Fr. Francis’ Greetings – March, 2015

St. Francis & The EucharistMarch 2015

Dear Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi,

The Lord give you His peace!

For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored?… All his days are sorrow and grief are his occupation. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23) Even the plebeian suffered the same as the king. (Wisdom18:11) Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering. (Lamentations 1:12) Why does Sacred Scripture deal with suffering and sorrow so much? The easiest response is the obvious fact: Suffering is at the center of every human experience.

In his Encyclical Salvifici Doloris, Pope St. John Paul II writes: Suffering, in fact, is always a trial – at times a very hard one – to which humanity is subjected. The Gospel paradox of weakness and strength often speaks to us from the pages of the letters of St. Paul, a paradox particularly experienced by the Apostle himself and together with him experienced by all who share Christ’s sufferings. Paul writes in the second letter to the Corinthians: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9) In the second letter to Timothy we read: And therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed. (2 Timothy 1: 12) And in the letter to the Philippians he will even say: I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4: 13). The distinction St. Paul conveys, that Pope St. John Paul II repeats, is: I believe the person and thus live his words (for I know whom I have believed); I believe in him and thus trust his power to save (I can do all things in him).

Suffering has touched all of us in some way or another. We suffer at the news of a loved one who has an incurable disease. We are saddened when a family happily awaiting the birth of a child is told that this new life will be burdened with physical or psychological challenges for all his/her life. We feel inadequate and helpless when we see suffering in our loved ones and have no power to help them. We suffer with our own spiritual and physical vulnerabilities. What about the terrible social, economic, meteorologic calamities that affect whole families, cities, nations?! Suffering is around us and in each one of our lives. How do we respond to this universal ‘companion’?

Some years ago a physician stated: We respond to suffering with a fatalistic and passive attitude that blindly accepts what cannot be changed permitting this cruel destiny (to overwhelm us). This pagan perspective seems to pervade in every age. Other attitudes are: resigning one’s self to fate and giving up the fight; overcoming suffering by trying to eliminate all desire and passion in life; trying to play ‘mind over matter’ games like some ‘superperson’; despairing and just giving up; attempting to overcome suffering by ‘buying our way out of it’; forgetting troubles by going ‘head over heels’ into the pleasures of life; rationalizing suffering away by denying it. So many other ‘methods’ have been tried, but to no real success… It matters not how we try to eliminate suffering from our lives; suffering will always be there at one time or another, in one form or another.

How did our Seraphic Father St. Francis respond to suffering?  How did our Mother Clare respond to the reality of suffering?  They found an unusual happiness in their afflictions. They suffered and were willing to accept even more if that was the will of God.  They did not fear suffering, because they did not fear death.  Death for them and all souls surrendered to the will of God was the moment they would be united by indissoluble bonds to the heavenly Bridegroom of their souls.  They were fully aware and convinced that in embracing their crosses, they were fulfilling their earthly mission to embrace the cross and follow Jesus to Calvary.

Suffering for the sake of suffering is foolish and certainly not centered in God. When we are enveloped with suffering or just have to bear some serious inconvenience for a time, we are being entrusted with a “mission”.  The “mission of participating in the Redemptive Passion of Christ,  the ultimate gift that every true Christian is asked to perfect in his/her life. When we enter the celebration of the Eucharist with heart, mind, and soul totally focused and intent on the Sacred Action of re-presenting the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Passion-Death-Resurrection, we too, through our baptismal consecration as re-born in Christ through the Holy Spirit, become spiritually victims with the Victim and victors with the Victorious Redeemer.

The Lenten journey we have begun introduces us each year into the Mystery of the Suffering Servant of God. We are asked to listen to His words and follow in His footsteps. This ‘following’ can be frightening when we understand what the call entails and when we recognize our weaknesses. But, it can be uplifting when we acknowledge the One Who has preceded us and invites us to follow me. Lent encourages us to participate in the ministry of the Person of The Suffering Servant – Jesus. We are asked to be not only spectators but protagonists of the Mystery of Calvary. We are offered the opportunity to ‘be one with Christ’ in the whole work of our salvation.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2: 20).

He Who created us without our will, will not save us without our consent (St. Augustine).  God can save anyone He so wills to save. However, although Jesus died once for all on the Cross, we must continue to make up in our bodies what is still wanting in the passion of Christ, as St. Paul tells us (Colossians 1:24). The continuation of the Mystery of Calvary in our lives is an ongoing process of healing with, through, in Jesus. We continue a spiritual process to eradicate whatever in our life may be harmful to our growth in God’s grace. We strive to control whatever could lead us astray from our relationship with God.

