From the Heart of your Minister - March 2017

Judas has been on my mind.  Don’t ask me why….I have no clue.  I’m assuming there is a lesson in there that God wants me to learn.  But again….I have no clue. Am I being a Judas or am I just dealing with too many Judas’ in my life?

So I have just tried to think in general about Judas.  If the story of the Last Supper were a cowboy movie, Judas would be the one wearing the black hat and we would know he is the villain.  If the Last Supper were an old black and white movie, Judas would be the one with the slicked down hair, the prim mustache and goatee and dark beady eyes.  And we would know he is the villain.

I have always thought that Judas looked like a villain.  But I can’t find any place in the Bible where the other apostles shied away from Judas.  Or any time that they went to Jesus and said – get rid of this guy, he’s bringing us down.

Nor does the Bible tell us that Judas was plotting from the beginning.  When we come into the story, Judas has been an apostle for awhile.  It seems like Judas didn’t think about going to the Pharisees until things started to go wrong.  That last week in Jerusalem must have been difficult with all the rumors swirling around.

But let’s go back to when Judas first became an apostle.  Jesus chose Judas knowing what would happen.  Jesus knew on some dark night in the future, Judas would do the unthinkable.

But He said to Judas, “Come follow Me”, just like He said it to the other 11.

So, Judas must have looked and acted like one of the guys.   There was the incident at Lazarus’ house where Mary poured the perfume over Jesus’ head and Judas protested.  Did he start looking for a way out then?  Had his feelings for Jesus begun to sour?

Judas spent quite a while living in Community with Jesus and the other apostles.  If the other 11 were living the way Jesus was teaching them, then they embraced Judas as a brother. That must have been the way Jesus wanted it.

Jesus didn’t wash 11 sets of feet on Holy Thursday night.  He didn’t pass the bread and wine to one end of the table and not the other.

Knowing what would happen a few hours later, Jesus shared that last meal with all 12.  Because Jesus knew something else besides the fact that He had freely chosen Judas.  He knew there was forgiveness for Judas, if Judas wanted it.

Jesus has chosen each one of us to be Secular Franciscans.  Why….I don’t have a clue.  But He does.  So for the remaining time of Lent, let’s work on being better Franciscans. So that on Easter morning, the Risen, Glorious Lord can look at our efforts and say….ahhhh yes, I know why I chose you!

From the Heart of the Minister

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….

Sounds like how we all are feeling, doesn’t it? These opening words from A Tale of Two Cities were written in 1859. But they feel like they were written last week.  The world is in an uproar and we are swept along.  It isn’t easy to keep a firm Franciscan stance when so many are angry, accusing and very, very sure they stand on the side that is correct.


One night last week, I was speaking with our brother, Ted Bienkowski, OFS, who is our Regional JPIC Coordinator and he said, “We cannot be politically divisive and spiritually effective.”  Powerful words.  It is the perfect time to put those words into action.  Lent will begin in a few short weeks. Be spiritually effective for Lent! What exactly does that mean? Stay out of the firestorm of political opinion and use that energy to visit the immigrant family in your neighborhood. Make them feel welcome here. Smile at people! You have the Tau cross around your neck – show the joy that comes from being a Franciscan. Sow the seeds of kindness – you are rebuilding the church stone by stone, smile by smile. When those around us are nervous and fearful of what will happen, show them that we know God has our backs.


Try something new for Lent. Earn those bricks to rebuild the church.  By the time Lent is over you will have some wonderful new habits! May we walk together through these troubling times, and may God continue to smile on our efforts!

From the Heart of the Minister - December 2016

The Franciscan Gift

May the Lord give you peace! Most of us grew up being taught to think of others first. We take care of everyone else and see to their needs before taking care of ourselves.  That really was our first brush with Franciscanism!  This time of year is especially filled with thinking of others.  What gift shall I buy for Johnny, don’t forget to bake those special cookies that Grandmom likes so much, make sure you write a note to your old neighbors before you send their card.  If we ever make time for ourselves it surely isn’t at this time of year!

