Father Francis' Greetings - March 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       email: pppgusa@gmail.com

 

 

March 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!

Throughout his life, St. Francis regularly sought the solitude of forests, mountains, islands. His Canticle of the Creatures gives us an insight into his love and reverence for all creation as gift from the One Great Creator and Father.  Nonetheless, often he would retire for weeks on end from this wonderful Theater of Redemption, away from the ‘world’ , the people, and the circumstances that enveloped him each day. Why? If all is a gift and everything is so wonderful, why leave?  If God is everywhere, why go as far away from ‘civilization’ as possible to be able to ‘touch God’?

Good, legitimate, enjoyable, and even necessary persons, places, and things – even religious things! – can ‘possess’ us so much that we can risk losing our God-centered perspective, and confuse our priorities.  They become the end rather than the means to deepen a relationship with God Who is ‘the Other’ and though He is not His creation, yet God can be seen in all things, because He is My God and My All as St. Francis prayed. An old saying states: A growling stomach cannot hear God speaking to us. God’s providence and love cannot be felt unless they are seen in those who proclaim them by their actions.  The spirit, immersed in God, can often become distracted and even depleted of its inner strength by the constant barrages, cacophony, seductions, allurements of our society, and also from just frenetic running around ‘in four directions at once’ without taking time for healthy rest in the Lord.  The various ‘lents’ that St. Francis practiced during the year all responded to the canons of the Church for all Christians.  They were part of his own particular devotional life and spiritual needs, and they afforded him the silence and solitude to ‘recharge’ his spirit, deepen his relationship with God for Whom St. Francis was the ‘Herald of the Great King’, and clarify his view of the world that surrounded him.

In solitude and silence our Seraphic Father sought to hear more clearly the voice of God Who spoke to him from the Cross of San Damiano that had entrusted him with a mission to rebuild My Church for as you can see it is falling into ruin.  To fulfill this commission St. Francis understood he had to begin by ‘rebuilding’ himself.  Like any edifice that needs revamping, remodeling, restoring, in order to be ultimately renewed, he had to check the structure, clean out the rubble, prop up and strengthen the tottering and fragile, fix the broken, discard the corroding that was affecting and infecting the rest of the healthy structure. Once this was done he could begin the ‘job’ of  rebuilding with quality updated strong material to make the structure solid and welcoming.  It is not always necessary to tear down to renew, particularly when the treasures of time and the human spirit are intimately involved and vital components .  When our faith foundation is solid and deep, the visible ‘structure’ of our lives will be strong and solid once revisions and repairs are effected.  Thus, what others see after we have worked at ‘rebuilding’ the inner spiritual structure and ‘refinished and renewed’ the outer appearance will attract, welcome, and challenge others to do the same.

Initially, our Seraphic Father understood the voice from the Cross of San Damiano literally. He began rebuilding the physical structures of several of the churches of Assisi with stones and mortar; and no doubt his merchant’s skills were able to eventually get some of the townsfolk to help this affable eccentric in his ‘pro bono’ enterprise. Following this image, we too can speak of rebuilding  the moral and spiritual structure of the Church, beginning with an evaluation and restructuring of our own personal church, the Temple of God each one of us has become through Baptism. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: Are you not aware that you are the Temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you?… For the Temple of God is holy, and you are that Temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-23) The voice from the Cross of San Damiano and the forty days St. Francis spent on the island on Lake Trasimeno offer us some points of reflection as we enter the most solemn season of the Church Year, the Paschal Season (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).  The ‘Penitents of Assisi’ as the first followers were called, were a prophetic presence among the people and within the Church calling the People of God to re-discover and to uncover within themselves a new energy in God’s Spirit, and to recognize a Presence that would transform their lives and restore harmony between them and all creation.

Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of this sacred season. Lent encourages us through the imposition of ashes to remember that:  You are dust and to dust you will return (look at everything in life from the perspective of eternity), and Repent and believe in the Gospel (give yourself over to God’s Will and live Jesus and His words). During these forty days we enter the Christian pilgrimage of faith and walk in the way of true conversion. We renew our commitment to rebuild and strengthen the Temple of God we are, making use of the ‘weapons’ our faith affords us.

In the Opening Prayer of the Eucharist for Ash Wednesday, in the Latin Sacramentary, we read these words: O God our Father, grant that your Christian people may begin this fast as a journey of true conversion, that the weapons of penance may make them victorious in the battle against the spirit of evil. This prayer introduces the beginning of the Season of Lent, springtime of the Church Year.  It offers us a simple and effective process we can follow on the forty-day itinerary ahead of us. The prayer mentions: conversion, journey, battle, weapons, victory … and a constant ‘accusing’ presence on this journey through life, ‘the evil one’.  The words are powerful and forceful.  They speak of decisiveness and determination. Reflecting on them and acting on them can make Lent a spiritually beneficial time for all who acknowledge their value and seek to implement them.

