IN THE FRANCISCAN SOURCES
Fraternity as sign and means of conversion.
The followers of St. Francis
in the Order of Penance from the beginning have been called "brothers and
sisters." The idea of fraternity is present in the I Faithful 1,7, and 9; in
the 2 Faithful 8, 42-44, and 9, 48-52; the First Rule, prologue; c. 8,5;
c.10,12; c. 11,3; c. 12.2 and 6.
When the friars and sisters
love each other mutually, the Spirit of God lives in them, and God Himself, the Father
almighty, the Son and Holy Spirit set up their dwelling among them. As sons of the same
heavenly Father and as a unity, called to share the divine life they are brothers of
Christ (cf. I Faithful, 1, 9; 2 Faithful 9, 52; Rule 1221, 22, 29ffi. "Oh how
holy and delightful.. to have such a brother!" (1 Faithful 9,56).
Both in teaching and
practice, Francis has given birth to a fraternal life which is intense and rich with
The fraternity, summoned by
the Holy Spirit in Christ's Name, is an aspect of penitential life which is highly
meaningful and irreplaceable. The brothers help each other to grow in the love of God,
through reciprocal love, encouragement, fraternal correction, etc. Together, they overcome
difficulties, are freed from selfishness, give witness of conversion to God. Francis
pities those who cannot make the effort to live in community, and who deceive themselves
into following the easier path to sanctification in solitude (cf.2 Celano,32-33). The
Second Vatican Council reminds religious of the example of the example of the Apostles
gathered around Christ and of the witness of the early Church (PC 15).
In today's society, man too
often lives in isolation and in involuntary loneliness, lacking an adequate communication
with others. This phenomenon is also met in religious communities, the members of which
are cast to the outside world, become attached to the undemanding friendships with
strangers, become closed within the circle of their own occupation, and do not care about
their brothers among whom each one is called by God to share the charism of penance and
the demands of fraternal living. Accordingly, reciprocal assistance decreases, both on the
human level and in the community's shared growth in the love of Christ. Then this is no
longer a fraternity but a simple coexistence, or at most, an economic or pastoral
collaboration (a strange "society for action"!).
In contrast to this reality,
there are often heard high-sounding speeches and sterile verbalism.
(135) For other
aspects cf. AA.VV.,La preghiera nella spiritualita francescana. in Quaderni di spir.
francescana 15 (1967);K.ESSER E.GRAU, Love's Reply,cit., pp.267-285: La
preghiera sviluppo e coronamento della vita di penitenza.
L.TEMPERINI, La fraternita nel francescanesimo, in Analecta TOR 13 (1976)
pp.855-867; F.DE BEER, Genesi della fraternita francescana, in Studi
Francescani 65 (1968) pp. 65-92.
Fortunately, there is some
reason to hope for a reacquisition of the essential character of fraternity. Men of today
are rediscovering the value of community living, of interpersonal relationships, of the
reciprocal gift of friendship, of active co-operation. Among individuals, the desire is
growing to develop their own personality within the context of fraternal life, since
shared living enriches, brings joy and fills with enthusiasm.
This sensitivity makes itself
positively in religious communities, too, in which members are becoming increasingly aware
of the relevance of coherence and authenticity in relationships.
A Fraternity which would
really be a symbol and a means of conversion to God comprises:
- 1.) a serious and constant
effort at union among the brothers called by God to the life of penance.
- 2.) the responsibility on the
part of each religious to see the brothers as the first friends of his life - a life which
he has knowingly chosen through God's inspiration. The first Franciscans "longed to
meet each other and were happy to stay together.."(cf.1 Celano, 39).
- 3.) the need, on the part of
each individual religious and the community as a whole to unfailingly use those means
which further fraternity and union with God.
- 4.) the good will to eliminate
those obstacles which threaten the very meaning of community life: individualism,
autonomy, self-centeredness, selfishness, absenteeism, dissatisfaction, various
The earliest Franciscans
"free from all selfish love, poured all their affection into the heart of the
community"(1 Celano,39). (137)
As far as our Order is
concerned, it should be pointed out that the idea of fraternity animates the entire
structure of our Constitutions. Accordingly, it only remains for us to live
fraternity responsibly, with generous cooperation, with initiative, in an atmosphere of
love and perfect happiness.