the future hold for the Franciscans in Canada? We need to be stumbling blocks, was my response when asked by the Delegate General. We need to stick out and be seen in unexpected places so that people are surprised and challenged by our presence and start to ask themselves questions. We need to be seen in all our difference, showing the rationality of faith that truly values the individual, that even sees in the individual the revelation of God’s word among us, and especially so when poor and suffering. This makes us stumbling blocks in a society that only seems to value the individual by its almost cultic reverence for independence and self-determination, while really subordinating each individual to the greater good of the collective, as if just another number in a statistic, another ant in the anthill. Our living differently as a community of Franciscan friars is not meant to isolate us from the culture that surrounds us, but it makes us stumbling blocks for those who are all too comfortable in this age and with its demands and its rulers. We are stumbling blocks—a scandal to those who believe in secularism alone.
Our first task is not to be social workers—important as such work is. Our first task is not even to be preachers—even if preaching is such a very important part of our ministry. Our first task is to recognize the face of Christ in each individual person, and not in power and might but in weakness and poverty, and to acknowledge the mercy of God shown to us by responding with mercy. This, in a nutshell, is the Franciscan charism, and the message that we need to share with the world.
Ten years ago, when I left my old career and turned towards religious life, I did so happily and gladly. It is time to remember this joy, to take it into the world again, and to give witness to what is most important in life.