The process applies to a person of reasonably good faith, who truly wants to do what is good and right, even when the human spirit seems to be weak, tired or even contrary. Sincere awareness of our weaknesses leads to a desire and spirit of conversion, a ‘turning back’, to the intention of God in creating us and how we became when we were baptized – filled with sanctifying grace in God’s love.  Acceptance of this basic need urges us to take the first step of a journey that lasts a lifetime.  The journey is filled with pitfalls, detours, u-turns, and ‘full-steam-aheads’.  On this spiritual journey, just as in the experiences of everyday life, we encounter friend and foe, success and failure, joy and sorrow, virtue and vice, grace and sin.  We are called to wage ‘war’ and do ‘battle’ against the enemies of our soul by being prepared to recognize them, and to be energized by the gifts and assistance God affords us through Sacred Scripture, the Church and Sacraments, Tradition, the Magisterium, the holy people we follow as our spiritual guides, and one another.  The weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving keep our souls centered on the ultimate purpose of our existence – God! … and thus enliven us to confront the ‘evil one’ and the effects of his subtle and flagrant instigations in our daily lives:

Prayer keeps our relationship with God strong, and makes us always aware that God is truly with us …

Fasting places all things in right order that our possessions, even the spiritual ones, do not possess us …

Almsgiving opens and disarms our heart to others … thus, the space within is cleared for the Presence of God.

St. Francis often experienced his bouts with the ‘evil one’, sometimes directly, and more often, as with most of us, intensely through the temptations and allurements of the world around him or the ‘demons’ that lurk even in the recesses of saintly people. It is a given fact that the holier a person seeks to become, the more he/she will be assailed by the ‘spirit of evil’.  The Evangelist St. John encourages us on our journey, especially when the going gets rough, when he reminded the early Church and us today: Greater is the One within you, than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Our desire for personal conversion compels us to take the first of many steps on a journey on which we encounter friends and foes of our spiritual lives who must be embraced in love or fought in a spiritual battle with the weapons of faith (prayer), hope (letting go and trusting in providence to fulfill our needs), and charity/love (disarming our hearts to others as we seek to assist them however possible).  Once we have embarked on this journey, guided by the Spirit of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus, there is nothing less to expect than Victory!

Yes! We are victors in the Victim!  We walk the road of the Cross.  Though there are many difficulties we must overcome, our victory is basically a victory over ourselves – that part of ourselves that hesitates or refuses to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us.  The journey of Lent leads to a victory so often misunderstood.  It is a victory whose trophy is a blood-stained Cross and a mangled, tortured, derided Person, executed as a common criminal Whose crime was truth, compassion, and love. The paradox of the Cross is the glory of the Christian.  The sign of contradiction becomes our sign of commitment, a commitment to Life through death to ourselves, so that it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Jesus Himself said, when I am lifted up I will call all people to myself  (John12:32).  Eventually, at the end of our Lenten journey we come to the foot of the Cross, not as vanquished victims, but as conquering victors who bear the brandmarks of Jesus in my body, therefore let no one bother me (Galatians 6:17).

Let us strive to do good and become better as we enter the Season of Renewal. To do what is good is to do what is of God.  To do what is good is to strive to be good.  To be good is to live in God’s grace. To live in God’s grace is to have begun our heaven on earth.  Lent is the beginning of our journey: from Ashes to Palms … from Palms to Calvary … from Calvary to the Empty Tomb … and ultimately to rejoice in the Empty Tomb that introduces us to the fullness of Life.  Lent is not a time for slackers.  In the words of one of our Capuchin saints: You don’t go to heaven in a taxi! Let us be serious about our ‘return to the future’, a phrase taken from the title of a movie that reminds us we are called not to be someone else in the future but to be who we were created to be from all eternity. Thus, we must recapture and grow in the image of God and Christ in whom we were created, that the future prepared for us may be assured.

As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, let us not forget that in the beginning we were called the ‘Penitents of Assisi’.  Let the true spirit of penance take hold of us this Lent.  We are called to reflect, reform, renew our lives that we may re-establish a deeper relationship with God and all creation.  Like Advent, Lent is a Season of joy- filled expectations. We live in the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Lent is not a sad time of regrets, and penitential practices for the past.  It is a joyful season of ‘reconstruction’ and rebirth for all who seriously take advantage of the spiritual opportunities available. At the end of this brief yearly journey of renewal,  the ‘edifice of the Spirit’, ‘the Temple of God’ we are ‘comes alive’ in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

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 you, his spiritual children, with loving care. Happy Lent!

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

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