Fr. Francis' Greetings - September 2017

St. Katherine Drexel Regional Fraternity
Regional Spiritual Assistant
St. Francis of Assisi Friary
Wilmington, Delaware 19809

tel: (302) 798-1454      fax: (302) 798-3360      website: skdregion.org

email: pppgusa@gmail.com

September 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

In September 1224, two years before death would usher him into eternity early in life, while at prayer at a solitary site on a mountaintop in Tuscany, our Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi, received the answer to his prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I ask You before I die: the first, that in my lifetime I may feel, as far as possible, both in my soul and body, that pain which You, sweet Lord, endured in the hour of Your most bitter Passion;  the second, that I may feel in my heart as much as possible of that excess of love by which You, O Son of God, were inflamed to suffer so cruel a  Passion for us sinners.  A winged Seraph appeared to him and signed him with the visible marks of the wounds of Christ. St. Francis of Assisi, the Little Poor Man, the Universal Brother, had become a living image of the Crucified Christ. The marks gave witness to the integrity of the person who bore them and credibility to the message he had now become, so that when a spirit of indifference was taking over the world, (The Lord) renewed in the flesh of St. Francis the Sacred Stigmata of (His) Passion to rekindle in our hearts the fire of (His) love. (adapted Opening Prayer for the Feast of the Impression of the Stigmata).

St. Francis received a wonderful privilege that carried with it a great responsibility.  He was entrusted with a mission: to rekindle the fire of Divine Love in the hearts of God’s children.  The Stigmata he bore speak volumes for those willing to ‘read’ them in a spirit of faith.  To see him was to see the living image of the Crucified. To see him was a challenge to change. To encounter him was to recognize God speaking through him reminding all of God’s limitless love and calling everyone to cooperate with grace and become the persons we were all created to be: children of the Father, redeemed in the blood of the Son, bound together in the family of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Those willing to understand and accept the message of the wounds and the person signed with them, knew they were ‘called to action’. The Stigmata call to action not apathy, loving not loathing, conviction not complacency, determination not doubt, commitment not compromise, life not lethargy.

Like the great priest-prophet of the Old Testament, Ezekiel, St. Francis was called to be a living prophecy to a lethargic world suffering from spiritual dryness. Ezekiel’s prophetic words speak of numberless dry, lifeless, disjointed bones, lying on a vast field, (see Ezekiel 37: 1-14); they could be compared to many periods in human history, to St. Francis’ time, and even to our own, when war and its after-effects on society, violence, economic difficulties, contagious illnesses, social restlessness, immorality and amorality take their toll on the spiritual life of God’s people.  Even those of deep faith can experience a dryness and spiritual fatigue. They  look for understanding and direction.  They seek someone who will journey with them and nourish them with God’s Word and healing grace.  To see St. Francis, signed with the sign of the Crucified, made Jesus come alive in the hearts of those he met and with whom he spoke. The Stigmata he bore were a visible sign to all of a presence that was reassuring, encouraging, life-giving.  Isaiah spoke of the wounds of Christ centuries before His Passion and Death – Through His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 4-5).  St. Francis of Assisi accepted to let those wounds come alive once again in his own body, and thus be a reminder and a sign of hope through Jesus’  self-sacrificing love in His Eucharistic Presence that re-presents His redemptive Passion-Death-Resurrection; those wounds kept the reality of that one great sacrifice vividly alive before the eyes of all.

The great scene of that field of bones in Ezekiel is also a reminder of what we are without God, and what we become once we allow His Word to enter our lives and His Spirit-breath to enter our hearts. There is a gradual and effective rebirth, a new creation, a re-creation in each one of us. God Himself intervenes by doing in-with-for us what is otherwise humanly impossible.  When we feel like ‘dry bones’ – tired, discouraged, disillusioned, even despairing – that is the moment for us to hope against all hope (Romans 4: 18).  God Himself will bring about our spiritual ‘resurrection’ in this life.  The sign of our faith is the Resurrection of Christ and the Eucharist offers us the opportunity to participate in His Passion-Death-Resurrection, our pledge of future life and glory. Love for the cross is the distinctive sign of chosen souls. Jesus’ wounds remind us how He loved us to His death that we might live with Him.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, we continue to let Jesus come alive in a world grown cold to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The ‘Good News’ that we preach with our lives is that God so loved the world He sent His only Son so that all who believe in Him might have life … He did not come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.    When we ‘climb Calvary’ with Christ and accept to receive ‘our own stigmata’ and bear joyfully the responsibilities and burdens that come with life, we begin to rekindle the flame of faith in the hearts of others, as it grows stronger by God’s grace in ourselves.

