A Call Within A Call

A Call Within A Call
By Kathleen Carsten, OFS

“I have called you by your name.
‘You are mine because you are precious in my eyes,
you are honored and I love you’.”
Isaiah 43: 1b, 4

Just maybe, you are already professed, maybe for decades, but then again, maybe for just a year. Perhaps you are seemingly satisfied in your call as a Secular Franciscan, yet maybe your spirit is a little restless. Is it possible that God’s voice has gone absent—or, thankfully, is the Holy Spirit quietly, gently, yet persistently nudging you to consider to go deeper? Perhaps the inspiration came at a fraternity gathering, or maybe reading an article in the Tau magazine, or something a person said to you. Perhaps you really can’t describe to others the “bump”, the “knowing”, or the Grace that the Holy Spirit is giving you, or once again calling you.

I was professed in August of 2015—just the beginnings of my life as an official Franciscan (but between you and me, it started a long, long time ago). There was and still is so much for me to learn about our Franciscan Charism! It wasn’t long after my profession that I was asked if I would consider the position as Formation Minister for my fraternity. I said, “yes.” The fraternity voted, and I was in! I was a bit overwhelmed, but I fortunately had, and still do, two great mentors on the formation team.

There is nothing, for me, like teaching, especially in my new life as a Franciscan to enrich my knowledge about Francis, Clare, and our professed life; and that’s exactly what is happening for me as Formation Minister. I love it! But something happened along the way. I attended a Regional gathering and in that time, there came a presentation followed by an invitation.

It wasn’t an invitation written to me with my name on it; nobody came to me personally and said, “this is for you.” Oh no, this was different. You see, our Region needs Spiritual Assistants, and there was a presentation depicting the importance of Spiritual Assistants and their life in the Franciscan movement. Up to this moment, I thought that this was a role only for the First Order and TOR. I thought wrong. I was delighted with possibility; however, six months went by.

October was here in no time, and we came together for the Regional Formation gathering. What a great occasion to see my Franciscan brothers and sisters. We have opportunity to build relationships and Franciscan understanding, but also learn what is needed in the Order. Once again, I heard the need for Spiritual Assistants in our Region. I received the silent yet stirring invitation to submit my name to the roster of interested Franciscans.

I submitted my application for the Spiritual Assistant program. I was accepted and given the study/reading assignments and timetable of our meetings. March 2017 came, and we met in Saginaw for a weekend for what I will say would be the next most moving venture for me as a Franciscan.

As we shared our reasons for being present, I had to tell my brothers and sisters that I love my work as a Formation Minister. However, I knew that I would and I wanted to learn so much more about our Franciscan charism; yet, there was a deeper purpose for my presence. I fell in love with my brothers and sisters who were present. Do you know what I mean when I say there was a connection between all of us? We shared our experiences, even when difficult and we asked lots of questions. It was fraternity at a very deep level, and we had just met!

What do I say to you? I invite you to consider the “Call within a Call.” St. Teresa of Calcutta, on a train journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling, received what she named the “call within a call,” which founded the Missionaries of Charity family of Sisters, Brothers, Fathers, and Co-Workers. Our life as Franciscans is a dynamic life; never ending in the pursuit of perfect joy and unswerving call to action.

You are invited. You are called.

YouFra (Franciscan Youth) in Detroit, Documenting the Journey

 

Peace be with you as we continue to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis,

Sisters and brothers I want to keep you informed of our efforts to create a YouFra group in Detroit.

In the past months, the Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity has been in dialogue with the Pastor of Nativity of our Lord Parish and St. Charles Borromeo Parish Brother Ray Stadmeyer, OFM Cap, as well as Nativity of our Lord Parish DRE Joni Scott regarding the feasibility of engaging the parish youth/young adults in Franciscanism, if there is such a word. We have had several meetings that have born much fruit. This past weekend in celebration of the Feast of St. Francis I spoke to the parish about the possibility of creating a youth group. It was well received.

Some important details that determined our point of beginning.

  • The parish is in an impoverished neighborhood.
  • The parish is led by a Franciscan Friar that supports the effort.
  • The parish DRE also supports the effort.
  • We have a Fraternity member (Jerry Alderman OFS) that is active in the parish. Jerry did all the up front leg work with the pastor and DRE.

