Letter from the Minister General to the whole Order on the Solemnity of Pentecost 2021
All were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-12)
May the Lord give you peace!
Tradition has always dictated that the General Chapter of the Order coincide with the Feast of Pentecost, in accordance with the wish expressed by St. Francis himself in texts such as the Earlier Rule (cf. ER 18, 2), and reiterated in the Later Rule: “When he [the General Minister] dies, let the election of his successor be made by the provincial ministers and custodians in the Chapter of Pentecost, at which all the provincial ministers are bound to assemble in whatever place the general minister may have designated.” (LR 8, 2) This year, for reasons that we all know too well, we have been forced to postpone this important event to the month of July, hoping that government regulations and requirements will allow it to take place then.
Dear brothers, I would not like to miss the opportunity to address you all on the Solemnity of Pentecost, to share with you what this liturgical celebration inspires in my heart. At the same time, I want to hand over to the Lord, and to all of you, the many blessings that I have experienced during my years of service as Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor (Cf. ER 17, 17-18). I would like this restitution to be expressed through my profound and heartfelt gratitude to the entire Order, to the Poor Clares and Conceptionists, and to the wider Franciscan Family, for the ways in which you have helped me to see how the gift of fraternity is a powerful and effective means of listening to the voice of God and fulfilling what is asked of us with fidelity, perseverance, and love.
The profound relationship that the Poverello of Assisi cultivated with the person of the Holy Spirit is deeply inspiring. This can be seen from the frequency with which the third person of the Holy Trinity is mentioned both in the Saint’s writings and in the hagiographical sources. (Cf. ER 17,14; LR 10, 8-10; 2LtF 10,48; LM 9,3, etc.). Francis felt the outpouring and the presence of the Spirit so closely that he attributed the guidance and direction of the Order to the Holy Spirit, calling the Spirit the Minister of the Order. As Thomas of Celano tells us: “’With God,’ [Francis] would say, ‘there is no partiality, and the Holy Spirit, the general minister of the religion, rests equally upon the poor and simple.’ He really wanted to put these words in the Rule, but the papal seal already given to the rule precluded it.” (2C 145).
I am particularly struck by this observation of the biographer because, in a certain sense, it provides a revealing link to the scene described in the Acts of the Apostles which is one of the prescribed texts for the Solemnity of Pentecost: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (cf. Acts 2:2) The word “all“, which appears six times, is key to our appreciation of the author’s intention to indicate an all-embracing experience: all of the house (v.2); all were filled with the Holy Spirit (v.4); all the nations (v.5); all those who are not Galileans (v.7); we heard them all speak (v.11); they were all amazed (v.12). Moreover, the word “each” is repeated three times, confirming this powerful idea of inclusion and the desire for the widest possible participation in the experience of the Spirit. Francis, on his part, considers the outpouring of the Spirit a blessing for all because… “with God there is no partiality.” (2 Cel 145)
I would like to consider this idea further because during my time of service as Minister General I have been able to see that we must continue to work tirelessly to combat what Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ calls the throwaway culture. This is directly connected with another theme expressed by the phrase ‘the globalization of indifference’ (cf. Message of the Holy Father Francis for the Celebration of the 49th World Day of Peace, January 1st, 2016). These phenomena arise from and promote racism, xenophobia, and the emergence of populist figures who proclaim that these are messianic times when society as it ‘should be’ can be established. Such a way of thinking worries me deeply, because it slowly enters in and begins to take over, like weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-52). It dramatically fragments not only the political environment of our countries but threatens the integrity of our societies and families. It even comes knocking on the doors of some of our local fraternities.
The passage from the Acts of the Apostles that narrates the extraordinary action of the Spirit clearly sheds light on this reality because the event takes place in circumstances that are extraordinarily varied — full of diversity, differences, nuances, and ways of being that do not admit of uniformity. It is a situation characterized by pluralism, variety, and movement (a noise like a strong driving wind, v. 2). Nothing is still, everything is in motion, something is happening, someone is coming. All those filled with the Holy Spirit began to express …. what the Spirit was giving them (cf. v. 4).
The Pentecost event, in addition to suggesting the characteristic scenario of Old Testament theophanies, is also linked to other moments in which an important person is assisted in a special way by the Spirit (e.g., John the Baptist, Lk 1:15; Elizabeth, Lk 1:41; Zechariah Lk 1:67; Peter, Acts 4:8; Saul, Acts 9:17, 13:9). However, the fullness of the Spirit that the Apostles experience in Acts 2:4 is characterized by a remarkable feature. Pentecost marks the beginning of the time of the Church, a new way that had already been proclaimed by Jesus, in which he would be present among his followers every day until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:16-20). The action performed by the Holy Spirit, that is, the tongues of fire that “divided” and “rested” on each one, immediately makes us think of the “charismatic” gift that the Apostles received to carry out their preaching and mission. Fire, the symbol par excellence of the divine presence, indicates God’s desire to envelop — almost to invade — the entire community present, succeeding in driving out every shadow of fear and giving an inner strength capable of transforming the hearts of those present, thus creating authentic communion.
Pope Francis says: “When we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.” (Ibid. Message for 49th World Day of Peace). Following the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, USA on May 20th, 2020, a wave of reaction came to prominence in many parts of the world. It led to public protests stretching from Minneapolis (USA) to Manaus (Brazil), from New York to Johannesburg, from Paris to Jakarta. Unfortunately, we have to recognise that systematic racism, classism, the caste system, and other kinds of exclusion are also present in our Order and Church.
I have been able to read some testimonies that have been sent to me by friars in which they speak about their experiences of racism or exclusion within society and within the Order itself. They recount moments of intense humiliation, a sense of betrayal, and a deep rupture in the fabric of fraternal communion. The stories told by our brothers also reveal the reality that too many of us are willing to turn a blind eye to situations of direct or indirect violations of human dignity. The Feast of Pentecost that we celebrate today challenges us with radical demands. It calls us to “wake up” to the realities around and within us, to be more aware of those structures and events that express attitudes directly contrary to our human, Christian, and Franciscan vocation. The Spirit urges us to undergo a radical conversion of mind, heart, and action (cf. Eph 4:23-32) and to embrace God’s vision for all of humanity and the created universe. Pentecost reminds us that all are welcome, all are respected, all are invited to offer their unique and distinct contributions, all share the same dignity and destiny. The gift of the Spirit is “a blessing to all because… with God there is no partiality!”
I believe, my dear brothers, that celebrating Pentecost should encourage us to have experiences that shake the foundations of our security and drive away any internal fears we may have about always reaching out to others. Pentecost should help open our eyes (cf. Lk 24: 13-35) to appreciate the richness of diversity, to delight in the wonderful variety of forms, colours, ways, mentalities, approaches, opinions, and perspectives. If we are still afraid of stepping out of our comfort zones, or of creating spaces where we can participate in different ways of seeing, of appreciating, and of judging, then now is the time to be open to “the Spirit of the Lord and Its holy activity” (cf. LR 10, 8).
Let us continue to pray for our forthcoming General Chapter, that the Spirit of the Lord, the true Minister General of the Order, may grant us a time of grace and inspiration for the good of the Order, the Church, and the world that we inhabit.
Happy Feast of Pentecost!
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant
English – Español – Italiano
Artwork: Giotto, Pentecost, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy