“Sitting Together:” Sharing the Contemplative Dimension of Franciscan Life

Dominic Monti, OFM Friar News

WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. — Roughly 30 Franciscans — friars and their Poor Clare sisters — gathered at Mount Alvernia Retreat Center on the Hudson River on a beautiful early summer day last week to share with each other the contemplative dimension of their lives.

The day, whose theme was “Sitting Together: Having the Spirit of the Lord and His Holy Manner of Working,” was inspired by a letter of General Minister José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, that encouraged the Friars Minor and Poor Clares to come together in this 800th anniversary year of Clare’s conversion precisely to share their experience of God as men and women of faith.

Fr. Andre Cirino, OFM, of the Immaculate Conception Province and a member of the Order’s Commission on Contemplation, desiring to take up Fr. José’s request, worked together with Russel Murray, OFM, of HNP, to organize the June 27 gathering for friars of both our provinces. Fr. Andre, for many years a member of the staff of the Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, was one of the co-authors of Franciscan Solitude, a landmark study on the eremitical tradition in Franciscan life.

Fr. Primo Piscitello, OFM, Provincial Minister of the Immaculate Conception Province, and I represented our provinces’ leadership at this gathering.

After the participants gathered over coffee and doughnuts, André set the theme of the day by having us listen to the wonderful story in the Fioretti (chapter 15) about the time Francis invited Clare and several of her sisters to come down from San Damiano to share a meal with them at the Portiuncula. As the story goes, their conversation became so radiant that the people of Assisi thought the woods and fields around the Portiuncula were being consumed in flames, and so they rushed down to save the place.  But when they entered, they saw only Francis, Clare and their companions ‘caught up in the Lord, inflamed with the abundant consolations of divine love.’ A beautiful parable indeed! As our day unfolded, the interchange with our sisters might not have produced a physical fire, but indeed brought the Spirit’s consolation to those of us there.

In the morning, three Poor Clares, each of whom has followed Clare’s Rule of Life for more than 50 years, shared in a roundtable setting their own experience of contemplative prayer. These were Sr. Mary Frances Flynn, OSC, from the Chesterfield, N.J., monastery; Sr. Anna Marie Coveley, OSC, from the Cincinnati monastery; and Sr. Elizabeth Morell, OSC, from the New Orleans monastery.

What came through loud and clear in their presentations was the down-to-earth character of Franciscan contemplative prayer.As Sr. Mary Frances expressed it, “to be a contemplative is not to be a special kind of person, but one who simply makes the courageous attempt to accept as much reality as she can.” Or as Sr. Anne Marie put it, “It’s very ordinary, really — it’s the ability to find God in the everyday,” a capacity many people lose because they are too distracted to be open to the depths of their own experience. Sr. Elizabeth shared several vignettes, such as the impact of Hurricane Katrina on her community in 2005,  that clearly showed that the contemplative person does not flee the real world, but is actually in deeper contact with it.

After a great meal – I am sure more plentiful than the one Francis and Clare shared at the Portiuncula! – there was an opportunity in the afternoon for the friars present to interact with the sisters, and share our experience of attempting to foster a contemplative dimension in our own lives precisely to ensure a solid basis for a life of active ministry.

The friars at Wappingers Falls were wonderful hosts. The day concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist, at which Fr. Primo presided and I concelebrated; Russel broke open God’s Word to us in his homily. It was indeed a day filled with blessings.

— Fr. Dominic is provincial vicar of Holy Name Province.