In this article, I want to raise some questions about one of those texts delivered at the General Chapter and which has been translated and distributed around the world as recommended reading for all Secular Franciscans (click here for an example of how it is presented in the USA). I am not a theologian, but I would describe the 17-page text “Evangelized to Evangelize” by Fr. Fernando Ventura, OFM Cap., as rambling, confusing, unclear, incoherent, vulgar (see his use of a swear word on p. 2), almost certainly blasphemous, and possibly heretical. The text seems to aim at being poetic and literary, but ends up sounding distinctly New Age.
For the purpose of formation, Fr. Ventura’s text is at best questionable, and in my opinion quite probably dangerous to the faith of Secular Franciscans. I am no theological expert. I am simply a baptized, confirmed, and professed lay tertiary. But as far as I can tell, the text promotes multiple errors including indifferentism, universalism, and a false Franciscan spirituality. I will phrase my concerns as questions rather than direct accusations, because I am not really qualified to judge these statements as definite errors.
Here are some of the themes that stand out to me as questionable:
1) Blasphemy against the Blessed Virgin Mary and those who venerate her
Fr. Ventura writes: “Not long ago people were running behind the images of the virgins that would weep blood. And they were shouting at the miracle! Bands of hysterical and historical people! We do not realize that the miracle of our time is not the plastic images that cry glue, but rather that our brothers and sisters stop crying” (page 6).Is Fr. Ventura denying or mocking apparitions of Our Lady, and those who believe in them?
2) Indifferentism and possible heresy
Fr. Ventura writes on page 6: “What is the status of the Spirit in Genesis? He is alone. He is unmarried. This is the first sentence of the Bible. Let’s take a leap. We will land in the last book of the Bible, almost the last sentence of Revelation 22, 17. ‘The Spirit and the bride say come.’ Status: ‘Married.’ A single God in Genesis, ends up married in the Apocalypse. And married to whom? With creation! What is the opposite of ‘polygamy’? Monotony! We don’t have a monotonous God, but a God who is polygamous. Married with creation. With all peoples, with all cultures, religions, philosophies ... and if we don’t understand this, then we don’t understand anything” (emphasis in the original).
I suspect it is blasphemous and possibly heretical to call God polygamous, and incorrect to say God is married with creation. Isn’t the Bride of Christ the Catholic Church? Also, this quote implies that God agrees with all religions and philosophies – which sounds a lot like indifferentism.
On page 15, this theme is repeated: “A passionate heart, a heart not solitary; married to life and to the world, just as God married the whole creation... no exceptions ... God married all … even the Catholics.” The “even the Catholics” part sounds like a joke. Is Fr. Ventura being snarky about the Faith?
3) Indifferentism and bizarre theology
Fr. Ventura writes on page 5, “What is God’s religion? In whom does God believe? Do we have a God who is an atheist? We have a God made like us. I am God’s religion. We are God’s religion. This is a punch in the stomach, but we still don’t have it clear. Catholics have the crazy idea that God is Catholic, Protestants believe that God is Protestant. Muslims, that God is Muslim. Jews that God is Jewish.”
This statement is simply bizarre. God is not made like us. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Fr. Ventura seems to imply God does not care what anyone’s religion is, and that all religions are the same and worship the same God.
Referring to Isaiah 25:6-8, on page 8 Fr. Ventura writes: “Here is the Eucharistic text of the Old Testament. Here’s the challenge of intimacy dreamed. This is Isaiah. What is the theme behind the text? It’s a meal. Who is the cook? GOD! Who invites to the meal? GOD! Who are the guests? All the people, including Catholics.”
Does he mean that everyone can receive Holy Communion? The phrase “including Catholics” is odd – isn’t it precisely the baptized who are in communion with the Pope who may receive Holy Communion?
On page 13, Fr. Ventura writes: “What is at stake is the construction of a society, a kingdom where everyone can be and feels free to be himself, in full relation, complete, and definitive.”
Does he mean that everyone should be free to do and believe whatever he wants? There are no standards of morality, or proper ordering of freedom?
Does Fr. Ventura deny the Garden of Eden existed?
On page 6 he writes: “From Genesis, we have to yearn for the past, or desire the future. Paradise, as it is in the Bible, never existed. It’s not about mourning a paradise lost, it’s about crying and shouting for a future paradise. We are here for that reason, not to lick our tears, but to wipe the tears of others. This is the miracle that the world awaits."
4) Immanentism and materialism
This statement sounds New Age and raises the question whether Fr. Ventura means that God is not in heaven, but only in the created universe:
This theme is repeated on page 8, “Where is God? He is not a God in a distant heaven.”
“The God of Abraham, of Isaac, Jacob, Jesus Christ, is not a God of a distant heaven, but a God of the here and now. A gypsy God, of the road, of the dust, and of the wind. He is YOUR (familiar) God” (page 7).
And again, on page 15: “... it will be possible to understand that those who can really ‘see God’ are those who are able to see the others ... because God is not in any distant heaven, but here, in the right now, in the life and the time which is already eternity and it is now. The God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, is not a God of a distant heaven, but a God of ‘earth,’ a God ‘Gypsy,’ of the road, of dust and wind, a companion God, a God of you, and, therefore, a God of relationship. Thus, because of this, God lets us ‘see’, to ‘touch’, and is not preserved in terms of relation.”
A main point of the text is that it is important to help people. I agree that it is good and necessary to help people, but I thought the primary Christian calling is to get to heaven, and help others get to heaven. Indeed, isn’t evangelization primarily about spreading the Good News of salvation, and secondarily about service and material assistance? But Fr. Ventura seems to reverse these priorities.
