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franciscan - September 1997

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1997

Minister's Letter

Brother Daniel, Minister General SSF, writes:

Changing a job, or taking up a new position is always a time to reflect upon our journey through life. I find I have been doing this in the last few months, starting with thinking about the Ministers General whom I have known, the type of people they were, their gifts and talents and the way they operated in the position, leading our Society through many changes. I found lots of inspiration and more than a little doubt about my own gifts.

Change seems to have been the mark of our Church and Society for as long as I can remember. Since joining SSF in 1964, I have seen so many changes in our ways of operating, many of them naturally due to the fact that we are now in so many different countries. Change has also taken place in our World, some good and some not so good. Loyalty and commitment, or rather lack of them, could be seen as hallmarks of our World and Church in this age.

Recently, at a conference in Canberra, one of the speakers addressed this in terms of the younger generation, using as an example the wearing of various styles of trainers as the cool thing to do. The message that was given, he said, was “Yes, I go along with wearing these because they are in style, they are cool.” The fact that the laces are not tied states “but I am not committed to these in the long term.”

Not long after that, I read an article ‘The Foot Washing’, by Sandra Schneiders. In this, three ways of service are noted and applied to Peter’s reluctance to have his feet washed by Jesus. These three ways appear in our everyday experience, and their interaction can give an insight into our ways of ministry and thinking. In the first model, service is seen as what the server must do for the served, because of some right or power which the served is understood to possess: it springs from subordination and inequality. The server is bound by any number of relationships, such as child to parent, slave to owner, subject to ruler.

The second is that service is performed freely for the served, because of some perceived need in the served, which the server has the power to meet. This is seen in such examples as the services of doctor to patient, welfare worker to client, teacher to pupil, professional to lay person, rich to poor. The service rendered is a statement of the superiority of the one and the dependence of the other.

The third model was that of service from friendship, the one human relationship based on equality. God so loved the world as to give God’s only Son to save us. Jesus’ self gift was not the master’s redemption of unworthy slaves but an act of friendship. “No longer do I call you servants, I call you friends”; a model of equality and mutual service.

Our Lord’s command to love one another and wash one another’s feet is a command to the apostles that they should live out among themselves the love of friendship, with its delight in mutual service, that knows no order of importance, which Jesus is beginning. The hospitality, warm friendship, acceptance and welcome that is offered in so many ways in our houses seems to be in line with this idea of participation in Jesus’ transforming work. In the true simplicity of Francis, we can assert that all are of equal value and importance, which goes contrary to so much of what is seen in our world. Sandra Schneiders ends by saying that ‘at least one meaning of the foot-washing for contemporary disciples lies not in an under-standing of Christian ministry in terms of self-humiliation or individual acts of menial service, but as a participation in Jesus’ work of transforming the sinful structures of domination operative in human society, according to the model of friendship, expressing itself in joyful mutual service unto death.’

May I wish you all a joyful Francistide. §


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