January 2020 Meditation by Father Francis

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

February 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!

Our Seraphic Father had left an indelible mark on most of Christian Europe before his death. Some in Assisi may have still remembered the excitement caused between Francis and his Father Pietro when Francis decided to return everything to him in the public square of Assisi before his father, the bishop of Assisi, and all the townspeople. He gave his father even the clothes on his back and from then would call only God my Father.  The people remembered the gossip – perhaps they had even been participants in it – when the wealthy Bernard, the farmer Giles, the priest Peter, and the other first followers sought to follow the ’beggar-son’ of the wealthy merchant. After all the initial criticisms, cautious doubts, interested questioning, and patient observation to see ’how it would all work out’, the people of Assisi were proud of Francis, The Universal Brother.

God Himself had set His Seal of approval on Francis two years before he passed to eternity, imprinting on his body the five wounds of the Passion of our Savior. Before his death, thousands had accepted to follow the Gospel lifestyle he proposed.  His Lesser Brothers had reached the far corners of Europe, arriving at the Middle East and North Africa, joyfully proclaiming the time of fulfillment and the kingdom of God in our midst in Jesus Christ.  Francis had set in motion a tsunami of Gospel Life that did not devastate but ennobled those it engulfed. The waves of consecrated Brothers and Laity seeking the Poverello as their guide in this evangelical endeavor, gave witness to the excitement and beauty of lives dedicated to the Lord and His people in the Name of Jesus.  Is it any wonder that our Holy Mother St. Clare would be captivated and enamored by this ’Herald of the Great King’, the messenger of God’s Peace and Blessings to all who heard and received the message!? Is it any wonder a young, spiritual, and enthusiastic girl would want to be part of something so exciting?! She would be the “other side” of the “Franciscan Coin”, the complement to the charism lived by the Lesser Brothers, for women living the consecration of the vowed Gospel life in obedience, with nothing of their own, and in chastity.

 

The story of a soul is the story of a call, a response, and a commission.  Most people think of ’vocation’ as pertaining solely to service in the Church, usually as consecrated religious and/or priests.  While this traditionally is how most people view the word ’vocation’, truthfully, it pertains to everyone.  We are all called by God to hear, listen, respond and fulfill God’s Will.  God speaks to us in varied ways.  The first official words of Jesus to the crowds was: This is the time of fulfillment (God has kept the pledge He offered the world centuries before); The kingdom of God is at hand (His presence is now among all creation in His Incarnate Word made flesh, Jesus); Repent and believe the Good News (Listen to, reflect on, and live what you have come to know of what God wants for you).  All who became our sisters and brothers in the Seraphic Family of the Gospel Life heard a call to repentance and conversion and were/are assisted in understanding and courageously responding to it by the example and words of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi.

 

There comes a moment when all of us must decide whom we will follow and serve. Though we may not be “great sinners” in the common understanding of the words, we are still all called to Remember You are Dust and to Dust You will Return so that we encouraged to Repent and Believe the Gospel. The call to repentance and conversion is necessary in the life of everyone.

 

Repentance is a positive experience.  Most think that ’repentance’ involves the return of a sinner to grace; that is part of it.  But, ’repentance’ also involves the awareness a ’saint’ has that he/she must always progress in the will of God. Understanding repentance in this way, we can easily see how all our ancestors in the Franciscan Family (I,II,III Regular and Secular … and possibly even our “IV Order” affiliates) were and are attracted to the ’Penitents of Assisi’.

 

St. Francis stated When I was in sin in his Testament, and continues to speak of his vocation and that of those who sought to follow their call with him.  St. Clare speaks of the vanities of the world from which she and the Poor Ladies of San Damiano were called.  St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi and all our sisters and brothers in the Franciscan Fraternity were/are called to a life of detachment from whatever may impede ’taking flight’ into the arms of our loving God. Our lives are simple yet penetrating examples of the effective and fulfilling power of a life lived in-with-for-through Jesus. This is how we best lead others to take up the challenge of the Gospel Life. Some have a conversion journey from bad to good. Then for all we go from good to better, until we achieve the “best” we can be before time becomes eternity.

 

We are on the road that leads to Life. Whether we believe we must go from bad to good (as the sinful woman in the Gospels), or from good to better (as the young man in the Gospels seeking ’to be good’), we must listen to and accept the call to repentance. In both cases the process involves:

 

–   Discovering something wonderful about ourselves: We are God’s beloved children. We are redeemed in the Blood of Jesus in-with-through Whom we seek forgiveness of sin and a life lived in harmony with God’s grace.

 

–   Recognizing the spiritual and natural talents specifically ours which God has entrusted to us to be used well and with which to grow in age, wisdom, and grace before God and all people.

 

–   Acquiring new vision to see beyond the limits that convenience, comfort, complacency often place before our eyes conditioning us to ’stay put’ rather than courageously and trustingly forge forward where God leads us.

 

–   Taking a new direction, especially if it means having to make a one hundred eighty degree turn in values, principles, desires, character traits that lack propriety though not sinful, spiritual practices that lack heart and are only pious actions without substance, and so forth.

 

–   Setting more worthwhile goals, since Christians are never satisfied with the ’ordinary’. We know we are called to be light and salt in the world. We sincerely strive to achieve those goals that lead to a fuller grace-filled life that affects not only our relationship with God but with ourselves and others in all we do.

