The Commission for the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition (CFIT) held its annual meeting on Jan. 20 and 21 in Denver, Colorado. Dominic Monti, OFM, who is stationed at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, is chair of the commission. Fifteen other members of the Commission from around the US participated in the meeting and enjoyed two days of fruitful discussion and strategizing about future activities. Sr. Dorothy McCormack, OSF, executive secretary of CFIT, was responsible for organizing logistics for the meeting.

This spring, CFIT will publish a new Franciscan Heritage volume through Franciscan Institute Publications, the first in that series to appear in more than four years. This will be a new volume by Sr. Mary Beth Ingham titled Understanding John Duns Scotus.“This book will be somewhat longer than the earlier Heritage volumes, as it will take major elements of Scotus’ thought and contrast them against the approach of Thomas Aquinas on the same topics; this is important, as Aquinas has tended to dominate mainstream Catholic thinking,” said Dominic.

The early Franciscan sources available on the CFIT site have greatly expanded. The new format is designed to work on mobile phones and tablets and has a search function.

Friars working with Secular Franciscans and adult education groups can find brief four-page digests of some significant articles available for download under the “Custodians of the Tradition” page. DVD presentations of some ‘classic’ presentations given over the past 20 to 25 years by some noted Franciscan scholars are also available for purchase on the site, under ‘Retrieving the Tradition.’”

All users must register to access these documents on the CFIT site. Information about CFIT can be found on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition Facebook page and Twitter.

Japanese Martyrs
The recently-released film Silence by Martin Scorsese, based upon a 1966 historical novel by Shūsaku Endō, has drawn attention to the beginnings of Christianity in Japan. On February 6 we celebrate the memory of the first Japanese martyrs - 26 Franciscans and Jesuits crucified at Nagasaki in 1597. Although in the larger Church they are honored under the name of one of the Jesuits as St. Paul Miki and Companions, 23 of these martyrs were Franciscans. As you can see in the painting, six were Franciscan friar missionaries, headed by the Spaniard, Peter Baptist; besides three other friars from Spain, the group included a friar from Mexico, Felipe de Jesus, and one from India, Gonsalo Garcia. The other Franciscans were 17 native Japanese Secular Franciscans, including two young boys (12 and 13 years of age). In the universal liturgical calendar, this feast singles out Paul Miki, who as a Jesuit in training, was the "highest ranking," ecclesiastically speaking, of the native Japanese martyrs; in the Franciscan family, however, we honor them under the name of Sts. Peter Baptist and companions.

These Franciscans and Jesuits all suffered for being Christian. At the time of their martyrdom there were perhaps 250,000 Christians in Japan. The Jesuits had been there longer - since Francis Xavier arrived in 1549 - and pursued a strategy of strategic inculturation -- trying to reach first the more educated Japanese; when the Franciscans arrived in 1593 they immediately began working with lepers and other marginalized people at the bottom of Japanese society. Both of these strategies were effective in drawing people to become Christian. Despite this setback in 1597, Christianity continued to expand until 1614 until there were perhaps 400,000 Catholics in the country. That year a vigorously anti-Christian edict launched a campaign of torture and methods of slow death to compel people to give up the new faith. The film Silence is set during this period. These persecutions lasted for the next 25 years, and the few remaining Christians in Japan went underground for the next two centuries.

Today, let us remember the encouragement of St. Francis to his brothers and sisters who bring the Gospel to others: "All of them, wherever they may be, should remember that they gave themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. And for love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, because the Lord says, 'Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. . . and blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs'" (Earlier Rule, 16.10-12).
St. Angela Merici

On January 27th, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Angela Merici (1474-1540), a native of the small town of Desanzano on the shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy. Although today she is honored as the foundress of the Ursuline nuns, her vision began as a Franciscan. Orphaned at an early age, she was raised by relatives. As a young woman, she was determined to follow Christ through the service of others, committing herself to a celibate life to do so, and joined the Franciscan “Third Order.”

Convinced of the need for better education for young women and girls, she began teaching them in her own home. She was shortly invited to the city of Brescia to begin a similar school. She also began organizing support groups for unmarried women. Eventually, on November 25, 1535, 12 other women banded together with her, calling themselves the “Company of St. Ursula,” after the medieval patron saint of education.

Angela wanted her young community to live the Gospel life without any distinguishing religious habit, living a celibate life in their own homes, although meeting regularly for spiritual conferences and prayer. Her way of life anticipated modern secular institutes and covenant communities. By the time of Angela’s death in Brescia on this day in 1540, groups of the Company of St. Ursula had spread to 24 cities.

Angela was buried as she lived, as a Franciscan tertiary. It was only in the decades after her death that her company was organized as a formal religious order, when after the Council of Trent, church leaders became increasingly skeptical of a group of consecrated women living autonomously.

In the small rule she had written, Angela instructed her companions to obey “divine inspirations that you may recognize as coming from the Holy Spirit” – a truly liberating directive!  “May the strength and support of the Holy Spirit be with all of you, that you may persevere steadfastly and faithfully in the work you have undertaken.”

Hyacintha Mariscotti

On January 30, Franciscans honor the memory of St. Hyacintha Mariscotti (1585-1640), a sister of the Third Order Regular. Hyacintha entered the convent as a young woman, but her path to deep, authentic religious conversion was hardly typical.

Born Clarice Mariscotti to a noble family near Viterbo, Italy, she was educated at a Franciscan convent there. Returning to her family, Clarice had her heart set on marrying a Roman marquis, but he married a younger sister instead; her resentment due to this rejection made her impossible to live with, and so her parents more or less forced her into the convent where she had been educated -- the only socially acceptable alternative to marriage at the time for an unmarried noblewoman. Now Sister Hyacintha, she participated regularly in the liturgical life of the community, but continued to enjoy the comforts of high society: luxurious clothes, her own kitchen, and freedom to come and go as she pleased. Her way of life was a source of division in the community for ten years. However, she fell seriously ill, and when the friar chaplain was admitted to her quarters for confession and communion, he challenged her on her inauthentic life-style. She subsequently changed her life completely and became a model of dedication and self-denial. She was eventually appointed director of novices and in this role showed remarkable insight and discernment. Furthermore, she was very active in works of charity: she organized two confraternities in Viterbo to care for the sick, the elderly, and the poor, herself begging for alms for their work. When she was canonized in 1807, the Papal decree said that “through her apostolate of charity, she won more souls to God than many preachers of her time.”

Paul Wattson

January 18th begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year prayer for unity among Christians is particularly significant, as 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The theme is: "Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us".  

We should remember that this observance has Franciscan roots, being the initiative of Fr. Paul Wattson (1863-1940) and Mother Lurana White (1870-1935), founders of the Society of the Atonement. In 1895, Lurana, then a young religious in the Anglican (Episcopal) Church, was looking for an Anglican congregation that lived St. Francis' vision of corporate poverty and turned to Fr Paul for assistance. Finding none, they founded the Society of the Atonement in 1898 at Graymoor, in Garrison, N.Y.

For the name of the new congregation, Fr. Paul was inspired by a passage in St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (5:11). He interpreted this passage literally to mean "at-one-ment": the new society would work and pray to gather into one those who were previously dispersed. Fr. Paul initiated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908, and the following year the Society was received corporately into full communion with the Catholic Church. This reunion was facilitated by another Franciscan, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Diomede Falconio, OFM. The Society of the Atonement, in its men's and women's branches, follows the Third Order Regular Franciscan Rule, and working for unity among Christians remains one of its principal missions. 

© 2017 Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition. All Rights Reserved.