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

 

Monthly Meditation by Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – June 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

 

June 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Risen Christ bless you with His peace!

Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi had a deep love and reverence for the Most Blessed Sacrament, and concern for the proper respectful reservation and handling of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Writing his Testament, he made it a point to speak of the reverence and adoring posture he had when he passed any church: And the Lord gave me such  faith in churches that I would pray with simplicity in this way and say: >We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world= (Testament).  He encouraged the clergy  – of whose group he was as an ordained deacon – to consider the Body and Blood of Christ that they handle and offer.  His concern was that the Eucharist be celebrated and received worthily, and be kept with dignity in appropriate places: Let us all, clergymen, consider the great sin and the ignorance some have toward the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy names and written words that consecrate His Body.  We know it cannot be His Body without first being consecrated by word.  For we have seen nothing bodily of the Most High in this world except His Body and Blood, His names and words through which we have been made and redeemed from death to life.(Exhortation to the Clergy).  Admonishing the friars responsible for the various fraternities of the brethren Francis wrote: I beg you, when it is fitting and you judge it expedient, you humbly beg the clergy to revere above all else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy names and the written words that sanctify His Body. They should hold as precious the chalices, corporals, appointments of the altar, and everything that pertains to the sacrifice…Let it be carried about with great reverence and administered to others with discernment (Letter to the Custodians).  We must, of course, confess all our sins to a priest and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ from him…But let him eat and drink worthily because anyone who receives unworthily, not distinguishing, that is, not discerning, the Body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself (Letter to all the Faithful, 2nd Version).

St. Francis was a truly Eucharistic person whose example encouraged others to revere above all else the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (First Letter to the Custodians) because Jesus wishes all of us to be saved through Him and receive Him with our hearts pure and our body chaste(Later Admonitions), thus, let us, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are His most holy Body and Blood living and true (Undated Writings).  The words and example of our Seraphic Father indicate beyond a doubt that our Franciscan Family is a Eucharistic Family. Our strength and nourishment comes from God=s Word and the Sacrament that offers us the Bread of Life, our viaticum, to sustain us on our journey until time becomes eternity.   This Bread of Life sustains us as we share life with one another in Franciscan Brotherhood, and with all the people of God whom we serve in the Universal Brotherhood of humanity. For a Franciscan the Eucharist should be the center of life and devotion!

Two expressions that indicate the central role of the Eucharist for our Catholic Faith are: The Eucharist makes the Church; the Church makes the Eucharist (Henri de Lubac, S.J.), and  The Church of the Eucharist (Encyclical, Bl. John Paul, II).  There is an intimate relationship between the Eucharist and the Church.  Without the Eucharist there is no Church.  Without the Church there is no Eucharist.  We celebrate the Eucharist from the rising of the sun unto its setting (Psalm 113,3). The words of the Psalmist are re-echoed in the words of the Prophet Malachi, My name will be great among the nations from the rising to the setting of the sun; in every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name (Malachi 1:11).  The Eucharist, celebrated throughout the world, is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Entering the mystery of the Eucharist, we acknowledge the limitless love of God for all His children, and our redemption in the blood of Christ.

The supreme act of worship, established by God with Moses and the People of Israel in the slaughter of animals sacrificed to God and the sprinkling of their blood, was a continual reminder for Israel of the presence of the Eternal One in their midst and his care for them, for His mercy endures forever(Psalm 136). The sacrifices Israel offered continually re-affirmed the Covenant between God and His People.  They acknowledged the supremacy of the God of Abraham over them, and they believed that the >People of the Covenant= would always have the protection of God. They did not fear destruction by their adversaries because who is there like the Lord our God (Psalm 113,5), Who promised that  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing (Genesis 12,2).  The faithful Jews could never have imagined the far greater meaning of Malachi=s prophecy later on, and how it would be fulfilled for all ages.

Those who heard, followed, and accepted the words of Jesus would understand more deeply, and realize that the Old Covenant was now perfected and transformed by the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ.  Their faith, our faith, is the Faith of the Church, the Faith of the People of God, the New Israel, redeemed in the Blood of the One Great Lamb of God, sacrificed on the altar of the Cross.  By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (Gaudium et Spes 22). The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus confirms His life and redeeming death, and raises our frail nature to the dignity it had before humanity disobeyed in Eden.  In this pledge of future glory, we raise our hearts with joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Embolism, Prayer at Mass after the Our Father). Each day he comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest (Undated Writings of St. Francis). He is with us in the Eucharist, and will come again in all His glory.

Christ is still a Sign of Contradiction, and the Church, Mystical Body of Christ, is a >sign contradicted=, as will the Secular Franciscan who lives authentically his/her profession.  We Franciscans are all one with the Church.  The Eucharist is our strength. The presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar is the Lord Who journeys with us, among us, and within us.  The Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order state: The Eucharist is the center of the life of the Church.  Christ unites us to himself and to one another as a single body in it.  Therefore, the Eucharist should be the center of the life of the fraternity.  The brothers and sisters should participate in the Eucharist as frequently as possible, being mindful of the respect and love shown by Francis, who, in the Eucharist, lived all the mysteries of the life of Christ. (Constitutions, Article 14, 2).

