January, 2023, Thought for the Day by Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap

Holy and Happy New Year 2023!

January 2023

The Tree of the Crucified Life of Jesus 

Book 5, Chapter 3 

[The Virtues of Austerity, Humility, and Obedience] 



So now, let us return to the perfection of Francis, whose identification with the angel of the sixth seal is borne out not only by external witnesses but by the excellence of his own life. He did indeed come down from where the sun rises, as, ever rising from strength to strength, following the deeds of Christ as he grew in his humanity, he configured his holy way of living to the life of Christ. – As soon as we are in faith and in love, we are in prayer


And this reached the high point of his carrying the seal of the living God; he lived to become worthy to have on his body the imprints of the wounds of the Crucified. Now, as to Christ’s life itself, an attentive survey of the gospels will reveal its salient features, its most striking notes: the crucifixion, the profound humility, the extreme poverty, the fervor of charity shown by desiring our salvation in undergoing the torment of the cross, as well as by the sheer graciousness of His stooping to compassionate sinners and the afflicted. – He who does not praise God here on earth shall eternally be dumb.


Yet the crowning perfection of Christ’s life lay in His interior cultivation and consummation of divine charity. In one continuous act, on His own behalf and that of all His members, He duly paid the service of worship to the divinity, to which in His own person He was united. There, despite its rather moderate treatment, you have enough about his amazing austerities to weigh in your mind. The fact is that the Blessed Jesus, virginal Son born of virginity, saw fit to transfuse purity into him, since complete cleanness cannot live in tainted flesh without a continuous crucifixion of self. That is why the most pious Jesus, in order to help us come to an austere crucifixion of our corrupt flesh for the preservation of purity, afflicted His own sacred flesh with many a cross as long as He lived. Francis, his true son and imitator, taking this to heart, disciplined himself so rigidly in regard to food, clothing, lodgings, sleep, and other similar bodily demands, that he scarcely took the minimum required to sustain nature. – Begin the day with God and it is probable that you will end the day with Him and in goodness.


And although, after prolonged penance, his blameless body needed no chastising for any wrong, he continued to inflict hardships and burdens on it, keeping to harsher ways for the sake of others. So, he called his frail body an “ass,” gave it endless hard work to do, provided it with coarse coverings and a bed of straw, and fed it with small amounts of inferior fare. In order to achieve full purity of heart he completely abstained from all familiarities which might inwardly defile him and give bad example to others. – Pray that no crisis hour may find you unprepared.


This meant that he recognized the face of hardly any woman. He further ordered every effort made to avoid, as a plague to purity, intimate dealings with women. It was because he was aware of spending his days in a valley of tears, that he was habitually weeping. All of this meant that he had become so candid in mind, so clean in heart, that he seemed to have attained the state of innocence at that time. For, as we read in his Legend, he had practically all creatures, even the inanimate, at his command; a level of grace, indeed, in which he surpassed natural innocence. There were instances of fire tempering its heat, water changing taste, the night sky shining like day, and a dry rock yielding a delicious spring. Thus did the elements put themselves at the service of the unspoiled Francis. – To the one who waits all things reveal themselves. Patience.


In deep humility and in eradicating all mundane glamor, he so perfectly imitated Christ that his wish was to place himself and his Order at the feet of everybody. In order to be the least of all, he did not want to have any of the Church’s authority, except her authority for observing the holy Gospel. – When the Church (we) is different from the world, she (we) invariably attracts it.


He certainly wanted to promote the salvation of souls; but only through the virtue of humility, not with pompous power. And though it is very true that he had several Supreme Pontiffs at his beck and call—men who held him in the highest regard, sincerely convinced of his sanctity—even so, he would never ask for or accept any privilege that might diminish his being a humble subject. – Never be diffident and/or apologetic about the Gospel.


For he wished to be subject to all, and in this lowly subordination to be sacrificed for all in the charity of Christ. Well did he know humility to be pliant: it is like something soft yielding to something resistant while, in effect, enclosing it inside its own softness; unlike inflexibility confronting inflexibility and bringing to naught both itself and its rival. For this reason Francis, in his holy Testament, forbids all the brothers, prelates, and subjects, to ask for any letter from the Apostolic See either to facilitate the work of preaching or to avoid persecution. – The Christian must have the strength to see the good side of things.


The humble Francis used to say that when they meekly asked permission of bishops and priests, they were by their example edifying the very pastors of the Church. Then even if they refused permission, patience and humility will bring them to change their minds; meanwhile they themselves, by bearing the refusal patiently, will keep intact a virtuous and flawless way of acting. – If the Gospel really means “good news” then being a Christian means to be a happy person.


