Monthly Meditation for April 2020 by Father 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

 April 2020

 Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

 The Lord give you His peace and lead you through the mystery of His Passion and Death

to the joy of His Resurrection and our renewed Life in Jesus!

 The ’Way of the Cross’ cannot end on Calvary; it must go beyond. It goes beyond into the garden that received the dead body of Christ and, on the morning following the Sabbath, saw the mysterious and joyful encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Lord Jesus, risen and alive. The ’way’ is precisely the road that leads, the journey that conveys, the direction to follow. The tragic and triumphant ’way’ of the Paschal Mystery takes us to a new life in, with, and through Jesus.  The ’way’ is a must for all who call Jesus ’Lord’ and ’Savior’. Our Seraphic Father not only loved the Crucified Jesus but was privileged to become a living image of the Crucified Savior and Redeemer.  The ’way’ was imprinted on his mortal flesh as an indication of what lay ahead for him who so lovingly sought to feel as far as possible in my soul and body, that pain which You, sweet Lord, endured in the hour of Your most bitter Passion … that I may feel in my heart as much as possible of that excess of love by which You, O Son of God, were inflamed to suffer so cruel a Passion for us sinners. (Fioretti: 3rd Consideration of the Sacred Stigmata) To accept, and even seek, pain for love’s sake is not masochistic or insane, it is the total surrender a person offers to become one with the beloved.

 Our Father St. Francis knew well that the Cross was the sign of the sublime humility and love of God for all creation. He was well aware that the stigmata he bore indicated the future glory pledged to all who accept the standard of Christ and follow His Way, Who is the Truth, as He leads to the fullness of Life, through His Resurrection. The ’Way of the Cross’ finds its total significance, value, and effectiveness in the Resurrection.  If Jesus had not risen, in vain would have been our faith, and we would remain in our sins, says St. Paul to the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians 15).  If Jesus had not risen, His death would have been nothing more than the tragic defeat of just another deluded ’messiah’, and His memory would bear no other fruit than that of the nostalgic remembrance of a good person who helped others, was misunderstood, and was ultimately executed for political and religious subversion. Jesus Himself, the ’wonder-working rabbi’ would thus be nothing else than a good teacher overcome by history and conquered by evil forces that forever remain superior and invincible to what is good.

 In fact, there is no greater ’subversive’, no greater ’revolutionary’ than Jesus. His life, words, actions, and the witness of His Passion and Death hit at the very core of the human heart.  He aimed at challenging His hearers to change from the very depths of their hearts and to come back to what they were constituted to be when God took the initiative with Abraham promising that He would be the Father of many nations. The ’subversive’ attempts to reach and affect the very foundation, the core of the matter, and the ’revolutionary’ attempts to turn people back to the Father’s Will, are at the heart of the Gospel Message. Thus, true gospel subversive and revolutionary tactics are those that lead us into the depths of our hearts to regain our original ’childlike innocence’ through God’s mercy. Is that not what is expected of us as Franciscans?!  The Gospel life, if lived personally and preached well by example, is an effective witness and ’tool’ in changing the face of the earth.  What happened?!  Have we forgotten the power of the Gospel and the strength our fraternal life gifts us within each other to forge forward as sisters and brothers distinct yet one?! Perhaps we have stopped at the tomb, or remain closed in the Upper Room, as the disciples did immediately following the execution of Jesus.  Each was closed in his own fears and doubts.  We comfortably remain closed on and with ourselves, often for fear of being challenged to live what we profess.  Yet, that is where the significance, value and effectiveness of our professed lives as Franciscans is fulfilled.  When they saw the risen Lord, touched His wounds, and recognized their own brokenness, they became an encouragement and support for one another.

 The Way of the Cross cannot stop at the tomb, even if within that tomb there seems to be life. Life hidden behind the stone sealed and guarded speaks nothing to the world.  We must walk the entire road that Jesus traveled. It is the road that knows the pause and silence of that Sabbath after the excruciating sadness of Friday, but that explodes the next day into His glory. The glory of His Resurrection in our lives does not blind by its brilliance but brightens the darkness of difficulty and doubt.  The glory of the Resurrection does not traumatize with fear and foreboding, but liberates the soul from doubt, the heart from anguish, and the mind from uncertainty.  The glory of the Resurrection does not condemn the sinner with no place to turn, but rekindles hope and trust in the Father’s mercy and forgiveness.  The glory of the Resurrection does not sentence to death, but makes all who accept the mystery sharers in the Life of God Himself!  It enables them to be a life-giving presence for others.

 Jesus rose as He had promised, nevertheless His own could not believe. Even the women, who loved Him so dearly, were on their ’way’ to the tomb to anoint the body, not to encounter the Lord alive. What response was given Him by His closest friends? None of the first followers expected to see Him alive again, notwithstanding His promises and assurances, and not even when some had seen and Jesus gave them the ’appointment’ to meet Him in Galilee.

 –   Thomas…one of the Twelve…said to (the Apostles), ’Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe’ (John 21:24-25)… Pessimism and Disbelief

–   The two disciples, speaking with Jesus whom they did not recognize as they journeyed  on the road back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, said:  We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel … Some women from our group … reported that indeed they had seen a vision of angels … but him they did not see (Luke 24: 13-25)… Disillusionment and Discouragement

–   When Mary of Magdala told the disciples she had seen the Risen Lord and that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe (Mark 16:11)… Cynicism and Skepticism

–   Even when the disciples followed the command to go to Galilee where they would see Him before He ascended to the Father, When they saw Him, they worshiped, but they doubted (Matthew 28:16-17)… Hesitancy and Doubt

 Thomas, Cleophas and his traveling companion, the Apostles after hearing Mary Magdalene, and many of the followers who saw Jesus on the Mount in Galilee at the Ascension, all had difficulties and even understandable doubts concerning the ’impossibility’ of a person rising from the dead … on his own power!  What a motley crew!  Are we really any different?  The power of the Holy Spirit had to shake the disciples free of fear, doubt, complacency, so they could see and believe. They loved and believed Jesus, but it took an eternal power and a ’real presence’ to lead them into the light of a new Life, rooted in a Person Who overcame execution on a cross and was alive. The death of Jesus sealed the Covenant God made with humanity; and humanity, in Christ, consummated the covenant, fulfilled the prophecies, and set free all who accepted the Gospel Message: God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might … have eternal life. For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3: 16-17). 

 The Resurrection was and still is hard for many to accept, among these are also those who call themselves Christian!  The condemnation and death sentence of Jesus inflicted a mortal wound on the hearts of His followers, as well as on those who still seek to understand and believe today. Their hearts and minds cannot as yet make the ’quantum leap’ of faith into the certitude of the ways of God. Jesus sought to prepare the disciples for this momentous experience, and they still doubted. The material world, the ’here and now’, becomes the only security and ’certitude’ some know; it is a world so obviously frail and prone to ruin either through natural causes or self destruction. The death of Jesus is a fact for some with seemingly no hope, no way out; these persons admire, revere and love Jesus, but they remain standing before the stone that seals the tomb and cannot go beyond the coldness of death.  Their minds cannot understand, so their hearts refuse to believe, thus their lives wander through life without real direction and hope.  How sad! 

 Suffering and pain are real!  They cannot be rationalized away.  We experience them often in life. Consider what the greater part of the world is experiencing with the present pandemic, and the millions of lives in one way or another affected, and the thousands who have died as a result of the virus. The virus arouses a sense of uncertainty and fear in many. There are also those suffer from other infirmities, who live in constant pain and continual suffering, whether spiritual, physical, psychological.  Unless faith takes over and hope is kindled within their hearts, the love of God that conquers all things is the deepest desire of their heart but the furthest sensation they feel.  Serenity and inner peace become just pious words and deep desires.  They may hear words of encouragement, but they are overwhelmed by their own broken body and tired spirit. Even our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi went through moments like this, but he could pray Blessed are You Lord my God. His feet were well-planted in the realities of life and his own physical and spiritual burdens, but his heart was one with His Lord alive and well.   The human condition is common to all the children of God, saint and sinner alike.  How we deal with the circumstances of life, how we allow the Paschal Mystery to affect our life, will determine the ’way’ we will follow.

 The Passion and Death of Jesus speaks to us of the extravagant and limitless love of God for all humanity. The Resurrection of Jesus gives meaning and encouragement to life. The Eucharist is the Real Presence of the Glorified and Risen Lord Who journeys with us at every moment. It re-presents the whole Paschal Mystery and offers us the opportunity to be with the Risen Lord, Whose Sacrifice we enter, celebrate, and with Whom we seek to become one in Holy Communion.  The presence of Jesus transforms lives. His bodily presence on earth centuries ago gave Him the opportunity to raise people from the dead, to heal the sick, to give hope to the downtrodden and outcast, to reassure the marginalized, to care for the various needs of those whom He encountered.  His sacramental presence raises and heals souls dead and/or weak through sin, speaks to the depths of the heart of those who listen for/to Him in the silence of their hearts, and strengthens us with the grace of His Body and Blood to accept the demands of life. Faith in the living Lord helps us to realize we are not alone, but live and move and have our being with the Giver of all good gifts Who walks and works with and within us. His ’Presence’ is truly ’Real’.  His is a ’tangible presence’ that makes Himself felt according to our willingness to see with the eyes of the heart and not the head alone.  The living presence of the Lord in the Eucharist urges us to see and believe as John and Peter, to touch and acknowledge as Thomas, to go and proclaim that Jesus is Lord as the disciples who had gathered on the Mount of Olives.

 Without the ’Way of the Cross’ we can never arrive at the Resurrection.  Until we open our eyes and our hearts to see the brilliance and power of Jesus and hear and listen to the depth of His words, there is no way for us to enter the marvelous and mysterious reality of Christ Who lives today with us.  Ultimately, if Christ is risen and lives today for me and with me, He is here in my personal life and in that of the whole world, just as He promised. How then can we hesitate to cooperate and collaborate with Christ who calls us to follow Him where we will see Him?   Follow Him to encounter Him in His word, in His Sacrament, and in His sisters and brothers who have seen the Lord on ’the way’. As we meet Jesus on the way in the Word, the Church and Her sacramental life, in our sisters and brothers, even more intensely in the poor, marginalized, alienated, and also especially our sisters and brothers in our Franciscan Family, may we be able to say with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way? Thus, filled with the Easter grace and joy of the One Who was dead and now lives, we can recount to others what has taken place on ’the way’ we traveled, and deepen our unity and love for all in the breaking of the bread. (cfr. Luke 24: 32-35) in the midst of present virus devastating the world with sickness and death, the Risen Jesus tells us don’t be afraid, believe. (Mark 5: 36),  I have conquered the world. (John 16: 33) I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14: 6)

 May the light of Christ’s Resurrection shine in us that we might have life, and have it in abundance. (John 10: 10) May the Risen Lord Jesus shower the whole world with an end to this global pandemic, gift eternal rest to those who have succumbed to the virus, health to those still affected by it, strength, protection and blessings on the medical personnel and caregivers, blessings of trust and serenity of faith and hope in God’s love on the families and all affected by this terrible sickness. May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and Health of the Sick, intercede for all Her children so much in need of Our Mother’s loving protection. And may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, who experienced severe infirmities in his own “converted” life, intercede for all of us, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.

 With a promise to kep all of you affectionately in my Easter Masses and Liturgies, I wish you and your dear ones a very Blessed Easter in the light of the Resurrection.  The darkness of the night we are experiencing , will eventually give way to the light of the dawn of the Son, Who rises to promise a new day for us all.  You cannot hold back the dawn!  John Dawd) Christ is our Dawn and New Light! (cfr. Luke 1:78, 2 Peter 1:19, and others)

 Christ is Risen!  He is truly risen!  Alleluia!

 Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

 

Monthly Meditation by Father Francis – March, 2020

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

March 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you peace!

In the his Letter to All the Faithful St. Francis of Assisi wrote: We ought indeed to confess all our sins to a priest and receive from him the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…Let us, moreover, ‘bring forth fruits worthy of penance’…Let those who have received the power of judging others, exercise judgment with mercy as they hope to obtain mercy from the Lord…We ought also to fast and abstain from vices and sins and from superfluity of food and drink, and to be Catholics…But all those who do not do penance and who do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but who give themselves to vice and sins and walk after evil concupiscence and bad desires and who do not observe what they have promised, corporally they serve  the world and its fleshly desires and cares and solicitudes for this life, but mentally they serve the devil deceived by him…they see not the light, our Lord Jesus Christ…Beware,…for its is sweet to the body to commit sin and bitter to serve God  because all vices and sins come forth and proceed from the heat of man…And all those who shall receive (these words) kindly and understand them…, if they persevere in them unto the end, may the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit bless them. Amen.