The Paschal Mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist is that expression of the Faith of the Church that will always be challenged by the world. Contrary ideologies outside the Church have always affected but never really weakened Her resolve. To the contrary, aggressive, offensive, and oppressive tactics from outside have challenged the Church to reflect, renew, and reform itself.  The transforming power of grace, experienced through the Church=s many trials, have been its strength.  Contrary positions and negative criticisms to Gospel values, centuries-old and well-proven Traditions, and the official teaching of the Magisterium of the Church demand an examination of conscience in truth and humility.  Reform is from within; revolt is from without. Reform demands a constant re-examination and honest acknowledgment of failures and faults, as well as successes and virtues. Focusing only on the negatives, without any concrete response to correct them, can weaken the image of the Church in the modern world and thus affect the personal strength of conviction of the faithful.  Our confidence comes from the words of Scripture, Greater is the One within you than the one who is in world (1 John 4:4), and,  I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20).

A great early Christian writer, Tertullian, wrote, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.   Trials and tribulations affect lives, property, and human rights. Christians in many areas of the world are tragically attacked; many have lost everything, even their lives, rather than compromise their faith.  Their >martyrdom= encourages us to accept our own martyrdom; ours is different than theirs, but no less profitable and effective. The>martyrdom= most of us will face is the martyrdom of being confronted by a society that often, with belligerence or subtle sophistries, challenges the very root of our faith in Christ and the values we hold as God-given. Family, friends, government, work place, school, media, and so many other sectors of our life, can be the subtle or flagrant opponent to all we believe. The Holy Spirit is the gift of Easter Jesus breathed on the Apostles that first Resurrection Sunday. This Holy Spirit strengthens us to maintain: a simple and unshakable faith in all Jesus taught and all that Jesus is; trust in the promise of Jesus, I am with you all days even to the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20)an availability to respond with wholehearted commitment to the Gospel Message, you are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:14); an apostolic heart that preaches with our life rather than our words the Christ Whom we have come to know and believe; remember the words of St. Peter: To whom shall we go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68); and thus, trust!

Those who see the Church solely as a human institution professing and promoting noble values will always criticize and judge the Church using the values of the world as the measure. The sensus fidelium (>sense of the faithful=) or sensus fidei fidelium (>sense of the faith of the faithful=) is a reality recognized and joyfully celebrated by the Church since its beginning.    The sense of faith must be our guide during the more challenging moments we encounter. Unless we believe with the Church, we will never be able to raise our hearts and  set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3: 2), and rise above the merely human. The personal profession of faith each one proclaims – >I believe=, not >we believe= – manifests the integrity of our religion and thus the credibility of all we preach in the name of Jesus the Christ. Believe in the Church! Believe with the Church! Believe the Church! … who is the Mystical Body of Christ and always speaks the Truth that comes from God through the work of the Holy Spirit, when in union with the Holy Father, its Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

In the Eucharist we believe and >see= what non-believers cannot even imagine.  Our faith in the Eucharist is itself a gift that permits the eyes of the heart to penetrate material appearances and see-believe-receive the divine.  The liturgy is the Church=s way of fulfilling the command of Jesus, Do this in memory of Me.  The >action of the people= (>liturgy=), is the Church=s way of maintaining the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist for the sake of His Mystical Body the Church who need and desire His Presence, and as >viaticum= for the Christian=s journey through life to Life.  The Eucharist is the greatest sign of faith in Christ: >my= faith and >our= faith.   My personal profession of faith united with that of my sisters and brothers in Christ=s redeeming Sacrifice, allows the >I= of a personal commitment to be a >we= of communal profession made visible by the intermingling of our lives – All the believers were one in heart and mind (Acts 4:32) . Those who see us will speak of the Christian as the early non-Christian community spoke of our ancestors in the Faith: See how they love one another (Tertullian Apology 39.6).  Their concrete tangible love was rooted in an unshakable faith in God=s Word and trust in the Eucharist they celebrated. It empowered them to become an effective presence of the Christ they offered and received.

I/We believe that the Eucharist is the real and effective re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary.  I/We believe that Jesus is truly present after the Consecration of the Mass under the appearances of bread and wine.  I/We believe that the Eucharist re-presents the Mystery of Faith that nourishes our souls for life=s journey. I/We believe that a day without the Eucharist is like a day without the Sun – a day without the Eucharist is like a day without the Son of God who seeks an ever-greater relationship and intimacy with us. I/We believe that the Eucharist, Mystery of Faith, is a more understandable reality than the meaningless actions of a world gone awry seeking fulfillment in itself.  I/We believe the Eucharist offers the opportunity to live heaven on earth really and not solely metaphorically.  I/We believe the Eucharist to be the center of all life because it is God-with-us, the focal point of all creation. I/We believe that the Eucharist irradiates power and blessings so that even non-believers sense an unexplainable presence when they are before the Eucharist. The Church draws Her life from the Eucharist (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia), a life we, the Church, communicate to others.

The Eucharist poses the question and expects a personal response to the question Jesus made to his followers when some of them left because He spoke of eating His Body and drinking His blood; do you also want to leave? (John 6:67).  The gift of our >will= says with the man whose boy the apostles could not heal, I believe, Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).  The humility of Christ in the Eucharist urges us to respond, to whom shall we go, Lord, You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). O sublime humility, O humble sublimity! (St. Francis of Assisi).

