THE CAPUCHIN

 

Letter of the general Ministers of the Franciscan Family

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Federation of Our Lady of the Angels

CONFERENCE OF THE MINISTERS GENERAL

OF THE FRANCISCAN FIRST ORDERS AND THIRD ORDER REGULAR

 

May the Lord give you all, Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, His peace!

 

The echo of the celebration of the foundation of the Franciscan First Order is still resounding

as we now begin to focus on 2012 in order to give thanks to the Lord for the 800 years of the

consecration of Clare in the Portiuncula. The anniversary is not a commemoration of a glorious

past, but an event that we remember in order to “to take from its history a further impetus to renew

the will to serve the Church.”(1)

Called by the Spirit to follow the poor, crucified and risen Christ – and living the Gospel in

obedience, without anything of your own and in chastity – you are custodians of the charism of St.

Clare and consecrated women who interact with the world while contemplating the signs that the

Spirit pours out in history. In listening to God you continue to speak today to the hearts of men and

women of our time with the language of love, a language whose words are rooted in a reality where

God dwells.

 

HOLD FIRM TO YOUR STARTING POINT

 

Remembering one’s own vocation is an occasion to revisit the motivations for your ‘yes’ to

God. As you reread the story of your vocation, return to your encounter with the Lord that came to

you through the Word, or a person, or an event, or an experience. After the initial difficulties you

decided to follow Jesus Christ, leaving them to be resolved by Christ and his Gospel. The

experience of Francis and Clare attracted you and today their ‘yes’ to Christ is extended in time

through you. Aware that various vicissitudes have affected or conditioned the pristine character of

your Form of Life and that various secular influences may at times have transformed your original

intuition, we are convinced that the anniversary of your Order cannot limit itself to a simple

reenactment.

 What do we want to celebrate together is the memory of a rule or the memory of God’s story

with you through time that still today gives you the passion “to observe the Holy Gospel of our

Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything properly your own and in chastity”?(2)How

can we bring to light that the Form of Life makes manifestly credible to all that “for us the Son of

God made himself the Way and that our Blessed Father Francis, his true lover and imitator, has

shown and taught us this by word and example?”(3) How can you still today be a living reminder in

the Church and for the entire Franciscan family of what all of us as baptized Christians are called to

Live?

 

We know that you are expending your best efforts to be faithful to what you have chosen and

promised and, for this reason, we feel the urgency to review with you at this historic moment the

reference points of your life as Poor Clares placed by God in the Church, in the Franciscan family

and in the world.

 

_ Living the Gospel…

In a society bombarded by images in which the individual is driven to seek a continuous

representation of the self, you have been called by the Spirit to be a simple sign of the presence of

God. We know that this is not always easy, above all when it requires a continuous Gospel

conversion of mind, heart, behaviors, and even your own personalities in order to be meaningful

and not to fall into facile secular competition, and without compromising the cardinal values of your

life.

While the message that flows from your witness is expressed in structures, signs and symbols,

the Rule written by Clare requires her daughters to live an evangelical life as poor women sine

glossa. We know that the Spirit of God moves us within our communities to seek and discern

through the Gospel in order to be alert to scrutinize structures that do not immediately reflect the

presence of God. You are thus called to revisit the signs and symbols that exemplify your life so

that they may be truly understandable in this time in which everything is regarded as a matter of

opinion – a time in which even the sacred, which refers to nothing other than God, risks being

judged by the consumer logic of use and thrown away.

 

Consecrated persons must express God as the absolute. In a special way, you are called to

live a life founded on signs and symbols that do not refer to a sterile void of indoctrination,

ritualism or activism, rather signs and symbols that are able to unite the roots of the past to the

prophetic future in the present day: structures, signs and symbols that enable us to simply see God.

How can you be witnesses of God’s presence through the Form of Life that the Spirit once

entrusted to Clare, and continues to entrust to you, in this time in which even the most elementary

reference points of existence seem to be lacking?

While the world turbulently turns, you, in your stability, manifest that God waits from all

eternity to love the men and women of our time.

 

Nourishing yourselves on the Word of God, you enflesh it in your daily life through

obedience in faith.(4) Acquiring faith in Christ is not a once and for all event. It is a gift of the Spirit.

It requires continuous learning and thus to be celebrated, professed and lived. Through the care of

the liturgy you witness that God the Father, who is close to every creature, calls humanity to live in

history in His presence. In your daily lives become visible seekers of the face of God in the manner

of pilgrims in the world and of beggars of meaning.

