Thought for the Day – Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – April 2019

April 2019

Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of the day, every day and continually,

let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart and love, honor, adore, serve,

praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks

to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God, Trinity and Unity,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Creator of all, Savior of all who believe and hope in Him, and love Him, Who,

without beginning and end, is unchangeable, invisible, indescribable, ineffable,

incomprehensible, unfathomable, blessed, praiseworthy, glorious, exalted,

sublime, most high, gentle, lovable, delightful,

and totally desirable above all else for ever.


(Prayer of Saint Francis taken from the Earlier Rule, chapter 23)


Now, among the Patriarchs who have planted the great Religious families in the garden of the Church, her pride, the fairest of all, is undoubtedly the Seraphic Father, Francis.  No one resembles Jesus Crucified as much as he. (Pope Leo XIII,  May19,1896)  – The sacredness of the person keeps returning, again and again.


The beauties of nature held a mysterious fascination for Francis’ whole being.  Mounting up to the first origins of things, he considered created beings as coming from the fatherly bosom of God. ‘They have the same beginning as we, he used to say; like us they receive life from the thought, the choice, and the love of the Creator’(Legend 8,6) – Like trees, human beings need deeply anchored roots.


When he was a prisoner of war at Perugia his noble bearing so impressed his captors that he was incarcerated with the knights instead of in the common jail.  With his ideal always beside him, he could laugh at his chains and scorn them…To his companions he spoke always of courage… – Merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another.


His loving, attentive compassion for the poor was beyond telling. Grace added true piety to his natural goodness, and his heart used to melt at the sight of the poor.  If he had nothing to give them, he used at least to show them he loved them (Celano 223, 15) – In order to sing God’s praises we must learn the language of humility and trust, moral integrity and sincere commitment.


One day when he was riding on the plain of Assisi, he met a leper and was immediately overcome with disgust and horror. But, faithful to his promise of never refusing alms, he got down off his horse and ran to embrace the beggar.  He kissed the horrible outstretched hand and placed his alms in it. – The person who is a ‘neighbor’ cannot indifferently pass by the suffering of another.


In his youth he used to love to visit a small rustic chapel dedicated to the martyr St. Damian…The figure of the cross came alive and spoke to him, calling him by name:Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruins…These mysterious words had a threefold meaning: literal…spiritual…personal.  Francis felt the truth of these words by the change they produced in his whole being. – Respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit by forgiving one another whatever needs to be forgiven.


He wished (to) crucify his flesh and its vices and concupiscence which would lead to sin. (And Francis said) A time will come when laxity and tepidity will prevail.  Then the children of a poor Father will not blush to wear rich clothing.  Their garments will differ only in color from those of rich worldlings (Celano 224,10) – Accept one another and break down barriers in order to overcome every possible cause of division.


His companions asked (Francis): ‘Tell us, then, Father, what perfect obedience is’. Francis gazed within his heart and saw the ever-present, ever-adored vision of Christ obedient unto death. He used a simile to illustrate the manner in which his Lord and Ideal acted.  Take a dead body and put it where you will.  You will see that it does not object to being moved; it does not murmur about its position or complain if it is abandoned and left to one side. Put it on a throne and it will not look up, but down. Clothe it in royal purple and it will appear even more pallid than before. That is a picture of the truly obedient Religious… (Celano, 284)  – Grow in holiness!


Francis could obey all commands easily and joyfully.  It mattered little whether the superior was young or old, talented or not. He never beheld in the man the superior, but only God, out of love for Whom he had submitted himself to the yoke of obedience. – Build the house of your life on the rock of divine grace, sparing no efforts to found it on sound fidelity to God and his commandments!


The sight of the crucified Son of God inflamed Francis with love and spurred him on to total self-renunciation. Francis, the servant of the most high King, lived in nakedness in order to follow the example of the Master whom he loved and who hung naked on the cross. (Legend,2,4) – In Jesus Christ we are called to victory.


As St. Bonaventure attests, the Seraphic Patriarch actively mortified his flesh solely in order that he might bear outwardly in his body the Cross of Christ which he already carried in his soul. (Legend 1, 6) – The world needs the witness of ‘new men’ and ‘new women’ who, in word and deed, make Christ present in an ever more powerful way.


Francis, whose penetrating faiths could see his creator beneath the symbols of nature, could also pierce the veils of the Eucharist.  This ardent faith illumined his mind, enabling him to behold his God beneath the sacramental species.  In the Eucharist he saw, with the eyes of faith, Christ the Victim, immolated and crucified for the sins of the world. – Christ is the only complete and superabundant answer to the longing for truth and happiness in the human heart.


He used to say: If I happened to meet both a saint from heaven and a poor priest, I would first salute the priest and run to kiss his hands … He used to assist at the Holy Sacrifice every morning: He considered it a sign of great neglect not to hear at least one Mass every day whenever possible. (Celano 319, 25) – In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can always open ourselves to conversion and receive forgiveness for our sins.


Prayer was his safe refuge … If he began to pray in the evening, he used not to end until near dawn.  He prayed while walking, while sitting, while eating and drinking. He used to go alone by night to pray in solitude in abandoned or out-of-the-way churches … (Celano 73, 13)  – On Calvary, by the supreme sacrifice of his life, the Messiah will seal for every man and woman the infinite gift of God’s pardon and mercy.