Lent is a time for us to seek spiritual healing that ultimately affects our very lives. We may try to accomplish this by very practical ‘sacrifices’: foods, TV programs, entertainment, and the like. We may increase the prayers we recite, or the time we spend reading Scripture or some other spiritual writing. We may offer our time, talents and ‘treasures’ to assist the needy with Corporal or Spiritual Works of Mercy. These practices and many others are commendable. We participate in the sufferings of Christ by accepting to bear these small crosses each day as we prepare for the celebration of New Life in Jesus at Easter. Nevertheless, there is something we still must do if all these practices are to be effective, if they are to achieve the purpose for which they are intended. We must start from where we want to arrive if we ever expect to eventually get there! We must Come to the Center!

Come To The Center! We must get to the ‘core’ of things. We must get to the ‘heart’, the Heart of God, that Heart opened for us on the Cross that we might enter the Father’s loving embrace – the Heart of Jesus, the Heart of the Eternal High Priest Who is both the Lamb of Sacrifice and the Priest Who offers the Sacrifice. It is in this Sacrifice that we enter the ‘heart’ of the matter and the Heart of the Lord, Whose footsteps we seek to follow and Whose Cross we are asked to bear according to the strengths allotted us by Divine Providence. It is the Eucharist and all that the Eucharist means that is the point of departure as well as the point of arrival of any worthwhile ‘sacrifice’ and ‘penance’. To make our lives sacred (sacrifice=make sacred) we must do ‘penance’ (penance= metanoia = change of mind/heart). Thus, Lent is a time to be holy by changing our hearts. To do this we must…

Come to the Center!  Jesus is the ‘Center’. The Tabernacle, the Eucharist, that is where our focus should be, not just during Lent, but always. It is there that we re-present the great Mystery of our Redemption in the Paschal Mystery, the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. It is the Eucharist, celebrated, received worthily, and adored with love, that gives meaning to what we do, and fills our hearts with the divine graces necessary to grow in our faith and relationship with God.

Our Seraphic Father St. Francis was enamored with the Eucharist.  Jesus was the very center of his life.  He became so much one with Jesus that he was gifted to bear the wounds of the Passion of the Savior. The prayer of St. Francis  repeated  by most Catholics, especially during Lent when they pray the Stations of the Cross, tells us of St. Francis’ love for Christ and the Cross, and the Eucharist:  We adore You most holy Lord Jesus Christ, (here and in all Your churches throughout the world,) and we bless you, because by Your holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.  Always centered on the Eucharist, St. Francis even prayed this prayer kneeling outside a locked church door when access to the interior was impossible.

Come to the Center! The Eucharist is not a devotion; the Eucharist is not ‘another sacrificial practice’; the Eucharist is not an ‘option’ among many others. The Eucharist is Jesus! What greater experience could we allow ourselves to deepen, that in turn would transform us, than to focus on the Eucharist and make our Sacramental Jesus, Eternal High Priest and Lamb of Sacrifice, the Center of all we seek to do and become during the Lenten Season.

As Brothers and Sisters in St. Francis of Assisi, his Spiritual Children, remember that the Eucharist was central to our Father’s life.  His strength came from his love and total surrender to his Lord, the Center of his life. What about us!? If we do only a few ‘things’ for Lent, let us make an effort to deepen, sincerely and with commitment, our participation in and love for the Eucharist. This may take herculean efforts for many because this requires daily and/or concentrated and regular preparation before, focused participation during, and calm centered praise and thanksgiving after the celebration of the Eucharist, each day if possible. From this will flow abundant graces and unimaginable strength to meet the demands of life and to live in a peace and serenity that only God can give. I hope that all of us, Spiritual Children of the Poverello, will make the Eucharist the first and foremost goal of our Lenten journey. Let our cry and goal be:  Jesus, and Jesus alone!

Come to the Center! Let Jesus be the focus of your Lenten journey, because Jesus is the real goal of this season. In the Eucharist, we re-live the awesome experience of our Redemption in His Passion-Death-Resurrection. Only in Jesus, does anything we ‘do’ make sense, and any sacrifice we ‘make’ have a lasting and meaningful effect.

May this holy season fill you with the graces necessary to strengthen your resolve to become holy through ‘sacrifice’, in a profound change of mind and heart through ‘penance’, by a daily resolute decision to Come to the Center – Jesus! Come to the One from Whom all graces flow and to Whom all life must go if we are to grow in the New Life we celebrate at the end of this holy season. What a wonderful opportunity we are offered. Let us make the effort Lent asks of  us.

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


Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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