Greetings from Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – August, 2018

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 2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

For centuries the Christian world has celebrated the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary body and soul into heaven.  This crowning moment in Her life was never really disputed by most Christians before the rise of Protestantism. As time moves on, the world and its values often clouds the vision of our minds and hearts.  As the modern world places humanity at the center rather than God, society takes a different view of life and basic human values.   Technology has become the ‘god’ for many, a practical atheism if not a theoretical one.  Materialism, commercialism, hedonism, just to mention a few ‘isms’ of our day, have sunk their roots deep into the human experience and often seduce the heart and soul urging us to confide in the passing things of time rather than in the lasting gifts of eternity.  The cult of the body has dominated our society for years.  Sixty years ago, recognizing these serious dangers, Pope Pius XII   proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heaven, November 1st, 1950, amidst a gathering of thousands in St. Peter’s Basilica. This proclamation was the crowning recognition of the simple Maiden of Nazareth, Whose unconditional faith opened Her life to God’s will, and the world to salvation.

The story of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is beautifully told in the Apocrypha (texts not inserted among the books of Sacred Scripture by the Bishops gathered at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century).  The story lets us see how the early Church truly loved Mary as the highest honor of our race. It is no wonder that so many saints have had a particular and deep love and filial devotion for Our Lady.  Our own Seraphic Father St. Francis and Holy Mother St. Clare were devoted children of this Most Holy of Mothers, Whose love envelopes us with Her protective mantle. Close to Her Immaculate Heart, Her children feel secure from harm and assured of an Advocate almighty by intercession with God.

Saint Francis loved Christ and was deeply struck by the humility of the Incarnation and the love of His Passion.  He wanted to conform himself totally to Christ, so that Christ would be the true foundation of his life.  This love for Christ inevitably led him to a profound love for Mary, the Mother of the Lord.  In fact, as Celano states: He embraced the Mother of Jesus with inexpressible love, since She made the Lord of Majesty a brother to us.  He honored Her with his own Praises, poured out prayers to Her, and offered Her his love in a way that no human tongue can express.  But what gives us greatest joy is that he appointed Her the Advocate of the Order, and placed under Her wings the sons to be left behind, that She might protect and cherish them to the end. (2 Celano, chpt.150) Love for Our Lady moved him to imitate Her virtues.  He would tell his friars that it is the example of Christ and His Most Holy Mother that we follow in choosing the way of true poverty. (Legend of Perugia, #3)

St. Francis wanted this basic element of his spirituality to be the same basis for the spirituality of St. Clare and her religious family. Thus an essential element of the life of Clare and her sisters is the love and devotion they have for the Mother of Jesus, whom St. Clare considers their true Mother. The love of Clare for Mary is apparent from the first moment of her consecration to God.  Once she abandoned her home, city and family, she fled to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula (Our Lady of the Angels), where the brothers, who were waiting for her in prayer before the little altar in that chapel, received Clare with lighted torches. (Life, #8).  It was here that St. Francis cut her hair before the altar, in the Church of the Virgin Mary (Process, #12), and it was here that the humble handmaid was wed to Christ (Life, #8) Saint Mary of the Portiuncula is that famous place where the new throng of the poor began, guided by Francis: thus it appears clearly that the Mother of mercy gave birth to both Orders in Her own dwelling place. (Life, #8)

St. Clare began her new life at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She had a particular love and devotion for Her and wanted her sisters, although they received the precious Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion only seven times a year, to receive communion on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. (Rule, #3) Clare even desired that any form of fasting be dispensed on the feasts of Mary.  As much in love as Clare was with Christ Crucified, so also was she with the His Mother, reflecting upon Her sorrows.  She wrote to Sister Ermentrude: Meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross and the agonies of His Mother standing at the foot of the Cross. (Letter to Ermentrude)

Clare was deeply convinced that perseverance in her vocation gave honor to Mary.  She prayed for the gift of perseverance, and in her Testament she writes: Let us be very careful that, if we have set out on the path of the Lord, we do not at any time turn away from it through our own fault and ignorance, or that we do a great wrong to so great a Lord and His Virgin Mother, and our blessed father Francis, the Church Triumphant and even the Church Militant…For this reason, I bend the knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ so that, through the prayers and merits of the glorious and holy Virgin Mary, His Mother, and our most blessed father Francis and all the saints, the Lord Himself, Who has given a good beginning, may give the increase and may give final perseverance. Amen. (Testament)

Clare’s love for Mary was a transforming element for her,   that she expressed in the imitation of Mary’s virtues.  Even Cardinal Rainaldo in the letter of  Approval of the Rule, recognizes that the community of St. Clare follows in the footsteps of Christ and His Most Holy Mother, and have chosen to live a cloistered life. Of all the aspects of the life of Jesus and Mary, Clare is particularly concerned with imitating the poverty of Mary that she might be also faithful to the example of Francis, who sought to follow the poverty of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Holy Mother.  It was this deep love for Mary that merited for Clare the assistance of Our Blessed Mother during her illness.  One biographer writes that when Clare seemed close to death, surrounded by her sisters who were weeping, a Benedictine nun had a vision and saw a beautiful lady at the head of the bed who addressed the weeping sisters saying: Daughters, do not cry for one who still must live on until the Lord with His disciples comes to her. (Life, #40)

