mikhailnestrovresurectionMarch 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Risen Christ bless you with His peace!

In his ‘Letter to All the Faithful’, St. Francis writes: And as His Passion was near, … He placed His will in the will of His Father, saying: Father, let Your will be done; not as I will, but as you will. His Father’s will was such that His blessed and glorious Son, Whom He gave to us and Who was born for us, should offer Himself through His own blood as a sacrifice and oblation on the altar of the cross: not for Himself through Whom all things were made, but for our sins, leaving us an example that we might follow His footprintsWe are brothers (and sisters) when we do the will of the Father Who is in heaven… (Letter to the Faithful, Second Version).

Our Seraphic Father reminds us of ‘spiritual indifference’, the foundation of a peaceful and serene life. The indifference is not a matter of ‘not caring about anything’. It is a matter of doing and acting as though all depends on us and trusting in God as though all depends on God. Everything does depend on God: My word does not return without having fulfilled the purpose for which it was sent (Isaiah 55: 11). However, God has entrusted us with the awesome privilege and responsibility for our own salvation by the gift of free will which can or not correspond with the will of our Creator. Thus, a word that stands out for us to consider as we read the words of St. Francis to the Faithful and celebrate our Redemption in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus the Christ is surrender.

‘Surrender’ is a powerful word. It can also be disconcerting and even frightening when one considers ‘surrender’ as a way of life. Jesus ‘surrendered’ to the Father’s Will from the first moment of His existence as a human being. From all eternity, Jesus surrenders to the Will of the Father. Though He was in the form of God … He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave … He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2: 6-11). ‘Surrendering’ to the Father’s will made Jesus resolute, even to death and death on a cross. This kind of ‘surrender’ leads to victory and glory, not defeat and infamy. Because of this God greatly exalted Him…(Philippians 2: 6-11).

The intensity of the resolute character of Jesus is vividly portrayed in a brief phrase from the Gospel according to St. Luke: When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he steadfastly set his face to Jerusalem … (Luke 9:51). How often we correctly focus on the heart of a Scripture passage, but miss a detail that can offer deeper insights for a better understanding and appreciation of what we have read. This brief passage tells us so much about Jesus and how He ‘approached’ the fulfillment of His mission among us. It merits a deeper reflection as we approach Easter, the great celebration of our Redemption and New Life of grace in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing more essential for us than to consider our life and our active participation in the Paschal Mystery. We unite ourselves with Christ in His obedience to the Father’s Will, to His personal surrender, and to all His obedience implies. In so doing we encounter a more profound value to our earthly life, and thus can live in the hope of an assurance of Eternal Life. The reason I say that there is nothing more essential for us is because once we recognize, understand, and accept God’s Plan for all creation and particularly for ourselves, our life takes on a whole new meaning and expression.

The Lenten season invites us to ‘set our face toward Jerusalem’, just as our Savior did. Though the words from the Greek and Latin Vulgate texts can be translated in several ways, the original more faithful expression to the ancient text – He resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem – offers us a powerful image of Jesus ‘eyeing’ His opponent and moving in for the encounter and confrontation. The text speaks volumes of the character of Jesus and His personal compliance with the mission entrusted Him by the Father. Jerusalem is not another town on the itinerant schedule of Jesus the preacher. Jerusalem is not just another platform for his preaching/teaching and healing ministry to attract the crowds at Passover. Jerusalem is an anticipated and desired destination. Jesus has actively been moving both psychologically to this decisive moment and physically to this ‘center of the world’ for the Jews and ‘Seat of God’s Presence’ for those who believed in the God of Abraham. Everything must be in place: The prophets and their prophecies must be fulfilled and the ‘backup plan’ must be ready, before ‘setting his face to Jerusalem’. It is time for Jesus ‘to allow’ his life to be taken for the sake of all humanity. Let us never forget that no one takes His life from Him: I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father (John 10:17-18). Determining episodes in Jesus’ life and ministry had led to this climactic moment. Each experience tested His obedience and resolve to fulfill the Father’s Plan as willed. His trust in the Father and determination to obey whatever the cost to Him were put to the test, and ultimately triumphed for the sake of us all.

– He ‘plunged’ into the River Jordan to be baptized by John. His plunge was an acceptance of the ministry entrusted to Him by the Father. His ministry, as Simeon had prophesied so many years before in the Temple, was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory of (the) people Israel (Luke2:32), and at the same time He was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that (would) be contradicted (Luke 2:32). Jesus ‘plunged’ into the realities of our world. And He set His face toward them!

– He contended with the ‘demon’ of comfort, compromise, convenience in the desert, and withstood the easy road of complacency with the power of conviction in the Word of God. God’s Word is God’s Will and God’s Will overcomes all things for those who place their trust in Him. Jesus did not run from the ‘demon’ but confronted the adversary face-to-face. No hesitancy! Let go! … as Jesus did when he set his face towards Jerusalem.