Although it goes against the grain, this year we need to give ourselves a gift…..a Franciscan gift. Do something different at your prayer time.  That’s it, that’s the gift.  If you have a particular space where you say your prayers, change it up somehow;  place a nativity scene where you can see it.  Light a candle. Doing even the smallest thing differently will (hopefully) make you stop, take a breath, shake off the demands of the world for just 20 minutes and enter into the presence of God.  If you do the Office from your cell phone and text messages and/or phone calls intrude, go back to using your prayer book. Leave the phone outside your prayer space.

During our Advent journey, ‘place’ yourself in the manger while you are praying. Be part of the wonder and joy that took place there. Feel the love that Mary and Joseph have for each other. Surely God chose them to be His Son’s parents because they did have a great love for each other. And by Christmas morning, may you be so close to the new born King, that you can smell the hay on which He lays!

May the Lord bless each of us with a happy and holy holiday!

From the Heart of the Minister – November, 2016

First, I must apologize for the delay in the November postings. The details of why I am still without electricity are not nearly as important as the apology. Rose Viragh, OFS, our Regional Formation Director and Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap, our Regional Spiritual Assistant, always, always, always, have their articles to me in time for the first of the month postings. My sincere apologies to them especially!

A few weeks ago while getting my hair cut, I noticed an elderly woman in the next chair. She was getting “the works” as we women say, and she was so happy and excited that she was about to burst! She was getting all ‘gussied’ up for her grandson’s wedding that afternoon. The joy bouncing from every pore of this little old lady was because her grandson and his fiancée had asked her to be the flower ‘girl’. What a phenomenal gift to this woman. Grandmothers generally don’t have a special role in weddings other than being seated in the church while pictures are taken of her on the arm of a young groomsman.

This grandmother was remembered and honored. She would be the first to come down the aisle and as weddings generally do, emotions would be stirred up at seeing this elderly woman taking the role that is usually filled by a much younger family member.

November is the month when we remember our loved ones who have passed, especially in the previous year. It is a wonderful practice and gives importance to those in our lives who have gone to God. But even greater is remembering those loved ones who maybe slipped off our radar in the last year. Is there an elderly family member, neighbor or acquaintance from church that you haven’t spoken to in a long time? The joy that comes from a few minutes of your time cannot be measured by the one receiving it.

May all of our departed loved ones rest in peace. And may all of our living loved ones know that we hold them in peace!


October 2016 from the Regional Minister

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?  Romans 10: 13-15

Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions.

In moments of hesitation, remind me:

If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?

If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?

If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?

We have been sent.  The day we said “Yes, this is what I want”, the Lord sent us out.  It is probably no further than your own home, neighborhood, church, work place. During this Year of Mercy, how about shaking it up a little?  Bring something new to the table. Maybe make a greater effort to be God’s mercy to someone in desperate need of it.

The Lord resides within you.  We all believe that.  But why is He there?  Not just because He loves you, but to be present to other people.  You are the instrument.  You are extending God’s hand in comfort every time you put your arm around someone in need.  You are God’s joy every time you smile at someone or say something nice.  You are God’s love every time you wipe away someone’s tears.  No one understood this better than St. Francis.  Make me a channel of your peace, not give me peace.  Let me provide peace to other people.  St. Francis also said:  Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.  We are constant examples to those around us.

There are so many ways to do small things with great love. It’s more than just comforting someone in need or lifting up the spirits of someone who is ‘down’.  How about not dragging someone down by gossiping, telling them how terrible someone else is, being a constant critic.  It’s much easier to comfort another person than to look at ourselves to see what damage we are doing. It is the harder path to take. But imagine what a gift it would be to St. Francis for him to see us at least try.

We evangelize by wearing our Tau cross – telling the world we have chosen this path.  But then do we act as if we are the Lord’s agents on this earth?  In this year of mercy, let us ask to be better Franciscans and all the rest will fall into place!  I wish you much joy!


