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of Saint Francis of Assisi?

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The Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) is a branch of the world-wide Franciscan Family. We are single and married. Some of us are diocesan clergy. We work, worship and play in the community where we live.

The SFO was established by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago. Our purpose is to bring the gospel to life where we live and where we work. We look for practical ways to embrace the gospel in our lives and try to help others to do likewise.

A local group of Secular Franciscans is probably meeting near you. Please use this map to locate your closest fraternity or feel free to contact one of the members of our Regional Executive Council who will be happy to put you in touch with a Fraternity near you.

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All local Secular Franciscan fraternities in the United States are organized into one of 30 regions. The Saint Katharine Drexel Region includes parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. There are currently 27 local fraternities in the region. We are under the patronage of St. Katharine Drexel, who was a Secular Franciscan and whose feast we celebrate on March 3rd.

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Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director - April, 2019

Brothers and Sisters,

May the Lord give you peace!

I am humbled to have been elected to serve you as St. Katharine Drexel Region director of formation. I would like to continue the practice of my predecessor, our brother Ted Bienkowski, OFS, by posting something for formation on a monthly basis. My format will be a PDF file that can be printed out (two sides of one sheet) and used for individual reflection or as a discussion piece for ongoing formation in a fraternity meeting or similar setting. This month, I consider how early 13th century penitents influenced St. Francis and how penance became the founding charism of our own Secular Franciscan Order. I  welcome your questions, comments or suggestions. Thank you!

Pax et bonum,

Justin Carisio, OFS

Director of Formation

St. Katharine Drexel Region

Francis of Assisi, Penitent
One of the easiest ways to misunderstand Saint Francis is to overlook how much he was a man of his times influenced by the environments in which he found himself: family, city, culture, and church (including one of the great church councils). In the Secular Franciscan Ceremony of Introduction and Welcome (1), the person who is being introduced to the fraternity is handed a biography of Saint Francis by the formation director and told “to read it carefully, in order to learn how to live the gospel life of our Lord Jesus Christ by following [Francis’s] example.” One hopes if it is the first biography of the saint a potential inquirer reads, it will not be the last. There is always more to learn about his remarkable witness and the world in which he lived.

An aspect of his life we should not lose sight of is that before Francis was a friar, he was a penitent, and in a very real sense, he remained a penitent all his life. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Church experienced a resurgence in penitential lifestyles as “vast numbers of the laity became voluntary penitents.” (2) Francis’s conversion took place in that context. It is likely his encounter with penitential groups influenced his vision of a life of penance and the expectations he had for penitents who later became associated with his own movement. What were some specific characteristics of Franciscan penitents? Consider a few described by Raffaele Pazzelli, TOR, in his history of the Third Order:

  • Adherence to Catholicism and fidelity to the Church. “[The penitents’] beliefs and lifestyle…correspond to Francis’s basic principle of complete adherence to Catholicism and absolute fidelity to the Church” (3)
  • High regard for the sacraments and the priesthood. “Francis understood that, according to the teachings of Christ, no spiritual life was possible without the Eucharist [and] without the sacrament of penance there would be no remission of sin. Eucharist and penance, in their turn, cannot exist without the ministry of the priesthood.” (4)
  • Penance is a journey to God. “The ‘life of penance’ is a road of ascent and a means for this ascent. This is a fundamental point of spirituality for Franciscan penitents, those of yesterday as well as today.” (5)
  • The spirit of love is part of the life of penance. The “relationship of love between God and man, between God and creation…is for Francis the only light, the only reality.”(6)

If we attend to this history, we readily appreciate that Francis’s own message of penance and conversion often fell upon fertile soil ready to receive it. Many Catholics of his day were ardent in their desire to imagine a way to live the gospel life in their own time and place and to do so literally. It is no wonder that the example of Francis and his brothers inspired so many. Francis went on to found the Order of Lesser Brothers—the Friars Minor—but in the Franciscan movement, penance would always remain the fundamental charism of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the progenitors of the Third Order and, by extension, of our own Secular Franciscan Order. Penance, especially in the form of joyful, ongoing conversion, retains a central place in the lives of Secular Franciscans to this day. As individuals and in fraternity we should seek ways to embody the love and zeal of those early Franciscan penitents.

From the Rule & General Constitutions:
United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father’s mercy and the source of grace. (Rule, 7) Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times “the brothers and sisters of penance,” propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion. Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. They should approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and participate in the communal celebration of it, whether in the fraternity, or with the whole people of God.
(Constitutions, 13.1)
****************************
Questions for discussion:
1. “The term Penance in Franciscanism is equivalent to the biblical meaning of metanoia, understood as an intimate conversion of the heart to God, as a continuous state of being. It is not a question of doing penance but of being penitent.”(7) What are some of our present-day characteristics of being penitent?
2. During his time as a penitent, Francis was formed in part through the influence of others. Who has been influential in your journey of penance?


(1) Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order, 10.
(2) Robert M. Stewart, OFM, “De Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiam” The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins, Development, Interpretation, Instituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 1991, 120.
(3) Raffaele Pazzelli, St. Francis and the Third Order, The Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential  Movement, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1989, 118.
(4) Ibid., 119.
(5) Ibid., 120-21.
(6) Ibid., 121.
(7) Lino Temperini,TOR, Penitential Spirituality in the Franciscan Sources, Franciscan Publications, July 1983, 41.

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS

From the Heart of Our Minister – April 2019

April, 2019

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord give you peace!  Another three years stretches ahead of us.  It feels like turning to a new page in a notebook or turning that button on the Etch-a-Sketch to make the design disappear and have a clean slate to start again.  The new Regional Council is a wonderful blend of some repeaters and some newbies.  Old or new, experienced or not, we are a united Council ready to serve all of you over the next three years.

When the Region is hosting a weekend in Easton, it has been our tradition to gather after dinner on Saturday night for the “Let’s Talk About It” segment of our agenda.  It is very casual and relaxed and it is a time to discuss whatever you would like to bring up.  Suggestions, problems, “why-do-we-have-to-do-that?” questions are posed and answered.  There were some good suggestions brought forth:

  1. If your fraternity has a website, ask the pastor where the fraternity meets to add it to the parish’s site.
  2. Look into having either a once a year Region-wide candidates’ retreat or break it into Districts. If held by District, a candidate would have some options if he or she can’t make it to the one scheduled in his or her home district.
  3. Have our Region paired with a Region from another country and become penpals. We can learn a lot about fraternal life in foreign lands and get to know our brothers and sisters.

More suggestions are welcome.  So put on your thinking cap and let us know what you come up with!

Later this year we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of our Region.  At the moment, the plans are so much in the infancy stage, they really haven’t been born yet!  So if you have ideas about how to celebrate – bring them on!  We will be working on a history so all you seasoned seculars, start remembering!  Whatever the celebration turns into, it will be wonderfully created by the family of St. Katharine Drexel Region.

Our elections weekend was blessed in so many ways.  Our National Minister, Jan Parker, OFS, presided and was so generous with her time with all of us.  She brought along her guitar and we sang a number of Jan’s ‘adjusted hits’.  If you’ve never been privy to a sing-along with Jan, her adjusted hits are popular songs where she changes the lyrics.  The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA became Serving USA and she managed to get every town where our fraternities meet into the lyrics.  John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy becomes Thank God for Fraternity.  When Jan had played through her list, Brother Kip broke out his song book and entertained us with his tremendous talent of both singing and playing the guitar.  What a great night!

