Fr. Francis Reflections for October, 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

October 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

 

For centuries the Franciscan Family has praised the goodness of God for blessing the world with St. Francis of Assisi and for calling us to follow his example in living the Gospel life. The impact St. Francis continues to have on our world has continued for more than eight centuries.  Since the time of St. Francis himself, the I, II, III, and Secular Franciscan Orders strive to foster a spirit of peace and goodness, and universal brotherhood. The spiritual children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis and our holy Mother St. Clare have affected the universal Church, as well as societies and cultures in every corner of the world.  They have influenced governments and help transform the thoughts of multitudes over the years.  They have challenged people to open their hearts and minds to the world recognizing it as the theater of redemption, thus a place to love and in which to live the Gospel life that all things may be restored in Christ. There is an obvious question that arises, however, regarding St. Francis. One of his first followers, Brother Masseo, is recorded to have asked the question: Why after you? … Why does the whole world come after you?  It is an interesting and quite challenging question that certainly goes far beyond the expected response of a pious platitude.

 

Once Saint Francis was staying in the place of the Portiuncula with Brother Masseo of Marignano, a man of great holiness, discernment and grace in speaking of God, for which Saint Francis loved him very much. One day Saint Francis was returning from the woods and from prayer, and when he was at the edge of the woods, that same Brother Masseo, wanting to test how humble he was, went up to him and, as if joking, said, ‘Why after you, why after you, why after you?’  Saint Francis responded, ‘What do you mean?’ Brother Masseo said, ‘I am saying why does the whole world come after you, and everyone seems to desire to see you and hear you? You are not a handsome man in body, you are not someone of great learning, you are not noble; so why does the whole world come after you?’ (Little Flowers 10)

 

How might we have responded to such a situation if the question were asked of us?  It is an honest consideration posed by someone who gave up everything to follow St. Francis. And what about the multitudes that sought to follow Francis Bernardone either by living the Rule for friars, or by living a Rule for those in society who still wanted to be of Francis’ Family and Gospel life experience. Some undoubtedly would have been put off by the reason Bro. Masseo gave for asking the question had the reasons given concerned them.  When ‘ego’ gets in the way we suffer from nearsightedness.  We see, hear, accept, and I dare say love, only ourselves, so that when others make us aware of our ‘deficiencies’ or definite faults we either retreat or react.  The attributes (or lack thereof) that Brother Masseo presented were rather peripheral. Nonetheless, how would any of us like to have been told rather bluntly: ‘You are homely looking (aesthetically challenged), of an inadequate intellect (‘academically limited’), and come from an insignificant level of society’ (‘socially modest’)?  How might we have responded?  Masseo was thinking out loud.  He had seen, believed, and followed Francis.  Why?

 

At times, when people place their trust in another, there comes a moment when they want to know concretely what their heart tells them is true, good, and necessary for personal fulfillment concerning the other. Reassurance does not so much express a doubt as much as a desire to corroborate and reconfirm a decision made with firm conviction and total commitment. Brother Masseo loved and trusted St. Francis, but he wanted to hear the answer from St. Francis himself.  In the depths of his heart Brother Masseo knew God was with Francis.  He believed in the man he had chosen to follow in response to God’s call.  Life changing decisions, such as marriage, religious life, priesthood, becoming a Secular Franciscan,  committing ourselves to any life that ultimately aims to transform a person from within as well as without, require prudence, trust, prayerful discernment, and courage to decide wholeheartedly.  Courage urges us to take the step, and fidelity assists us to experience the value and fruitfulness of the ‘yes’ with which we surrender to the call.  A simple rule is ‘Live it and you will love it’. It is only in living our decision that we grow into loving it day-by-day.  The questions and explanations are valuable and valid, but ultimately when I believe God is in the midst of the call and my response, I must make the decision trustingly, regardless how others encourage or discourage me by their words or actions.  Remember, your vocation is yours, none other’s.  A community, fraternity, Order is made up of many individuals who have personally responded with the same affirmative reply. They share a life of mutual support, encouragement, familial love.  It is a personal individual choice rooted in the conviction that expects and urges one to keep on moving forward, even if all others opt to change course.

 

The immediate response of St. Francis to Brother Masseo continues from the little Flowers: Hearing this, Saint Francis was overjoyed in spirit and, turning his face to heaven, stood for a long time with his mind lifted up to God.  Then returning to himself, he knelt down and gave praise and thanks to God. (Little Flowers 10)

 

The key word is ‘immediate response’.  Francis, with all of his idiosyncracies, was centered on God.  God was the focus, center, and source of all Francis desired to live and do in this life.  Even a response to his brother was not made until his attitude of prayer lifted him in spirit so that it was not I who live but Christ who lives in me, as St. Paul writes.  To paraphrase, ‘It was not Francis who responded, but Christ who responded in Francis’. We read in Scripture how Jesus, before He did anything of importance, would often spend the night in prayer.  Before performing a miracle Jesus would groan from the depths of his soul and gratefully acknowledge the Father’s willingness to hear His request. When we take time to enter that vertical relationship of prayer with/in God, every response we make, whether in words, actions, or both, lead us to enter the horizontal relationship with our sisters and brothers.  Thus we communicate all we know and are, with simple loving kindness and truth, in profound humility.