September from the heart of our Minister


Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the Lord give you peace!  A few years ago, my parish merged with another local parish and we got a new pastor. Shortly after the merger, Labor Day weekend was upon us.  Labor Day has several meanings – the “un”official end to summer, the last of the summer barbecues, the end of wearing white shoes and carrying a white purse – OK, I’m showing my age on that one! Having been married to a trucker/shop steward/union man, I also know that in the early 19th century, the Trade Unions and Labor movements asked to have a day set aside to celebrate labor.  It’s easy to lose that meaning when we are enjoying that last grilled hot dog of the season.

That first Labor Day with the new pastor, changed my outlook completely.  After the homily, he asked everyone attending Mass to come forward as they would when receiving Communion. When each of us approached Father, he asked that we stretch out our hands and he anointed them. He blessed the work of our hands for the coming year. It was very moving and of course, made you think.

What work would I do for the Lord in the coming year? How can I give that blessing away? And more than that, will I remember that my hands have been blessed to the Lord……..when I’m angry and gesturing at someone; when I’m throwing something out that could be recycled, when I sit on my hands as I’m being asked to accept a nomination?

This Labor Day, consider blessing your own hands to the Lord for the coming year.  Ask St. Francis how your hands can be used to do Franciscan work and then be willing to listen!  As in the picture above, remember one hand does not complete the picture.






Remaining Franciscan in a Presidential Election Year!


The words are brutal;  the attitude – ugly.  Accusations are made, stories true, half true or completely untrue are repeated and repeated and repeated.

It must be a Presidential election year!  What a great time to be Franciscan!!

This is not a political blog.  I am not here to foist my political views on anyone.  I don’t care who you are voting for – that’s your right and privilege.  What I do care about is how easy it is to get caught up with the crowd.  And that’s not Franciscan.  Don’t we naturally tend to swim upstream? …against the tide of what everyone else is doing?

Both conventions are over and now the real mud slinging begins! There are far, far too many people who believe every word that crosses their screen.  It’s no different than all the people who believe every word that is written in the Star or the National Enquirer.  If it’s in print, it must be gospel!

We really need to be vigilant in what we do…and how we do it.  There are some beautiful religious e-mails that come around – beautiful prayers, inspiring thoughts.  And at the end, it reads……make a wish and pass this on to all the people in your address book.  Make a wish?? That’s not how I approach my God.  Can you see St. Francis proclaiming one of his passionate canticles and then turning to the Brothers and saying…Make a wish and go tell everyone you know.  Making a wish has nothing to do with who we are.  Taking part in slander is very wrong.  Even passing on true information can be wrong if we have no business passing it on.  Lies and even hurtful truths take on a life of their own.  My heart aches for the parents of the 13-year-old girl who committed suicide because of what her classmates had posted on the web about her.

I am not saying Franciscans shouldn’t forward any messages on the Internet.  But before you do, stop and think WWFD…What would Francis do?

Our reading from Morning Prayer on Friday, Week I comes form Ephesians, 4:29 – 32:  Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.  Do nothing that will sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice of every kind.  In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.

This Presidential race will be more lively than most. The closer we get to election day, the more tightly wound everyone will be.  In this election year, wouldn’t it be better…more Franciscan …to pray for the right outcome? Ask God to guide us in getting the person in office that He wants to be there.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer and that has nothing to do with the weather!  Wouldn’t it be nicer to stand back, hold onto our Franciscan serenity, and stay out of the sensationalism?

Here is a prayer put forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Prayer Before An Election

Lord God, as the election approaches, we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our city/state/country, and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.

We ask for eyes that are free from blindness so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters, one and equal in dignity, especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.  We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned, Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom. We pray for discernment so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word, live your love, and keep in the ways of your truth as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.




Experiencing The Q

Mea Culpa!  The month of July is several days old and I am just getting to the postings.  I have been in St. Louis since June 28 preparing for the 2016 Q.  Now that I am home, there is still a smile on my face and I hope it stays there a good long time.  It is hard to describe what it is like to spend 4 days with 600 Secular Franciscans.  There is great joy at greeting old friends and new.  If there is a tau cross around your neck… are family!  Spending time in prayer with so many brothers and sisters who are traveling the path with you, is certainly uplifting if not life changing.

