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Novitiate a time to ponder on the grace of our origins

I feel privileged to be in the novitiate in the year 2009 because of the importance of this year for our Order. Any visitor to our novitiate will believe me just by entering our small San Damiano Chapel. One will at once be struck by the big writings surrounding the San Damiano crucifix; “Dare to live the Gospel; the Grace of our Origins…” I have come to believe that Novitiate is the best place to ponder on these origins so that when I finally vow to observe the Rule and life of the Friars Minor, then I will indeed be sure that our origins are full of Graces.

What are these Graces? St. Thomas Aquinas says “when a man is said to have the Grace of God, there is signified something supernatural bestowed on man by God”. By definition Grace “ is a gratuitous gift infused by God into the rational creature with reference to the end; eternal life( Catholic encyclopedia).

Therefore, when the order is celebrating the GRACE OF OUR ORIGINS what are we celebrating? The answer is clear from the message of our Minister General “Franciscans celebrates 800 years since the foundation of our Order with the approval of the Rule of life by Pope Innocent III”. He adds that this year gives us an opportunity of grace to remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm and open up with confidence to the future. These words make me to retrospect into the past and see that our origin is before this rule was the stages in the conversion of St. Francis. These are what I confidently say defined and shaped the Rule we are celebrating. These circumstances reveal the Grace of God in Francis. They are supernatural instances, which God bestowed in him and through him to the Order and the church.

The above mentioned words in our chapel reminds me of Francis’s experience at SPOLETO where he heard a voice with a challenge worthy of the road to Damascus “… whom do you want to serve, the Master or the Servant… go back to your country. There your calling will be shown to you…” I believe it was a gratuitous gift that enabled him to say “the master” and hence my confidence in the future should certainly be choosing the “master” rather than the many “servants” in the world for this was a grace of our origin.

The above words in our little chapel invites me to reflect on Francis’ great experience with the leper “what seemed bitter to me changed to the sweetness of soul and body” (testament), a new discovery of Christ and a new approach to the cross. Service to them later became his and their novitiate. Indeed a gratuitous gift led him to conquer and overcome himself and embrace Christ in the leper. This was the turning point of his life and I believe the summit of the Grace of our origins. A challenge that as we look to the future with confidence, embracing the lepers of our time calls us to conquer and overcome our pride and make a difference and have an option for the poorest of the poor.

The above words in our chapel remind me of the confusion our Father Francis was in while entering a dilapidated church of San Damiano trying to respond to the voice… “ Go and repair my church which is falling into ruin..” here comes the deciding event in his life. Could anyone doubt this gratuitous gift? Can anyone doubt the Graces of our Origins? I wonder the Grace that made the first Friars to name our novitiate San Damiano. This is the Grace that says to us individually and communally as we enter this little chapel daily; “brothers repair my church which is falling” due to modernization, secularization and materialism.

The above workds in our chapel make me go further to what many see as synonymous to Franciscans, he removed his clothes, was detached from his family, and made his “profession”. “From today I will say our Father in heaven…” what a Grace? Too powerful to image! A gracious origin, why not a gracious future with confidence. I see the apex of confidence being here. Francis’s confidence in God led him to give back everything to his father. One cause of the “dark night” in religious life is attachment to worldly pleasures. This Grace calls us to total detachment from earthly pleasures and total attachment to Christ alone.

The above words remind me when Francis reached the end of his striving and questioning at the Portiuncula by hearing the gospel and exclaiming “this is what I want…” he embraced poverty which gave him freedom and trust in God’s providence. From Spoleto to the Portiuncula his question had been “Lord, what will you have me do? And from the Portiuncula his life was to be an “imitation of Christ”. He was prepared to take risk and become a man for all people. As Moorman says, he laid the foundation stones of his way – HOLY HUMILITY, PURE SIMPLICITY, and HOLY PRAYER AND LADY POVERTY. What abundant Graces, which have to be carried forward? A grace found only in meditative listening to the scriptures. This is where novitiate means a lot.

This is the year to carry forward these precious gifts, the noble ideas that have been passed on from generation to generation for 800 years now. To carry them forward, the Franciscans of this century have to join imagination to common purpose, necessity of our times to encourage and say; this is what we want, this is what we wish, this is what we long for with all our hearts. Because these ideals of Francis still light the world and we cannot give them up for expediencies sake.

As a novice at the “ seed-bed” of the Order, I see this year as a call to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up to the legacy of our forbearers and the promise of future generations which I should look forward to with confidence. With this we shall be demonstrating that the life of preaching and service led by Christ, his apostles and disciples in the 1st century, Palestine can be successfully lived in any century and setting.

This is what St. Francis did in his century, and we see them today as Graces of our Origin. Why not do them today and tomorrow? this is not going to be easy but if discouragement overwhelms us, lets go back to our origins, St. Francis went on; if anxiety has its grip on us lets go back to our origins, St. Francis went on; if exasperation or hatred seizes us, lets go back to our origins, St. Francis went on just as Jesus went on till Calvary.

May the Lord give us Peace to go on.