But if, on the strength of some privilege, the brothers presumptuously go against prelates’ wishes, they are not behaving humbly and they only tempt prelates of lofty heart to oppose and malign them. This results in a collision involving two tough courses of action, both of which cause scandal. And so, the word of truth is preached ineffectively, since no humility is shown by the one getting up to speak. – Gloomy faces are not made for the happy house of Paradise (St. Philip Neri)


If, on the other hand, prelates once or twice or even three times bar the brothers from preaching, and each time they react with humility and patience, then their conduct does the preaching to the people. Their holy example will soften the prelate’s heart, who will not only give them permission but will look for them, so eager will he be to hear the preaching of such saintly brothers. The preaching of one such sermon will have a more uplifting effect than a thousand preached in a mood of contention and diminished humility. – You cannot say anything is a failure until it has been tried. Christianity works. Try it!


The truth of this was shown by Francis himself in the incident, mentioned in the Legend, with the bishop of Imola. Oh, how abundantly plain it is that Francis’s approach was the more efficacious one! For there are so many around at the moment who are carried away with the “authority” they have and who brook no opposition; and yet one seldom is aware of any change of heart resulting from all their verbose sermons. – Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found hard and not tried.


To brothers who troubled him over their reluctance to be at this low level of submissiveness to everyone, he replied in deeply plaintive tones: “My brothers, my brothers, what you want of me is to give up overcoming the world. For Christ sent me to overcome the world by being really subject to everyone, so that by love I might draw souls to Him through the example of humility.” – Joy is the serious business of heaven.


And he went on: “My brothers, humble yourselves before others, and you will convert them all. Those who persecute you unjustly will turn to Christ, having seen your patience tried, and they will be anxious to kiss your footprints. But if I were to use the salvation of others as a pretext for wanting some prerogative, it would mean my forfeiting the humblest of positions which belongs to the condition I am in. And it is through this I advance in virtue, and the people advance in the mercy that saves them.” – Sour godliness is the devil’s religion.


Things like this he told his brothers, as he wanted to rule out for them all affectation of ecclesiastical dignity and maintain them in their lowly existence. For this reason he called them “lesser,” so that they would not presume to become “greater,” and in no way did he wish them to aspire to the rank of prelacy. – Happiness is a wonderful commodity, the more you give, the more you have.


He once said to his patron, the lord bishop of Ostia: “If your lordship wants them to be fruitful in the Church, keep them in the state to which they were called and give them no permission whatever to rise to ecclesiastical prelacy.” As to how productive those are who have risen to ecclesiastical state from this and other Orders dedicated to poverty, those that know of it tell how grieved they are at their extravagance. For everybody knows well enough that their ascent to rank spelled their descent from virtue. – Contentment consists not in great wealth, but in few wants.


Much of their behavior proves that what they sought in promotion was not so much an improvement of others’ conduct as a life of relaxation for themselves. For, self-denying once, they have turned into gluttons; poor men once, they have become grasping and greedy; thought nothing of once, they have ended up proud and arrogant. They left the world when they joined their Orders, and as soon as they got rank, they returned to it. – No one has the right to consume happiness without producing it.


While they grease the palms of the mighty, they give no thought to the poor. They used to be the preachers, zealous for the salvation of souls; now they are among the worst offenders in neglecting souls. With every breath they collect temporalities for themselves and the benefit of their families. From the time they were infants in their Orders, poverty left them with nothing; now they seem bent on compensating themselves for that. Oh, what a true prophet Francis was! – The most evident sign of wisdom is continued cheerfulness.


And what misfortunes this promotion business has brought on the Orders! For the intention of those striving seems to focus on this; in those that have some competence this ambition seems to boil up. So, they do the rounds of the curiae and make sure they lodge with dignitaries, on whom they fawn. Far from refusing favors, they procure them by all manner of contrivance, shrewdness, sham, and sophistry. – To get the full value of joy you must have somebody with whom to share it.


They have reached the point where the saying is verified in them, “Like people, like priest”; indeed, like cleric, like ambitious and wandering religious. Is it any wonder that those who enter into this have no morally uplifting effect on people, but only cause them distress? All this is to say but little; words fail me to describe the malice of the times we live in. – Those who bring sunshine to the lives others cannot keep it from themselves.


In contrast, the humble Francis, in order to keep himself on the lowest possible level and to confound the ambitions of the future, had no desire to be promoted to the priesthood. As he saw it, up to the manifestation of the Church’s sixth status, the guidance of souls was not to be conducted through prelacy, if it were to be beneficial, but rather to be committed to the spirit of poverty. It is then that those who are like new apostles will be described as the pillars of the future status, as Christ expressly promised the angel of Philadelphia, in which there is doubtless a figurative reference to this status. – Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.