As Spiritual Children of the Poverello of Assisi let us re-confirm our love for the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus; participate more deeply at Mass. Let us prepare well for Mass; and spend some time in thanksgiving after we have received the Lord in the Eucharist.  Let us never forget the value of silence so that we might hear God Who speaks to our hearts, especially after we have received Him in the Sacrament of His Love. Make frequent acts of Spiritual Communion, especially on days that you cannot assist at Mass. Preaching with our lives, let us bring the Christ we receive into the world of the occupations and duties for which we are responsible. Let the Eucharist so shine in your life that whoever sees you sees an image of Jesus. In the Eucharist, Who is Christ, be faithful to Christ and His Church!  Be what you see and receive what you are! (Saint Augustine)

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 watch 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

 

Monthly Meditation by Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap – May 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

May 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Risen Christ bless you with His peace!

Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi speaks so lovingly of Mary.  He places her in that privileged position she holds as Mother of the Savior and “Virgin made Church”.  St. Francis never forgets to refer to Mary in her role as Mother of Christ and example for all the children of God.  Without being a formal theologian, St. Francis always places Mary in her proper position within the mystery and history of salvation.  Her eminence and his love are beyond question.  She is the Heavenly Mother, greatest of all mothers, whose love and protection he had always been able to see in his own mother, Donna Pica.  St. Francis saw in Mary the highest example of humanity after that of Christ.  She embodied the image of the first disciple who followed the Christ faithfully, as well as the mother who gave birth to the Master.   She is the first among all the faithful of the Church as well as the “Virgin Made Church”.  The following praise of Mary says so much of the love the Poverello had for Mary:

Hail, O Lady,

Holy Queen,

Mary, holy Mother of God,

Who are the Virgin made Church,

Chosen by the most Holy Father in heaven

Whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son

And with the Holy Spirit and Paraclete,

In whom there was and is

All fullness of grace and every good.

Hail His Palace!

Hail His Tabernacle!

Hail His Dwelling!

Hail His Robe!

Hail His Servant!

Hail His Mother!


What beautiful words! They are the fruit of a heart enamored of Our Lady. In these words we are reminded of the love and devotion that people of all times and at all levels of society and learning fostered for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the great Mother of God. In a few words, St. Francis reminds us of the great dignity of Mary and Her intimate relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.  We are reminded of humanity’s dignity and the depth of God’s love for what might seem to others to be a “lesser level” of creation.  Human beings are a “lesser level”, yes, because we are not God. But, humanity bears the greatest of dignities because God deigned to become one of His own creatures through the collaboration and consent of one of His creatures, Mary. Accepting and believing the impossible, the Divine became human through a human being, so that humanity could share in the Divine who became one with us. What a mystery! What a marvelous gift! And all this because Mary, one of God’s own creation, said YES!


Love for Mary has been a source of strength for so many.  Francis’ love for the mystery of the Incarnation filled his life. Mary, because of her prominent place in this great mystery, was always the love of his heart.  Love for Mary goes to the very heart of who we are as children of God redeemed in the Blood of Christ. A wonderful example of this is the person of one of the most visible and renowned men of the last century and beginning of this, Pope St. John Paul II.  When asked what motto he would assume for his pontificate, he gave the simple and deeply meaningful motto: Totus Tuus!  (Totally Yours!)   There was no need for explanations. It was quite clear. Those two words said it all: “Everything is yours! It’s all yours! I dedicate myself and all that I do and am to your loving care, that you may present me and in everything to God”.  How simple, trusting, and full of love.  Our own present Holy Father, Pope Francis, expresses a similar loving devotion and entrustment to Mary in all his major endeavors. We can note this on his immediate visits in thanksgiving to Mary after all of His pastoral visits.


Tradition has held that one of the reasons for Lucifer’s fall from grace and Heaven was his refusal to accept the Mystery of the Incarnation because it demanded reverence for a “lesser” creature. Yet, in the words of Psalm 8, the Psalmist praises the magnificence of God and prays:  O lord, our Lord, how glorious is Your Name over all the earth!  What is man that you should be mindful of him?  You have made him a little less than the angels (some translations understand the ancient word, ‘elohim’ as ‘god’) and crowned him with glory and honor. Creation is the theater of redemption.  Creation is the overflowing of God’s eternal love in time that offers all the “work of God’s hands” the privilege to know, love, and serve God in this world so that all those, created in His image and likeness, could be happy with God forever in Heaven (cfr. Old Baltimore Catechism). When God looked at all He had created, He saw it as “very good” (cfr. Genesis).  When humanity lost that beauty because of Original Sin, the Creator promised to become a creature that the beauty of the original image of God in creation might be restored. The Blood of Jesus and our collaboration with God’s grace allow our redemption in Jesus to bring about our eternal salvation.  And, Mary, Virgin made Church, Virgin image of the Mystical Body of Her own Son, becomes the one whose acceptance allowed God to begin the fulfillment of His Divine Plan of restoration. He who created us without our permission, wanted our collaboration in our salvation. 


