Wednesday, November 12, 2014

St. Francis of Assisi and VIII PCO on “Grace of Working”

I wrote an article for our province Magazine called "Bonavanni" in October 2014 issue. I am reproducing the same here. 

The Capuchin Order is preparing and gearing up for the forth coming PCO on the theme of “Grace of Working” which will be celebrated in October-November 2015. The entire Order at the moment is involved in discussion on the questionnaire that is sent from the General Curia. The commission hopes to have good suggestions and practical guidelines for the celebration of the PCO. The theme is appropriate and apt as we look around that work in our Capuchin Friaries is slowly losing its place. Manual labor, which has been an integral part of monastic life from the earliest times, is not understood by many young Capuchins. The Church and Order has always insisted on the dignity of work, and its value was clearly visible through the example of men and women who fled the world, they have all their belongings, and began to live a life of intense prayer, fasting, and hard work. The first monks saw work in a God-centered perspective, which has served to devote time and direct human activity to praise diving. The work has been evaluated as a spiritual exercise and discipline, seen as a real penitential practice. The work would have to anticipate the temptation and promote the monastic humility and equality. The traditional monastic ideal was to use the fruits of their work for charitable purposes. The work was considered of primary importance for three reasons: (1) the work was needed to sustain themselves, (2) the work was required to help others, and (3) the work was required to practice virtue. The work is a gift from God, and all gifts must be returned to the gift-giver! Through work, man participates in creative act of God
Francis, too, had the ideals of the gospel constantly before him. He always encouraged work among his brothers, and he himself performed many menial tasks. He believed strongly that the sanctification of daily life consisted largely in the sanctification of work.
He in his writings addressed to the Friars to attain and have a clearer conception of work and ones attitude towards the work. The Order was founded not to undertake new external work in the Church, but to realize new life within it. In Francis's own mind, he had not even really founded an Order; it was a brotherhood. He thought more of a manner of life than of a Rule. This manner of life would foster a new inner attitude, which would be the bond of unity for all the friars' external activities. Whoever was imbued with the new ideal and filled with the Spirit of the Lord would be able to do whatever was required to him for the building of the Kingdom. And all the needs of the Kingdom were then, as they are now, included in the apostolate.

Following the footsteps of Christ involves all types of humble tasks and any activity is proper as long as it strengthens the spiritual lives and leads the friars to have communion with God. As lesser brothers the Friars must always seek to serve others. Celano says just this in the following words: "Since they despised all earthly things and did not love themselves with a selfish love, pouring out their whole affection on all the brothers, they strove to give themselves as the price of helping one another in their needs" (1 Celano, 39)In the Rule of 1223 Francis himself states: "And they should have no hesitation in making known their needs to one another. For if a mother loves and cares for her child in the flesh, a friar should certainly love and care for his spiritual brother all the more tenderly" (2 Rule, 6:6).  The brothers' only earthly security was to be in the certainty of their love for one another.
The concept and thought of work is degrading in the Order. We have men and women who work for us.  In the past the lay brothers had done all the manual work in the friaries and today the paid workers have replaced it. The Capuchins were known for their diligent effort to be self-sufficient and honest work, which produced fruits for themselves and also for the poor. The Friars did not work just for the sake of working or for a reward. Work was considered as a value and a holy task, an apostolic duty. It was an important aspect of the apostolate to give Christian witness to the world while living and working among men. The "grace of working" was, Francis said, a gift of God: "The friars to whom God has given the grace of working should work in a spirit of faith and devotion and avoid idleness, which is the enemy of the soul, without however extinguishing the spirit of prayer and devotion, to which every temporal consideration must be subordinate" (2 Rule 5:1-2). this spirit of faith and devotion was the non-verbal witness which was a real challenge to and incentive for the people among whom the friars worked. In the Rule of Saint Clare we see practically the same words expressed to the Sisters: "The Sisters to whom the Lord has given the grace of working should labor faithfully and devoutly after the Hour of Tierce at work which pertains to honesty and the common good." (Rule, 8:1) Francis also exhorted his brothers to avoid idleness. Clare again says the same: " that in banishing idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion, which all other things must foster" (8:2)
Bonaventure, in speaking of Francis, reiterates the same idea: He taught the friars especially to avoid idleness, the root of all evil desires, and he set them an example by curbing his lower nature when it was given to revolt or laziness by practicing continual self-discipline or devoting himself to useful work. Celano tells the story of the brother who never went out for alms and yet ate more than many of the others. Francis said to him, "Go your way, brother fly, for you want to eat the sweat of your brothers and to do nothing in God's work. You are like brother drone who wants to be first to eat the honey, though he does not do the work of the bees" (2 Celano, 75)
Today, in India the Capuchins can make the evangelical life more vibrant through a life of hard work and poverty. The Capuchin life an integral part of gospel loving. A life of common work and poverty is a clear witness to the fact that the Kingdom has come! The words of one of Francis's own admonitions clearly illustrate this: "Blessed is that religious who finds his whole delight and joy in the most holy words and works of the Lord and by them leads men in all gladness and joy of heart to the love of God" (Adm. 20:1-2). I worked with my own hands and I am still determined to work, and with all my heart I want all the other friars to be busy with some kind of work that can be carried on without scandal. Those who do not know how to work should learn, not because they want to get something for their efforts, but to give good example and to avoid idleness. When we receive no recompense for our work, we can turn to God's table and beg alms from door to door. God revealed a form of greeting to me, telling me that we should say, "God give you peace" (Testament, 20-25).
As the entire Order gets involved in preparing for the PCO let us show to the world that we work in order to participate in God’s creative grace and that we admonish all our brothers to work. Manual labor should be an ideal and a value to Capuchins, which should be taught to our young friars in the formation house. The young friars must be encouraged to be opened to any kind of work, as long as it did not give scandal and would fit in with poverty and humility. Celano tells of the brothers: During the day those who knew how labored with their hands, staying in the houses of lepers, or in other decent places, serving all humbly and devotedly. They did not wish to exercise any position from which scandal might arise, but always doing what is holy and just, honest and useful, they led all with whom they came in contact to follow their example of humility and patience (1 Celano, 39)
The desire for money or a good salary is definitely not to be the motive for working. "As wages for their labor they may accept anything necessary for their temporal needs, for themselves or their brethren, except money in any form" (2 Rule, 5:3). Even more emphatically: "I strictly forbid all the friars to accept money in any form, either personally or through an intermediary" (2 Rule 4:1). He indicates that their motive for working should be to give good example and to avoid idleness. And there is no reason why they should be ashamed because God made himself poor for us in this world. This is the pinnacle of the most exalted poverty, and it is this, my dearest brothers, that has made you heirs of heaven, poor in temporal things, but rich in virtue. This should be your portion, because it leads to the land of the living. And to this poverty, my beloved brothers, you must cling with all your heart, and wish never to have anything else under heaven for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rule,6:3-6).
Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate the VIII PCO on the grace of working by actually participating and doing our day todays works in our fraternities. Let us give a witness to the people around that we live on our own work.
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