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Learning from Franciscan Friars in the South Bronx

Posted on November 5th, 2010

We invited two young Franciscan friars from a monastic community in the South Bronx to give the sermon at New Life last Sunday. We interviewed them for 35 minutes at each of our three services.

[Spirituality and Simplicity – 10.31.10 from New Life Fellowship on Vimeo.]

A Panel Discussion with Franciscan Friars from the South Bronx- As part of our Financially Healthy Spirituality series; Matthew 6:24

While we have been learning from Christians from other traditions (i.e.Roman Catholic and Orthodox) for many years, I was very aware that having monks in the pulpit might push the limits of “acceptable practice” for our interdenominational, evangelical church.  It did push those limits outward and we had a few uncomfortable moments. Yet it was well worth the rich learnings for our community. These learnings included: 1. We are to be generous, not judgmental. We really are not the whole body of Christ. God is active and moving among people very different than us, even people who pray to Mary and have somewhat fuzzy understanding on Romans and Galatians. The young monks who were with us were not theologians.  Yet their deep conversions (one was converted through Young Life in high school) and personal relationships with Jesus were beautiful to behold. 2. We are called to detachment from the world and attachment to Him. Their extreme poverty and dependence on Christ for security and material provision challenged us. It was a level few of us had seriously considered. I spent a half day with them last week in the South Bronx and was challenged when I saw nothing in one monk’s room but a mattress on the floor (no furniture) Moreover, their commitment to skip the institution of marriage and family in order to be married to Christ (Matt.19:26) was a powerful witness. I asked myself: “What does it look like for me, for us, to embrace simplicity for the gospel in the 21st  century?” 3. We need to respect the slow spiritual discernment process in major decision making. They go through a four to six year process before making final vows to enter their community. They move from being observers to postulants to novices to first, second, third, and then, final vows. That is quite a contrast to our hiring people in our churches,our understanding of membership, and our way of doing strategic planning. 4. We are called to prayer and the poor. This was one of the great gifts of Francis of Assisi in the early 12th century to a church that had become rich and comfortable. It is easy and tempting to move away from the poor – even for us at New Life in our location – and become a typical American “megachurch”. The Franciscan’s commitment to the poor flows from a contemplative life of four hours a day of prayer and communion with God. I believe ours must also. What other gifts might God be seeking to give us through monastic communities who see themselves set apart (like Elijah and John the Baptist in the desert) for the sake of the larger church?

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