From the Desk of Fr. Francis

claresimpleAugust 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis and St. Clare,

The Lord give you his peace!

As Franciscans we are called by God to love. This love is a total surrender to God, manifested in how we serve God in one another, even those who are not one of us (cfr. Mark 9: 38). Our availability to respond “yes” whenever we are called by God’s will depends on how much, little, or not we are attached, subject, and ultimately controlled by persons, places, things in our life. They become the “center” and the “focus” of what we do and at times who we believe we are. Our “Center” must always be God, the Lord, Jesus!

The Franciscan Rule exhorts us to live the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus. Jesus reminds us I have come that they may have life more abundantly. (John 10: 10) Thus, to have this life we must “Live Jesus”. This cannot be accomplished if we have other “masters” who attract, seduce, direct, control us … and diminish or even destroy our ability to know, love, and serve the Lord. St. Francis’ radical detachment from things, made him a living example of the joy and freedom of one who is no longer “slave” to his/her wants and even to legitimate needs that he/she has allowed themselves to control their lives.

No one wants to be controlled. Not even God wants to “control” us. God seeks to condition us with His loving grace so that we freely accept God’s Will. When our freedom is used for license, and we fail to be responsible and accountable, then we have created another “center” that misleads away from God. This is exactly what we do when we create “idols” in our lives. We become slaves to those persons, places, things, attitudes, and the like that keep us from being “free”. The freedom of the children of God can be lived only when we break loose from those areas of our lives that hold us down from soaring to the heights in the Spirit and God’s grace.

Everyone wants a fulfilling and good life, but too many people fail to find it because they’re looking for it in the wrong places. They look around at the world or below in themselves alone, and fail to look up at the only One Who should be our Master and Treasure. Society often promises that we can find a rewarding life by pursuing goals that seem good, such as earning more money, gaining more friends, becoming more physically attractive, and the like. Those are just empty promises that cannot really fulfill anyone, since they all succumb to the effects of the passing of time. What is based on material goods is destined to fall apart and be no more. It may take more time to realize this than we would expect. Even our Seraphic Father, who lived only forty plus years, realized this and made his life decision at the mid-point of his life. However, once he knew God’s Will, nothing was going to stop his response to “let go and let God”.

When we enter and strengthen our relationship with Jesus everyday, we can expect our lives to be fulfilled and become what God has designed for us from the beginning, and wills that we crave. Placing hope in anything less – even if it’s something good that God has created – turns into an “idolatry” that interferes with our relationship with Jesus and actually leads us away from the life that God wants us to enjoy.

Remember the words of St. John: My children, beware of idols. (1 John 5:21) The “idols” of life are the stumbling blocks to a truly good and grace-filled journey through time. There are various types of idols that are all extensions in one way or another of the main idol – the “I – doll”. This “I-doll” eventually begins to believe and create its own illusion of grandeur. The idols that control us – achievement, approval, power, money, even practices of religion, and so on – when used wrongly, can destroy the freedom, fulfillment, and joy of living as a child of God. We live an illusion that only God can release us from. What might we do to avoid this “idolatry” ? The following are reflections on how we might possibly see, acknowledge, and ultimately eliminate these “idols”, and begin to live a Christ-centered and joy-filled life…

Even when you love God, idolatry can creep into your life. Idolatry happens whenever you look to something that is not centered in/on God. Only God has the power to give you what you truly need. Reflect on your life, and honestly consider whether or not you’re hoping to derive fulfillment from things like material possessions, a successful career, an exciting relationship, or close relationships with family and friends. None of those things – or any other good things except for a relationship with God through Jesus – can deliver true and lasting fulfillment. At times, everyone struggles with idolatry in some way or other, when we have substituted things and/or persons for Jesus in your life. A revealing insight for each one of us would be to consider whom/what we spend the most time thinking about, and whom/what we invest the most of ourselves in pursuing. Anyone/thing that we devote ourselves to more than to Jesus can dangerously be an “idol” in our life.

You may struggle with the idol of achievement if you want to achieve regardless of what it does to the people around you, depend on your success getting people to like you, confuse who you are with what you accomplish, feel the need to constantly climb higher on the ladder of success, or compare yourself with others and struggle when they succeed and you don’t. Realize that you are much more than your list of accomplishments. You have great intrinsic value simply because God made you in His image and loves you no matter what. Choose to base your identity not on what you have accomplished, but on what Jesus has accomplished in/with/for you, thus connecting you to God for eternity, to the degree that you cooperate with grace in your daily life.

You may struggle with the idol of approval if you expect someone else to: complete you, take your pain away, understand you completely, heal you, make you feel good about yourself, or always be with you. No human being can truly completely do any of those things for you … but God alone. So stop relying on the approval of others to fulfill you (it will lead you to mediocrity, exhaustion, disappointment, and rejection instead). Decide to look to God alone for approval. God’s opinion of you is the only one that truly matters. Embrace the complete and unconditional love that God offers you. Remember the words of our Seraphic St. Francis: You are what You are before God. That and nothing more. Have an attitude of gratitude for what God sees good in you, and live up to it.

