Did you know that there is a rich Franciscan Intellectual Tradition?
The Franciscan Friars of the Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) are pleased to be able to offer in April an opportunity to learn from Friar Wayne Hellmann OFM Conventual, a distinguished Franciscan academic and scholar.
Friar Wayne will speak about his latest insights and scholarly research on Franciscan Spirituality in Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
We invite you to come and listen with your head and with your heart, to learn how Franciscan Spirituality can impact your life of prayer and your perspective on faith and living.
Fifteen young men joined the Franciscan Vocation Discernment Retreats held in Singapore and Kuching last November and December. The aspirants accepted the invitation to Come and See Franciscan spirituality and the Franciscan way of life for different reasons, but they all shared the same desire: to seek the will of God in their lives.
Friar Giacomo Bini OFM, former Minister General of the Franciscan Order, said, “Nowadays, fraternal holiness is more effective than personal holiness.“ Inspired by this wisdom, the retreat was planned to help the aspirants learn more about God and about themselves through a fraternal living experience.
Over four days and three nights, they prayed, reflected, ate and shared as a fraternity. It was a safe space where everyone could be open and honest in sharing. The aspirants came as individuals, but it did not take long for each to feel a sense of belonging to the fraternity they formed during the retreat.
Eight aspirants (from Singapore and West Malaysia) at the retreats in Singapore (3-6 November and 15-18 December) and seven (from Sarawak, East Malaysia ) at the retreat in Kuching (1-4 December).
The new “fraternity” in Kuching was even inspired to compose a song together. They titled their song “Panggilan Hidupku” (My Vocation).
The aspirants left the retreat grateful for the brief experience of Loving God the Franciscan Way. Some expressed interest in discerning more intensively about a vocation to the Order in the next few years. Others said that the experience had opened their eyes to new possibilities and would help them make more informed decisions.
The friars involved too were grateful for the retreat experience. As Friar Robin Toha, who is part of the Vocation Team, said, “It is a joy to share life with the aspirants. Often, their stories inspire me and renew my commitment and desire to love and serve God and others as a friar.”
We ask for your prayers for these young men as we continue journeying with them, that they may discern the will of God for their lives.
The Franciscan Friars have been organising pilgrimages designed specifically for young adults since 2019. In fact, Friar John Paul Tan led a group of young adults, aged 18 to 35 years, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last December.
An objective of these pilgrimages is to help young adults make sense of what they have learned and heard – in their catechism classes and during the pilgrimage – and lead them to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
As Yossi, our archaeologist tour guide in the Holy Land, is fond of saying, the distance between the human mind and the heart is about a foot but it can be the longest journey. By that he means that the historical, religious and cultural significance of the places we visit could remain at the head level without reaching the heart to make a difference at the faith level.
One of the places on the pilgrimage is the Benedictine Monastery of St Mary and the Church of the Resurrection which was built by the Crusaders. Located in the Arab village of Abu Gosh, this church commemorates the event in Luke 24:13-35 when Jesus appeared to two disciples on their way to Emmaus. They had become disillusioned after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus taught the disciples as they walked, about Moses and the prophets and about himself being the fulfilment of the scriptures. But it was not until the “breaking of bread” that the disciples encountered Jesus in person and recognised him. “Were not our hearts burning …,” they said. It was the moment when the mind met the heart!
“During the pilgrimages, our pilgrims are invited to make their own Emmaus journey; to allow the knowledge that they have gained to move their hearts,” said Friar John Paul Tan.
“Our young pilgrims have their lives ahead of them. Many obstacles and hurdles, disappointments and disillusions will block the journey from the head to the heart. It is our hope that these pilgrimages will give young adults the impetus to discover Jesus more in the scriptures, and reignite their faith in the person of Jesus who continues to be present at the Breaking of the Word and at the Breaking of Bread.”
Unanimous. At our Custody Chapter last October, the friars voted in unison to adopt the Fraternal Life Project for all our communities. This was a dream come true for me, as I feel that my call as Custos is to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood by the grace of God. From this lived authentic relationship with one another, we can strengthen the way we reach out and serve God’s people and creation.
The inspiration for fraternity comes of course from St Francis of Assisi. In his Testament, which he dictated before he died, Francis said, “the Lord gave me some brothers”, thereby making the point that his radical way of life includes living and serving with brothers – brothers not of his choosing, but “given” by the Lord.
A Franciscan document on building fraternity entitled “You Are All Brothers” (2004) states, “to say that the brother is a present from the Lord, is to say that the brother is not without purpose, is not cost effective or productive, or functional or negotiable. The friars are to love the brothers more than a mother loves her own son or daughter. So the friars are there to give birth to other friars.”
This is a very profound insight of Francis: that being a brother to one another is to give birth, to give life to brothers.
The document says this form of fraternity is “to proclaim that the centre of all is in the interpersonal relationship of the friars among themselves. It is to underline that the friars are brothers if they have relationships amongst themselves and in the measure that they have them. It is to state that reciprocity is the constitutive principle of the fraternity, understood as relationship between brothers”.
In simple terms, a Franciscan Friar who is not committed to relationships with other friars in community is not a true Franciscan Friar.
However, this brotherhood is not an end in itself. The long-held motto of the worldwide Franciscan Order is “fraternity-in-mission”. This means that this bond of brotherly love is meant for mission. When we go forth on our missions, we do so by the spirit of our brotherhood, by the way we love, forgive, connect, empower, purify and attune.
In the last decade, an adjective – “contemplative” – was added to this motto. This emphasis reminds us that without God, we are nothing. If there is no vertical connection with God through contemplation, then there will not be any authentic and graced internal connection amongst brothers, nor will there be a horizontal connection with the people we serve. This contemplative dimension echoes the top priority of the Franciscan Order – prayer and devotion. As St Francis told St Anthony of Padua, “it is wonderful that you are teaching the brothers theology of this kind, but never extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion”.
Reviewing the trajectory of the life and history of our Custody, and discerning where the Lord is prompting us to journey forth, we have seen the signs and connected the dots and we feel compelled to go back to basics – relationship with God and fraternity.
As the document “You Are All Brothers” beautifully says, “Fraternity is our way of being in the world and in the Church.” The Franciscan life does not exist except as fraternity; our vocation is to be brothers; and our basic law is that of love. On the other hand, the basis of our fraternal life consists of opening ourselves up, of comparing ourselves, of accepting ourselves and of dialogue; these are instruments for enlightening, strengthening and putting our common gospel project into action; these are the conditions for the birth of new motivations that would stimulate creativity and help us to recover confidence in ourselves and in others.
“Gift and task, the fraternity is received but is also constructed. Divine call and human reality. As a divine call, fraternity is fed on prayer, listening to the Word, the Eucharist, pardon and reconciliation. As a human reality, the fraternity has its own laws, demands and means; authentic relationships, familiarity, friendship, joviality, courtesy, service …”
So, as we receive the wonderful gift of brothers from the Lord, we need to work at building relationships with our brother friars. This requires structures and plans, which is essentially what the Fraternal Life Project is. In practical terms, the Fraternal Life Project is simply discerning and deciding together how and when we pray and eat together, how we celebrate brotherhood in our recreation times, how we intend to share struggles and dreams in the midst of discussing finances and maintenance issues etc. It is very basically drafting our fraternal hope into concrete plans and then from time to time, evaluating the plan and discerning refinements.
We ask for your prayers as we work at building fraternity with all our brothers. In this New Year, let us unanimously commit ourselves to relationships – with God, with fraternity-family, with all around us!