From the Desk of Fr. Francis - September, 2015

stigmataofstfrancisDear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord bless you with His peace!

Divisions within the church. Disagreements about how to worship. Questions about marriage. Sexual temptations and improprieties. Compromise with society’s views. Issues we hear or read about so often, and many others we are aware of, face us every day.

These issues date back years, even to the early Church. Remember the Church in Corinth where St. Paul had spent at least eighteen months after establishing the church there, serving and teaching the people while on his second missionary journey. Corinth was a major cosmopolitan city, an important commercial trade center by the sea. It had a strong reputation, for rampant sexual immorality and loose living. This church of old was having many of the very same troubles we face today. The problems still remain in our world, and always will. People of faith, true believers, just don’t seem to fit well within the opinions of the culture of the “modern world”.

Yet, no matter how convinced we are of what we profess as Christians, we try so hard to “fit in.” We don’t want to look different. We don’t want to be accused of being judgmental or unloving. We want to be “relevant” for today and stay with the times, right?

But God says we are different. Jesus reminds us that we are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17: 14-15). Jesus has changed us, from the inside, made us new, we are not supposed to be the same as the world. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12: 2).

Just consider a few things that St. Paul says to the Church in Corinth, which seems to be a timely reminder for us today. God had given St. Paul a very fruitful time of ministry while in Corinth and many people had come to know Christ. When St. Paul left the city and traveled to Ephesus, he later received word of trouble the Christians in Corinth were having. It was from this that he wrote several letters of encouragement.

In 1 Corinthians 16, we read five things that St. Paul wrote on how to walk wisely, within the church, and among unbelievers:

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

1. Be on your guard – The truth is, if we’re not living aware, we will be taken advantage of, we will be taken off guard, possibly deceived, tricked, or thrown for a loop. The enemy wants nothing more than for us to be asleep in our faith. Let’s stay spiritually awake and aware of what surrounds us. God gives us discernment for a reason.

2. Stand firm in the faith – This means to “persist.” Keep standing on, remembering, the Truth of what we have believed, the Truth of what has set us free. We can’t live a watered down gospel for a world that insists we tone it down a bit. We do not have to waver in our beliefs out of a longing to be accepted from the world.

3. Be men of courage – Be people of courage and strength. Our world needs men and women who are willing to walk courageously. We need men and women who are willing to be brave. Nothing has affected so many so much in the recent past as the 21 kneeling men who lost their lives on a beach at the hands of evil fanatics. These will always be remembered as men of true courage. Let us pray that our lives be so brave in a dark world.

4. Be strong – The word used here means “to keep increasing in strength.” Not in our own strength, but in the power of the Spirit of God. He makes our footsteps firm, He makes our way strong.

5. Do everything in love – That pretty much sums it all up. Our calling. Our purpose in this life. Everything we do, all that we say, should be done in love. Pointing others to Him. Love God. Love others. It’s the very love of Christ that compels us (2 Corinthians 5: 14). May we walk and live in a life worthy of the calling you have received (Ephesians 4: 1).

These words of St. Paul remind us that we will never be able to agree on everything with everyone, we’re not supposed to, and that’s not really the purpose of our lives. We should never long to look just like the world, out of the fear that we look too different than those around us. We should not be persuaded to live in shades of gray because we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. We’re here to be salt of the earth (Matthew 5: 13) . We’re here to be light of the world (Matthew 5: 14) . We’re here to make a difference, to point others to Christ. And we can be all that God calls us to be – staying strong, standing firm, living aware, walking in love, being people of courage – for this is what matters most anyway.

In this fallen world where people can be difficult and situations stressful, it’s often challenging to love others. Good intentions often give way to frustrations as we face those challenges, preventing us from achieving the loving relationships we hope to enjoy. But God chooses to love all people in all circumstances, and his unconditional love can inspire and empower us to choose to love. Love is an act of the will after all and not an act of the emotions. Loving others even when it’s hard to do so is the most powerful choice you can make as a Christian, because it shows people that God – the source of all love – is really active in the world.

We have the power to choose, and to make this fundamental choice. God will always give us the power we need to choose to love others, no matter what they may say or do. We should not blame others when we fail to put love in action. We must remember that we are not victims of other people’s choices. Our love is not dependent on whether or not others love us in return. Instead, our love will prevail no matter what when we rely on God to help us act toward others with love.

This commitment to love is an essential for “gospel people”, such as we Franciscans call ourselves. We’re constantly moving either toward or away from others as we communicate with them. Communicate love to all. Our Seraphic Father is quoted as having cried out through the streets saying: Love is not loved, Love is not loved! We cannot wait to be loved to love, if we do, our response is not love but reciprocate action without heart.

Cast fear and “calculations” out when love is in question. Fear and love have opposite agendas: Fear distances people from each other, while love brings them closer together. Keep in mind that fear comes from the evil side of the spiritual realm, while love comes from God himself. The more fear that you allow to come into your relationships with others, the less love can flow freely in those relationships. God wants you to welcome his love into your relationships fully by casting fear out. Be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit within you and let God’s grace and love give you the courage when necessary to “be Jesus” to all. Turn to God for trust in His presence, set healthy but loving boundaries with hurtful people, but always refuse to stop loving them.

Be honest. Be transparent. It may be uneasy, but it will be liberating. Communicate honestly to build trust. Aim for the goal of truth in all the ways you communicate with people. Ask God to help you understand yourself and tell yourself the truth, so you’ll be able to understand others and be honest with them. Set wholesome boundaries around your conversations to help them stay respectful, seek to understand people’s needs, and then act in love to meet those needs whenever God leads you to do so. And don’t be concerned if conflict arises. Conflict is inevitable at one point or another. Whenever you experience conflict with others wait. Be calm, rational, and respectful. Learn to listen. Choose to believe the best of your brothers and sisters … and anyone. Believe the best about others.

As a Franciscan fraternity, we are expected to walk wisely as St. Paul reminds the Ephesians. This wisdom assists us in strengthening our relationships with those with whom we are intimately connected either biologically, socially, or, in a more profound way, spiritually as sisters and brothers in the family of St. Francis of Assisi. As we await the visit of Our holy Father Pope Francis to the United States for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, let us remember that we are a Franciscan Family. Fraternity, brotherhood and sisterhood in our holy parents of Assisi, is a sign of the Gospel life we express among ourselves and with others. There can be no healthy family – and we are a family in Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi – without love, and there is no love without God, Who is Love. It all comes together and challenges us to live in love and to love others into Life as we are loved each day into a deeper Life with God, through God, for God’s glory and our eternal fulfillment in God.

While on La Verna, our Seraphic Father asked to experience as best a human could all that Jesus experienced in His Passion and Death. We know how the stigmata were visibly impressed on the body of St. Francis as they had been spiritually impressed on his soul years before when he heard words calling him from the Cross of San Damiano. The depth of his love for the Lord grew so intensely through the years that he became similar to the one he loved with all his heart and soul and being. Love never fears losing itself. In loving we discover who we are called to be … Jesus!

May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look upon each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. May the celebration of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi help us to rekindle our love for the Cross so that Jesus may always be alive in us! May we come alive in Him and be life giving to all our sisters and brothers, and all whom we encounter on life’s journey.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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