On p. 12 he writes: “It is not therefore a delay of any hope of happiness for the future, but a personal and not transferable pledge, to now, for now. It is now, it is immediate, it is this time, in this space, and on earth, it’s already time, space, and land of eternity where there are people whose rights are violated, suffering, starving, who have no right to be human.”
Fr. Ventura obscures the meaning of death and resurrection, seemingly ignoring the Church’s teaching on the Four Last Things (death, judgment, heaven and hell). He seems to suggest that everyone goes to heaven, and asserts Masses for the dead should not be said.
On page 10, Fr. Ventura writes, “…the moment of death is the moment of the definitive encounter with God, therefore, the moment of death is the moment of resurrection!”
Does he mean that at death, everyone is “resurrected,” in the sense that everyone goes to heaven?
Again, on p. 11, he writes: “There are still many - too many - circumstances in which we hear of ‘celebrate Masses for the dead’! How is it possible? For where is the certainty that Christians have of the resurrection? ... If Christ is really risen, in the expression ‘to celebrate Masses for the dead’ we have no less than two gross errors. First, in the risen Christ there are no dead but living; in the second, we do not have the right to celebrate Masses for the dead but to celebrate the Eucharist ...”Does Fr. Ventura mean to say that no one goes to hell (i.e., the second death, as St. Francis of Assisi called it), or to purgatory? I thought it is Catholic doctrine that souls in purgatory benefit from our prayers, and that souls in hell are not with the risen Christ.
6) Dehumanizing, judgmental attacks
It is very odd that someone who preaches inclusion, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation engages in very unfriendly attacks on fellow Franciscans.
Fr. Ventura seems to demean faithful people (and uses odd phraseology) when he says, “It is time to turn the tables (the omelet). It’s time to feel that we don’t have the right to say we have a religion, because this is the time to understand that we have a religion that possesses us. People of religion are unbearable. People living with a belly full of God and what comes from within, are nothing more than mystical breezes, which do not touch anyone’s life” (page 2).
Later on, he further accuses:
“It’s the hysterical foolishness of hysterical people, who live crouching in fear before God, and live like chickens in a poultry house, in front of others. (We have many people like this in our communities.)” (pages 5-6).
“And this [is what] we have. People coming to suck, parasites -- of the Church, parasites of the order, parasites of the fraternities, of the convents and monasteries. We are fed up with these people!” (page 7).
In contrast to the confused words of Fr. Ventura, St. Francis himself is a clear and simple guide to the religious life. I think it’s important for Secular Franciscans to get back to basics, and formation materials should emphasize the fundamental teachings of the Seraphic Father.
St. Francis of Assisi was above all an uncompromising Catholic, and of paramount concern to him was proper worship and reverence for the Holy Eucharist. A few quotations from his texts reveal the zeal of his Catholic faith. For an example of this, see his “On Reverence for the Lord’s Body and on the Cleanliness of the Altar,” which some sources preface with this greeting from the saint: “To my reverend masters in Christ; to all the clerics who are in the world and live conformably to the rules of the Catholic faith: brother Francis, their least one and unworthy servant, sends greeting with the greatest respect and kissing their feet.”
In the First Rule of the Friars Minor (no. 19), St. Francis writes: “Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. But if anyone should err from the Catholic faith and life in word or in deed, and will not amend, let him be altogether expelled from our fraternity. And let us hold all clerics and religious as our masters in those things which regard the salvation of souls, if they do not deviate from our religion, and let us reverence their office and order and administration in the Lord.”
In the Second Rule, St. Francis writes that of those who wish to be Franciscans, “let the ministers diligently examine them regarding the Catholic faith and the Sacraments of the Church. And if they believe all these things, and if they will confess them faithfully and observe them firmly to the end” they may enter the Order (no. 2).
Holy father St. Francis also says, “Moreover, I enjoin on the ministers, by obedience, that they ask of the Lord Pope one of the Cardinals of the holy Roman Church to be governor, protector, and corrector of this brotherhood, so that being always subject and submissive at the feet of the same holy Church, grounded in the Catholic faith, we may observe poverty and humility and the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we have firmly promised” (no. 12).
In his Testament, St. Francis writes: “this is a remembrance, a warning, and an exhortation and my Testament which I, little Brother Francis, make for you, my blessed brothers, in order that we may observe in a more Catholic way the Rule which we have promised to the Lord.”
A final example: in the Letter to All the Faithful, St. Francis writes, “We ought also to fast and to abstain from vices and sins and from superfluity of food and drink, and to be Catholics. We ought also to visit Churches frequently and to reverence clerics not only for themselves, if they are sinners, but on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others. And let us all know for certain that no one can be saved except by the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the holy words of the Lord which clerics say and announce and distribute and they alone administer and not others.”
Such quotations are refreshing reminders of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.
I think that Fr. Ventura has a very clever title for his text, “Evangelized to evangelize.” But what exactly is evangelization? The US Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “Evangelizing means bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself.” And what is the Good News, what is the power of the Gospel? That Jesus Christ through his suffering and death has saved us from our sins, saved us from the second death, saved us from hell. That was Christ’s primary mission.
Whatever wisdom or valid Christian inspiration may be found in Fr. Ventura’s text, it is overshadowed by the questionable and apparently heterodox statements cited above. Used as formation material rather than edification, this text may well lead the faithful into confusion and away from the Good News. Fr. Ventura’s text certainly does not admonish Franciscans to be aware of the seriousness of personal sin and the necessity for salvation of being a baptized, practicing member of the One True Church established by Our Lord, as St. Francis did in the most strict and urgent terms. I believe that the future of the Secular Franciscan Order lies in the clear, truly evangelical example of its founder.
Benjamin J. Vail, OFS, is a Secular Franciscan from the USA living with his family in Brno, Czech Republic.
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