Father Francis’ Greetings January, 2017

St. Katherine Drexel Regional Fraternity
Regional Spiritual Assistant
St. Francis of Assisi Friary
1901 Prior Road
Wilmington, Delaware 19809
tel: (302) 798-1454      fax: (302) 798-3360      website: skdsfo      email: pppgusa@gmail.com
January,  2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,
May the Lord grant you peace!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … He came to what was his own, but his own did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave the power to become children of God … And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1-14)
The society in which we live is filled with words.  Everyone seems to have something to say.  Those who speak these ‘words’ often remind us that we are ‘entitled to their opinions’.  In fact, we are more often than not expected to take their words to heart and do whatever is proposed.  Commercials expect us to buy the product advertised.  Millions of dollars are spent to ‘push’ some medical ‘breakthrough’ or pharmaceutical remedy as a miracle drug for what ails you; even when the counter warnings that must legally be presented are quite disconcerting not to say frightening; still these products are bought to the billions of dollars, regardless of the possible dangerous, harmful or even fatal effects. Newspapers and news broadcasts saturate us with information, often about less important, insignificant matters or even opinionated editorials, when we would rather want to be made aware of more significant events and objective comments of pressing  local, national and worldwide interest that in fact do or most possibly will affect our lives.  Friends may offer suggestions or ideas, solicited or not, and will be easily offended if we opt to follow another opinion or, maybe even our own.  Sermons and homilies are delivered in a manner that captivates the listeners’ attention and opens their hearts to remember what was presented to them, but the words many times are knowledgeably and beautifully delivered but do not challenge the listener; no one wants to ‘make waves’, so something good, correct and ‘nice’ is spoken, but often a word that will not set the soul afire with enthusiasm to be a ‘living gospel message’.
There is nothing essentially wrong or sinful with speaking with one another, having an opinion that one believes firmly, marketing products, researching and ‘experimenting’ medicines intended to help better our human condition, informing people of current events, suggesting solutions to problems and difficulties, following one’s own informed and formed conscience, speaking with people of faith in an encouraging and uplifting manner … or even writing monthly circular letters intended to inform, instruct and, God willing, inspire others to accept the challenge each day to improve our relationship with God and others.  All these, and many other examples you are undoubtedly able to list, are intended for good.  How we cooperate with what we hear or read will determine the good or not so good, or even the bad effect our response will have on our lives.  The Word is necessary to communicate, and it seeks a response; even silence can be a very powerful response.
Scripture class in Seminary was always an interesting event.  One of the basic facts conveyed to us was that We are People of the Word. We may not have heard this specific title given us Catholics and Franciscans, but it truly expresses who we are. The faith we share was first spoken to both the simple as well as educated people.  They listened to a message, reflected upon it, and ultimately committed themselves to accept it.  Once the words spoken were accepted, the next step was to concretize them in everyday life. As time passes, if we are not careful to safeguard the authenticity of what we hear and read, we fall into the danger of losing the integrity of the message.  We no longer are who we say we are, nor live what makes us stand out as a People of God, founded on His Words, followers of the Word Who became one with us that we might one day share Life with Him.
There was an amusing game I remember seeing on TV a good number of years ago; TV programs were few and still in black and white. A group of ten or more people stood shoulder to shoulder.  The first person in the line was told a joke to be whispered in the ear of the person next to them so that no one else present could hear what was being said.  Then that person was to whisper the same joke, exactly as told them, into the ear of the person next to him/her.  Well, by the time the last person heard what was being ‘whispered down’, the joke was totally different than the original.  This is what happens when we are not attentive to what we hear and read.  We are called to be faithful in proclaiming and spreading God’s Word and His words.  We must not use or manipulate the Word to foster and/or promote our own personal issues and agendas. It was amusing to hear the final ‘joke’, now totally different, that emerged from the line of people who had ‘faithfully repeated’ what they had heard. When a distortion of this magnitude happens to the truth in real life, when misunderstandings and exaggerations are passed on as truth, and this ‘truth’ directs lives, the consequences can be quite serious.
Often, even innocently, individuals hear what they are ‘tuned’ to hear. This happens in religious organizations, political gatherings, social groupings, churches, and even in The Church.  In the Church it is the guidance of the Holy Spirit that gives the grace of infallibility in matters of faith and morals to the Holy Father, Successor to St. Peter and Vicar of Christ for the sake of Christ’s Body, the Church. Our Seraphic Father placed such trust and confidence in the presence of the Holy Spirit and His holy operation that St. Francis told the brothers that the Holy Spirit was the true Minister General of the Order (cfr. 2 Celano, chpt. CXLV).  Notwithstanding, the words proclaimed in their original form, when ‘translated’ to meet the ‘needs of the times, persons, places, or things,  can easily undergo an alteration that affects their integrity.  There are many safeguards in the Church to avoid error and ‘misunderstandings’. What happens when we read but do not perceive? What happens when we hear but do not listen? What happens when we proclaim and promote but do not live?  What happens when we, like sounding gongs and clashing cymbals, repeat correctly all the proper words that indicate what we have been taught, but then live as though we have heard nothing, nor have allowed our lives to be transformed by the power of the Word, Whose words are spirit and life?
St. Francis was an advocate of respect for the Word.  Let the names and written words of the Lord, whenever they are found in inconvenient places, be also gathered up and kept in a becoming place (Letter to the Custodians, 1220). This respect for Sacred Scripture of St. Francis was rooted in his awareness that all he had become, and all he had offered thousands of others to become in response to God’s call, had its beginning in the words he read, heard and had explained to him by one who represented for him the official teaching of the Church (the Magisterium) … and he accepted without gloss, and gave himself wholeheartedly to a life that would change the world as it changed millions of people down through the centuries.  Our Seraphic Father listened to the words of Sacred Scripture so intently that he remembered them,  pondered them, and assimilated them into his life.  They were the true Form of Life he accepted to follow.  To follow Jesus is to follow the Gospel; and to follow the Gospel is to be a living image of Jesus. Living the Word without gloss, as St. Francis expected  his spiritual children to do, allows the Word to come alive in, with, and through us who believe It and believe in It.
The Rule, Constitutions, Regulations and even simple organizational suggestions offered by the legitimate leadership of any jurisdiction of our Franciscan Fraternity are all based on the life and teachings of the one Great Word Who is Jesus, and His words in Scripture, and how our Seraphic Father accepted them in his life. Franciscans, true to their Seraphic Father, have always considered Sacred Scripture their first and basic rule of life and guide. In a letter to the whole Order, Our Seraphic Father wrote: Because whoever belongs to God hears the words of God, we who are more especially charged with divine responsibilities must not only listen to and do what the Lord says but also care for the vessels and other liturgical objects that contain His holy words in order to impress on ourselves the sublimity of our Creator and our subjection to Him.  I, therefore, admonish my brothers and encourage them in Christ to venerate, as best they can, the divine written words wherever they find them … For many things are made holy by the words of God and the sacrament of the altar is celebrated in the power of the words of Christ (Letter to the Entire Order).
As spiritual children of St. Francis of Assisi we have accepted the call to live the Gospel, according to our state in life, following Jesus Christ after the example of St. Francis of Assisi.  As People of the Word, if we have not already done so, we must let the Word of God written for us to read and meditate, and the Word of God, Jesus the Christ, enfleshed in human nature in all things but sin for us to follow, be the guiding force of our lives.  The Rule and Constitutions studied and approved by Holy Mother Church are Spirit and Life for us all. To disregard them for convenience or human respect, is to betray our Franciscan vocation.  The pondered and promoted decisions of the leadership of our regional and even the single fraternities in union with our national and international councils are expected to be reflected upon and then followed with fraternal trust in those elected to leadership.  Often our ‘human nature gets in the way’, and can keep the person and even the fraternity from moving forward.
What makes us Franciscans is our ability to be sisters and brothers not intimidated nor intimidating, ready and trusting enough to be able to express our feelings – happy, sad, annoyed, contrary, and so forth. However, a true Franciscan is also expected to live the essence of Franciscan Poverty, manifested in true Obedience.  Self-centered negative criticism of others, refusal to accept in humility what is asked of us in the spirit of Sacred Scripture, the Magisterium, the Rule and Constitutions, devious behavior, antagonistic ‘feelings’ towards another, and much more are not only contrary to our Franciscan charism but also contrary to our Catholic Christian calling.
By ‘Catholic’, I do not refer to the Catholic ‘card holder, baptized in the Roman Catholic Church’.  By ‘ Catholic’ I refer to the person baptized into the Roman Catholic expression of Christianity who seeks to be faithful to Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and willingly strives to be an affirming presence in the world, wherever and however God has asked that person to be.
We have begun the New Year.  What lies ahead of us is in the hands of God.  May we take on the commitment because of our faith-filled conviction and Franciscan profession to read Scripture more often and intently. To do so daily is not an exaggerated expectation for People of the Word, who we Franciscans are. Just as His own did not receive Him, as St. John tells us, there are those who do not accept the challenge of their profession to live the Franciscan-Gospel life with joy and surrender to the Word of God and heart of St. Francis of Assisi.  The Word was made flesh and must be enfleshed in each one of us.  As He came and dwelled among us, so that others might be able to see Him through us. So that to those who come to believe in Him through the example of our Franciscan Gospel Life, may receive from Christ the power to become the children of God.  These children of God will see His glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth, alive in their hearts and transforming the lives of others.
May that Word, who entered time with us that we might enter eternity with Him, be our guiding force each day. And may the Eucharist, great gift of the Word through the Spirit, allow the Mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate and receive to fill us with the graces of the Holy Spirit and always give us peace in the Father’s love, mercy and providence.
My prayers are with all of you and your loved ones for a most blessed and peace-filled New Year 2017.  May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.
Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St. Jerome),  No Christ, No Peace!  KNOW CHRIST, KNOW PEACE!  May we make this a Year of the Word for us to get to Know Christ that we may Know His Peace in our hearts, homes, and the world around us. May the Peace, Joy, Blessings … and Love of this Season fill your hearts and those of your loved ones.  Happy New Year to all!
Peace and Blessings
Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.
Regional Spiritual Assistant

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