Method of introduction

  • Dialogue with the Pastor (for many months – almost a year)
  • Dialogue with the DRE (for many months)
  • Joint meeting with all parties involved to develop a plan of action.

o   Step 1 – Introduction to community

  • I spoke at the Liturgy  that highlighted the Feast of St. Francis, extending an invitation to the parish.
  • I spoke to those interested after that same mass (at a dinner reception) to explain our intentions and YouFra.
  • The DRE and Franciscan Member of parish talked to young people 14 – 18
  • They signed up 5 young people wanting to participate.

o   Step 2 – Our Plan

  • Supplement the Parish DRE teaching element with an action plan for the youth.
  • Bi monthly we (Troubadours) will gather with the DRE and young people.
  • After their normal religious instruction, we will engage the young people in an activity.
  • October 30 – the Youfra group will host a flash picnic for the community surrounding their parish, grilling hotdogs and serving those in need.
  • December – The Youfra group will travel to downtown Detroit and work with Kathleen Carsten, OFS, St. Aloysius Outreach, delivering groceries to the impoverished seniors.
  • February – The Youfra group will visit St. Bonaventure’s clothing warehouse and work sorting clothing for distribution to the poor.
  • Other activities involving targeted Franciscan efforts to serve the poor will be scheduled for the remainder of the year.
  • After each activity we will gather together for 15 minutes and discuss what we did, what was experienced, and how it relates to our Franciscan charism.

o   Step 3 – The Future

  • It is our hope that over the next year we will attract more young people
  • In one year we will expand this program from Nativity of our Lord Parish to St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
  • We will not work to create a second group but join the youth from the two parishes into a single entity.
  • Over the next 3 to 4 years work to create an active self-led Youfra group modeled on the NAFRA YouFra model.
  • Develop OFS Spiritual Assistance to walk with them and the Parish DRE’s

 

This winter we have been invited to speak to the DRE’s belonging to the Archdiocese of Detroit – Renaissance Vicariate at one of their major gatherings about the Secular Franciscan Order & Franciscan Ministries Inc. It is the wish of the DRE’s to work with The Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity and Franciscan Ministries Inc.  to create a model of ministry for young adults 18 – 34 that they can own (YouFra) that will reach across parish boundaries, that will engage young adults in ministry with the poor.

Wonderful Possibilities await us as we move forward together.

Wishing you Peace,

Mike

He approached in tears!

Kathy (my wife) and I were heading out the office  this morning  When we noticed again an ambulance sitting with its lights on at the corner of State and Washington Blvd. In the past couple weeks we have seen this several times–in the past few years more times than I can count. We cannot help but wonder and worry about the situation at hand and so often the news we get is not good.

Today the news was not good. About an hour after the ambulance left we were out on the street in front of the church  when Sam pulled up on his bicycle tears streaming down his face. “My Wife she just died!” he exclaimed. I am on my way to the hospital. “She is  gone”. He was still seated on his bycicle so all  I could do was reach out and hold his shoulder. Kathy and I struggled to control our own emotions. The work we do is not easy. We love the people we serve. They are our family and this winter and spring we have lost many members of our family to Sister Death.

In the next couple days and beyond we will be with Sam as he grieves for his wife.

Pax et Bonumthe-buddhas-cremation-at-kusinara

Mike

 

“Creating an opportunity of encounter”

This past Sunday, the Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity spent the day in service to the poor, serving a meal at St. Charles Borromeo Parish on Detroit’s east side. It is always an interesting adventure. The Parish volunteers flow in and out of the kitchen as the meal is being prepared. The kitchen, by the way, is a transformed classroom with old blackboards still hanging in place behind the freezers.  The lasagna is placed in the oven, salads are tossed and refrigerated, and dessert cakes are cut and made ready.

IMG_2164

After mass, the good people come down to the basement and are seated waiting for grace to be said prior to the meal.

As the people filter into the seating area there is a loud voice shouting to any and all that might break the rules “TAKE OFF YOUR HAT”. It is extremely disruptive to hear and not very welcoming. It reminds me of an experience I had at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi a short time ago. As I wandered in amazement looking at the frescoes on the ceilings and walls, there was a friar seated in a place of authority using a microphone within the sacred space saying, “SILENCIO-SILENCIO”. I guess he wanted silence in the Basilica and yet he was making much more noise keeping everybody quiet than the pilgrims were making as they wandered the basilica in awe of Giotto’s work! The friar had a job to do and by heaven he was going to do it. The same could be said for the help at St. Charles–yelling across the room for the one or two people that wandered in out of the cold rain to take off their hats–that was their job. They had the authority and by golly they were going to use it. I, however, found the events in both locations disconcerting. unwelcoming, and an obstacle to intimacy and relationship.

