Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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Secular Franciscans explore ‘The Name of Our God is Mercy’
the Inland Register
(From the July 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
Members of the Secular Franciscan Order gathered for a day of prayer and reflection at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, Spokane. (IR photo courtesy of the Secular Franciscan Order)
On July 9, nearly 50 Secular Franciscans from St. Francis Fraternity in Spokane/Deer Park and Holy Trinity Fraternity in the Tri-Cities gathered at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center (IHRC) in Spokane for a day of retreat facilitated by Bishop William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of the Spokane Diocese. The day’s theme was “The Name of our God is Mercy.”
The Secular Franciscan Order (Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis, or OFS), formerly known as the Third Order of St. Francis, is an official order within the Catholic Church, established by St. Francis of Assisi himself early in the 13th century and now present globally. In the United States, the OFS is structured into 30 geographic regions, with nearly 600 canonically established fraternities, satellites, or groups, and more than 12,000 actively professed members.
The OFS has been active in the Inland Northwest for the past 100 years. Groups are active in Spokane, Deer Park, the Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, and Dayton in the Spokane Diocese, and Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, and Boise in Idaho. Within the Troubadours of Peace Region (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) is the fraternity in Bend, Ore.
After a brief introduction by Jim Huss, OFS Formation Director (and MC for the day), Minister Tammie Fabien, OFS welcomed Bishop Skylstad and participants. Franciscan Brother Jeff Shackleton, Spiritual Assistant for St. Francis Fraternity Spokane, led the group in Morning Prayer.
In his morning conference, Bishop Skylstad shared guiding thoughts from both Scripture and the words of Pope Francis: in Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (April 11, 2015); in his encyclical Laudato Si’ (May 24, 2015), and his book, The Name of God is Mercy (2016). Reminiscent of the phrase “the extravagant love of God” from St. Bonaventure, himself a Franciscan, Bishop Skylstad reminded participants of the extraordinary compassion of God for all people. Sprinkling his faith-sharing and teachings with stories from his own family life episodes in the Methow Valley, and sharing examples from experiences of decades of ministry as priest and as shepherd, Bishop Skylstad urged participants into an enhanced mindfulness of, and trust in, “God’s mercy, mercy, mercy.” As the bishop repeated the invitation to take time to gaze, many participants were reminded of the words of St. Clare: “Gaze upon [Christ], consider, contemplate, as you desire to imitate.”
Having been offered Scripture passages from the Gospels and psalms, and stories of St. Francis’s preaching to the birds and taming the wolf, participants then dispersed about the retreat center area for a time of prayer and personal reflection.
Two questions were highlighted: “How have you experienced the mercy of God in your life?” and, using a clay-like medium, “How would you image ‘mercy’?” The opportunity for reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was provided. Both Chapel and the gently rain-blessed grounds of IHRC offered graced spaces for quiet.
Participants returned into small groups for a time of sharing from their reflections, for lunch and for a time chance to meet together as Franciscan sisters and brothers; as friends old and new.
After lunch and the gathering prayer-song, Bishop Skylstad spoke of the world’s need for mercy, understanding, and a compassionate justice – i.e., right relationship. The bishop related this, and God’s call to those present, both as members of the Church and as Franciscans, to topics from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World (November 24, 2013), and Amoris Laetitia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family (March 19, 2016).
A question-answer time with the bishop followed, and an afternoon break for quiet ensued.
The group later gathered in the Chapel to sing-pray the Prayer for Divine Mercy, led by Sue Huss, OFS, assisted by Jim Huss, OFS, to pause for some minutes of quiet prayer together, and to join for Mass with Bishop Skylstad as presider and homilist. The Gospel account of the Good Samaritan offered a perfect opportunity for a summarizing the day’s theme of Mercy. The bishop was joined at the altar by Deacon Dave Dudinsky, OFS. Music was led by Annette Roy, OFS and Sue Huss, OFS. Various members assisted with ministries and duties throughout the Mass.
All permanently professed Secular Franciscans had been invited during the liturgy to renew their profession consecration. As the Mass ended and the day closed, encouraged and grateful retreatants were sent out on their ways to strive to live even more mindfully, in the ways of Sts. Francis and Clare, the Gospel Life. In the words of Pope Francis:
May [you, the Church] never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (Ps 25:6).
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