Peace and All Good!
As the General Definitory, we take our commitment to complete the “Chapter Mandate” as seriously as possible, that is, to fulfill the Motions and indications that we, as a General Chapter, have given ourselves for this sexenium.
In studying the Motions and after hearing the experiential voices of so many friars, we thought it appropriate to compose and send this letter to the whole Order as an aid to interpret Motion No. 9 (Attachment 1) “Promoting Community Initiatives for a Life More Faithful to Our Charism: New Wineskins for New Wine” in view of its implementation (cf. Constitutions, art. 7, § 3). I ask all the friars of the Order, especially the Ministers Provincial and the Provincial and General Custodes with their Definitories, to read and consider the material I present here, which results from the reflection of the General Definitory.
A Message and a Challenge for Us All
The first and fundamental idea is this: the text of Motion No. 9 goes from the particular to the general, but its meaning is addressed to the “general”, that is, to all of the friars, to each of the communities and to the whole Order. The Chapter calls us to promote community initiatives for a life that is more faithful to our charism. These initiatives may be totally “new” (new communities or new styles of evangelization), but they are always aimed at the whole, that is, these new inspirations can become evangelical “leaven” for the whole Order. We must therefore interpret Motion No. 9 in a broader sense, understanding that it is addressed to everyone. All of the communities are encouraged to renew themselves in their vocation, that is, in their life of prayer, fraternity and evangelization. In any event, the Order looks hopefully and favorably on the prospect of friars and their superiors working together to promote and evaluate the possibility of starting new presences or evangelization initiatives, ones which are inspired by the charismatic elements of the Order, as a sign of ever greater evangelical radicality.
With the Simplicity of Our Constitutions
On the other hand, there is a second idea which focuses on the uniqueness of the new initiatives, that is, the distinctive traits that form a part of these initiatives or have given rise to some of them. The Motion recognizes that there are already communities that have committed themselves to a renewal aimed at improving the clarity of the charism (“recognizing the emergence of new local fraternities and experiences in the Order”). Moreover, it calls for open-mindedness at all levels (General Definitory, Provincial and Custodial Definitories, Chapters, etc.) to discern these new initiatives and possibly support and guide them.
The sense is that we should not consider some friars or communities as being “major league” and others “minor league”. Rather, we should recognize and support those who, out of concern and commitment, want to avoid stagnation in our lifestyle and want to recover exactly those aspects of our charism which have often been forgotten or even abandoned. Nobody should feel superior or inferior to anyone else. On the contrary, experience tells us that it is possible to have communities that are engaged, at different speeds and with different creative approaches, in the life of prayer, in ongoing formation, in “goofing off” during fraternal free time, in prophetic witness and in the challenge of undertaking new and “Franciscan” ways of evangelizing.
New initiatives should not be eliminated or magnified. Instead, they should be charismatic beacons that can enlighten the entire fraternity of the Jurisdiction, Federation or Order; ones that can promote new services and update the charism. A healthy “charismatic epidemic” especially in the life of the fraternity, will benefit everyone. The General Chapter calls us to keep alive the dream of an evangelically crystal-clear life, but with the simplicity by which the Constitutions of the Order present the traits of our charism.
Finally, it must be said that in carrying out new initiatives, it will be important to hear from those communities and projects already underway (in our Order or in the Franciscan Family), to learn from their experience and arrive at a style that is more faithful to true evangelical innovation.
Faithfully Executing a “Conventual” Methodology
A very important indication (I would say sine qua non) is about our way of working, that is, the methodology we use in discerning and establishing any new community initiative. This methodology must always be “Conventual”. On several occasions, we have stated that our charismatic traits, such as fraternity and community, do not refer to some fixed or preset program, but to a cross-cutting style. Therefore, even if inspirations are “personal” (individual), their discernment and planning must be communal. Indeed, the Motion presents a challenge to the governments of the Jurisdictions, which, in order to guide new initiatives, must ensure that procedures are followed and appropriate consents are obtained. Discernment takes time, and following procedure requires the development of a plan with concrete steps.
A Community with an Ecclesial “Atmosphere”
A look at the current landscape reveals that interpretations of the “new” can often lead to confusion in the places where we live and work. We humbly believe that the return to the sources of our charism should not be identified with a nostalgic return to the forms, styles or aesthetics of anachronistic traditionalism, nor to egregious or extravagant styles or forms. We always want to breathe in the fresh air of the Second Vatican Council and let ourselves be enlightened by serious reflections of contemporary Franciscanism.
In some very credible sees, a problem has already been noted with friars or communities who want to present “the old” as if it were “the latest innovation,” often masking personal or ideological interests. The same could happen in other ways when setting up “new communities or methods of evangelization,” if these were built on strictly ideological grounds. Healthy tension between identity, innovation and tradition is found within the context of the action of the Holy Spirit, of fraternity, of community discernment and in referring to Church teaching.
Indeed, the Motion in question encourages us “in undertaking new initiatives of life and mission, moved by the desire to live the Gospel in the courageous practice of the Rule and the Constitutions of the Order.” The current ecclesial atmosphere invites us to free ourselves from our “intimist” mindset, to open ourselves up, to go forth, to “get our hands dirty” doing active pastoral ministry, paying special attention to the simple and believing People of God, to the poor, the suffering and the marginalized. We must rely on our creativity in order to combine our life of prayer and fraternity with active evangelization in the community.
It might be helpful to further explain the biblical text which inspires Motion No. 9: “New Wineskins for New Wine.” It comes from Matthew 9:16-17. The evangelist presents these verses in the context of a provocative question that John’s disciples ask about fasting, with regard to the newness of the Gospel lived and proclaimed by the Lord Jesus: a newness of the Gospel which was not meant to deny or forget tradition, which at the time, however, was often fossilized in empty or external forms. Rather, it was meant to bring tradition to its fullness and perfection in the new life of the Kingdom, which revolves around love and the generous offering of oneself.
Everything we have said so far, in addition to being our essay, is meant to provide some guidelines, which we as the General Definitory offer for the interpretation of Motion No. 9 of the 202nd Ordinary General Chapter of 2019. We enclose an operational text – Attachment 2, with the hope that it will be particularly helpful to the Definitories of the Jurisdictions and to friars who are interested in the renewal of our life and mission.
If you would like to report any new or renewed community projects that you have realized, and offer us your reflection on them, the results of your project, as experienced at different levels (Provinces, Custodies, Delegations, Missions, Definitories, etc.), we would be happy to hear from you. We are sure that by drawing on the wisdom of the great fraternity of the Order, we can further enrich our reflection and thereby increase our opportunities for renewal. Reports can be sent to the Assistants General or directly to the Secretary General (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I wish each of you a fruitful journey, filled with the same hope with which the last General Chapter looked upon the future of the Order.
Friar Carlos A. Trovarelli