Fr. Francis’ Greeting – July 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord grant you his peace!

We continue this month, dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, with our consideration of the Eucharist. We can note in the two passages taken one from our Seraphic Father and the other from one of his sons, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, love for the Eucharist not only expects a certain composure but also promises definite effects on ourselves and others. We can speak about “charism” and “spirituality” and fulfillment of basic requisites to belong to the Franciscan Order, but if Jesus is not in our hearts, if He is not the Center of our Life, nothing really matters.  And, this “real presence” in our life will undoubtedly affect our lives visibly. 

After eight centuries, St. Francis of Assisi still inspires people today with his radical embrace of “Lady Poverty” and his love for all of God’s creatures. Yet, it is his zeal for something else that comes out most strongly in his writings: his great love of Christ in the Eucharist and concern that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be offered properly, and that others love and respect the Lord in this Sacrament of His Love.

I conjure you all to show all reverence and all honor possible to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the things that are in heaven and the things that are on earth are pacified and reconciled to Almighty God   (St. Francis in his Letter to All the Friars).

In his Letter to All the Faithful, he exhorts Christians to reverence priests, not on account of their own holiness, but because they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: We ought…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.

He addressed priests as well, and wrote On Reverence for the Lord’s Body and on the Cleanliness of the Altar in which he exhorts them to take seriously their sacred duties at the altar. Let us all consider, O clerics, the great sin and ignorance of which some are guilty regarding the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Name and the written words of consecration … Let all those who administer such most holy mysteries, especially those who do so indifferently, consider among themselves how poor the chalices, corporals, and linens may be where the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is sacrificed. And by many it is left in wretched places and carried by the way disrespectfully, received unworthily and administered to others indiscriminately … Shall we not by all these things be moved with a sense of duty when the good Lord Himself places Himself in our hands and we handle Him and receive Him daily? Are we unmindful that we must needs fall into His hands? Let us then at once and resolutely correct these faults and others; and wheresoever the most holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ may be improperly reserved and abandoned, let It be removed thence and let It be put and enclosed in a precious place.

He solemnly warns priests that they will be judged by how they perform their sacred duties: We know that we are bound above all to observe all these things by the commandments of the Lord and the constitutions of holy Mother Church. And let him who does not act thus know that he shall have to render an account therefore before our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of judgment.

He expresses most ardently his belief of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist which is expressed most clearly in his Letter to All the Friars with this poetic exclamation: Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension! O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of bread.  These words of our Father should be enough to re-kindle in all hearts the need to deepen our love for and presence with the Lord in the Eucharist.

There is also a faithful son of St. Francis of Assisi whose life, in the twentieth century, was transformed when he, like our Seraphic Father, was given the gift of the Sacred Stigmata of the Lord’s Wounds, St. Pio of Pietrelcina.  Padre Pio continues the thoughts of Saint Francis concerning the Eucharist in a letter to a spiritual daughter, Annita Rodote.   Padre Pio offers her very concrete suggestions on how she should be before the Blessed Sacrament, at the Celebration of Mass, and after leaving the Eucharistic Sacrifice Excerpts of the letter follow:

… In order to avoid irreverence and imperfections in the house of God, in church – which the divine Master calls the house of prayer – I exhort you in the Lord to practice the following … Enter the church in silence and with great respect, considering yourself unworthy to appear before the Lord’s Majesty.  Amongst other pious considerations, remember that our soul is the temple of God and, as such, we must keep it pure and spotless before God and his angels. Let us blush for having given access to the devil and his snares many times (with his enticements to the world, his pomp, his calling to the flesh) by not being able to keep our hearts pure and our bodies chaste; for having  allowed our enemies to insinuate themselves into our hearts, thus desecrating the temple of God which we became through holy Baptism … Then take holy water and make the sign of the cross carefully and slowly … As soon as you are before God in the Blessed Sacrament, devoutly genuflect.  Once you have found your place, kneel down and render the tribute of your presence and devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Confide all your needs to him along with those of others.  Speak to him with filial abandonment, give free rein to your heart and give him complete freedom to work in you as he thinks best.

When assisting at Holy Mass and the sacred functions, be very composed when standing up, kneeling down, and sitting, and carry out every religious act with the greatest devotion.  Be modest in your glances; don’t turn your head here and there to see who enters and leaves.  Don’t laugh, out of reverence for this holy place and also out of respect for those who are near you.  Try not to speak to anybody, except when charity or strict necessity requests this … If you pray with others, say the words of the prayer distinctly, observe the pauses well and never hurry…   In short, behave in such a way that all present are edified by it and, through you, are urged to glorify and love the heavenly Father.

On leaving the church, you should be recollected and calm.   Firstly take your leave of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; ask his forgiveness for the shortcomings committed in his divine presence and do not leave him without asking for and having received his paternal blessing …  Once you are outside the church, be as every follower of the Nazarene should be.  Above all, be extremely modest in everything, as this is the virtue which, more than any other, reveals the affections of the heart.  Nothing represents an object more faithfully or clearly than a mirror.  In the same way, nothing more widely represents the good or bad qualities of a soul than the greater or lesser regulation of the exterior, as when one appears more or less modest.  You must be modest in speech, modest in laughter, modest in your bearing, modest in walking.   All this must be practiced, not out of vanity in order to display one’s self, nor out of hypocrisy in order to appear to be good to the eyes of others, but rather, for the internal virtue of modesty, which regulates the external workings of the body.

