Father Francis' Greetings for December 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
pppgusa@gmail.com

 

December 2017

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

(Saint Francis)  highest aim, foremost desire, and greatest intention was to pay heed to the holy gospel in all things and through all things, to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus christ and to retrace His footstepos completely … We should note then … what he did … at the town of Greccio, on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ … There was a certain man … named John who had a good reputation but an even better manner of life.  Blessed Francis (said to him) ‘If you desire to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together at Greccio, hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you.  For I wish to re-enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with ox and ass standing by, he rested on hay’ … Finally, the holy man of God comes and, finding all things prepared, he saw them and was glad … There simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Grecciio is made a new Bethlehem … Over the manger the solemnities of the Mass are celebrated.  (1Celano, bk.1, chpt. 30)

St. Francis’ simplicity and desire for ‘concreteness’ in touching with his senses the great Mystery of the Incarnation gave rise to the tradition of the Nativity Scenes most Christian Families set up over the Christmas Season.  St. Francis was not seeking to be innovative, or create something curious that would attract people.  He sought to make the Birth of the Savior come alive once again.  He sought to rekindle the spark of the Spirit’s fire and enthusiasm in the hearts of the faithful.  Through the senses, St.Francis sought to arrive more incisively at the soul.

Grace builds on nature. The ability to allow the senses to take over and enliven the heart and soul makes our experience with God even more exciting.  Not just the intellect, but the whole person enters this intimate relationship with God. And God enters a relationship with humanity taking on every aspect of human life except sin.  In the story, as recounted by Celano, it is even stated: Moreover, burning with excessive love, (Francis) often calls Christ the ‘babe from Bethlehem’ whenever he means to call Him Jesus.  Saying the word ‘Bethlehem’ in the manner of a bleating sheep. (1Celano, bk.1, chpt. 30) St. Francis was not one to be held in check by public opinion. Christmas is the birthday of the Christ Child and he was not concerned sounding like a child, or acting childlike, even if to some it seemed childish.  (When) people were bringing there little children to Jesus … (Jesus) said to (His disciples who were trying to stop them) Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.  It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Mark 10: 13-16) Christmas is a time for us to think of the Christ Child and remember the child that we once were and are called to become.  Our Seraphic Father let love let loose, just as David did when he danced with abandon before the Ark and all the people of Israel.  David’s response to a rebuke he received for being so exposed as a commoner (2 Samuel: 7: 20) , could be placed on the lips of St. Francis: As the Lord lives, who preferred me … not only will I make merry before the Lord, but I will demean myself even more … I will be lowly in your esteem … but I will be honored. (2 Samuel 7: 21-23) 

Pride seduced freedom at the very  beginning of human history when our first parents opted to seek self interests rather than  the will of  their Father Creator. From that moment,  human history  became a quest to regain what was lost: harmony, serenity, peace.  Harmony became enmeshed in the mechanism of compromise, connivance, convenience, and all that cloud our vision of the road traced out for us by the One Who calls us to Himself.  Serenity  was shaken by the inner  struggles of  insecurity, indifference, indolence and all that keep our hopes from encouraging us to move forward to grow in the gifts bestowed on us by our Creator.  Peace became the unfulfilled dream of those who were challenged daily by fearful anxiety, dominant arrogance, blind ambition. The world has not been the same ever since that fateful moment. And thus began the quest to regain what was lost!  Pride is overcome by humility.  Humility lives in the truth.  Truth offers us the liberating experience of being transparent. Transparency  allows us to trust and also to see others as pilgrims with us on the same journey.  Thus, opening our heart to the other, we have  found the eternal Other in our life as well.

We are reminded that: Life begins as the quest of the child for the man, and ends as  the quest of the man for the child …that childlike person hidden within each one of us crying out to be set free.   We search for the Child Who alone can help us find what we ‘mislaid along the road’:  harmony with God, ourselves and all creation;  serenity  before the challenges we face in the certitude that all works out for those who trust in God;  and  peace of heart and love, that see the image of the Child we seek in all people.  Serenity (peace), integrity (transparency) and love (acceptance/surrender) ultimately lead to Joy – the Joy of Christmas, the Joy of the new-born Child.

Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the people of Israel heard the prophet Isaiah promise: Many peoples shall come…they shall beat their swords into  plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again (Isaiah 2: 1-5). How can our Christmas Message be happy and uplifting when all around us we hear of scandals in religious and political arenas, job downsizing, economic insecurity, division in families, violence in the streets, terrorism around the world, international instability with threats of conflicts that could have devastating effects for the whole world, and much more?    We cannot let our hearts be overwhelmed by actions of hatred and violence that often occur, or by the tragedies that affect our lives.  Where there is life there is hope, and where there is hope there is peace, even in the midst of confusion and pain. Life is still the journey worth living and it is beautiful because…God so loved the world that he sent us his only Son so that whoever believes in Him would have life and have it in abundance. Who (or what) can separate us from the love of God…In Him we are more than conquerors.We must search for the answer in the responses given at Jesus Birth to heaven’s call: the shepherds went in haste to see what had been told them   (Luke 2: 1); the Magi followed the star (see Matthew 2: 1-12). As spiritual children of the Poverello of Assisi, we are entrusted by our Seraphic Father to live the legacy of joyful trust at all times in the Father Who loves His children passionately, and has manifested that love in the Birth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of Jesus, the Son of Mary.

