“GO WITH THE GOSPEL IN THE HEART AND IN THE HANDS” :
Franciscan Youth in the World
The Conference of General Spiritual Assistants, (CAS) of the OFS and YouFra has recently published the last number of the bulletine Koinonia for the year 2017 on the CIOFS website www.ciofs.org. The article is entitled: "Go with the Gospel in the heart and in the hand: Franciscan Youth in the world". This article closes the cycle of articles for the year 2017 whose general theme was: LIVING THE FRANCISCAN CHARISM IN TODAY'S WORLD 40 Year after the Seraphicus Patriarcha comemorating 40 years of the present OFS Rule signed by Pope Paul VI on June 24th 1978. Find the Article below in English and for other languages, visit www.ciof.org.
Fr. Pedro Zitha, OFM
By looking at what is happening in today's world it is easy to understand that people need courageous believers who seriously take up their identity as followers of Christ who lives and is present in the life of everyone. Even the emergence of so many Christian movements is a confirmation that many are thirsty for the Word of God. And it is true that people alone and without the help of God are unable to quench this thirst. But people must cooperate effectively and this happens through the contemplation of the Word of God in the Gospel.
THE GOSPEL HEART AND HELP OF OUR FAITH
The Franciscan family continues to grow in many parts of the world thanks to the experience of the evangelical life whose testimony is rendered daily by both the friars of the First Order and the TOR, and more generally by the entire Franciscan family. Of course, while we rejoice over this growth, we also need to ask what the Franciscan family would be without the Gospel. The Gospel is a rule of life. It is the heart and the help of Christians. The Gospel is the living Word that nourishes us and guides us in this earthly pilgrimage. Thus “The secular Franciscan, committed to following the example and the teachings of Christ, must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture” (Cfr. CC.GG. OFS Art.9,2).The secular Franciscan must also be available to allow “the Word come to dwell among us” (Jn 1: 1-18). So all believers are called to be the bearers of the Gospel, that is, bearers of the good news-which is Christ Himself. This implies the cooperation of all because
“While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God's kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass…For God's Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men ...”.
A Christian who does not place the Gospel at the center of his life is a Christian without direction, and also, a lifeless Christian. The fact that we are baptized implies that we should be bearers of the Gospel. In fact, Christ himself sent his disciples to the world saying “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Thus every baptized to be a witness to the Gospel must die to himself and let Christ live in him, for “They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words”.
Sacred Scripture as a guide means to be in communion with God and to bear witness to one’s faith. The secret of a united family lies in the fact that its members come together to pray together. And if this is true for the nuclear/parental family (father, mother, and children) it is equally true for the spiritual family (Franciscan). Prayer can really change life because it directs our attention away from ourselves by directing our minds and hearts toward the Lord. If we stoponly to look at ourselves, with our limits and our sins, we immediately leave room for sadness and discouragement. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, then our hearts will be filled with hope, our minds will be washed in the light of truth. We then experience the fullness of the Gospel: it is for all, promise and life, as Pope John Paul II reminded us. All good works are the result of both individual and family prayer. Thisis the challenge that the Franciscan family facestoday, to let us be led by the spirit of prayer and devotion which are the guarantee of our Franciscan identity.
FranciscanYouth must always understand that they do not belong to a pious association, but rather to an Order in the Church, the Secular Franciscan Order, and their task, simple and at the same time profound, is to “make the wisdom of the Gospels and its values come to life, and become a source of transformation for themselves”and, consequently, for the world in which they live. This is possible when they are able to bring the Word of God into their hearts.
THE EFFECT OF THE GOSPEL IN THE LIFE OF FRANCIS
It was exactly in 1208, while Francis listened to the reading of the Gospel, which he began to understand that God was calling him to His service and from that moment on, he made a radical change in his lifestyle.He began to follow God by finding the courage to renounce the kind of life he was leading to welcome God in his heart. After this initiation, Francis, to “get to know the will of God for him, had to go through many pathways and trials to be able to discover the life according to the Gospel as his way and life program and during this period he experienced several and subsequent «conversions»”. Francis chose to respond with ayes to the call to take a new direction in his life and this was the result of a deep listening to the voice of God, both before the cross of San Damian and in the reading of the Gospel.
Like Francis, the young men of today have to open their hearts to hear the voice of God who often speaks to them in a subtle and tender voice both in everyday life and in the Gospel. So it is not enough to go to Holy Mass just because on Sunday everyone goes to church. Young people must cultivate willingnessto understand the Sacred Scripture in order to rediscover the way to the truth-Christ. However, we must keep in mind that today many young people have become bitter because of the lack of work. Others often feel abandoned: their life is hopeless and without purpose and this often leads them to think that nobody listens to them or understands them. But God, the true Father, waits for them with open arms.