Therefore, be humble of heart, circumspect in words, prudent in your resolutions.  Always be sparing in your speech, assiduous in good reading, attentive in your work, modest in your conversation.  Don’t be disgusting to anybody but be benevolent towards all and respectful towards your elders.   May any sinister glance be far from you, may no daring  word escape your lips, may you never carry out any immodest or somewhat free action; never a rather free action or a petulant tone of voice … In short let your whole exterior be a vivid image of the composure of your soul … Always keep the modesty of the divine Master before your eyes, as an example … placing the modesty of Jesus Christ on an equal footing with meekness … and according to such a perfect model reform all your external operations, which should be faithful reflections revealing the affections of your interior …  Never forget this divine model, Annita.  Try to see a certain lovable majesty in his presence, a certain pleasant authority in his manner of speaking, a certain pleasant dignity in walking, in contemplating, speaking, conversing; a certain sweet serenity of face … Thus let us try to imitate, as far as we possibly  can, such modest and dignified  actions.  And let us do our utmost to be, as far as possible, similar to him on this earth, in order that we might be more perfect and more similar to him for the whole of eternity in the heavenly Jerusalem.  (A Letter from Padre Pio to Annita Rodote, Pietrelcina, July 25, 1915)

The apostolic dimension of our Franciscan Family, regardless of the Order (I,II,III Regular, Secular) often gets us involved in endeavors, good in themselves and for good and justified reasons, but that can distract us from the “Core” of our life.  We strive to “concretize” God’s care for others through us. God’s Providence is concretized through us when we seek to assist those in need.  God’s Will is seen and concretized in those who recognize the circumstances of their lives as a way to live in the Divine Presence every moment.  They accept what cannot be reasonably changed.  They accept these “circumstances” as God’s indirect, or maybe even “direct”, way of asking them to accept the moment and trust in Him.  God’s Mercy is concretized in those who are able to forgive without expecting retribution to the offender. They recognize the other as companion on the journey of life subject to the same challenges and pitfalls as they, needy as they are of God’s never ending mercy.  There are myriad ways for us to make visible God’s will and work.

BUT, God’s Love is first and foremost concretized for all humanity in Jesus and His Divine Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Most Holy Eucharist.  God’s Love is found especially in that Divine Action where Jesus is re-presented in His Saving Passion-Death-Resurrection during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of the Mass.  At that time heaven and earth are united as one in a bond  more intimate than that of husband and wife.  God, in His “condescension of compassion” as Saint Leo the Great refers to the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,  re-lives with us, in us, for us, and even through us the great moment and grace of  Redemption in the saving Body and Blood of the Son of God offered once and forever on the Altar of the Cross. The Eucharist is that Same Body of Christ, still with us mystically, sacramentally, and really.  The Eucharist is the same Jesus Who is also before the Father. In His Ascension Jesus raised our redeemed human nature to a glory we all share in hope in time, as we journey through life to achieve the goal of sharing the Life fully and totally with Him for eternity.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi and sisters and brothers of Padre Pio in the Franciscan Family, how can we not take to heart the words written above. Our Father and brother both are writing to us. When Jesus becomes “truly real” for us in the Eucharist, we cannot help but live, and move, and have our being in Him, especially when we are before Him and prepare to enter and participate in the Mystery of His Saving Redemptive Love.  Our committed and continued loving response to the Extravagant and Limitless Love of God in the Eucharist will undoubtedly affect our hearts and souls and consequently transform our lives.  Why would anyone hesitate making the Eucharist the Center of Life!?

Our Secular Franciscans, living in society have a unique call within their Secular Vocation as Franciscans to set in motion a “revolution” … that is, a “revolution of love” through prayer and goodness.  This “revolution” is not a violent one from without.  It does not propose to overthrow political systems, convert different religious expressions, answer social issues and agendas. This “Revolution of Love”, through the Eucharist, seeks to affect substantial transformations in individuals and communities (made up of personally committed individuals) by the power of prayer and good example, strengthened by the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist Who is the Center of one’s life.  This may sound like Utopia in our modern world, but how many are still looking, hungering “for something more”.  They hunger for something that can fill them with a fullness of life, a liberating freedom, an immense and sincere joy of living.  Many forget so often that it is not “something” but “Someone” Who can and will fulfill all our yearning. We can be God’s instruments of peace and transformation, and help others find the “Someone” they are really seeking,  if we take our role seriously as Franciscans.  Let us enter the “Eucharistic Revolution” of Jesus’ acceptance of the Father’s Will as we seek to become “Eucharist” with Jesus,  even to the Cross if necessary.  Thus all who see us will see Jesus and come to understand the power of the “Revolution of  Love” that God set in motion when the Virgin of Nazareth, our Heavenly Mother Mary, said “Yes” to  give God a body, Who is Jesus the Christ.  Do not be afraid to let go!  It is Jesus we surrender to in the Eucharist…we surrender not to defeat but to Victory with the Victim!  My sisters and brothers, let us begin, for up to now we have done so little (Words of St. Francis to his friars).

Wishing you and your loved ones a great summer, I pray that the Lord bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our brother in the Seraphic Family St. Pio of Pietrelcina watch each one of you, their Spiritual Family, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings
Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.
Regional Spiritual Assistant

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