 

–   Ultimately, in living a more committed Gospel Life, with our feet well grounded in life and its responsibilities and our hearts awaiting life’s fulfillment with God in the heavens.  We live rejoicing as not rejoicing, buying as not owning, using the world as not using it fully (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31).

 

The road to conversion through repentance is always exciting and leads to joy.  Aspects of the journey may be difficult and even painful. Nevertheless, confident in the hope of acquiring the end result for those who persevere, we the ’Penitents of Assisi’ are urged to continue.  Let us never forget that the Christian life is a continuous process of conversion. The repentant person who is transformed by grace rather than conformed to the age in which he/she is called to be a pilgrim and stranger, is transformed (con-verted) and thus, called to discipleship. A response to repentance leads to conversion as it invites us to discipleship that we in turn might be sent as apostles to call others in the Lord’s name to repentance-conversion-commission.

 

Jesus had more difficulties with the ’saints’ of His day, than with the ’sinners’.  The sinners needed and wanted someone who would see, hear, understand and forgive them.  The ’saints’ forgot the adage: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Thinking themselves secure on the correct road and in the favor of God for fulfilling all the ’laws’, they forgot that stopping on the climb to holiness means sliding down to levels that make the re-climb more difficult.

 

What were the problems then with those who held back from accepting the call to repentance-conversion?  They are the same today as then and anytime. More than dealing with a sinful life, they deal with an ’un-fulfilled’ life.  This sense of ’un-fulfillment’ often stems from our own faulty human nature and sinfulness. The ’call’ urges us to go forward even beyond the limits that fear, complacency, indifference, and so on, have created in our lives. They are false securities and spiritual illusions that masquerade as the tranquility of God’s pleasure with us for having satisfied all required to do to be ’holy’ and live in God’s Presence. Spiritual lethargy stifles any desire to move forward or even to consider the need to ’go beyond’.

 

God never abuses the gift of our freedom.  The invitation to intimacy with God here and for eternity begins with an acknowledgment of our need and deep desire to be what we could and should be.

 

–   ’Could’ because God never expects the impossible from us unless He is willing to offer us all that we need to achieve what He has planted in our hearts.  It can be done!

 

–   ’Should’, because whatever God asks is really an offer we would be foolish to refuse. If God asks, Who knows us better than we ourselves, how can any reasonable person refuse what ultimately will lead to the greatest fulfillment of his/her life?

 

Recognizing our unworthiness of such a ’divine’ gift, for which we have determined to live and work, other signs manifest themselves more strongly:

 

– a dissatisfaction with oneself …  Our hearts can find no rest until they rest in God.  This profound  yearning – for something better – can be found in all people, even those who as yet do not understand the working of God and His Spirit;

 

– a longing for something better … Complacency leads to spiritual sloth and keeps us from seeing an attainable goal that goes beyond the limits we set in our lives;

 

– a sense that something is awry, something is missing … Love desires and demands to be one with the beloved.  Until we know that we are one with God Who loves and calls us, we feel an emptiness or an incompleteness.

 

The whole process is really not as long-drawn-out or difficult as it can seem.  It is not a ’heady’ problem to solve, but a ’hearty’ relationship to strengthen.  Once we open our hearts and lives to God and His Loving Will, all we have to do is surrender and ’enjoy the ride’ even when it gets rough and demanding.  It is something like a spiritual roller coaster ride. God takes us on an ’exciting ride’ when we place ourselves totally and trustingly in His hands. Let go and let God.  To make it all happen be open, honest, humble, and courageous.

 

Courage is definitely necessary.  The word itself means to let the heart take over (cor’heart … age’do, act); when heart speaks to Heart, or Heart speaks to heart, how can we do anything but let go!  Our courage demands an end to self-deception, a confrontation with the sad realties of our lives, admission of guilt for those areas we have conveniently tried to ’cover up’ in our hearts, a sincere request for forgiveness, and a firm resolve to change, that leads to conversion through repentance to transformation in God’s grace.

 

Lent begins at the end of this month. Hopefully we can celebrate this holy Season of Penance as a joy-filled time of repentance-renewal-rebirth in the Spirit.  The Lenten road may have its pains and sacrifices. As we advance on the journey, we strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, Christ, the Church, all Humanity, and even all Creation.  Having responded wholeheartedly, we are now ready to accept the ’commission’ to be ’Apostles of God’s Love, Mercy, Providence’.

 

As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare, we prepare to enter a yearly experience that is never the same each year, and that has eternal effects. Our Father Francis and Mother Clare responded to the invitation to follow in the footsteps of the Savior, poor and humble. Jesus emptied Himself, though He is God, that we, through His poverty, could, poor in this world’s goods, be enriched by grace for eternal Life. What more could we ask?  Why do we hesitate to give our all?   With the example of the courage and total response of our heavenly patrons and parents to urge us on, let us, Penitents of Assisi, enter the Lenten journey with joyful hearts and ready wills.

 

May God bless you; may Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare, together with all the Holy Ones of our Seraphic Family of Penitents of Assisi, assist us on our Lenten journey from Ashes to Palms, From Calvary to the Empty Tomb and onto the Mount of Olives where the commission is given for us to be a living Gospel to others.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A, Sariego, OFM Cap

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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