The theme for the 2016 Q is Reviving Our Spirit and it was very well chosen.  Every aspect of the weekend lifted your spirit.  There were talks by Father Murray Bodo, OFM, Father Lester Bach, OFM Cap and the keynote speaker, Father Dan Horan, OFM.  These men are Franciscan “All Stars” whose books helped to form us and now that we are professed, help sustain us.  Listening to them speak and spending time one-on-one with them is truly a hug from God. These humble men stood in line for their meals, asked if they could sit at an empty place at the table and joined in conversations. They really do preach the gospel by their actions.

Tibor Kauser, OFS, our Minister General was there and spoke of fraternities in Lebanon and Dubai.  Jenny Harrington, OFS, from Africa spoke about having fraternities in the US ‘twinning’ with a fraternity in Africa. Our order is growing around the world and we need to tap into that.

So many of you participated in the Blessing Bag project which blessed people far beyond our own reach.  Box after box after box was waiting for the Committee when we arrived. It was hard to believe the response!  We sorted hundreds of bars of soap, tooth paste, deodorant, shampoo, etc down one side of the room.  The other side was dedicated to snack items:  instant oatmeal, raisins, energy bars, crackers.  The Herr Company – a local family owned business – donated 12 cases of Herr snack paks.

Packing the Blessing Bags was optional on The Q schedule and was slated for Friday afternoon.  We had it set up like an assembly line.  Grab a zip lock bag at one end of the tables and walk down packing whatever you would like from the selection. The number of people who came to pack the bags was amazing.  Both the toiletry side and the snack side had solid lines of people giving their time to help.  At the end of both sides were a stack of holy cards with St. Francis on one side…of course!…and printed on the back was the message:  Packing this Blessing Bag for you was a blessing for me.  I will hold you in my prayers.

Sister Connie Probst, who heads the St. Anthony Food Pantry in St. Louis, arrived at 4:00 to pick up the donations.  Something happened to the communications because Sister Connie showed up in a Toyota never expecting she would need a large van!  She laughed and cried at the sight that greeted her.  When the Secular Franciscans do something, they do it right!!

So many of the Seculars who were passing through these lines remarked that this is something we should continue to do.  Many felt we can do it at Regional Meetings as well.  It certainly doesn’t have to be on such a grand scale as what we did at The Q.  If it is done at a Regional Meeting, we can donate the bags or each of us take one home to keep in our car.  When you come upon a homeless person you will be ready to bless them with a few items to make their way a little easier.

This last year being on The Q Committee was more work than I ever dreamed of. But it resulted in so very many blessings for all who attended and that is a big blessing to me.  I carried each of you in my prayers throughout the week and hope that you will be able to experience a Quinquennial at some point.  It certainly helps you feel that you belong to an Order and not just a Fraternity.  The next Q will be in 2021 – 100 years since the very first Q was held.  Start saving those nickels and dimes because it promises to be spectacular!

What Part of the Message Did You Miss?

St. Francis rebuild my church

My dear Brothers and Sisters, may God’s peace and grace be with you! The month of June is upon us.  Last weekend we were wearing coats, this week, the AC is on full blast.  How did it happen so quickly? There was no easing into summer this year.

I have never been tied to my cell phone like it was my lifeline to the world. I’m not the President of the United States; so, no one needs to get in touch with me that urgently. Of course, when ‘life’ is urgent and I am ‘needed’, the cell phone is never far. But we don’t get to pick and choose when we are needed.  Life doesn’t work that way.

One late afternoon recently when I remembered I hadn’t looked at my cell phone all day, I picked it up and found it was out of ‘juice’.  I plugged in the charger and went about my business.  Around 10:00 p.m, I heard the sound for an incoming text message.  That had the hair on the back of my neck standing up.  When I do get text messages, they definitely don’t arrive at 10:00 p.m.  It was from my ‘baby’ sister and it stated “Just wanted to let you know that we are all OK and home again”.

