Fr. Francis’ Greetings, April, 2015

duccio_resurrectionApril 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,


The Lord give you his peace!  and lead you through the mystery of His Passion and Death to the joy of His Resurrection and our Renewed Life in Jesus!

I raise my eyes to the mountains. From where comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121: 1-2) Who may go up to the mountain of the Lord?…The clean of hand, the pure of heart …they will receive blessings from the Lord. (Psalm 24: 3-05) Mountains and hills play an important role throughout Scripture, from the very beginning of creation in the Book of Genesis to the ‘new beginning’ in the Book of Revelation.

The Old Testament often speaks of mountains and hills. On Mount Ararat – according to the centuries’ old tradition – God initiated His covenant with all humanity through Noah, and promised never again to destroy all humankind. On Mount Moriah, God confirmed His covenant with Abraham, and promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens. On Mount Sinai, God entered a covenant with Israel and clearly stipulated the conditions that would make them a people peculiarly His own, that they might be holy for I your God am holy. On Mount Carmel, God manifested His majesty and glory to Elijah and encouraged and strengthened His prophet. Other mountains, other hills, perhaps less impressive, but nonetheless places and moments when the great God of Israel made His presence, power, and pleasure plainly known to His people. The ‘heights’ offered the spot where our ancestors in faith communed with God. Rising above the daily routine, moving beyond all things that distract and deter, they were able to encounter God more profoundly, and commune with God alone.

The New Testament also speaks of mountains and hills. The heights where Jesus preached powerful sermons, performed wondrous miracles, persuaded and encouraged His chosen followers to accept His call to follow in His footsteps … and redeemed humanity. On the heights Jesus offers His ‘circle of friends’ opportunities to see the wonders of God and His own glory. Among these elevated areas are two memorable and important ‘Mounts’: Tabor and Calvary.

A spiritual writer of the last century says that Mount Tabor (Transfiguration) and Mount Calvary (Redemption) help us to see The Glory in every Cross, and the Cross in every moment of Glory. On Mount Tabor a few chosen friends had a unique glimpse of Jesus that would strengthen them after the Resurrection; they were transformed by His Transfiguration. On Mount Calvary all was fulfilled. The mission was complete. Jesus’ own words, When I am lifted up, I will call all people to Myself (John 12: 32), would powerfully affect humanity after the Resurrection. The covenants of the Old Testament are reiterated and find their climactic fulfillment on Mount Calvary. The ultimate sacrifice, offered to the Father in the Blood of Christ His Incarnate Son, is our holocaust. Jesus the Christ is offered on the altar of the Cross and thus seals the Covenant with the Father forever for the sake of us all. On the Hill of Golgotha God invites His children to come and see how much God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that all who believe in Him might have life everlasting. From the Cross Jesus sees the world and all times – past, present, future. He speaks to us. We see the Suffering Servant and recognize the King of Glory, the Christ; we acknowledge that His image through Baptism in His Blood makes us the Christian (the other Christ) each is called to be; and together we become the living Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, not a museum of saints but a home for sinners redeemed in the blood of Christ Jesus.

Hills and heights continue to be places where God makes His presence felt.  There is a famous hill (mountain), famous especially for all Franciscans, that speaks volumes of the one who was transfigured in his soul on that height.  It is La Verna.  On this height St. Francis went to spend time in prayer and solitude.  His soul was transported by profound love. His ardent prayer was to feel what Our Lord and Savior felt in His love for all humanity when he accepted to be crucified.  A presumptuous prayer?  No! It was the prayer of one whose love was so intense that he wished to share in all things, even those most painful and repugnant,  as far as possible, what the Beloved experienced. And our Seraphic Father was granted his prayer.  A seraph appeared to him in the form of the Crucified, and when the seraph left, St. Francis’ body had been signed with the wounds of the Passion of Our Savior.

People saw the little man marked for Life with the signs of the Lord’s Saving Death. Through the years they had witnessed the power of God speaking through the sincerity of his heart and the simplicity of his life.  He was called to be a messenger of God’s all-abiding love and hope for a troubled world grown cold in its love for God and neighbor. Saint Francis of Assisi had become the ‘Father’ of a multitude of ‘Spiritual Children’ called to be ‘instruments of peace and blessings’ to the world.  Like the Prophets and Patriarchs of old St. Francis stood before God and the people to intercede for them. Now that he had experienced the depths of God’s love in such an intimate and personal manner, not just seeing in the heart and communing with God in prayer, he became a strength and channel of divine graces for countless thousands of souls over the years.