Therefore it was said to him, that “he has little power,” that is to say, he has glorious humility. For the status of poverty first had to be tried in humility, so that afterward in a prelacy it might not be judged as a thing of high standing. Because there are many who cloak their pride and, unsupported by privileges, cannot put up with clerical harassment, we can give a twofold reply based on sayings of the blessed Francis. – The sweet mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.


One is that to men of perfection, which these are supposed to be, nothing should be a source of bother except what would drive them to sin, to which, of course, no one is forced against his will. And if you speak of the many tribulations the clergy often inflict upon them and to which they are unequal, we must respond that such people simply should not embark on the way of perfection and, with their immaturity, wreck a state of perfection. – Joy is the awareness of God’s loving presence within you.


Another rejoinder might be that these are the people who from the outset stood up to the clergy, while commandeering revenue—even though in a less obviously greedy way—by means of questing for alms and devotional stipends for Masses. For these reasons the clergy came down even harder on them. But if they had kept their humility and poverty intact, harassment would have been sweetly borne; besides, they couldn’t have had much to suffer, since they wouldn’t have had anything to lose! – Every act formed by charity is a revelation of God.


Francis wanted them to flee to another place and do penance, if they were persecuted in one place instead of standing on privileges. He used to teach, according to the Gospel which we have promised to observe, that Jesus himself says: If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next. The most sacred Testament of the holy father Francis repeats this. But how will this sound to those who, in the style of magnates build splendid residences, can scarcely be pulled away from where they grew up, even by order of those over them, and cannot tolerate holy brothers of other regions living in the same place? – When we have learned to do the Father’s will, we shall have realized our vocation on earth.


Those types have nothing in common with Francis; their portion, it is to be feared, must be in the devil’s hands. But when they gladly hear that Francis and his state is the Church’s reformation and the nourishment of the world, if he wanted others to be subject, how will they reform in pride? What we just said is true; for it is a fact that, apart from the blessed Jesus, his most humble Mother, and the college of the Apostles, never should the world have in it such a profound expression of lowliness as that of this status of poor lesser ones, nor indeed such a gross deformation of it as that of those who fall away. – Our vocation is to live in the Spirit.


And because Francis crushed pride underfoot with his humility, he held off the proud demons with authority. Therefore he was showing that his status was blasting away pride from the world—something that will happen to these conceited corrupters of the status, much as they will dislike it. For whoever, like Francis, keeps the humility of Jesus continually before his eyes and is delighted to resemble Him in meekness of heart, will subject himself to everyone and loathe issuing commands and prohibitions. – The vocation of each person merges up to a certain point with his very being.


The blessed Francis did commend humble obedience in the strongest terms, and observed it to the extent of always wanting to obey his brother companion. Still, he foresaw that there were sure to be those unprincipled enough to make the road of obedience a difficult one, issuing orders that contravened the poverty of the Rule while imposing absolute obedience on those under them. That is why he put in place a restraining clause to protect subjects, as well as those over them, when he told ministers not to be commanding them anything that is against their souls and our Rule, and subjects to obey in all things which they have promised the Lord to observe and are not against their souls and our Rule. – Not the “job” but our faithfulness to God will ultimately be what leads us to the fullness of life.


This form of obedience, which the Rule contains, flows from the heart of him who said of himself, I have come from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of Him who sent me; and to the Pharisees, who were imposing their traditions on the disciples: You have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition. For the obedience of Francis cannot contain a greater purity, integrity, or depth, since it obeys in all things and refuses to obey false traditions that destroy the Rule, for to obey them is to apostatize. Because it follows from the fact a prelate derives his authority from the Rule, that to command or obey something contrary to it is to apostatize from the Rule. But do we want to go on further with Francis’s idea of obedience? – The service that counts is the service that costs.


He himself, after all, was in everything the least of all the lesser ones. Well might we compare him to the tiniest of infants, Joash, who was rescued from the slaughter of Athalia; or to the smallest of all the seeds, the grain of mustard seed which grew into a great tree; or to the least of all the saints, as Paul calls himself in Ephesians, entrusted though he was with announcing hidden mysteries. “To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all people, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which has been hidden from eternity in God.” – God forces no one, for love cannot compel. God’s service is a thing of complete freedom. 


He might also be compared to Benjamin, the smallest of his brothers, who in many ways was a type of Francis: Benjamin, in his birth, killed his mother; Francis, born in the midst of the fifth age, in the fullness of his birth through his reformed Rule, killed its self-indulgence. Benjamin, in his sojourn, dwelt with his father in the land of Canaan, and his father’s life depended upon his life; Francis fully observed always, by the will of the eternal Father in heaven, a life of fervent Christ-like love, and what pleased the will of the Father was his adornment and repose. – We find freedom when we find God.




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