 

I f the liturgy shapes our faith, faith in turn must find verification in daily lives, both personal

and communal, in order to be credible. In fact, it is not enough, to believe on the notional level. It

is necessary that the Mystery celebrated assumes in each of us the face of Christ. Still today there is

a widespread gap between faith and life.

 

Help us to reexamine our celebrations: the care of the Liturgy of the Hours and of the

Eucharist, while constantly ordered to the praise of God, must allow each participant to experience

the grace of the Risen Lord’s presence through Clarian simplicity.

 

Abandoning yourselves through the Spirit and shaped by the Gospel, you are consecrated

women who give yourselves to God. Based on the example of Francis and Clare, you, Poor Clares,

like the Virgin contain Him in whom all things are contained.(5) Bear witness in the silence of

“contemplating the Christ of the Gospel, love him intensely and imitate His virtues.”(6)

 

Therefore, narrate with your lives that which you hear, which you see with your eyes, which

you contemplate and which your hands touch, the Word of life.(7) Continue to announce by your

existence, living the mystical dimension of life, that God exists, that God is love.(8)

 

In this world that seems indifferent to God, you are called to refer back to the presence of the

Mystery that has the face of the Father. Only by passionately searching for Christ and his Reign are

you able to stand alongside the men and women of our time with hope in your hearts – aware that

you are intimately connected with this wide community of humanity. Make us see the beauty of

always feeling like people on a journey, daily staking their lives on God’s presence in history.

The contemplative experience of Clare poses a question to us. If she invited Agnes to place

her entire self in the image of Jesus Christ (cf. 3LAg 12-17), today she continues to ask you to

allow yourselves to be transformed through contemplation, to give your very existence over to the

unending pursuit of God, so as to free yourselves from anything that blocks God from being the

center of your lives, and to love to the end.

 

If today God requires Christians to be adults in the faith, it is an even greater reason for you,

consecrated women, to be asked to have an adult faith – one that knows how to express your

personal experience of encountering the Lord in order to respond with hope wherever you are, to

the profound questions of people our time. Only those who continuously walk under the gaze of

God are able to truly listen to those seeking meaning.

 

Thank you for your tireless search for God: the freedom lived in God is an invitation to dive

into the Mystery every day, to believe that God exists, because you have encountered him.

 

_ From poverty…

In these days when few in the world live in abundance and many people do not have enough

to feed themselves, to you, Poor Sisters of St. Clare, Francis continues to entrust his Last

Testament:

“I, little brother Francis, wish to follow the life and poverty of our most high Lord Jesus

Christ and his most holy Mother and to persevere in this until the end; and I ask you, my ladies, and

I give you my advice that you live always in this most holy life and poverty. And keep careful

watch that you never depart from this by reason of the teaching or advice of anyone.”(9)

You, Poor Sisters of St. Clare, are placed by God in a specific place to be a sign of

contradiction, not because you defend any particular structures, but from poverty you choose to live

the Gospel radically every day.

 

Every community becomes an alternative sign to the places of opulence and a sign of hope

among those who live in precarious insecurity. Your witness is a surrendering of yourselves and

entrusting yourselves to the Father who is revealed by Jesus Christ. This is not an ideological or

intellectual poverty but a lifestyle that witnesses to a total trust in the Father and takes its form in

daily life. There are, in fact, some communities that choose “to witness to an extremely spartan life

in order to be in solidarity with the poor and to trust only in Providence, living every day in

Providence, and to placing themselves with full trust into the hands of God.”(10)

Do not let anyone or anything to dissuade you of this conviction. Verify whether the diversity

of thinking within your Order is founded upon a common quest to be faithful to Jesus Christ and the

Gospel or whether it is a defense of certain lifestyles that no longer point to the Most High. God

continues to call some to be prophets, not for self-exaltation, but to be signs of God’s love and

nearness to humanity. The Lord said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and

have heard their cry ... I know their sufferings.”(11)

 

Recount to us your faith in the Providence of God with a style of life that is poor, sober, and

humble: “Poverty is the sign of belonging to Christ; it is the guarantee of the credibility of the

Reign that is already in our midst. It is a sign ever more convincing today when it comes from a

poverty lived in community with a style of life that is simple and essential, an expression of

communion and abandoning of self to the will of God.”(12)

Make us taste the joy of freedom because contemplating, you see God in every fragment of

life. Show us that you do not follow the fads of the day; that you are not swept up in worldliness,

where appearance, self-exaltation, individualism, and self-referentialism appear to overshadow the

masterpiece of God’s creation. Tell us about your experience with God which is nurtured on

silence, listening and a profound spiritual life.

