FNE and the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi  

Reprinted from The Explorer vol. 2 – Fall 2014 of The Explorer.

I would like to call the reader’s attention to a very important (in my opinion) address by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Without Gloss: Francis of Assisi and Western Catholicism

The figure of St. Francis of Assisi looms large in the Federation of European Scouting (FSE), of which the Federation of North-American Explorers (FNE) is a small part. St. Francis is the patron saint of our boy Timber Wolves (St. Clare of Assisi of our girl Timber Wolves; together, the patrons of the entire yellow branch), and our male Wayfarers (Rovers) wear a brown neckerchief in the Franciscan spirit (in addition, it is a square necker rather than the usual triangular one to symbolize their willingness to share with those in need). Our goal is to help our young men and women learn how to live a life of simplicity, joy, and freedom — much like St. Francis himself, who, as His Grace points out, is rightly remembered “for his joy and freedom of spirit.” It is not simply for his “gentle love of nature” that St. Francis is a patron of our movement. Like their patron, our Timber Wolves are very devoted to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament:

In his biography of Francis, Augustine Thompson — the Dominican author — notes that Francis had a passionate devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It was the heart of his life. The Mass was the grounding for all his work. There’s no way of reinterpreting Francis in generically do-gooder or humanitarian terms. He had hard words for those who oppressed the poor, but even harsher words for those who ignored the Eucharistic presence.

FNE Timber Wolves and Explorers adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament at summer camp

One thing that strikes me about St. Francis is how he is countercultural in every age. Abp. Chaput points out that, were he alive today, St. Francis would be seen as a “religious crank.” But this attitude is not unique to moderns. St. Francis was disinherited by his own father and later fought his own brother friars who wanted to modify the Franciscan rule “to the times, and make it less demanding.” How often do we hear today of how this organization or that must change its teachings to conform to contemporary attitudes, whether it be in the Church, with calls for the ordination of women or the reception of Holy Communion for those in irregular marriages, or even among youth movements tracing their origin to the work of Lord Baden-Powell, with calls to abandon the traditional Promise (or Oath) and to modify the Law to make it relevant for today’s youth. St. Francis reminds us that we must stay true to our principles even in the face of opposition from today’s culture.

Timber Wolf joy and freedom

The joy and freedom of the Timber Wolf

Before I close, I would like to call attention to two articles on the UIGSE-FSE web site. The first is a brief recounting of the status of our movement today:

The UIGSE Today

The author reminds us that the Law was given to us by our founders and it is not something that can be changed to keep up with society:

The talks that we regularly have with the Pontifical Council for the Laity comfort us and encourage us to go on working at the service of families and youth, not in a “new wave” scouting but on the contrary by releasing nothing of what is the heart of our proposal. The values which are at the centre of our method cannot be changed. Technology, philosophy, fashion, habits or other things have no grip on what we want to be, because our values are anchored on natural morals, which is at the basis of any education. We can observe it during the last forty years: every time an association has put in perspective* the scout law, it has been gradually deleted. These examples should help us not to fall into the trap of fashions or momentary mistakes but on the contrary to do our best to make as many boys and girls as possible discover the scout joy and share it around them.

*This is a literal translation but I think a better way of putting it into English would be “relativized” or “made a matter of opinion.”

The second is a wonderful talk was given at a conference for FSE religious advisers. While it has not yet been translated (at least not officially!) into English, those who read French can read it in its entirety here:

La Loi Scout. Le Programme d’une Vie Droite et Attrayante (“The Explorer Law: A Program of a Righteous and Attractive Life”)

There are many beautiful exhortations and reminders in this talk. For example, the author reminds us that Lord Baden-Powell (in Rovering to Success) reminds young people to resist the tendency to go along with the crowd:

I think the idea of B-P’s, when he invited young people to go against the current, to know how to “paddle your own canoe,” is still extremely valuable today, when fad and fashion, so to speak, and even thought are so influenced by the mass media. And cuckoos and charlatans are found everywhere, unfortunately also in high places!

However, the author does devote a section to St. Francis of Assisi and this is worth quoting at length (my apologies for the translation):

St. Francis was chosen as the patron of Timber Wolves because he is a saint full of goodness, gentleness, and sensitivity. He is strong. His figure is not steeped in legend as is that of St. George, but is concrete, historical, and documented.

And yet there is also about St. Francis a legendary aura of candor, present especially in the “Fioretti” [the Little Flowers of St. Francis, stories from the saint’s life and work]. But it must be a candor born of wonder, felt the brothers who followed the master, enchanted by his holy simplicity and his friendship with animals both mild and fierce. The Saint spoke to them with the simplicity of heart of one who has gotten rid of all human “packaging” before developing an appetite for luxury, power, or success.

This behavior is full of instruction for Timber Wolves, boy and girl, and can fill us, especially leaders, with shame, if we fail to match this sensibility — happy in freedom from greed — with our own — sometimes too dependent on the opinions and requirements expressed by what we call “society,” an ambiguous word that allows us to justify ourselves perhaps a little too quickly.

And yet, one who has learned to take the road less traveled, who has enjoyed the water of clear mountain streams, who has felt the goodness, beauty, and warmth of the evening fire, who has felt his face touched by a warm breeze on a spring day or whipped by the cutting wind of winter, who has helped a brother in difficulty, shared with him a last sip of water, can understand the message of the revolutionary “Poverello” [little poor man] of Assisi. This message is not revolutionary merely because of the refusal or extreme reduction of wealth — for which, nevertheless, many men sacrifice attachments, time, and energy — but because it is a message of simplicity, and only those who are as simple as children enter the kingdom.

