Fr. Francis’ Greetings – August 2014

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

 regional website: www.skdregion.org  –  email: pppgusa@gmail.com

 

August, 2014

 Dear Sisters and Brothers in Sts. Francis and Clare,

The Lord give you his peace!

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2). Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The “vocation” to holiness and “perfection” is a call directly from God. Life is a sign of God’s love for and trust in us, and his confident view for the future we are created to build. The world, this “Theater of Redemption” as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen entitled it, is the place that prepares us for the fulness of Life with God. He knew us before we existed and God has a part for us to fulfill in the Divine Plan for creation. We are “destined” for greatness in God’s time, a “destiny” however that we can refuse with the gift of our free will. We are “called” to be and act in God’s Name; this is our “vocation”. After our assent to God’s invitation, we are “commissioned” to fulfill some specific purpose in our individual life for the glory of God and good of others as well as ourselves. Is this not the essence of holiness: to live unconditionally and totally in the will of God? Each “yes” we offer to what we believe to be God’s will, is a step further in holiness and perfection.

How do we begin to reflect on the call to holiness (or perfection in the scriptural sense) and our responsibility to become holy (perfect)? Where do we turn to find the tools necessary to achieve this loving yet unconditional command that God’s Word requires of us: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect? (Matthew 5:48). Who can help us work through our difficulties and journey with us that we might become fully the children of God we were called to be? Does being a Secular Franciscan require more than just gathering for a monthly meeting? What did St. Francis expect from those who sought to follow the Gospel life living in society? Do we live up to his expectations, or have we substituted his heart’s desire for our convenient personal image and practices? Do we believe that living as Franciscan sisters and brothers in our fraternities is a valid response to our personal call to holiness as well as to a gospel-oriented apostolate? Do we consider ourselves as “penitents of Assisi” who seek to reform their own lives first and become a transforming element in God’s hands for others? Is prayer and reflection on God’s Word as well as our Franciscan Sources, especially Saints Francis and Clare, a daily priority for us? Do we have a spiritual schedule that offers us tools for personal growth in the Lord as Catholic Franciscans committed to our Faith? As you can note, there are a number of questions we can ask ourselves concerning our call to holiness, and still more that possibly you yourselves have posed.

Our Franciscan charism has much to offer not only the sisters and brothers of our Secular Family but also the local churches and religious chapels where the members gather for prayer, reflection, and the service that is fruit of these. We, the Spiritual Children of the Poverello of Assisi, have a mission entrusted to us by our Seraphic Father. It was his response to a society that needed to remember the Gospel Message all Christians are called to profess and live. We sought and continue to seek to fulfill his vision and goal down through the centuries, because they are really those of Christ for all God’s children redeemed in the Blood of the Savior. The only way we can effectively fulfill our mission is for us to understand what has been entrusted to us and to be faithfully committed to living it out each day.

We are called to be holy; the Gospel calls us to live Jesus, and “living Jesus” is becoming “holy”.   Holiness is not a “popular thing” for people “to do”. It is not a question of being with the “in crowd” of some church society. Sanctity is the consequence of a personal decision one makes to be fully directed by the Spirit of God through a process of daily conversion. We are all expected to make use of the usual means the Church offers, – Eucharist, Reconciliation, Prayer, Sacrifice, and so forth. As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi we strive to deepen our relationship with God and deepen our “being Church” with and through the committed service of our elected leadership (International, National, Regional, Local Councils) and through the specific religious presence and help of our Spiritual Assistants. These later are themselves called to deepen their knowledge and commitment to the Franciscan charism that they may more realistically and effectively assist in the spiritual growth of the fraternities, and thus of the individual sister or brother. As part of our growing in the spirit of our Franciscan Vocation, every one of us Franciscans should make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and daily, where and when possible, participate in the Eucharistic Celebration.

Our formation is essential to the effective development of our vocation. Deepening our awareness and knowledge of our Franciscan charism should encourage, instruct, guide us to a greater love for our vocation, the fraternity and all God is calling us to fulfill in life. Unfortunately, at times, fraternity as well as formation gatherings can become “devotional prayer meetings” and even storytelling of extraordinary happenings, recounting apocalyptic warnings, promoting alleged or even Church approved locutions from heaven, and so on. The fraternal gatherings and formation sessions thus turn into sharing of each other’s understanding and personal interest in these extraordinary events, whether real or not. By doing this, we lose sight of the what it means to be a Catholic Franciscan whose focus is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ lived within the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church. When a fraternity meeting reduces itself to personal devotions, apparitions, apocalyptic warnings, complaining and judging the Church, and so on, this attitude does not help growth in faith. It impedes and harms the love for the Eucharist and Our Lady, as for our Holy Mother the Church, that same Church our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi so loved and obeyed. If we profess to seek to imitate in our own lives the spirit of St. Francis, we must first be “with the Church” and not make the “extraordinary” the “ordinary” matter, thus losing sight and focus of who the Secular Franciscan is. When these “diversions” occur during the monthly fraternal gathering, the sisters and brothers gathered for a monthly spiritual exchange for personal growth in our Franciscan spirit and life are, unfortunately and wrongfully, sidetracked. The minimal monthly period designated for the fraternal gathering is intended to help the sisters and brothers to pray with the Church as Catholic Franciscans and to grow in faith.

