Day 2 of Provincial Chapter opened under overcast skies here in the Mesilla Valley. After Mass, the delegates gathered in the Large Conference Room for a review of the work that had been done the previous day in small groups. After some brief discussion, we returned to those same small groups to formulate responses to the work that the group facilitators had done in identifying common themes and strategies among the groups.
We broke for lunch and in the early afternoon we took up one of the significant tasks of a Provincial Chapter: the consideration of Chapter Proposals.
Any Friar, Friary, province commission, the Definitory and/or the Minister Provincial may bring a proposal to the chapter delegates. Proposals can deal with anything that affects the lives of the friars in the province; many of the proposals at this chapter addressed revisions to our province statutes, while others asked for changes around the manner in which provincial chapters are conducted, to a simple name change for a province commission.
Some parts of this session seem a bit tedious, especially when discussion on a topic goes on for a long time, but this is part and parcel of the Chapter process. Issues are discussed openly and frankly with all points of view considered. After sitting through one of these sessions a number of us ask, “Why would anyone WANT to do this?” It’s the work that we are mandated to do and we have to respect the individual friars or groups of friars who took the time to formulate a proposal and present it to the Chapter delegates for consideration.
Bishop Oscar Cantu, the bishop of the Las Cruces diocese, served as the celebrant for our afternoon Eucharist. We were also joined by several young men who are considering a vocation to religious life. (As a matter of fact, one of the young men has already been accepted into our postulancy program.) While the small chapel was a bit overcrowded, we did our best to make everyone feel included and welcome.
In his homily Bishop Cantu thanked the Friars for their many contributions to building up the church in the diocese but he also encouraged us to look to the future. He spoke of the balance that we all have to maintain between ministry and prayer (it was the Memorial of St. Martha, so the theme was apropos). He shared the story of his time as a pastor in Houston, and how he would often have a newly-ordained priest assigned to his parish. In one instance, the young priest was bright and earnest, but then-pastor Cantu noticed that this young priest would only leave his door open slightly. One day, pastor Cantu knocked and he noticed that the young priest was pouring over his upcoming homily. He gently reminded the young priest that the closed door was sending the wrong signal to people. Yes, it is important to prepare your homily, but it is more important to be available to the people of the parish, and an open door, signals that openness.
After Evening Prayer, Friar Wayne Hellmann, a professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University gave a tour of the chapel under construction. The shell of the building is up and the interior spaces are defined so as Wayne explained the layout of the new Chapel and the spirituality behind the design choices it was easy to picture what this beautiful space will be like in a few months.
Evenings for the Chapter delegates are free for the most part. Some friars retire to their rooms to read or catch up on correspondence and many gather in the Small Conference Room to play cards, swap stories and relax. These are the moments that lift everyone’s spirits as everyone has a “Do you remember when….?” type of story. It’s a good time to catch up with one another and to renew the bonds of friendship and fraternity that we share.