This past Tuesday night at my own fraternity meeting, our on-going formation was a presentation on Pope John XXIII. Edie Kurzweil, OFS, did a magnificent job and had so much information we had never heard before.  Pope John loved being a Secular Franciscan and lived his life as a Secular first. I’m not sure I have this correct, but I believe this quote came from Pope John himself…………….no one becomes a Franciscan.  You are born a Franciscan.  I want to get that put on a tee shirt! How great is that??

Please keep the new Council in your prayers and know that we pray for all of you. Let us know your thoughts, ideas and yes….complaints.  We can’t change what we don’t know about.

May each of us be blessed this Easter Season in whatever way we need the most.

Blessings,

kate

Thought for the Day – Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – April 2019

April 2019

Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of the day, every day and continually,

let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart and love, honor, adore, serve,

praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks

to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God, Trinity and Unity,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Creator of all, Savior of all who believe and hope in Him, and love Him, Who,

without beginning and end, is unchangeable, invisible, indescribable, ineffable,

incomprehensible, unfathomable, blessed, praiseworthy, glorious, exalted,

sublime, most high, gentle, lovable, delightful,

and totally desirable above all else for ever.

Amen.

(Prayer of Saint Francis taken from the Earlier Rule, chapter 23)

1

Now, among the Patriarchs who have planted the great Religious families in the garden of the Church, her pride, the fairest of all, is undoubtedly the Seraphic Father, Francis.  No one resembles Jesus Crucified as much as he. (Pope Leo XIII,  May19,1896)  – The sacredness of the person keeps returning, again and again.

2

The beauties of nature held a mysterious fascination for Francis’ whole being.  Mounting up to the first origins of things, he considered created beings as coming from the fatherly bosom of God. ‘They have the same beginning as we, he used to say; like us they receive life from the thought, the choice, and the love of the Creator’(Legend 8,6) – Like trees, human beings need deeply anchored roots.

3

When he was a prisoner of war at Perugia his noble bearing so impressed his captors that he was incarcerated with the knights instead of in the common jail.  With his ideal always beside him, he could laugh at his chains and scorn them…To his companions he spoke always of courage… – Merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another.

4

His loving, attentive compassion for the poor was beyond telling. Grace added true piety to his natural goodness, and his heart used to melt at the sight of the poor.  If he had nothing to give them, he used at least to show them he loved them (Celano 223, 15) – In order to sing God’s praises we must learn the language of humility and trust, moral integrity and sincere commitment.

5

One day when he was riding on the plain of Assisi, he met a leper and was immediately overcome with disgust and horror. But, faithful to his promise of never refusing alms, he got down off his horse and ran to embrace the beggar.  He kissed the horrible outstretched hand and placed his alms in it. – The person who is a ‘neighbor’ cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another.

6

In his youth he used to love to visit a small rustic chapel dedicated to the martyr St. Damian…The figure of the cross came alive and spoke to him, calling him by name:Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins…These mysterious words had a threefold meaning: literal…spiritual…personal.  Francis felt the truth of these words by the change they produced in his whole being. – Respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit by forgiving one another whatever needs to be forgiven.

7

He wished (to) crucify his flesh and its vices and concupiscence which would lead to sin. (And Francis said) A time will come when laxity and tepidity will prevail.  Then the children of a poor Father will not blush to wear rich clothing.  Their garments will differ only in color from those of rich worldlings (Celano 224,10) – Accept one another and break down barriers in order to overcome every possible cause of division.

8

His companions asked (Francis): ‘Tell us, then, Father, what perfect obedience is’. Francis gazed within his heart and saw the ever-present, ever-adored vision of Christ obedient unto death. He used a simile to illustrate the manner in which his Lord and Ideal acted.  Take a dead body and put it where you will.  You will see that it does not object to being moved; it does not murmur about its position or complain if it is abandoned and left to one side. Put it on a throne and it will not look up, but down. Clothe it in royal purple and it will appear even more pallid than before. That is a picture of the truly obedient Religious… (Celano, 284)  – Grow in holiness!

9

Francis could obey all commands easily and joyfully.  It mattered little whether the superior was young or old, talented or not. He never beheld in the man the superior, but only God, out of love for Whom he had submitted himself to the yoke of obedience. – Build the house of your life on the rock of divine grace, sparing no efforts to found it on sound fidelity to God and his commandments!

10

The sight of the crucified Son of God inflamed Francis with love and spurred him on to total self-renunciation. Francis, the servant of the most high King, lived in nakedness in order to follow the example of the Master whom he loved and who hung naked on the cross. (Legend,2,4) – In Jesus Christ we are called to victory.

11

As St. Bonaventure attests, the Seraphic Patriarch actively mortified his flesh solely in order that he might bear outwardly in his body the Cross of Christ which he already carried in his soul. (Legend 1, 6) – The world needs the witness of ‘new men’ and ‘new women’ who, in word and deed, make Christ present in an ever more powerful way.

12

Francis, whose penetrating faiths could see his creator beneath the symbols of nature, could also pierce the veils of the Eucharist.  This ardent faith illumined his mind, enabling him to behold his God beneath the sacramental species.  In the Eucharist he saw, with the eyes of faith, Christ the Victim, immolated and crucified for the sins of the world. – Christ is the only complete and superabundant answer to the longing for truth and happiness in the human heart.

13

He used to say: If I happened to meet both a saint from heaven and a poor priest, I would first salute the priest and run to kiss his hands … He used to assist at the Holy Sacrifice every morning: He considered it a sign of great neglect not to hear at least one Mass every day whenever possible. (Celano 319, 25) – In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can always open ourselves to conversion and receive forgiveness for our sins.

14

Prayer was his safe refuge … If he began to pray in the evening, he used not to end until near dawn.  He prayed while walking, while sitting, while eating and drinking. He used to go alone by night to pray in solitude in abandoned or out-of-the-way churches … (Celano 73, 13)  – On Calvary, by the supreme sacrifice of his life, the Messiah will seal for every man and woman the infinite gift of God’s pardon and mercy.

15

God, having once willed to give us Christ through the Blessed Virgin, has not changed the order of His providence, since He does not repent of His gifts. It is and always will be true that, having once received through her the universal principle of grace, we still receive from God through her mediation the graces needed in the different stages of the Christian life. – Time given to Christ is never time lost.

16

Oh, how frequently, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit and not through the word of any man, (Francis) knew the secrets of his absent Friars’ hearts and saw into their consciences! (Celano 50, 20) – We must rebuild man from within, healing wounds and achieving genuine purification of memory through mutual forgiveness.

17

Francis himself and his Friars Minor wielded the conquering sword of the word of God; Clare and her daughters fought with the all-powerful weapon of prayer; while the men and women of the Third Oder captured hearts by the good example of their secular lives … a plan worthy of the most skillful strategist. – Sacred Scripture is a sure guide when it is read, welcomed, and meditated upon in the church.

18

Clare called herself and her daughters ‘helpers’, ‘co-workers’, titles whose implications she impressed upon her spiritual children, for they expressed their special vocation to assist Francis and his Friars in the salvation of souls…The hearts of Francis and Clare were fused into one by the fire of heavenly love, mingling together and offering to the world the seraphic ideal in all its purity and perfect unity. – The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God.

