Fr. Francis' Greetings - December, 2014

theotokos_with_christ_childDecember 2014

 Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

 May the Infant Jesus grant your heart the Peace you desire.

May His Star enlighten your mind with the splendor of His Truth.

May His Love consume your heart so that it beats solely for Him.

God’s Word for the first Sunday in Advent speaks of the Lord’s unexpected return to close the experience of time and opens for us the reality of eternity. The Scripture passages for this Sunday may have different effects on those who read them. Some may feel that the words are only figurative, intended to convey the need for people to change their lives or be responsible for the consequences of their choices in this life. Others may read the words and see in them a warning about a real event to take place in the immediate future, thus instilling a sense of fear, trembling and a “forced” changed of heart… (Can any heart be changed by force!?)…Then there are those who read the words as they have been read for centuries. These read them as a reminder and a loving warning of what will come about for all human beings created to share in eternal life. This is a reminder and a warning to be heeded but not feared for those who have striven to be faithful to God.


How many people and organized religions live in and preach fear of a God Who comes to judge and condemn His creation, His children. While the possibility of an eternal loss of God is within the will of all human beings, often we forget some very basic and necessary truths that we should always keep in our hearts. Have we forgotten, or relegated to the back of our minds, the fact that Jesus is the sign of the Father’s compassion and love for a wayward and sinful humanity? Jesus is the tangible expression of the Father’s love, mercy and providence? Have we forgotten that the Father sent His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him may have life and have it more abundantly? (John 3: 16) Have we forgotten that Jesus said all that the Father has given me I will to have where I am? (John 6:37) Have we all forgotten that Jesus said in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I will come back to take you with me so that where I am you may also be? (John 14: 2)   The coming of the Lord at the end of time is something to be anticipated with joyful hope. It is the coming of the Lord we celebrate in Advent: His coming as a human being, His coming at the end of time, and His coming among us and within us at every Eucharist we celebrate and every Communion we receive.


The birth of Jesus in human history took place at a moment that changed even the measurement of the passing of the generations. There are those who have argued against making Jesus the turning point of our calculation of time. Yet argue as they may, Jesus is the point of demarcation for all of history. Non-Christian and even non-believing nations have been compelled on the global scene to calculate time from the Birth of Jesus the Christ. There is a point in history when time makes a drastic change – that Point is Jesus! The little rock that was hewn from the mountain and struck the foot of the great statue (Daniel 2: 34) making it crumble, as we are told in the Book of Daniel, is the Infant of Bethlehem Who is Mighty God and Savior come to re-establish the Kingdom of God in place of the kingdoms of the world. The presence of Jesus urges change. Jesus comes on the scene and the world begins to move in another direction. Those who accept Jesus, live their lives fully and meaningfully with their hearts profoundly focused on the image of God hidden in all those with whom they share life’s journey. The invisible God manifested in the Incarnate Son gives a whole new vision to the world. Humanity is no longer on a journey through the darkness of spiritual confusion and anxious anticipation.


Ancient Israel accepted the teachings of the prophets and the patriarchs an anticipated an “immediate” arrival of the “Anointed One”, the Messiah. But, after many generations of what seemed to them as unfulfilled expectations, they began to interpret God’s Word in Scripture according to their own wants based on their social needs or personal desires. Thus, when the Promised One finally arrived Israel failed to recognize Him. Luke tells us this so beautifully and succinctly in his account of the Birth of the Savior: While they were there (Bethlehem)…She (Mary) gave birth…and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged (Luke 2: 6). No room! The Creator of the universe finds no room in His own creation! The God of all creation is refused a welcome by those from Whom they received life!   Almighty God is born in a hovel for animals, Whose throne is a manger and Whose adoring court are a humble couple and poor shepherds from the hillside who were tending sheep! What mystery of love! Here is a total emptying! How can we question that God understands our human condition?   The ecstatic praise that St. Francis of Assisi once said when he reflected upon the Mystery of the Incarnation: O sublime humility, O humble sublimity! is the awe-filled acknowledgment and prayer we offer before the greatness of such emptying of Himself!   It all began with Mary’s “Yes” to the Father’s request for her availability to allow God to be born in human history. The birth of Jesus takes place in Bethlehem, whose name itself speaks of Who the Little One born there is destined to be.


It is interesting that the word Bethlehem means either house of bread or house of flesh. Centuries before the birth of the Savior, the name of this little town, birthplace of David the King of Israel and of Jesus the Incarnate Son of God, prophetically spoke of nourishment and life. This little town of Bethlehem was to offer a place for the Word to become flesh and to dwell among us so that He could nourish us with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and thus His presence could be enfleshed in our lives down through the ages. We are called to become other beth-lehems through whom Jesus can be spiritually enfleshed in our lives. Through Him and in Him, we can offer Jesus a way to be enfleshed in our world and to be nourishment for others through our active concern for our sisters and brothers. God gave us the Gift of Himself and we are called and encouraged to do the same – give of ourselves freely and joyfully.


