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franciscan - September 1996

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1996

Minister's Letter:

Sister Teresa, Minister General of the First Order Sisters, shares part of her address to the First Order Chapters at Hilfield Friary, August 1996

In the Incarnation, Francis saw God present, totally present in the world that God had made. All creation, every single bit of it, spoke to him of the Creator who was to be worshipped in and through it. In his deepest self, he was aware of a world shot through with the glory and the presence of God. He was not a pantheist – he did not worship nature – he worshipped God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. He understood, more clearly than most, that the whole of creation is to be brought back into the reconciling love of Jesus Christ, back into the intimacy that it had with God when it was first made, and that human beings have a particular responsibility in this.

We are all too familiar, terrifyingly familiar, with the abuse of creation – exploitation, pollution of air and water, the destruction of the ozone layer, rape of the earth, burning of rain forests, the exploitation of the seas, dragnet fishing – the destruction is endless. What we are offered by God is the use, the glory, the mystery of creation as a powerful and ever-present means of grace which will carry us to the very heart of God.

Francis’s involvement with God’s gift of creation, however, was not primarily directed to the world of nature, but to the world of people. His own inner journey, his courage in facing the depths of his own being, in company with God, led him to overcome his own revulsion and embrace the leper - and so began another journey that ceased only at his death: the journey of identification with the poor, the outcast, the disadvantaged and the down-trodden people around him. As Murray Bodo expresses it: ‘Francis became a liberator of cave-dwellers all over the world by shining the Resurrected Christ into dark caves for all time to come.’

Francis has left us something positive to say to our world, something positive to do in our society and something positive to be in our lives. And it is primarily to do with those who live in dark caves, whether of their own or someone else’s or society’s making.
The human problems which surround us today are the same in essence as those which surrounded Francis, though the stage on which they are enacted may be very different. It is tempting for us to assume that it was somehow easier for Francis to take his stand against the injustices of his world than it is for us in our world today, and we become paralysed by the enormity of the task. The truth is: we should be encouraged. Our generation has seen many sweeping changes brought about by changing attitudes in public opinion and, in this age of communication, we have many instances of what a single individual can do or a group achieve.
We have an opportunity to look again at our responsibility as Franciscans nearing the twenty-first century and maybe we need, both as individuals and as a Society, to listen more deeply to our consciences.
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