19

Our seraphic Father thought long about his project of founding a rule of life to develop this new upsurge of Christian spirituality and to bring the virtues of religious life into the home…Married people, both men and women, who could not free themselves from the bonds of marriage, followed the advice of the Friars and gave themselves over to stricter penance in their homes. – Charity is not genuine if it seeks human praise. 

20

If we wish really to understand Francis, we must follow him to his mountain cave.  There had been, and was still, the hermit as well as the evangelist and missionary in his make-up …Of all the places suitable for contemplation, Francis preferred Mount Alverna … Two years before his death, Divine providence was calling him to the summit of Alverna, the Calvary of his painful martyrdom and the Tabor of his glorious stigmatization. – Our actions are ‘beautiful’ when they reflect the light of God.

21

On Alverna, St. Francis received a more complete pledge of his mystical union, for Christ gave him all He possessed, the living nails which He placed in the hands and feet of His faithful servant, the piercing of His divine heart which He bestowed on Francis by opening in his side a gaping wound like that inflicted by the soldier’s lance on Calvary. – Mary is the ‘mother of reconciliation and the reconciled, the mother of salvation and the saved’ (St. Anselm)

22

He was also granted many of the gifts of the glorified body…His body soared above the earth, while his heart was enraptured with the love of the Savior who had regenerated his humble flesh, making it like to His own, resplendent with heavenly light. – Christ heals what is sick, strengthens what is bruised.

23

Francis’ flesh, adorned with the sacred stigmata, no longer retained any of the shameful remains of original sin.  His purified, sanctified body, consecrated by the love of the Redeemer, became a precious vessel containing and displaying the Victim of Calvary. (Celano, 101, 27) – Where a faint flame of goodness still burns, (Christ) revives it with the breath of his love.

24

Our seraphic Father’s last hours resembled those of his beloved Lord. The stigmata were not only a reward for his labors, but were also a source of progress in virtue…He used to say to his disciples: Brothers, let us begin to serve the Lord God because up to now we have made little or no progress.  (Celano 198, 24) – (Christ) forcefully proclaims justice and heals wounds with the balm of mercy.

25

Before he died, our seraphic Father said to his sons: I have done my work.  May Christ teach you what your task is. During his life, he had dared everything in order to attain to the divine ideal, Christ crucified. –  Peace, even if it is the fruit of political agreement and understanding between individuals and peoples, is the gift of God, whom we should insistently invoke with prayer and penance.

26

Our Franciscan vocation contains the seed of heroism, for, as the Vicar of Christ (Pope Leo XIII) has said, The Religious of the first two Orders have a special grace for tending with heroic ardor toward the sanctity of the evangelical counsels. – Without conversion of heart there is no peace!

27

According as we are faithful, God gives us new lights in our intellect and new strength of will thus leading us further along the narrow path of sanctity toward the fullness of charity.  Our fidelity should be perpetual. – Peace can only be achieved through love!

28

We must be faithful during our whole life, for God demands of us this perpetual fidelity…Our salvation depends on our perseverance, since it is the successful end, not the beginning of a combat that gives victory. – The vitality of the church today is linked to the generosity of (the) lives (of missionaries).

29

The Church and society expect great things of the sons and daughters of St. Francis. What will keep us worthy of the trust placed in us? What will sustain us in our upward flight and prevent us from falling to earth? The answer of course is fervent prayer, for the bond between the spirit of prayer and the spirit of religious Orders is so close that both spirit and prayer increase or decline together. – There could never be grounds for conflict so serious that the reasons of force need prevail over the force of reason.

30

 Beloved Father, mirror and exemplar of seraphic perfection, renew our first fervor.  We have been admitted to the great honor of professing the way of life which you consecrated by your teaching and example.  May we never cease to follow in your footsteps and to strive after our  noble  ideal. (Esprit de Saint Francois, IV, 4, 6) – It is in faithful self-giving that a person finds fullness of certainty and security.

 

Monthly Meditation – Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap, April 2019

St. Katherine Drexel Regional Fraternity

Regional Spiritual Assistant

St. Francis of Assisi Friary

1901 Prior Road

Wilmington, Delaware 19809

tel: (302) 798-1454  fax: (302) 798-3360

      website:  skdsfo     email: pppgusa@gmail.com

April 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Risen Christ bless you with His peace!

 In his ‘Letter to All the Faithful’, St. Francis writes: And as His Passion was near, … He prayed to His Father, saying: Father, if it can be done, let this cup pass from me.  And his sweat became as drops of blood falling on the ground.  Nevertheless He placed His will in the will of His Father, saying: Father, let Your will be done; not as I will, but as you will.  His Father’s will was such that His blessed and glorious Son, Whom He gave to us and Who was born for us, should offer Himself  through His own blood as a sacrifice and oblation on the altar of the cross: not for Himself  through Whom all things were made, but for our sins, leaving us an example that we might follow His footprints … We are brothers (and sisters) when we do the will of the Father Who is in heaven… (Letter to the Faithful, Second Version).


Our Seraphic Father reminds us of ‘spiritual indifference’ that is the foundation of a peaceful and serene life. The indifference is not a matter of ‘not caring about anything’.  It is a matter of doing and acting as though all depends on us and trusting in God as though all depends on God.  Everything does depend on God: My word does not return without having fulfilled the purpose for which it was sent. However, God has entrusted us with the awesome privilege and responsibility for our own salvation by the gift of free will which can or not correspond with the will of our Creator.  Thus, a word that stands out for us to consider as we read the words of St. Francis to the Faithful and celebrate our Redemption in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus the Christ is Surrender.  


‘Surrender’ is a powerful word.  It can also be disconcerting and even frightening when one considers ‘surrender’ as a way of life.  Jesus ‘surrendered’ to the Father’s Will from the first moment of His existence as a human being.  From all eternity, Jesus surrenders to the Will of the Father. Though He was in the form of God … He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave … He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross(Philippians 2: 6-11). ‘Surrendering’ to the Father’s will made Jesus resolute, even to death and death on a cross.  This kind of ‘surrender’ leads to victory and glory, not defeat and infamy. Because of this God greatly exalted Him…(Philippians 2: 6-11).


The intensity of the resolute character of Jesus is vividly portrayed in a brief phrase from the Gospel according to St. Luke: When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he steadfastly set his face to Jerusalem … (Luke 9:51).  How often we correctly focus on the heart of a Scripture passage, but miss a detail that can offer deeper insights for a better understanding and appreciation of what we have read. This brief passage tells us so much about Jesus and how He ‘approached’ the fulfillment of His mission among us. It merits a deeper reflection as we approach Easter, the great celebration of our Redemption and New Life of grace in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus.  There is nothing more essential for us than to consider our life and our active participation in the Paschal Mystery. We unite ourselves with Christ in His obedience to the Father’s Will, to His personal surrender, and to all His obedience implies. In so doing we encounter a more profound value to our earthly life, and thus can live in the hope of an assurance of Eternal Life. The reason I say that there is nothing more essential for us is because once we recognize, understand, and accept God’s Plan for all creation and particularly for ourselves, our life takes on a whole new meaning and expression. 