Advent prepares us for the Lord’s arrival in Word, Sacrament, each other, and at the end of time. We look for His coming and we journey through the season with the prophets who foretold that magnificent moment. We hear the words of the Baptist spoken during Jesus’ adult life. The Baptist was a prophetic voice and reminder for all who today forget or fail to recognize Jesus’ Divine Eucharistic Presence in His Church and in the people around them. During the last week of Advent we relive, through Scripture, the events leading up to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. This holy Season introduces us to the new Liturgical Year that reaches its central and greatest moment in the celebration of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of the One Whose life from the Crib to the Cross was prophesied, anticipated, and fulfilled. Jesus’ triumph in fulfilling the Father’s Will begins with His humble birth in the obscurity of Bethlehem. He is rejected by a world grown indifferent to the plight of the stranger and the poor. The House of Bread would not nourish, and the House of Flesh would not open its doors to the Word made Flesh. Open your hearts to Christ, we were reminded by St. John Paul II.


In the midst of this humiliation, heaven sings Glory to God in the highest and peace to all on whom His favor rests (Luke2:14). When others cry out, march, fight back, raise issues, criticize, judge, condemn, and so on, the Savior is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in an animal’s trough because there was no place for Him in the inn (Luke 2:12). He begins to live in obscurity until his ministry begins and he is exalted on the Cross to attract all people to Himself (John 12: 32). We can never separate the Cross from the Crib, and Christ from the Cross. These three are so intimately connected that to forget one is to misunderstand the totality of the emptying of Christ even to death and death on a Cross (Philippians 2: 8). Joy at the birth celebrated so elaborately at Christmas is a prelude to the infinite joy that we are called to share when we are born to eternity. Jesus’ birth and willingness to share our human condition is an encouragement for all of us. We too are born in this world and called to be a counter cultural presence, to be “other Christs” whose lives speak volumes to a society that is indifferent to His presence and message. Our society seems apathetic in many ways to the Lord Jesus, the Savior, and His Good News of the Father’s Love for all humanity. We still rationalize our refusal to open our hearts to one another. We still try to buy our way out of being responsible in uplifting our sisters and brothers who suffer. We still, in many ways, use the exercise of religion as a mask to hide our fear, prejudice or indifference to others. Jesus comes in our midst, often hidden as He was in the womb of Mary, and knocks at the door (cfr. Revelation 3: 20) of our hearts. How many times have we refused Him entry?!


One thing only is necessary for us and that is to be close to Jesus. We remember that Scripture says that at the birth of our Lord, the shepherds heard the angels singing. Interestingly enough, Scripture does not say that Mary and St. Joseph, who were closest to the Infant, heard the voices of the angles or saw the miraculous splendor in the heavens of the angels. On the contrary, instead of hearing the angels singing, they heard the Child crying, and saw by the light of the poor lamp, the eyes of the Divine Infant all wet with tears and trembling with cold. Considering the events, simultaneously occurring, where would you rather have been: in the field hearing the angels and marveling at the heavenly light, or in the dark stable, smelling of animals, with the Infant Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? Wouldn’t you have chosen to be in that dark stable filled with the cries of the little Child, rather than beside yourselves with joy, with the shepherds…? Without a doubt!


Without a doubt?! I hope that we as Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi can also say: “Without a doubt. We are not seeking the consolations of God but the God of all consolation”. As Mary and Joseph, may we be able to look down to heaven instead of up. What do I mean? I pray that we may not be looking up for God to respond to our desires always in a special and miraculous way, but that we may recognize God in our midst as we walk through life. If heaven cannot be recognized within our hearts; if we cannot hear the voice of the Savior in the depths of our soul; if we refuse to let go of our inflated egos, how can we ever expect to recognize the Lord Who comes every moment into our lives and asks us to let Him in?! Mary and Joseph did not need the heavenly music because they possessed the Divine Composer Whose Presence was music to their hearts. Are we satisfied with knowing Jesus is with us? Is Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem a time for us to bow in humble adoration to the great mystery and miracle that took place and continues in our lives, or is it just a time for glitz and gift-giving, with no real thought of the reason for the season?


At Greccio, St. Francis’ simplicity and desire for ‘concreteness’ in touching with the senses the great Mystery of the Incarnation gave rise to the tradition of the Nativity Scene most Christian families set up over the Christmas season. The Poverello was not seeking to be innovative, or create something curious that would attract people to himself. He sought to make the Birth of the Savior come alive once again before the eyes of people and ultimately in the depths of their hearts. He sought to rekindle the spark of the Spirit’s fire and enthusiasm in the hearts of the faithful. Through the senses, St. Francis sought to arrive more incisively at the soul. As spiritual children of our Seraphic Father let us remember that Jesus’ birth gives us courage and certitude in a world that often offers tempting allurements and captivating seductions. We are called to be beacons of faith-filled light indicating the way to the Lord. We prepare for His coming at the end of the age, as we recognize His coming each day in the great gift of the Eucharist where he offers Himself as the Bread of Life and enfleshes Himself in our lives in Holy Communion. Thus it is that we too become a welcoming Bethlehem, where the mystery of Christmas is perpetuated everyday in our lives.


Every best wish for you and your loved ones that the Christ Child, with His loving parents, Our Blessed Mother and good Saint Joseph, may fill your hearts and homes with peace and blessings of all kinds at Christmas, throughout the New Year, and always. You and all your loved ones will be remembered in my prayers and Masses especially during the Christmas season. Please pray that I may fulfill my ministry among you and with you according to the Father’s Will.


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







Peace and Blessings

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

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