by John O’Connor, OFM
One of the most important things we can do, as friars, on a local level is remind our parishioners that Jesus walks with us even in the most difficult of times. And indeed, these are difficult times in our history.
It is important that folks do not allow themselves to get overwhelmed by the larger picture of what is happening in our country, and in the world – war, violence, polarization, a national government that appears to be heading toward paralysis.
For too long, Covid has kept us apart. But at our Parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Triangle, Virginia, we are once again initiating spiritual, social and educational programs that bring people together. The response has been tremendous.
In our preaching, we have emphasized the potential goodness in people. This may seem obvious when preaching, but too often these days we see clergy whose approach to ministry to the congregants is very judgmental. They focus on the sinful side of people.
We Franciscans do not ignore the fact that we all sin. But we also remind people of the hope-filled message of the Christmas we just celebrated – that Christ came to live among us so that we can be redeemed. Jesus focused on the good – on the potential – in each person.
At our vibrant parish, we remind our parishioners of the many ways this past year that they showed the face of Christ to those most in need – how the sharing of their finances and personal talents helped so many people through our parish outreach ministries and programs. Although we may not easily find remedies for the problems we see in society on the grander, national level, it shows that all of us working together can make a difference in our parishes, in our neighborhoods and communities.
When human beings begin to live the Gospel in the smaller arenas of life, they create the possibility of their efforts impacting the larger arenas.
Also, in 2023, it is my hope that as we Franciscans of the US-6 provinces move toward becoming one province, we will search out ways to bring our charism to bear on the issues that our Church and nation are facing. It is not enough for us Franciscans to be involved in fraternities of “presence.” We also need to create fraternities whose fraternal and spiritual life translates into ministries of “action.”
While ministries that offer presence among and direct service to the poor and immigrants are important, equally important are efforts to address the structures that negatively impact these marginalized populations.
We have to seek out ways, through new and creative ministries, that will give us a voice in addressing the issues that tend to tear at the fabric of society. We need to find ways to speak a prophetic voice when it comes to the wide spectrum of pro-life issues – not the least of which is the challenge presented to us in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ initiative.
As Franciscans, we must be cautious against finding ourselves on the periphery of the issues. At a time when people are faced with so much bad news, let St. Francis’ message, “Good morning, good people,” be for us more than just a cliché.