I was looking for some papers and I found this reflection which I gave last year and always meant to post. For background: as part of the process of becoming a Secular Franciscan, a person passes through several stages–visitor, inquirer, candidate–before becoming a professed member. The ceremony to become a candidate, called the rite of admission, is marked by a short liturgy of the word. Last year, one of our members, whom I will refer to as Kay (not her name), became a candidate. Since we do not have priest or friar who regularly attends our meetings, I was asked to be the presider and to give a reflection after the readings to mark the occasion. This is what I said. Though perhaps most meaningful for Secular Franciscans, I thought its themes of Franciscan spirituality would be interesting to a broader audience. This is a transcription of my original notes, and has not been polished. So it is a bit rough, but I hope that you hear in it what I hoped to share with our new candidate.
My dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord give you peace!
As we gather today to celebrate the Rite of Admission for our sister Kay, I want to reflect on what this means for her and for us as a fraternity. Kay is being “admitted.” To what? We are not an exclusive club, where the fact of belonging makes us special. Rather, you Kay are asking to join us on a journey that we are all on, a journey through life, through good times and sad times, a journey towards the new Jerusalem, a journey walking in the footsteps of Christ. We welcome your presence among us. We will help you carry your burdens; by admitting you we hope that you will join us and help us carry ours.
To understand this journey, I want to reflect on two words, old and new, for today’s event. In the past, Kay would today become a novice, now we say that she has become a candidate. A novice means to become a member of a religious community, from the Latin word “novus” meaning new. In the first reading [in our ritual, Rom 6:3-11] St. Paul highlights this as part of our baptism: “As Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.”
What is this new life? Jesus proclaimed it by saying, in the Gospels, “Repent, and believe the Good News!”. Repentance, to feel sorrow for our past actions: to turn away from our past, to be crucified with Christ, to accept the love of God. For as the prophet Joel said, the Lord is calling us:
But even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. (Joel 2:12-13)
We are brothers and sisters of penance, which sounds dark and dreary, but we are called to true and perfect joy; a joy found in the everlasting love of God, who has given us all good things.
But, and this is important for all of us: today we do not mark the moment when Kay “returns to the Lord.” As Franciscans, in our humility, we must recognize that each one of us must, every single day, return to the Lord. Our holy father St. Francis said of himself and his order:
Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up to now we have done little or nothing. (St. Bonaventure, Major Life, Chapter 14).
Let us begin anew. Kay, today you become a novice among us, a new member. But on this day you join all of us in acknowledging every day how little we have actually done. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my profession, and while I am aware of what I have done, I am also acutely conscious of what I have failed to do. But for me, and for each of us, this is not a reason for despair, but an occasion for hope. Because I know that, together as a fraternity, we can always begin again.
I now want to consider the newer term for what Kay becomes today, a candidate, originally from the the Latin “candidatus”, clothed in white. At our baptism we were clothed, literally in most cases, with a white garment. This is actually a symbol of death–it is a foreshadowing of our funeral shroud. As. St. Paul said in the first reading:
When we were baptized we went into the tomb with Christ and joined him in death…if in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate his resurrection.
You, Kay, in becoming a candidate, are joining all of us as we imitate Christ in his resurrection. How as Secular Franciscans, do we do this? From our first rule, given to us by St. Francis:
Concerning those who do penance: All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength, and love their neighbors as themselves, and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance…. (St. Francis, Earlier Letter to all the Faithful)
This is the white garment that each of us, as a Secular Franciscan, wears. This is the garment we wear out into the world, to show the world Christ’s love. Later in the ceremony, Kay, you will be presented with the Tau cross, the symbol of our order. If you can, wear it openly as a sign of your candidacy. But at all times wear your white robe of baptism. It will get dirty and torn. Renew it, and yourself, by washing it in the blood of the Lamb. In this fraternity, each of us wears a white robe that has been washed and mended countless times. By coming among us, conscious of our own failings, we welcome you as you are, and ask you to journey with us towards what we, as Secular Franciscans, are called to be.
Kay, in this ceremony you will also receive our Rule. Physically, you will receive my little “red book”: the publisher was slow in mailing the new one we purchased for you. But more importantly, receive the words of the Rule into your heart. Make its injunction–“to go from Gospel to life, and from life to the Gospel”–your touchstone in following it. On our journey as Secular Franciscans each of us should turn to our Rule for advice, for guidance. We should share with one another what we have learned. We will share all that we have learned with you, Kay. In your candidacy we ask you to share with us, so that together we can bring out from the Lord’s storeroom treasures new and old.
Today, Kay, we welcome you as novice, as candidate, as a fellow penitent, to join with us on our journey. Together, we are called to walk with St. Francis in the footsteps of Christ: to be humble; to be poor; to be giving and forgiving; to be peacemakers; to be heralds of the Great King; to be joyful; to serve and not to be served; to do penance; to obey, which means to listen; and to share God’s love.
As we near our journey’s end, we shall encounter death. Death does not come as our master: as St. Paul said, “Christ, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more.” And in our baptism, death has no power over us. But death comes for us as Sister Death, for all living things must die. But beyond death lies the new Jerusalem. Clothed in our white garments, now remade, we will enter the city of the Great King:
The angels will lead us into paradise; the martyrs will greet us at our arrival and lead us into the Holy City; choirs of angels will receive us and lead us to the bosom of Abraham, where we will be embraced by Lazarus, who once was poor. (In Paradisum)
May the Lord be with you, Kay, on this journey, and may all of us be with the Lord. Amen.
Featured Image: Bonaventura Berlingieri – St Francis of Assisi, Wikimedia Commons.