God, having once willed to give us Christ through the Blessed Virgin, has not changed the order of His providence, since He does not repent of His gifts. It is and always will be true that, having once received through her the universal principle of grace, we still receive from God through her mediation the graces needed in the different stages of the Christian life. – Time given to Christ is never time lost.


Oh, how frequently, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit and not through the word of any man, (Francis) knew the secrets of his absent Friars’ hearts and saw into their consciences! (Celano 50, 20) – We must rebuild man from within, healing wounds and achieving genuine purification of memory through mutual forgiveness.


Francis himself and his Friars Minor wielded the conquering sword of the word of God; Clare and her daughters fought with the all-powerful weapon of prayer; while the men and women of the Third Oder captured hearts by the good example of their secular lives … a plan worthy of the most skillful strategist. – Sacred Scripture is a sure guide when it is read, welcomed, and meditated upon in the church.


Clare called herself and her daughters ‘helpers’, ‘co-workers’, titles whose implications she impressed upon her spiritual children, for they expressed their special vocation to assist Francis and his Friars in the salvation of souls…The hearts of Francis and Clare were fused into one by the fire of heavenly love, mingling together and offering to the world the seraphic ideal in all its purity and perfect unity. – The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God.


Our seraphic Father thought long about his project of founding a rule of life to develop this new upsurge of Christian spirituality and to bring the virtues of religious life into the home…Married people, both men and women, who could not free themselves from the bonds of marriage, followed the advice of the Friars and gave themselves over to stricter penance in their homes. – Charity is not genuine if it seeks human praise. 


If we wish really to understand Francis, we must follow him to his mountain cave.  There had been, and was still, the hermit as well as the evangelist and missionary in his make-up …Of all the places suitable for contemplation, Francis preferred Mount Alverna … Two years before his death, Divine providence was calling him to the summit of Alverna, the Calvary of his painful martyrdom and the Tabor of his glorious stigmatization. – Our actions are ‘beautiful’ when they reflect the light of God.


On Alverna, St. Francis received a more complete pledge of his mystical union, for Christ gave him all He possessed, the living nails which He placed in the hands and feet of His faithful servant, the piercing of His divine heart which He bestowed on Francis by opening in his side a gaping wound like that inflicted by the soldier’s lance on Calvary. – Mary is the ‘mother of reconciliation and the reconciled, the mother of salvation and the saved’ (St. Anselm)


He was also granted many of the gifts of the glorified body…His body soared above the earth, while his heart was enraptured with the love of the Savior who had regenerated his humble flesh, making it like to His own, resplendent with heavenly light. – Christ heals what is sick, strengthens what is bruised.


Francis’ flesh, adorned with the sacred stigmata, no longer retained any of the shameful remains of original sin.  His purified, sanctified body, consecrated by the love of the Redeemer, became a precious vessel containing and displaying the Victim of Calvary. (Celano, 101, 27) – Where a faint flame of goodness still burns, (Christ) revives it with the breath of his love.


Our seraphic Father’s last hours resembled those of his beloved Lord. The stigmata were not only a reward for his labors, but were also a source of progress in virtue…He used to say to his disciples: Brothers, let us begin to serve the Lord God because up to now we have made little or no progress.  (Celano 198, 24) – (Christ) forcefully proclaims justice and heals wounds with the balm of mercy.


Before he died, our seraphic Father said to his sons: I have done my work.  May Christ teach you what your task is. During his life, he had dared everything in order to attain to the divine ideal, Christ crucified. –  Peace, even if it is the fruit of political agreement and understanding between individuals and peoples, is the gift of God, whom we should insistently invoke with prayer and penance.


Our Franciscan vocation contains the seed of heroism, for, as the Vicar of Christ (Pope Leo XIII) has said, The Religious of the first two Orders have a special grace for tending with heroic ardor toward the sanctity of the evangelical counsels. – Without conversion of heart there is no peace!


According as we are faithful, God gives us new lights in our intellect and new strength of will thus leading us further along the narrow path of sanctity toward the fullness of charity.  Our fidelity should be perpetual. – Peace can only be achieved through love!


We must be faithful during our whole life, for God demands of us this perpetual fidelity…Our salvation depends on our perseverance, since it is the successful end, not the beginning of a combat that gives victory. – The vitality of the church today is linked to the generosity of (the) lives (of missionaries).


The Church and society expect great things of the sons and daughters of St. Francis. What will keep us worthy of the trust placed in us? What will sustain us in our upward flight and prevent us from falling to earth? The answer of course is fervent prayer, for the bond between the spirit of prayer and the spirit of religious Orders is so close that both spirit and prayer increase or decline together. – There could never be grounds for conflict so serious that the reasons of force need prevail over the force of reason.


 Beloved Father, mirror and exemplar of seraphic perfection, renew our first fervor.  We have been admitted to the great honor of professing the way of life which you consecrated by your teaching and example.  May we never cease to follow in your footsteps and to strive after our  noble  ideal. (Esprit de Saint Francois, IV, 4, 6) – It is in faithful self-giving that a person finds fullness of certainty and security.


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