So we can say that the situation of young people today resembles the situation that the first disciples of Jesus lived after he announced his departure from world. But Jesus, seeing them distressed and bitter, reassured them and invited them not to lose their minds and to trust in him, for he would not abandon them (cf. Jn 14). This episode is one of the reasons why we talk about the effectiveness of the Gospel. The Word of God refreshes the soul, “the very life of Francis had developed in immediate contact with the Scripture which he wanted to interpret and live literally”. Inthe Scripture he had found the way - Jesus himself - to follow; the way of love for lepers. It is from listening to Scripture that Francis succeededin understanding that the “Son of God, who is“love”, came to this earth for love, lived for love, radiating love, giving love, bringing the law of love, and he died for love”. So Francis could follow this way of love when he succeeded in drawing closer to the lepers, thus opening up new perspectives and a different approach to a society that marginalized and abandoned the lepers. As he approached them, Francis heard the voice of Jesus saying, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you dressed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25: 35-36). Even today the world expects to see and find in us Franciscans these effects of the Gospel that for us is the form of life. In this crisis of vocations, both to the consecrated life and to the marital life, people expect the Franciscan family in general to go to the world, as Pope Francis says, with the Gospel in the heart and in the hands. This can only come from the “courage and audacity to return to the essential of our experience of faith and our spirituality to nourish, through the liberating gift of the Gospel, our divided world, unequal and hungry for meaning”.
THE FRANCISCAN YOUTH IN A MATERIALISTIC WORLD
If we compare the time in which the young Francis of Assisi lived before his conversion and the time in which the young Franciscans of today live, we can find many similarities, both with regard to the concept of materialism and the interpretation of the consumerism that derives from it. However, in both cases, that of Francis’ day and today, God continues to be revealed as the Father who always meets those who seek him with sincere heart. Francis was totally immersed in that world, but then he let himself be enlightened and led by Jesus, humble and poor. Francis denuded himself in front of everyone and started a new chapter in his life, abandoning the richness of this world for the kingdom of God. He entrusted himself to the providence of God, not to the things of this world, and slowly began to understand well that there is a great difference between the richness of this world and the richness of having God in oneself. “If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth”(Col 3:1-2).
Many young Franciscans today are open to imitating Francis and this is seen in their enthusiasm to find time for God.Intheir encounters it is perceived that the same Holy Spirit who prompted the young Francis to listen to God and follow His command to repair His house that was going to ruin still blows in today's world. Listening to the testimony of the members of YouFra in their various meetings, local, national and international, it is often seen that they are not totally lost in the materialistic world.They have a great need for a spiritual guide to better understand the importance of prayer, the value of the assiduous commitment to contemplate the Word of God in everyday life in order to free themselves from the slavery of materialism and to begin to rediscover the joy that the Gospel gives them. The OFS and the CAS must never forget that young people can regain the joy of contemplating the Gospel only with spiritual accompaniment and that they will thus enhance the meaning of the discovery of Christ in everyday life and understand the phrase “If we liberate the Gospel, the Gospel will liberate us”. All this is possible only when we are available to listen to and meditate upon the Word of God. No doubt, Franciscan young people, although surrounded by consumerism, are able to find the courage to live their loyalty to the Gospel and to the Franciscan charism. Faithfulness demands a choice of life. Faithfulness is sustained by the courage and hope that Christ always comes to us to save us. Franciscan young people will always have the intelligence to understand that “The Scripture is not only the product of a past history, but it is also, at the same time, a declaration or prediction of the future, which in part has already taken place and, in part, is still yet to come”. To go with the Gospel in the heart and in the hands is exactly this: “motivated by the faith in Christ and live that faith in today's world and this is the faith that moves the mountains of materialism”.
 (Cfr. Pope Francis to the youth, Pastoral visit to Assisi,04/10/2014)
 Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, n° 45.
 Rule OFS, 6.
The Nature of the secular Franciscan Order, Adapted by Bob Fitzsimmons, SFO, p. 3
Cfr. Testamentum, nr. 4 (BOHMER, Analekten, pag. 37)
Cfr. The Lord give you peace, Final Document of the General Chapter OFM, Rome 1995, 2.
Cfr. With lucidity and audacity: in times of refoundation; report of the Minister general Fr. José R. Carballo, OFM, Extraordinary General Chapter, Verna-Assisi 2006, p.11
Cfr. For this proposal the historical themes of Hex, XV-XVI, reproduced in Cap. I, par. 5
Cfr. With lucidity and audacity: in times of refoundation, Fr. José R. Carballo, OFM, p.17