From the Desk of Fr. Francis - November 2015

francis_with_fiddleNovember 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

God, even through nature, often speaks to us about life’s journey. The Winter Season, soon to be upon us, is announced by days that grow ever shorter and the sun that seems to take its time offering us its light and warmth each day. It is a good time for us to reflect on certain basic realities that we often place at the margin of our mind. Yet, these truths are a fact of our human life and a fact of Eternal Life: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.

There was a time when these Four Last Things, as they were called, were an indisputable theme for at least some Sundays of November, and always during any Retreat or Mission. They were intended not so much to frighten us into submission to God’s Will, as help us to realize that we cannot hide from the inevitable, so we were reminded “to be prepared”. We were expected to strive to know, reflect, and decide, through our understanding of these Four Last Things, what course we would take in life. Once we follow through with our decision, life becomes more peaceful and the journey and its end more certain.

October is Respect for Life Month, and November encourages us to reflect on Eternal Life. The difference between the two is that October offers us opportunities to reflect upon the gift of our natural lives, while November presents us, both through the season of late Autumn as well as through our Scriptural and Liturgical Calendars, with opportunities to meditate on the Life we are called to share with those who have gone before us after the journey on earth is complete. The changing seasons help us to reflect on our ever-changing life. Death and rebirth are constants in nature. Why, then, are so many good, believing, devout people hesitant to reflect upon life, death and eternal rebirth in our own personal lives? We are willing to mention it about others, but always seem to leave ourselves out of the picture.

Jesus, before dying on the Cross, said: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23: 46). These words were the last human expression of His total trust in the Father’s love. Before pronouncing them, however, Jesus wanted everyone to know that He had been faithful to the Father’s Will and had fulfilled everything that was expected of Him. He said: It is completed (consummated) (John 19:30). This completeness expressed the fact that Jesus’ entire life was lived in view of the Life that He and the Father shared with the Holy Spirit. Yet, while He lived the Life of the Father and the Holy Spirit, His days on earth were charged with the routine duties of any other human being, plus the particular responsibilities of a Carpenter and a Rabbi.

Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God and the Life to come, but He never dwelled on them as much as on what and how we are expected to be, and what we are expected to do that we might be assured of our sharing in the Eternal Life of God. Our world with all of its technology and entertainment distracts us from the stark realities that never seem to hit home until we are either sick, or advanced in years, or maybe are undergoing or have made it through some life-threatening experience. Why does it take us so long to focus on the obvious and see with the eyes of faith the full picture God offers us?

Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis, when he was told that he would die in a short span of days, composed a stanza to his Canticle of the Creatures. He was inspired to write: Praise be you my Lord God for Sister Bodily Death from whom no one can escape (Canticle of the Creatures). He sang of Death and spoke of that solemn moment as a loving family member. He praised God for offering us this wonderful companion for our journey. It would be interesting to take a poll – an honest poll – to see how many of us really consider Death as a friend whose arrival we anticipate and whom we accept as a gift from God and for which we ought to be joyfully grateful!

Death is life’s constant companion, whether we want to accept it or not. Each day we come closer to eternity. This is a fact of life as well as of our faith. We cannot deny nor avoid it. The Church – loving, wise and prudent Mother that she is – takes advantage of this time of year to invite us to reflect on the continuation of life beyond bodily death. Seen in the light of faith and God’s grace, that solemn moment that converges an entire life experience and responds to God’s call bursting into eternity, with an explosion of love and trust, into the Father’s loving hands when we are called home, becomes a hope-filled reality to anticipate with serenity. We call out Abba, Father, (Mark 14:36; Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15) with childlike love and trust in “Abba”, which more correctly is translated “daddy”, to receive us in His love. Do we believe and trust enough in the love of God to call out as a little child, regardless of our age in years, even as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane…”Abba – Daddy”?

Even the particular November devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, as well as the daily remembrance at Mass and in the Liturgy of the Hours of all the faithful departed, is a reminder that life continues, and death is only the point of God’s transforming love that makes us capable of entering the eternal ground of the Spirit.. These Holy Souls are all those who, by God’s infinite love and mercy, await with certitude their entrance into Heaven. These souls we remember are those persons who lived in the world, as we do now, immersed in its realities: joys, successes, allurements, confusion, uncertainties, grace-filled moments, sinful moments, and more. Many are our relatives, friends, and possibly some who may have considered us – or maybe we have considered them – enemies, unlovable, or to keep at a distance. In eternity all animosity is canceled for those who are saved, even those still awaiting heaven but certain of the glory to be theirs. Enemies in life are intimately one with us in God when they enter Life, or Life’s “vestibule”, Purgatory.