Human beings are called to fulfill  key roles in the work of redemption. In the fullness of time, a young woman from Nazareth, Mary, heard a greeting that challenged her understanding and faith. She was offered a privileged gift that she could have refused. She didn’t though. The greeting informed her of the unique gift she had received from God Himself: Hail, full of grace. She was told: You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son.  He will be called Son of the Most High. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore, the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God. Mary accepts totally with unconditional trust not only in her own name, but in the name of all humanity.  Our Mother’s willingness to become Mother of the Christ, led her to the foot of the Cross on Calvary. It is here where Mary becomes Mother of the Christian and Mother of the Church.  The love that was rekindled in Mary’s womb begins a process that will last until the end of time.  In Mary’s motherly immaculate heart we feel the warmth of God’s peace on all who follow her example and accept her Motherhood in Christ over them.  We can see how she becomes the scope of love revealed, among all of us humans, and the living fountain of eternal hope..


Our hope is renewed in Mary. She stands before us between the Majesty of Her Son and all humanity.  She is not the source but the channel of graces.  In other words, she is the Mediatrix (channel) of all Grace. Through her we more easily approach God.  Jesus is the incarnation of almighty God in time, so that humanity, in, with, and through Jesus might know God’s love and mercy. The humanity of Jesus comes to us through Mary, and our adoption as children of God comes through the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus, only-begotten Son of the Father.  It follows, therefore, that through Mary we receive Jesus, through Whom we are once again restored to our original image and likeness of the Creator. Mary’s powerful example and almighty intercession, as the first and greatest among the created children of God, continues her “yes” to the Father as she carries each one of us, created in the image of her Son, in her Immaculate Heart.


We are children of this age.  We cannot extricate ourselves from the time in which we live.  The hectic pace, technological advances, social demands, financial difficulties, international concerns, scandals in the Church, and so much more, can easily fill our minds and hearts so that there is no longer room for the spiritual child within each one of us to thrive.  Though we must be involved in life, we must not lose that inner peace and simplicity that help us to place everything in perspective.  Love for Mary and a heart open to her can help us keep focused.  We have our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, and so many other holy women and men, even of our own age, as wonderful examples. They encourage us to love Mary and discover in her a vital presence in the Church and our daily life.  A simple loving relationship with our Blessed Mother Mary brings a calm and serenity to the heart.  Thus we surrender more easily to her love and find in that total surrender an openness to God and His most Holy Will. Thus our life is full, fulfilling, and worth living. 

With every best wish for you during this season of new birth and new life, I pray we all be open to the working of the Holy Spirit, gift of the Resurrection.  May the Spirit inflame our hearts as He filled that of our Mother Mary.  Animated by this Holy Spirit, may we follow the Spirit’s inspiration and confidently respond, as Mary did, with a determined “Yes” to all the Father asks, that we may be more like Jesus.  

May God bless you, may our Heavenly Mother guide, guard, and protect you.  May our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of you, his spiritual children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant 

Monthly Meditation – Father Francis Sariego, OFM Cap, April 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

April 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Risen Christ bless you with His peace!

 In his ‘Letter to All the Faithful’, St. Francis writes: And as His Passion was near, … He prayed to His Father, saying: Father, if it can be done, let this cup pass from me.  And his sweat became as drops of blood falling on the ground.  Nevertheless He placed His will in the will of His Father, saying: Father, let Your will be done; not as I will, but as you will.  His Father’s will was such that His blessed and glorious Son, Whom He gave to us and Who was born for us, should offer Himself  through His own blood as a sacrifice and oblation on the altar of the cross: not for Himself  through Whom all things were made, but for our sins, leaving us an example that we might follow His footprints … We are brothers (and sisters) when we do the will of the Father Who is in heaven… (Letter to the Faithful, Second Version).


Our Seraphic Father reminds us of ‘spiritual indifference’ that is the foundation of a peaceful and serene life. The indifference is not a matter of ‘not caring about anything’.  It is a matter of doing and acting as though all depends on us and trusting in God as though all depends on God.  Everything does depend on God: My word does not return without having fulfilled the purpose for which it was sent. However, God has entrusted us with the awesome privilege and responsibility for our own salvation by the gift of free will which can or not correspond with the will of our Creator.  Thus, a word that stands out for us to consider as we read the words of St. Francis to the Faithful and celebrate our Redemption in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus the Christ is Surrender.  


‘Surrender’ is a powerful word.  It can also be disconcerting and even frightening when one considers ‘surrender’ as a way of life.  Jesus ‘surrendered’ to the Father’s Will from the first moment of His existence as a human being.  From all eternity, Jesus surrenders to the Will of the Father. Though He was in the form of God … He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave … He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross(Philippians 2: 6-11). ‘Surrendering’ to the Father’s will made Jesus resolute, even to death and death on a cross.  This kind of ‘surrender’ leads to victory and glory, not defeat and infamy. Because of this God greatly exalted Him…(Philippians 2: 6-11).


The intensity of the resolute character of Jesus is vividly portrayed in a brief phrase from the Gospel according to St. Luke: When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he steadfastly set his face to Jerusalem … (Luke 9:51).  How often we correctly focus on the heart of a Scripture passage, but miss a detail that can offer deeper insights for a better understanding and appreciation of what we have read. This brief passage tells us so much about Jesus and how He ‘approached’ the fulfillment of His mission among us. It merits a deeper reflection as we approach Easter, the great celebration of our Redemption and New Life of grace in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus.  There is nothing more essential for us than to consider our life and our active participation in the Paschal Mystery. We unite ourselves with Christ in His obedience to the Father’s Will, to His personal surrender, and to all His obedience implies. In so doing we encounter a more profound value to our earthly life, and thus can live in the hope of an assurance of Eternal Life. The reason I say that there is nothing more essential for us is because once we recognize, understand, and accept God’s Plan for all creation and particularly for ourselves, our life takes on a whole new meaning and expression. 


