Fr. Francis' Greetings - November, 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,  stonetau

The Lord give you his peace!

Today me, tomorrow you. (This is a loose translation of the Latin inscription: Hodie mihi, cras tibi). This famous saying can often be seen sculpted or painted at the entrances of many cemeteries in Europe. It is a rather stark and macabre reminder that earthly life, as long as it can be, will eventually experience its transforming moment. The point of convergence of all life’s experiences – good, bad, and indifferent – will come together awaiting our call to timelessness; death calls and eternity awaits. It is not the end of everything, as too many people feel and believe. It is the moment of the ultimate transformation of who we are into who we were created to be.

We celebrate November, the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. They await transformation by God’s love and mercy. The Church asks us to pray for those who have gone before us into eternity and who still await the fullness of Life. The Church also reminds us that we ought to pray for ourselves who, still on journey, are subject to many challenges that can either threaten or strengthen our resolve to be faithful to the Gospel and live in the light of Eternal Life. The journey of life that is so wonderful because of the many challenges God offers us to grow in His love, is also very dangerous because of the many allurements and seductions that can entice us to deviate from the path marked out for us. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (cfr. John 14:16) If we follow His Way, listen to His Word of Truth, we can expect ultimately to share in the fullness of His Life. He Himself says: I came that they may have Life and have it in abundance. (John 10: 10)

Jesus gained that Life for us, once for all, on the Cross of Calvary. Life and the Cross! There it is again, the Paradox of the Cross! the Paradox of Christianity! We are always facing these choices, these opposites: positive-negative, good-bad, light-darkness, grace-sin, heaven-hell. We always have that responsible and awesome option placed before us. Adam and Eve were offered a test as a requisite to continue living in Eden. In the Old Testament, before the People of Israel entered the Promised Land, Joshua read the Law of the Covenant God made with His People and told them to choose between life and death … I for my part will serve the Lord. (cfr. Deuteronomy 30: 19) The people responded in unison that they would serve the Lord, but history for them, and also for us who have opted to follow Jesus, tells us how fickle our commitments can be. Perhaps this is why we have difficulty in reflecting on that most solemn moment in life when we are called to encounter the Source of all Life and see ourselves in His Light.

Our Christian Faith is nourished by the Sacramental Life of the Church, redeemed in the Blood of Christ, Who constantly challenges us to Follow Me. In this life of faith we are always speaking of positive values while focusing in on what at first glance seems ‘negative’. We speak about Life, but refer to it through the Death of Jesus. We speak about Love, but recognize it through the symbol of hatred, torture, and death, The Cross. We hope in Heaven, but experience its beginnings through the challenges and pitfalls of life’s earthly journey. Our humanity, so prone to the changing attitudes of nature, has learned how to ‘see’ beyond the barriers that daily seek to impede our forward steps. It is with a faith-filled heart and a hope-filled life that we can securely live life to the fullest, seeing every moment and experience as another opportunity to Live Life and Love It.

Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis of Assisi is a unique and inspired prophet for all times. His approach to life and all creation has earned for him the title of Universal Brother. He instilled in the hearts of his spiritual children an attitude of joy and gratitude for every facet of life. He was a man imbued with a spirit of wonder that made him rejoice even during the most challenging times of his own life. Several years before his brief life ended – he died at 44 years of age – his body began to succumb to all the effects of the penances he had imposed upon himself. Francis even apologized to ‘Brother Ass’, as he called his body, for treating one who was so faithful to him in such an unappreciative manner. With the knowledge of his terminal condition and the pains of the Stigmata of Jesus he had received two years before, informed that he was soon to pass from this life to the next, he asked that a new stanza be added to the Canticle of the Creatures, and that it be sung for him: Praise be You, my Lord, for Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin. Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility. When he was told that Death was imminent, he called out Welcome, Sister Death! When we see life as the gift it is, and live life and love it, then even death cannot disturb our inner joy and serenity; we live each moment as a gift and know how to ‘let go’.

Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the faith of Israel was severely tested. Conquering armies and foreign rule were the fate of the Children of Abraham. Among the many restrictions, the most difficult was that of the prohibition for Israel to practice the faith of their ancestors. All the people were required, under penalty of death, to practice the religion of the conquering government. The Law of Moses was proscribed. Needless to say, many faithful Jews refused and were savagely tortured and executed. Among these was a mother and her seven sons. The testimony she gives, immortalized by the sacred writer, merits our reflection. All her sons were brought before the king and required to apostatize. Each refused, and, one by one, each son was cruelly tortured and killed before the eyes of the remaining brothers and their mother. Finally, the last son, young and full of life, with a promising future before him and gifts promised by the king should he accept the new religion, came forth. The mother leaned over and spoke to her son: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months … look to the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.” The young boy refused the king’s offers and rebuked him for his arrogance toward the God of Israel. In the course of the comment the young boy made before being more cruelly treated than the others, he said: “My brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant…” (cfr. 2 Maccabees, 7). He loved life so much that he would not compromise its fullness offered him by his Creator. Again we see how living life fully, at whatever stage and age we are, makes death not the frightening ‘reaper of doom’, but the ‘Doorway to Life’.

Already centuries before the Messiah, the Spirit of God had instilled in the hearts of His People the awareness that all life, from the moment of conception, is destined to live forever. Because of God’s Eternal Love, we share in His very Life. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit through grace in those who live in God’s Will opens the heart to see God in all things and to recognize the reality of heaven as the Father’s gift to His children. Yet, the process to achieve ‘perfection’ travels through many and varied experiences. The experiences of life teach us many things about God, ourselves, others, the world in which we live, the universe around us … and the Life that awaits us all. How we will enter that Life is determined by the decisions we make during our journey on earth.

‘Death’ is a terrible word for most people. People avoid even saying the word for fear it might ‘catch up with them’ sooner than expected. It always seems unexpected when Death finally does come to call us home. Notice how, when we hear of the death of someone, often people will ask “How old were they?” As though age had anything to do with it! The idea seems to be: No one dies of death! People seem to need a reason beyond simply reaching the natural term of earthly life. Death is the natural conclusion of time so that someone can finally enter eternity. Fear of it is the result of humanity’s disobedience in Eden. The passage from time to eternity – in whatever way God would have accomplished it had not Original Sin happened – would still have occurred, but in loving anticipation and yearning, rather than fear and sadness. Sin causes the fear and the uncertainty of our moral strengths. Do not be afraid! Trust God’s Word! God loves you! Believe in God’s love! Love God back by living in God’s Most Holy Will!

As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, how do we live our lives? What is our attitude to the challenges God permits that remind us of our vulnerability and mortality? Do we live in the spirit of the letter to the Hebrews that states: We do not have here a permanent dwelling, but we await another? (Hebrews 13: 14) Do we take time to reflect on death as one more step, the ultimate, in getting us to God? Do we avoid even thinking of the Paschal Mystery that each one will be called to celebrate in his or her personal life? Are we joy-filled in life and encourage others to be so, even in the midst of difficulties? Are we one of those who fall into that amusing, but true saying: ‘Everyone talks about heaven, but no one seems to be in a hurry to get there’ ?

If we live the spirit of our Seraphic Father, life can be the wonderful experience God intended it to be for us all. The experiences we have will serve to help us understand life’s beauty, dangers, challenges, and above all to realize life as the “gift” it is from God, the Source and Goal of all life. Once we take our place in creation we are offered the opportunity to know, love, and serve the One Who calls us to Himself. Thus “Death” becomes that converging point between time and eternity that in a twinkling of an eye (1Corinthians 15: 52) makes Eternal Life the reality we have believed in and lived for during our walk on earth.

November is the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The Church reminds us of those who have gone before us into eternity and who still await the fullness of Life. As the Church on earth we are asked to pray for the Holy Souls who are still undergoing the purification process of God’s Love and Mercy. They were where we are! They are those persons whom we may have known on earth, as well as that numberless crowd we will know only when we meet them in eternity. The Communion of Saints reminds us that we share a bond with all God’s children, even beyond time! They are where we hope to be! Though no one looks forward to suffering, we know that love still demands of its nature that love be pure. God’s love and mercy purifies the soul for its ultimate eternal experience. We call this place “Purgatory”.

