On February 7, 2018, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Minister General, Br. Michael Anthony Perry, shared the following words during the final celebration of the gathering in Mexico.
My dear Brothers of the Gospel life: May the Lord give you his peace!
Alegria! This word describes something of what we have experienced during these past number of days as guests and brothers in the Province of Santo Evangelio, Mexico, sharing life together, telling stories about hopes and dreams but also about disappointments and moments of sadness. We have laughed, shared food, sang and danced. We have visited places where suffering humanity passes, where believers and disciples of Christ offer to brothers and sisters who have fled from their homes and counties taking the rail highway in order to find some place where they might live in peace and with dignity and opportunity. Perhaps what has been most important during these days has been the mutual recognition that God is alive in our world. God is working in each one of us, in our fraternities, in the Foundation, the Custodies, the Provinces, and the worldwide Order. Despite the fact that we do not always respond generously and freely to God’s invitation, still, God comes in search of us, sending messengers when necessary, to pull us back into the circle of His great love and mercy.
“Each time we witness a return to the original spirit of the Gospel, to pure, unadulterated, courageous following of Jesus in poverty, humility, simplicity and trust, happiness and the joy of the children of God are seen to come to life again.”
These words from Mother Teresa reveal something about what is taking place in the Gospel from St. Luke we have heard proclaimed in this sacred Basilica of Tepeyac, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the course of their visit and sharing, we witness an eruption of joy: the ‘baby leapt’ in Elizabeth’s womb. This eruption of joy is not the result simply of two human beings who love and care for each another coming together to laugh, cry, and support one another. Nor is it because they were perfect in every sense of the world. One could not conceive and bear a son; the other was pregnant but had no husband. But it is precisely in such situations of human weakness, shame, of ‘impossibility’ that God makes great things happen, miracles! Whatever else took place in the dialogue between Mary and Elizabeth, each of them discovered something new, a new sense of their identity in God, and a type of blessing and offer of holiness that was taking deeper root in their lives. Their bodies and their spirits were being transformed, opening new directions and possibilities for them and for all of humanity to discover the author of life, God; to be embraced by this same loving God; and to be invited into authentic discipleship, becoming co-disciples and co-missionaries with Mary and Elizabeth, with all of the Apostles, and with all of humanity.
The joy spoken of in the Bible texts flows from the heart of God, from the Trinity of beings who share perfect communion and who seek to draw us into their ‘dance’. In all instances where the Biblical writers speak about joy, they indicate four distinct but interrelated themes or ‘actions’.
First, the joy offered by God to humanity cannot be manufactured or cloned no matter how great our technology. It is pure gift from God.
Second, authentic joy can be recognized only by those who have hearts open to search, to perceive, and to receive it. When this happens; when the hearts and minds of human beings are open to the working of God’s grace and love, a new space opens up within us, as happened in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, in the life of San Juan Diego.
Third, the joy promised and given by God is given within the context of friendship and fraternity/community. It flows from the deep and abiding relationship shared by God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, and is destined to be experienced between human beings and with God.
And fourth, evangelical joy is meant to be shared with others. It contains within itself the seeds for a ‘new evangelization’, leading those who receive this gift to ‘go out to the peripheries of the world with the joy of the Gospel’ (2015 Final Document of General Chapter). Authentic joy received from God needs to be shared in order for its saving power to be fully released within us and within our world.
Brothers, we are here in this sanctuary of our Lady of Guadalupe. But none of this would have been possible had San Juan Diego (1531) not opened his heart to the will of God speaking through the Virgin Mary, promising to bring peace and joy to all who would come to this sacred spiritual center. Those who come here to pray recognize in Mary a perfect model of what it means to trust unconditionally and freely in God’s promise of life and life to the full (John 10:10). Mary is honored for her unparalleled status as the mother of the Lord. But she also is honored at the ‘first disciple’, as someone who placed her entire will, her life, her entire being into God’s hands, allowing God to work His miracle in her life.
Faith; identity; fraternity; missionary zeal – these four areas that we have been discussing these past days are intimately connected with the experience of evangelical joy in the life and witness of Mary and Elizabeth, San Juan Diego, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Clare. God seeks to pour out his spirit of grace, peace, and joy into our lives, so that this joy might take root in our local Franciscan fraternities, our Order, our Church, and our world. We must be willing to go deep within ourselves and open our hearts to God (Prayer) the source of our hope, our joy. We must also be willing to go out from ourselves, opening our lives to one another in fraternity, a privileged place for receiving the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is from this same fraternity that we are called to go out two by two announcing the joy and peace with which we have been blessed and for which we are now called to go and share with all of humanity and the natural environment (Mission).
Brothers, may we like Mary allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of our lives and our fraternities so that we might become what we receive in and through the Eucharist: food for humanity, sign of the sacramental presence of God in the world, a world beloved and redeemed by God.
Brothers, let us join in prayer, using words written by Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium 288):
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the world of life in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own ‘yes’
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus…
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Alleluia! Amen! Alleluia!