Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'”
My dear brothers of the two Conferences comprising the Franciscan Conferences of Asia and Oceania, may the Lord give you his peace!
The concluding words of the Gospel of St. Luke, which are associated with the commemoration of the great Slavic evangelists Cyril, and his brother Methodius have much to say to who we are as Friars Minor in the regions of the human community, Asia and Oceania. “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you!” It is precisely this focus on the Kingdom ministry that serves as the driving force for the work of the Conferences of Bishops, prior to, during, and following upon the Special Synod of the Bishops of Asia and now Saint John Paul II’s post-synodal document, Ecclesia in Africa.
What happens to the Church, to the Order of Friars Minor, to each of us when the values of the Kingdom of God are placed at the center of our lives, our fraternities, our Order, Provinces, Custodies, and Foundations? This is the ‘million dollar’ question to which we are called to give a response. I would like to suggest there are three things that happen – or that could happen – when we place the pursuit of God’s Kingdom at the center of all of who we are and what we do. These same three elements form the nucleus of St. Luke’s understanding of and teaching about the Kingdom ministry carried out in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
According to the Gospel text we have heard today, it is clear that peace– shalom – is central to Luke’s understanding of the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. “In whatever house you enter, first say: “Peace to this household.” This peace is not simply the absence of violence, nor is it a proposal for living a care-free life, devoid of all responsibility or concern for others, for the life of the world. For Luke, peace is intrinsically linked to righteousness, to the pursuit of God’s justice, God’s intention for the world, namely, that it might be reconciled and brought back into one, healed of all divisions. And at the heart of this peace is a deep, abiding encounter with the living God who is the source for shalom, peace, God’s gift to the world.
A second and most essential element of the Kingdom ministry of Jesus is related to minority, being subject to all, as St. Francis would later write in the Regula non bullata (chapter 16, the Missionary instruction). In the first chapter of the Gospel, Luke tells us that the Kingdom is about self-emptying, abandoning one’s own will and allowing God to define who we are and how we act and react to all circumstances of life. This is at the heart of the Canticle or Magnificat. Luke’s vision of the Kingdom runs contrary to major contemporary trends in economics, politics, social life, and even in the Church. These trends include: an economics of exclusion; a materialistic mentality of accumulation that can lead to all forms of abuse (spiritual, sexual, mental, the abuse of the natural environment, and even to clericalism); a focus on self-satisfaction and the pursuit of individual happiness. This is at the heart of Jesus’ critique of the rich fool in chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel who, today, might go by the name of a hedge fund operator.
What is common to all of these forms of exclusion and self-aggrandizement is that they have absolutely no qualitative relational connection with God or other human beings. In the end, the rich fool lives and dies in absolute isolation, talking to himself, already living in hell. We are called to live out of a very different ‘logic’ – “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” This can only be possible if we are truly, deeply connected to God – Jesus – the Spirit of God, and if we are connected to one another through the gift of fraternity. A spirituality grounded in a theological approach where the Kingdom of God is at the center necessarily requires of us to become God-centered and people-centered disciples. Salvation is all relationship.
Yet a third element contained in today’s Gospel text is that of the urgency of going out to the highways and byways of the world carrying a message of something ‘great’ that we ourselves have experienced – personally and also collectively/fraternally. Thus, evangelical itinerancy is part of the DNA of our Christian, our Franciscan, identity. Pope Francis’ focus in his Apostolic Letter Evangelii gaudium seeks to convince each baptized Christian that he or she is a mission, and thus is missionary. The ‘evangelical’ nature of proclamation, however, takes on a particular form in a context where Christians are in the absolute minority, which is the case in most of Asia with the exception of the Philippines and, to an ever-decreasing extent in Australia and New Zealand. First, the understanding of participation in the life of the Kingdom of God is broadened in a particular way so as to include those who are professed members of other religious traditions (Nostrae aetate). Second, Jesus’ Kingdom ministry reminds us that the Kingdom is not in service to the Church but rather the Church exists for the sake of, and to give concrete expression to, the Kingdom. And third, Jesus’ coming into the world is a single, unrepeatable, unique sign of God’s drawing near to all of humanity, all of creation. But Christ’s coming into the world is to promote the central values of the Kingdom of God. Jesus does not come to proclaim or promote self. Christology does not become a category for promoting an exclusionary theology – ‘ex ecclesia, nulla salus’ menta. A Kingdom approach to Christian life and mission allows us to broaden our categories and to develop a theocentric vision, one that enables us to enter into authentic dialogue with ‘the other’, with the world of today. In this context, we become joy-filled bearers of the love, mercy, joy, peace, and hope of the Gospel that we ourselves have received, towards which we are continually being converted, and to which we are called to give witness through our daily lives.
Peace – Minority – Theocentric itinerancy: these are the essential ingredients of the Gospel itinerancy lived out in the life of Jesus and proposed to us by St. Luke. These also are contained in the challenges put forth to the entire Order by the Plenary Council of 2018 (PCO, Nairobi), calling each of us to enter into a new spirit of listening, discerning, and going forth, a going forth prophetically. We read in the conclusion of the final Document of the PCO:
“The Father is calling us, Friars Minor, to live and act prophetically and in fraternity in today’s world. Prophetic living means being a living witness to love, mercy, and goodness of God and a sign of a Church who is mother of all, with particular care for the poor, the most fragile and suffering people, and those who are migrants and refugees…Prophetic living and acting means going beyond pastoral activity that is mere maintenance, and instead committing ourselves to a wider evangelization by offering everyone the Lord’s message of salvation…[living] a way of life in which all the strengths and abilities that the Lord has given us to build the Kingdom of God are spent in its service” (PCO 178).
Brothers, let us begin!
Br. Michael A. Perry, ofm
Closing Mass for the Meetings with the Franciscan Conferences of Asia and Oceania
Bangkok, Thailand, 14 February 2019