Monthly Meditation by Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – November 2018

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

 November, 2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you peace!

November, dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, reminds us that God loves us into life, and calls to the fullness of life. The journey of life is so wonderful.  The many challenges we encounter help us grow in God’s love.  This gift is also dangerous because of the many allurements and seductions that can entice us to deviate from the path marked out for us.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  If we follow His Way, listen to His Word of Truth, we can expect ultimately to share in the fullness of His Life. He Himself says: I came that they may have Life and have it abundantly  (John 10: 10).  Jesus gained Life for us, once for all, on the Cross of Calvary … Life and the Cross!

There it is again, the Paradox of the Cross!  The Paradox of Christianity! We are always facing these choices, these opposites: positive-negative, good-bad, light-darkness, grace-sin, heaven-hell.  We always have that responsible and awesome option placed before us.  Adam and Eve were offered a test as a requisite to continue living in Eden. In the Old Testament, before the People of Israel entered the Promised Land, Joshua read the Law of the Covenant God made with His People and told them to choose between life and death … I for my part will serve the Lord  (cfr. Joshua 24: 2, 15).  The people responded in unison that they would serve the Lord, but history for them, and also for us who have opted to follow Jesus, tells us how fickle our commitments can be. Perhaps this is why we have difficulty in reflecting on that most solemn moment in life when we are called to encounter the Source of all Life and see ourselves in His Light.

Our Christian Faith is nourished by the Sacramental Life of the Church. We are redeemed in the Blood of Christ. He constantly encourages and invites us to follow me. In this life of faith we are always speaking of positive values while focusing in on what at first glance seems ‘negative’.  We speak about Life, but refer to it through the Death of Jesus.  We speak about Love, but recognize it through the symbol of hatred, torture, and death, The Cross.  We hope in Heaven, but experience its beginnings through the challenges and pitfalls of life’s earthly journey.  Our humanity is constantly affected by the changing attitudes of nature. We learn how to ‘see’ beyond the barriers that daily seek to impede our forward steps. A faith-filled heart and hope-filled life help us to live life to the fullest.  In this faith and hope we cannot help but recognize how grace offers us the opportunity to “live life and love it”.

Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis of Assisi was a unique and inspired prophet for all times.  His approach to life and all creation has earned for him the title ofUniversal Brother. His example instills in the hearts of his spiritual children an attitude of joy and gratitude for every moment of life.  He was a man imbued with a spirit of wonder that made him rejoice even during the most challenging times for him. Several years before his brief life ended – he died at 44 years of age – his body began to succumb to all the effects of the penances he had imposed upon himself.  He even apologized to ‘Brother Ass’, as he called his body, for treating one who was so faithful to him in such an unappreciative manner.  With the knowledge of his terminal condition and the pains of the Stigmata of Jesus he had received two years before, informed that he was soon to pass from this life to the next, he asked that a new stanza be added to the Canticle of the Creatures. The brothers sang:  Praise be You, my Lord, for Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.  Woe to those who die in mortal sin.  Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm.  Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.  When he was told that Death was imminent, he called out Welcome, Sister Death!

When we see life as the gift it is, and live life and love it, then even death cannot disturb our inner joy and serenity.  We live each moment as the gift it is. Thus we learn how to ‘let go’ of what we have for what is greater…or better Who is Greatest.

As Spiritual Children of the Seraphic Father, how do we live our lives?  What is our attitude to the challenges God permits that remind us of our vulnerability and mortality?  Do we live in the spirit of the letter to the Hebrews that states: We do not have here a permanent dwelling, but we await another (Hebrews 13: 14)? Do we take time to reflect on death as one more step, the ultimate, in getting us to God?  Do we avoid even thinking of the Paschal Mystery that each one will be called to celebrate in his or her personal life?  Are we joy-filled in life?  Do we encourage others to be at peace even in the midst of difficulties?  Are we one of those who fall into that amusing, but true saying: ‘Everyone talks about heaven, but no one seems to be in a hurry to get there’ ?

We have grown accustomed to the amenities of life, the privileges we often see as ‘rights’.  Discomfort is something we seek to avoid.  Criticisms and rejection disturb our calm. Self-centeredness, greed, vengeance become survival tactics that control relationships. In the face of problems we cannot control, we question, barter with, blame God for the ‘bad’ things that happen to us.  Our sainted brothers and sisters teach us that the Christian is enlightened by the assurance of Faith in the Incarnation and Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul was convinced that to live is Christ, and to die is so much gain (Philippians 1: 21).  We are challenged to be a ‘People of Hope’, as St. Paul writes to the community of Rome: And hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly … While we were still sinners, Christ died for us … We have been justified by His blood … We even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation.  (Romans 5: 5-11) We entrust ourselves totally to God.  If God is for us, then who can be against us? (Romans 8: 31)  God has promised us Life with Him forever and He has given us the most excellent means to live in hope as we journey through life in joyful anticipation of His loving embrace – Jesus.  And Jesus established a perpetual means to keep the promise and pledge alive – the Eucharist.

Jesus said: I am the living bread come down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6: 51) When we gather around the Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Lord Jesus Christ, we reaffirm our faith in Life.  We encounter our daily ‘death and dying’ with serenity.   We anticipate the prospect of heaven through bodily death with joy.  We let go of a lifetime of false securities.  We strive to bepoor in the things of this world but rich in those of heaven (cfr. James 2).   We break the shackles of the responsibilities and affairs that seemed so important in this life, and we do so with the freedom of the children of God who remember that we have here no lasting city, but we seek one that is to come. (Hebrews 13: 14).  We speak of ourselves as strangers and pilgrims on earth … seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 11: 13)  Everything is a gift.  We can offer each moment of our life as a ‘gift’ to others.  We even call on Sister Bodily Death from whom no human can escape with the trust and acceptance of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures. In the Eucharist we discover the source and pledge of Life. The Eucharist is our strength in life and our defiance of death.  We become, mystically, a Eucharistic presence. Thus, our life is an act of thanksgiving.

Jesus is our Life! In the Eucharist our concerns and confusions are clarified, our discouragements and despair are dispelled, our faults are forgiven, our self-centeredness is embraced and transformed into a love that opens our hearts to all. How much more can we say about this ‘heaven on earth’ we are privileged to possess, celebrate, and ‘become’ when our hearts and souls prepare for the encounter!  The Eucharist is ‘communion’ that binds us to Christ in His Redemptive Passion-Death-Resurrection and to all who celebrate and partake of the sacrificial Lamb of God offered for us. The Eucharist is ‘sacrifice’ that ‘makes us ‘holy’. The Eucharist transforms us into the One Whom we receive, thus fulfilling God’s words to Israel: Be holy, because I, your God, am holy (Leviticus 20: 26; 1 Peter 1: 16).   The Eucharist is a ‘pledge of future glory’ as we share in this sacrament of ‘heaven on earth’ (St. Lawrence of Brindisi).  We are offered the opportunity to live in hope, the pledge God offers us: For who hopes for what one sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance (Romans 8:24).

We ‘get lost’ forever in that vast ocean of goodness Who is Jesus in His Word and in the Eucharist.  Consuming the Victim, we are consumed by Him and are ‘lost’ to this world, that we might be found in Him, living already the ‘pledge of future glory’.  The effect of this union fills our hearts and our minds with the assurance of God’s presence. The inner peace and serenity strengthen us. We are empowered to confront challenges, bear burdens, eliminate enemies through Christian love, entrust ourselves totally and unreservedly to God Who has been and is everything.  My God and My All!  is a Franciscan expression of the total surrender our Seraphic Father lived. We spiritual children of St. Francis gratefully and willingly forfeit everything this world holds dear. Eternity is not a pious reflection but a reality we live in mystery until we are called to share it with the angels and saints in glory.

With unwavering hope in God’s mercy and the Life He promises we will share with Him,  we anticipate with joyful expectation the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ(Prayer after the Our Father at Mass) We Franciscans are the Pilgrim People of God – pilgrims and strangers.  We are committed to a deeper relationship with God through prayer-sacrifice-acts of charity.  We profess by the mere fact of these elements to live in hope – a hope that does not betray.  It is a ‘vision’ of fulfillment yet to be possessed, but already available.  Allow nothing to disturb your daily journey to God.  For those who seek to live in God’s presence nothing will succeed in disrupting their inner peace, even if storms rage around them.  As we celebrate the Eucharist that makes us one in His Name, may the ‘Holy Communion’ we share strengthen our fraternity. May the ‘Sacrifice’ we offer open our lives to respond to the responsibilities we have promised to fulfill. This ‘Pledge of Future Glory’ animates us to be enthused and encouraged to accept every moment as an opportunity to grow in and use well the gifts God has entrusted to us.  Let us take to heart the words of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi: So great is the good which I expect that all pain is to me a delight.