The Church encourages us always, but especially in November, to remember that Purgatory is a place of God’s Love, Mercy and Providence. Even after death, God will not be outdone in providing all the means necessary to bring us to Himself. The month of the Holy Souls reminds us of this and offers us the hope that heaven is ours for the taking. Washed in the blood of Jesus, we become heirs with Him of Eternal Life. Our prayers for the Holy Souls unite us with those who have passed from time to eternity. With our prayers we assist the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, and they in turn pray for us, the Militant Souls on Earth. We form, with the Church Triumphant in Heaven, the Communion of Saints composed of wayfarers journeying to our true Home in Heaven. We support and assist one another until we pass from time to encounter one another in eternity.

When one lives in the light of eternity, every moment is a precious occasion to grow in grace. The profound relationship with a God Who was always so real to him, urged our Seraphic Father to seek to instill this deep conviction and trust in God in others. He wept and cried out that : Love is not loved. Love is not loved – when he realized how indifferently people lived their lives, and how insignificantly many seemed to consider their relationship with God. They were interested and personally involved in all that pertained to material possessions. Through the Gospel life he preached and sought to live with his religious brothers and sisters, he attempted to help people focus on the Life that awaits us with God. Life is a bridge to cross, not to build on. The less we carry, the easier the crossover becomes. This Life which begins in mystery with the Word and the Eucharist, is accompanied with love in Mary our Mother, and is supported, encouraged, and directed in the Church through the Sacraments, and the Magisterium. Saint Francis of Assisi was able to anticipate the arrival of Sister Death with awareness of and resignation to Her arrival. His peaceful death, blessing those present and those yet to enter the Franciscan Gospel life, was the crowning moment of a “job well done”. He reminded the brothers present that…I have done what is mine to do, may Christ teach you what is yours to do. (2Celano, 214) He received his last Eucharist and entered the mystery of the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus, Whose image he was called to be through the impression of the Sacred Stigmata he bore for the last two years of his earthly life. Surrounded by his brothers and loving friends , no longer in mystery, but experiencing the transforming miracle of God’s love. St. Francis now would see and be with the One he loved and desired so deeply. Death was truly the loving Sister who finally took him home!

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, let us follow his example. Let us take the wonderful gift of life that has been entrusted to us and live it fully and joyfully. The burdens we may be asked to bear help us to set all things in perspective. We live, as Scripture tells us, as pilgrims and strangers (1 Peter 2: 11). We are grateful for all we have and can achieve. We are confident and trust in Divine Providence to assist us in our needs. We lovingly and eagerly anticipate our ultimate encounter with our Loving God. It is the Life of God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, we were loved into life to share with our sisters and brothers in faith, when our earthly course is completed.

Allow me to share this simple prayer as a final reflection: Praise be you my Lord for Sister Bodily Death from whom no one can escape…be praised my Lord because the sobering thought of our passage from time into eternity allows us to put all things and situations into a grace-filled perspective. May the thought of the Holy Souls in Purgatory encourage us to remember your mercy, love, and providence, that we may never fear in life, even in those moments when we seem to lose our way. You, Father, call us into life as You constantly call us to Life; in Jesus You give us hope; and in the Holy Spirit you strengthen and direct us on our journey. May Mary, M other of all Your children, those who already live in glory, we who journey here on earth, and those awaiting Your call from heaven’s “antechamber” to the fullness of Life, lead us ever closer to one another and to You our Lord and God. May we heed the last words She speaks to us in Scripture: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Thus living in Your Will on earth, we are assured of living with You in Eternal Life.

Let us not let one day go by without remembering the Holy Souls in Purgatory. They were where we are; we shall be (through the mercy of God) where they are! Their prayers are powerful. In the midst of their purifying pain, they rejoice because their heaven is assured. Pray to them and pray for them. May the Holy Souls pray for our faithfulness to all we are called to be, that one day we may share the fullness of Life with them and our loved ones who have gone before us.

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

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant


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