Signed with the marks of the Passion of Jesus, our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi continues to attract numberless people to God.  His life still speaks so eloquently of the Glory of the Cross and the Cross in every moment of Glory. His participation in the Passion of Christ is God’s way of still inviting everyone back to a more grace-filled life.  Saint Francis signed with the Sacred Stigmata is an image of the Crucified Christ.  And his words continue to indicate the Way that is Christ and leads to the graces that flow from the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

The Paschal Mystery continues down through the centuries in the Church. The Mystery continues through the Eucharist we celebrate.  The Eucharist is a re-presentation of that tragic and triumphant day when we were redeemed by Jesus and in Whose Resurrection we are empowered to be able to look beyond death to Life. At the Eucharist especially, the priest is not his own. The priest mystically becomes Christ. The Mass is not the priest’s. When the priest celebrates Mass, it is Christ Jesus, gloriously present in, with, and through the Father and Holy Spirit, Who renews that grace-filled moment of Eternal Love that transforms those present, according to their own preparation and participation. According to each one’s personal cooperation with God’s grace, we are mystically transformed into a living image of Jesus … who more, who less.

Christ becomes present to the Christian at every Eucharistic celebration. Those present are led to a more profound awareness of the image of Christ they bear through Baptism. Each Eucharist worthily received encourages us to live our spiritual life more intensely. Life in the Spirit can effectively affect life in the world so that lives can truly change and be transformed. Christ lives in and through us all, when we cooperate with grace. We Christians are once again reminded of our dignity. As St. Leo the Great reminded the faithful in one of his sermons: O, Christian, be mindful of your dignity!  When we understand and accept the dignity of being redeemed in the blood of Christ, we cannot help but feel powerless to resist His presence. Surrender to God and He will fill you with Himself!

Come to the Lord with heart filled gratitude and love rather than one that is always seeking gifts and miracles. Let the Christ present in each Christian be the Christ you now seek out in your sister or brother. Seeking out the other leads to a bonding in faith and love that builds up the Church of which we are a particular and defined expression. Secular Franciscans are sisters and brothers who individually have encountered Christ through our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and who now seek to keep alive the graces and strengthen the ‘covenant’ that has been formed in and among them, through the example of our Father, with, and in Jesus.

As Spiritual Children of the Poverello of Assisi we follow the Lord Jesus on the Way of the Cross, but we must never forget that the Cross and the Resurrection are one. Easter joy is one with Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday of New Life in the Risen Lord. Each of those days celebrates the joy of the Resurrection: Glory in the Cross and the Cross in every moment of Glory! We must never separate the Cross from that wonderful moment of which St. Paul says: If Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is in vain  (1 Corinthians 15: 14).   Let us never forget that St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan is God’s troubadour.  We are messenger and message of God’s Love and Life to the world. The wounds of the Passion that St. Francis bore are intended to help us reflect on the eternal love of God for us in Jesus through the Spirit. The Sacred Stigmata of the man of La Verna are a visible reminder of that One Great Sacrifice, never repeated, but always re-presented on the altar by Christ through the priest, for the Christian, who in Him is the Church – a Resurrection People. All are invited to ascend the ‘heights’ of the altar in the spirit and be washed in the Blood of Christ. The example and words of our Father Francis inspire us.  In him we see the Christ; through him we recognize and acknowledge we are Christian – faulty but image nonetheless of Christ; and with him we accept our role in this world to be the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, a Sign of Contradiction, that prods us in this world to look beyond ourselves and the world that has hold of us. As sisters and brothers in St. Francis we are, as St. Augustine calls Christians, an ‘Alleluia People’. We do not stop at the Cross, we go beyond. Alleluia!

On Resurrection Sunday we must roll back the stone of those many things that we have allowed to close us in on ourselves and shut us out from the light and life God has entrusted to us. God and we roll that boulder away together. We peer into the empty tomb. We recognize Who Jesus is; Jesus is the Christ. We recognize who we are; we are the Christian. We recognize what we have become in Christ; we are the Church.  We are the living Body of Christ, alive in a world desperately in need of God’s messengers and message of  Easter Peace and Joy. As I wrote in a previous letter: When we accept our moment in life and believe in the Lord’s Resurrection, ignorance gives way to knowledge, fear to courage and strength, prejudice to impartiality and acceptance, pride to humility, indifference to concern, over-indulgence to self-control, hypocrisy to sincerity, discouragement to hope, doubt to faith, and hatred to love, because…You can’t hold back the dawn! And the Resurrection of Jesus is the New Dawn bringing the Light of Christ to all willing to accept Him.

May the light of Christ’s Resurrection shine in your life that we might have life, and have it in abundance. Our God lives and journeys with each one of us that we might reach life’s goal: Eternal Life. May the Risen Lord Jesus shower you and your loved ones with peace, joy and abundant blessings for a Happy Easter; may Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother, help you to live with Jesus in the light of the New Life His Resurrection offers each one of us; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi  watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. With a promise to keep all of you affectionately in my Easter Masses and Liturgies, I wish you and your dear ones a very Happy and Joyous Easter.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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