The Lenten season invites us to ‘set our face toward Jerusalem’, just as our Savior did. Though the words from the Greek and Latin Vulgate texts can be translated in several ways, the original more faithful expression to the ancient text – He resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem – offers us a powerful image of Jesus ‘eyeing’ His opponent and moving in for the encounter and confrontation.  The text speaks volumes of the character of Jesus and His personal compliance with the mission entrusted Him by the Father. Jerusalem is not another town on the itinerant schedule of Jesus the preacher. Jerusalem is not just another platform for his preaching/teaching and healing ministry to attract the crowds at Passover. Jerusalem is an anticipated and desired destination. Jesus has actively been moving both psychologically to this decisive moment and physically to this ‘center of the world’ for the Jews and ‘Seat of God’s Presence’ for those who believed in the God of Abraham. Everything must be in place: The prophets and their prophecies must be fulfilled and the ‘backup plan’ must be ready, before ‘setting his face to Jerusalem’. It is time for Jesus ‘to allow’ his life to be taken for the sake of all humanity.  Let us never forget that no one takes His life from Him: I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father (John 10:17-18). Determining episodes in Jesus’ life and ministry had led to this climactic moment. Each experience tested His obedience and resolve to fulfill the Father’s Plan as willed.  His trust in the Father and determination to obey whatever the cost to Him were put to the test, and ultimately triumphed for the sake of us all. 


–     He ‘plunged’ into the River Jordan to be baptized by John.  His plunge was an acceptance of the ministry entrusted to Him by the Father. His ministry, as Simeon had prophesied so many years before in the Temple, was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory of (the) people Israel(Luke2:32)and at the same time He was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that (would) be contradicted (Luke 2:32). Jesus ‘plunged’ into the realities of our world. This world accepted Him, but also confronted, contradicted, and condemned Him, and all this was done by recipients of His love and gifts!  And He set His face toward them!


–     He contended with the ‘demon’ of comfort, compromise, convenience in the desert, and withstood the easy road of complacency with the power of conviction in the Word of God.  God’s Word is God’s Will and God’s Will overcomes all things for those who place their trust in Him. Jesus did not run from the ‘demon’ but confronted the adversary face-to-face. Jesus was opposed by spiritual beings, who as yet were not sure if their Vanquisher was He. The word ‘if’ used by the tempter is so revealing!  ‘If’ is never to be used when speaking with Jesus. No hesitancy! Let go! … as Jesus did when he set his face towards Jerusalem.


–     At Cana He changed water into wine, thus giving evidence of His power and uniqueness. This miracle attracted many to Him.  The immediate fulfillment of His mission now begins when His followers ‘believe in Him’. The extraordinary character of His actions captivate and mesmerize the wonder-seekers, as well as the vast numbers seeking hope for their confused lives.  The subtle challenges of the desert test return; miracles are signs but do not make for solid faith. True Faith seeks to enter the mystery and never demands to see miracles. Only in the mystery can the miracle be an effective sign and make sense.  Jesus would be opposed by those who needed ‘to be entertained’, or whose ‘hopes’ were not met according to their desires. And He set His face toward them!


In three years, an entire life would come full circle.  The purpose for His birth would finally reach its climax, not with joyful acclamations of a people’s fulfilled hopes, but with the shouts and jeers of a rabble crying out ‘Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  Beneficiaries of only goodness and compassion were instigated to cry for execution by some of the leaders of the people who could and should have known better, had not ambition and jealousy clouded their vision and hardened their hearts. None of this was hidden from Jesus’ knowledge. He knew. He had told His disciples that He would be betrayed, captured, tortured, killed, and on the third day rise.  When Peter would not have Jesus accept this fate, what to Peter sounded like total failure and defeat, Jesus turned to Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Matthew 16: 23). Jesus knew quite well what lay in store for Him! And He set his face toward it all.


At the Last Supper, in the Upper Room, we can almost enter the mind and heart of Jesus. It is a powerful moment, filled with human sentiments. An inner sadness, a last hope and attempt for conversion are so evident when Jesus  appeals to his betrayer: Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me (John13:21).  Failing to change the heart of Judas, Jesus seeks support and strength from the others. Going with them to the Garden in Gethsemane He falls to the ground in prayer.  He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke22:44).  He prayed the same prayer three times: Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but Yours be done (Luke 22:42). Jesus was that One Solitary Life Who knew what His life entailed and what awaited him, and still, from the very beginning, He set His face toward Jerusalem, and everything He was born to accomplish. 


Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you (Luke 13:34), was the city of Prophets and Kings. Jesus entered to the acclaim of the crowds who had so often heard His preaching and had benefited from His awesome power over both the spiritual and material worlds. In the course of one week, the crowds praised Him on Sunday strewing the road for Him to walk on their cloaks and palm branches, and jeered at Him as the Great Sabbath approached calling for His death.  The people yelled, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Matthew 27: 25)And Jesus set His face to Jerusalem and Mount Calvary; He was like a trusting lamb led to slaughter (Jeremiah 12: 19) without uttering anything in his own defense or denouncing those who condemned Him. His greatest sermon would be preached from the throne of a Cross were his prophetic words would resound in the hearts of the faithful down through the centuries.

For most, ‘surrender’ is synonymous with weakness, failure, ineptness, shame, maybe even cowardice, and so much more.  The spirit of the world is always urging us to ‘look out for yourself’, ‘be the first’, ‘be the best and don’t be concerned about the rest’, ‘do what you have to do, but never give up’!  How many children grow up to be psychologically wounded adults because they cannot get beyond the perfectionism expected of them in childhood.  Sometimes it is necessary to ‘surrender’ to another for help if we are to go beyond our limitations.  This ‘surrender’ can be necessary and healthy, and can bear with it positive and lasting results. 


Spiritually, there is another ‘surrendering’ that is absolutely necessary for victory and success; without this ‘surrender’ our lives ultimately are total failures.  Another word for it is ‘abandonment’- abandonment to the Will of God and total trust in the power and presence of a God Who calls, challenges and completes in those surrendered to His Will what is for their good. When our spiritual life is surrendered to the Father’s Will, we never lose sight of our duties and our goal. Jesus fulfilled His duty as Messiah and Victim, and achieved the goal for humanity as Redeemer and Victor. We share in that same Life by Baptism and Grace, and share more profoundly in the same victory every time we enter and receive the Eucharist worthily. Thus we allow the graces of redemption to strengthen and guide our life’s journey.  


Of the three great ‘tests’ Jesus experienced from others, the last was the most difficult.  The first came in the desert from satan who challenged the method Jesus would use to achieve our redemption.  The second came from the people who sought Him out with keen hopes of being ‘filled’ rather than ‘fulfilled’.  The third, and most difficult and subtle test, came from a dear friend and His Vicar, Peter, who sought to dissuade Jesus from setting his face to Jerusalem to be captured, tortured, and killed.  Unknowingly, Peter’s loving concern was most insidious and dangerous.  It challenged Jesus to ‘not surrender’ as He had done till then. Jesus’ followers loved Him and He loved them for loving Him.  And it was an awful thing to go up to Jerusalem to die.  But He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.  This was the only way. This was the Divine Plan. This was the Father’s Will. This was Jesus’ Will!