You may struggle with the idol of power if you have a hard time taking correction from your spouse, a friend, a teacher, a boss, anyone, because you want to be in charge. Realize that the control you think you may have in life is actually an illusion. God is in ultimate control of every situation. Since God will take care of everything you need when you trust Him, give up trying to be in charge and surrender to God’s plans for every situation that concerns you. Surrender yourself to God! Say “Yes!” When you do, God’s unlimited power will overflow into your life and transform it for the better.

You may struggle with the idol of money if you look to money to give you security, peace, or happiness; or if you’re often anxious about getting more money or holding onto the money you already have rather than being content and generous as God wants you to be. Jesus said: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24) Attempting to serve both will divide your mind and lead to confusion, anxiety, discouragement, and the like … or even to total indifference to both. While we need this means of exchange in our daily lives, we cannot allow it to control us. Be devoted to God with a single-minded focus. Whatever you may have and gain in life use gratefully as tools to accomplish God’s purposes for your life.

What about the idol of religion? This is rather interesting, but does not mean what it initially seems to indicate. Religion is an essential part of our faith lives. It is the external expression of how we live what we profess with our hearts and minds and souls … the witness of our Faith. It is an essential in life that becomes also an “evangelizing” means of leading people to Christ. Nonetheless, you may struggle with this strange but often real idolatry if you try to earn God’s love by quantity or quality of actions, rather than by intensity of love and trust in God Who knows the heart. God’s love for you is unlimited and unconditional, and the completed sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has made it possible for you to connect with God, so you do not have to “use religion” to try to gain or keep God’s love, but “be religious” so that your life actions are in harmony with the beliefs of your heart and the God Who is its Center. Embrace the love that God freely offers you. Make your top priority spending time with God often, just to communicate in love and build a closer relationship with Him. Let the Drama of Calvary in the Mass and the Eucharist be your “hub” and Our Blessed Mother Mary your “Advocate-Intercessor-Refuge…Mother, Who leads you closer to Her Son and thus to the Father and the Spirit. Remember that what you do with God is more important than what you think you do for Him. Let your religious practices be a sincere manifestation of the inner conviction you have. Let the Mass manifest your belief in the saving grace of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus and your reception and adoration of the Eucharist manifest your belief in the Real Presence of Jesus, and so on.

You may struggle with the idol of appearance if you rely on being physically attractive to help you get what you want or if you think that how you look is who you are. Realize that even if people consider you to be physically beautiful or handsome now, your appearance will change when you are “chronologically enhanced”. If people do not think you attractive, God does. God made you to be distinctively the way you are, and made you His own. You can be truly beautiful – no matter what you look like externally – when you are a person of integrity of faith and life who lives in God’s grace and strives to fulfill His Will. Father let this chalice pass from me, but not my will but yours be done. (Luke 22: 41)

You may struggle with the idol of “my” dream if you’re constantly frustrated with God because He has not made your dreams come true, or your goals achieved. Pray for the wisdom to discern which of your dreams align with the purposes of God for your life, and which do not. Then let go of whatever dreams do not help you accomplish God’s purposes for you. Trust God to help you see what is right and true, and wait for them to be accomplished in His way and in His time. Do not just sit around and wait. Give God your best, and God will do the rest!

Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi realized the danger material goods and money were. In themselves they were not evil: goods serve the needs of human beings, and money is a means of exchange and commerce. St. Francis saw how an inordinate desire for these things could so easily control the life of a person. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21) He sought to detach himself from them, and with him all who sought to follow his way of life. His example of radical poverty reminds us of the “idols” we easily create in life. Most times we do so without ever realizing how attached we are allowing ourselves to become.

Pope John Paul II tells us that men and women are on a journey of discovery in search for the truth and a person. Words like these sound like some philosophical theme until we examine our hearts and realize how true and meaningful they are for our lives. Our Seraphic Father St. Francis encountered that ‘Person’, Jesus, on the Cross at San Damiano who impressed His words on his heart, then he met that ‘Person’ again at La Verna, Who impressed His ‘Word’ on his body. The living image of the Crucified spoke to the world of an emptying love that accepted life to die that we might enter Life.

Every life has its disconcerting events and fears. Even the greatest of saints had their difficulties. Many went through moments of spiritual darkness and dryness. Their focus and strength was God. They continued to believe and hope in God, encouraging and empowering others to be joy-filled in the midst of their challenges as well as their successes, while they themselves cried out to their ‘absent’ and Loving God who asked that they pass through the desolation of the Cross. Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, and many others whose lives we have come to know more intimately now that they have entered eternity, went through these moments. Faith and life walk hand-in-hand. It is our Faith that strengthens our spirit and nourishes our life. Jesus reminds us: It is the spirit that gives life … The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63) When we allow the Spirit of Faith to fill our minds and hearts, when we accept the words of Jesus in truth, when we live today where God and we encounter one another … we live in hope, free from fear, trusting in divine providence that clears all intimidating imaginings from our minds and hearts. The “idols” are destroyed. We are set free to be and become! Peace, joy, and serenity become a reality. And, they become ‘contagious’ for those whom we encounter.

Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi live every moment of life fully! The spirit of prayer that enveloped our Seraphic Father who ‘became prayer’ encourages us to pass through whatever crucible of life we encounter. Thus we become one with the Suffering Servant Who became One with us. Let us be grateful to God for the life He has called us to live, and make our prayer You are my God…I trust in You…be my refuge…I fear nothing…(for I seek to be in You as You are within me).

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

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant


Comments are closed.