Spiritual Assistants are appointed to assist the Council (International, National, Regional, Local) in this “growth process”, while they themselves are expected to grow through a continual “updating” of their own knowledge they share with the fraternity.   At this point, let it be clear that the spiritual assistant is not a “spiritual director”. A spiritual director is the result of a personal decision made by the individual sister or brother with a specific qualified person. The ministry of the spiritual assistant is not one of legislative jurisdiction, but of fraternal assistance in understanding more deeply and living more fully our Franciscan charism. For this reason, spiritual assistants must not seek to create a “service group” for some local parish, religious house, or other. The spiritual assistant, “assists” the fraternity to know, love and grow in their Franciscan charism, but, by nature of the ministry, he/she does not “make policy” but works in, with, and through the council with whom he/she fulfills an important ministry within the fraternity. The spiritual assistants, as well as the fraternities, should remember that no spiritual assistant should presume, once he/she has been certified to assume such a ministry in the fraternity, to always have the right to be appointed to the office, nor must they assume the greater role of director of souls unless well-prepared (which goes beyond the courses offered for spiritual assistants) and personally requested. (There is more to this which can not be dealt with in this present letter).

I have personally met very few Spiritual Assistants, but have spoken with a number of them and, thank God, they are wonderful, caring, and very spiritual and apostolic sisters and brothers. It is precisely here that we see where the value of the Spiritual Assistant lies. Their ministry helps us know, love and grow in our Franciscan charism through information, formation, creative expressions of prayer and service in collaboration with the local council. Remember that a spiritual assistant is NOT A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR.   Unless our Franciscan spirit and prayer is enfleshed in our lives, and our lives resound in our prayer, our spiritual life is stunted. We all seek to help one another strive for this goal.

August celebrates two significant feasts: the Transfiguration of Jesus and the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother into heaven. It is interesting to note that both deal with the divine and the human, the soul and the body, the invisible and the visible, the immortal and the mortal, the perfect and the flawed. One is seen as the fruit of the process of the other. Jesus’ transfigured body on the mount is a prelude to the glory of His Resurrection and also a promise that our total nature (body and soul) will share in the glory for which we were created at the beginning of human history. The Assumption of our Blessed Mother reconfirms Jesus’ promise to us and Mary, highest honor of our race (cfr. Judith 13) and mother of all God’s children (cfr. John 19: 25-27), is the first and most eminent of all creatures to share in the Resurrection of the body before the final judgement, as a sign of God’s promise fulfilled, and an eternal hope for us. The Transfiguration that dazzles the apostles manifests the hidden divinity gloriously present of the person (human and divine) that the Apostles walked and talked with during their years with Jesus. The Assumption of Mary’s physical body into the realm of the spirit celebrates the transformation of the material body of Mary that grew old and was subjected to life’s many changes into a glorious spiritual entity. No person can be truly holy without being truly human – human as God intended at the beginning of time and not as we have become through the abuse and misuse of our free will. These two feasts should be an encouragement for us to continue our endeavors to grow in the spirit, regardless of our weaknesses, faults, and even sins. They should encourage us to strive more intensely to live the Gospel and grow in our Franciscan charism every day of our lives rather than just once monthly.

As we grow with the encouragement and assistance of each other and our spiritual guides, we understand better the need to be vigilant over our selves at all times, without scrupulosity or undue exaggeration. We are nurtured by the Word we read and nourished by the Eucharist in which we participate, daily if and when possible. We begin to see others as sisters and brothers in the Lord Jesus and speak to the heart of others with the compassion and practicality of those who live in the world but are not of the world. The more we advance in the spirit, our prayer life offers deeper and more meaningful insights that help us better our life and our relationship with others. We become more selfless in service to God’s People, and are disposed to listen with an open heart to the sincere concerns of all our sisters and brothers. We become more aware of our “being Church” and thus seek greater involvement in the life of the Church’s ministry, liturgy, everyday life.

Franciscans are active groups of enthusiastic men and women who love and desire to live the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.   Through the intercession and example of our Seraphic Father, we Franciscans hope to experience God’s loving presence in our lives. The Eucharist, devotion to Our Lady, and the sharing of our Catholic values brings us together in prayer and reflection. From the experience of the monthly fraternity meeting it is hoped that the desire for prayer and reflection will grow stronger and become a daily program for each one. You are a “spiritual family” not bound by canonical vows but by public promises. You are called to glow like beacons of light in a world that seems to be growing dim in its spiritual fervor! You are called to avoid compromising your Baptismal promises. Your Gospel lifestyle is an example that can guide others! Your life must touch others in the Spirit of the Lord and lead them closer to Jesus through Mary, whom our Seraphic Father loved so intensely! As spiritual children of the Poverello of Assisi who called himself the “Herald of the Great King”, your fundamental vocation is to live the Gospel, thus accepting the challenge to be Christ to the world! … and do all within your power to achieve this goal.

All of this may seem like too much. It may seem impossible. It may seem unattainable. If that were the case, then we would have to say that the Gospel is impossible to live. That would be a blasphemy! All things are possible when we believe in God and trust in his grace that can transform those who place their lives in His hands. Let us remember that: The arm will reach for what the heart desires! … Desire God! Reach for God! Let go, and let God be God!

May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, and your loved ones, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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