The better we are within ourselves, the better we are able to deal with what surrounds us.  We may not be able to change the situations (physical, moral, spiritual…) that afflict us, but when we are at peace within our hearts and souls, the forces around us cannot overcome us. There is an essential relationship between our minds and souls, and our bodies. The search for inner peace, calm, and serenity do not require us to go beyond the treasure of the patrimony of our Faith.  We have all been offered effective means to genuinely know and acknowledge ourselves, acquire true peace, and be transformed.   Jesus, the Church, the Church’s holy men and women down through the centuries have all indicated the way, method, and results that are far more effective and everlasting than the exotic expressions and systems that so many attach themselves to today. There are deeper, more effective, and lasting, results when we enter a Spirit-centered experience in Jesus, Who leads us to the Father.  We live and move and have our being (Acts 17: 28) in God alone.  All we are comes from and must be directed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.  We are destined to fail, even if we gain the whole world, when we deviate from this process.  Fulfillment is not a feeling but a way of being.  Only God and goodness in grace can lead us to this state of perfection.

Have we ever considered how much we can truly be changed by the power of grace working within those who trustingly and lovingly surrender themselves to the Eternal Source of Life and Love – God! What often obstructs the way is our inability to believe that God can love us beyond our frail and sinful habits.  God’s sentence over us is His mercy, and God’s vengeance is His love. We have heard the saying When God forgives, God forgets!  Our stumbling block to this marvelous reality is that we frequently willingly wallow in our weaknesses, even those forgiven sacramentally. We allow discouragement to enter our souls and to cloud our vision of God’s presence that forever welcomes us into His loving embrace.  God holds us tightly in His Love. We are the ones who wriggle ourselves out of that eternal grip and lose our way again and again.  But God is faithful.  The letter to the Hebrews states, He is the same yesterday, today and always. (Hebrews 13: 8)  God is forever God.  We are the ones who are fickle. In this Lenten Season, what are we doing to make this time spiritually fruitful, and our lives once again at one with our Loving God?

The words ‘At one with God’, express the effects of the saving act of Jesus – at-one-ment (atonement) with God. The atonement made for us is one that we must continue in our personal lives, until the end of time, making up in our bodies what is lacking in the passion of Christ. (Colossians 1: 24)  Christ’s Passion-Death-Resurrection redeemed all humanity.  It is up to each one of us to cooperate with that one great act of love.  Live Jesus!  This should be our motto and program.  To Live Jesus means never to deplete or lose the grace He acquired for us.

All of this necessitates trust and sincerity. We must trust in God’s love, mercy and providence. We must be sincere with God and ourselves about all that refers to us and our relationship with God, our sisters and brothers, and ourselves.  This entails a deep awareness of the state of our souls, an acknowledgment of personal responsibility for all our faults and sins, a sorrow for anything that keeps us away from a grace-filled life, an accountability for our transgressions of God’s love, a desire to be forgiven, and an active commitment to do all, with the help of God, to avoid what leads us into sin.

Nowadays, this procedure may seem difficult, because we are affected by a world that has lost the sense of sin. Everything has become relative.  Sin is no longer considered a personal disposition and act against the love of God.  Sin is now explained as a dysfunction of the psyche, not necessarily the soul. Sin is explained as the result of a psychological imbalance, an uncontrollable habit, a social-religious-economic and so on conditioning.

While these explanations may be a true diagnosis in some circumstances, we still must admit that most times it is plainly and simply SIN. We camouflage the word by calling it A “fault”, A “weakness”, An “attitude”, and the like, so that we do not have to accept the brunt of the reality nor our own responsibility and accountability for it.  But, sin is sin, as sin is sin!  To cure an illness one has to know and believe he/she is ill, otherwise no help is sought nor is anything done to recover and get better. Unfortunately, all too often, people either become scrupulous with their lives and see sin everywhere, or they become indifferent and accustomed to questionable or sinful practices and justify everything.  Both attitudes are blasphemous: one makes God a tyrant ready to condemn even the most natural of acts created by God Himself; the other makes God a fool who can be manipulated anytime for any convenient reason!

The Lenten Season offers us opportunities to grow in prayer and reflection, to be of service to one another, and to work at ridding ourselves of what keeps us from growing in grace.  There is a practice we Catholics were accustomed to accomplish regularly, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly. We are encouraged and expected to clarify our vision, set our site, and strengthen our souls for the Lenten journey of Repentance, Renewal, and Reconciliation. A successful accomplishment of  this three-step program requires a daily examination of conscience – preferably before retiring at night, and possibly briefly in the course of the day – regarding our faithfulness to all we profess as Catholic Christians, and a regularity in the personal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through Confession and Penance.  The original title of the followers of St. Francis of Assisi was the Penitents of Assisi. We as his spiritual children acknowledge an ongoing conversion process our entire lives.

This ongoing process follows a definite format: examination of conscience, sincere confession of faults and sins, acceptance and execution of the remedy (penance) prescribed.  This leads to our reconciliation and “at-one-ment” with God.

In Lent we enter a more intense spiritual experience of growth and healing through our immersion into the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus. In His wounds and through His death we are healed and brought to a wholeness of life.  We journey with our fellow Christians through this holy season. We encourage and support one another to enter the mystery of the Cross and to die to ourselves. It can be a painful process.  No pain, no gain!  We have to risk being honest with ourselves so that we can be transparent before God.  Why not?! He already knows us before we know ourselves. Be honest with God! This honesty leads to transparency of soul that ultimately permits God’s grace to envelop our lives and transform us.

Even hidden situations and circumstances that control people, often conditioning them to choose the road of least resistance that leads to brokenness and sin, begin to find resolution in the transparency of truth with God and ourselves. How many people suffer from hidden weights that overburden them: abuse issues; dependencies such as drugs, alcohol, sex; phobias and manias, just to mention a few?  They might be hidden to others but never to those who bear them.  These spiritual and moral marks in a personality and character are reminders of the vulnerability and mortality of human nature.  These hidden stigmas cause pain to the one who is overcome by the inability to control what is controlling him/her. These sisters and brothers are spiritual victims who cry out for strength, courage, and trust to overcome what is overwhelming them. The answer to their plea is found through trust and prayer, and the assistance of qualified persons of faith – both religious and medical – if needed.  These moments can be converted into occasions of growth in virtue and grace, as they are spiritually strengthened – as are we – for their daily battles with the world, the flesh, and Satan.  No fear when God is near!  In Him we are victors!

How could anyone not be transformed by the experience of grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation! The Confessional and Sacrament is transformed into a grace-filled encounter where the guilty are absolved and released, totally free to resume with dignity their place among the children of God.  Every sincere celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation introduces us to the Tribunal of Mercy, where the penitent offers the deposition of his/her own miseries and crimes, hears the direct judgment of a compassionate brother, and receives the liberating Sentence of Divine Love. It baffles the soul why so many Catholics keep away from this wonderful Sacrament, or just ‘go to it’ rarely.  Do we, as Spiritual Children of the Penitent of Assisi understand the awesomeness of this Sacrament and appreciate the fact that we can celebrate this act of God’s love frequently? Yes, just like the Loving Father and the Prodigal Son, we celebrate our return home.  It is always a joyful happening when we are embraced by the Father and reinstated with dignity (robe), freedom (sandals), and authority (ring) into the Father’s Family.  This is what every Sacrament of Reconciliation, worthily celebrated, does.

This Lent, let us make every effort to rid ourselves of all that hinders our advancement on our journey to holiness.  We must not let our temptations and even our sins discourage us.  An attainable and effective Lenten program of ongoing conversion could be the following: Valiantly fight temptations with strong souls, and fight along with the Supreme Chief.  When you fall, do not stay there prostrated in body and spirit. Humble yourself greatly, but without being discouraged.  Lower yourself without degrading yourself.  Wash your imperfections and falls with sincere tears of contrition, without lacking trust in divine Goodness, which will always be greater than your ingratitude. Propose to make amends without being presumptuous, but your strength must be in God alone.  Finally, confess sincerely that if God were not your breast-plate and shield, you would be imprudently pierced with every kind of sin.  And it is for this reason that you must always keep yourself in the grace of God with perseverance in carrying out your spiritual exercises, and let this be your principal concern…always have courage…run to the foot of the cross…and you will undoubtedly be comforted and invigorated. These words, offered by a son of St. Francis of the twentieth century, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, encourage us to trust in Divine Mercy that redeems us as It washes us from our sins and failings in the Blood of Christ.

May God bless you; Our Heavenly Mother guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look on each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.  May this Lent bring us all closer to Jesus in Whose Passion-Death-Resurrection our life is worth living at every moment and through every experience.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

 

January 2020 Meditation by Father Francis

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

February 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!

Our Seraphic Father had left an indelible mark on most of Christian Europe before his death. Some in Assisi may have still remembered the excitement caused between Francis and his Father Pietro when Francis decided to return everything to him in the public square of Assisi before his father, the bishop of Assisi, and all the townspeople. He gave his father even the clothes on his back and from then would call only God my Father.  The people remembered the gossip – perhaps they had even been participants in it – when the wealthy Bernard, the farmer Giles, the priest Peter, and the other first followers sought to follow the ’beggar-son’ of the wealthy merchant. After all the initial criticisms, cautious doubts, interested questioning, and patient observation to see ’how it would all work out’, the people of Assisi were proud of Francis, The Universal Brother.

God Himself had set His Seal of approval on Francis two years before he passed to eternity, imprinting on his body the five wounds of the Passion of our Savior. Before his death, thousands had accepted to follow the Gospel lifestyle he proposed.  His Lesser Brothers had reached the far corners of Europe, arriving at the Middle East and North Africa, joyfully proclaiming the time of fulfillment and the kingdom of God in our midst in Jesus Christ.  Francis had set in motion a tsunami of Gospel Life that did not devastate but ennobled those it engulfed. The waves of consecrated Brothers and Laity seeking the Poverello as their guide in this evangelical endeavor, gave witness to the excitement and beauty of lives dedicated to the Lord and His people in the Name of Jesus.  Is it any wonder that our Holy Mother St. Clare would be captivated and enamored by this ’Herald of the Great King’, the messenger of God’s Peace and Blessings to all who heard and received the message!? Is it any wonder a young, spiritual, and enthusiastic girl would want to be part of something so exciting?! She would be the “other side” of the “Franciscan Coin”, the complement to the charism lived by the Lesser Brothers, for women living the consecration of the vowed Gospel life in obedience, with nothing of their own, and in chastity.

 

The story of a soul is the story of a call, a response, and a commission.  Most people think of ’vocation’ as pertaining solely to service in the Church, usually as consecrated religious and/or priests.  While this traditionally is how most people view the word ’vocation’, truthfully, it pertains to everyone.  We are all called by God to hear, listen, respond and fulfill God’s Will.  God speaks to us in varied ways.  The first official words of Jesus to the crowds was: This is the time of fulfillment (God has kept the pledge He offered the world centuries before); The kingdom of God is at hand (His presence is now among all creation in His Incarnate Word made flesh, Jesus); Repent and believe the Good News (Listen to, reflect on, and live what you have come to know of what God wants for you).  All who became our sisters and brothers in the Seraphic Family of the Gospel Life heard a call to repentance and conversion and were/are assisted in understanding and courageously responding to it by the example and words of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi.

 

There comes a moment when all of us must decide whom we will follow and serve. Though we may not be “great sinners” in the common understanding of the words, we are still all called to Remember You are Dust and to Dust You will Return so that we encouraged to Repent and Believe the Gospel. The call to repentance and conversion is necessary in the life of everyone.

 

Repentance is a positive experience.  Most think that ’repentance’ involves the return of a sinner to grace; that is part of it.  But, ’repentance’ also involves the awareness a ’saint’ has that he/she must always progress in the will of God. Understanding repentance in this way, we can easily see how all our ancestors in the Franciscan Family (I,II,III Regular and Secular … and possibly even our “IV Order” affiliates) were and are attracted to the ’Penitents of Assisi’.

 

St. Francis stated When I was in sin in his Testament, and continues to speak of his vocation and that of those who sought to follow their call with him.  St. Clare speaks of the vanities of the world from which she and the Poor Ladies of San Damiano were called.  St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi and all our sisters and brothers in the Franciscan Fraternity were/are called to a life of detachment from whatever may impede ’taking flight’ into the arms of our loving God. Our lives are simple yet penetrating examples of the effective and fulfilling power of a life lived in-with-for-through Jesus. This is how we best lead others to take up the challenge of the Gospel Life. Some have a conversion journey from bad to good. Then for all we go from good to better, until we achieve the “best” we can be before time becomes eternity.

