First step: TO KNOW AND TO LIVE THE SPIRITUALITY
To start a “school of gratitude,” it is necessary that he who has the initiative to begin is acquainted with the spirituality of the Franciscans of Mary and this trying to practice it. You also need to know, at least in theory, the method of operation of the schools.
The spirituality of appreciation is a spirituality that has many facets, but that can be summed up in one word and in two characters as models for living that word. The word is gratitude and the characters are the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Francis of Assisi.
Gratitude is a human virtue that we should all practice in order to be true mature human beings. This merely human perspective is practiced by many: parents, who have given us life; all that give or have given us at some point support and affection; those who have helped us in economic or work issues; those who have contributed to our training, and so on. But, above all, gratitude is a virtue that has deep Christian roots, as it is not in vain that Christ wanted his liturgy, his perfect way of relating to God with men, to be a “thanksgiving”, a “Eucharist”. To live gratitude from a religious perspective means to live it from a human perspective and add the spiritual dimension, or similarly: to introduce into the motives of gratitude the debt of love we have for God and give the gratitude the character of “duty”, both when it is applied to God as when applied to men. The Christian is aware of the infinite love that God has for him, and knows that he owes the Lord a debt of gratitude; he also knows that gratitude is an obligation toward the neighbor – family, friends and all the others who have done something for him in some way. The “School of gratitude” is going to try to awaken in the “student” that attends her, the consciousness of this debt and of those duties. It will try, therefore, to make the student aware that God loves us and that there are many things in life that are going well, for as many others that may be going wrong. One attends the “school of gratitude” to learn to thank God and neighbor, and for that it is necessary to discover what the reasons for gratitude are.
If this is the spirituality, the two models we have to live it as Franciscans of Mary are the Blessed Virgin and St Francis of Assisi.
Saint Francis was the one to whom the Lord revealed his pain because men did not love him, and only came to Him to ask him for things; the words of the saint of Assisi: “Love is not loved”, is an expression of the pain true Christians feel when they realize that the Lord suffers when not finding in men the love to which they are entitled. Loving Love, love Christ who is Love, and begin to love oneself is the goal of the “Missionaries of appreciation” and, as has been said, have in Saint Francis a historical model of the first magnitude.
With regard to the Blessed Virgin, she more than anyone lived this spirituality, for in her pure heart there could be another motivation to love her divine Son than with gratitude. If no one loves a son as much as his father or his mother, only one like Mary can teach us to love Jesus. In her there was no shadow of selfishness in relating to Jesus, nor of fear. She didn´t face life with the desire to go to heaven or fear of going to hell, although, of course, her desire was to be to spend her whole eternity in paradise. Beyond the legitimate interest of being saved, what counted in the Immaculate Heart of Mary was gratitude toward God. All her life, we can say, was a real “Eucharist,” a continuous action of thanks.
It is important to clarify from the beginning that the Blessed Virgin Mary, as St. Francis of Assisi, are two persons, one hundred per cent Catholic. Both refer us, therefore, to full fidelity to the Catholic Church, to the Vicar of Christ on earth – the Pope and to the diocesan Bishops, successors of the Apostles. No shadow of doubt can be on this aspect, both in which the leader and participants involved in a new group adhere.
Second Step: TO BRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE TOGETHER
Already knowing what you are looking for when starting a “school of gratitude,” putting into place one of these groups, it is necessary to carry out an apostolic work which we can offer to those that we believe may be interested in this deeper human and religious experience. It is very important to make it clear from the beginning as was stated at the end of the previous section: it is a Catholic group that wants to be always in tune with the Catholic Church, faithful to the Pope and the Bishops. In addition to this fidelity to the Church and its hierarchy, the persons invited to the “school” must also accept the fidelity not only to the spirituality but to the method.
This method consists of two parts. One is done at the meeting of the working group and the other outside of it. Within the group reunion, properly called “school of gratitude,” the members are going to integrate the results of their work during the week and they are going to be aware of the work that must be done during the following week. What is important then, is not what is done at the group meeting, but what is done out of it. The meeting is always a point of arrival and a point of departure. It comes with the experiences during the week and goes out to carry out further acts of love; the presence of the Lord in the midst of the disciples (Mt 18, 20) is the one that guarantees, if truth is present, that during the holding of the meeting it is a rewarding, comforting, illuminating encounter with Christ himself and one leaves the school with a momentum, with a greater readiness to love and to love Christ. The weekly “homework” consists in the personal fulfillment of three tasks, complementary and equally important. The first concerns spiritual life (daily prayer, daily mass when possible, frequent confession). The second refers to the formation (within the daily prayer there should be a time of meditation on the reasons for gratitude to God, especially those that are indicated in the Training Topic of the month). The third relates to the practice of the Gospel as a concrete demonstration of love to the Lord (consists in the implementation of the weekly purpose, called “word of life,” taken from the Sunday Gospel). As has been said, in addition to this task that the member of the “school” should carry out in normal life and review at the meeting, all Franciscans of Mary, (this invitation is converted into a commitment for those who have made promises) are invited to carry out voluntary activities in the service of those in need, whenever possible.
All can be invited to the “schools of gratitude,” including those who participate in other movements of spirituality in the Church, provided that they don´t create confusion and they experience what they learn in the “school” as complementary to what they learn in other sites. The group can be with people married or unmarried, young or old. It would be desirable to seek the greatest possible homogeneity: similar ages or similar civil situations; for example: a “school of appreciation” of young people, or married couples, or ladies. In this way, you can develop deeper communication, since the similarity of situations helps the understanding among the members of the school be greater.
Third step: TO GROW IN UNITY
Already knowing what they want to do and expecting someone to do it, then there should be communication with the Source of this spirituality. This unity with the source it is imperative to grow in a coherent and straight way, with no deviations. Otherwise, you can fall into the manipulation of an ecclesial charism, unduly appropriating a name and a project. While the “schools of appreciation” enjoy a large degree of autonomy, the practice of this spirituality is supposed to do it all in unity because without unity there is no love and without love there is no appreciation.
To learn more about any requirement that is needed, it can be done by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or to the coordinator that the Franciscans of Mary have in each country (see the contact us section on this web site).
The desire of the Franciscans of Mary, as has been said, is to fill the world with people who live a relationship with God and with one another based on gratitude. Individuals who, in addition to approaching the Lord to ask for his help, go also to His side to thank Him and to offer themselves to Him. Our dream would be to fill the world with Christians who live a relationship with God in such a way that, if Saint Francis could regain the vision he had, he would be laughing and crying at the same time, saying: “Love is loved”. We want to love Love and make others love Him. That is why we call ourselves “missionaries of the Appreciation”. But none of this will be possible without the unity to the hierarchy of the Church and among ourselves, because the evangelization has as a prerequisite the action of God, since it is He who touches the hearts of men, and enkindles in them the fire of His love. And it was he who said, in prayer to the Father pronounced as testament shortly before his death: “Father, that they all may be one so that the world may believe”. Without unity, there is no apostolic effectiveness possible and our mission will be doomed to failure.