Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
Such a grand title! However, it is only a very humble thing that I am doing in actual practice. I walk around, stop to drink coffee, sit in the library, and I watch, and I wait. Once in a while, someone glances at me, and once in a long while, someone asks me a question, and once in a very long while, we have a good conversation. My Franciscan habit is the reason why people notice me in the first place. What is it that I am doing? I am trying to do ministry on a university campus that has never had an official chaplain of any kind, at a small teaching university in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. I am trying to do ministry in the 21st century.
I wonder what is the difference between me and someone standing at a corner, hoping that someone will take a copy of their religious pamphlets and join their church. I don’t want to see myself as one of several competitors in a religious marketplace.
Indeed, my most significant support in this situation is an evangelical pastor, a young man sponsored by the Pentecostal church, who is trying to build his own community of Christian students. He has been there for a year now, and there are good things happening in his group. We will try and work together. He is happy that I know theology, and I am happy that he knows how to keep young adults well entertained. We should get along, as we are really trying to do the same thing: not to recruit members, but to offer all students a better way of looking at themselves.
The time we spent at a university is about many things, but most at all, it is about getting an education. And most people probably see an education as a step towards a good job, a career, something that allows one to live well and without too many worries. Most of our worries will be about material things, such as being able to pay the bills.
However, we should worry about the more important things, which is to live truly well. This means knowing one’s values, and knowing were they come from, and knowing that they do not maintain themselves. They require thought and commitment. This is what I am trying to provoke. It seems to me that this is what ministry in the 21st century is about, for a Franciscan friar. To give an example of a radically different way of life, a way of life that draws attention to the importance of values that have nothing to do with the basic needs of career and security.
There is much that is wrong in the world. While I was revising this blog, I heard about the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. It is too soon to know how this horrible event came about and what needs to be done in response. And in any event, it is not for me to say how to fix the world’s troubles.
What is most important is that I remember to celebrate Christmas, to celebrate the coming of the Word of God into the world. And it is already here, among us. It gives us hope, not only for a better future, but also hope that our attempts to creating loving and caring communities are not in vain. No act of destruction can take away was is build by love. It is for this reason that we can and must celebrate Christmas, and this is the message that is spread by ministry in the 21st century.
The featured image is by Giotto di Bondone, in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. It depicts St. Joachim, my patron saint, among the shepherds in the wilderness.