 

Living in stability, show us what is truly essential, beautiful and authentic. We know that God

is the true wealth of the human heart(13) and that poverty liberates us from the bondage to things and

artificial needs which drive the consumer society: help us rediscover that Christ is the only treasure

for which life is truly worth living.(14) For Clare and Francis, “most holy poverty” is not just a virtue,

not only a renunciation of things, but is above all, a name and a face: the face of Jesus Christ, poor

and crucified (cf. 2LAg 19). For both of them, the contemplation of the poor Christ cannot be

reduced to a beautiful mystical theory of detachment. Rather, it takes flesh in a real poverty that is

concrete and essential.(15) We look to their testimony: they both loved poverty in order to follow

Christ with total dedication and freedom and still today, they continue to be an invitation to us to

cultivate interior poverty in order to grow in trusting in God, and also uniting a sober lifestyle and

detachment from material goods.(16)

 

You are called to follow the poor Christ by your form of life and thus to embrace poverty. If it

is necessary, you must find new ways to express it(17) with a prophetic spirit through a “clearer

witness of personal and collective poverty”(18) just as Francis and Clare did. The inculturation of

some of the communities that conform themselves to the poor who live in their area is at times

amazing. When you share with the poor who have nothing, when you choose to live with only what

is of necessity, when you do not accumulate things needlessly, when you entrust yourself totally to

the community, you make your choice of poverty credible because you are living your faith in God

– the Father who cares for all of humanity.

 

_ In holy unity…

In the global village, the world today is in danger of becoming a stage on which everyone

wanders, but in isolation. The crowd, in fact risks remaining entangled in a net of anonymity –

individuals who lose their sense of belonging to a family, a group, or to a history and seem to move

forward without a proper name, without knowing a familiar person.

 

Even though you are in a monastery you live in this society, where the “rootless” continue to

increase in number, a society infused with a kind of incoherent or disjointed reality and where

everything converges to organize a life that is disconnected and without meaning. Thus individuals

often run around without an awareness of their own proper identity, impoverished in their

communication with the “Other,” with whom they establish relationships that are nurtured by

Banality.

 

In your stability you reflect the presence of God in history that lends meaning to everyday life.

You are an important sign in the Church, in the Franciscan Family, and in the world because in this

time, in which everyone claims their own rights or lives an egocentric life, you continue to recount

to us by your relationships that it is still possible to stake your life on love.

 

To a world that strives to reduce the individual to a consumer immersed in the “laws of the

market” you rely on authentic relationships that are nourished by silence, listening, waiting,

forgiveness, generosity, the gift of surrendering oneself in faith, respect for the diversity of roles,

and in relationships that aim to nourish the other to grow in freedom according to the stature of

Christ. Today, while the current mentality is directed toward the leveling of roles, you show us how

to be “spouse, mother and sister.”(19) In your communities unite firmness to gentleness, empathy to

authority, responsibility to freedom, autonomy to trust.

 

In welcoming each sister as a person who is unique and unrepeatable, you make known to the

world the masterpiece of God creation and that she is a part of the creation that you love so

much. Love every person in his or her entirety; constituted by biological, psychological, and

spiritual dimensions and led by the Spirit, a sister is not reducible to a single dimension.

 

In the face of widespread intolerance, disrespect, suspicion, and the desire to dominate in our

world, you respond by placing yourselves next to the “Other” and together as community you work

in the hearts of the people of our time through dialoguing with those who knock on the doors of

your monasteries. Help us to be people who really listen, who promote relationships rooted in the

Gospel, deeply human, and who aim to be open and welcoming. It is important for us to be able to

always see in the ordinariness of life that you seek the greater happiness of the “Other.” Strive “to

be for the other.”(20)

 

From your contemplation derive new ways to be consecrated women, learn from the school of

the Spirit how to combine constant attention to God and to the sisters. We perceive in you a

continuous journey that frees you from every form of selfishness. Do not be preoccupied with

trying to be the center of the universe. Live according to the economy of self-giving, according to

the spirituality of communion without quantifying love or laying claim for a return from the other.

Live the joy that derives from the experience of Christ’s gratuitous love for us.

 

We need to learn from the “laboratory” of your culture as Poor Clares, which is founded on

the Gospel, to help us to develop a method that will enable us to combine ethical values with social

values in order to radically live according to the God or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of Jesus

Christ… and to be bearers of the Gospel through a culture of justice and peace.

