Franciscans from all corners of the nation arrived in Buffalo to be inspired and enlightened at the annual Franciscan Federation Conference. Over 250 sisters, brothers, priests, and a few seculars who have answered the Third Order Regular call gathered at the Adam's Mark in downtown Buffalo for the weekend beginning June 16.
"We are open to having anyone with a Franciscan heart here," explained Sister Louise Hembrecht, a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wis.
Through guest speakers and discussions, these annual meetings allow members of the federation to study some aspects of the Franciscan charism. This year's focus is on Bonaventure's Journey into God. Nationally-known speakers Andre Cirino, OFM; Josef Raischl, OFS; and Sister Joanne Schatzleain, OSF presented over the weekend.
"I have always found it an enriching experience in developing and living that Franciscan charism - what it means to be Franciscan in today's world. It's educational, it's inspirational, it's spiritual and it's renewing friendships," Sister Louise said.
Sister Kathleen Uhler, OSF, president of the federation, gave an opening address concerning democratized mysticism, a term distilled from "The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance" by Dorothee Soelle, which she hoped would serve as a tool for the assembly.
"Democratized mysticism is a tool whereby we can live the humility of equality. We can let go of the need to affirm ourselves, our ego," she said.
Sister Kathleen, who ministered in Buffalo for 14 years, recalled a retreat she had in Allegany a few years ago when she decided to dive deep into St. Bonaventure's triple way - prayer leading to purification, illumination and union.
"Three days later, I was on the verge of a mental and physical collapse," she said. "The triple way overwhelmed me. I couldn't get my head around it, and I didn't have the physical energy to delve into this immense text with a deceptively simple name."
She went on to say, that to appreciate best what the speakers have to say, one should be a mystic.
As a postulant, Sister Kathleen thought she was a mystic and she offered three signs of mysticism. The first, obvious to all in her audience, was to understand their call.
"For some, the call came in third grade. For others, like myself, it came in high school during a retreat. And for some, I think the call was muted that became clearer over time," she said. "In all of these cases there was a blessed assurance that there was somehow something Godlike was entrancing us. Some people have had only one mystical experience in their life and it has sustained them to the end."
She explained the three mystic experiences. The first being mindfulness - engagement of pure now without distraction. The second is being alert in the now to mystery. This could be feeling an unexplained power by word or fragrance. Sister Kathleen heard Corinthians II at a retreat in a new way.
"A mystical experience takes the veil away, and we either hear a truth or see the world in a whole new way which was always there," she said.
The third way is being alert to contradictions. Understanding Trinity as one God in three forms is a good example.
"We can understand how a good thing and its opposite can fuse or synthesize into something new, a new creation on a higher plane," she said.
Sister Margaret Carney, OSF, former president of St. Bonaventure University, led the opening ritual of the event. Bishop Richard J. Malone celebrated Mass on Sunday for them. Next year's federation meeting will again take place in Buffalo.