The Lenten season invites us to ‘set our face toward Jerusalem’, just as our Savior did. Though the words from the Greek and Latin Vulgate texts can be translated in several ways, the original more faithful expression to the ancient text – He resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem – offers us a powerful image of Jesus ‘eyeing’ His opponent and moving in for the encounter and confrontation.  The text speaks volumes of the character of Jesus and His personal compliance with the mission entrusted Him by the Father. Jerusalem is not another town on the itinerant schedule of Jesus the preacher. Jerusalem is not just another platform for his preaching/teaching and healing ministry to attract the crowds at Passover. Jerusalem is an anticipated and desired destination. Jesus has actively been moving both psychologically to this decisive moment and physically to this ‘center of the world’ for the Jews and ‘Seat of God’s Presence’ for those who believed in the God of Abraham. Everything must be in place: The prophets and their prophecies must be fulfilled and the ‘backup plan’ must be ready, before ‘setting his face to Jerusalem’. It is time for Jesus ‘to allow’ his life to be taken for the sake of all humanity.  Let us never forget that no one takes His life from Him: I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father (John 10:17-18). Determining episodes in Jesus’ life and ministry had led to this climactic moment. Each experience tested His obedience and resolve to fulfill the Father’s Plan as willed.  His trust in the Father and determination to obey whatever the cost to Him were put to the test, and ultimately triumphed for the sake of us all. 


–     He ‘plunged’ into the River Jordan to be baptized by John.  His plunge was an acceptance of the ministry entrusted to Him by the Father. His ministry, as Simeon had prophesied so many years before in the Temple, was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory of (the) people Israel(Luke2:32)and at the same time He was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that (would) be contradicted (Luke 2:32). Jesus ‘plunged’ into the realities of our world. This world accepted Him, but also confronted, contradicted, and condemned Him, and all this was done by recipients of His love and gifts!  And He set His face toward them!


–     He contended with the ‘demon’ of comfort, compromise, convenience in the desert, and withstood the easy road of complacency with the power of conviction in the Word of God.  God’s Word is God’s Will and God’s Will overcomes all things for those who place their trust in Him. Jesus did not run from the ‘demon’ but confronted the adversary face-to-face. Jesus was opposed by spiritual beings, who as yet were not sure if their Vanquisher was He. The word ‘if’ used by the tempter is so revealing!  ‘If’ is never to be used when speaking with Jesus. No hesitancy! Let go! … as Jesus did when he set his face towards Jerusalem.


–     At Cana He changed water into wine, thus giving evidence of His power and uniqueness. This miracle attracted many to Him.  The immediate fulfillment of His mission now begins when His followers ‘believe in Him’. The extraordinary character of His actions captivate and mesmerize the wonder-seekers, as well as the vast numbers seeking hope for their confused lives.  The subtle challenges of the desert test return; miracles are signs but do not make for solid faith. True Faith seeks to enter the mystery and never demands to see miracles. Only in the mystery can the miracle be an effective sign and make sense.  Jesus would be opposed by those who needed ‘to be entertained’, or whose ‘hopes’ were not met according to their desires. And He set His face toward them!


In three years, an entire life would come full circle.  The purpose for His birth would finally reach its climax, not with joyful acclamations of a people’s fulfilled hopes, but with the shouts and jeers of a rabble crying out ‘Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  Beneficiaries of only goodness and compassion were instigated to cry for execution by some of the leaders of the people who could and should have known better, had not ambition and jealousy clouded their vision and hardened their hearts. None of this was hidden from Jesus’ knowledge. He knew. He had told His disciples that He would be betrayed, captured, tortured, killed, and on the third day rise.  When Peter would not have Jesus accept this fate, what to Peter sounded like total failure and defeat, Jesus turned to Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Matthew 16: 23). Jesus knew quite well what lay in store for Him! And He set his face toward it all.


At the Last Supper, in the Upper Room, we can almost enter the mind and heart of Jesus. It is a powerful moment, filled with human sentiments. An inner sadness, a last hope and attempt for conversion are so evident when Jesus  appeals to his betrayer: Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me (John13:21).  Failing to change the heart of Judas, Jesus seeks support and strength from the others. Going with them to the Garden in Gethsemane He falls to the ground in prayer.  He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke22:44).  He prayed the same prayer three times: Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but Yours be done (Luke 22:42). Jesus was that One Solitary Life Who knew what His life entailed and what awaited him, and still, from the very beginning, He set His face toward Jerusalem, and everything He was born to accomplish. 


Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you (Luke 13:34), was the city of Prophets and Kings. Jesus entered to the acclaim of the crowds who had so often heard His preaching and had benefited from His awesome power over both the spiritual and material worlds. In the course of one week, the crowds praised Him on Sunday strewing the road for Him to walk on their cloaks and palm branches, and jeered at Him as the Great Sabbath approached calling for His death.  The people yelled, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Matthew 27: 25)And Jesus set His face to Jerusalem and Mount Calvary; He was like a trusting lamb led to slaughter (Jeremiah 12: 19) without uttering anything in his own defense or denouncing those who condemned Him. His greatest sermon would be preached from the throne of a Cross were his prophetic words would resound in the hearts of the faithful down through the centuries.