 

We are on the road that leads to Life. Whether we believe we must go from bad to good (as the sinful woman in the Gospels), or from good to better (as the young man in the Gospels seeking ’to be good’), we must listen to and accept the call to repentance. In both cases the process involves:

 

–   Discovering something wonderful about ourselves: We are God’s beloved children. We are redeemed in the Blood of Jesus in-with-through Whom we seek forgiveness of sin and a life lived in harmony with God’s grace.

 

–   Recognizing the spiritual and natural talents specifically ours which God has entrusted to us to be used well and with which to grow in age, wisdom, and grace before God and all people.

 

–   Acquiring new vision to see beyond the limits that convenience, comfort, complacency often place before our eyes conditioning us to ’stay put’ rather than courageously and trustingly forge forward where God leads us.

 

–   Taking a new direction, especially if it means having to make a one hundred eighty degree turn in values, principles, desires, character traits that lack propriety though not sinful, spiritual practices that lack heart and are only pious actions without substance, and so forth.

 

–   Setting more worthwhile goals, since Christians are never satisfied with the ’ordinary’. We know we are called to be light and salt in the world. We sincerely strive to achieve those goals that lead to a fuller grace-filled life that affects not only our relationship with God but with ourselves and others in all we do.

 

–   Ultimately, in living a more committed Gospel Life, with our feet well grounded in life and its responsibilities and our hearts awaiting life’s fulfillment with God in the heavens.  We live rejoicing as not rejoicing, buying as not owning, using the world as not using it fully (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31).

 

The road to conversion through repentance is always exciting and leads to joy.  Aspects of the journey may be difficult and even painful. Nevertheless, confident in the hope of acquiring the end result for those who persevere, we the ’Penitents of Assisi’ are urged to continue.  Let us never forget that the Christian life is a continuous process of conversion. The repentant person who is transformed by grace rather than conformed to the age in which he/she is called to be a pilgrim and stranger, is transformed (con-verted) and thus, called to discipleship. A response to repentance leads to conversion as it invites us to discipleship that we in turn might be sent as apostles to call others in the Lord’s name to repentance-conversion-commission.

 

Jesus had more difficulties with the ’saints’ of His day, than with the ’sinners’.  The sinners needed and wanted someone who would see, hear, understand and forgive them.  The ’saints’ forgot the adage: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Thinking themselves secure on the correct road and in the favor of God for fulfilling all the ’laws’, they forgot that stopping on the climb to holiness means sliding down to levels that make the re-climb more difficult.

 

What were the problems then with those who held back from accepting the call to repentance-conversion?  They are the same today as then and anytime. More than dealing with a sinful life, they deal with an ’un-fulfilled’ life.  This sense of ’un-fulfillment’ often stems from our own faulty human nature and sinfulness. The ’call’ urges us to go forward even beyond the limits that fear, complacency, indifference, and so on, have created in our lives. They are false securities and spiritual illusions that masquerade as the tranquility of God’s pleasure with us for having satisfied all required to do to be ’holy’ and live in God’s Presence. Spiritual lethargy stifles any desire to move forward or even to consider the need to ’go beyond’.

 

God never abuses the gift of our freedom.  The invitation to intimacy with God here and for eternity begins with an acknowledgment of our need and deep desire to be what we could and should be.

 

–   ’Could’ because God never expects the impossible from us unless He is willing to offer us all that we need to achieve what He has planted in our hearts.  It can be done!

 

–   ’Should’, because whatever God asks is really an offer we would be foolish to refuse. If God asks, Who knows us better than we ourselves, how can any reasonable person refuse what ultimately will lead to the greatest fulfillment of his/her life?

 

Recognizing our unworthiness of such a ’divine’ gift, for which we have determined to live and work, other signs manifest themselves more strongly:

 

– a dissatisfaction with oneself …  Our hearts can find no rest until they rest in God.  This profound  yearning – for something better – can be found in all people, even those who as yet do not understand the working of God and His Spirit;

 

– a longing for something better … Complacency leads to spiritual sloth and keeps us from seeing an attainable goal that goes beyond the limits we set in our lives;

 

– a sense that something is awry, something is missing … Love desires and demands to be one with the beloved.  Until we know that we are one with God Who loves and calls us, we feel an emptiness or an incompleteness.

 

The whole process is really not as long-drawn-out or difficult as it can seem.  It is not a ’heady’ problem to solve, but a ’hearty’ relationship to strengthen.  Once we open our hearts and lives to God and His Loving Will, all we have to do is surrender and ’enjoy the ride’ even when it gets rough and demanding.  It is something like a spiritual roller coaster ride. God takes us on an ’exciting ride’ when we place ourselves totally and trustingly in His hands. Let go and let God.  To make it all happen be open, honest, humble, and courageous.

 

Courage is definitely necessary.  The word itself means to let the heart take over (cor’heart … age’do, act); when heart speaks to Heart, or Heart speaks to heart, how can we do anything but let go!  Our courage demands an end to self-deception, a confrontation with the sad realties of our lives, admission of guilt for those areas we have conveniently tried to ’cover up’ in our hearts, a sincere request for forgiveness, and a firm resolve to change, that leads to conversion through repentance to transformation in God’s grace.

 

Lent begins at the end of this month. Hopefully we can celebrate this holy Season of Penance as a joy-filled time of repentance-renewal-rebirth in the Spirit.  The Lenten road may have its pains and sacrifices. As we advance on the journey, we strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, Christ, the Church, all Humanity, and even all Creation.  Having responded wholeheartedly, we are now ready to accept the ’commission’ to be ’Apostles of God’s Love, Mercy, Providence’.

 

As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare, we prepare to enter a yearly experience that is never the same each year, and that has eternal effects. Our Father Francis and Mother Clare responded to the invitation to follow in the footsteps of the Savior, poor and humble. Jesus emptied Himself, though He is God, that we, through His poverty, could, poor in this world’s goods, be enriched by grace for eternal Life. What more could we ask?  Why do we hesitate to give our all?   With the example of the courage and total response of our heavenly patrons and parents to urge us on, let us, Penitents of Assisi, enter the Lenten journey with joyful hearts and ready wills.

 

May God bless you; may Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare, together with all the Holy Ones of our Seraphic Family of Penitents of Assisi, assist us on our Lenten journey from Ashes to Palms, From Calvary to the Empty Tomb and onto the Mount of Olives where the commission is given for us to be a living Gospel to others.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A, Sariego, OFM Cap

Regional Spiritual Assistant

Monthly Meditation – January 2020 – Father 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

January 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

In this New Year of Grace

May the heavenly Child look benevolently on your soul.

May the light that flooded the minds of the devout shepherds at Bethlehem

enlighten your mind and heart.

Unless we listen to what we hear or read, words are just air vibrating and making meaningless sounds, or hollow signs and symbols. We hear the Word proclaimed at Mass; we may even have selected specific Scripture passages for some occurrence. However, reading all of Scripture meditatively – this is the key word – in a systematic manner offers the attentive reader a deeper insight into the history of salvation. Reading meditatively God’s Word offers answers to some of the basic questions in life: Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is life all about?  Why sickness, violence, death?  Why is evil so prevalent if everything comes from the hands of an all-loving God? And many more questions that leave the non-believer perplexed.

Agnostics and Atheists (if there are any real and true atheists!) need to downplay or deny God, or discredit religious belief systems to quiet their own searching hearts.  Our hearts can find no rest until they rest in You, was St. Augustine’s Prayer.  How true that is for us all! … whoever and wherever God is, He remains the Mystery, for those who do not seek Him, and the Eternal Contemporary, for those recognizing His presence in all creation. The history, counsels, prayers, prophecies, of the People of Israel and the Early Church that we find in Sacred Scripture is our story.  We are the People of God who see themselves in the anticipation of a Savior, in our encounter with Him in time, as we forge ahead in faith, hoping to fulfill the purpose for our creation, that we may receive the gift of Life in full.

The drama of our redemption begins in the Book of Genesis and finds its fulfillment in the Book of Revelation. As chief characters in the drama of humanity’s redemption, Scripture speaks to us of God’s call to life and intimacy with Him, of humanity’s disobedient fall through pride because you will be like gods (Genesis 3:5), of humanity’s recall down the centuries through prophetic people who spoke in God’s Name, and of humanity’s redemption in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the One-Who-Is-To-Come Who is the Eternal Contemporary always with us – Emmanuel.  The writings of the New Covenant (New Testament),  through the teachings of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation,  guide us to live gratefully in this world, as pilgrims and strangers (Hebrews 11:13), until we reach the gift of Life pledged us when we entered our Covenant relationship with the Father, in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. God’s Word helps us to reread our faith history from the perspective of God and eternity, rather than from our limited perspective of time alone. Throughout the inspired Word we seek to re-confirm the Covenant Love established with God in our Baptism, that we re-confirm each day as we enter trustingly and unconditionally into the Father’s Will.  We are called to stir into flame the gift God has given you (2 Timothy 1: 6) so that the excitement of being a people peculiarly His own (1 Peter 2:9) may never wane. Thus, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

God’s Word nourishes and nurtures all who receive It in truth and trust. The Word of God gives joy to His People. As long as God speaks with His People, His beloved children redeemed in the Blood of Christ, He is still “in touch” with them. Scripture reminds us of God’s relentless and extravagant love for those who so often do not respond lovingly. After their return from the Babylonian exile, the People of Israel wept for joy when they heard The First Five Books of Scripture –

‘The Torah’, ‘The Law’- read to them. Scripture says that the people stood the good part of a day listening with joy to what for many years they had been deprived (cfr. Nehemiah 9).  That word was a constant reminder of God’s Loving Covenant with them and they, accepting to listen to the Word, reconfirmed their Covenant with God (cfr. Nehemiah 9).  Through good times and bad their hearts were joyful. His Word was His presence. His Word was the sign that God had not abandoned them.  Even the most ‘tragic’ stories and prophecies of Scripture always end with hope in a God Who can never be vanquished.  We are reminded of our God Whose Word will not return to Him until it has fulfilled the purpose for its being sent. (Isaiah 55:11) All the Old Testament, read in the ‘Key of Christ’ prepares us to encounter God, the Almighty One, with whom we become victors with the Victor over sin and death, Jesus the Lord, the Word enfleshed in time that we might be ‘re-created’ by grace in His eternity.

The first day of the New Year celebrates the Motherhood of Mary and the Name of Jesus.  Mary, the highest honor of our race (Judith 15:9), looks down to heaven in Her arms.  The Infant in Her arms that She sees and loves is the fulfillment of Her People’s prayers and hopes.  She says His name JESUSGod is salvation, with a love only a mother can express.  All of Scripture is fulfilled in this Infant (cfr. Luke 1:26-35).  Mary saw and loved what St. John the Evangelist wrote of Him decades later: He was in the world … but the world did not know Him … to those who did accept Him He gave the power to become the children of God … The Word became flesh and dwelled among us … from His fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace … (1 John 1: 10-16) Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the living Covenant the Father makes with all creation. In His Name and redeeming Life-Death-Resurrection we enter into our Covenant with God through the Blood of the Lamb. (cfr. Revelation 7:14-17; 12:11)

Just as in the time of Jesus, our world is filled with so much that disturbs and distresses us: war, violence, natural disasters, social-economic-political-religious unrest, sickness and disease … Death!  But, if we take time to evaluate the times in which we live, there is so much good that is happening as well: people who believe in peace and strive to live it as a witness for others; women and men who come to the aid of their less fortunate sisters and brothers often at the cost of their own time-talents-personal treasures; young people who seek and truly desire a better world and are willing to work for it at the price of their own comfort and convenience; religious leaders who have stopped anathematizing each other because of differences but are searching for better ways to appreciate the goodness God instills in each; progress being made in curing debilitating and terminal diseases; love that brings young men and women to believe in the future in marriage; infants born as a trust in the value of tomorrow; and so much more!  What about the wonderful moments that happen to each one of us personally.

The God of prophecy is a God Who sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)  All this should encourage our hearts to peace and joy, even in the midst of the challenges and outright disasters of life.  Inner peace and inner joy, fruits of loving hearts who trustingly surrender to God, give us the harmony and balance for which we yearn in such a cacophonous and unstable world.  God’s inspired Word teaches us through the written experiences of our ancestors in the faith. The reassuring message that keeps recurring at all the momentous times of our journey of faith through the millennia is: Do not be afraid! It is I! (John 6: 20)

We are called to be cheerful, to be at peace and to let God do as He pleases.  Most of the things we fear and worry about often never come to pass. Remember that rather amusing statement that says: What do you mean worry does not help!  Everything I worried about never happened!  Worry only destroys inner peace and clouds the vision of our hearts. Often we worry about matters over which we have no control or certain knowledge. We compromise our inner peace and serenity in useless fretting.  Be concerned and alert, Yes!  But worry is belief that failure is inevitable. This leads to discouragement, which is one of satan’s best tools.  Even the saints experienced sadness, pain, confusion, even fear. They too sought their ‘Simons of Cyrene’ to help them bear the ‘cross of unknowing’ by opening their heart to them. Nevertheless, ultimately, they surrendered to the love and mercy of God, trusting in His divine providence, and accepted everything. Everything was part of God’s plan they were called to fulfill; they surrendered and accepted this with joy and thanksgiving.

