June 2024 – Monthly Spiritual Assistant Greeting (Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap)

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

June 2024

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you His peace!

While Francis was still staying in (the palace of the Bishop), the most holy father was already assured of his imminent death, both by the Holy Spirit and the prognosis of the doctors. He felt himself growing steadily worse and his physical strength was waning. He had himself carried on a litter to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula, so that there the life of his body would come to an end where he had begun to experience the light and life of his soul. When those who were carrying him arrived at the hospital halfway between Assisi and Saint Mary, he asked those carrying the litter to place it on the ground. Since he could hardly see because of the serious and prolonged eye disease, he had the litter turned so that he would face the city of Assisi. Raising himself up slightly on the litter, he blessed the city.

“Lord, just as, at an earlier time, this ancient city was, I believe, the place and abode of wicked and evil men, now I realize that, because of Your abundant mercy and in Your own time, You have singularly shown an abundance of Your mercies to it. Solely on account of your goodness, you have chosen it for Yourself so that it may become the place and abode of those who, in truth, acknowledge You, give glory to Your name, exude the fragrance of a holy life, of the truest doctrine, of a good reputation, and of evangelical perfection to the whole Christian people. I ask you, therefore, Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies, not to consider our ingratitude. Be mindful of Your most abundant piety which You have shown to it, that it always be an abode for those who truly acknowledge You, and glorify Your name blessed and most glorious forever and ever. Amen.” (Mirror of Perfection, #124)

Francis prays these heartfelt words as he faces his birthplace knowing that he will never see it again on earth. Francis’ humanity was always, and still is, a striking sign of his holiness.  You are who you are before God and nothing more (words of St. Francis). We could add, “and nothing less than a child of God redeemed in the Blood of Jesus”. He acknowledges that the ancient city was the place of wicked and evil (M.P.#124) but that now You has shown an abundance of Your mercies to it (M.P.#124).

The beauty of our Franciscan charism (spirit) is very accessible and unattainable. It is so much a part of being human that it is called “incarnational”. We could say “earthy” or “human”.  Unfortunately, both words would be understood incorrectly and would diminish the more profound and positive meaning. The word “incarnational” is rooted in the reality of the body God created at the beginning of time and that God saw as very good (Genesis 1) and saw fit to become in the fullness of time (cfr. Galatians 4:4).  God creates all things to share in His eternal goodness and limitless being. Though infinitely less than God, we participate, body and soul, in His Spirit of Life that breathed all things into existence (cf. Genesis, 1:1). Thus, it follows that we are created inherently good, though prone to decisions that lead into what lacks goodness and thus leads into sin.

At that time, a certain priest of the city of Assisi, Sylvester by name, a man of honorable life, received of the Lord a vision not to be passed over in silence. In his finite judgment, he had looked askance at the manner of life of Francis and his Brethren, he was visited,—lest he should be imperiled by his rash verdict,—by the regard of the heavenly grace. For in a dream he beheld the whole city of Assisi beset by a great dragon, whose huge bulk seemed to threaten all the countryside with destruction. Then he saw a Cross of gold proceeding out of the mouth of Francis, the top whereof touched heaven, and its arms outstretched at the side seemed to reach unto the ends of the world, and at its glittering aspect that foul and loathly dragon was utterly put to flight. When this had been shown three times to him, he deemed it a divine portent, and related it in order unto the man of God and his Brethren; and no long time thereafter he left the world, and clave so constantly unto the footsteps of Christ as that his life in the Order rendered true the vision that he had received while yet in the world. (Legenda Major, chapter 3, par. 5, St .Bonaventure)

Evil is a reality that affects all creation. History and our lives are surrounded by the effects of evil every day, when more when less. Challenges can be good or bad. Why and how we respond or react usually determines the personal responsibility for the good or evil we choose. Though created in God’s goodness yet we are prone to sinful decisions as inheritors of Original Sin, Grace is compromised and often we distance ourselves spiritually from God by our sins. The struggle between good and evil is an ongoing reality. Original Sin brings about the disharmony of spirit and the sinful decisions we make that cry out for God’s forgiveness. The spiritual warfare being waged has been waged from the beginning of time. The reality of the battle is similar to the image brother Sylvester had during the life of our Seraphic Father. The image of the cross and the response made to its proclamation from the mouth of the Poverello, determine in the vision, what happens to the people of the city of Assisi.

 Sylvester was misled by his own bias. He already made his own conclusions about Francis without knowing the person of St. Francis well. Sylvester was a good man but who allowed his biases to control his judgement. This time the bias aimed at Francis. A basic thought of Sylvester could have been: “Why would a well-to-do young man, who had the world at his fingertips, live so foolishly?” Or there was also the dramatic moment most Assisians remembered when Francis stripped off all his clothes and laid them at the feet of his father declaring: Before I called you ‘father,’ but now I only have one Father who is in heaven. These were other moments as well that left indelible memories on the hearts and minds of the people.

 In saying he would no longer call Pietro Bernadone his “father” on earth, Francis entered into solidarity with all the children of the One who call God Our Father Who are in heaven (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 2-4). His example and words became an invitation to some. Many, like Sylvester, thought he was an arrogant adolescent “grandstanding”. Through the vision, Sylvester began to see more clearly the simplicity, poverty, deep relationship with Christ Crucified of Francis. The conformity of Francis to Christ was reaching the moment when it is consummated (John 19: 3).  Sylvester too, like many others, was soon won-over to Francis.