In rather crude and non-theological terms: Purgatory is a “hell” with hope. This contradiction in terms does make sense when you consider the following: The loss of God is hell, but the knowledge and assurance of the soul’s eventual entrance into eternal life is assured Hope; and this causes Joy, even in the midst of suffering. Thus, Purgatory is a place where the pains of despair are displaced by the refreshing breath of hope. This hope accompanies the souls throughout the sufferings of their purification as an encouragement and support.

Throughout life’s journey the Church prays and supports her children who suffer in the “antechamber of heaven”. The Church Triumphant glories in God’s presence and intercedes for us. The Church Militant continues life’s earthly journey and battles between the two forces that determine the spiritual valor and value of each combatant. The Church Suffering lives the pains of separation in hope-filled joy, confident in God’s mercy, in the prayers and sacrifices of their sisters and brothers still on pilgrimage in this world, and of their imminent release and entrance into the Father’s eternal and loving embrace. Purgatory is that place where God’s justice and mercy meet. Where God’s justice is His mercy. Where souls who struggled valiantly through life and were wounded in the daily battles they endured, bare their scars before God, and implore the compassion and mercy of the Father that Jesus manifested to others when He walked among us.

When we view life through the eternal perspective offered us in Jesus, we see death as the doorway that leads to a Life fulfilled in every way. Where God is all in all. (cfr. Ephesians 4:6) Where we see Him face to face as He is. Where faith and hope no longer are needed, and Love reigns supreme. Where we surrender ourselves totally to the One Who surrendered Himself for us to death and to death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 8) Where the One Who enfleshed Himself in our human history transforms time into an eternal intimacy of never ending joy for those washed in the blood of the Lamb. (cfr. Revelation 7:14) November, with its somber weather (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere of the world), cold days, sleeping nature, is just God’s way through creation to remind us of the ongoing life-giving process of God’s grace. What seems like death is nothing less than the dormant period of hidden activity, the process that brings new life.

As Spiritual Children of Saint Francis of Assisi let us look to heaven and live in its light. Let our hearts not be troubled at the thought of what may lead us there. As Jesus tells the Apostles: You have faith in God (the Father); have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwellings places. I am going to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you also may be. (John 14: 1-3) Our Franciscan Fraternity, our Eucharistic celebrations and adoration, our prayers, our sharing of our Franciscan and Catholic charism and values, our acts of selflessness and charity on behalf of those less fortunate than we, all help to keep us focused on our goal – Heaven. With our sites clearly focused on eternity, our course is direct, our goal assured, and our journey is peaceful and joyful even in the midst of difficulties and burdens, through the support, concern and encouragement of those with whom we share the same spiritual gifts.

Let us remember to pray for the Holy Souls of the Faithful Departed that they rest in the peace of the Lord and come quickly to the joys they so ardently desire. Invoking our heavenly Mother’s intercession, we ask that she, Mother and Queen of the Holy Souls and of all God’s children, pray for their quick release from Purgatory. We entrust ourselves also to the prayers of the Holy Souls; though they cannot pray for themselves, they can intercede for us who still journey in time. The Communion of Saints, in which we profess our intimate relationship with eternity, offers us a share in the hope of those who are saved, whether in Heaven or in Heaven’s “waiting room” in Purgatory. The prayers of both help to strengthen our resolve to live in anticipation of the hope fulfilled of God’s Promise to all His faithful children of sharing in His Life forever.

Before concluding this letter, I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving. In the midst of our personal difficulties, or the problems and fears that we as a nation experience, there is a God who cares for us. Give thanks to God for being God; give thanks to God for His love; give thanks to God for having created you so that you could know, love, serve Him here and share eternity with Him. Give thanks to God for He is good, His love is everlasting. (Psalm 136: 1)

May the Father in His love shower His mercy upon us; may the Son “be Jesus” to us as Redeemer and Savior and not our judge; and may the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts with the gift of His grace-filled presence. May Our Lady guide, guard and protect us at all times; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi keep all of us, his Spiritual Children, in his loving care.

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

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