We get so taken up with the past and the future that we fail to graciously accept the ‘gift’, the ‘present’, God gives us to live in the Real Presence of His Eucharist that nourishes and His Word that nurtures and guides.  It is now, in the present, today, that the future opens up for each one of us.  We learn from the successes and failures of the past. We confidently look forward to a future in God’s loving-care. We live our present with simplicity and trust. We know that we can be effective instruments in God’s plan capable of changing the world. We must dispel fear and learn to trust. We must trust in God, trust in others God has placed with us, trust ourselves endowed by God with gifts of time to work, talents to use, and the treasure of life and love.

 At His birth, Magi came from the east (Matthew 2:1-12). Their search for the Word made flesh is the search of everyone for the unseen God.  When they opened the eyes of their heart and saw God in an Infant, Heaven in a stable, Dignity in lowliness, Wisdom in external absurdity, Power in impotence, Providence in need, Love in rejection … then, and only then, could they, and we as well with them, acknowledge the wondrous exchange between eternity and time, the Creator and the creature: The Invisible becomes visible … The eternal enters time and is subject to it … the Almighty becomes fragile … The Unknowable is seen … The Spirit becomes a body to love and nurture, hands to caress, and a heart beating at one with His creation. Accept the mystery, acknowledge the miracle, and marvel at the wonder of God’s extravagant love in Jesus.

Mary’s role in all this should open our hearts in such a love for Her that throughout this new year we should each day say, with Pope St. John Paul II: Totus Tuus – All Yours!   All Yours, Mother!  All Yours, Jesus through our Mother! Yes! God’s Mother and ours too!  How could we be otherwise than All Hers? God is goodness, Mary is the Mother of goodness; God is Mercy, Mary is the Mother of Mercy; God is Grace Itself, Mary is the Mother of Grace and Mediatrix of all graces; God is Life, Mary is the Mother of Life; God is our Hope, Mary is the Mother of Hope.

As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father, let us live this new year in the peace and joy of those who know God is with us.  Let God’s Word be our guide and His Eucharist, the Incarnate Word in Sacrament, be our viaticum through life. Open to God’s Incarnate Word and His life-giving words let us be open to one another in a bond of love and truth that strengthens the unity of our Franciscan Fraternity. As we live in the Word and seek to live His words, may we witness a hope that the world seeks.

 

Some people wait for Friday to ‘get off the merry-go-round’ of their work-week. Others look forward to Mondays filled with new opportunities and challenges that help them discover the talents and strengths God gives to meet the ‘gifts’ of a new week.  May we all look forward to a New Year of Grace, in which God offers us the occasion to ‘unwrap’ the wonderful gifts He entrusts to us that we might grow in grace and be His instruments of Peace and Blessings to all throughout the year and throughout our lives. Having begun the New Year with Mary and in Jesus’ Name, let us let our Mother’s example of silent trust and anticipation of the ‘unraveling’ of God’s will, and the Most Holy Name of Jesus, before Whom heaven, and earth, and those under the earth bend the knee (Philippians 2:10), be our standard and strong support. In His Name is the Father’s Love and the Spirit’s power. In His Name we find peace. He Is Peace and Salvation!

 

As can be seen on some Church signs: No Christ, No Peace!  KNOW CHRIST, KNOW PEACE!  Let us know the Peace of Christ in our hearts, homes, and the world around us.  JESUS, OUR PEACE, DOES NOT DISAPPOINT ANYONE WHO PLACES THEIR TRUST IN HIM.  LORD, THIS YEAR AND ALWAYS, WE PLACE OUR TRUST IN YOU! May the Peace, Joy, Blessings … and Love of this Season fill your hearts and those of your loved ones.

My prayers are with all of you and your loved ones for a most blessed and peace-filled New Year 2020.  May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, watch over each one of us, his Spiritual Children, with loving care.  HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

Monthly Meditation December 2019 by Father 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      email: pppgusa@gmail.com

December 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

At the beginning of the Liturgical Year for the First Sunday of Advent, the Church prays in the Liturgy of the Hours: Proclaim the good news among the nations: our God will come to save us … Come let us worship the Lord, the King Who is to come. The season is filled with expressions of joyful expectation. The whole world waits for an imminent arrival of one who is to fulfill the hopes and desires of all people.

Advent truly places us into that ’heart-set’ of anticipation that brings an inner joy to all who allow themselves to ’live’ the liturgy they celebrate each Sunday, and even weekdays for those who make the effort. Christmas and what follows throughout the Liturgical Year offer us the opportunity to enter the mystery of Christ among us. We listen, as the first disciples, to learn, and then we are sent, as the first apostles, to proclaim.  Learning and proclaiming, reflecting and sharing, entering and inviting … the first experience is for ’me’ and the result blossoms into an overflow of graces and gifts for others to share them as I have come to receive them.  They, in turn, learn-reflect-enter so that they also might proclaim-share-invite.  The journey, the ’process’, begins with the Advent-Christmas Season. We wait for the Master so that we might once again walk in His footsteps and experience the power of His love.  Jesus is the ’Great Expected One’ Who is forever the ’Real Presence’ among us.

The liturgical seasons help to enhance our spiritual and intellectual journey through life.  We deepen our faith and relationship with God as we enrich our knowledge of all He has revealed to us. The seasonal celebrations help us to focus on the mysteries of our Faith. Nevertheless, with all this, there is no need to wait for seasons and days to be with the Lord-Among-Us (Emmanuel).  The Eucharistic Presence – the Real Presence, the Presence of the Prisoner of the Tabernacle – offers us all we could ever desire. The Eucharist is our pledge of future glory.  We become one with Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts and lives feel His love in the mystery of the Faith that believes and the Hope that anticipates with certitude, until we see Him face to face in the fullness of His Love and Glory.  The King Who is to come already lives among us and within us!  Give Him the little you have and are. Surrender to His transforming love that never offends our freedom. Let His loving-grace perform the transforming miracle that makes us more and more like Him.  All this in-with-through the Eucharist!  All we have to do is take the time to be with Him!

The Eucharist is a mystery and a miracle. Through the power of the Holy Spirit created ’things’ are transformed into the reality of the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ. Jesus is ’enfleshed’ in our nature each time the Eucharist is celebrated and the words of Consecration are pronounced.  Participating in the Eucharist we accept and follow the example of our Mother Mary, to Whom we were given as children, and She to us as Mother, at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.  The ’yes’ with which She responded to the Angel Gabriel in accepting the Father’s Will to allow the Incarnation to happen, is the same ’yes’ we offer at each Mass.  Our ’yes’ allows an ’incarnation’ to take place that cannot be seen with the eyes of the body, but whose effects are made visible in those who live the Jesus they celebrate and receive. Through the hands of the priest we offer ourselves with the bread and wine.  We are spiritually ’consecrated’ in the One Who is the Eucharist and Who lives with us, and abides within us.

The town of Bethlehem we ’reconstruct’ with our creches, represent on our Christmas Cards, indicate as the birthplace of the Son of God, is a constant reminder of Jesus the Christ our True Eucharist.  The name of the town means ’House of Bread’. In this ’house’ the world was given the ’Bread of Life’. Each Tabernacle and the heart of each one who receives Him worthily are a Bethlehem where The Bread of Life dwells, nourishing us for life’s journey.

Our Seraphic Father writes in his Testament: I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood … I want to have these most holy mysteries honored and venerated above all things and I want to reserve them in precious places. The life of Saint Francis of Assisi, because he lived the Gospel ’without gloss’, was a life lived immersed in the reality of the presence of Jesus.  Thus, the Real Presence of the Sacramental Lord in the Eucharist was his strength and life.  The mystery of the Savior, Son of the Most High God, Who became one with humanity in time at Bethlehem and for all time in the Eucharist was a mystery St. Francis sought to live and proclaim throughout his life.  Greccio was but a visible sign of the deep love for the mystery of the Incarnation repeated mystically at each Eucharist.  The Christ he loved so much was the Christ Whose living image he became for all to see on Mount La Verna.

The night of Greccio was lighted with candles, embellished with hymns, studded with people from all walks of life who followed the Poverello to ’see’ the poverty of the One Who emptied Himself of His divinity that He might redeem our humanity and rekindle a world grown indifferent to His love.  He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.  But to those who did receive Him, He gave power to become the children of God ... (John 1:11-12) Those who experienced the wonderful simplicity and childlike representation of Bethlehem’s ’welcome’ into our world, were filled with emotions that made that night so memorable, that for centuries Christians of many religious denominations continue the practice St. Francis initiated at Greccio.   The historical Christ, the Bread of Angels and Bread of men, born in Bethlehem of Judah, born in ’the House of Bread’ centuries before, seemed to come alive in the arms of St. Francis as he re-confirmed the total emptying of himself together with all who accepted the challenge of the Gospel Life.  Greccio was but another expression of the Poverello’s response to the Cross of San Damiano.

The world seemed to stop that night.  Time was transported back twelve hundred years. Hearts were catapulted into thoughts of a loving God Who stopped at nothing to get our attention and to make us one with Him. The words St. Francis spoke and the Gospel he sang as Deacon at the Mass celebrated at Greccio came from a heart in love with God. That night, Love was contagious.  If only it could have remained that way forever!  To stay there would have been selfish. We must bring the joy we know and radiate it to others. With Mary, our Blessed Mother, Virgin Made Church, Francis offered his own ’yes’ that the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and the represented presence of the Incarnation-Birth of Jesus at Bethlehem in Greccio, would become ingrained in the hearts of all. Prayerfully praising the tremendous gift of the Eucharist, our Seraphic Father simply and magnificently offers a meditation on the wonderful exchange of the humanity and the divinity in Jesus, awesomely present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  The beauty of the prayer deserves to be read:

O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity!

That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself

that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread!

Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him!

Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him.

Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves

so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.

We can see how intimately the Eucharist we possess today and everyday helps us reflect on the wonderful mysteries we celebrate at the beginning of the Church Year.  We talk about proclaiming God Who comes to save us.  The Eucharist is the God Who is already among us with the saving power of that Great Sacrifice offered once-for-all that those who look upon the one whom they pierced may be saved.  We invite everyone saying, Come, Let us adore the King Who is to come. We adore Him hidden in the humility of the small Host and behind the closed doors of the Tabernacle. What our senses cannot perceive, our hearts know undoubtedly that …

His eyes see the depths of the soul,

His ears hear the yearnings of the heart,

His feet approach all who seek Him in truth,

His hands embrace the sincerely penitent and those in need,

His lips speak in the silence of our being,

His heart is open to welcome all into the Father’s loving embrace.

 

The simplicity of the Child of Bethlehem; the trusting faith of Mary and Joseph regarding all they were told about the Child; the poverty of the half-heartedly lent dwelling because there was no place for them at the inn; the confusion of the shepherds who had to go see this thing that has taken place that the Lord has made known to us; the probing curiosity of the Magi who said Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do Him homage; the intrigue of Herod who was greatly troubled at the news and with him all of Jerusalem; the heavenly joy of the angels who came to proclaim good news of great joy that will be for all people as they sang Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace … speak to us of the One Who was born to die so that we could be born to live forever.

His earthly life is repeated over the centuries at many times in various ways in the awesome ’Gift’ of the Eucharist.  The angels proclaim His glory and adore His Presence. And, humanity responds as did the people at Jesus’ time! … joy, indifference, confusion, even open animosity. The history of Bethlehem and the continued ’Presence’ in the Eucharist speak to each one of us. We cannot separate the Crib from the Cross.  The wood of the manger that embraced the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem was only a foreshadowing of the wood of the Cross that would lift Him up on Calvary.  Hidden Glory! … to be revealed to humble searching hearts in the mystery of the sacraments until the fullness of His Glory is revealed at the end of time. Only searching humble hearts find and recognize Him.

St. Francis loved the feast of Christmas.  The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem was a reality that St. Francis lived every moment of his grace-filled life. In the Eucharist he saw Jesus not born two thousand years ago, but vibrantly alive. He gazed upon the mystery of the Incarnation at each Eucharist.  The whole story of the Birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and the time that leads up to that moment, is an opportunity for us to follow the example of our Seraphic Father and enter into the song of creation once again as we become players in the great symphony of life that God has written.

As spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, have we allowed the precious Body and Blood of the Savior to flow through and take over every fiber of our being? Have we allowed the Lord to be ’enfleshed’ in our lives so that each Christmas we celebrate the Savior present and alive within and among us, and not just a memory of some past event in time? Do we say with Mary, Jesus’ Mother, and with Jesus, Your Will and not mine be done? Do we strive each day, as Franciscans, to grow into a fresh and vibrant presence of Jesus Who makes Himself seen and known through us? Do we recognize our own incompleteness, vulnerability, and susceptibility so that we can share, support and encourage one another? Are we as enthused about being Spiritual Children of the Poverello of Assisi and Sisters and Brothers in the Franciscan Family and all that entails (fidelity to the Gospel Life, Church, Rule, Constitutions, one in mind and heart with the Fraternity, and so forth), as children are when Christmas comes around? Do we see the gift that we are to each other when we allow the spirit of our Seraphic Father to lead us closer to Jesus and Mary?

With these questions that are a frequent, if not daily, reminder for us all, be assured that you and your loved ones will be remembered in a special way in all the Masses I celebrate during this holy season. May God bless you; Our Lady and Good St. Joseph guide, guard and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and she whom we can feel to be our “Mother” St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

In the Name of Jesus I wish all of you a Spirit-filled Advent and a Holy and Happy Christmas Season. And as you enter the new calendar year with all its expectations and uncertainties, may your hopes be fulfilled in a world renewed in Jesus and filled with His Spirit. A Child is born to us! A Savior is given to us! Come, let us adore Him! Fear not!  It is I!  I have conquered the world!

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

November Meditation – Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – November 2019

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 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you His peace!

Is it possible to live the Gospel to the letter, with all of its divine demands, crucifying renunciations, and blessed certitudes?  Yes! … but with a condition!  We must allow ourselves, as St. Francis of Assisi did, to be seduced by the love of Christ. We faithfully embrace, learn, and live this love more deeply when we love the Church as Mother, Teacher, and Queen of our life.  The Gospel is not a dream.  The Gospel is a reality that can transfigure not only the individual but also history itself.

There are billions more non-Christians than Christians who do not accept the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Word of God. Nonetheless, when the Gospel is lived, when Christ, through the Church Universal and the individual Christian, proclaims and is proclaimed to others, His Word begins to achieve its goal. My word will not return without having fulfilled the purpose for which It was sent.  These prophetic words should be an encouragement for us all to enter God’s will and be available to the prompting of His Holy Spirit.

Franciscanism is a life experience as understood and lived by those who accept the challenging example and words of St. Francis of Assisi.  At the center of this experience is the Humanity (never minimizing the essential reality of His Divinity) of Christ, Son of God, Messenger-Message and Bearer of the Father’s Love.  The Humanity of Christ reflects the face of the Father, and speaks to men and women in the language of God’s creatures.

Francis picked up on this wonderful insight and ran with it.  It was a love that filled every fiber of his being. The love for Christ in St. Francis of Assisi was contagious.  He sought the Father’s will through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and allowed the  ’overshadowing’ power of the Holy Spirit to lead him into living a more personal relationship with Jesus. He built this relationship on the Gospel.  He was concrete and passionate. St. Francis did not limit this conformity to Christ as something purely interior. He felt the need to conform himself in all things to Christ, even in the reality of his daily activities. Our Seraphic Father lived this ’spiritual tension’ from the beginning of his conversion.

God gave His ’seal of approval’ when St. Francis was signed with the wounds of the Passion of Jesus on La Verna. What was imprinted in his heart at San Damiano eventually was made visible and imprinted on his body for all to see at La Verna. Thus he became a living image of the Christ he so ardently desired to know, love, and serve wholeheartedly in his life. This is where we encounter the radical evangelical life that is so characteristic of St. Francis of Assisi.  He accepted the Gospel as his concrete form of life in all things, without gloss, in it purity and integrity.

The key words to consider are ’without gloss’. They have challenged the Family of St. Francis for centuries.  During the life of our Seraphic Father the friars experienced strong tensions in how they were to live the Rule.  History recalls two basic directions the ’Conventuals’ and the ’Spirituals’. Though the ’dialogue’ could have been rather heated at times and even quite ’physically expressive’, friars on both sides of the discussion were basically good men seeking to live a life in emulation, if not imitation, of our Seraphic Father.

In the Church there are various types of ’religious’ life offered those who seek to deepen their personal relationship with God within the Church. The ’within’ does not necessarily exclude contact and interaction with others ‘outside’ the Catholic Church ‘jurisdiction’.  On the contrary, even the solitary life of the Carthusian, hermit, or even the recluse, demands an openness in charity to all creation if it is to be complete and fully express the mandate: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Like our Seraphic Father, we are called to disarm our hearts to all. We are called and have accepted the Gospel command to love. Our ’outreach’ brings the effects of the evangelical life beyond the boundaries of the community even to those outside the Church, outside the faith, and even to adversaries of the faith.

Our Franciscan vocation is a way of life, not a ministry. You live in the world but not of the world. You are truly a light put on a lampstand but even more yeast that is kneaded into the dough of everyday life. The Secular Franciscan lives the same spirit of commitment as that of their vowed sisters and brothers.  In both cases, vows or promises, a good motto to remember is: ’You are as good as your word’.  The First, Second, Third Regular, and Secular Franciscan Orders, and we might even add in acknowledgement the ‘fourth order’ of those who are not professed but journey with us and participate and assist in our charism in many ways, attract to the Franciscan life by example.

When we allow complacency to rule our hearts and indifference to control us, our Franciscan life and ideals suffer and may even ’die’. When we fail or refuse to accept our call as a true vocation, or we consider our profession as a formal affiliation in some ’monthly prayer group’ we permit those attitudes to gnaw away at the beauty of what our Seraphic Father believed and fought for in all its original dignity.

We are called to faithfulness.  The question is to what are we called to be faithful?  Profession in the Franciscan Order introduces us to a whole ’lifestyle’ that is not limited to pious devotions, particular activities, personal particular interpretation of the Rule of Life and Constitutions.  Jesus and His Gospel are our ’devotion’, living the life of Christ is our ’activity’, and Christ speaking to us through the Church and the Order indicate and challenge us how to live our life in fraternity, secular or otherwise.

Our Franciscan charism, so beloved by God and the Church, is a powerful instrument in God’s loving plan for the edification and salvation of millions down through the centuries.  Our life is to LIVE THE GOSPEL … LIVE JESUS!

Christ among us is the Center of our lives; we are Eucharistic.  The Word made flesh is our life; we are a Gospel People bound in the Holy Spirit’s love to be a fraternity, a family of hearts and souls; we are an evangelical community. Mary is the Virgin Made Church our Queen and Mother loved and proposed by St. Francis to all the Order; we are Marian. The Church is our Mother and Teacher on earth with the Holy Father as Vicar of Christ and Successor to Peter who presides over the family of God redeemed in the Blood of Christ; we are totally Catholic as was our Seraphic Father who admonished all to be faithful to the Church.  This list could go on and on to remind us of our unity with the Church of Christ founded on the Apostles, and of our profession to be a Gospel People whose life envelopes all that makes us one with Christ and His Church.

We Franciscans are simple in our lives of minority and transparent in our desire to be detached from all that could possess us, particularly our own will. Without the Eucharist there is no Church, without the Church there is no Eucharist. We are the Church and through the ministerial priesthood we continue the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ of whom we are the essential ’body parts’. With Mary as the Mother of the Christ she is the Mother of the Christian and thus of the Church for whom we have a particular love and to whom we are particularly devoted.  The Gospel and Apostolic writings of the New Covenant tell us the story of Jesus, Mary and the first Christian community, teaching us through the Apostles’ writings all that makes us Christian. These facts and many others have always been professed and practiced ’without gloss’ by the followers of our Seraphic Father.  To be Franciscan is to be totally Catholic with all that entails.

We are children of the Poverello of Assisi.  While our manner of affiliation may differ from the canonical perspective, our hearts and souls are one. We are centered and rooted in the Gospel Life following Jesus in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. Let us strive to be “true to our word”, for we are as good as our word. Let us remember always that God is faithful in His Word, Jesus the Christ. He called us to hear, listen and respond. May our response always be “Yes”, as was that of our Heavenly Mother who believed the humanly impossible and gave birth to God-made-man in Jesus. Jesus Who calls us and then sends us to be a living Gospel in today’s world.  May we be faithful and strive to fulfill well what we have promised.

God bless us; Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 2019 Meditation by Father 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

October 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

For centuries, the Franciscan Family has praised the goodness of God for blessing the world with St. Francis of Assisi and for calling us to follow his example in living the Gospel life. The impact St. Francis continues to have on our world has continued for more than eight centuries.  Since the time of St. Francis himself, the I, II, III, and Secular Franciscan Orders strive to foster a spirit of peace and goodness, and universal brotherhood. The spiritual children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis and our holy Mother St. Clare have affected the universal Church, as well as societies and cultures in every corner of the world.  They have influenced governments and help transform the thoughts of multitudes over the years.  They have challenged people to open their hearts and minds to the world recognizing it as the theater of redemption, thus a place to love and in which to live the Gospel life that all things may be restored in Christ. There is an obvious question that arises, however, regarding St. Francis. One of his first followers, Brother Masseo, is recorded to have asked the question: Why after you? … Why does the whole world come after you?  It is an interesting and quite challenging question that certainly goes far beyond the expected response of a pious platitude.

Once Saint Francis was staying in the place of the Portiuncula with Brother Masseo of Marignano, a man of great holiness, discernment and grace in speaking of God, for which Saint Francis loved him very much. One day Saint Francis was returning from the woods and from prayer, and when he was at the edge of the woods, that same Brother Masseo, wanting to test how humble he was, went up to him and, as if joking, said, “Why after you, why after you, why after you?”  Saint Francis responded, “What do you mean?” Brother Masseo said, “I am saying why does the whole world come after you, and everyone seems to desire to see you and hear you? You are not a handsome man in body, you are not someone of great learning, you are not noble; so why does the whole world come after you?” (Little Flowers 10)

How might we have responded to such a situation if the question were asked of us?  It is an honest consideration posed by someone who gave up everything to follow St. Francis. And what about the multitudes that sought to follow Francis Bernardone either by living the Rule for friars, or by living a Rule for those in society who still wanted to be of Francis’ Family and Gospel life experience. Some undoubtedly would have been put off by the reason Bro. Masseo gave for asking the question had the reasons given concerned them.  When “ego” gets in the way we suffer from nearsightedness.  We see, hear, accept, and I dare say love, only ourselves, so that when others make us aware of our “deficiencies” or definite faults we either retreat or react.  The attributes (or lack thereof) that Brother Masseo presented were rather peripheral. Nonetheless, how would any of us like to have been told rather bluntly: “You are homely looking (aesthetically challenged), of an inadequate intellect (“academically limited”), and come from an insignificant level of society (“socially modest”)?  How might we have responded?  Masseo was thinking out loud.  He had seen, believed, and followed Francis.  Why?

At times, when people place their trust in another, there comes a moment when they want to know concretely what their heart tells them is true, good, and necessary for personal fulfillment concerning the other. Reassurance does not so much express a doubt as much as a desire to corroborate and reconfirm a decision made with firm conviction and total commitment. Brother Masseo loved and trusted St. Francis, but he wanted to hear the answer from St. Francis himself.  In the depths of his heart Brother Masseo knew God was with Francis.  He believed in the man he had chosen to follow in response to God’s call.  Life changing decisions, such as marriage, religious life, priesthood, becoming a Secular Franciscan, committing ourselves to any life that ultimately aims to transform a person from within as well as without, require prudence, trust, prayerful discernment, and courage to decide wholeheartedly.

Courage urges us to take the step, and fidelity assists us to experience the value and fruitfulness of the “yes” with which we surrender to the call.  A simple rule is “Live it and you will love it”. It is only in living our decision that we grow into loving it day-by-day.  The questions and explanations are valuable and valid, but ultimately when I believe God is in the midst of the call and my response, I must make the decision trustingly, regardless how others encourage or discourage me by their words or actions.  Remember, your vocation is yours, none other’s.  A community, fraternity, Order is made up of many individuals who have personally responded with the same affirmative reply and share a life of mutual support, encouragement, familial love.  It is a personal individual choice rooted in the conviction that expects and urges one to keep on moving forward, even if all others opt to change course.

