Father Francis' Greetings for February 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

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!

In the the Spring of 1207, while in the woods of Monte Subasio, Saint Francis was accosted by several thieves. They asked Francis who he was and he replied simply, I am the herald of the great King! We know the story: they stripped him of his tunic, threw him into a ditch, and went away amused at the self-engrandizing words of this ‘lunatic’. Untroubled at the harsh treatment given him, our Seraphic Father, truly an example for all his children-to-be got up and cheerfully continued his way. Eccentric to say the least! … but truly in love with God and life so that even harsh treatment could not destroy the inner peace and joy he was discovering more deeply every day.

St. Francis’ immediate response to the brigands was based on a profound conviction: the Lord had spoken to him from the Cross of San Damiano, and charged him to rebuild my Church, for as you can see it is falling into ruin. St. Francis understood these words literally and set out at once to begin his divinely appointed commission, his ‘job’, rebuilding churches; he was the divinely-appointed ecclesiastical architect and general contractor. Actually, it is not far-fetched to give him these titles. The day would come when he would be the ‘architect’ of a whole new way of life and build the Family of the Penitents of Assisi with the lives and love of the ‘living stones’ who eventually joined him and followed his example. The Providence of God took care of his needs. The good people of Assisi and so many others were the all- providing hand of God for this young ‘penitent’ who had embraced his fears, kissed the leper, and given all that ‘possessed him’ back to the world. He threw himself with abandon into the loving arms of his Father in heaven.

St. Francis considered himself a ‘man with a mission’, a mission yet to be defined, but one that St. Francis did not hesitate to begin, leaving all the specific details up to God. How wonderful our lives would be if only we could abandon ourselves to God’s will and surrender to His love! We trust human beings, erratic as we can be, and yet we find difficulty trusting God, Whose love is everlasting! (Go figure!) The work of rebuilding churches with the sweat of his brow and strength of his own limbs would no doubt catch the attention of many, especially the elite of Assisi society who, as Francis, were accustomed to be catered to rather than exert themselves for others, especially those lower on the social ladder. Some to ridicule, others to praise, and many to question and wait, but all were aware of Francis. The son of Peter Bernardone had caused excitement and consternation among the populace of Assisi. That is how it is with true leadership: yes or no, accept or reject, adhere or detach, follow or leave. Anyone who encountered Francis Bernardone, and knew of his previous care-free and care-less attitude, spoiled as the fair-haired-son of the self-made wealthy merchant and how he had now become, could not remain indifferent to the facts before them.

Except for the presence and support of an unknown friend, St. Francis was relatively alone in the first years of his new life. No doubt there were many questions and personal difficulties he would have to overcome. He struggled with the ‘demons’ within and the difficulties without, as any of us contend with during a lifetime. With the help of divine grace he sought to become the new wine and new wineskin. He did not seek to establish a new Order in the Church, but to establish order in his life. His cheerful character and determination, his acceptance of voluntary poverty to avoid the entanglements that our possessions so often cause us, his deep love and concern for the ‘refuse’ of society numbering himself among them, were only a few of the characteristics of this ‘new person’ Francis was becoming more decisively each day. These all served as ‘magnets’ attracting so many, in those first few years, to follow his example. They too would eventually become ‘heralds of the great King’.

Emphasizing the word ‘herald’ is important. Heralds were trusted people charged with a given ‘mission’. They spoke in the name of another; they did not wield the authority. They spoke in the name of one whose words were to be repeated ‘verbatim’. Jesus Himself speaks of the attitude of His ‘heralds’. He tells us not to worry when we are questioned regarding the ‘Good News’ we are commissioned to proclaim to the world. Speaking in the name of Jesus and witnessing our allegiance to Him, Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid of what you are to say or how you are to say, the Spirit of my Father will be speaking in you. (Mark 13: 11) Because the heralds were trusted people entrusted with the words of their master, an integrity and credibility were bestowed upon the herald by the mere fact of the office they fulfilled and the one whom they were delegated to represent, and in whose name they delivered their message. A herald spoke from a source beyond himself; he spoke with certainty; and thus, he spoke with unquestionable authority. In this sense, St.Francis was a true herald, one who proclaimed the words of the Master, and was the first to live them.

