The following excerpt is from the reflection and homily delivered by Our Lady of the Angels Province Minister Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv., at the August 15, 2016 Solemn Profession of Vows of Friar Emanuel Vasconcelos, OFM Conv. (left) and Friar Maximilian Avila, OFM Conv. (right) in the Chapel of our ministry of the Shrine of St. Anthony, in Ellicott City, MD:
The Franciscan movement began in Assisi, Italy over 800 years ago, when St. Francis founded our Order – the same Order of penitent “lesser brothers” in which Friars Max and Manny today will be solemnly professing their vows. Last month Max and Manny joined several other “Friars Minor” from the Order’s various branches (Conventual, Observant, and Capuchin) for a month…, centered in Assisi and the other Italian sites of our Franciscan charism. I had the privilege of conducting the final week … at Rivo Torto, the first friary (“proto-convent”) of the Order.
While in Assisi, (they) spent a good bit of time inside the great Basilica of St. Francis… Surrounding the tomb of St. Francis are four niches holding the mortal remains of four early friars – Leo, Giles, Angelo, and Masseo – who were among his dearest and closest followers. One floor above the sacred crypt is the Lower Basilica, well reputed for its frescos by Cimabue, Giotto, Lorenzetti, and Martini. My favorite pastime in Assisi is to pray in that Lower Basilica underneath the Giotto frescoes on the vaulted ceiling depicting in allegory the three vows (which Max and Manny are about to profess perpetually). There is one particular spot beneath the vow allegories where I most often position myself. It faces the side wall graced by Cimabue’s brilliant fresco showing Our Lady of the Angels, patroness of our Province. Standing ever so humbly in the Cimabue fresco is poor little St. Francis himself, diminutive beside our Lady, Her Son Jesus, and all the Angels. Based on a real-life description, his face is so un-comely that only a mother could love it.
Directly beneath the homely Francis, is an intriguing grate covering five more entombed friars – another group of Francis’s early followers. Three years ago, during our Order’s General Chapter, those old bones in Assisi were really rattling – not because of an earthquake, but because they had been exhumed from the alcove niche where for nearly eight centuries they had peacefully reposed beneath Cimabue’s famous fresco. The names of these five friars were: Bernard of Quintavalle, Sylvester, William of England, Electus of Assisi, and Valentine of Narni. Once exhumed, these bones of the close companions of Francis were recognized, honored, preserved, displayed, and venerated. During their (time in Assisi, Friars) Max and Manny prayed in front of those old bones.
Today we add the names “Maximilian” and “Emanuel” to the elenchus of names like Bernard of Quintavalle, Sylvester, William of England, Electus of Assisi, Valentine of Narni, Leo, Giles, Angelo, Masseo, and thousands upon thousands of other Franciscan Friars who have professed Solemn Vows through the centuries. Today… we add the names of our two young (friars) to the (list) of hundreds who have actually professed vows in this very chapel (Shrine of St. Anthony) during the past 90 years. Today we reflect with Max and Manny about the earliest friar-followers of Saint Francis and their successors. Today we pause to think on what it means – not just to be a follower of Saint Francis, not just a subject, and not just what it means to be a brother of Saint Francis. We reflect on what it means to be, like those earliest lads of Assisi, privileged “companions” of Saint Francis. The early “companions” of Francis were his most intimate associates and deepest of friends on a common journey of Gospel life. Today, our Max and Manny are professing before God their desire to walk as companion-friends of Francis on the same Gospel journey.
No two friars are alike. Max and Manny are as different as chalk and cheese. Max with his famous tattoo “Made in Honduras” brings to the Gospel life his vibrant, ebullient, joyful, hyperactive, and ever generous spirit. Manny, with his kind, cheerful, inviting personality, and beautiful singing voice, helps us experience anew the voice of Francis “troubadour of the Lord.” Their “companionship” with Francis enriches our whole Franciscan community.
Today they are professing to live for the rest of their lives “in obedience, without anything of their own, and in chastity. Their three vows mean that these friars want to belong totally to God as poor, chaste, obedient men for others. To be obedient means they want to live with unveiled minds – focused on God’s will, not their own. To be poor means they want to live with unclenched hands – not grasping for belongings, but belonging to God. To be chaste means they want to live with undivided hearts – loving God all inclusively. Max and Manny, we are all here today to support you, dear brothers, in your humble and noble Franciscan calling…
… So, dear Max and Manny – Your Franciscan hearts are bursting right now with love for Jesus. Your hearts mirror the consecrated heart of our Founder – your humble, little, companion-friend Francis of Assisi … Jesus’s Mother Mary lived as our Lord’s humble companion. She too knew the life of humble companionship with God. Now assumed into heaven, she enjoys that companionship for eternity. Our Lady inspired Francis to found an Order of humble itinerants – companions and friends of Jesus, Francis, and the poor of the world. May she inspire the both of you to keep your holy vocations ever humble and ever joyful, in companionship with Jesus, Francis, our community, and the poor of the world. For the glory of God – we celebrate with you today. May God bless you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Your brother James
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