God’s ‘Star of Truth”, His inspired Word, enlightens and indicates the way to follow that we might fulfill our basic desire to rediscover the child within us.   In that Word we recognize and accept  the Child Who alone can restore us to our initial innocence, regardless of how deep we may have fallen.  With the simplicity of the shepherds we hurry in faith that blossoms into Hope; this hope enables us to see Love Incarnate and believe in a Presence that can and will envelop us all with His eternal Love.  Now that we have seen and touched the Holy One of God, we know that no matter what happens around us,  greater is the One within than he who is in the world. (1 John 4: 4)  The man (St. Francis had asked to setup the Nativity Scene at Greccio) saw a little child lying lifeless in the manger and he saw the holy man of God approach the Child and waken him from a deep sleep. (1Celano, bk.1, chpt. 30)   The newborn King Whose birth we prepare for and celebrate in faith, can be found alive in the hearts of everyone of us.  He is there waiting for us to rediscover and awaken His Presence within us, as our Father did for the people of Greccio.

During the Advent Season, in the silence of faith, we journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  In the joy of great expectations we hurry to the stable with the Shepherds.  In undaunted hope we follow the heavenly guide with the Wise Men bearing the gift of ourselves. Let all fears be dispelled, all hope rekindled, all love blossom  new in our hearts.  The Child of Bethlehem blessed our history becoming one with us that we might again be one with Him.  It was at that birth that heaven sang  Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests (Luke 2: 1-14)

The world into which the God of creation chose to enflesh Himself is still the stage of the greatest act of His Eternal Love.  Life to be, Freedom in responsibility, and Redemption to eternal life in Jesus are still God’s loving and impartial gifts to all.  Stewards of creation, we are invested with the awesome trust of the Father. We make His presence and providence a reality in our world grown cold and indifferent to what really matters – Love! Just as at Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, we, like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, experience the promise fulfilled and our hope rekindled. We become his earthly messengers of the eternal love that not even human tragedy can destroy.  Goodness is still alive in the hearts of God’s children, and this love is celebrated each year at Christmas.

Christmas is a time for us to look with childlike eyes of wonder at the mystery fulfilled and to enjoy the love made present in the poverty of Bethlehem.  It is a time to bask in the light of a treasure greater than any we could imagine.  To see the Infant Jesus and recognize the God of Creation, the Savior of humanity, the King of kings and Lord of lords is to allow the tepidity and even the coldness of life’s demands and burdens to be dispelled and warmed by the Child of Bethlehem.  The Lord hidden in His Word and Sacrament is made visible in so many ways.  The child within is reborn and we experience the newness and joy of life. At Christmas we celebrate this wonderful re-discovery and joy.

Each day is a new experience of that eternal unfolding love prepared for by the prophets, made visible at Bethlehem and Calvary; all this will continue until history’s time becomes eternal life.

Each day we re-present the mysteries of salvation in the Eucharist, and each year we celebrate the unfolding of that One Solitary Life that is the focal point of human history – Jesus. Life is our journey. We set out in the zest and vigor of childhood and youth; we are tested through middle age; we lose our spring as time progresses…but, our faith – as was that of Mary and Joseph who believed the mystery and so experienced the miracle of His birth – allows us to see each moment as a wonderful endowment that makes the journey itself the gift, and the destination that much more desirable. His wooden manger for a cradle at Bethlehem began the journey that led to his total surrender for us on the rough wood of the Cross on Calvary. The Crib and the Cross can never be separated.   His total emptying as God at Bethlehem and total emptying as Man on Calvary is the whole story of a birth to die that we who are born to die may encounter the fullness of Life.

May the Child of Bethlehem help us celebrate His birth, Light and Salvation. As brothers and sisters in St. Francis of Assisi let us bring that light, joy and hope to all whom we encounter on life’s journey. Warmed by the love and humility of the Christ Child, may we find that child within who helps us to see the beauty of this world in all its wonder and majesty, and the love of its Creator in all His Humility. Come, let us adore Him in His Eucharistic presence.  With Mary and Joseph let us bask in the light of his splendor and trust in Him.

May the Peace, Joy, Blessings…and Love of this Season fill your hearts and those of your loved ones.  Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy New Year.

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

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