One day the Gospel was being read in that church [the Portiuncula] about how the Lord sent out his disciples to preach. The holy man of God, who was attending there, in order to understand better the words of the Gospel, humbly begged the priest after celebrating the solemnities of the Mass to explain the Gospel to him. The priest explained it all to him thoroughly line by line. When he heard that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, nor have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, the holy man, Francis, immediately exulted in the spirit of God. “This is what I want,” he said, “this is what I seek; this is what I desire with all my heart” (1 Cel IX, 22; FF 356).
Dear brothers, I extend my fraternal greeting to you all on this, the Solemnity of the Seraphic Father St. Francis, 2023. Eight hundred years ago, around this time of year, Pope Honorius III was about to approve what we now call the Later Rule.
The seal the pope placed on that parchment also brought with it the mystery of the Poverello’s vocation and the years of evangelical life he lived with the brothers that the Lord wanted to give him.
Indeed, as we celebrate the eighth centenary of the Later Rule, we cannot help but look at the text of the life of those who, after leaving everything behind, followed the Lord in accordance with the evangelical counsels and in extreme simplicity.
On one hand, we know the promulgation of the Later Rule was a golden moment in Franciscan history. On the other hand, it signaled the crisis of a community that was growing in complexity. The Rule was not only derived from the charismatic experience of the Seraphic Father, but it also resulted from the many questions that had arisen in the concrete life of a fraternity that was becoming increasingly more complex; questions that did not always point to a clear desire to live the Gospel in the literal sense.
Therefore, as we celebrate our Father St. Francis, I suggest that we all take a look at the kind of questions we usually ask ourselves; in other words, the kinds of questions we should ask ourselves today as Conventual Franciscans; such as, questions about our needs or even, our desires, or the things we truly seek with passion.
The crisis that the Seraphic Father faced arose from his concerned contemplation of a fraternity that had already deviated from its standards of itinerancy, the itinerancy that had characterized his charismatic beginnings together with his first companions, Clare of Assisi and so many other people.
I invite you, then, dear brothers, to revitalize, to the extent possible, with a free and fresh approach, and with evangelical depth, certain questions associated with the grace of Franciscan itinerancy: the itinerancy of our thought, which has perhaps become sedentary, rigid and closed; the itinerancy of our heart, which has perhaps become more focused on itself than on others; the itinerancy of our spirit, which has perhaps grown old, unmotivated and lacking faith; the itinerancy of our personal relationships, which has perhaps become more energized about things than about people; the itinerancy of our community life, which has perhaps become more about maintaining the balance of power than being a brotherhood in conversion; and finally, the itinerancy of our mission, which has perhaps become more of a mirror in which we admire our reflection than a door that we open to the world.
May you have a happy feast day and a joyful journey towards a renewed and more evangelical version of our life.
Friar Carlos A. TROVARELLI