– At Cana He changed water into wine, thus giving evidence of His power and uniqueness. This miracle attracted many to Him. The immediate fulfillment of His mission now begins when His followers ‘believe in Him’. The subtle challenges of the desert test return; miracles are signs but do not make for solid faith. True Faith seeks to enter the mystery and never demands to see miracles. Only in the mystery can the miracle be an effective sign and make sense. Jesus would be opposed by those who needed ‘to be entertained’, or whose ‘hopes’ were not met according to their desires. And He set His face toward them!

– In three years, an entire life would come full circle. The purpose for His birth would finally reach its climax, not with joyful acclamations of a people’s fulfilled hopes, but with the shouts and ridicule of a rabble crying out ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Beneficiaries of only goodness and compassion were instigated to cry for execution by some of the leaders of the people. They could and should have known better. Ambition and jealousy clouded their vision and hardened their hearts. None of this was hidden from Jesus’ knowledge. He knew. He had told His disciples that He would be betrayed, captured, tortured, killed, and on the third day rise. When Peter would not have Jesus accept this fate, what to Peter sounded like total failure and defeat, Jesus turned to Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Matthew 16: 23). Jesus knew quite well what lay in store for Him! And He set his face toward it all.

– At the Last Supper, in the Upper Room, we can almost enter the mind and heart of Jesus. It is a powerful moment, filled with human sentiments. An inner sadness, a last hope and attempt for conversion are so evident when Jesus appeals to his betrayer: Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me (John13:21). Failing to change the heart of Judas, Jesus seeks support and strength from the others. Going with them to the Garden in Gethsemane He falls to the ground in prayer. He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke22:44). He prayed: Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but Yours be done (Luke 22:42). Jesus was that One Solitary Life Who knew what His life entailed and what awaited him, and still, from the very beginning, He set His face toward Jerusalem, and everything He was born to accomplish.

– Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you (Luke 13:34), was the city of Prophets and Kings. Jesus entered to the acclaim of the crowds who had so often heard His preaching and had benefitted from His awesome power over both the spiritual and material worlds. In the course of one week, the crowds praised Him on Sunday strewing the road for Him to walk on their cloaks and palm branches, and ridiculed Him on the Great Sabbath calling for His death. The people yelled, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Matthew 27: 25). And Jesus set His face to Jerusalem … and Mount Calvary.

For most people, ‘surrender’ is synonymous with weakness, failure, ineptness, shame, maybe even cowardice, and so much more. Spiritually, there is another ‘surrendering’ that is absolutely necessary for victory and success; without this ‘surrendering’ our lives ultimately are total failures. Another word for it is ‘abandonment’ – abandonment to the Will of God and total trust in the power and presence of a God Who calls, challenges and completes in those surrendered to His Will what is for their good. When our spiritual life is surrendered to the Father’s Will, we never lose sight of our duties and our goal. Jesus fulfilled His duty as Messiah and Victim, and achieved the goal for humanity as Redeemer and Victor.

Calvary was most certainly a frightening thought that loomed always in the heart and life of Jesus. His humanity did not seek pain and death. But His heart knew that there was only one way to fulfill His Father’s Plan. That’s all that mattered. The empty tomb was the visible sign of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ total emptying of Himself in deference to the Father’s Will. It was the Father’s response to the Son’s love. Our own Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi simply and confidently sought out God’s will through His inspired Word. God’s Word was the Rule of Life he set down for himself and those who asked to follow his way of life. He submitted always to another that he might follow the example of the obedient Son of the Father. Love is a total surrender. The love for the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit kept Jesus in total harmony with the Father’s Will.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi let us love enough to surrender ourselves to God. We never lose when we give everything over to the One Who gives everything, especially Himself, to us. There is always such fear in saying ‘I surrender’. When we say it to God, why be afraid? God knows what we are capable of and where we are headed, long before we do. Abandoning ourselves to His Will, truly trusting in Him, and living every moment as a deliberate act of surrender to the Divine Will, we cannot help but experience an inner peace, serenity and joy. We will discover and live a more balanced and cheerful life, even in the midst of difficulties. When God is in control, we are always headed in the right direction. Just as a husband and wife surrender themselves in love and the two become one, let us become one with God as we surrender to His Divine Will. Emptying ourselves of our own material and earthly desires, false ambitions, self-centeredness, pride, will allow the joy of new life and rebirth to be so palpable that our Easter celebration will be as though it were that first Easter Sunday.

Jesus is alive! He is Risen! He precedes us on the way! Let Jesus come alive in your hearts and lives so powerfully that, like the first followers, we will be, as Saint Augustine calls the People of God redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb, ‘an Alleluia People’. May we praise Him with our lives!

May the light of Christ’s Resurrection shine in us that we might have life, and have it in abundance (John 10: 10). 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 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. Christ is Risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant


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