Father Francis' Greetings - August, 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

August 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

 

The Lord give you his peace!

 

During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and with his approval, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.  As could be expected, secular newspapers and reporters created a hype about things in which they are not qualified to speak.  They speak from a totally secular point of view and more often than not with a sensationalism that seeks adherents rather than with a professionalism that seeks to present the truth.  Often phrases out of context or poll results from the man-on-the-street are thrown out to the listening, viewing, or reading audience to prove their point.  Often they fail to quote in context the expressions they are reporting and ‘critiquing’, or better to say ‘criticizing’, and they fail to call qualified Church representatives to explain the issues in question. An operating method like this can only create an atmosphere of confusion.  Issue-oriented presentation of disconnected facts leads to ‘lopsided’ criticism and even open irreverent ridicule of Church teachings and practices. Discussion and dialogue are always healthy when those involved candidly speak what they truly believe and listen respectfully and attentively to what is said.

 

Through the Eucharist – the abiding presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as the Companion of our earthly pilgrimage – we unite ourselves to Jesus and are nourished with His Immaculate Flesh. Thus, it is through the Church, that guided and ruled by Him, we come alive by His grace and are nourished by His teaching.  We cannot become more one with Christ in this life than by uniting ourselves to Him in the Eucharist.  We can have no greater assurance of living according to His Spirit, of being directed and taught by Him, than by uniting ourselves to the Gospel, Tradition, and Magisterium of the Church.

 

Fidelity to Christ and His teachings is essential! Although the Church is made up of human beings, it is not a country club or parish association or philanthropic organization, or the like.  These are most often subject to the majority vote of adherents who seek a more profitable outcome of their agendas.  Lord, that I may be faultless in my way, by keeping to your words (Psalm 119, 9).  Today’s society prizes what is relative, situational, convenient, politically correct, and so on.  This is surely not the road Our Savior took!  He respected the dignity of every person, but would not back down on that-be’ nor would He lessen his expectations of others. As He with the Father, others also were expected to listen and obey the Will of the Father as that Will was made known in the life of each person.

 

What we need in our relationship with and within the Church is a spirit of wholesome humility, not ‘whimpishness’ but loving trust and obedience for those entrusted with the responsibility of feeding and tending the flock of Christ (cfr. John 21). Unless you become like little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18: 3)…We can be saved,…not without humility (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux). The greatest qualities and gifts, such as the spirit of penance or poverty, virginity, the call to the apostolate, a life consecrated to God, the priesthood, are sterile if they are not accompanied by sincere humility.  The higher the place we occupy in the Savior’s vineyard…the deeper we need to plant the roots of humility.

 

The Roman Catholic Church has a blessed and marvelous, although flawed, history and tradition.  Even from within the Church  (clergy as well as laity), we encounter “verbage” regarding the Church and our life within the Roman Catholic Faith, that criticizes the appropriateness, theology, philosophy, “updatedness”, intelligence, personal giftedness, and so much more, of those in leadership responsibilities. ‘Conservative’ or ‘traditional’ (and we cannot equate the two necessarily),  ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ (again here we cannot necessarily equate the two), inadequate, inept, ignorant, and the like are labels that have no real place in the vocabulary of those called to Gospel faithfulness and not to the world’s concept of success. Christ Jesus is always “relevant”.  Christ the Truth and the Way is One person Who leads to Life.  Though many feel they have the right and intelligence to interpret the Word, it is the Church, even though faulty and less- capable in Her leaders. These are the ultimate interpreters and proclaimers of Christ’s Truth as proclaimed by the Church.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Church is the People of God on journey through history responding to the Spirit of Lord and life’s experiences in the light of God’s Will.  The Church is the Custodian of Christ’s Truth received from the Lord through the teaching and witness of the Apostles.