 

The care that you show to formation is noteworthy. You do not allow it to be merely

intellectual instruction; rather you aspire to communicate a way of being. You enter into that which

you learn with emotional understanding and you retain that which is meaningful for your existence

and that of others. You witness in the ordinariness of daily life through a human development that

is sustained by ongoing conversion that enables you to follow Jesus Christ as poor ladies.

 

You represent for many an oasis of peace where people may consider the Mystery that

surrounds life and is experienced through it. You are called to give credibility to the desire for God

in the depth of every creature and the constancy of God’s seeking out men and women to freely

establish a relationship with them founded in love. We know how involved you are with the

concerns of the world and how you continue to intercede for them before God. As we look upon

your life you remind us that we must dream together in order to make manifest an evangelical

World.

 

We are convinced that the witness to a “holy unity” today demands reflection on the

relationship between the First and Second Orders. We cannot ignore that “one and the same Spirit

inspired the friars and those poor ladies to leave this world.”(21)

What significance does this truth have in our lives? We are convinced that holy “unity allows

us to assume, in the diversity of vocations, the profound fullness of the dimensions of the Church

that the Council defines as being completely fervent in action and totally dedicated to

contemplation… If it is not acceptable for the female branch to be subject to the male branch

neither is a total separation an acceptable solution. Indeed, that would be damaging to both the

brothers and the sisters. Our Orders can instead offer the Church and the world the witness of a

healthy and necessary complementarity lived between the two branches and an attitude of a great

mutual respect, but at the same time in a fellowship of mutual aid – that would reflect the image of

the Church as communion.”(22)

 

Maybe it is time to consolidate a relationship between us that knows how to combine

autonomy and reciprocity. We are aware that it is not for change or for protection that you live the

charism of holy unity. Rather, in listening to one another, with mutual respect and in a

contemplative attitude our common riches and the diversity that creates our own uniqueness so

beautiful gives credibility to our witness to communion lived in God without confusion and without

Dependence.

 

_ The Lord bless you and keep you…

We want to dream with you so that Clare might see the realization of the Rule in its entirety

among her daughters. If the reality of Francis and Clare continues to be visible in the world it is

because God still continues to count on us, and particularly on you, so that the original inspiration

that the Spirit once entrusted to our founders might take shape today. Who knows what further

impact this might have in our time through the witness of the Poor Sisters of St. Clare in the Church

and in the world!

 

With Francis we want to renew our commitment to you: “Since by divine inspiration you have

made yourselves daughters and handmaids of the most High King, the heavenly Father, and have

taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel

I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have the same loving care and

special solicitude for you as for them”(23) And, with Clare, we would like to ask you to continue to

“be eager to observe what you have promised the Lord.”(24)

To the praise of Christ

Br. José Rodríguez Carballo, ofm Br. Mauro Jöhri, ofmcap

Minister General Minister General

Br. Marco Tasca, ofmconv Br. Michael Higgins, TOR

Minister General Minister General

 

Rome, February 2, 2011

 

1 Benedict XVI, 23rd General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIIUC), November 19,

2009.

2 RegCl I:2.

3 TestCl 5.

4 Cf. The Service of Authority and Obedience 7.

5 Cf. 3LAg 26.

6 Benedict XVI, General Audience, January 27, 2010.

7 Cf. 1 Jn. 1:1.

8 Cf. 1 Jn 4:8.

9 RegCl 7-9.

10 Benedict XVI, General Audience, January 13, 2010.

11 Cf. Ex. 3:7.

12 Giacomo Bini, OFM, Minister General, in L’Osservatore Romano, February 1, 2003, p. 6.

13 Cf. Vita consecrata 90.

14 Cf. Starting afresh from Christ 22.

15 Cf. Chiara d’Assisi e di oggi, José Carballo, OFM, Minister General, pp. 15- 16.

16 Cf. Benedict XVI, General Audience, January 27, 2010.

17 Cfr. Perfectae caritatis 13.

18 IX Synod of Bishops, The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and in the World: Instrumentum laboris (June

26, 1994) 53.

19 1LAg 12.

20 Cf. Deus Caritas est 7.

21 2C 204.

22 Reciprocity and complementarity between the Friars Minor and the Sisters of St. Clare, Report of the Minister

General, Hermann Schalück, OFM, to the International Congress of the Assistants to the Federation of the Franciscan

Contemplative Sisters (September 3, 1996).

23 RegCl VI:3-4.

24 BlCl 1