Recovering Evangelical Excellence


I was talking with one of our postulants tonight and recalling when I was a boy how the brothers who taught us were more than teachers. To be in the presence of a brother was almost awe inspiring. I can only speak to what inspired me about the brothers. I can’t speak for others.

Bl. John Duns Scotus

Bl. John Duns Scotus

But I believe that they radiated an air of excellence. Let’s not confuse excellence with perfection. They’re not the same thing. Perfection is always excellent, but excellence does not always imply perfection. These men were sinners like everyone else. Nonetheless, their demeanor, work, prayer life, sacrifice, joy without silliness, knowledge of their discipline and personal discipline spoke of excellence.

You were expected to learn to read, write and to math and do it well. Mediocrity was not an option. I still remember the brothers in their habits. I don’t think I ever saw a brother in a t-shirt and jeans except when he was doing grunge work in the backyard. Just as they dressed appropriately for school, the students were expected to do the same. Every piece of the uniform had to be in place. You didn’t dare show up at school without a belt. The expectations were high.

Every brother had a pen that he would pull out of some secret pocket in his habit. It was kind of funny, because the habits looked seamless. But the brothers managed to pull out pens, pencils, rulers, breviaries, rosary beads, and even a piece of candy or two. It was not until I started wearing a habit that I realized that the pockets to the habit are like saddle bags. Good gravy! You can put your laundry in there.

But there was more to these brothers than externals. There was an interior quest for excellence. Very often people unfairly characterize them as mean, cold, aloof, or even abusive. Not all of them were saints. The truth is that brothers did not fall out of heaven. They were born into real families. They came from the culture of the time. When they entered religious life, they came with what they had. We tend to forget that they were human beings. Even human beings who are committed to the perfection of charity have GOD IS HIDDEN WITHINweaknesses and always have areas where they need to improve. Yet, the brothers were gentlemen in every sense of the word. Those who were engaged in the outside apostolate were well prepared for their work. They were excellent teachers, nurses, social workers, counselors, artists and more. Those who lived a more cloistered life, such as friars and monks, were talented with their hands. Whatever was broken, they could fix it. They could turn a strip mine into a garden. Their carpentry and the care that they put into their sacristies was outstanding.

Then it happened. The Church went through some difficult times beginning just before Vatican II until recently. The Church also exists in a cultural context. Those who would want her to exist in a bubble are in for a disappointment. The Church is made up of real human beings and we are products of our times. We don’t come to the Church with a blank slate.

These are times of compromise, political correctness and even relativism. I’m not saying this is the right way to function. I’m just stating a fact. It’s been a tough time for many religious communities, especially communities of brothers. Fr. Ratzinger at Vat II

One mistake in religious life has been to accommodate the formation of young religious to their context instead of helping them accommodate to the vision and mission that the founder gave the religious institute, in other words, rise above their cultural context. As a result, some religious institutes are so secular that they are no longer recognizable as communities of consecrated life. Other institutes have over compensated and are so legalistic and rigid that they are no longer comparable to the original community.

We must accept the fact that every religious community has to grow and evolve. Let’s remember the Parable of the Talents. God gives us our talents and expects us to do something with them. It does not please Him when we hide them under the mattress.

In our Franciscan tradition, we do not expect Franciscan communities to look exactly like the first Franciscan community that appeared before Pope Innocent III in 1209. If we looked like that, it would mean that we have done nothing with our talents during the last 800 years. The Holy Spirit gave St. Francis a vision of the Gospel and a mission to fulfill for the good of the Church. That vision and mission cannot change. It is absolute. The day that it changes, you may have a religious family, but it’s not Franciscan. This is where excellence comes into the picture. Excellence commands us to preserve the gift and use it well.

Today’s Franciscan of Life, be he a secular brother or a consecrated brother, embraces the vision of the Gospel that God gave to St. Francis. He makes Francis’ mission his own, to be carried out in today’s Church. The circumstances change, but not the essence. Every Franciscan Brother of Life commits to the Gospel and mission as Francis handed it down to us. Our commitment is come to know and live the Gospel inspired by St. Francis and to serve the Church as he served blessing of st francisher, as a faithful son.

We consecrate our lives to the service of Excellence found in the Gospel that the Church proclaims. Whether we’re at play, work, prayer or rest, we are ever conscious that we must do what we do with the same passion for excellence as Francis. We have been called to holiness through the perfection of charity. There is no room for mediocrity, compromise, political correctness, secularism or relativism. Our Catholic faith does not change. God has called each brother to be as Catholic as was Francis of Assisi. He has called each brother to rebuild the Church. The Church deserves excellence in everything we do.

To be a Franciscan of Life today is to embark on a journey to recover Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrates Mass for Nascent Lifeevangelical excellence. Evangelical excellence is not an abstract concept. What we do, how we do it, what we say and how we say it must convey the excellence of the Gospel of Life.

Published in: on June 19, 2014 at 12:17 AM  Leave a Comment  

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