Fr. Francis' Greetings


francis_wounded_winterSt. 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

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February, 2015

 Dear Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, The Lord give you His peace! In a brief time from the end of the Christmas Season, the Church begins the solemn Lenten Journey that takes us from the Ashes of humility to the Palm and Olive Branches of praise, and from the Calvary of betrayal and death to the Empty Tomb of Resurrection and glory. If ever there were a time for us to see the intimate connection between the Crib and the Cross, it is now. The wood that enveloped the Child at Bethlehem was a preparation for the wood that would hold him up before the whole world. Mary presented Jesus to the world at Bethlehem when the Wise Men from the East arrived seeking the newborn King.  Mary associated Herself with the Sacrifice of Her Son on Calvary and offered Him to the Father with a love and total surrender that only a Mother can personalize within her heart and express in her life. The words of the prophet Simeon – and your own heart will be pierced with a sword that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare (Luke 2: 35) – were finally totally fulfilled. The Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, celebrated at the beginning of this month on February 2nd, prepares us for all that follows during the next forty days of our lenten journey; and, it reminds us of the intimate relationship of Mary with Her Son Jesus, sharing with Him the most solemn moment of His life. Lent helps us to prepare for the transition from childhood to adulthood in the Spirit. We journey in Word and Sacrament throughout this holiest of Church Seasons. We open our ears and our hearts to the Word of God calling us to a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in Whom all creation is restored. We are reminded that the Christian, as another Christ in the Spirit, is called to take up his cross daily and journey to Calvary and beyond. The ‘beyond’, and where it leads, is determined by the depth of desire and decisiveness we have to make up in our personal lives what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body the Church (Colossians 1: 24). Lent helps us to re-focus and re-evaluate those areas that may have affected or be affecting our soul’s journey through Christ to the Father in the Spirit. All this may sound like ‘nice’ words for spiritual reading but not necessarily food for our everyday lives. There is nothing further from the truth! It is a question of Spirit and Life! The Spirit prompts within us and life responds to the urging of the Spirit. It is only when our hearts and souls are balanced that our lives become less dysfunctional, our values and principles less compromising, our actions less burdensome, our decisions less patronizing, our prayers less formal and spiritless, our relationship with God and others less self-centered and more open to the working of the Spirit and the Will of God. When our spirit is in shape, then the whole person is truly – even though somewhat distorted and infinitely less – an image of the invisible God. We begin Lent with the acceptance of ashes on our foreheads. This has always seemed a little strange to me because of the Gospel we hear read and preached on Ash Wednesday: Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see  (Matthew 6: 1). It is interesting how people will make every effort to go to Church ‘to get ashes’ on Ash Wednesday, but often indifferent to what is expressed by their reception. This sacramental signifies the passing state of life, the nothingness of so many material things for which we express great concern and desire, and our willingness to reflect upon our lives to refocus on the priorities and the great gift of salvation celebrated in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. Ashes in the ancient world and still today in many areas of the globe are used for scouring and cleansing tough stains. For us, they are the sign of a willingness and availability to permit God’s grace, through our collaboration, to scour and cleanse our hearts and souls so that we may enter the Easter Season renewed in the Spirit, with lives better directed to everything a Christian has promised and is expected to be and do. The three tools that we are reminded of during this holy season are: prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving (charitable acts). These are traditional terms still meaningful and effective for anyone attempting to make his/her Lent a fruitful experience of growth in grace. Unfortunately, so many view these three positive elements as negative and ‘old fashioned’. Prayer is often understood as repetitious ramblings of the pious words of others and/or form prayers required to ‘make God  hear us’;  the more we say the better – even if taking more time to recite these prayers our responsibilities may suffer! … Sacrifice is the act that refuses legitimate things often with the thought that the more we suffer physically the greater God blesses our soul. While at times there can be a truth in that, pain for the sake of pain is never a blessing … Almsgiving or Acts of Charity opens our wallets/purses, refrigerators, check books, signs petitions to legislators and speaks powerfully in favor of the downtrodden, and so forth, but often fails to recognize the person of Christ in the one whom we have made an object for our own good feeling and sense of altruism. Some reflections regarding the three companions still necessary for a fruitful Lenten Season of Renewal might help us to acknowledge them more positively, and view them from a different perspective: Prayer – Prayer is a posture of dialogue between the creature and the Creator. It is an intimate exchange that places us in the presence of God and allows the Love of God to envelop us and speak to our heart. It does not take eloquence or long drawn-out discourses. When you pray, go to your room … and pray to your Father in private (Matthew 6: 6) … do not rattle on (Matthew 6: 7) … All it takes is the time to be quiet with God; to speak to Him from the heart about whatever we know He already knows but that we need to emphasize in our own hearing to recognize our greater need for God in the matter;  to speak less and listen more to the God Who speaks to our hearts and souls;  to reconfirm our trust in God’s Providence and our desire to always live in His Will. This type of prayer requires only love, and the response we experience brings us peace and serenity. Sacrifice – Sacrifice for Lent has always been wrapped up in denials. The word itself  – “sacrifice” – actually