The signing of our Seraphic Father with the Sacred Stigmata of Jesus calls us to action.  It must however begin with each one of us first, then reach out to others.  Ultimately we reach a point where everything is in perspective and even the world is put under our feet; it becomes the theater of salvation, rather than a stumbling-block of distractions and seductions that destroy fervor and lead to tepidity, indifference, and finally separation from all that is good and all that is God. St. Francis’ Prayer asking to experience the love that Jesus had in dying for us and the reception of the Stigmata on La Verna help us to reflect upon a simple and powerful way to strengthen and deepen our spiritual lives.

  1. Imitate Love – Ask God for the ability to surrender totally in trust to God’s will.  Love is total surrender to the One Who surrenders Himself for us on the Cross and to us in the Eucharist.
  2. Meditate on the Sufferings and Love of Jesus – Keep the image of the Passion-Death of Jesus alive in your heart.  We Franciscans are noted for our affective prayer.  It touches the heart and makes the reality of what we consider more vivid and impressive.
  3. Love the Cross – Do not fear the image of suffering and death.  The Cross without Christ is a lie.  With Christ, the Cross becomes not a sign of death but Life, not a sign of hatred but Love. Keep the image always alive in your heart and your life, especially in the midst of the heavy burdens that might come.
  4. Grow in Christian Perfection – The spiritual life is not static.  Once Christ and the Cross become ‘real’ and present to the heart, we must proceed forward by ‘living Jesus’ and His Gospel more intensely.
  5. CLIMB CALVARY – Once we grow in our Christian life, we cannot hep but desire to ‘climb calvary’ to be one with the mystery of our redemption.
  6. Embrace with Cheerful Soul Everything – Having embraced the Cross and stood with Jesus, all else becomes a gift we can easily embrace with gratitude, trust, and cheerfulness. Yes, ‘cheerfulness’. To embrace one thing is not to embrace something else.  God loves a cheerful giver. When we embrace cheerfully what God’s permits, we let go of our false securities and comfort zones, and just trust.
  7. Be Faithful  – Nothing can be taken for granted.  We must be ever on the watch to remain faithful.  Never become complacent thinking that everything happens now automatically.  The Spirit’s work is kept alive by faith-filled lives that never slacken, that renew the ‘process’ everyday with greater commitment and intensity.
  8. Place the World Under Your Feet – Like the famous image of St. Francis embracing the Crucified with the world at his feet, now we are able to use the world as the theater of redemption it is and make use of all creation as the gifts that can lead us to the fullness of life, rather than allow the world to control, condition, and ultimately condemn us.

The impression of the Stigmata of Jesus on Saint Francis of Assisi, celebrated this month, challenges us to remember and live the words Per Crucem ad Lucem – Through the Cross to the Light. The wounds of the Passion speak of a  world that refused and rejected that incarnate God, Who took on human nature that humanity might rise above what was leading it astray.  Treachery, betrayal, capture, torture, and death were the ‘thanks’ offered all the blessings bestowed and received.  The wounds we celebrate in Our Seraphic Father call us to be spiritually impressed with the same ‘signs’ and respond to the gift as did St. Francis.

  • The nails in the hands remind us to use our hands to bless and not offend, to give not seek to receive, to embrace rather than push away, to raise up rather than put down, help rather than hinder …
  • The nails in the feet remind us of the Scriptural phrase: blessed are the feet of the bearer of peace. They lead us to approach all as sisters and brothers, move towards those in need rather than remain stationary in our own comfort and security, take the first step and seek out those estranged rather than wait for the other to take the first step …
  • The heart pierced reminds us that we must disarm our hearts to one another and allow all to enter our loving embrace that they too, as we, may discover the limitless and unconditional love of God through us.

Let the Impression of the Sacred Wounds of Jesus on the body of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi speak to you. May God bless you; my Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look upon each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.  Happy Feast Day to all!

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

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