 

Then with great fervor of spirit (St. Francis) returned to Brother Masseo and said, ‘Do you want to know why after me?  You want to know why after me? You want to know why the whole world comes after me? I have this from those eyes of the Most High God, which gaze in every place on the good and the guilty.  Since those most holy eyes have not seen among sinners anyone more vile, nor more incompetent, nor a greater sinner than me; to perform that marvelous work, which he intends to do, He has not found a more vile creature on the earth, and therefore He has chosen me to confound the nobility and the greatness and the strength and beauty and wisdom of the world, so that it may be known that every virtue and every good is from Him, and not from the creature, and no person may boast in His sight.  But whoever ‘boasts must boast in the Lord’, to whom is every honor and glory forever.  Brother Masseo was shocked at such a humble response, said with such fervor, and knew certainly that Saint Francis was truly grounded in humility. (Little Flowers 10)

 

Seeing himself before the awesome love and majesty of God, he recognized his lowliness and the greatness of God.  Thus he gave Brother Masseo the answer he sought.  Francis acknowledged he was insignificant before the immensity of God, and it was for this reason God could work through him. Filled with ourselves there is no room for God.  The humble soul is empty of itself and offers God all the space God wills. There can be no pride in one who recognizes at every moment the sovereignty of God and himself as nothing more than the ‘Herald of the Great King’.  The herald proclaim the message of the other, not their own message.  The herald must be a subject of integrity who can be trusted to communicate the message of the one who sent him, and not his own personal issues and agendas. It is here that St. Francis explained in his response the prayer he so often would say, Who are You (Lord).  Who am I, repeating the words of St. Augustine centuries before: That I may know You (Lord), that I may know myself.  There is a powerful nuance here I think should be mentioned.  Many translate the words of Augustine to mean: ‘Let me know you Lord and let me know myself’.  It seems more Augustine and even Francis to translate the phrase to mean; ‘Let me know You, Lord, so that I may know myself’.  Once Francis’ heart lifted up, saw himself in the mystery of the One Whom he sought to know, he understood more deeply the purpose and call of his own life and could rejoice in the transforming power of grace that had worked such wonders in him and, through him, in so many others.  Humility is truth.

 

The response St. Francis gave impressed Brother Masseo for its simplicity and truthfulness.  St. Francis had him understand the meaning of St. Paul’s words, It is when I am weak that I am strong.  It is when we recognize our nothingness without God that God can work in-with-through us and not only give glory to His Name but raise us up in Him.  True humility that does not seek applause nor put on airs of superiority, attracts and encourages.  Humility recognizes the Lordship of God over us, and therefore, all things are given besides.  We accept our dependency on God for all things, and his dependency on us to cooperate with Him in the re-creation of our fallen world and its restoration in Christ.  St. Francis told Brother Masseo that only in admitting the supremacy of God can we begin to fulfill our lives and call others to experience the same fulfillment in sharing the same gift.

 

Why you?  Why does the whole world go after you, Francis?  Because like the wind: lively, vibrant, plunging into the depths, darting after the marginalized and alienated, dashing into the seclusion of prayer with nothing but his soul enamored of God, tossing himself into the strange events that God allowed to come his way, hurling himself into the midst of danger for the sake of the Name with a courage surpassing even that of the Crusaders of his time, Francis was the image of the freedom all people desire in life.  Francis believed firmly God was with him, thus he had nothing to fear.  A frail body was the vessel of a magnificent heart and soul.  So great was his desire to be one with the Father-Son-Holy Spirit, that towards the end of his life he not only carried the dying of Christ in his soul but was privileged to carry the wounds of the Savior on his body for all the world to see.  Why you, Fancis?  He might reply, ‘Because through me the Lord has seen fit to make Himself known and seen, that others may be encouraged to trust in God, disarm their hearts to one another, and rebuild a world that is, as far as we can see, ‘is falling into ruin’.

 

As spiritual children of the Poverello of Assisi, reflect on your own response to that situation of St. Francis and Brother Masseo.  Why would you ask Francis the question in the first place?  What have you not understood about the one whom you have chosen to follow that he might help you live Jesus?  Why did you accept to follow the Little Poor Man of Assisi?  What does St. Francis say to you after eight centuries?  Is he still alive and well in your fraternity, in your own personal life?  Are the life and words of St. Francis, his free spirit, and total humility, his all-embracing disarmed heart towards all, a source of enthusiasm, encouragement, excitement, JOY?  Is there an awareness of being a son/daughter, brother/sister in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi?  Do you allow this awareness to affect your life and encounters with the world in which you live?  Does the vibrancy and relevancy of the Franciscan Charism help you to ‘come alive in the spirit’?

 

Remembering that Francis was so enamored of Our Lady that he called her the Virgin made Church, may we, the living Mystical Body of Christ, reflect upon the life of Jesus during this month of the Most Holy Rosary and look at Jesus with the eyes of Mary. Sharing the great gift of life and our Franciscan charism let us strive to ‘infect’ others with the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi.  May we all be instruments of God’s Peace and Blessings to our world.

 

God bless us; Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

 

Happy Saint Francis Day to all!  Let us remember one another at the altar of the Lord both during the celebration of the Transitus and during the Eucharistic celebration of the Solemnity.

 

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

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