In Sylvester’s vision the dragon is huge, terrifying, and encircles the city of Assisi. The dragon of the dream/vision is satan. Evil is always huge, even when one makes it seem small and insignificant “in order to rationalize it away”. Evil does not discriminate. Evil seeks anyone and everyone it can seduce and possess. This root of eternal darkness is intent on seducing others:  For the people of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (Luke 16: 8). The people who struggle every day to be good often do not even recognize the “little things” that slowly creep in and overwhelm the unsuspecting. In the vision the dragon is surrounding Assisi, ready to devour it. Remember the words of St. Peter to the Churches: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5: 8).

Although the dragon encircles the city, ready to devour Assisi, it seems impeded from being able to do so. Evil cannot overwhelm and overcome us unless we surrender and forget that: you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4).  The image of Assisi’s foremost citizen, Francis, stands his ground.  From his mouth emanates a golden Cross. The vertical beam comes from his mouth and reaches to the heavens – greater the one within the depths rising to the heavens. The horizontal beam of the cross envelopes the city. The dragon is incapable of hurting the city or its inhabitants in any way. It eventually leaves Assisi and its people in peace. Nevertheless the threat is always there when we let our guard down.

The Word of God directs its strength and power from the heart of Francis in faith, through the mouth of the Poverello in an active proclamation of faith in the grace of the Crucified. Thus, the people strengthened and instructed by God’s Word in the simplicity of Francis’ and his brothers’ manner of evangelizing overcome the lurking evil. What emanates from Francis’ mouth is the Word that comes from the depths of his heart. Francis has received, believed and is convinced of the saving power of the Word Incarnate and the Word spoken.  Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. (Matthew 7: 7). The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you  (John 14: 26). Don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. (Matthew 10: 19)

The golden virtue of prayer and intimacy with God reaches from earth to heaven. The golden beam of charity and fraternal love stretches its golden beams encircling all God’s children. The simplicity of the Word Francis preached with his humility and personal way of life, and the encouraging and empowering embrace the brothers lived as “universal brothers” to everyone, encouraged the people and lessened the insidiousness of satan and his power over them. The Cross of Christ and His words are the strength of our faith, conviction and relationship with God through Jesus in the Spirit. Openness to any and all people in whom we see Christ hidden and whom they see hidden in us, will always be a strength and sure sign of victory over “the dragon that encircles the city” of our heart.  We can never loosen our guard. The opponent is always stronger than we when we stand alone. The Lord must always be our Center.  We cannot afford to distance ourselves from the Lord ever.

When this vision was related to him, the man of God was not puffed up with the glorying of men, but recognizing the goodness of God in the favors shown him, he was more keenly incited to repel the craft of the ancient enemy, and to preach the glory of the Cross of Christ. And, while in a certain lonely place Francis was bitterly reflecting on the remembrance of past years. The joy of the Holy Spirit came upon him, and he was assured of the full remission of all his offences. Then, carried out of himself, and wholly wrapped into a marvelous light, the horizons of his mind were enlarged, and he clearly beheld the future story of himself and of his sons. Returning after this to the Brethren, he said Be consoled my dearest, and rejoice in the Lord, and be not sad for that ye be few in number, nor let my simplicity nor your own make you fear, for the Lord has verily shown me that God will cause us to wax into a great host, and will enlarge us in manifold wise with the grace of His blessing.  (Legenda Major, chpt.3, St. Bonaventure)

Indeed, we are also part of this vision of Sylvester. Here we are, called to play our part in the Theater of Redemption. And there’s always the “disruptor” or “heckler” – that ominous figure of the evil one – somewhere trying to foul us up and ruin the story. We can’t simply stand by and let things happen. With God’s grace we can control the outcome. The incident Sylvester saw in vision of St. Francis reminds us of the power of the Word and the strength of a willingness to open ourselves to others. Bear in mind that the profound connection between prayer and our times does not consist in a sterile condemnation of evil or regretting nostalgically a past that no longer exists.  Whether by vow or promise, recognizing our common origin as children of God strengthens our perspective of life. Today more than ever, our charism is to pray and become a living Gospel by “living Christ”. We find power in Jesus the Word and His words. The Eucharist is His Word sacramentally enfleshed in us. Thus it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2: 20) who confronts, confounds and conquers the enemy. The meeting point between hearing the Word and saving the world is our mission; it is the mission of the Church. We are the living stones who are the Church. We are the living Mystical Body of Christ. He continues to keep the evil one in His sites, and to face him empowering us with the strength of truth, mercy and love.  We can say where is your sting? where is your victory? But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57)

May this month dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus keep us rooted in His Tremendous Love. May the Cross truly be our boast in the Lord and a sign of our victory over the “dragon who waits”. Through His Word that directs us and His Eucharist Who strengthens us daily, may we  be conformed ever more deeply to Christ.

May God bless us all; Our Lady and good St. Joseph guide, guard, and protect us; and our beloved Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi watch over us with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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