The theme we will be dealing with is very vast because it includes justice, peace, protecting creation, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. While dealing with these themes, we must not lose sight of the message given by the Beatitudes, because they are rooted in this “spirit”1.
We are asked to build a more fraternal world. To be the edifiers of a building whose foundations must have a good basis means to trust the architect directing the work, because "unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Ps 127:1). The architect of these grand ideas and plans is the Lord. Our ears must be open, personally and in brotherhood, to listen to the Spirit in the signs of the times, and to discern what is expected of us, as required by Vatican Council II: "to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit"2. And as mentioned in the Constitutions, only thus will they be able to take upon themselves “the risk of courageous choices in their life in society”3.
PROMOTERS OF JUSTICE
WHAT DOES THE PROMOTION OF JUSTICE PRESUPPOSE?
More than a definition, this is a choice that emerges from the Gospel. The God of Jesus, and before Him the God of the Fathers, is always for justice and near to the defenceless, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the outsiders…, near to the enslaved people He accompanies on their march toward freedom.
On the other hand, Jesus is always near to the poor to tell them about the Kingdom and His justice (cf. Mt 6:33); near to the poor because He "became poor" (2 Cor 8:9), impoverished and “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7); He took sin upon Himself "so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).
The Church, the sacrament of salvation, is involved in reconciliation and in justice and works towards this. The Puebla Document says: "The real economic progress the continent has experienced indicates the possibility of uprooting extreme poverty and bettering the quality of life of our people. And if possible, this becomes an obligation"4.
INJUSTICE IS IDOLATRY THAT DENIGRATES MAN
The mission of the Church constantly calls upon us because any form of injustice is idolatry. Gregory of Nyssa expresses this very well when speaking about slavery – present in our society in its ancient and modern form - : “to own men means to buy the image of God”.
The Church’s poverty cannot be reduced to a merely ascetical question, rather it means: “identifying with the poor”. Francis only understood this when he met the poor man. Christ’s poverty means going towards the poor, nearing the poor "that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The new and the traditional take each other by the hand when dealing with the theme of justice. When the Fathers of the Church speak about charity, they frequently state, “it is not yours, it is theirs”.
Today’s society, while maintaining the theological vigour of charity, demands much more from the pastoral mission of the Church in the construction of a more brotherly world, in a world where the less privileged loose their most elementary rights and where "models of development producing ever richer rich persons and ever poorer poor persons"5 are followed.
In our world and in our society, where there are many spaces of shadow and of death, still being the world loved by God who does not want its condemnation but its salvation through the superior mediation of love demonstrated by the coming of His Son, loving will be difficult unless justice is built and is chosen as the form of life and solidarity the attitude towards those who suffer or are fighting injustice.
JUSTICE IS THE EXPERIENCE OF GRACE
Justice cannot be confronted as an obligation of a moral type. It must be discovered as an “experience of grace” and we can find this in the New Testament: hymn in which Jesus rejoices in the Father's revelation to the lowly (Lk 10:21) and in the Magnificat (Lk 1:46 et segue). Witnessing faith and the experience of God’s love "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5) are necessary.
We must not preach abandoning the historical process, rather we need historical patience and perseverance…, that of the sower who sows and hopes that the earth will respond – trying to lengthen the stem by pulling means tearing the germ and making the seed die; we must be collaborators and move history towards justice – the Kingdom of God is present, but not yet… it is an active hope.
Love of justice is not an abstract love, but something that really “influences” persons – an abstract justice could take its lace, as we read at times, of certain ecclesiastical celibates who “believe they love God because they do not love anyone”.
"The Christian practice of justice must be closer to forgiveness than to revenge". At times, man’s subconscious tends to mistake the thirst for revenge as hunger for justice. Thus, many times battles for justice are degraded and become unjust. Love towards the enemy emerges from justice that tends towards forgiveness. Justice tends towards the changing of persons rather than the changing of structures.
THE SFO COMMITMENT TOWARDS JUSTICE
The Rule seriously commits us towards justice, be it as a Secular Franciscan or in the Fraternity, when it says: "Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith"6.
I would like to underline that this commitment towards justice is a duty of the Fraternity. Even if undertaken by only one member, the Fraternity must take it up, encouraging, supporting and collaborating in:
analysing the concrete situation, always and above all collaborating in giving the poor and the marginalized back their dignity;
illuminating the decision taken in the light of the Gospel – allowing oneself to be illuminated, without exploiting the Gospel;
obtaining criteria for judgments and directives for actions;
TAKING ON THE COMMITMENT FROM THE FRATERNITY
Especially on the local level, but also on other levels: regional, national and why not, even international, the Fraternity must be the place for formation and to live in dialogue, solidarity, availability and participation in social commitment.
When works of assistance are lacking, the Fraternity must also collaborate with the ecclesial groups or with the institutions and social initiatives towards the poor and the oppressed that are worthy of being supported by their commitment.
The Fraternity must be the support and the source of courage for the brothers committed to ecclesial and social choices in favour of justice.
COMMITMENT IN PUBLIC LIFE
The promotion of justice is a Christian’s mission in the world. It is an evangelical mission of the Secular Franciscan. It is a mission that obligates going out of the sacristies and the temple – not because inside one is uncomfortable, but because normal life goes on outside – to become like the Samaritan facing the many needs of one’s neighbour. "Charity towards one’s neighbour, through contemporary forms of the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy, represent the most immediate, ordinary and habitual ways that lead to the Christian animation of the temporal order, the specific duty of the lay faithful"7.
Today, many are the places in which the secular and concretely the Secular Franciscan can give a Christian tone, introduce a youthful feeling of resurrection, with its missionary spirit, as required by Vatican Council II: "Catholics feel obliged to promote the true common good, and give weight to their own opinion so that civic power is exercised according to justice and laws correspond to moral precepts and to the common good… They should not refuse public positions"8. The Constitutions take up this invitation by the Council9. And John Paul II invites the secular – even the Secular Franciscan – to commit himself in the field of politics. This is not an easy theme to face – and even less in Fraternity – because a great deal of discernment, illumination, purity of heart and transparency of life is necessary…, but facing it is possible and a duty. Regarding this, the Pope writes: "The lay faithful must bear witness to those human and gospel values that are intimately connected with political activity itself, such as liberty and justice, solidarity, faithful and unselfish dedication for the good of all… This demands that the lay faithful always be more animated by a real participation in the life of the Church and enlightened by her social doctrine… The lay faithful (are invited) to promote attitudes of dialogue and peace and to commit themselves to establish a just international and social order"10.
THE HOPE OF A POPE
I truly do not know how to activate or modernize the encouraging spirit of Leo XIII, a member of the Third Order, towards the Secular Franciscans. But I believe that today, like yesterday, and more than yesterday, the missionary fields of Secular Franciscans are “multiple areopagi” arising in the world. This is their place, in all their secularity, but without abandoning their ecclesiology. Only to encourage and to try to open up new paths, I would like to recall some of the words of Leo XIII: "When I speak about social reform, I refer especially to the Third Order of Saint Francis"11. And also: "That our encyclicals have greatly influenced you is evident by looking at your work today, especially because you work with such vigour to make the forcefulness of the Third Order at the service of the social cause blossom once again"12.
And Pius XI recalled the social reform based on the Franciscan charisma, underlining the fruit obtained for “the poor and the weak against the abuses by the rich and the powerful, without damages to order and justice”13.
And in line with the Franciscan thinking of these Third Order Popes, one finds the Rule, which invites us to make “courageous initiatives” and to commit oneself “to the promotion of justice”, “definite choices in harmony with their faith”14, being the mediators between culture and Church, political society and Church…
BUILDERS OF PEACE
PEACE, A FRUSTRATED DESIRE?
Peace is one of the goods most desired by humanity, but also one of the most fragile; the most desired good, but at the same time the most endangered.
The desires for peace are so inoperative and so inconsistent that often they become warlike realities. John Sobrino, when speaking about the massive and unjust poverty in Latin America, said “per se it is a violence against the poor majority and inevitably leads to violent conflicts; per se it is an attempt against peace”. The forms of violence that are the fruit of ethnic, cultural, sexual, religious, ideological, power and developmental discriminations produce a “spiral of violence” that is very difficult to control.
B) WHAT DOES PEACE PRESUPPOSE?
"Shalom", "peace" in Hebrew, does not merely indicate an absence of war, but “a collective living with well-being”15. "Shalom" refers to a climate of fullness, social well-being, health, justice, life, truth…
According to J. Míguez Bonino "peace is a dynamic process through which justice is established in the midst of history’s tensions".
In his encyclical “Pacem in terris”, John XXIII speaks about a “just peace” instead of a “just war”, signifying social development, which places citizens and peoples on the same equal level. In 1983, the North American Episcopal Conference published a document titled: “Justice creates peace”, along the lines of John XXIII’s thinking. The ethics of peace are based on an ethics of justice, which involves the proposal of a new international economic order of equality, in a model of development in solidarity with the peoples of the Third World and with the marginalized peoples of the Fourth World, and on respect of nature considered humanity’s home.
In the Old Testament, along with the “do not kill”, there is an entire language of war and extermination on the lips of the “Lord of the Armies” of Israel… This language will be purified, because from the beginning God is the God of life, always in favour of life. This is transmitted to us through images full of tenderness: "can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Is 49:15). Or the Messianic future full of images of cosmic and human pacifism: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…" (Is 11:6; cf. Is 65:25). "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks" (Is 2:4).
