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

April 2023

 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)

 My Resurrected Jesus, my Lord and my God,

I join with all creation in celebrating the feast of Your victory over sin and death.

The light of the Resurrection gives meaning to all life.

Death and suffering no longer have the last word.

You have conquered all that darkens our lives and have introduced us to the New Day.

May the joy of the Resurrection fill the hearts of all whom you have redeemed in your Blood.

May Your Holy Spirit, first Gift of the Resurrection, be with us always,

that we may be renewed and filled with Life as we seek to be Heralds of the Great King

proclaiming Your Resurrection and New Life to all the world.

 The Morning Sermon on Saint Francis

Preached at Paris, October 4, 1255


Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. These words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel were spoken by the greatest follower of Christ, Saint Francis, and they are taken from the gospel which is read on his feast day. – Carry the cross patiently, and in the end it will carry you.


But whether on the lips of Christ or Saint Francis, they are a short and succinct saying, which in concise and plain terms expresses the sum total of gospel perfection. – Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.


The saying is concise, so that nobody can claim ignorance of it because of scarcity of books, and plain, so that nobody may be excused from understanding it through lack of schooling. The saying has two parts: a preliminary statement and a word of instruction. The first is to encourage the hearers, the second to inspire them. –  Trust in the Lord with all your heart.


To encourage us he says: Learn from me, and to inspire us he adds: for I am meek and humble of heart. In other words, be meek and humble like me. – To repent is one’s way of looking at life.


Learn from me . . . The words Learn from me have two meanings, both of which can give encouragement: Take me as your model of discipleship and embrace my teaching. Both can be applied to Saint Francis, the first on account of the life he led as a result of his conversion, the second because he attained perfection. – To repent is to take God’s point of view instead of my own.


The former made him a true disciple, and the latter an excellent teacher. Because of the life he embraced at his conversion, Saint Francis can say: Learn from me, that is, take me as your model of discipleship, for I am a true disciple. – Jesus will be Lord of my life if only I will let Him be.


The essence of true discipleship of Jesus Christ, which was singularly realized and shone in Saint Francis, consists first of all in separating oneself from the company of evil people, as Proverbs says: A friend of fools shall become like them. This is the meaning of those words about Christ that privately to his own disciples he explained everything where “privately” signifies well removed from wicked people and away from the crowds. This shows that the disciple of Christ must keep away from evil and divisive company. – The Gospels do not explain Easter. Easter explains the Gospels.


Realizing this, Saint Francis, under God’s inspiration, immediately left the company of the young people who had been his comrades in sin, for it was evil company. He also stopped associating with merchants, which was worldly company, and went off alone to a secluded place, knowing that Christ explained everything to his own disciples privately. – To be controlled by human nature results in death. To be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace.


That is what anyone must do who desires to be a perfect disciple of Christ: he must withdraw from evil and worldly company. At the least one must withdraw from evil company, which the call to perfection demands, even if one has no desire to relinquish worldly company. – Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.


We are told of the Israelites: They mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols which became a snare to them. “The nations” in this text refer to those who lead an ungodly life and “to mingle with them” means to associate with them in such a way as of necessity to copy their evil ways. – It takes years to make an overnight success.


The Book of Sirach tells us: Whoever touches pitch will be defiled and whoever associates with a proud man will become like him. Proverbs advises us: Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare; and the Psalmist warns us: With the perverse you will be perverted. – That which you do not let go of you cannot possess; it possesses you.


Second, it is essential for true discipleship to free oneself from useless cares in the affairs of life. Anyone who is anxious about useless things cannot give attention to those that are profitable. As Saint Matthew’s Gospel says: the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful. Thus it is recorded by Saint Luke: Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. The Lord says this not because there is sin in having possessions, but because it is sinful to be anxiously concerned about them. – Our job is not to do something for the Church; it is to do something with the Church.


In any case, it is impossible, or at least very difficult, to have great possessions without being preoccupied with them. And so the Lord stipulates: Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Taking this to heart, Saint Francis on hearing God’s voice at once gave everything away to the extent that he did not even keep back a stitch to cover his nakedness. As in his heart he despised all possessions, so outwardly he gave away everything he had. This is what anyone must do who desires to be a perfect disciple of Christ: he must go, sell everything he has and give to the poor. – Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up.


If one does not have the will to do that, one must at least keep oneself from the cares, anxieties, and vanities that go with possessions; otherwise, one will be a disciple, not of Christ, but of the devil. It is impossible to serve God and mammon at the same time. As it says in the First Epistle to Timothy: Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. Not all learn the teaching of Christ; some learn to catch prey as Ezeckiel has it: She brought up one of her whelps; he became a young lion, and he learned to catch prey; he devoured men. – How else by through a broken heart may the lord Jesus Christ enter in?


Third, the true disciple must rid himself of inordinate attachments to his loved ones. As Saint Paul teaches, the sensual or unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, and Saint Luke records: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. The Lord does not forbid us to love our father and mother, for the Decalogue commands that we honor them; what he does forbid is to be inordinately attached to our parents, because inordinate attachment rejects the teaching of Christ. – The effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive.


