Greetings from Father Francis - July, 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

 

July 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord bless you with His peace!

Before the Vatican II revision of the Liturgical Year Calendar, the Franciscan Family commemorated the canonization of our Seraphic Father on July 16. It was a simple celebration that consisted of a commemorative prayer added to the prayers for the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The following excerpts from our Franciscan Sources speak of the Pontiffs who knew and loved St. Francis (Julian of Speyer), and the process leading to the canonization of our Seraphic Father by his friend who had become Pope Gregory IX (Saint Bonaventure):

A span of twenty years had passed since the glorious confessor and Levite of Christ had first embraced the counsels of evangelical perfection … Now, this same venerable father left the shipwreck of this world in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 1226, on Sunday, the fourth day of the nones of October, and was buried, as has been said, in the city of Assisi … This blessed man had begun his course under the illustrious Lord Pope Innocent III, and he happily completed it under his successor, Honorius … They were happily succeeded by the Lord Pope Gregory (IX) … (Life of St. Francis by Julian of Speyer, chpt. 13) Immediately, the holy man began to reflect the light radiating from the face of God and to glitter with many great miracles…The wonderful things which God was working through his servant Francis – acclaimed by word of mouth and testified to by facts – came to the ears of the Supreme Pontiff, Gregory IX.  That shepherd of the Church was fully convinced of Francis’ remarkable holiness, but also from his own experience during his life…  Having seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands, he had no doubt that Francis was glorified in heaven by the Lord. He decreed with unanimous advice and assent … that he should be canonized.  He came personally to the city of Assisi in the 1228th  year of the Incarnation of the Lord … and enrolled the blessed father in the catalog of the saints, …(The Major Legend, chpt. 15, 6-7)

The Family of St. Francis, both brothers and sisters, had grown tremendously since Francis heard the words from the Crucifix of San Damiano. St. Francis of Assisi has been immortalized through the centuries not only because of the gifts the Lord bestowed upon him personally – among them the sacred Stigmata that rendered him a living image of the Suffering Christ – but also through the spirit he instilled in his followers, his spiritual children, and the joy and selflessness with which they surrendered themselves to the will of God, the Church, and the charism of the ‘Poverello’ of Assisi.  During the life of our Seraphic Father, Brother Berard and his companions became the first of a long line of Franciscans would give their lives for the faith. St. Francis praised their faith, obedience, and courage, and said of them: Now I can truly say that I have five Friars Minor.  A true Franciscan doesn’t count the cost! A true Franciscan seeks to be detached enough to be able To let go and let God.  The “job” of a lifetime that we must strive to live each day.

St. Francis, saint of the ‘Disarmed Heart’ and ‘Universal Brother’, continues to disarm his heart through the humility and openness of his sons and daughters. St. Francis and the Franciscan Family continues to have an incisive effect on  the lives of both Christians and non-Christians.  The ‘disarmed heart’ of Francis is the same ‘disarmed heart’ that should be a way of recognizing a true daughter or son of the Poverello. We destroy our opponents or those who think they are ‘enemies’ by making them our friends.  We are the peacemakers by profession! … with God, ourselves and one another!

The lives of our Franciscan Saints and Blesseds are a kaleidoscope of spiritual beauty.  Rather than overwhelm us with heights of unattainable holiness, their stories invite us to enter our vocation more deeply.  The diversity of characters, personalities, ministries, prayer forms, penitential practices, age groups, levels on the social ladder, roles fulfilled in Church and/or in society, intellectual capacity, and so much more, make it obvious that the Franciscan Family is open and welcoming to all who seek to live the Gospel life in the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi. Still, when the question is asked, What do I have to do to be a Franciscan?, the question is so simple that it is difficult to answer, and for some difficult to accept! Why? Foir many it is easier to be told what to do to be “holy” rather than “how to be” – that leads me to what I must do – to become “holy” in God’s sight.

We always put the word ‘do’ together with the word ‘be’.  It makes sense!  Once we know who we are, then we know or begin searching for the way to live out our lives fully. How many begin difficult penitential practices, long prayer forms, and the like, before they even get to understand how God is calling them to achieve the sanctity that we are all called to live. St. Paul reminds us: The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others (Romans 14: 17).  All the various practices are in themselves most profitable spiritually, as long as they are in accord with God’s will.  Let us remember, however, that before we run, we must learn how to walk, and before we walk we must crawl, and before that we are held in the arms of our parents.  Allow God to hold you in His arms, then entrust you to the fraternity to learn how to walk as a Franciscan, before you try to run as a ‘mystic’.

Enthusiasm is a wonderful gift.  The enthusiasm that initiates one into the spiritual life, especially when it is a ‘discovery’ in the adult years, can at times confuse a person who tries to apply all the actions of the saints and blesseds he/she has heard about.  It might even be the particular saint that attracts them, such as St. Francis or St. Clare, to the Franciscan Family.  But what happens next is that these well-intentioned ‘aspirants to sainthood’ think that doing as others did they will attain their goal.  To a certain extent it might be true, but each of us is a ‘saint’ in his/her own way.  Just remember Brother John the Simple.  St. Francis had to convince the family of John to let him become a brother. Once in the Brotherhood, John, who believed Francis a saint, thought that by imitating St. Francis in everything, he would surely become a saint.  It took some loving persuasion and encouragement for Francis to convince Br. John that he did not have to walk as he walked, cough when he coughed; you get then idea. That’s what John was doing.  Simplicity of mind as well as life, but a holiness of life that took the correction and became the ‘unique’ saint he was and the ‘unique’ saints we are called to be. We are ‘children of the saints’.  We are brothers and sisters of the saints of our Franciscan Family.  We have been left a legacy that we are to leave to others after we have lived it in our own lives.  Let us offer those who encounter us an image they can not only admire but follow with simplicity and dedication, should they become ‘one of the family’.