C) PEACE WITHIN THE HORIZON OF THE KINGDOM
"My kingship is not of this world" (Jn 18:36); more than a kingship that has nothing to do with history, we are speaking about a kingdom that does not feed upon violence and injustice, which characterizes the absolute powers of this world16, because it is based on service (cf. Mt 20:26-28 and the washing of the feet, Jn 13:13-17). On the other hand, Jesus says: "The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Lk 17:21). Jesus does not oppose interiority to exteriority. Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God as an alternative to social injustice, as a utopia of the new reality, which implies a structural and personal change. The old world founded on injustice is no longer viable. The new colours of the Kingdom are peace and reconciliation, which do not hide contradictions and inherent conflicts.
The peace Jesus announces denounces the division existing between human beings and His choice for the poor and the oppressed. And due to this, His condemnation is a consequence of the proclamation of a free and generating life of liberty with regards to the established order. Jesus’ answer is God’s peace, universal reconciliation through the cross: "For He is our peace" (Eph 2:14).
One of Jesus’ most original contributions is love for one’s enemies. This is an active and creative love, which liberates oneself and others, as asserted by Juan José Tamayo. Jesus invites us to put aside attitudes of “retribution" or of revenge: "But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil" (Mt 5:39). Jesus invites us to establish new relationships that are not fratricidal, but fraternal.
D) YESTERDAY’S DUTY, MADE TODAY’S
In line with Francis of Assisi, the Secular Franciscans have realized their vocation as builders of peace and reconciliation with themselves and with others, since, in the old Rule, before entering the Order, they were requested to pay debts and prohibited from having weapons… Stanislao da Campagnola summarizes this vocation as builders of peace in the following way: “primitive Franciscanism has changed the social preoccupations of its time into evangelical needs. Assuming the aspirations and the most valid contributions by the new social classes, it has contributed to overcoming the old differences and inequalities, inherited from feudalism"17.
The Rule, as well as the Constitutions, invites Secular Franciscans to be cultivators and builders of peace, trusting “in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon”18. And the Constitutions complete this thought, even in relationship with justice, with the following words: "Peace is the work of justice and the fruit of reconciliation and of fraternal love"19. But this initiative as builders of peace must begin in and be begun by the Fraternity, where acceptance, the fruit of fraternal love, and unity, are the sources of peaceful coexistence.
Fraternal life may be a stimulus for our society, which waits to see small gestures of peace to follow and how having the brotherhood as a basis, we are collaborators of institutions and ecclesial and/or social initiatives that send forth bridges of peace20.
The Secular Franciscans will be builders of peace if they construct it upon the foundations of pardon and reconciliation as recited in “Saint Francis’ Prayer” or “Prayer for Peace”: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hate, where there is insult, may I bring forgiveness…".
E) PEACE IN THE RELIGIOUS FIELD
Religions are generally considered one of the most important sources of fanaticism. One must become a builder of peace basing oneself on religion, in such a way that our instruments of war and death may become instruments of edification and construction. Basing himself on a Christological conversion, Origen says, “We have become children of peace for the love of Jesus”. And paraphrasing Isaiah, he adds: "We have exchanged our arrogant and warlike swords for ploughs and our spears, which at first we used for battle, for scythes”21.
Hans Küng states that ecumenical dialogue is a fundamental requisite and a necessary condition for dialogue and peace among peoples: “World peace is impossible without religious peace. Religious peace is impossible without religious dialogue”.
In this area, we must imitate Francis’ respect and warm welcome towards those groups not having his same faith. At those times; he never pronounced a word against them, but he presented himself before them with the example of a Christian life22, respect, dialogue…
This is how I might indicate certain paths of ecumenical approach:
attitude of dialogue: deepen the knowledge about other believing communities, with a deep attitude of listening and respect; a creative attitude that experiments with new approaches, opens new ways;
attitude of prayer: the existing divisions can be overcome humanly. Starting with this certitude, the attitude of prayer emerges, where Christian unity appears not only as a duty, but as a divine gift;
attitude of search, of deepening and of knowledge: conceding space for liturgical, biblical, patristic, theological… deepening.
We must also be very conscious of the fact that the ecumenical path is full of challenges and obstacles, which indicate that the small steps we make are fragile, but very sure in Him who has called upon each and every one of us and who with us, not without us, is looking for the path to make us become “one”.
Many obstacles can be found in the numerous sects that emerge here and there, and often fundamentalism must be added to their strength, which makes the ecumenical effort sterile.
PROMOTERS OF BROTHERHOOD WITH NATURE
A) CO-CREATORS OF NATURE
Certain biblical texts speak about man as the “image of God” and make him the lord of the universe and the agent of history (cf. Gen 2; Ps 8:4-9; Sap 9:1-3). But the History of Salvation tells us of a distinct agent, God, always in favour of men and at the same time the absolute patron of nature. God entrusts man with the “care” and the “cultivation of the earth”, not to exploit it, nor to destroy it, rather to give it the possibility of continuing His creation. In the Liturgy of Hours there is a hymn that indicates this continuation of God’s work in the work of man very well:
"Your power multiplies
the efficiency of man,
and grows each day, through Your hands,
the work of Your hands".
Man is called to live in “communion” with nature, that is, he is requested to respect the rhythms that regulate the order of human beings, in which dependence upon the Creator and solidarity with other beings and with the universe are harmonized. These requisites help the birth of the Fraternity with nature, in which according to Saint Francis’ style, elevated to the heights of the heavens to praise “the Most High Omnipotent Good Lord” in a sublime hymn, and then descend to encounter all beings, until “sister, natural death”, the door to the encounter between man with God who transforms us into Him”.
Hugh Montefiore underlines the creative and redeeming duty of man in the work of God: “Man acts, not only as a co-creator with God within nature, but also as co-redeemer in the sense that he favours and encourages God’s plan in the natural world”. He bases the positive role that man is called upon to achieve in the world in the doctrine of the Incarnation: “The Gospel says that man is not an error of nature, rather, he is its crowning achievement; that God is not the God of the past, but of the future; and that redemption, in virtue of the incarnation of God into man, bets on man and in virtue of man’s divinely inspired work, bets on nature”23.
B) FROM DOMINION TO RESPECT
Peace, justice and ecology are three aspects of a single challenge. Human domination over nature is not in direct relation with progress, as it would seem in today’s scientific and technical civilization, rather it presupposes a regression, because this dominion that begins in nature, ends up by imposing itself upon the most disfavoured human groups, the poor. Therefore, nature and underdeveloped peoples loose their condition as subjects to become objects at the service of the interests of the powerful; they loose their condition as an end to become easily manipulated means. This attitude of dominion is manifested in the resources benefiting the few, which in turn is an attack against the less favoured, while the abusive exploitation of natural resources gives proof of the lack of human solidarity.
John Paul II insists upon “respect for the natural cosmic order” and warns against the “limitations of natural resources”: the moral characteristic of development cannot even ignore respect for the beings that make up the visible nature…”The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to ‘use and misuse’ or to dispose of things as one pleases"24. And in Centesimus annus, he recalls the ability of man to transform, but also the meaning of the gift that lies within man himself: "Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift… Man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed"25. In speaking about Francis, when he makes him the patron of ecologists, he states that he “venerated nature as a wonderful gift given to humanity by God”26.
C) PARDON AND COLLABORATION
In the Basel Document (1989), the Christian Churches of Europe profess their common faith, make public the recognition of the sins of the European Christians, and express the desire to convert in favour of “justice, peace, and integrity of Creation”. All of this is recalled in the Seoul Document (1990), where not only ecological, physical and biological degrading is mentioned, but also the social, economic, political and cultural types and where the word “integrity” should always be placed in relation to justice and peace.
To drink the fraternal relationship with nature from the same source as Francis of Assisi, the Secular Franciscan must be a collaborator on the personal and the fraternity level "with efforts to fight pollution and to conserve all that is valuable in nature"27, thus sowing the bases of the civilization of love even in this land. Gerrad Winstanley’s words when he speaks about Jesus’ sepulchre fill us with hope: "Christ’s body is where the Father is: in the earth, purifying it; and His Spirit has entered all of Creation, which is the heavenly glory where the Father resides"28.
We can live the civilization of love in our harmonious relationship with nature, because, as Teilhard de Chardin says: “the universe is physically impregnated, into its most intimate nucleus, by the influence of the supernatural nature of Christ"29.
So that Secular Franciscans may collaborate in a constructive way in the vast and at the same time delicate field of justice, of peace and of integrity of creation, and that they may achieve their mission in a way that is adapted to this field, one must insist strenuously upon formation and “better use their spiritual and cultural patrimony for a more creative and productive service in the field they live in”30.
Along with formation, collaboration and commitment must also be worked on, recalling the strenuous solicitations in the Rule and in the Constitutions, so that Secular Franciscans may be present, in this field, with the testimonial of their life and with their own apostolic and social initiatives. When these cannot be promoted, they should be united to other initiatives, which however are close to the Franciscan charism. And in a particular way, the Fraternity should help and encourage the most committed members with prayer, counsel and brotherly affection, feeling committed through its members.