Interprovincial Retreat Features Call for Basics of Franciscanism

HNP Communications Franciscan World

Below is an account of a presentation from Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM, of Pittsburgh who preached at the retreat.  It appears in the Jan. 18 issue of Around The Province, the weekly newsletter of the Province of the Sacred Heart, and was written by Dennis Koopman, OFM.

MESILLA PARK, N.M. – More than 50 friars from six U.S. provinces gathered last week at the 2007 Interprovincial Retreat held at Holy Cross Retreat House from Jan. 8 to 12.

Archbishop Basil Schott, OFM, based part of several conferences on the document of the Extraordinary General Chapter of 2006, “The Lord Speaks with Us on the Road.”  He strongly suggested that we read it and put into practice the insights and the challenges that it sets before us.  As friars, we are a sign of fraternity, prayer, minority, and joy.  The retreatants were asked to reflect on how we are, or are not, such signs to our brothers and to others.

Basil told us a story about his visiting of a friar sitting quietly in his room in the dark.  When Basil asked him what he was doing, the friar responded, “I’m letting God love me.”  Basil then asked us, “Can you just sit in a chair, be quiet, and let God love you?  What are those memories, hurts, sins of our lives that block our ability to let God love us?”

In his extended reflection on the San Damiano Cross and Francis’ prayer before the cross, Basil focused on the phrase, “enlighten the shadows of my heart.”  We cannot get into the light unless we go into the darkness, our own darkness.  Nicodemus is a Gospel example of how we can gradually come out of the shadows into the light of Christ.  In John’s Gospel, the three references to Nicodemus tell of the three steps it took him to finally embrace Jesus at the cross in the light.

Basil gave insights into what icons are and how they are unique.  Icons are “doors to eternity.” They open up time and space.  The icon looks at us and pulls us in.  In the icon of the San Damiano Cross, Jesus is in charge. Christ is in the center of the community.  The cross is a metanoia.  It is to change our minds and to enlighten the shadows of our hearts.  It is to change our perspectives of people, of events, of things, and of prayer.

Loneliness was another major focus of the retreat.  Loneliness is seen in or experienced in alienation, restlessness, too much time in fantasies, psychological depression, low self-esteem, abuse, too much time on the Internet, and sin.  Some of the sexual abuse problems may have been augmented by such  loneliness.  The opposite of loneliness is intimacy.  The antidote of loneliness is fraternity, community, brotherhood, and prayer together.  To live the antidote of loneliness each friar must allow another brother to share his loneliness.  Too often friars seek companionship with another outside of community or on the Internet.  Journeying on the road with a spiritual director is key.  A poignant question: “Why is community often the loneliest place?”

Basil led us through a meditation on the obstacles that hold us back from fully living the Gospel life.  They are

1. Noises, external and internal. The internal noises are the harder ones to address and to change or to quiet.  They can be painful memories, frustrations, angers, lack of forgiveness, hurts. The opposite of noises are listening, especially listening to God, solitude that moves us closer to God, and returning to community.

2.  Crowds. Crowds are all that mutes and smothers the Gospel in our lives. Again, the Internet, especially pornography, is too often the chief source of leading people away from the gospel life, and from community life. The opposite of crowds is community.

3.  Hurry.  Hurry is exacerbated by cell phones, iPods, e-mails, Internet, and such-like. It adds to the accumulated tiredness in our lives.  The opposite of hurry is to live in the present moment.  The only place God works is in the present.

When talking about lepers, Basil asked who are the lepers of society today, and who are our own lepers?  Is it an alienated brother?  Do we live with one?  Do we diminish someone or a brother?  Do we make lepers of those who are pro-choice?  Lepers disturbed Francis.  Who disturbs us?  Maybe our prayer ought to be, “Disturb me, O Lord.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Basil’s presentation opened up to us the meaning of the anointings at the baptism of a baby.  The Eastern Church anoints six parts of the body:  the forehead (to understand the mysteries of faith), the heart (to love God), the shoulders (to take on the yoke of Christ), the hands (to raise one’s hands to bless the Lord and feed the hungry), the feet (to walk in the commandments of Christ), and the ears (to listen to Scriptures and turn to the Lord in prayer).

Basil continually gave the retreatants the example of joy. Joy is a Franciscan charism.  However, some things drain our joy, such as our jobs seeming to be never finished, seeing no results from our work, our lives feeling to be too repetitive, experiencing our own and others’ expectations, our failures, and our being workaholics.

Other diminishments of joy are the crisis of reduction, both in our own physical lives and in the number of friars; the crisis of sourness, bitterness, and hurt; and the crisis of significance.  Francis’ memories of his past seized him at times, and he felt insignificant. Significance depends on our understanding of the story of our life.

The Emmaus story is a story of significance.  Before Jesus’ death he was very significant, his disciples felt very significant, and great expectations were ahead.  But at Jesus’ death, all of this significance seemed lost.  The two Emmaus disciples were walking away to separate themselves from the “disaster.”  When Jesus walked with them, they told their story.  In telling of their story and in the breaking of the bread, they recognized Jesus, and their significance was restored.  They returned to the community and rejoiced in joy.

Helps in increasing our times of joy are living in the present moment and experiencing Jesus who feeds our hungers in the Eucharist.

Basil concluded with forgiveness.  Forgiveness is living in God’s love because God sent his Son to forgive our sins.  However, forgiveness is a most difficult task, but a most precious gift.  When we do not forgive, we give that other person power over us.  There are serious sins that may keep us out of heaven, but the most serious is lack of forgiveness.  Franciscans are especially called to be forgiving people.  Often friars find it easier to forgive a stranger than to forgive a brother.  It takes a lot of energy to carry around grudges and hurts, energy that can be better used for good.  We friars are called to reach out to our hurting brothers with words and actions, and to pray for them.  Then we can live in the fullness of the Gospel and in Franciscan joy.  Thus we are then on the road to be a sign of fraternity, prayer, minority, and joy.