The immediate response of St. Francis to Brother Masseo continues from the Little Flowers: Hearing this, Saint Francis was overjoyed in spirit and, turning his face to heaven, stood for a long time with his mind lifted up to God.  Then returning to himself, he knelt down and gave praise and thanks to God. (Little Flowers 10)

The key word is “immediate response”.  Francis, with all of his idiosyncrasies, was centered on God.  God was the focus, center, and source of all Francis desired to live and do in this life.  Even a response to his brother was not made until his attitude of prayer lifted him in spirit so that it was not I who live but Christ who lives in me, as St. Paul writes to the churches.  To paraphrase, ‘It was not Francis who responded, but Christ who responded in Francis’. We read in Scripture how Jesus, before He did anything of importance, would often spend the night in prayer.  Before performing a miracle Jesus would groan from the depths of his soul and gratefully acknowledge the Father’s willingness to hear His request. When we take time to enter that vertical relationship of prayer with/in God, every response we make, whether in words, actions, or both, lead us to enter the horizontal relationship with our sisters and brothers.  Thus humility.

Then with great fervor of spirit (St. Francis) returned to Brother Masseo and said, “Do you want to know why after me?  You want to know why after me? You want to know why the whole world comes after me? I have this from those eyes of the Most High God, which gaze in every place on the good and the guilty.  Since those most holy eyes have not seen among sinners anyone more vile, nor more incompetent, nor a greater sinner than me; to perform that marvelous work, which he intends to do, He has not found a more vile creature on the earth, and therefore He has chosen me to confound the nobility and the greatness and the strength and beauty and wisdom of the world, so that it may be known that every virtue and every good is from Him, and not from the creature, and no person may boast in His sight.  But whoever ‘boasts must boast in the Lord’, to whom is every honor and glory forever.  Brother Masseo was shocked at such a humble response, said with such fervor, and knew certainly that Saint Francis was truly grounded in humility. (Little Flowers 10)

 

Seeing himself before the awesome love and majesty of God, he recognizes his lowliness and the greatness of God, and thus can give Brother Masseo the answer he seeks.  Francis acknowledges how insignificant he is before the immensity of God, and it is for this reason that God can work through him. Filled with ourselves there is no room for God; the humble soul is empty of itself and offers God all the space God wills. There can be no pride in one who recognizes at every moment the sovereignty of God and himself as nothing more than the ‘Herald of the Great King’.

The herald proclaims the message of the other, not their own message.  The herald must be a subject of integrity who can be trusted to communicate the message of the one who sent him, and not his own personal issues and agendas. It is here that St. Francis explained in his response the prayer he so often would say, Who are You (Lord).  Who am I, repeating the words of St. Augustine centuries before: That I may know You (Lord), that I may know myself.  There is a powerful nuance here I think should be mentioned.  Many translate the words of Augustine to mean: ‘Let me know you Lord and let me know myself’.  It seems more Augustine and even Francis to translate the phrase to mean; ‘Let me know You, Lord, so that I may know myself’.  Once Francis’ heart lifted up, saw himself in the mystery of the One Whom he sought to know, he understood more deeply the purpose and call of his own life and could rejoice in the transforming power of grace that had worked such wonders in him and, through him, in so many others.  Humility is truth.

The response St. Francis gave impressed Brother Masseo for its simplicity and truthfulness.  St. Francis had him understand the meaning of St. Paul’s words, It is when I am weak that I am strong.  It is when we recognize our nothingness without God that God can work in-with-through us and not only give glory to His Name but raise us up in Him.  True humility that does not seek applause nor put on airs of superiority, attracts and encourages.  Humility recognizes the Lordship of God over us, and therefore, all things are given besides.  We accept our dependency on God for all things, and his dependency on us to cooperate with Him in the re-creation of our fallen world and its restoration in Christ.  St. Francis told Brother Masseo that only in admitting the supremacy of God can we begin to fulfill our lives and call others to experience the same fulfillment in sharing the same gift.

G.K.Chesterton offers a brief and interesting picture St. Francis:  Saint Francis was a lean and lively little man; thin as a thread and vibrant as a bowstring; and in his motions like an arrow from the bow.  All his life was a series of plunges and scampers; darting after the beggar, dashing naked into the woods, tossing himself into the strange ship, hurling himself into the Sultan’s tent and offering to hurl himself into the fire.  In appearance he must have been like a thin brown skeleton autumn leaf dancing eternally before the wind; but in truth it was he that was the wind.


Why you?  Why does the whole world go after you, Francis?  Because like the wind: lively, vibrant, plunging into the depths, darting after the marginalized and alienated, dashing into the seclusion of prayer with nothing but his soul enamored of God, tossing himself into the strange events that God allowed to come his way, hurling himself into the midst of danger for the sake of the Name with a courage surpassing even that of the Crusaders of his time, Francis was the image of the freedom all people desire in life.  Shackled, held down by no one and nothing.  Francis was and still is free.  He believed firmly God was with him, thus he had nothing to fear.  A frail body was the vessel of a magnificent heart and soul.  So great was his desire to be one with the Father-Son-Holy Spirit, that towards the end of his life he not only carried the dying of Christ in his soul but was privileged to carry the wounds of the Savior on his body for all the world to see.  Why you, Fancis?  He might reply, “Because through me the Lord has seen fit to make Himself known and seen, that others may be encouraged to trust in God, disarm their hearts to one another, and rebuild a falling world, for as we can see is falling into ruin”.

As spiritual children of the Poverello of Assisi, reflect on your own response to that situation of St. Francis and Brother Masseo.  Why would you ask Francis the question in the first place?  What have you not understood about the one whom you have chosen to follow that he might help you live Jesus?  Why did you accept to follow the Little Poor Man of Assisi?  What does St. Francis say to you after eight centuries?  Is he still alive and well in your fraternity, in your own personal life?  Are the life and words of St. Francis, his free spirit and total humility, his all-embracing disarmed heart towards all, a source of enthusiasm, encouragement, excitement, JOY?  Is there an awareness of being a son/daughter, brother/sister in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi?  Do you allow this awareness to affect your life and encounters with the world in which you live?  Does the vibrancy and relevancy of the Franciscan Charism help you to ‘come alive in the spirit’?

Remembering that Francis was so enamored of Our Lady that he called her the Virgin made Church, may we, the living Mystical Body of Christ, reflect upon the life of Jesus during this month of the Most Holy Rosary and look at Jesus with the eyes of Mary. Sharing the great gift of life and our Franciscan charism let us strive to “infect” others with the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi.  May we all be instruments of God’s Peace and Blessings to our world.

God bless us; Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Happy Saint Francis Day to all!  Let us remember one another at the altar of the Lord both during the celebration of the Transitus and during the Eucharistic celebration of the Solemnity.  All of you and your loved ones and intentions will be in my prayers and Masses in a special way as we all celebrate St. Francis of Assisi, God’s ‘crazy one’ who has infected so many to follow that same lunacy of love that seeks to transform us all into Fools for the sake of Christ, living gospels in a world so in need of the “Good News” of God’s extravagant love.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

September 2019 Meditation by 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      email:  pppgusa@gmail.com

September 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

A young person graduates from college and is given a wonderful position in a profession about which he or she is excited and is overflowing with vision and creative ideas. A young man and young woman, deeply in love with each other, fulfill their life’s dream and are married with God’s blessings. Someone is called to enter religious life in a community that responds to all they believe God is calling them to live and do, and they happily surrender themselves totally to everything expected of them.  A young man responds to the call to be another Christ, one who lives and acts “in persona Christi”, and experiences a joy and fulfillment that enhances his prayer, the celebration of the Liturgy, and his relationship with God and the people entrusted to his care.

These examples are only a few of many that any of us could offer for reflection of people happy with their lives and the decisions they made.  The reflection is not so much on the wonderful blessings that these persons have experienced and for which they are grateful, but rather what happens to so many after a period of time.  Almost without noticing it, the wonder, excitement, enthusiasm, creativity, JOY begin to diminish.  Once happy about their lives and professions, some come to seriously question their decision. Was it really God’s will?!  They felt an inner joy and were truly happy.  There is no sin in that!  But, now, what happened?! Where is the wonderful life and future of which they dreamed, the life filled with joy, fulfillment, success, happiness?

At one time or another, we might possibly admit that there was a moment or period when we may have felt that matters were taking a less joyous and less fulfilling turn in our lives.  Moments like these are not as terrible as they initially can seem.  There is always something to learn from any situation. So much time is wasted fearing problems and lamenting mistakes. We should rather accept those moments as challenges to go beyond the limitations we see in our lives. Take time to reflect on how we have changed and why. What has brought us to this moment, this crossroad that seems so perplexing?

 

The finding of the body of our holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi, that the Order recalls now on September 25, offers us an insight into the answer to the situations and questions posed.  The historical moment for the Poor Clares to have the body of our mother St. Clare once again at arm’s length for veneration after centuries of lying hidden is not a question of physical proximity.  It has nothing to do with the possibility of looking at the remains of someone who passed into eternity six centuries before; that might even be considered by some to be somewhat macabre rather than devotional.  It really goes far beyond the privilege of offering the relic of St. Clare’s body to the veneration and edification of the faithful, especially those of the Franciscan Family who revere her as mother, just as they revere St. Francis of Assisi our Seraphic Father, whose body rests in the crypt beneath the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

 

The excitement of knowing God called us to be Franciscans, regardless of the Order (I, II, III Regular, Secular), and knowing the joy of acceptance by God through the Fraternity, makes the initial years of religious life exciting.  Just like a couple in love, we enter a loving relationship with the Fraternity/Family.  We seek to learn all there is to learn about everyone with whom we desire to become more deeply one in mind and heart. We come to realize how our lives are so unique and valuable to the spreading of the Gospel and the life of the Church. We speak to others with an enthusiasm that could convert the world.  In our youthfulness – here I mean youthfulness in spirit and not necessarily in a chronological sense – we find it difficult to understand why so many others do not feel a call to be Franciscan as we, and we are grateful for having been called and having responded affirmatively to this wonderful gospel life. We bring our Franciscan ‘spirit and life’ to all the ministries and apostolic works entrusted to us. We make Franciscan values and principles the foundation of all we say and do.  Like a wonderful marriage, no one can separate our spirit of commitment from our daily life, duties and other activities. We are cautious never to allow the ‘spirit of the world’ to enter our relationships with the people we encounter and with and for whom we minister.  You get the idea.  It is a veritable paradise for the first months and possibly years, until, and possibly for a good while after, our definitive Profession or commitment.  Then what happens?! Boredom? Indifference? Doubt? Apathy? Any, all, and more! But, why?!

Between the dream and the vision, there is the plan.  You have heard and read this before.  The plan is the journey that helps the dream to become the vision of a real happening that goes beyond a heart that hopes.  To live in hope without ever attempting to achieve what as yet is not seen but attainable, is to journey to disappointment and even despair. This is not a journey but a lingering spiritual death that does not enliven, encourage, or attract. In fact, people like this repel others.  The journey itself is already the source of joy as long as we keep on the path and move forward.

The study that never ends because there is always so much more to know that will enhance the love that urges me on; the encounters with the same people, and new ones who seek to follow our life because of all they heard and have seen in us; the fraternal gathering of prayer, reflection and being together as ‘family’ whose goals are the same and achievable by people whose personalities are so different; diverse external expressions of service to those who will never become effective members of our fraternities but whose lives are touched with joy and made better because of us, and so many more examples, are all reminders of what the finding of the body of Saint Clare says to us.

Too many, and we Franciscans are no different, die at 20, 30, 40 years of age and are buried decades later.  This is not a physical death but a spiritual, psychological, affective death. We are alive physically but distant, and disinterested in spirit-mind-heart-availability-caring.

 

We are not called to don the attractive robes of some plastic image that appears holy but has no life.  We have not achieved the goal when we make perpetual profession.  Like so many other moments in life, secular as well as religious, one goal achieved becomes the first step of another journey that leads to another goal that continues to lead us forward until the perfection of which Scripture speaks is achieved.  Remember that ‘perfection’ in Scripture pertains to the fulfillment of the purpose of a life.  No one can ever justifiably say that their life is fulfilled when they have more time allotted them. Too many stop striving to become more in God’s sight.  They admire past failures overcome and gloat over successes achieved.  It is as though they were venerating the relic of a Saint without learning from the life of the saint. They are not encouraged nor strive to reach beyond, and thus become spiritually stagnant.