May God bless you; my Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi, look upon each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

Monthly Meditation from Fr. Francis – October, 2018

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

October 2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

Two years before his death, already very sick and suffering especially from his eyes, (St. Francis ) was living in a cell made of mats near San Damiano. … During his stay … blessed Francis could not bear the light of the sun during the day or the light of the fire at night.  He constantly remained in darkness in his cell … One night, as he was thinking of all the tribulations he was enduring, he felt sorry for himself and prayed interiorly: ‘ Lord help me in my infirmities so that I may have the strength to bear them patiently”… (A voice spoke to him and said): …be glad and joyful in the midst of your infirmities and tribulations; as of now, live in peace as if you were already sharing my kingdom”… The next morning on rising, he said to his companions: … I should be full of joy in my infirmities and tribulations, seek my consolations in the Lord, and give thanks to God the Father, to His Only Son Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit … Therefore, for His glory, for my consolation, and the edification of my neighbor, I wish to compose a new “Praises of the Lord,” for His creatures … He called these “Praises of the Lord” which opened with the words: “Most high all-powerful, and good Lord, the “Canticle of the Sun”… He often intoned this canticle and had his companions take it up; in that way he forgot the intensity of his sufferings and pains by considering the glory of the Lord.  He did this until the day of his death.  (Legend of Perugia, 42-43)

The Poverello of Assisi was one of the wealthiest persons to ever live. His wealth went far beyond the treasures that human beings consider desirable.  The power he wielded over thousands of his day and millions over the centuries make him also one of the most influential and effective individuals to ever live. He was simple, surely not what the authoritative and commanding seek.  He was poorly dressed, surely not what attracts the people of this world. He was not much to look at, surely not a figure that imposed himself by physical stature.  He had a basic education for his times, surely not an intellectual ‘giant’ to dialogue with the ‘learned’ and prominent of his day.  He had no bands of armed guards and militant forces, surely not what the dominant forces sought out. What he had was a ‘treasure’ that far surpasses all others: He was a man in love with God, and God’s presence in all creation. He was passionately in love with life.  His spirit was contagious.  Many originally considered him out of his mind, most believed him to be eccentric, but all eventually recognized the uniqueness of a soul in love with God, life, and all people. Our Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi, is a constant reminder and image of a life in love with Life.

In the beginning … God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good. (Genesis 1: 1-30) The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) Life is the first gift of God’s Eternal Love. Goodness, of its very nature, cannot be contained. Goodness overflows limits set and reaches out in all directions.  Eternal Goodness offers the greatest gift of Himself: the gift of being. During a lifetime conditioned and limited by time, we who share the ‘breath of God’, His Holy Spirit, enter a journey that leads us from living in the mystery on earth to living its fulfillment in eternity.  In Christ Jesus we recognize Him Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What seemingly begins as a merely natural process is now transformed into a ‘Journey of Faith’ that places us in a relationship with our Creator and eternal Life-giving Father, Who continues to ‘breathe’ His Holy Spirit into our hearts, because of the Redemptive Life-Death-Resurrection of His Incarnate Son, Jesus, Who made the Father ‘real’ for us.

Men and women are on a journey of discovery which is humanly unstoppable – a search for the truth and a search for a person to whom they might entrust themselves.  Christian faith comes to meet them, offering the concrete possibility of reaching the goal which they seek. (Pope John Paul II – Relationship Between Faith and Reason, Encyclical of September 14, 1998). Life is that period of time we have been allotted to know, love, and serve our God both in Himself and in each other.  We follow Jesus Who invites us to walk this journey of faith as ‘pilgrims and strangers’.  St. Francis of Assisi’s ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ is his prayer of praise to God Who can be seen in all creation, and at every moment of life’s journey. Many ‘cradle Catholics’ often take their Christianity too much for granted. There is a tendency to forget that external religious practices, to be authentic, must be an expression of the greater gift of  Faith in fused at Baptism and to which they are called to be convinced and committed.  Faith is not a list of dogmas to believe, but a Person to accept and follow.  Faith, strengthened through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, accompanies and encourages life,  in the midst of a world that hears the words of Jesus but often closes its heart to the message that must be personally accepted and lived to be effective and fruitful. Although we are all called to be saved, there is no such thing as ‘global salvation’.  Jesus died for all humanity and His redemption is once-for-all; it is ‘global’ in that sense.  However, it is the personal responsibility of each individual to cooperate with the graces he/she receives from the Redemptive Sacrificial Blood of Jesus poured out for us all, if that person hopes to be ‘saved’ and share in Eternal Life.

St. Francis’ desire to live the Gospel ‘without gloss’ is his way of reminding us that Jesus’ words must be taken to heart and lived.  We cannot just believe and not do.  Faith that stands, and is not backed up with a life that verifies the ‘principles’ and ‘values’ preached, is nothing more than an intellectual exercise of themes and slogans. Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. (James 2: 17-18)

Our journey of faith begins in the accounts of the Old Testament Scriptures with the call of Abraham, when he responded in faith to God’s urging to leave Ur of the Chaldeans. Abraham may not have completely understood his unique relationship with God and the role he was called to fulfill, nonetheless he had all the necessary elements for faith.  He promptly responded ‘yes’ to God’s call, a divine call that more often than not turned Abraham’s own plans upside down.   Abraham was even ready to offer his only son to God, against all human logic and expectations for the future. Faith believes and gives one’s self to God unconditionally.  Even when God seems to be ‘absent’ from us, in faith we sense an unexplainable presence and strength leading us through and beyond the limits that our difficulties and doubts place in the way.  It is this faith that becomes a power house working and welling up within us.  It is this faith that becomes the very root of our daily life. Our life becomes an act of faith.