For most, ‘surrender’ is synonymous with weakness, failure, ineptness, shame, maybe even cowardice, and so much more.  The spirit of the world is always urging us to ‘look out for yourself’, ‘be the first’, ‘be the best and don’t be concerned about the rest’, ‘do what you have to do, but never give up’!  How many children grow up to be psychologically wounded adults because they cannot get beyond the perfectionism expected of them in childhood.  Sometimes it is necessary to ‘surrender’ to another for help if we are to go beyond our limitations.  This ‘surrender’ can be necessary and healthy, and can bear with it positive and lasting results. 


Spiritually, there is another ‘surrendering’ that is absolutely necessary for victory and success; without this ‘surrender’ our lives ultimately are total failures.  Another word for it is ‘abandonment’- abandonment to the Will of God and total trust in the power and presence of a God Who calls, challenges and completes in those surrendered to His Will what is for their good. When our spiritual life is surrendered to the Father’s Will, we never lose sight of our duties and our goal. Jesus fulfilled His duty as Messiah and Victim, and achieved the goal for humanity as Redeemer and Victor. We share in that same Life by Baptism and Grace, and share more profoundly in the same victory every time we enter and receive the Eucharist worthily. Thus we allow the graces of redemption to strengthen and guide our life’s journey.  


Of the three great ‘tests’ Jesus experienced from others, the last was the most difficult.  The first came in the desert from satan who challenged the method Jesus would use to achieve our redemption.  The second came from the people who sought Him out with keen hopes of being ‘filled’ rather than ‘fulfilled’.  The third, and most difficult and subtle test, came from a dear friend and His Vicar, Peter, who sought to dissuade Jesus from setting his face to Jerusalem to be captured, tortured, and killed.  Unknowingly, Peter’s loving concern was most insidious and dangerous.  It challenged Jesus to ‘not surrender’ as He had done till then. Jesus’ followers loved Him and He loved them for loving Him.  And it was an awful thing to go up to Jerusalem to die.  But He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.  This was the only way. This was the Divine Plan. This was the Father’s Will. This was Jesus’ Will!


Calvary was most certainly a frightening thought that loomed always in the heart and life of Jesus.  His humanity did not seek pain and death.  But His heart knew that there was only one way to fulfill His Father’s Plan, and that is all that mattered.  The empty tomb was the visible sign of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ total emptying of Himself in deference to the Father’s Will. It was the Father’s response to the Son’s love. Our own Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi simply and confidently sought out God’s will through His inspired Word.  God’s Word was the Rule of life he set down for himself and those who asked to follow his way of life. He submitted always to another that he might follow the example of the obedient Son of the Father. Love is a total surrender.  The love for the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit kept Jesus in total harmony with the Father’s Will.  


As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi let us love enough to surrender ourselves to God.  We never lose when we give everything over to the One Who gives everything, especially Himself, to us.  There is always such fear in saying ‘I surrender’.  When we say it to God, why be afraid?  God knows what we are capable of and where we are headed, long before we do.  Abandoning ourselves to His Will, truly trusting in Him, and living every moment as a deliberate act of surrender to the Divine Will, we cannot help but experience an inner peace, serenity and joy.  We will discover and live a more balanced and cheerful life, even in the midst of difficulties.  When God is in control, we are always headed in the right direction. Just as a husband and wife surrender themselves in love and the two become one, let us become one with God as we surrender to His Divine Will.  Emptying ourselves of our own material and earthly desires, false ambitions, self-centeredness, pride, will allow the joy of new life and rebirth to be so palpable that our Easter celebration will be as though it were that first Easter Sunday.  Jesus is alive! He is Risen! He precedes us on the way! Let Jesus come alive in your hearts and lives so powerfully that, like the first followers, we will be, as Saint Augustine calls the People of God redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb, ‘an Alleluia People’.  May we praise Him with our lives!


May the light of Christ’s Resurrection shine in us that we might have life, and have it in abundance. May the Risen Lord Jesus shower you and your loved ones with peace, joy and abundant blessings for a Happy Easter; may Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother, help you to live with Jesus in the light of the New Life His Resurrection offers us; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi watch over each one of you, his Spiritual Children, with loving care. With a promise to keep all of you affectionately in my Easter Masses and Liturgies, I wish you and your dear ones a very Happy and Joyous Easter.  


Christ is Risen!  He is truly risen!  Alleluia!

Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant

 

Monthly Meditation for March 2019 by Father Francis 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

March 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

May the Lord grant you peace!