Mary is the Mother of all the living (Lumen Gentium, #56)   Mary gives birth to God, by giving Him our human nature.  And Her Son, receiving from Her all that is human, gives Her, as much as possible, all that is of God.  Jesus was like Mary in Her human form, and Mary was like Jesus in His spiritual form.  There was never a creature so much ‘like God’ than Mary.  Between Mother and Son there was a full and perfect union and correspondence, even in that insurmountable distance that separates the divine Son from Her, a pure creature. (Free translation from St. Lawrence of Brindisi) It is this relationship between the human and the divine that Clare will learn and deepen through her love for Jesus and Mary.

Clare’s love for Jesus and Mary leads her to an active contemplation of Jesus and Mary that culminates at the foot of the Cross in the ultimate sign of the depth of God’s love for humanity, and humanity’s participation with God in Mary. Her love for the Crucified Christ leads to Mary, the Virgin Made Church, Whose ‘yes’ to God made our redemption possible. Before the image of the Crucified, Clare opens herself to the mystery of God’s limitless love for all humanity, and there she finds the Mother of the Redeemer Who leads her to contemplate the role Mary was called to fulfill in our salvation history. From the first moment of Her Conception until Her glorious Assumption to the right hand of Her Son Jesus, Mary is an intimate collaborator in the mystery of salvation.  She offers Jesus to others, disregarding the disadvantages to Herself, so that Jesus in turn could offer Himself for us all. Mary’s collaboration from the first moment of the Lord’s conception in Her womb is remembered by the Evangelists. Mary carries Jesus, still within Her womb, to Elizabeth and the Baptist; She presents Him to the Magi; She offers Him to Simeon and Anna; She encourages Him to perform His first miracle to save a young couple from embarrassment; She accompanies Him to Calvary and death where, at the foot of the Cross, She offers Him and Herself with Him.  In the sufferings of Calvary Mary became our Mother in the life of grace. Her spiritual itinerary is the life of one who accepted and lived God’s Will. When Mary and her relatives went to see Jesus at Capharnum, Jesus said to the one who told Him His Mother and relatives were looking for Him: My Mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and live It. Jesus does not distance Himself from His Mother Mary but, on the contrary, extols Her greatness because She believed and accepted the Father’s Will, as He Himself was doing even in His own journey to the Cross.

Clare, in imitation of Mary, opened her heart and life to live God’s Will as it was proclaimed by the Magisterium and counseled by St. Francis.  Yet, with all her simple, humble obedience, Clare is a woman radical in her approach to the life she has been called to live, flexible towards her sisters and the human weaknesses she encounters, and truly free to be detached from all that could keep her from focusing on the eternal gifts and striving for them.  Clare is an image of that strong Woman who stood at the foot of the Cross with the dignity of an empress and a heart pierced with the sorrow of a loving Mother.  Clare could stand her ground firmly convinced for years with the officials of the Church for the Privilege of Poverty that eventually she was granted shortly before her death; yet she would be aware of and respond with the love, concern, and the flexibility of a caring mother to the needs of her sisters and any who came seeking her assistance. She lived the words she wrote to her spiritual daughter, St. Agnes of Prague:  Embrace the poor Christ.  Look upon Him Who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in this world for Him…gaze, consider, contemplate desiring to imitate your Spouse. (2nd Letter to St. Agnes of Prague)

Saint Clare of Assisi ‘gazed upon the Lord’ in the depths of her heart and in the faces of her sisters and others. With the love of a mother, she responded to their needs, and even placed her own life in jeopardy for their sake. Remember the two times we are told she saved the monastery from invasion and the sisters from harm by standing with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament between the sisters and the invaders. Jesus was the center of her life.  He filled her with courage and strength; Mary was the valiant woman of Scripture whose example helped her instill serenity and peace in others.

As spiritual children of our seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our holy Mother St. Clare, let us follow their example. Let Christ be our center so that we too may irradiate goodness and peace to all. Let Mary be our Mother whose life, from Her Immaculate Conception to Her Assumption body and soul into heaven, be a constant reminder of our origins in God’s love. God’s love for us is His pledge to us in Jesus that we, one day, will have the opportunity to share the eternal joys of heaven in the body with which we were known on earth and through which we sought to give glory and praise to God. O Christian, remember your dignity (St. Leo the Great) and live as redeemed children of God.

We have considered the marvelous privilege of our Heavenly Mother’s Assumption into heaven, the great love of our Seraphic Father St. Francis for “the Virgin made Church”, and the life of our Mother St. Clare, truly filled with the same spirit and love of St. Francis for Mary. May we follow the examples of our “Assisian Parents”.

My God bless you; may Our Lady, guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis and our Holy Mother St. Clare watch over each one of  us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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