Thursday, November 13, 2008

We're Getting Ready to Enter a New Chapter

Loving God,
Send us Your Spirit of courage
- that we might consult not our fears, but our hopes and dreams;
- -that we think not about our frustrations but about our unfulfilled potential;
- and that we concern ourselves not with what we tried and failed,
- but with what is still possible for us to do.
- Siempre adelante!/ Always forward, never look back!

For more than a year now, we friars of the Province of St. Barbara have been reciting this prayer in preparation for our upcoming Chapter 2009 (January 4-9) at Old Mission San Luis Rey, Oceanside, California. It is an adaptation of a prayer written by Blessed John XXIII in preparation for what was to become the transforming event known to the world as the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II. It certainly conveys something of both our own experience and hope as a community.

Earlier this year (see: August 19, 2008) I wrote a blog entry entitled “Greetings from our meetings”—a description of how we friars organize ourselves and do business. Our ‘chapter’— (I know, the word sounds like a section of a book. And in a way, it is. A section of the book of our Franciscan life)—is certainly a deliberative gathering. But it is much more than that for us. It is really more in the nature of a week-long liturgy. A prayer and way of praying that reminds us that we are not so much leading (although, face it, we’re human, and like to think we’re in charge of everything) as being led. By that Spirit of Courage we invoke in our prayer. I've been working with a group of friars in our Chapter Steering Committee to help put things together for our January meeting. We've still got a ways to go, but here's a little sneak preview of what we'll be doing.

When we Franciscans gather to chapter (both noun and verb) this coming January, we will need to make some very important decisions together that will affect our lives for the next three years and beyond. (below, left, Minister Provincial Mel Jurisich, ofm, with Fr. John dePaemelaere, ofm):

Elections. Guess what, we have elections, too. But unlike the presidential contest we’ve just undergone, it’s not a matter of an intense campaign. We will select our new Provincial Minister as well as his six counselors, called ‘definitors’. Names are surfaced through several straw ballots conducted by mail among solemnly professed friars. A shortlist of those most highly ranked is sent to our Curia in Rome for approval. At Chapter, we listen to and pray with our brothers, and then vote by secret paper ballot.

Visitation. (Above, Fr. Peter Williams, ofm) Every six years, each Franciscan province throughout the world is required to undergo a thorough review of its life conducted by an appointed Visitator General. His unenviable (and I do mean ‘unenviable’) task is to visit every single friar in every single friary at every single ministry in our province before making a final report with recommendations about how to improve and enhance the quality of our Franciscan life. This time, our visitator is Fr. Peter Williams, ofm, a member of the English province who has worked as a missionary in Africa over the past 25 years. By the time we get to Chapter, Fr. Peter will have spent no less than five months at his task.

Proposals. The Chapter provides a way for friars to inform and direct our leadership by naming specific priorities for our fraternal life and ministry. Issues tend to percolate upward and outward. Ideas may originate with an individual or small group of friars; they may come from one of our organized councils; or they may emerge from our Definitorium. At any rate, they set the tone and direction of our leadership for the next three-year cycle.

This Chapter, four major issues/ proposals have emerged for the friars to consider:

 The care of our senior friars (a policy on retirement. (Below, Fr. Warren Rause, ofm):

 Evangelization & Our Way of Gospel Life: focus on how we minister and live together, especially as we face institutional downsizing because of shrinking numbers and the aging of our community overall; (below, Friar James Lockman, ofm):

 Long-Range Financial Planning: an effort to recognize our financial needs and to develop a program for raising funds to assist our senior friars and those who are in studies and/or formation; (below, Fr. Ken Laverone, ofm):

 Immigration: a movement to address this tremendously important and controversial issue as it affects the people to whom we minister as well as our own fraternal life. (below, Fr. Rigoberto Caloca-Rivas, ofm):

The icing on the cake for this particular Chapter is that is coincides with the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the (first) Rule of St. Francis in 1206. As part of that celebration, our Minister General, Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo, ofm, will be flying in from Rome to address our gathering.

In addition, we will be dedicating an entire day of our proceedings to acknowledge the gifts and contributions of the laypeople with whom we collaborate in our ministries. More than 40 laypeople are expected to be in attendance, along with nearly 200 friars.

So that’s what we do at Chapter. But it’s not all we do. Not by a long shot. Our communal prayer life flows in and out of the proceedings, with almost 20 separate liturgies throughout the week.

Also, we will be having two special cultural events—a multi-cultural concert involving musicians and performing artists representing some of the communities we serve. A second performance event, “I Conoscenti” involves a multi-media ensemble interpretation of the life of St. Francis through the perspective of the ‘conoscenti’—the people who knew him.

That’s our Chapter. Not just an event, but a process which has been ongoing now for nearly 18 months. The actual week at Old Mission San Luis Rey will represent the culmination of our works, dreams, and most certainly, prayers.

For someone interested in our way of life, this is just a little peek at a way of life of an institution which has succeeded—amazingly!—not just in surviving, but in renewing and being renewed by the Spirit for 800 years.

Siempre adelante!

1 comment:

Dark said...

I will continue to remember you and the other members of Chapter in the Divine Office!