Calvary was most certainly a frightening thought that loomed always in the heart and life of Jesus.  His humanity did not seek pain and death.  But His heart knew that there was only one way to fulfill His Father’s Plan, and that is all that mattered.  The empty tomb was the visible sign of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ total emptying of Himself in deference to the Father’s Will. It was the Father’s response to the Son’s love. Our own Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi simply and confidently sought out God’s will through His inspired Word.  God’s Word was the Rule of life he set down for himself and those who asked to follow his way of life. He submitted always to another that he might follow the example of the obedient Son of the Father. Love is a total surrender.  The love for the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit kept Jesus in total harmony with the Father’s Will.  


As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi let us love enough to surrender ourselves to God.  We never lose when we give everything over to the One Who gives everything, especially Himself, to us.  There is always such fear in saying ‘I surrender’.  When we say it to God, why be afraid?  God knows what we are capable of and where we are headed, long before we do.  Abandoning ourselves to His Will, truly trusting in Him, and living every moment as a deliberate act of surrender to the Divine Will, we cannot help but experience an inner peace, serenity and joy.  We will discover and live a more balanced and cheerful life, even in the midst of difficulties.  When God is in control, we are always headed in the right direction. Just as a husband and wife surrender themselves in love and the two become one, let us become one with God as we surrender to His Divine Will.  Emptying ourselves of our own material and earthly desires, false ambitions, self-centeredness, pride, will allow the joy of new life and rebirth to be so palpable that our Easter celebration will be as though it were that first Easter Sunday.  Jesus is alive! He is Risen! He precedes us on the way! Let Jesus come alive in your hearts and lives so powerfully that, like the first followers, we will be, as Saint Augustine calls the People of God redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb, ‘an Alleluia People’.  May we praise Him with our lives!


May the light of Christ’s Resurrection shine in us that we might have life, and have it in abundance. May the Risen Lord Jesus shower you and your loved ones with peace, joy and abundant blessings for a Happy Easter; may Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother, help you to live with Jesus in the light of the New Life His Resurrection offers us; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. With a promise to keep all of you affectionately in my Easter Masses and Liturgies, I wish you and your dear ones a very Happy and Joyous Easter.  


Christ is Risen!  He is truly risen!  Alleluia!

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

Regional Election Results

Dear brothers and sisters, may the peace of the Lord be with you!  I announce the following people have been elected to Regional positions:
Kate Kleinert, OFS – Minister
Gretchen Bienkowski, OFS – Vice Minister
Justin Carisio, OFS – Formation Director
Teresa Redder, OFS  Secretary
Frank Urso, OFS- Treasurer
Cindy Louden, OFS – Councillor at Large
Ted Bienkowski, OFS – Councillor at Large
Please keep the newly elected Council in your prayers as we prepare to serve you for the next three years!

World Down Syndrome Day – March 21

Thanks to our sister, Teresa Redder, OSF, for sharing this great video.  Take a minute and watch!

 

Call to action 2019

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director - March 2019

March 2019

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi. All peace and good be with you! May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary!

 

In my February 2019 “Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director” I continued a discussion on the wonderful Feast of Epiphany. This month I will finish our discussion on what it means to be “Epiphany” and why it is so important.

 

I want to go straight to the sacred scripture and hear what our Lord has to say. You might expect me to share the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16. We hear it all the time and even see it at sporting events. And it is a beautiful and special passage but there is one even more special to me.

 

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

 

This entire passage should bring us to our knees and make us cry with joy and amazement! Listen to it slowly and prayerfully, Jesus is explaining that what our Heavenly Father has done thru Jesus’ love is enfolded us into the Blessed Loving Circle of the Trinity! The Father loving the Son loving the Holy Spirit loving us and then back the other way! This is not only why we should be Epiphany but it is how we are to be Epiphany.

 

By being completely immersed in the Trinitarian love we can then be brought to perfect love. That perfect or Agape3 love will cause us to love God more perfectly and love those around us. This love will in turn attract those that are seeking perfect love themselves, even if they don’t know it at the time. That same love helps us to live and love as Jesus does and how our seraphic father, Saint Francis did. Our desire should be the same! That all those given to Jesus should be enfolded into the Blessed Trinity!

 

I know some may think all this talk of love is a bit over sweet, but let’s look at how the prophet Isaiah describes Jesus treatment even the sinners.

 

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

This passage is powerful and should speak volumes to us. Jesus would not damage the bruised reed or put out the smoldering candle. What did he do? He healed the sinner and reignited the sinners’ light to the world. He did it in a gentle loving way. But some might say “he made a whip and cast out the money changers” that wasn’t so gentle.

 

We need to take a close look at that event. First, it was not Jesus’ normal behavior. Secondly we must ask why he did it. It is very simple really, the money changes and sellers set up their shops in the outer court of the temple. The outer court was also known as the court of the Gentiles. You need to know a little about temple worship back then. Gentiles wishing to worship the one true God were allowed to enter only into the outer court to pray and worship. The next court was the court of the women. Women, even Jewish women, were only allowed to enter the temple to that point. Then there was the inner court. That is where Jewish men could go. It was right next to the Holy of Holies or where the tabernacle was. And only the high priest could go there and only once a year to offer sin offerings for himself and the people.

 

“Then Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’”

 

So, when the ruling priests and Sanhedrin8 allowed the sellers and money changers to set up shop in the outer court they in essence made it impossible for the gentiles’ to enter into a prayerful and worshipful relationship with God! That is way Jesus did what he did. The Jews were actually preventing people from encountering God in a meaningful way and they were doing it to make a profit. To them the gentiles had little value as people and could be abused.

 

My sisters and brothers, I ask you to truly be Epiphany to let the love of the Blessed Trinity shine thru you and place a spotlight on Jesus!

Pax et Bonum Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation Director

 

1 John 17:20-26 2

2 Emphasis mine

3 This Greek word, agápē, and variations of it are frequently found throughout the New Testament. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for his followers.

4 Isaiah 42:3

5 Gentiles (Heb., usually in plural, goyim), meaning in general all nations except the Jews.

6 Luke 19:45-46

7 Emphasis mine

8 The Jewish ruling council or government

Thoughts for the Day – March, 2019 by Father Francis

 

March 2019

Our Father most holy: Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Savior…

You, Lord, are Supreme Good, the eternal Good, from Whom all good comes…

Holy be your Name…That You may rule in us through Your grace…

Your will be done…that we may love You…with our whole heart…soul…and mind…

Give us this day…Your own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Forgive us…through Your ineffable mercy…and make us, Lord, forgive completely.

And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.

Amen

Prayer Inspired  by the Our Father – abbreviated

Following are daily excerpts taken from various sources.

1

Once there was a great war between the citizens of Perugia and Assisi. Francis was captured … and …endured the squalor of prison.  His fellow captives were overcome with sadness … but Francis rejoiced in the Lord. (2Celano, bk.1, chpt.1) – Passion according to Matthew: chpts. 26&27 – Anyone can stand up to an opponent: give me someone who can stand up to a friend.

2

Though staying in a pit and in darkness, he was imbued with an indescribable happiness never before experienced. (1 Celano, bk.1, chpt.5) – Passion according to Mark: chpts.14&15 – I may have all the faith needed to move mountains, but if I have no love, I am nothing.

3

He rose therefore swift, energetic and joyful, carrying the shield of faith for the Lord, and strengthened with the armor of great confidence, he set out for the city. (1Celano, bk.1, chpt.5) – Passion according to Luke: chpts. 22&23 – We get no deeper into Christ than we allow him to get in us.