What do we have to do?  It is really quite simple!  The Rule and Constitutions are the main documents, together with Sacred Scripture, the Magisterium of the Church and the Sacred Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and our Franciscan Family are the basic guidelines and safeguards for a basically good and holy Franciscan life.  Then we come to the practices that help us ‘keep focused’ and ‘on track’.  These can be many or just a few, depending on how we read and understand the ‘basic guidelines’ of the Rule, Constitutions, Scripture, and so forth.

The following list offers some of the basic spiritual and religious practices most Catholics and religious have followed in the past. These are just a simple reminder of what most people seeking a deeper spiritual life have done before attempting the ‘greater’ practices and experiences.

  • Daily Morning and Evening Prayers with the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours or other prescribed prayers proper to the Fraternity, as well as our own personal prayers, especially the Morning Offering and Consecration of our every action, are a way for us to begin and end the gift of each day with the Lord, trusting in His love, mercy, and providence.
  • Daily Mass and Communion assist us to enter that unique and intimate relationship with God Who offers us the opportunity to share in the Paschal Mystery each time we assist at or celebrate the Eucharist. One of our own saints said: A day without the Eucharist is like a day without the sun. Franciscans are a ‘Eucharistic People’.  The Paschal Mystery was an integral part of the spirituality and life of St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Daily Meditation on God’s Word opens the mind to receive a word that enlightens, strengthens, warns, encourages, and so forth.  It is the act by which we make our very being receptive to the Lord Who speaks to us.
  • Daily quiet time with the Lord, even if for only a half hour, let the world, in which we are necessarily involved, be seen from a different perspective when we ‘re-enter’ after spending quality time with God.
  • Daily Spiritual Reading of lives of saints and other holy people faithful to the Church and/or readings concerning our Franciscan charism should be among our daily reading list.  A good biography of holy people shows us how a life is to be lived in God. Though each person about whom we read is different, the commitment, deep faith, trust, and unique way they encountered God and grew in His grace, serve as an encouragement for our spiritual journey.
  • Weekly, if not more often, Eucharistic Adoration does not have to be the formal adoration with the monstrance; sometimes that cannot be.  However, time spent before the Blessed Sacrament in total surrender to the Divine Presence changes our view on many things we would otherwise allow to overwhelm us.
  • Sacramental Reconciliation once every two weeks was the norm for a while. We are Penitents of Assisi.  We should be the first among all the formal religious groups to recognize, promote and utilize this Sacrament as a means of keeping ourselves always in the divine life of grace. Unfortunately, even we Franciscans think that this Sacrament is only needed for serious or mortal sins.  While that is true, the Sacrament is also a gift that keeps us spiritually healthy by giving us the graces to rid us not only of sin but assist us in weeding out the occasions we allow to entice us.
  • The Monthly Fraternity Meeting that brings the ‘family’ together to pray, learn, share and plan is an essential part of our life that everyone should be part of, unless legitimately excused.
  • The Yearly Retreat helps us to focus totally, if only for a few days, on the preeminence of God and our vocation to this life.
  • The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be fulfilled in a variety of ways that are already being done by a number of our brothers and sisters.  These ‘externals’ form an integral part of our ministry as Franciscans.

These may seem like so much to expect or ask.  In reality everything mentioned above is all doable easily, when priorities are set.  No responsibilities will suffer in doing any of the above, and there are marvelous effects that flow from these.  It is only when we are centered on God and understand the role we have accepted to fulfill as Franciscans, that everything becomes easier and other spiritual and material activities are more quickly accomplished because they take precedence over the ‘time wasters’ that we so often allow to keep our attention for hours, days, and sometimes a ‘wasted lifetime’.  We are allowed, and even expected, to relax, recreate, have fun, laugh, enjoy life.  The spiritual activities mentioned above, when done with a sense of commitment to strengthen our relationship with God and our sisters and brothers in the Franciscan Fraternity, only enhance the joy, they do not detract from it.

My dear sisters and brothers, we are all children of the Seraphic Father.  Just as it is not enough to cry Lord, Lord, to enter the kingdom of God, so it is not enough to say that I professed my commitment as a Franciscan.  What we say with our lips becomes truth when we live it with our life.  A Franciscan lives the spirit of the Seraphic Father, the Poverello of Assisi. Before we expect the marvelous and extraordinary in our lives to happen, let us strive to live what is expected of us.  Live the ordinary, the expected, in an extraordinary and maybe even ‘unexpected’ way. St. Francis tells the first followers and us as well Let us begin (to be who we are called to be) because up to now we have done so little. Make use of the various opportunities and gatherings planned and offered for you to grow in your knowledge of our charism and to become more closely one in fraternity through our common prayer and sharing. As children of St. Francis of Assisi, we form a magnificent family that has been a blessing to the Church for over eight centuries.  Let us continue to be a blessing to all, as we bless one another with our love and lives.

During these warm summer months, remember God’s warm love for all of us. Let the love of His Son warm our hearts that we may be His image to one another and to the world we encounter each day. May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and 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

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