What had I missed?  There was something that came before this message that I didn’t see or bother to check.  There were two texts that came in around 5:30 a.m. and I hadn’t checked my phone when I got up.  The first message was “PRAY! The police just called and said Bill was in a very bad accident and they were trying to get him out of his truck.”  The second message was “I’m at the accident scene.  A young lady had been on her cell phone – t-boned Bill’s pickup at such a high rate of speed, that his truck was catapulted through two lanes of north bound traffic, across the three lanes of southbound traffic, rolled down a hill and knocked over two trees.

I felt terrible that I had not responded to the early morning messages and at the very least been in touch with my sister to let her know I was available to come be with her and was praying.  Those messages had been a call to action and I missed it. God gave me an opportunity to serve and I wasn’t connected.

During the Profession ritual, there are three different times that we answer “Yes, this is what I want”. But how connected are we to the meaning of our “Yes”?

Rule 21  The ministers’ and councilors’ task to lead is temporary.  The brothers and sisters, rejecting all ambition, should show love for the fraternity with a spirit of service, prepared both to accept and to relinquish the office…….

Their service, which lasts for a definite period, is marked by a ready and willing spirit and is a duty of responsibility to each member and to the community.

…should show love for the fraternity with a spirit of service.  Is that the part of the message we have missed? When it comes time for the fraternity elections, so many are sitting on their hands and avoiding eye contact in order to not be asked to serve. There is no member of this Region that doesn’t have other things going on in their lives.  We all have family issues, health issues, financial issues, job issues.  If we wait until life is calm and without any obligations, we will have missed the opportunities that God has offered. Our vocation is one of service. We cannot rebuild the church (fraternity) if we aren’t willing to pick up a brick or two.
I am learning to keep my cell phone close….and charged.  My brother-in-law’s injuries were relatively minor compared to how that pickup looked; thank the dear Lord. But I failed my sister that day by not being ready to serve when I was needed.

If we have missed the first part of the message, the second part won’t make any sense. Check with God to see what message He is trying to send you.  Stay connected and be ready. God doesn’t dial wrong numbers. The message is for you!

Apostolate of the Ear

At my fraternity gathering last month, our Formation Director, Justin Carisio, OFS, spoke about a book by Pope Francis – The Name of God is Mercy. The title alone could take an entire evening to discuss.


Justin focused on just a few points from the book;  one of which was Apostolate of the Ear.  I must say, when I saw that topic, I was a little skeptical of how that would tie in. Basically, what it means is to give the gift of listening to someone who needs to be heard. And we all need to be heard.


Being called a good listener is a compliment, but one that is seldom heard any more.  We have all learned to tune each other out.  People walk by briskly on the street with their ear buds firmly in place.  Whether they are listening to music or not, having those ear buds on is an excuse not to talk to anyone and especially not to listen to anyone.


We live in a very noisy world. The TV is on while three people in the room are having conversations on three different cell phones. A man I used to work for would call me every morning to talk about what was going on in the office and what was going on with me.  And he would be checking e-mail at the same time.  He never heard what I was trying to tell him.  And it hurt.  I wasn’t worth his time or full attention.


Isn’t really listening to someone a true act of humility?  We have to shut down our own ego and problems of the moment and really concentrate on the words coming from the other person.  We give the gift of ourselves to the person who needs to be heard. How Franciscan!


Most times, people are not looking for solutions to their problems or an opinion about what has them upset. They just want someone to validate them, let them know they are valuable to us.  In our Rule, Chapter 2, #5, the first sentence is: Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters,


If Christ came to you after a bad day, would you check e-mail while He spoke to you? During the month of May, let all of us work on this small but powerful gift to give to the Christ we meet every single day.  May God bless and direct our steps as we strive to follow in the footsteps of our Seraphic Father.

Much love and many blessings,