4

Though delighting for the most part (in his dream), he silently wondered to himself  about its meaning…With a happy spirit he awoke the next morning…Considering his vision a prediction of great success… (1Celano, bk.1, chpt.2) – Resurrection Gospels: Luke 24 and John 20 – The Gospels do not explain Easter; Easter explains the Gospels.

5

When morning came, then, he returned in haste to Assisi, free of care and filled with joy, and, already made an exemplar of obedience, he awaited the Lord’s will. (Major Legend,chpt.1,#3) – 1 Corinthians 1&2 – The lives of Jesus’ followers changed the course of human history. No reasonable explanation has ever been given for their transformed lives except their own: they had seen Jesus alive.

6

Saint Francis with his brothers rejoiced greatly at the task and the favor given by so great a father and lord.  They gave thanks to Almighty God, who places the lowly on high and raises up mourners to health. (1Celano,bk.1,chpt.14) – 1 Corinthians 3&4 – That which you cannot let go of, you do not possess.  It possesses you.

7

They had great joy, because they saw nothing and had nothing that could give them empty or carnal delight…Only divine consolation delighted them, having put aside all their cares about earthly things. (1Celano,bk.1,chpt.14) – 1 Corinthians 5&6 – One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.

8

This holy man insisted that spiritual joy was an infallible remedy against a thousand  snares and tricks of the enemy.  He used to say: ‘The devil is most delighted when he can steal the joy of spirit from a servant of God’…(2Celano,bk.2,chpt.88) – 1 Corinthians 7&8 – We can live forty days without food, eight minutes without air, but about one second without hope.

9

‘But if spiritual joy fills the heart, the serpent casts its poison in vain. The devils cannot harm a servant of Christ when they see him, filled with holy cheerfulness.’ (2Celano,bk.2,chpt.88) – 1 Corinthians 9&10 – Our job is not to do something for the Church, but to do something with it.

10

The saint therefore always strove to keep a joyful heart, to preserve the anointing of the spirit and the oil of gladness. He avoided very carefully the dangerous disease of melancholy, so that when he felt even a little of it slipping into his heart, he quickly rushed to prayer.  (2Celano,bk.2,chpt.88) – 1 Corinthians 11&12 – No one ever made more trouble than the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

11

O martyr, laughing and rejoicing, who endured so gladly what was bitter and painful for others to see! (1Celano,bk.2,chpt.7) – 1Corinthians13&14 – Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up.

12

I see that (the devils) cannot harm me through myself.  Indeed whenever I feel tempted and depressed and I look at the joy of my companion, because of that joy I immediately turn away from temptation and melancholy toward inner and outer joy. (Mirror Perfection, #96) – 1Corinthians15&16 – The person who isn’t busy being born is busy dying.

13

By a joyful face he understood the fervor and solicitude, the disposition and readiness of a mind and body to willingly undertake every good work;  because through this kind of fervor and disposition others are motivated than through the good deed itself. (Mirror Perfection, #96) – 2Corinthians 1,2,3 – We can’t understand the Holy Spirit, but we can understand the Spirit’s impact on our lives.

14

He did not want to see a gloomy face, which more often shows laziness, a closed mind, and a body listless for every good work. (Mirror of Perfection,#96) – 2 Corinthians 4&5 – I cannot change the whole world, but I can change a small part if it…myself.

15

It is not right for a servant of God to show himself  to others sad and upset, but always pleasant.  Deal with your offenses in your room, and weep and moan before your God. (2Celano, bk.2, chpt.91) – 2 Corinthians 6,7,8 – God is already in our lives.  Our business is to recognize this.

16

Wherever the brothers may be and in whatever place they meet they should respect spiritually and attentively one another, and honor one another without complaining.  Let them be careful not to appear outwardly as sad and gloomy but show themselves joyful, cheerful and consistently gracious in the Lord. (Earlier Rule,#7) – 2 Corinthians 9&10 – Blessed are they who place themselves in the hands of Jesus.  He will place himself in their hands.

17

They (the brothers) walked with joy wherever they went, speaking among themselves about the words of the Lord, and saying nothing among themselves which did not serve the glory and praise of God, and the good of the soul. (Three Companions, chpt.12) – 2 Corinthians 11,12,13 – What we usually pray to God is not that his will be done, but that he approve ours.

18

When they laughed, they were filled with happiness and spiritual joy, so that they no longer remembered the adversities they experienced. (Anonymous of Perugia,chpt.6) – Daniel 1&2 –How else but through a broken heart may the Lord Christ enter in?

19

Whether ill or in good health they (the brothers) were always joyful and patient. (Anonymous of Perugia,chpt.6) – Daniel 3 – Only when we learn to see the invisible, will we learn to do the impossible.

20

They were always joyful in the Lord, having nothing within them or among them that could in some way bring them sadness. (Three Companions,chpt.11) – Daniel 4 – The effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive.

21

Blessed is that religious who has no pleasure and joy except in the most holy words and deeds of the Lord and, with these, leads people to the love of God with gladness and joy. (Admonitions,#20) – Daniel 5&6 – Nature does not know extinction.  All it knows is transformation.

22

He himself felt great joy in the Lord when he heard the words of Sacred Scripture. (Legend of Perugia,#38) – Daniel 7&8 – Often the “god” that people reject is not the true God, but a mistaken notion of God that exists only in their minds.

23

If a servant of God always strives to have and preserve internally and externally the spiritual joy that proceeds from  purity of heart and is acquired through the devotion of prayer, the evils could do him no harm. (Mirror of Perfection,#95) – Daniel 9&10 – Lord, help us to deal with ugly situations in a beautiful way.

24

Because spiritual joy springs from integrity of heart and the purity of constant prayer, it must be your primary concern to acquire and preserve these two virtues, to possess internal, as well as external joy. (Mirror of Perfection,#95) – Daniel 11&12 – To be ignorant of the scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ.

25

Whenever he used to say your name, O holy Lord, he was moved in a way beyond human understanding.  He was so wholly taken up in joy, filled with pure delight, that he truly seemed a new person of another age. (1Celano,chpt.29) – Daniel 13&14 – Jesus came not to eradicate suffering, but to fill it with his presence.

26

Sometimes he used to do this: a sweet melody of the spirit bubbling up inside him would become a French tune on the outside; the thread of a divine whisper which his ears heard secretly would break out in French song of joy. (2Celano,bk.2,chpt.89) – Hosea 1&2 – The old law about “an eye for an eye” leaves everybody blind.

27

(The thieves) beat him and threw him into a ditch filled with snow, saying, ‘Lie there, you stupid herald of God!’… He jumped out of the ditch, and exhilarated with a great joy, he began in an even  louder voice to make the woods resound with praises to the Creator of all. (Major Legend,.chpt.2) – Hosea 3,4,5 – The living Christ still has two hands, one to point the way, and the other held out to help us along the way.

28

Where there is poverty with joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. (Admonitions,#27) – Hosea 6,7,8 – If Christ were standing before me now, what would I feel, not about him, but about myself?

29

(Saint Francis dying, said to Brother Elias) ‘Allow me to rejoice in the Lord, Brother, and to sing His praises in my infirmities, because, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I am so closely united and joined with my Lord, that, through His mercy, I can well rejoice in the Most High Himself.’ (Mirror of Perfection,#121) – Hosea 9,10,11 – The goal of religion is not to get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us.

