Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.
As National Minister, I cannot mandate love or joy, so I will defer to our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. After washing the feet of his disciples, our Lord said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
This love should be seen in our joy and our caring, regardless of disagreements or contentious discussions. Without others seeing our love and our joy, how can we ever keep the people we now have or receive from the Lord new membership and life?
The fraternity, summoned by the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name, is an aspect of penitential life that is both highly meaningful and irreplaceable. The brothers help each other to grow in the love of God through reciprocal love, encouragement, fraternal correction and so forth. Together they overcome difficulties, are freed from selfishness, and give witness of conversion to God.
The local fraternity is the basic living organism of the whole SFO. It is the center for spiritual growth, apostolic outreach and loving union among members. Fraternity should be a place where we are offered an opportunity for conversion, for spiritual growth. There are two facets of Fraternity Life. One is internal calling, and the other is external calling; internal spiritual growth and external apostolic works. Both are important for the life of SFO. The Rule of SFO calls Secular Franciscans to go from Gospel (conversion) to life (apostolate).
Our fraternities are the nurseries where God prepares, nurtures and strengthens us for our work in the world. In these “gardens of love,” all plants (us) are unique, varied and purposeful. Each has the capacity to give honor to God and to benefit others in some way. Now temptations blow through the garden, and often the way we “rub against each other” causes us to become irritated. If we rely on, or take pride in, our own gifts, friction and division will occur. If we learn to die to self and submit to the loving care of the Gardener (and our lawful superiors), His beauty, His love, and His peace will increase in us and overflow to all the world.