comes from two Latin words: sacrum (sacred) and facere (to make). Thus, the reason for ‘sacrifice’ is to make something or someone ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’. This was the command God Himself gave His People in the desert after they left Egypt for the trek to the Promised Land. Be holy, for I, your God, am holy  (Leviticus 11: 45; 1 Peter 1: 16) . Holiness, as we read in the Gospels and the Letters of the Apostles, has little, directly, to do with food, clothing, activities, or the like. What the word does entail is that we seek ways to free our spirits and lives from the slavery of being controlled by things, even legitimate things, which can, continued and exaggerated, addict the person in such a way that the person no longer has time to focus on his/her God and his/her relationship with Him, or makes him/her so self-centered on personal needs and wants, that he/she fails to notice the sisters and brothers in need. The need for physical ‘sacrifice’ (in the common understanding of ‘relinquishing things’) has also been proven very helpful and spiritually and physically healthy for the body, mind, heart and soul. The prime purpose for sacrifices must be the spirit; we must direct our priorities correctly, otherwise a good act, done for the wrong reason, is worth little or nothing. Almsgiving –  Almsgiving is an old term that merely means ‘charitable acts’ of giving,  materially meeting another’s needs from our own resources. The first thought here that some may have is that of special collections or money gifts provided for those whose lives are socially, financially, ethnically, legally … challenged. Even here, the thought is commendable, but when done for more social reasons and not because we recognize the suffering Christ in our sister or brother in need, our acts benefit the other, but are not a true expression of faith in Divine Providence Who exercises Its beneficence through God’s Children. Prayer, Sacrifice and Almsgiving (Charitable Acts) really do follow a logical sequence that fills the soul with a serenity in its advance on the road that leads to our resurrection and renewal in the Spirit at Easter. Prayer creates an atmosphere of calm and quiet, an openness and availability to God Who speaks. Sacrifice, in response to God’s Voice, helps us to differentiate between our needs and wants, and allows us to recognize how blessed we are recognizing everything we have and do not have as a gift of Divine Providence.  Almsgiving (charitable acts) is the natural response done from the heart and not the head to offer others the opportunity to know how blessed they are because of God’s Goodness offered them through us, because we have recognized God’s Goodness and our call to be His Providence to others. These three Lenten Companions teach us that: – Prayer helps us discover that humility, contrition and prayer make the distance between  man and God disappear. They act in such a way that God descends to man, and man ascends to God, so that both understand, love,  and possess one another. – Sacrifice humbles us lovingly before God. Distancing things that distract us or that we have allowed to “possess us”, we will hear more clearly the “voice” of God Who speaks to those who truly have a humble heart before him, and enriches that heart with His gifts. In the course of life, mortifications will not be lacking. We should love them, and embrace them with a cheerful heart.  Suffering is the mark of those who have chosen a Crucified God as their inheritance. – Almsgiving or Acts of Charity opens our heart to others and leads us to treat them as we would want to be treated.  We see all as “our neighbor”. Our Seraphic Father St. Francis reminded the brothers in his Testament: and the Lord gave me brothers – brothers and sisters, whoever they may be in creation, are God’s gift to us. We must love them in fact and not just in theory. We are called to “embrace the leper”. Have we tried to enter a more personal relationship with God?  Do we pray from our hearts, or must we always use books or vocal prayer? Do we feel uncomfortable in silent prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament? Do we believe that the power of prayer can transform ourselves and even the world? Do we believe in the necessity of prayer to recognize God’s kingship over us and our need to detach ourselves from all that hinders our journey to God? Are we prudently reasonable in the sacrifices we perform during Lent? Do we propose Lenten ‘sacrifices’ that will help us: control our exaggerated desires, let go of legitimate acts and things that tend to or in fact control our daily routine, or help us to prioritize our needs and wants, so that we can recognize more deeply the presence of God’s Providence in our life? When we respond to the needs of others, do we offer out of ‘compassion’ (seeing our suffering sister or brother entitled to our concern and loving response – love looks across – horizontally) or out of ‘pity’ (seeing a lesser member of society so that we can ‘feel good’ in materially helping someone without considering them as an equal in need – vainglory looks down – vertically)? Is our willingness to be of service an openness of heart or just a ‘seasonal’ series of acts that will have no lasting effects on our perception of those less fortunate – in any way – than we? Do we ‘buy’ our way into the lives of others rather than empathize and enter into the hearts of others, allowing them to enter ours? Now that we have begun this holy season, I pray that it may be a spiritually fruitful journey for us all. Let us ‘Hurry up slowly’ through this Season. Let us do little things well, with our hearts focused on the true meaning of ‘Repentance’ and ‘Renewal’. Little, simple, consistent, faith-filled  acts and attitudes can help us deepen our awareness of God’s love in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus and strengthen our spirits to become more authentic Christians in our lives.   May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look over each one of us, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.  The beginning of the month we heard Simeon proclaim Jesus a Sign of Contradiction  (Luke 2: 34).  Through the graces and practices of this holy season, may we too be “signs of contradiction” – as was and still is Jesus – to a confused world.  In the spirit of the Poverello, may we be an uplifting presence for the many whom we encounter on our journey.  Happy and fruitful Lent to all the Penitents of Assisi! Peace and Blessings Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap. Regional Spiritual Assistant

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