30

(As Saint Francis lay dying the guardian) took the tunic with a cord and underwear, and offered them to the little poor man of Christ, saying: ‘I am lending these to you as to a poor man, and you are to keep them with the command of holy obedience. At this the holy man rejoiced and was delighted in the gladness of his heart, because he saw that he had kept faith until the end with Lady Poverty. (Major Legend, chpt.14) – Hosea12,13,14 – You cannot have God for your Father, if you don’t have the Church for your mother.

31

Blessed Francis, like the rising sun, brightened the world by his life, his teaching and his miracles. – Our objective in life is to become a saint.

 

Monthly Meditation for March 2019 by Father Francis OFM Cap

St. Katherine Drexel Regional Fraternity

Regional Spiritual Assistant

St. Francis of Assisi Friary

1901 Prior Road

Wilmington, Delaware 19809

tel: (302) 798-1454      fax: (302) 798-3360      website:  skdsfo       email: pppgusa@gmail.com

March 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!


Because St. Francis was in certain things like another Christ given to the world for the salvation of people, God the Father willed to make him in many acts conformed and similar to His Son Jesus Christ … Once, when St. Francis was near the Lake Trasimeno on Carnival Day, he was inspired by God to go and spend Lent on an island in that lake. St. Francis asked his friend, for the love of Christ, to take him in his little boat to an island in the lake where no one lived, and to do this on the night of Ash Wednesday, so that nobody would perceive it … St. Francis earnestly asked him not to reveal to anyone that he was there, and not to come for him before Holy Thursday … and St. Francis remained there alone … There was no building there where he could take shelter. He went into a very dense thicket … and he began to pray and contemplate heavenly things in that place … He stayed there all through Lent without eating and without drinking, except for half of one of those little loaves of bread .. It is believed that St. Francis ate the half of one loaf out of reverence for the fast of the Blessed Christ, who fasted forty days and forty nights without taking any material food … And so with that half loaf he drove from himself the poison of pride … (The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Fioretti 7)


Throughout his life, St. Francis regularly sought the solitude of forests, mountains, islands. His Canticle of the Creatures gives us an insight into his love and reverence for all creation as gift from the One Great Creator and Father.  Nonetheless, often he would retire for weeks on end from this wonderful Theater of Redemption, away from the ‘world’, the people, and the circumstances that enveloped him each day.  Why?  If all is a gift and everything is so wonderful, why leave?  If God is everywhere, why go as far away from ‘civilization’ as possible to be able to ‘touch God’? 


Good, legitimate, enjoyable, and even necessary persons, places, and things – even religious things! – can ‘possess’ us so much that we can risk losing our God-centered perspective, and confuse our priorities.  They become the end rather than the means to deepen a relationship with God Who is ‘the Other’ and though He is not His creation, yet God can be seen in all things, because He is My God and My All as St. Francis prayed.  God’s providence and love cannot be felt unless they are seen in those who proclaim them by their actions.  The spirit, immersed in God, can often become distracted and even depleted of its inner strength by the constant barrages, cacophony, seductions, allurements of our society, and also from just frenetic running around ‘in four directions at once’ without taking time for healthy rest in the Lord.  The various ‘lents’ that St. Francis practiced during the year all responded to the canons of the Church for all Christians.  They were part of his own particular devotional life and spiritual needs. They afforded him the silence and solitude to ‘recharge’ his spirit, deepen his relationship with God for Whom St. Francis was the ‘Herald of the Great King’, and clarify his view of the world that surrounded him.


In solitude and silence our Seraphic Father sought to hear more clearly the voice of God Who spoke to him from the Cross of San Damiano that had entrusted him with a mission to rebuild My Church for as you can see it is falling into ruin.  To fulfill this commission St. Francis understood he had to begin by ‘rebuilding’ himself.  Like any edifice that needs revamping, remodeling, restoring, in order to be ultimately renewed, he had to check the structure, clean out the rubble, prop up and strengthen the tottering and fragile, fix the broken, discard the corroding that was affecting and infecting the rest of the healthy structure. Once this was done he could begin the ‘job’ of  rebuilding with quality updated strong material to make the structure solid and welcoming.  It is not always necessary to tear down to renew, particularly when the treasures of time and the human spirit are intimately involved and vital components.  When our faith foundation is solid and deep, the visible ‘structure’ of our lives will be strong and solid once revisions and repairs are effected.  Thus, what others see after we have worked at ‘rebuilding’ the inner spiritual structure and ‘refinished and renewed’ the outer appearance will attract, welcome, and challenge others to do the same.


Initially, our Seraphic Father understood the voice from the Cross of San Damiano literally. He began rebuilding the physical structures of several of the churches of Assisi with stones and mortar; and no doubt his merchant’s skills were able to eventually even get some of the townsfolk to help this affable eccentric in his ‘pro bono’ enterprise. Following this image, we too can speak of rebuilding the moral and spiritual structure of the Church, beginning with an evaluation and restructuring of our own personal church, the Temple of God each one of us has become through Baptism. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: Are you not aware that you are the Temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you?… For the Temple of God is holy, and you are that Temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-23) The voice from the Cross of San Damiano and the forty days St. Francis spent on the island on Lake Trasimeno offer us some points of reflection as we enter the most solemn season of the Church Year, the Paschal Season (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).  The ‘Penitents of Assisi’ as the first followers were called, were a prophetic presence among the people and within the Church calling the People of God to re-discover and uncover within themselves a new energy in God’s Spirit, and recognize a Presence that would transform their lives and restore harmony between them and all creation.  


Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of this sacred season. Lent encourages us through the imposition of ashes to remember that:  You are dust and to dust you will return (look at everything in life from the perspective of eternity), and Repent and believe in the Gospel (give yourself over to God’s Will and live Jesus and His words). During these forty days we enter the Christian pilgrimage of faith and walk in the way of true conversion. We renew our commitment to rebuild and strengthen the Temple of God we are, making use of the ‘weapons’ our faith affords us. 


In the Opening Prayer of the Eucharist for Ash Wednesday, in the Latin Sacramentary, we read these words: O God our Father, grant that your Christian people may begin this fast as a journey of true conversion, that the weapons of penance may make them victorious in the battle against the spirit of evil. (free translation) This prayer introduces the beginning of the Season of Lent, springtime of the Church Year.  It offers us a simple and effective process we can follow on the forty-day itinerary ahead of us. The prayer mentions: conversion, journey, battle, weapons, victory … and a constant ‘accusing’ presence on this journey through life, ‘the evil one’.  The words are powerful and forceful.  They speak of decisiveness and determination. Reflecting on them and acting on them can make Lent a spiritually beneficial time for all who acknowledge their value and seek to implement them.