Because St. Francis was in certain things like another Christ given to the world for the salvation of people, God the Father willed to make him in many acts conformed and similar to His Son Jesus Christ … Once, when St. Francis was near the Lake Trasimeno on Carnival Day, he was inspired by God to go and spend Lent on an island in that lake. St. Francis asked his friend, for the love of Christ, to take him in his little boat to an island in the lake where no one lived, and to do this on the night of Ash Wednesday, so that nobody would perceive it … St. Francis earnestly asked him not to reveal to anyone that he was there, and not to come for him before Holy Thursday … and St. Francis remained there alone … There was no building there where he could take shelter. He went into a very dense thicket … and he began to pray and contemplate heavenly things in that place … He stayed there all through Lent without eating and without drinking, except for half of one of those little loaves of bread .. It is believed that St. Francis ate the half of one loaf out of reverence for the fast of the Blessed Christ, who fasted forty days and forty nights without taking any material food … And so with that half loaf he drove from himself the poison of pride … (The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Fioretti 7)


Throughout his life, St. Francis regularly sought the solitude of forests, mountains, islands. His Canticle of the Creatures gives us an insight into his love and reverence for all creation as gift from the One Great Creator and Father.  Nonetheless, often he would retire for weeks on end from this wonderful Theater of Redemption, away from the ‘world’, the people, and the circumstances that enveloped him each day.  Why?  If all is a gift and everything is so wonderful, why leave?  If God is everywhere, why go as far away from ‘civilization’ as possible to be able to ‘touch God’? 


Good, legitimate, enjoyable, and even necessary persons, places, and things – even religious things! – can ‘possess’ us so much that we can risk losing our God-centered perspective, and confuse our priorities.  They become the end rather than the means to deepen a relationship with God Who is ‘the Other’ and though He is not His creation, yet God can be seen in all things, because He is My God and My All as St. Francis prayed.  God’s providence and love cannot be felt unless they are seen in those who proclaim them by their actions.  The spirit, immersed in God, can often become distracted and even depleted of its inner strength by the constant barrages, cacophony, seductions, allurements of our society, and also from just frenetic running around ‘in four directions at once’ without taking time for healthy rest in the Lord.  The various ‘lents’ that St. Francis practiced during the year all responded to the canons of the Church for all Christians.  They were part of his own particular devotional life and spiritual needs. They afforded him the silence and solitude to ‘recharge’ his spirit, deepen his relationship with God for Whom St. Francis was the ‘Herald of the Great King’, and clarify his view of the world that surrounded him.


In solitude and silence our Seraphic Father sought to hear more clearly the voice of God Who spoke to him from the Cross of San Damiano that had entrusted him with a mission to rebuild My Church for as you can see it is falling into ruin.  To fulfill this commission St. Francis understood he had to begin by ‘rebuilding’ himself.  Like any edifice that needs revamping, remodeling, restoring, in order to be ultimately renewed, he had to check the structure, clean out the rubble, prop up and strengthen the tottering and fragile, fix the broken, discard the corroding that was affecting and infecting the rest of the healthy structure. Once this was done he could begin the ‘job’ of  rebuilding with quality updated strong material to make the structure solid and welcoming.  It is not always necessary to tear down to renew, particularly when the treasures of time and the human spirit are intimately involved and vital components.  When our faith foundation is solid and deep, the visible ‘structure’ of our lives will be strong and solid once revisions and repairs are effected.  Thus, what others see after we have worked at ‘rebuilding’ the inner spiritual structure and ‘refinished and renewed’ the outer appearance will attract, welcome, and challenge others to do the same.


Initially, our Seraphic Father understood the voice from the Cross of San Damiano literally. He began rebuilding the physical structures of several of the churches of Assisi with stones and mortar; and no doubt his merchant’s skills were able to eventually even get some of the townsfolk to help this affable eccentric in his ‘pro bono’ enterprise. Following this image, we too can speak of rebuilding the moral and spiritual structure of the Church, beginning with an evaluation and restructuring of our own personal church, the Temple of God each one of us has become through Baptism. St. Paul tells the Corinthians: Are you not aware that you are the Temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you?… For the Temple of God is holy, and you are that Temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-23) The voice from the Cross of San Damiano and the forty days St. Francis spent on the island on Lake Trasimeno offer us some points of reflection as we enter the most solemn season of the Church Year, the Paschal Season (Lent-Easter-Pentecost).  The ‘Penitents of Assisi’ as the first followers were called, were a prophetic presence among the people and within the Church calling the People of God to re-discover and uncover within themselves a new energy in God’s Spirit, and recognize a Presence that would transform their lives and restore harmony between them and all creation.  


Ash Wednesday heralds the beginning of this sacred season. Lent encourages us through the imposition of ashes to remember that:  You are dust and to dust you will return (look at everything in life from the perspective of eternity), and Repent and believe in the Gospel (give yourself over to God’s Will and live Jesus and His words). During these forty days we enter the Christian pilgrimage of faith and walk in the way of true conversion. We renew our commitment to rebuild and strengthen the Temple of God we are, making use of the ‘weapons’ our faith affords us. 


In the Opening Prayer of the Eucharist for Ash Wednesday, in the Latin Sacramentary, we read these words: O God our Father, grant that your Christian people may begin this fast as a journey of true conversion, that the weapons of penance may make them victorious in the battle against the spirit of evil. (free translation) This prayer introduces the beginning of the Season of Lent, springtime of the Church Year.  It offers us a simple and effective process we can follow on the forty-day itinerary ahead of us. The prayer mentions: conversion, journey, battle, weapons, victory … and a constant ‘accusing’ presence on this journey through life, ‘the evil one’.  The words are powerful and forceful.  They speak of decisiveness and determination. Reflecting on them and acting on them can make Lent a spiritually beneficial time for all who acknowledge their value and seek to implement them.