 

Through those who have due authority to govern and the legitimate responsibility to teach and sanctify, the Church was entrusted with these charisms from the Apostles and Jesus Himself.  The Church has the right, duty, and responsibility to regulate the life of the People of God according to God’s Will expressed in His Word and the Traditions and Magisterium. Theologians may dissect, investigate, discuss statements pronounced by the Holy Father and/or some Church Dicastery such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  There are those who view the Church only as a social entity and not as the Mystical Body of Christ called to lead all people to holiness and salvation.  They may criticize and/or judge the acts or statements of the Holy Father, or the documents sent out to the faithful by the Church Universal with the approval of our Holy Father.  These often receive responses or are criticized by those whose criteria of evaluation is based on personal convenience, political correctness with the world or areas of church circles, timeliness, usefulness, and the like.  As Roman Catholics, and especially as Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, we are committed and expected to accept the teachings and pronouncements of the Church with gratitude and obedience. The Franciscan Family is called to follow the “totally-Catholic” example of our Father and Guide.  We listen and read that we might be informed on what pertains to our life.  We pray and reflect on the pronouncements made by the Church, that we might gratefully and humbly accept the gifts of faith offered us.

 

We are baptized in the Blood of Jesus, gifted with the Spirit of God, professed and committed to the Gospel Life and example of St. Francis of Assisi and all the holy ones who have gone before us.  We love and respect our traditions that have attracted millions through the centuries to take up the Franciscan challenge to joyfully live the Gospel “without gloss” in the world of today. As Penitents of Assisi ourselves we seek reconciliation with the children of the Church who have distanced themselves from the family of the Church for whatever reason. Was it not St. Paul himself who said that although he knew there was no sin in eating meat sacrificed to idols because the idols were nothing, still he would not eat meat at all if he thought that doing so would scandalize any of the believers? We must view things from the greater perspective – the perspective of God’s mercy, compassion and love. True loving reconciliation cannot however disregard humility and truth.

 

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi have we achieved a level of faith that is serene in the contradiction of life?  Can we accept that our will is second to that of others?  Are we ready to accept the decisions of the Church, either directly from our Holy Father, or indirectly from those official statements and declarations that our Holy Father approves?  Do we always think we have a better idea than the Church?  Do we humbly ‘critique’ the Church externally, while really ‘criticizing’ Her right to teach and govern Her children?  Are political correctness…or social relevance…or less emphasis on doctrine, dogma, tradition, Roman Catholic identity “our positions”?  Do we have “battle cries” to promote our wills, rather than humble cooperation and collaboration with those who may have a different approach to matters than we? Are we consistent with what we truly believe and have promoted, even when we are no longer “in the majority”? Are we “centered” in the Lord … is Jesus the reason we say and act as we do … or does the “limelight” determine our words and actions? Is authenticity and truth through humility and love what we truly seek as our Christ- centered goal … or are we the object of our affections? Responding honestly to these questions, and others that most assuredly can arise from these, we will be able to recognize the direction our life is taking in openness or not to the Spirit of the Lord that challenges us to go beyond ourselves.

 

Our Father St. Francis of Assisi teaches us in a simple and straightforward way.  He tells us to hear what the Church has to say…listen to the teaching offered…ponder the significance…and…gratefully accept and lovingly obey as a child of the Church.  We are called to witness our unity, catholicity, holiness and apostolicity of faith, through our humble and loving obedience. What greater witness can we offer our sisters and brothers of other faith expressions than the integrity of our commitment to all we are as Roman Catholics!?

 

Unity in humility and love are essential to the effectiveness of our Franciscan Spirit in society today. If we do not strive to be better than the spirit of the world, we are destined to become one with the world we are called to condition and, by our example, help to transform.  What is of the flesh is flesh, what is of the spirit is spirit (cfr. John 3:6).  Though the above reflection speaks about faithfulness to the Church, as Franciscans we can apply everything above also to our Franciscan life in whatever Order of the Franciscan Family we belong. Let’s remember that the highest sign of Franciscan Poverty is not necessarily in the relinquishment of material goods, though that is a fine and necessary witness, but ultimately in the “letting go” of our self-centered wills, and humble acceptance and collaboration with others.

 

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.

 

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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