The process applies to a person of reasonably good faith, who truly wants to do what is good and right, even when the human spirit seems to be weak, tired or even contrary. Sincere awareness of our weaknesses leads to a desire and spirit of conversion, a ‘turning back’, to the intention of God in creating us and how we became when we were baptized – filled with sanctifying grace in God’s love.  Acceptance of this basic need urges us to take the first step of a journey that lasts a lifetime.  The journey is filled with pitfalls, detours, u-turns, and ‘full-steam-aheads’.  On this spiritual journey, just as in the experiences of everyday life, we encounter friend and foe, success and failure, joy and sorrow, virtue and vice, grace and sin.  We are called to wage ‘war’ and do ‘battle’ against the enemies of our soul by being prepared to recognize them, and to be energized by the gifts and assistance God affords us through Sacred Scripture, the Church and Sacraments, Tradition, the Magisterium, the holy people we follow as our spiritual guides, and one another.  The weapons of prayer, fasting, and alsmgiving keep our souls centered on the ultimate purpose of our existence – God! … and thus enliven us to confront the ‘evil one’ and the effects of his subtle and flagrant instigations in our daily lives:


            Prayer keeps our relationship with God strong, and makes us always aware that God is truly with us …

            Fasting places all things in right order that our possessions, even the spiritual ones, do not possess us …

            Almsgiving opens and disarms our heart to others … thus, the space within is cleared for the Presence of God. 


St. Francis often experienced his bouts with the ‘evil one’, sometimes directly, and more often, as with most of us, intensely through the temptations and allurements of the world around him or the ‘demons’ that lurk even in the recesses of saintly people. It is a given fact that the holier a person seeks to become, the more he/she will be assailed by the ‘spirit of evil’.  When we feel assailed and worried that we cannot overcome, remember that there is only one God, and no one and nothing can equal God in any way, no matter how strong.  The Evangelist St. John encourages us on our journey, especially when the going gets rough, when he reminded the early Church and us today: Greater is the One within you, than the one who is in the world.


Blow the trumpet in Zion!  Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridegroom quit his room, and the bride her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…!  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is there God?’ (Joel 2:16-17) To avoid the devastation that an infestation of locusts was causing Israel, Joel calls the people to prayer and penance.  From the terrible reality of the devastation of Israel to the great promise of the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, the people experience the blessings God offers them.  I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind.  Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions … I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth … Then everyone will be rescued who calls on the name of the Lord… (Joel 3:1-5) God is shown as both vindicator of His people and the source of all their blessings.  Lent is the time for us to re-confirm our Covenant with God in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus.


Our desire for personal conversion compels us to take the first of many steps on a journey on which we encounter friends and foes of our spiritual lives who must be embraced in love or fought in a spiritual battle with the weapons of faith (prayer), hope (letting go and trusting in providence to fulfill our needs), and charity/love (disarming our hearts to others as we seek to assist them however possible).  Once we have embarked on this journey, guided by the Spirit of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus, there is nothing less to expect than Victory!


Yes! We are victors in the Victim!  We walk the road of the Cross.  Though there are many difficulties we must overcome, our victory is basically a victory over ourselves; that part of ourselves that hesitates or refuses to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us.  The journey of Lent leads to a victory so often misunderstood.  It is a victory whose trophy is a blood-stained Cross and a mangled, tortured, derided Person, executed as a common criminal Whose crime was truth, compassion, and love. The paradox of the Cross is the glory of the Christian.  The sign of contradiction becomes our sign of commitment, commitment to Life through death to ourselves, so that it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me. Jesus Himself said, when I am lifted up I will call all people to myself.  Eventually, at the end of our Lenten journey we come to the foot of the Cross, not as vanquished victims, but as conquering victors who bear the brandmarks of Jesus in my body, therefore let no one bother me.


Let us strive to do good and become better as we enter the Season of Renewal. To do what is good is to do what is of God.  To do what is good is to strive to be good.  To be good is to live in God’s grace. To live in God’s grace is to have begun our heaven on earth.  Lent is the beginning of our journey from Ashes to Palms, leading us from Palms to Calvary,  that we might move from Calvary to the Empty Tomb, and ultimately rejoice in the Empty Tomb that introduces us to the fullness of Life.  Lent is not a time for slackers.  In the words of one of our Capuchin saints: You don’t go to heaven in a taxi! Let us be serious about our ‘return to the future’, a phrase taken from the title of a movie that reminds us we are called not to be someone else in the future but to be who we were created to be from all eternity. Thus, we must recapture and grow in the image of God and Christ in whom we were created, that the future prepared for us may be assured.


As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, let us not forget that in the beginning we were called the ‘Penitents of Assisi’.  Let the true spirit of penance take hold of us this Lent.  We are called to reflect, reform, renew our lives that we may re-establish a deeper relationship with God and all creation.  Like Advent, Lent is a Season of joy-filled expectations. We live in the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Lent is not a sad time of regrets, and penitential practices for the past.  It is a joyful season of ‘reconstruction’ and rebirth for all who seriously take advantage of the spiritual opportunities available. At the end of this brief yearly journey of renewal, the ‘edifice of the Spirit’, ‘the Temple of God’ we are ‘comes alive’ in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. 


May God bless you; may Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look over each one of you, his spiritual children, with loving care. Happy Lent!


Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director – February, 2019

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

February 2019

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi.

All peace and good be with you! May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary! As we prepare for our Regional Chapter of Elections this coming March, I ask you all to be praying for and seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and that those called to serve the next three years be filled with the grace and wisdom of God!

In my last edition of “Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director” we started a discussion on the wonderful Feast of Epiphany. I asked you to reflect on this incredible feast and what it meant to us as Franciscans. I also gave you some scripture passages to reflect on as I did sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and our Rule. This month, I want to continue that theme even though Epiphany is long past. Although, for those of us who see the church’s calendar as a continuation of our faith and a part of our ongoing conversion, it is not past, it is just getting ready to come around again in eleven months!

This month I would like to focus more on the idea that we, as Catholics, but especially as Franciscans are called to be “Epiphany” to the world around us. Remember, the word and concept of Epiphany is to reveal or to be revelation, to shed light into the world around us and to live the gospel so clearly that others will see Jesus in you and be attracted to that light and vocation.

I want to share with you a section of the prolog to our rule of life:

“Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50). We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill “the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 12:50). We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).” 1,2

In the prologue to our rule, In the Exhortation, Francis himself said we are to “Give Birth to Him,” meaning to reveal Jesus to those around us. We further see this idea in our own rule:

“United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed His will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.”3,4

In Rule 10, we are called to “witness to Him.” What does that word witness mean? Simply put, it means to testify. But for us it means not only in word, but in actions also.

Definition of (give) witness to: To declare belief in (a god or religion) They gave witness to their faith.5

Pope Francis once asked: “Am I a Christian giving witness to Jesus or am I a simple numerary of this sect,” unable to let the Holy Spirit “drive me forward in my Christian vocation?”6

Although his Holiness did not use the word “witness,” it is definitely the idea he is conveying. “Am I simply an official elected to a lifetime position within the church, or am I truly driven by the Holy Spirit?”

For this month, I will end with another part of our rule:

“Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively. Mindful that anyone “who follows Christ, the perfect man, becomes more of a man himself,” let them exercise their responsibilities competently in the Christian spirit of service.”7,8

Here, too, we are called to be a light and witness for Christ, to be epiphany, not instead of Christ, but pointing to Christ as the solution to the world’s issues.

Next month we will finish up on this topic and discuss examples of what it means to be epiphany!

Pax et Bonum

Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation

 

1 SFO Rule (Prologue) Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance In the name of the Lord!

2 Emphasis mine

3 SFO Rule 10

4 Emphasis mine

5 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary  give witness to

6 May 6 2013: Homily at Mass Tuesday in the Domus Sanctae Marthae

7 SFO Rule 14 8 Emphasis min