FIRST STEP: TO KNOW OF AND EXPERIENCE SPIRITUALITY
In order for a “School of Gratitude” to be implemented, the person taking the initiative must first know of the spirituality of Franciscanos de María, and try to practice such spirituality He/She must also, at least theoretically, know how the schools work.
The spirituality of gratitude is one that has many facets, but that can be summarized in one word and in two figures as role models of that word. The word is gratitude and the figures are the Holy Virgin Mary and St. Francis of Assisi.
Gratitude is a human virtue that we all should practice to be truly mature human beings. From a merely human perspective, it is practiced towards may: our parents, who have given us our life; all those who have given or give us support and affection at one time or another; those who have helped us in economic or employment matters; those who have contributed to our formation and, a long, long etc. But above all, gratitude is a virtue with a deep Christian root for Christ wanted his liturgy, His perfect way of relating Good and Man, to be a “giving of thanks”, a “Eucharist”. To experience gratitude from a religious perspective, means to experience it from a human perspective and add the spiritual dimension to it, or, in other words: to introduce the debt of love we have with God to our reasons for being grateful and give gratitude the character of “obligation” both when applied to God and when applied to all men. The Christian is aware of God’s infinite love for him and knows that he has an “obligation” to be grateful to his Lord; he also knows that such gratitude is an obligation he has with his fellow men –his family, friends and all others that have in some way done something for him. The “school of gratitude” will try to awaken the awareness of that debt and those obligations in the “student” who attends it. It will thus be a question of becoming aware that God loves us and that there are many things in life that are going well, no matter how many others are going wrong. One attends the “school of gratitude” to learn to be grateful, to God and to our fellow men, and for this reason we must discover the reasons why we must be thankful.
If this is the spirituality, the two models that we members of Franciscanos de María have to try to live such spirituality are the Holy Virgin and St. Francis of Assisi.
It was St. Francis to whom the Lord revealed the pain he felt because man did not love him and only turned to Him to ask for things; the words expressed by the St. of Assisi “Love is unloved”, are an expression of the pain felt by true Christians when they understand that the Lord suffers when he does not find the live He is entitled to in men. To make others love the greatest Love, to make Christ, who is Love, be loved, and to begin to love him ourselves, is the object of the “missioners of gratitude” and, St. Francis, as we have said, is the historic model of the greatest magnitude.
As for the Holy Virgin, she, above all else, lived the spirituality since her pure heart held no other motive to love her divine Son than that of gratitude. If no one loves his son or daughter like his/her parent does, there is none other like Mary who can show us how to love Jesus. No shadow of selfishness or of fear existed in Mary with regard to Jesus. She did not do things because she desired to go to Heaven or for fear of going to hell though, naturally she wanted to spend eternity in paradise. Beyond her legitimate interest in salvation, that which stood out in the Immaculate Heart of Mary was her gratitude towards God. Her whole life –and we can assert this—was a true “Eucharist”, a continuous giving of thanks.
It is important to clarify from the start that both the Holy Virgin and St. Francis of Assisi are two fully catholic figures. Both, therefore, refer us to the full fidelity to the Church, to the Vicar of Christ on earth –the Pope—and to the diocesan Bishops, successors of the Apostles. There cannot be a shadow of a doubt regarding this aspect both in the person starting a group and in those participating in such group.
SECOND STEP: JOINING THE RIGHT PEOPLE TOGETHER
Know that we know what one seeks when resorting to a “school of gratitude”, to start one of these groups, one must perform a work of apostleship through which the school will be offered to those which we believe may be interested in delving in this human and religious experience. It is very important to clarify, from the start, that which is asserted at the end of the above paragraph: it is a Catholic group which always wishes to be in harmony with the Catholic Church, to be faithful to the Pope and the Bishops. In addition to this fidelity to the Church and its hierarchy, those invited to the “school” must also accept their fidelity not only to the spirituality but to the method.
This method consists in two parts. One is carried out during the group meeting and the other outside of the meeting. In the group meeting, which is referred to as the “school of gratitude”, the members conforming the group will share the results of their work during that week and will learn of the work that they are to do during the following week. What is important, therefore, is not that done at the meeting, but that done outside the meeting. The meeting is always a point of arrival and a point of departure. We arrive with what we have experienced during the week, and leave ready to perform new acts of love; the Lord’s presence among his disciples (Mt 18,20), if truly present, is what ensures that a gratifying, comforting, illuminating encounter with Christ himself is produced during the meeting and that one leaves with a greater drive, a greater desire to love and make Christ be loved. The weekly “task” consists in personally fulfilling three complementary and equally important tasks. The first is that concerning the spiritual life (daily prayer, daily mass, when possible, and frequent confession). The second refers to formation (within our daily prayers we must find the time to meditate on the reasons why we are grateful to God, especially those stated in the monthly Topic of Formation). The third concerns practicing the Gospel as a concrete demonstration of our love for God (it consists in practicing the weekly purpose, referred to as the “word of life”, taken from Sunday’s Gospel). As we have previously stated, in addition to this task that the member of the “school” must carry out in his/her daily life, and which is reviewed in the meeting, all members of Franciscanos de María are invited (an invitation which becomes a commitment for those who have made their promises) to carryout volunteer activities to serve the needy, whenever possible.
Everyone can be invited to the “schools of gratitude”, including those who participate in other spiritual movements of the Church, as long as this done not produce confusion and that the experience that learned in the “school” as something complementary to what they learn at other places. The group may be made up by married and single individuals, young or older. It would be advisable to seek the greatest possible uniformity: similar ages or similar marital status; for example, a “school of gratitude” for youths, or married couples, or women. In this way delve deeper in the communication sin the similarity of the situations helps to increase the comprehension between the members of the school.
THIRD STEP: TO GROW IN UNITY
Knowing what we want to do and having someone to do it with, we must then get in touch with the source from which this spirituality has emerged. This unity with the source is essential to grow in a straight and coherent way, without deviations. Otherwise, one can slip into the manipulation of an ecclesiastic charisma, wrongfully swiping a name and a project. Though the “schools of gratitude” have a broad degree of autonomy, practicing this spirituality entails doing so in unity, since without unity, love is absent and without love, there can be no gratitude.
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, or to the coordinator of Franciscanos de María in any country (see the Contact section on this same web page).
Franciscanos de María wishes to fill the world with individuals that live a relationship with God and their fellow human beings based on gratitude. Persons who in addition to approaching the Lord to ask for His help, also come to His side to give Him thanks and offer themselves to Him. Our dream is to fill the world with Christians that have such a relationship with God that if St. Francis should again have the vision he had, he would be laughing and not crying after this vision and saying: “Love is loved”. We want to love and have others love, Love. And that is why we call ourselves the “missioners of gratitude”. But none of this is possible without unity –to the hierarchy of the Church and among us–, since an essential requirement of evangelization is God’s action, since it is He who touches the hearts of men and fills them with the flame of his love. And it was He who said, in that prayer to the Father spoken as a testament shortly before he died: “Father, may they all be one so that the world may believe”. Without unity no apostolic effectiveness is possible and our mission will be condemned to failure.