Thus it is that whoever drives in a car can hear the whisper of wind through the woods in a mysterious rustling; thus it is that one cannot stop himself from facing, in ecstasy, the splendor of a hidden mountain flower giving glory to its Creator with all its beauty, impossible to reproduce.

In the message of St. Francis, there is great poetry, great philosophy, and especially a great faith that pacifies the soul of one who does not deal in the petty quarreling and desires of the rich.

Let’s do what we can to keep the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi in our own lives and in the lives of the youth we serve. As Abp. Chaput puts it in his closing paragraph:

From the cross at San Damiano, Jesus said to Francis: Repair my house, which is falling into ruin. Those same words are meant for every Christian life and home and parish. How we respond is up to us.

Lord Baden-Powell on the proper size of a Troop  

One Reason why a Troop should not Exceed Thirty-two

from Chapter 55 of Aids to Scoutmastership

I have said in Scouting for Boys that so far as my own experience went I could not train individually more than sixteen boys — but allowing for my having only half the capacity of the experienced boy-worker, the Scoutmaster, I allowed for his taking on thirty-two.

Men talk of having fine Troops of 60 or even 100 — Cadet Companies even run to 120 — and their officers tell me that their boys are equally well trained as in smaller Troops. I express admiration (“admiration” literally translated means “surprise”), and I don’t believe them.

Why worry about individual training? they ask. Because it is the only way by which you can educate. You can instruct any number of boys, a thousand at a time if you have a loud voice and attractive methods or disciplinary means. But that is not training — it is not education.

Education is the thing that counts in building character and in making men.

The incentive to perfect himself, when properly instilled into the individual, brings about his active effort on the line most suitable to his temperament and powers.

New FNE Groups!  

In addition to our new group in Memphis, Tennessee, the following groups are also forming:

  • Staff of St. Joseph FNE (with Timber Wolf and Explorer units for girls) in Mableton (Archdiocese of Atlanta), Georgia; and
  • Ave Maria FNE (with a Timber Wolf Den for boys) in Ave Maria, Florida.

Our existing groups in this region of the United States also include:

  • Stella Maris FNE (with Timber Wolf, Explorer, and Otter units for boys; starting a girls’ program in the fall of 2015) in Miama, Florida;
  • Divine Mercy FNE (with Timber Wolf and Explorer units for boys and girls) in O’Brien, Florida; and
  • Crusaders of the Holy Cross FNE (with Timber Wolf and Explorer units for boys) in Atlanta, Georgia.
Members of our Atlanta and Miami groups gather for a joint camp

Members of our Atlanta and Miami groups gather for a joint camp

To learn more about the Federation of North-American Explorers, please visit our national web site at www.fneexplorers.com, and contact our general commissioner Paul Ritchi at info@fneexplorers.com with any questions.

Chivalry and Fair Play  

The code of the medieval knights has been the foundation for the conduct of gentlemen ever since the day around A.D. 500, when King Arthur made the rules for his Knights of the Round Table.

The romance of the Knights has its attraction for all boys and has its appeal to their moral sense. Their Code of Chivalry included Honour, Self-Discipline, Courtesy, Courage, Selfless Sense of Duty and Service, and the guidance of Religion.

The rules as they were republished in the time of Henry VII are as follows:–

  • They were never to put off their armour, except for the purpose of rest at night.
  • They were to search for adventures wherein to attain “bruyt and renown.”
  • To defend the poor and weak.
  • To give help to any who should ask it in a just quarrel.
  • Not to offend one another.
  • To fight for the defence and welfare of their country.
  • To work for honour rather than profit.
  • Never to break a promise for any reason whatever.
  • To sacrifice themselves for the honour of their country.
  • “Sooner choose to die honestly than to flee shamefully.”

The ideals of the Knights and the idea of fair play is above all the one which can be best instilled into boys and leads them to that strong view of justice which should be part of their character, if they are going to make really good citizens.

This habit of seeing things from the other fellow’s point of view can be developed in outdoor games where fair play is essential, whether it is in “Flag Raiding” or “Dispatch Running.” During the game the strictest rules are observed which mean self-restraint and good temper on the part of the players, and at the end it is the proper form that the victor should sympathise with the one who is conquered, and that the opponent should be the first to cheer and congratulate the winner.

This should be made the practice until it becomes the habit.

A further valuable aid to the training in fairness is the holding of debates amongst the boys on subjects that interest them and which lend themselves to argument on both sides. This is to get them into the way of recognizing that every important question has two sides to it, and that they should not be carried away by the eloquence of one orator before they have heard what the defender of the other side has to say on the subject, and that they should then weigh the evidence of both sides for themselves before making up their mind which part they should take.

A practical step in ensuring this is not to vote by show of hands, where the hesitating or inattentive boy votes according to the majority. Each should record his vote “ay” or “no” on a slip of paper and hand it in. This ensures his making up his mind for himself after duly weighing both sides of the question.

In the same, way mock trials or arbitration of quarrels, if carried out seriously and on the lines of a law court, are of the greatest value in teaching the boys the same idea of justice and fair play, and also give them a minor experience of what their civic duties may be as jurymen or witnesses later on. The Court of Honour in the Troop is another step in the same direction, and as the boys here have a real responsibility by being members of the Court, the seriousness of their views is brought home to them all the more, and encourages them to think out carefully the right line to take when they have heard all the arguments on both sides.

–Lord Baden-Powell, Aids to Scoutmastership (1920)

FNE comes to the Volunteer State!  

Please welcome Tennessee to the FNE family! By approval of our general commissioner, we are pleased to announce the formation of 1st Holy Family FNE, St. Joseph Explorer Troop and Timber Wolf Den in Memphis, Tennessee. Prayers and a big welcome to our new brothers in the South!

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