All the while,  everyone was being seated and grace was quickly said. A line was formed and the people were fed. For our part, we did what we were asked to do, exactly how we were asked to do it;  yet there was something missing for me. The long serving table created a dividing point, a barrier. We were on one side of the table and they (the guests) were on the other.  There was no opportunity for dialogue and relationship–not much time even for a smile to be shared.  We were not able to be brother and sister one to another. In fact, when we were done serving, we (the fraternity) took our food into the kitchen and sat and ate together. Again we were separated from the people, within a walled space. All in all, it was a very sanitized experience. These were for the most part our sisters and brothers that had just left the Table of the Lord having received his body and blood. We could have gone out and sat with those we were serving, but it did not happen. In this regard, we as a fraternity have some work to do. Yes we served/fed the hungry. But we failed to step through our own isolation, failed to step through the walls that were created to maintain order and break bread. We did not celebrate; we were not Eucharist with the people that were present.

Did we actually  fail at anything?  No not really!

It was a wonderful and enjoyable experience. We as a fraternity are continuing to step out of our comfort zones. Trying to give life and action to our  vocation. With a bit more experience and a little more help, we will be able to go out to the people and “break bread” with them, quoting Pope Francis, “Creating an opportunity of encounter”.

From our Rule of Life

Article 13

AS the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.

Article 19

Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.

Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others…..

With great joy we will struggle to do this alone and this ministry  most certainly cannot be accomplished in fraternal  isolation, behind any kind of barrier (table) that separates us. Putting a serving of lasagna on a plate is a good  beginning. But it is only a first step in a journey of  admitting and overcoming our own  fear, distrust, and prejudice. To be truly alive,  truly loving and caring, we must continue to step out into the unknown as we seek  “To encounter the living and active person of Christ in our brothers and sisters….” (Article 5, Rule of Life).  This is our call to conversion and a continuing challenge, becoming people joyfully recognizing and encountering our God in each other and in our sisters and brothers.

 

Picking and Choosing

 

“The English word ‘heresy’ comes from the Greek verb hairein, which means ‘to choose’.  A hairesis originally meant, quite simply, the taking of a choice.” However in the context of religious authority and tradition, a “heretic” is someone who denies this authority  and instead “picks and chooses” from the content of that tradition, and again, according to Berger “from these pickings and choosings” constructs his or her own deviant opinion.

Today, however, deviance is the rule-there is no common standard from which one would deviate.

The point is that, in the modern context, far from being an anomaly, heresy becomes the norm- a necessity, even, as “modernity creates a new situation in which picking and choosing becomes an imperative.” [Ecumenical Trends Magazine – January 2015]

What I quoted from the Ecumenical Trends Magazine  was not written about the OFS (Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis). In fact it has nothing to do directly with the OFS.  It did get me thinking.  In many ways it describes my own personal journey and experience serving on the local, regional, and national levels of fraternity within the OFS. First thoughts? We are a people that like to “pick and choose.” In fact,  for some of us, the very process of becoming a Franciscan is an act of discernment, of “picking and choosing”.

Within Catholicism, there are two main theologies that have been passed onto us from the middle ages:

The primary Theology adopted by the Church (i.e. The Work of the Dominican School) and the Alternate Theology in the Church, (i.e. The Franciscan School)

I am not speaking here of Spiritualities, of which there are many fine paths that can lead us to experience God. I am speaking only of the  foundations in theology that give rise to the many varied and equally excellent approaches to God (spiritualities).  [OFS For Up to Now Manual (FUN); Understanding Franciscan Theology Tradition and Spirituality pg 3]

For decades now, I have  personally experienced  brokenness within the order both locally, regionally, and internationally. We are in need of healing.  One of the areas of brokenness that we need to heal is our lack of a cohesive and consistent understanding of who we are as a people and what our Franciscan charism is.  There seems still to be a rejection of our theology or at least a major lack of understanding across a wide spectrum of  individuals that make up the OFS. Not only are we not yet able to share a “common standard” of understanding about what it means to be a secular Franciscan in the world today, we seem to struggle to recognize a “common standard” of understanding of what it means to be Catholic. The tension this creates within fraternal life keeps us from truly being brother and sister, one to another.  All of this is exacerbated by our individual participation in the political culture wars that permeate our religious experience and the seeming tribal effect of our participation in digital/social media.

Recently I had the honor and privilege serving NAFRA (OFS-National Fraternity-USA) on a couple of committees. It was a great joy for me, yet there was often present a dynamic of tension. How can we as a people possibly support and become active participants in the OFS, let alone any of the Committees  (i.e. ‘Ecumenical and Interfaith’ and the ‘Joint Committee for Franciscan Unity’) if even a little part of what I have experienced is true? I can see why many would not even believe these committees are necessary given the lack of a “common standard” of understanding of our faith and our Franciscan charism?

Yes, I just might be a “heretic”. Yes, in the “picking and choosing” involved in the process of discerning my vocation, I have realized and intentionally chosen the Franciscan path. However, rather than “constructing my own deviant opinion” as a Professed Franciscan, I accept and live my life following an “Alternate Theology” within Catholicism.  Because of my choices and especially as I navigate my own brokenness as well as the brokenness of my sisters and brothers,  I  experience a certain tension and lack of acceptance sometimes outright rejection within my  OFS family.

The only solution before me is love.  I  do recognize my own brokenness as part of the problem and as I reflect, I take upon myself the thoughts and words of Benedetto Lino, OFS, who authored a study on Secular Franciscan Formation titled “What is Christian Formation and in particular Formation For Us Secular Franciscans.” (Benedetto served for years as the CIOFS [Council International of the Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis]  International Formation Minister)

I must “Start Afresh From Christ”

I must “open my soul to Christ”

I must “encounter the living person of Jesus Christ”

I must enter into “a true conversion-transformation towards a Christ-shaped existence”

I must seek out and enter into “a true personal relationship with Jesus Christ”

I must be “transformed into a new creature”

I must “Experience the ‘vibrant excitement’ and the ’emotion’ to stand before the mystery of such a wonderful condescendence’, to the point of giving myself up and to adhere totally to the Lord.”…..

“The first element in the vocational process of Saint Francis ……is the PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST, a relationship which is characterized by radicality, totality and permanence. …..”

“The flame and this warmth can be received only by those who want them and render themselves open to the action of the Spirit and to the living transmission of authentic and credible witnesses….”

“Francis, like a new Christ, inflamed his companions, his fellow-citizens, the people of his time and he continues to set the world on fire, just like Jesus’ first disciples.”

“We, too, must “set the world on fire”, dear brothers and sisters, and to do so we need ‘true faith, certain hope, perfect love, deep humility, sense and knowledge, that we may carry out the Lord’s holy and true command’,  exactly as Francis asked the Crucifix, after He had revealed to him his mission.”

“We must multiply and, by living contact, we must transmit, form, and inflame.”

 

 

United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance,” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls  “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily……  [Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order; article VII]

 

Let me begin again for up to now I have done nothing.

And you?

Pax et bonum

Mike

 

 

 

Forsaken

As we enter into Holy Week my thoughts turn to Good Friday and the words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross.

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27: 46

What does it mean to be “Forsaken”? Can we even imagine how this feels?

In the time of Francis one group of “Forsaken”  were the lepers. A group of people whose very identity was officially erased. They were the “disappeared” of their day. The very act to remove them from society was an official act of the Church with a proper Ritual.

The Mass of Separation

The mass, spoken by a priest, was performed at the site of the leper’s hut. The whole parish accompanied a newly identified leper to his/her new home [outside the city walls] as the priest performed the mass.

I forbid you to ever enter a church, a monastery, a fair, a mill, a market or an     assembly of people.

I forbid you to leave your house unless dressed in your recognizable garb and also shod.

I forbid you to wash your hands or to launder anything or to drink at any stream or fountain, unless using your own barrel or dipper.

I forbid you to touch anything you buy or barter for, until it becomes your own.

I forbid you to enter any tavern; and if you wish for wine, whether you buy it or it is given to you,  have it funneled into your keg.

I forbid you to share house with any woman but your wife.

I command you, if accosted by anyone while travelling on a road, to set yourself down-wind of them before you answer.

I forbid you to enter any narrow passage, lest a passerby bump into you.

I forbid you, wherever you go, to touch the rim or the rope of a well without donning our gloves.

I forbid you to touch any child or give them anything.

I forbid you to drink or eat from any vessel but your own.

Martene’s DeAntiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus, “Ordo I” , quoted. in Martinus cawley, “The Life of Alice the Leper and the Silver Age of Villers,” Cistercian Scholars Quarterly

It was from this lived experience of the removal of society of the “forsaken” that we read from the Testament of Francis:

The Lord gave me, brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed excessively bitter to me to see lepers.  And the Lord himself led me among them and I did mercy with them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me had been changed into sweetness of spirit and the body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world. [of Assisi]

Who are the “Forsaken” of today? Who do we not want to look at or not want to see? Who are we keeping outside of the walls of our communities? How are we as Secular (Lay) Franciscans  responding?