The process applies to a person of reasonably good faith, who truly wants to do what is good and right, even when the human spirit seems to be weak, tired or even contrary. Sincere awareness of our weaknesses leads to a desire and spirit of conversion, a ‘turning back’, to the intention of God in creating us and how we became when we were baptized – filled with sanctifying grace in God’s love.  Acceptance of this basic need urges us to take the first step of a journey that lasts a lifetime.  The journey is filled with pitfalls, detours, u-turns, and ‘full-steam-aheads’.  On this spiritual journey, just as in the experiences of everyday life, we encounter friend and foe, success and failure, joy and sorrow, virtue and vice, grace and sin.  We are called to wage ‘war’ and do ‘battle’ against the enemies of our soul by being prepared to recognize them, and to be energized by the gifts and assistance God affords us through Sacred Scripture, the Church and Sacraments, Tradition, the Magisterium, the holy people we follow as our spiritual guides, and one another.  The weapons of prayer, fasting, and alsmgiving keep our souls centered on the ultimate purpose of our existence – God! … and thus enliven us to confront the ‘evil one’ and the effects of his subtle and flagrant instigations in our daily lives:


            Prayer keeps our relationship with God strong, and makes us always aware that God is truly with us …

            Fasting places all things in right order that our possessions, even the spiritual ones, do not possess us …

            Almsgiving opens and disarms our heart to others … thus, the space within is cleared for the Presence of God. 


St. Francis often experienced his bouts with the ‘evil one’, sometimes directly, and more often, as with most of us, intensely through the temptations and allurements of the world around him or the ‘demons’ that lurk even in the recesses of saintly people. It is a given fact that the holier a person seeks to become, the more he/she will be assailed by the ‘spirit of evil’.  When we feel assailed and worried that we cannot overcome, remember that there is only one God, and no one and nothing can equal God in any way, no matter how strong.  The Evangelist St. John encourages us on our journey, especially when the going gets rough, when he reminded the early Church and us today: Greater is the One within you, than the one who is in the world.


Blow the trumpet in Zion!  Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridegroom quit his room, and the bride her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…!  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is there God?’ (Joel 2:16-17) To avoid the devastation that an infestation of locusts was causing Israel, Joel calls the people to prayer and penance.  From the terrible reality of the devastation of Israel to the great promise of the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, the people experience the blessings God offers them.  I will pour out my Spirit upon all mankind.  Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions … I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth … Then everyone will be rescued who calls on the name of the Lord… (Joel 3:1-5) God is shown as both vindicator of His people and the source of all their blessings.  Lent is the time for us to re-confirm our Covenant with God in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus.


Our desire for personal conversion compels us to take the first of many steps on a journey on which we encounter friends and foes of our spiritual lives who must be embraced in love or fought in a spiritual battle with the weapons of faith (prayer), hope (letting go and trusting in providence to fulfill our needs), and charity/love (disarming our hearts to others as we seek to assist them however possible).  Once we have embarked on this journey, guided by the Spirit of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus, there is nothing less to expect than Victory!


Yes! We are victors in the Victim!  We walk the road of the Cross.  Though there are many difficulties we must overcome, our victory is basically a victory over ourselves; that part of ourselves that hesitates or refuses to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us.  The journey of Lent leads to a victory so often misunderstood.  It is a victory whose trophy is a blood-stained Cross and a mangled, tortured, derided Person, executed as a common criminal Whose crime was truth, compassion, and love. The paradox of the Cross is the glory of the Christian.  The sign of contradiction becomes our sign of commitment, commitment to Life through death to ourselves, so that it is no longer I who live but Christ Who lives in me. Jesus Himself said, when I am lifted up I will call all people to myself.  Eventually, at the end of our Lenten journey we come to the foot of the Cross, not as vanquished victims, but as conquering victors who bear the brandmarks of Jesus in my body, therefore let no one bother me.


Let us strive to do good and become better as we enter the Season of Renewal. To do what is good is to do what is of God.  To do what is good is to strive to be good.  To be good is to live in God’s grace. To live in God’s grace is to have begun our heaven on earth.  Lent is the beginning of our journey from Ashes to Palms, leading us from Palms to Calvary,  that we might move from Calvary to the Empty Tomb, and ultimately rejoice in the Empty Tomb that introduces us to the fullness of Life.  Lent is not a time for slackers.  In the words of one of our Capuchin saints: You don’t go to heaven in a taxi! Let us be serious about our ‘return to the future’, a phrase taken from the title of a movie that reminds us we are called not to be someone else in the future but to be who we were created to be from all eternity. Thus, we must recapture and grow in the image of God and Christ in whom we were created, that the future prepared for us may be assured.


As Spiritual Children of our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, let us not forget that in the beginning we were called the ‘Penitents of Assisi’.  Let the true spirit of penance take hold of us this Lent.  We are called to reflect, reform, renew our lives that we may re-establish a deeper relationship with God and all creation.  Like Advent, Lent is a Season of joy-filled expectations. We live in the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Lent is not a sad time of regrets, and penitential practices for the past.  It is a joyful season of ‘reconstruction’ and rebirth for all who seriously take advantage of the spiritual opportunities available. At the end of this brief yearly journey of renewal, the ‘edifice of the Spirit’, ‘the Temple of God’ we are ‘comes alive’ in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. 


May God bless you; may Our Lady guide, guard, and protect you; and may our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi look over each one of you, his spiritual children, with loving care. Happy Lent!


Peace and Blessings

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

Regional Spiritual Assistant