In the winter of 1209 (Many believe it was the feast of Saint Matthias, the apostle who took the place of Judas Isacriot, celebrated until the liturgical reform of Vatican II on February 24th) St. Francis was approaching the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula. In the First Life of St. Francis written by Blessed Thomas of Celano, we read: Francis went to another place, which is called the Portiuncula … When on a certain day the Gospel was read in that church, how the Lord sent his disciples out to preach, the holy man of God, assisting there, understood somewhat the words of the Gospel; after Mass he humbly asked the priest to explain the Gospel to him more fully … Francis, hearing that the disciples of Christ should not possess gold or silver or money; nor carry along the way scrip, or wallet, or bread, or a staff; that they should not have shoes, or two tunics; but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, immediately cried out exultingly: ‘This is what I wish, this is what I seek, this is what I long to do with’. The holy father, overflowing with joy, hastened to implement the words of salvation, and did not delay before he devoutly began to put into effect what he heard. … For he was no deaf hearer of the gospel … He then began to preach penance to all with a fervent spirit and joyful attitude … His word like a blazing fire, reaching the deepest parts of the heart and filling the souls of all with wonder… In all his preaching, before he presented the word of God to the assembly, he prayed for peace saying, ‘May the Lord give you peace’ … They became children of peace. (1 Celano, 21-24)

God’s word was no idle spiritual devotion for Francis; It was the guiding factor in his life. As God spoke, so Francis sought to do. When our Father Francis heard the words of the Gospel on that grace-filled day, his concerns and questions were answered. It seemed as though God Himself were saying to Francis: ‘Abandon worries and concern for tomorrow in the hands of the One Who provides for every moment and without Whom nothing can be…Trust…Do not be afraid’. This simple, yet profound message he preached to others more by actions than by words. His simplicity and childlike trust in the Providence of God attracted others to follow his example. Those who would give a powerful witness were not only the Friars and Sisters who lived in formal religious houses and monasteries, but the men and women, our brothers and sisters, who could not leave their families and/or responsibilities in society, yet who, nonetheless, deeply desired and sought to live this evangelical expression of life in their daily secular experiences. They became the yeast kneaded into the dough, the light placed on a candelabra. The Gospel was a call offered to everyone willing to listen and to follow. The more they faithfully listened to the Word within them, the better they were empowered to respond to a world around them, indicating a life fulfilled for those who give priority to God and trust in His all-providing and all-loving Presence.

As spiritual children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, let us remember the power the Word of God exercised in his life and should exercise in our own. As St. Francis, let us read the Word and listen to It with our heart. When necessary, ask clarifications, as St. Francis did, to enlighten you that you may better understand what the Lord is saying to you through His Word. Following our Seraphic Father’s example, let us always have an open and disarmed heart to the challenges God’s Word may offer us. Let the words of the Divine Word enter our heart as He speaks to each of us personally and directly. If only we realized the beauty of our Franciscan Vocation and the heights of holiness we could achieve with the help of God’s grace by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, we would be able to eradicate from our lives and fraternities all that does not speak of Franciscan humility and charity. These are not ‘pie-in-the-sky’ virtues, but the foundation of a life worth living and loving. The Church in Her leadership has always praised our Franciscan spirit and encouraged the sisters and brothers to live it fully and, in the words of St. Francis, ‘without gloss’.

Pope John Paul II, in love with the Word of God and also with the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi, shortly after his election to the Chair of Peter, reminded the entire Franciscan Family how powerfully St. Francis affected the world of his time, living and encouraging others to live the simple and fruitful language of the Gospel. The Holy Father challenged us to be always grateful and faithful to our Franciscan vocation and serve the Lord joyfully as servants of his people … capable of lighting everywhere a lamp of hope … While on his visit to Assisi, Pope John Paul II offered these words of prayer to our Seraphic Father: Help us, St. Francis of Assisi, to bring Christ closer to the Church and to the world of today… in the simple and fruitful language of the Gospel… that Christ himself may be ‘the Way – the Truth – the Life’ for modern man.

After this prayer, our Holy Father John Paul II added these words of greeting and thanks to all Franciscans, and to all religious men and women inspired by the Rule and the life-style of St. Francis of Assisi: Be servants of his(God’s) people gladly, because St. Francis wished you to be joyful servants of mankind, capable of lighting everywhere the lamp of hope, trust, and optimism which has its source in the Lord himself… (November 5, 1978)

Let us let the Word take hold of our lives. Whatever God says to us in His most holy Word, let us say with Saint Francis: that is what I want with all my heart. Let us remember that our Rule and Constitutions are confirmed by the Church because they are founded on God’s Word. Let us not be afraid to live the Gospel we accept and the Life we have professed. Let the spirit of Franciscan joy be an undeniable characteristic of each one of us. Let us remember that we are a family of sisters and brothers, redeemed in the blood of Jesus on Calvary and one family following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. Let the hope, trust and optimism which has its source in the Lord Himself, of our Franciscan Vocation, overflow into the lives of all whom we encounter and to whom we minister.

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

Peace and Blessings
Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.
Regional Spiritual Assistant

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>