Understanding this, Saint Francis, having broken the ties of natural attachment, he abandoned them completely. Anyone who desires to attain perfect discipleship of Christ must forget his father’s house and hate his own life, that is, his natural affections, in order to imitate Christ who gave his dear soul into the hands of her enemies. But if a man does not wish to hate or sacrifice natural affections for his parents altogether, he must at least sacrifice them in regard to women; otherwise, he will not be able to attain knowledge of the truth. – The goal of religion is not to get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us.


As Saint Paul writes to Timothy: For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Fourth, the true disciple of Christ must purify his heart of all that militates against the practice of virtue. As the Book of Wisdom says: Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin and as Isaiah admonishes: Cease to do evil, learn to do good. – World peace begins in each heart.


In other words, you will not be able to learn holiness from Christ unless you have resolved to eradicate its opposite, sinfulness, just as knowledge cannot be acquired unless satisfaction with its opposite, ignorance, has been uprooted. Acknowledging this, Saint Francis strove with constant sighs of sorrow to root out vice and sin totally from the field of his heart. Nor did he cease to lament up to the moment when he was found worthy to hear from God: Your sins are forgiven. – We find comfort among those who agree with us, and growth among those who do not.


In the same way, anyone who desires to be a perfect disciple of Christ, must every night drench his couch with weeping, just as Saint Francis did. If one cannot follow that advice which leads to perfection, then one must at least cease to do evil if one wishes to become Christ’s disciple. Therefore, anyone who does not resolve to abandon his evil ways cannot learn virtue, as Jeremiah reflects: Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? – The hand will not reach out for what the heart does not long for.


Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Here the Prophet is addressing those who from long habit have become stubborn in their malice so that it is well nigh impossible to root it out. They cannot learn virtue because they learned evil habits well enough in their youth. Saint Francis, then, can rightly say: Learn from me, that is, take me as your model of discipleship, for I am a true disciple of Christ. – Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.


Likewise he can say to us Learn from me in the second sense, namely, embrace my teaching, because by being a true disciple, he became an authentic teacher. There are four grounds on which he can address these words to us. First of all, he taught what he himself had learned without error because of the truth of God’s revelation. As Scripture tells us: God is true, and every man a liar. Therefore, the teaching which anyone receives from revelation cannot be other than true. – Rather than ask God to help you, ask God how you might help Him.


It is from having learned in this way that Saint Paul commends his teaching to the Galatians: For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Saint Francis learned his teaching in the same way. Indeed, one may well wonder at his teaching. How was he able to teach others what no human had taught him? Did he come by this knowledge of himself? – Treat people as if they were what they ought to be.


Be assured he did not. The evidence of that is found in the account of his life. When he was instructed by another human or had to prepare something himself, he had absolutely nothing to say. In that, however, he is more to be praised and wondered at than imitated. Hence it is not without reason that his sons attend the schools.- In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.


To arrive at knowledge without a human teacher is not for everyone, but the privilege of a few. Though the Lord himself chose to teach Saint Paul and Saint Francis, it is his will that their disciples be taught by human teachers. – When you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect.


Second, he taught what he had learned without guile due to his fervent love, which directs the whole heart to grasp what is being taught. Speaking of wisdom, Solomon glories that he himself learned in this way:  I learned without guile and impart without grudging; I do not hide her wealth. – The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing.


That is to say, as ardent love brought me to learn without guile, so it moves me to share without jealousy or grudging envy what I have learned. That is precisely how Saint Francis learned and taught. He so loved what he learned that he accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with that; gold as but little sand and silver as clay; he gave up all the wealth of his house and scorned it as nothing. –  The more we depend on God, the more dependable we find God is.


He learned with such diligence that he became the teacher of many disciples whom he taught to think of the Lord with uprightness and seek him with sincerity of heart, because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him. – The best mirror is a friend’s eyes.


He manifested himself to Saint Francis who, because he had learned without guile, shared what he had learned without envy. Third, he taught what he had learned without forgetting it, because he put it into practice being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, and because of that he was an excellent teacher. – Those who wish to transform the world must begin by transforming themselves.


On observing the commandments Saint Matthew records: He who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Sirach praises this method of learning when he says: A man who has much experience knows many things, which he will think on with composure and without blame; and one who has learned many things will speak with understanding, because he did not acquire his knowledge by reflecting in general terms on a limited number of truths, but by individual experience over a wide range of life. – There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future.


That is how Saint Francis learned, but by experiencing sufferings not joys. We can say of him what Saint Paul says of his own Teacher: He learned obedience through what he suffered. At the outset of his conversion Saint Francis experienced derision, beatings, fetters, imprisonment, destitution, nakedness, and adversity. Like Saint Paul he learned to be content in his sufferings: And because the teaching of a true disciple is recognized by his patience, Saint Francis is to be praised and imitated in his teaching and we should learn from him.- An empty meaningless faith may be worse than none.

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