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Minister’s Letter

Sr Sue CSF

Sr Sue CSF 

Dear Friends,

As a participant in the Ministers’ Meetings last August I gained an overview of the life of C/SSF in nine different countries. We all know that First Order sisters and brothers are living in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the UK, and the USA. However meeting with the other ministers, and hearing first hand of the ups and downs of community life around the world, sharpened my awareness of both our fragility and the quite remarkable extent of our influence.

A total of around 170 brothers and sisters are living mostly in quite small community groups, spread around four continents, and carrying forward a very wide range of ministries. With all this ministry on-going it is easy for us to become very strongly focussed on what we do. A person’s sense of identity can become closely tied to a particular ministry, or community house, which makes it difficult to be open to God’s call in relation to new needs and opportunities.

Yet our primary calling is not to a particular place or job, important though our ministries undoubtedly are. Our primary calling as First Order Franciscans is to living the gospel, normally in community with our sisters and brothers, in a life shaped by our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In our early twenty-first century society, life vows are extremely counter cultural. Serial relationships are common, contracts of employment tend to be short-term, and even replies to a social invitation are often very last minute! People want to be free to respond in the moment. Ours is indeed the ‘now’ generation. Timothy Radcliffe O.P. in his book I Call You Friends has very helpful insights on vows in his chapter ‘Making Promises Till Death’.

In order for life vows to make sense we need to be aware of an on-going personal identity, a self which continues through the years; so regular reflection on our life journey, owning and pondering our own story is important. If we see ourselves only as people of this moment, defined completely by our current circumstances and experience, then any period of difficulty in our life, any challenge to our vocation, will appear catastrophic, as we will lack a vital awareness of the longer-term reality of our own story, and the deep connection to Jesus’ story and the Franciscan tradition.

Sadly it does happen occasionally that a particular vocation has died and a sister or brother genuinely needs to be released from vows which no longer express the deep reality of that person’s life in God. However such a decision needs to be very carefully discerned by the individual and the community over a significant period of time, and would involve prolonged prayerful reflection on the person’s whole life story and changing experience of God’s call. We need to nourish the roots of our life in God, and be encouraged in our Franciscan calling. In making vows we exercise a precious ability given uniquely to human beings made in the image of God whose every promise is a ‘Yes’ in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). By daring to make vows and keep them we show God to the world.

As sisters and brothers we are sometimes reminded that our influence under God runs far deeper and wider than we normally realise, few and fragile as we are. By our joyful and faithful living in the vowed life to which we are called, we are signs of the reality of God who is generous and trustworthy, in whom people can hope, even in the darkest times.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sue CSF