Faith reaches its fulfillment in the New Testament in the Son of God Who manifested Himself and proclaimed the kingdom of God. This proclamation of God’s will and invitation to believe requires the same response as that of Abraham, our ‘Father in Faith’.  This acceptance is a decisive act of a loving will that moves our human minds to look beyond the expected human calculations and to trust totally in God.  Faith is not an intellectual acceptance of a number of abstract facts; it is an unconditional acceptance of a person, God, as we have come to know Him in the Person of Jesus the Christ. Faith accepts God Who proposes His love for Christ Who died and was raised from the dead. Faith is obedience to God, communion with Him, openness to all God reveals because He can neither deceive nor be deceived.  Faith opens our eyes to see life from the perspective of eternity and God’s love.  Our own Seraphic Father, when confronted with friars who had decided to mitigate his expectations for the Order, heard God asking and reminding him that the Order was God’s; he was not to worry if matters seemed not what he expected, as long as they followed God’s plans.

Faith becomes victory over the isolation we create in our lives when we close ourselves to the ‘Other’. Faith helps us to gratefully accept life as a marvelous experience. Filled with challenges that may try us to the limit of our strength, life is supported, nourished, and ennobled by a faith that trusts in an ever-loving and all-providing God. From the very beginning of our existence, God calls each one of us from the nothingness of ‘not being’ to an existence that bursts into time and is ultimately transformed into the immortal gift of unending Life for all.

We learn to live tranquilly, always, as regards our spirit, because God reigns supreme.  Life is given to us in order for us to acquire the eternal. Due to a lack of reflection, we often base our affections on what pertains to the world  through which we are passing, so that when we have to leave it, we are frightened and agitated.  In order to live happily while on pilgrimage we must keep before our eyes the hope of arriving at our Homeland where we will stay for eternity.  It is God who calls us to Himself, He watches how we make our way to Him, and will never permit anything to happen to us that is not  for a greater good.  He knows what we are. He offers His loving providence to us especially while we are going through rough stretches. Nothing will prevent us from running quickly to Him, but in order to receive this grace we must have total confidence in Him.  Life is also a journey of trust.

One of the greatest Gospel witness we can give others as sisters and brothers in St. Francis of Assisi flows from living in the Presence of God. Truly convinced of this, we must be tranquil and at peace within ourselves because God is in control. We journey together, focused on the Lord Who calls us to share Life in our Eternal Homeland after having sought to restore all things in Christ during our earthly pilgrimage that should be a “Canticle of Praise” to the Lord for every facet of life. Each step we take is a step forward surrendering ourselves unconditionally to the ever-loving providence of God, Who never leaves His children unaided.

Pope John Paul II tells us that men and women are on a journey of discovery in search for the truth and a person. Words like these sound like some philosophical theme until we examine our hearts and realize how true and meaningful they are for our lives.  Our Seraphic Father St. Francis encountered that ‘Person’, Jesus, on the Cross at San Damiano who impressed His words on his heart, then he met that ‘Person’ again at La Verna, Who impressed His ‘Word’ on his body.  The living image of the Crucified spoke to the world of an emptying love that accepted life to die that me might enter Life.

Every life has its disconcerting events and fears.  Even the greatest of saints had their difficulties.  Many went through moments of spiritual darkness and dryness. They continued to believe and hope in God, encouraging and empowering others to be joy-filled in the midst of their challenges as well as their successes, while they themselves cried out to their ‘absent’ and Loving God who asked that they pass through the desolation of the Cross.  Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, and many others whose lives we have come to know more intimately now that they have entered eternity, went through these moments. Faith and life walk hand-in-hand.  It is our Faith that strengthens our spirit and nourishes our life. Jesus reminds us: It is the spirit that gives life … The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63) When we allow the Spirit of Faith to fill our minds and hearts, when we accept the words of Jesus in truth, when we live today where God and we encounter one another … we live in hope, free from fear, trusting in divine providence that clears all intimidating imaginings from our minds and hearts.  Peace, joy, and serenity become a reality. And, they become ‘contagious’ for those whom we encounter.

Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi live every moment of life fully!  The spirit of prayer that enveloped our Seraphic Father who ‘became prayer’ encourages us to pass through whatever crucible of life we encounter.  Thus we become one with the Suffering Servant Who became One with us. Let us be grateful to God for the life He has called us to live, and make our prayer You are my God…I trust in You…be my refuge…I fear nothing…(for I seek to be in You as You are within me).

May God bless you; my Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father, St. Francis of Assisi, look upon each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant