We finally had a face-to-face fraternity meeting last Sunday! Five of us met in the courtyard outside St. Michael’s Parish Hall, masked and socially distanced, of course. We mostly discussed how we’ve weathered the lockdowns, especially how our spiritual practices have been affected.
Having gone a year-and-a-half without in-person meetings has certainly emphasized the importance of fraternity meetings, and indeed fraternity in general. One of the things that define us as Secular Franciscans is not living in community with others. We rely mainly on our monthly meetings for the support, encouragement, and growth that our brothers and sisters in the first, second, and TOR have more regularly available to them. For me, not having that connections has created more challenges in maintaining a regular prayer discipline, keeping up with spiritual readings and writing, and being able to process daily events through a Franciscan lens. It’s been a times of ups and downs, uncertainties and frustrations, feelings of disconnections and loss. In short, it’s been harder to stay motivated to continue doing many of the things I had come to rely on to feel constant in my profession.
Having stated that, however, I’ve come to see the past nineteen months as a blessing. Despite the challenges to my growth and development as a Franciscan, I’ve nonetheless seen how deeply ingrained being Franciscan has become in me. While the externals (formal prayer time, reading, writing) have been problematic, the fruits of Franciscan spirituality have been constant. By this I mean that the turmoil and struggles of the last several years have been opportunities for expressing the values that we are called to as Secular Franciscans. While so many (!) have reacted to those upsets with anger and hatred, beliefs and behaviors that our society encourages and often rewards, the spiritual life we’ve embraced works to instill the opposites in us—compassion and love. Yes, I’ve been vexed by the words and deeds of others, but those initial reactions are quickly replaced with working to understand those others, as well as reminding myself that those people are also God’s beloved children, no less that me.
It’s so much easier to say a prayer for those others who act out in unfortunate ways, prayer for their hearts and minds to be at peace, than to sit and judge them. But even more than it being easier, it has become natural.
We believe that the Holy Spirit moves within human society. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the very real struggles, anxieties, and suffering of the recent past can be turned to opportunities to become closer to God in service to others. Our calling is to be the vehicles through which the Spirit can act in the world to bring us closer to the Kingdom of God.