The external insignia we use for one reason or another: habit, tau cross, crucifix, cord, scapular, and the like, encourage us to participate more fully in the life of the Order.   What we wear reminds us of who we are called to be more fully each day. Until we hear the words ‘good and faithful servant, because you have been faithful in small matters, enter into the joy of your Master’ we are always moving, hopefully forward.  We must be aware of the dangers of self-seeking, self-aggrandizing, self-satisfying. We cannot allow ourselves to ‘become the object of our affections’ and forget all others. Self-centeredness is problematic in community, and spiritually dangerous for anyone. More often it leads to full blown pride that sees others as less than one self, and also to indifference to opportunities offered to grow in fraternal spirit and sharing of God’s gifts with and for the sake of others.

 

As spiritual children of Saint Francis of Assisi we have a wonderful gift left us to enflesh in our lives.  While the Incarnation took place only once in historical human form in Jesus the Christ through Mary, Christ and His Gospel must be enfleshed over and over again in the lives of those who seek to follow Him.  Our Seraphic Father sought not only to live the Gospel message but to live Jesus.  This is also the mission of the Franciscan.  The formalities we encounter that prepare us for full insertion in the Franciscan Family (Fraternity), are the preparatory stages that help us know if this is truly the life to which God is calling us.  Professing our life in the Franciscan Fraternity is an explicit acceptance of the daily challenge to grow every day of our life until we are called to the fullness of life in eternity.

Unlike the body of our Holy Mother Saint Clare placed on view for the faithful to venerate the woman with whom Saint Francis of Assisi inaugurated a Family that even today speaks volumes to a world grown cold in its love for God and desire for Eternal Life, we are not static images. Viewing the body of St. Clare most certainly reminded her daughters of the >little plant’ St. Clare called herself that produced a flourishing fragrant bouquet of holiness in the Church.  Thousands of women for eight centuries have accepted to live the form of exalted Poverty that St. Clare was granted by Pope Alexander IV only days before her death. She never ceased requesting this ‘privilege’ of poverty.  Her daughters, adapting themselves to the demands of the changing world, while not jeopardizing the centuries’ old and proven values that their Mother St. Clare of Assisi lived and sought to instill in all her daughters, in their fidelity to their vocation have continued to be a ‘bright light’ in the Franciscan Family and thus in the Universal Church. Each sister sought and seeks to grow in her vocation by living a committed life of constant growth, not >being conformed to this age but transformed’ in the ever-valid Gospel Life.

 

The process of Franciscan conversion expects a daily surrender to God that leads us to grow in all we profess. Profession is not the goal! Never!  The goal is heaven!  Our Franciscan Gospel Way is the road God has called us to follow to make the destination easier to reach.  We cannot sit back and let others do the walking. Not only must we talk the talk but we must walk the walk, otherwise we will never get there, the true goal of life, God. There are many opportunities offered our Secular Sisters and Brothers to grow in our charism and particular vocation.  Do not let someone else do ‘it’.  Whatever the ‘it’ is.  The one insect St. Francis disliked was the fly, not only because of the things it ate off of, but because it was a parasite, eating off the work of others.  Let us make sure we do not incur the ‘curse’ of St. Francis.  We must all realize that fraternal living involves active participation in fraternal life. The official nomenclature may differ, but the substance is still the same. We all have the Rule and Constitutions of the Order to give us a general guideline that all seem to accept.  Even the International and National Councils offer us ‘reflections’ we all are willing to consider and strive for.  But it is the Regional and Local challenges and decisions that so many seem to think can be put off, or not even considered.  Let us not forget the words of the Master Who tells us that if we cannot be faithful in small matters how can we expect to be entrusted with greater things.

 

The discovery of the body of St. Clare is celebrated by the Order on September 25th. Let us remember how this event, as strange as it may seem at first glance, is a reminder for us to rediscover our roots and the beauty of that original oblation and dedication we made of ourselves. Let us rediscover the initial enthusiasm and joy at being called and accepted to be a Franciscan.  With the passing of time and experience we have so much more to learn and offer one another.  Each bringing his/her gifts enhances the richness of the fraternity and strengthens the spirit of Franciscan Brother/Sisterhood.  May the reminder of the ‘discovery’ and exposition of the body of St. Clare encourage us to re-discover our roots, enthusiasm, and commitment so that we can be ‘on display’ for a world that seeks authenticity and integrity of life.

 

May God bless us; may Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and may Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

August 2019 Monthly Meditation by 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

August 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

Among all the other gifts which we have received and continue to receive from our benefactor, the Father of mercies, and for which we must express the deepest thanks to our glorious God, our vocation is a great gift … Therefore, beloved sisters, we must consider the immense gifts which God has bestowed on us, especially those which he has seen fit to work in us through his beloved servant, our blessed Father Francis …Therefore, if we have lives according to the form of life given us, we shall, by very little effort, leave others a noble example and gain the prize of eternal life … Therefore, I, Clare, the handmaid of Christ and of the Poor Sisters of the Monastery of San Damiano – although unworthy – and the little plant of the holy Father … bound ourselves to our Lady, most holy Poverty, so that, after my death, the Sisters present and to come would never abandon her … which we have promised the Lord and our holy Father Francis … (Testament of St. Clare)

Powerful words and beautiful!  They were written by a woman whose life and example have helped transform the lives of veritably millions of women and men through the centuries.  Yes, men as well!  The patrimony of the saints is for all who are ready and willing to learn from God Who speaks through them.  The whole question of holiness is one that is dis-cussed so much that at times it can become dis-gusting.  Not because the matter is irrelevant or noisome, but because we dissect the issue so much that we turn holiness into a scholastic theory to be studied rather than a goal to be achieved with the help of God’s grace and our collaboration.  In fact, as we have heard in other matters, it is the journey to holiness itself that is the goal already achieved but not yet fully.

The call to holiness, offered to all God’s children indiscriminately, awaits a response.  God does not force the issue, but will do all that is possible to make it accessible.  The wonderful gift of free will, greatest gift the Creator gave us after His love and life, is the gift we can offer back in thanksgiving by allowing ourselves to live in light of God’s will.  This is where holiness is!  The saints show us with their lives how they had come to know God’s will for them and how they responded.  Each saint is unique.  The uniqueness only enhances the vastness of God’s goodness manifested to every single person who recognizes the working of the Spirit in God’s holy ones. If we are willing to listen rather than just hear, we discover a vast horizon open before us that welcomes us into the myriad signs of a God Whose love is just waiting, or better anticipating, our entering His loving embrace in mystery during our time on earth as we advance towards the fullness of its reality in eternity.

In calling herself “the little plant of the holy Father”,  St. Clare tells us of her love for St. Francis and how deeply she recognizes his influence in her life.  The free spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and the joy that emanated from his life were an attraction that encouraged Clare to be free from all that held her back from fulfilling the desire of her heart to be consecrated to the service of the Lord.  The unique expressiveness of the Poverello’s actions, caring less about human respect and opinion, but only concerned with calling others to praise the Lord of creation, urged St. Clare to recognize the uniqueness of her own desires and how God was speaking to her. The humility of St. Francis in remaining in Assisi where many knew him before and ridiculed him after his conversion expressed to Clare a conviction and commitment in him that strengthened her own resolve. The wealthy and poor who followed Francis and lovingly accepted one another without distinction as brothers undoubtedly enhanced and filled St. Clare’s heart with a yearning no human affection could fill. The community she entered when she passed the doorway of the Portiuncula introduced her to a family she would love and protect until her death.

Once she entered the doorway of the Portiuncula, Mother-Sister-Confidant-Counselor Clare, became the first sister of all the brothers.  Her presence and words were revered both by St. Francis as well as by all the brothers.  Her prayers were a consoling and reassuring promise that encouraged the brothers in their life and daily trials. Her counsels were sought by St. Francis and the friars. Her sharing in the Gospel Life filled out the Franciscan Family.  She is not only a follower of the spirit of the Poverello, she too is an innovator and foundress.  Like St. Francis, St. Clare will forcefully, yet respectfully and patiently, refuse to accept the Rule of any other religious community. Exalted poverty was the “gift” she wanted above all else that the Church grant her.  Only shortly before the end of her earthly journey did our Mother St. Clare receive the desired Privilege of Exalted Poverty.  She rejoiced and could die in peace.

In speaking of St. Clare in his decree for her canonization the Holy Father said: O Clare, endowed with so many titles of clarity!  Clear (clara) even before your conversion, clearer (clarior) in your manner of living, exceedingly clear (praeclarior) in your enclosed life, and brilliant (clarissima) in splendor after the course of your mortal life.  In Clare, a clear mirror is given to the entire world. (Alexander IV).  The Holy Father understood and proclaimed the beauty of the woman who really lived her name.  The transparency of her life and total surrender to God’s will made her an example to be praised and raised up for all to admire, emulate, and imitate.

One of the qualities spoken of much by political groups and religious organizations is transparency.  To be “clear” about matters can determine the outcome of many discussions, especially when sides involved are very distinct in their opinions and opposed in their reasoning.  How truly transparent are people willing to be?  The clarity with which we live our lives often is determined by the situations and people we encounter and with whom we must interact.  You are what you are before God and nothing more is a saying attributed to our Seraphic Father Saint Francis of Assisi. The fact itself cannot be denied, but the way we live out who we are and how muddled or clear our character and actions come across depends on us and what we permit to affect us.  St. Clare, daughter of Favarone and Ortolana, truly lived the name she was given at birth.  The light of God’s love and goodness that emanated from her life still encourages and enlightens thousands who accept to follow her example and Rule of life. Everything serves a purpose and indicates, for those willing to see and hear, the will and work of God. The following brief paragraph, taken from the Legenda, briefly tells the interesting story of the naming of the child who became the Mother of the Franciscan Family.

While the pregnant woman (Ortolana, the mother of St. Clare), already near delivery, was attentively praying to the Crucified before the cross in a church to bring her safely through the danger of childbirth, she heard a voice saying to her: “Do not be afraid, woman, for you will give birth in safety to a light which will give light more clearly than light itself.  Taught by this oracle, when the child was born and then reborn in sacred Baptism, she ordered that she be called Clare, hoping that the brightness of the promised light would in some way be fulfilled according to the divine pleasure(Legend of St. Clare, Part 1, chpt.1,2).

Who could have known this child would one day be the mother, sister and servant of a multitude of women, and the beloved spiritual mother, sister, confident and counselor of so many men. The women to whom she would give birth spiritually by the transparency of her life and actions continue to be in our twenty-first century world a beacon of clarity of faith, brighter hope, and brilliant love for God and all creation.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  A light is not put under a bushel basket but set on a candle stand so that its light shines for all to see and from which all may benefit.

The process of the “conversion” story of St. Clare is not complicated. Twelve years younger than the “eccentric” son of Peter Bernardone, Clare probably heard and saw the rich spoiled Francis Bernardone turned poor itinerant preacher when he walked through the streets of Assisi.  She sought understanding and was able to speak with St. Francis. Her heart was assured and determined to be the “mother-sister-servant} of a multitude whose prayerful penitential life is even today the strength of the Franciscan Family. Although she had been promised to a young suitor for marriage, Clare carefully prepares an “escape” from her family home. After the famous “kenosis” of St. Francis, ridding himself of his past even to the stripping off of the clothes he wore, affected and attracted both elite and commoners to follow his gospel lifestyle. The love and sincere support for each other that she saw in them, was no doubt an example St. Clare could not deny or disregard.  As she sought clarity and direction for her own life, St. Francis offered her the loving encouragement, strength, and support she needed to take the final step that would introduce her to a life that would fulfill her prayerful desires.

The Family of St. Francis would be less than incomplete if St. Clare had not responded to the call to follow St. Francis in the gospel life.  She followed, yes, but St. Clare is her own person.  St. Clare makes the Family complete.  Just as one parent can care for a child but the child’s family life is incomplete, we Franciscans can see ourselves in the same way had St. Clare not accepted to become the “mother” of the Family.  First Order Friars, Third Order Regular Religious, Secular Franciscans living in the world, would all be less than complete had St. Clare not left her home the night of 28 March 1212.  St. Clare is not just another follower; she is the mother of the Family.  As St. Francis, St. Clare recognized the uniqueness of her new life and would not accept any rule but the simple Rule St. Francis gave her, and then the Rule she would write.  Her strength of purpose and character, and the undaunted insistence with the Holy See that the Privilege of Poverty be granted to her religious family, filled her with joy when it was eventually granted.  It is the distinctive mark of “Poor Ladies of San Damiano” and all who accepted her Rule.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, how could we ever not consider ourselves children of St. Clare of Assisi as well?  Her life of prayer, penance, and exalted poverty call us to reflect upon our Franciscan vocation.  She was “in love” with the Lord Who called her to a life of total surrender and trust in Divine Providence.  Though we live in society, we can still live the spirit of total surrender and dedication that our Mother learned from our Seraphic Father and lived in the uniqueness of her own vocation. The heroic expression of the gospel life she chose to live with her daughters/sisters at San Damiano, and the life all who followed her lived, challenge us who call her our Mother in the Franciscan Family, to follow her example and seek to simplify our lives and detach ourselves from unnecessary attachments to all that we allow to control.

The poverty she sought was expressed not only in the material goods of life but also in her humility.  What greater poverty can we express, and one that all professed men and women can live if they will to, than the willing expression of a humble life. The self-emptying of Jesus, even to death on a cross, is the ultimate expression of poverty any one could hope to live.  Our Mother St. Clare teaches us that the privilege of poverty, and living it according to our state in life, empties us of all that controls us, enables us to be more receptive to grace, and makes us available to open our hearts to everyone. Let us strive to learn from the example of our mother.  Let us learn to be detached from what we allow to control us, humbly be at the service of one another, and sincerely love our sisters and brothers.  Unless we accept the giftedness of our vocation and the fact that each one of us is a gift that God offers the other, we will never strengthen the bond of charity among us.  As we honor the poverty and humility of St. Clare, let us not forget that the “ego” is the greatest and often last “treasure” we are willing to let go of.  May the example and holiness of St. Clare of Assisi help us to live as faithful children of our Seraphic Family, who see poverty as freedom, chastity as love, and obedience as victory.

May God bless us; may Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and may Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

Thoughts for the Day – July 2019 – by Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap

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

July 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord bless you with His peace!

Before the Vatican II revision of the Liturgical Year Calendar, the Franciscan Family commemorated the canonization of our Seraphic Father on July 16. It was a simple celebration that consisted of a commemorative prayer added to the prayers for the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that day. The following, taken from our sources, speak of the event.

A span of twenty years had passed since the glorious confessor and Levite of Christ had first embraced the counsels of evangelical perfection … Now, this same venerable father left the shipwreck of this world in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 1226, on Sunday, the fourth day of the nones of October, and was buried, as has been said, in the city of Assisi … This blessed man had begun his course under the illustrious Lord Pope Innocent III, and he happily completed it under his successor, Honorius … They were happily succeeded by the Lord Pope Gregory (IX) … (Life of St. Francis by Julian of Speyer, chpt. 13)

Immediately, the holy man began to reflect the light radiating from the face of God and to glitter with many great miracles.  Thus the sublimity of his holiness which, while he was still in the flesh, had been familiar to the world as a guide for conduct through examples of perfect justice, was approved from heaven while he is now reigning with Christ as a confirmation of faith through the miracles performed by the divine power.  In different parts of the world, his glorious miracles and the abundant benefits obtained through him, inflame many to devotion to Christ and incited them to devotion to Christ and incited them to reverence for his saint.  The wonderful things which God was working through his servant Francis – acclaimed by word of mouth and testified to by facts – came to the ears of the Supreme Pontiff, Gregory IX.  That shepherd of the Church was fully convinced of Francis’ remarkable holiness, but also from his own experience during his life.  Having seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands, he had no doubt that Francis was glorified in heaven by the Lord.  In order to act in conformity with Christ, whose vicar he was, after prayerful consideration he decided to glorify him on earth by proclaiming him worthy of all veneration. … He decreed with unanimous advice and assent … that he should be canonized.  He came personally to the city of Assisi in the 1228th year of the Incarnation of the Lord … and enrolled the blessed father in the catalog of the saints. (The Major Legend, chpt. 15, 6-7)

The Family of St. Francis, both brothers and sisters, had grown tremendously since Francis heard the words from the Crucifix of San Damiano. St. Francis of Assisi has been immortalized through the centuries not only because of the gifts the Lord bestowed upon him personally – among them the sacred Stigmata that rendered him a living image of the Suffering Christ – but also through the spirit he instilled in his followers, his spiritual children, and the joy and selflessness with which they surrendered themselves to the will of God, the Church, and the charism of the Poverello of Assisi. During the life of our Seraphic Father, Brother Berard and his companions, who were the first of a long line of Franciscans to do so, gave their lives for the faith in Morocco. St. Francis praised their faith, obedience, and courage, and said of them: Now I can truly say that I have five Friars Minor.  A true Franciscan doesn’t count the cost! We are supposed to be detached, so it should not be difficult To let go and let God.

St. Francis, saint of the Disarmed Heart and Universal Brother, continued to disarm his heart through the humility and openness of his sons and daughters. St. Francis and the Franciscan Family continue to have an incisive effect on the lives of both Christians and non-Christians.  The disarmed heart of St. Francis is the same disarmed heart that should be a recognizable sign of a true daughter or son of the Poverello. We destroy our opponents or those who think they are ‘enemies’ by making them our friends.  We are the peacemakers by profession! … with God, ourselves and one another!

The lives of our Franciscan Saints and Blesseds are a kaleidoscope of spiritual beauty.  Rather than overwhelm us with heights of unattainable holiness, their stories invite us to enter our vocation more deeply.  The diversity of characters, personalities, ministries, prayer forms, penitential practices, age groups, levels on the social ladder, roles fulfilled in Church and/or in society, intellectual capacity, and so much more, make it obvious that the Franciscan Family is open and welcoming to all who seek to live the Gospel life in the spirit of the Poverello of Assisi. Still, when the question is asked, What do I have to do to be a Franciscan? The question is so simple that it is difficult to answer.

We always put the word ‘do’ together with the word ‘be’.  It makes sense!  Once we know who we are, then we know or begin searching for the way to live out our lives fully. How many begin difficult penitential practices, long prayer forms, and the like, before they even get to understand how God is calling them to achieve the sanctity that we are all called to achieve gradually through living.  St. Paul reminds us: The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others(Romans 14: 17).  All the various practices are in themselves most profitable spiritually, as long as they are in accord with God’s will.  Remember, however, that before we run, we must learn how to walk, and before we walk, we crawl, and before that we are held in the arms of our parents.  Allow God to hold you in His arms. Entrusted by vocation to our fraternity we must learn to walk as a Franciscan, before we attempt to run as a ‘mystic’.

Enthusiasm is a wonderful gift.  The enthusiasm that initiates one into the spiritual life, especially when it is a ‘discovery’ in the adult years, can at times confuse a person who tries to apply all the actions of the saints and blesseds he/she has heard about.  It might even be the particular saint that attracts them, such as St. Francis or St. Clare, to the Franciscan Family.  But what happens next is that these well-intentioned ‘aspirants to sainthood’ think that doing as others did they will attain their goal.  To a certain extent it might be true, but each of us is a ‘saint’ in his/her own way.  Just remember Brother John the Simple.  St. Francis had to convince the family of John to let him become a brother. Once in the Brotherhood, John, who believed Francis a saint, thought that by imitating St. Francis in every action, he would surely become a saint.  It took some loving persuasion and encouragement for Francis to convince Br. John that he did not have to walk as he walked, cough when he coughed; you get the idea. That’s what John was doing. Simplicity of mind as well as life, but a holiness of life that accepted the correction and became the ‘unique’ saint he was. Like Br. John, we strive to be the ’unique’ saints we are called to be. We are ’children of the saints’.  We are brothers and sisters of the saints of our Franciscan Family.  We have a legacy that we leave to others after we have lived it ourselves.  Let us offer those who encounter us an image they can not only admire but follow with simplicity and dedication, if they choose to become ’one of the family’.

What do we have to do?  It is really quite simple!  The Rule and Constitutions are the main documents, together with Sacred Scripture, the Magisterium of the Church and the Sacred Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and our Franciscan Family are the basic guidelines and safeguards for a basically good and holy Franciscan life.  Then we come to the practices that help us ’keep focused’ and ’on track’.  These can be many or just a few, depending on how we read and understand the ’basic guidelines’ of the Rule, Constitutions, Scripture, and so forth.

The following list offers some of the basic spiritual and religious practices most Catholics and religious have followed in the past. These are just a simple reminder of what most people seeking a deeper spiritual life have done before attempting the ’greater’ practices and experiences:

–   Daily Morning and Evening Prayers with the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours or other prescribed prayers proper to the Fraternity, as well as our own personal prayers, especially the Morning Offering and Consecration of our every action, are a way for us to begin and end the gift of each day with the Lord, trusting in His love, mercy, and providence.

–   Daily Mass and Communion assist us to enter that unique and intimate relationship with God Who offers us the opportunity to share in the Paschal Mystery each time we assist at or celebrate the Eucharist. One of our own saints said: A day without the Eucharist is like a day without the sun. Franciscans are a ’Eucharistic People’.  The Paschal Mystery was such an integral part of the spirituality and life of St. Francis of Assisi.

–   Daily Meditation on God’s Word opens the mind to receive a word that enlightens, strengthens, warns, encourages, and so forth.  It is the act by which we make our very being receptive to the Lord Who speaks to us.

–   Daily quiet time with the Lord, even if for only a half hour, lets the world in which we are necessarily involved, be seen from a different perspective when we ’re-enter’ after spending quality time with God. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46)

–   Daily Spiritual Reading of lives of saints and other holy people faithful to the Church and/or readings concerning our Franciscan charism should be among our daily reading list.  A good biography of holy people shows us how a life is to be lived in God. Though each person about whom we read is different, the commitment, deep faith, trust, and unique way they encountered God and grew in His grace, serve as an encouragement for our spiritual journey.

–   Weekly, if not more often, Eucharistic Adoration does not have to be the formal adoration with the monstrance; sometimes that cannot be. However, time spent before the Blessed Sacrament in total surrender to the Divine Presence changes our view on many things we would otherwise allow to overwhelm us.

–   Sacramental Reconciliation once every two weeks was the norm for a while. We are Penitents of Assisi.  We should be the first among all the formal religious groups to recognize, promote and utilize this Sacrament as a means of keeping us always in the divine life of grace. Unfortunately, even we Franciscans think that this Sacrament is only needed for serious or mortal sins.  While that is true, the Sacrament is also a gift that keeps us spiritually healthy by giving us the graces to rid us not only of sin but assist us in weeding out the occasions we allow to entice us. Until we “own” what is “hurting” us, we will never really seek and receive the necessary healing.

–   The Monthly Fraternity Meeting that brings the ’family’ together to pray, learn, share and plan is an essential part of our life that everyone should be part of, unless legitimately excused.

–   The Yearly Retreat helps us to focus totally, if only for a few days, on the preeminence of God and our vocation to this life.

–   The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy can be fulfilled in a variety of ways that are already being done by a number of our brothers and sisters.  These ’externals’ form an integral part of our ministry as Franciscans.

These may seem like so much to expect or ask.  In reality everything mentioned above is all easily doable, when priorities are set.  No responsibilities will suffer in doing any of the above, and there are marvelous effects that flow from these.  As we center on God, we begin to understand more of our Franciscan vocation.  Spiritual as well as more material activities are accomplished with greater ease.  They take precedence over the ’time wasters’ that we so often allow to take up our attention for hours, days, and sometimes a ’wasted lifetime’.  We must also relax, recreate, have fun, laugh, enjoy life. The spiritual activities mentioned above, when done with a sense of commitment to strengthen our relationship with God and our sisters and brothers in the Franciscan Fraternity, only enhance the joy. They do not detract from it.

My dear sisters and brothers, we are all children of the Seraphic Father.  Just as it is not enough to cry Lord, Lord, to enter the kingdom of God, so it is not enough to say that one is a Franciscan solely because he/she recited the words of profession. Profession demands conviction, commitment, and living as a Franciscan.  What we say with our lips becomes truth when we live it with our life.  A Franciscan lives the spirit of the Seraphic Father, the Poverello of Assisi. Before we expect the marvelous and extraordinary in our lives to happen, let us strive to live what is expected of us.  Live the ordinary, the expected, in an extraordinary and maybe even ’unexpected’ way. St. Francis tells the first followers and us as well Let us begin (to be who we are called to be) because up to now we have done so little. Make use of the various opportunities and gatherings planned and offered for you to grow in your knowledge of our charism and to become more closely one in fraternity through our common prayer and sharing. As children of St. Francis of Assisi, we form a magnificent family that has been a blessing to the Church for over eight centuries.  Let us continue to be a blessing to all, as we bless one another with our love and lives.

Our Seraphic Father offers us the example how to allow the above to be an effective part of our lives. We must be humble! Not be so filled with ourselves that we become a “legend unto ourselves”… and an annoyance to others. True humility lets go of self and lets God take over. True humility learns how to appreciate the gifts of others. True fraternal humility rejoices with the sister or brother and does not seek to stifle the working of the Holy Spirit present in everyone.

During these warm summer months, remember God’s warm love for all of us. Let the love of His Son warm our hearts that we may be His image to one another and to the world we encounter each day. May God bless you; Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look over each one of us, his spiritual children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant