August, 2020 – Thoughts from your Formation Director, Justin Carisio

SKD Formation Monthly-August 2020

From the Regional Formation Director - Justin Carisio, OFS - June 2020

SKD Formation Monthly-June 2020

From the Regional Formation Director – April 2020

SKD Formation Monthly-April 2020

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director – March 2020

SKD Formation Monthly-February 2020 SKD Formation Monthly-February 2020

PLEASE NOTE:  This posting is for March 2020 even though February is cited in the title.

From the Formation Director – October 2019

SKD Formation Monthly-October 2019  

 

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director August 2019 Text version

“You are Beauty”
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever
is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think
about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
**********
In the fall of 1224, St. Francis of Assisi spent forty days on the cold and windy heights of Mount Laverna in Tuscany. It was at that time that he experienced the vision of a six-winged Seraph, after which the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion appeared on his body. In the aftermath of this extraordinary experience, Francis took a small piece of parchment and wrote, on one side of it “The Praises of God.”1 He begins by addressing God: “You are the holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.”2  In twenty lines or so he names attributes of his Heavenly Father and King, who is “the good, all good, the highest good.” On some points he repeats himself. For example, twice he says, “You are beauty, You are meekness.”

The inspiration to call God beauty is one of Francis’s insights. Francis had an innate appreciation
for true beauty. We know from his “Canticle of the Creatures” that he saw beauty in the natural
world, and he describes the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Fire as “beautiful.” His own taste for beautiful
music and poetry were plain for all to see. Working in his father’s cloth business, he would have
developed an appreciation for the beauty present in human design and craft. But it was his
spiritual insight—his gift and grace—to see true beauty as emanating from God’s divine beauty.
We live in a culture that often promotes the ugly and vulgar as trendy and stylish or uses the
unbeautiful to obscure and diminish true beauty. With St. Francis as our Seraphic Father, Secular
Franciscans should claim love for God who is beauty as a spiritual inheritance and use it to
evangelize our world.

In doing so we certainly are not alone. Bishop Robert Barron in his documentaries on
Catholicism has identified beauty in Catholic art, architecture, music and writing as a way to
reach people who hunger for truth and who seek meaning in their lives. In this he echoes Pope
Benedict XVI who sees the Church’s legacy of beauty and the lives of the saints as central to the
spread of Christianity in the 21st century. “The only really effective apologia for Christianity,”
Pope Benedict says, “comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced
and the art which has grown in her womb.”3

In speaking to a group of clergy, he said, “All the great works of art, cathedrals—the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches—they are all a luminous sign of God.”4
And to a gathering of artists he added, “the experience of beauty…leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful.”
5

How can we as Secular Franciscans respond to beauty to grow spiritually and to evangelize those
around us? Consider a few that are simple and obvious:
• In the splendor of nature. Clouds, sunsets, storms, mountain vistas, fireflies, birds, streams of
water, night skies—the manifestations of natural beauty are endless. St. Francis has given us
the perfect formula for responding to such beauty: “Be praised my Lord for
Brother/Sister….” Join with him often in that hymn of praise.

• In the beauty of liturgy, scripture and sacred art and architecture. There is a sublime beauty
in the Mass, in the parables of Jesus and in the Psalms and hymns of praise throughout
Scripture. Be attentive also to the beauty of sacred art and liturgical spaces, especially those
that have stood for a long time and which echo with the prayers and praise of generations.
• In the honest handiwork of men and women. A well-cultivated garden, food lovingly
prepared, a magnificent suspension bridge, light through a stained-glass window, a pitcher’s
curve ball. God may be glorified through the beauty of human works both humble and grand.
• In the lives of others. St. Francis said of his encounter with lepers that, “when I left them,
what had seen bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”6 The priest-poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of his great sonnets: “Christ plays in ten thousand
places,/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”

Finally, be open to the great effect of beauty, which is joy. Jesuit theologian John Navone wrote,
“Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, always evidences the experience of God’s beauty.”
7 By living the gospel life, we participate in God’s beautification of the Church and the world. Let us join
with Francis and utter joyfully to our Lord with awe and deep gratitude, “You are beauty.”
**************************************************
From the OFS Rule and General Constitutions
• Trusting the Father, Christ chose for Himself and His mother a poor and humble life, even
though He valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular Franciscans seek a
proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.
Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for
the benefit of God’s children. [Rule, 11]
• They should love and practice purity of heart, the source of true fraternity. [GenConst., 15.4]

For discussion or reflection
• Read aloud St. Francis’s “Praises of God.” How does his impassioned prayer move you?
• Think of a moment in which you encountered beauty today. How might such an experience
inspire you to give praise and thanksgiving to God. What form would your praise take?

1 Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., et al., editors, Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, Volume I, The Saint (New City Press, 1999), 108.
2 Armstrong, 109.
3 https://www.benedictinstitute.org/2018/01/the-splendor-of-holiness-and-art/, accessed August 12, 2019.
4 Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, Cathedral of Bressanone, August, 6, 2008.
5 Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Artists, Sistine Chapel, November 21, 2009.
6 Armstrong, 124.
7John Navone, SJ, Enjoying God’s Beauty (The Liturgical Press, 1999), 7.
Image: Crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce. https://travelpast50.com/basilica-santa-croce-florence-italy/

Copyright ©2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director July 2019 Text version

“Look at the birds of the air”
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)
**********
Of all God’s creatures, perhaps those we most readily associate with St. Francis of Assisi are the birds.
Francis is forever linked to them because of an episode that occurred in 1213 when he was experiencing
something of a vocation crisis. Although the sources offer other moments of interaction between Francis
and birds, this one was seminal. Endeavoring to discern if he was being called to a contemplative life
or if he should pursue an evangelical life of prayer and itinerant preaching, he was encouraged by Brother Silvester and Sister Clare to continue the latter. Reassured, Francis set out joyfully, and encountering a field with birds, he began anew by preaching to them.

From the early biographers to present day commentators, much has been written about this
incident. Of central importance is what Francis actually said. His earliest biographer, Thomas of
Celano, writes that he exhorted the birds, saying, “My brother birds, you should greatly praise
your Creator, and love Him always. He gave you feathers to wear, wings to fly, and whatever
you need. God made you noble among his creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air,
so that though you neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless protects and governs you without your
least care.”1 Celano recounts that he blessed them with the sign of the cross and gave them
permission to fly off.

As always, Francis had the gospel in mind—in this instance the words of the Sermon on the
Mount when Jesus’ urged the people to “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap.”2
However, Francis also employed an innovation: he addressed the birds as “my brothers.” This
became the paradigm he would employ throughout his ministry—all creatures would be seen as
brother or sister. The Franciscan concept that today we call “universal kinship” was present in
the saint’s outlook and view of nature. Roger Sorrell adds that Francis’ preaching to the birds
“reveals the new feelings of mutual love and respect between the saint and creatures.”3 Mutuality
implies the encounter went both ways, and Sorrell suggests that while Francis had a message for
the birds, he also saw the “creature as teacher.”4 Later he would bluntly remind the friars of the
powerful lesson the creatures teach: “All creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their
Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you.”5

As Secular Franciscans, an immediate way to grow in universal kinship is by taking time to
“look at the birds of the air” and in so doing develop a relationship with them and increase our
love and understanding of God.

In an essay titled, “The Birds Preach Back,” Daniel Barica, OFM, a friar, birder and nature
photographer, writes that “Francis practiced and promoted a truly incarnational spirituality,
experiencing God in the entire created world.” Fr. Barica believes that taking time to observe
birds can teach us patience, acceptance and understanding, awe, and intimacy with God.6 Of
course, when we listen to Jesus and look at the birds of the air (and the lilies of the field) we are
also instructed in gospel poverty, total dependence on God, and authentic praise of our Creator.
The key is actually to look. Thinking about the natural world or watching nature shows on
television is not the same as physical interaction, as going to a window or stepping outside. To
sit motionless in a yard or park or garden and look at the birds is to know God’s grace and beauty
in a direct and joyful way. To rise at dawn on a summer morning and listen to what
ornithologists call the “morning chorus” is to hear a Gloria sung in voices not our own. As
Franciscans, we should stop, look, and pray. For St. Francis, universal kinship was not a
theological idea or mental construct. It was a physical, lived, spiritual reality. Let us follow his
example. There is no easier way to begin than to “look at the birds of the air.”
**************************************************
From the OFS Rule and General Constitutions
• Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which “bear the
imprint of the Most High,” and they should strive to move from the temptation of
exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship. [Rule, 18]
• Following the example of Francis, patron of ecologists, they should actively put forward
initiatives that care for creation and should work with others in efforts that both put a stop
to polluting and degrading nature and also establish circumstances of living and
environment which would not be a threat to the human person. [Constitutions, 18.4]

For discussion or reflection
• In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis says, “nature cannot be regarded as something
separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature,
included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” (139). Reflect on a time in your
life when the creature was teacher—when interaction with creation, animate or
inanimate, moved you to praise or to a deeper love, understanding, or knowledge of God.

1 Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., et al., editors, Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, Volume I, The Saint (New City Press, 1999), 234.
2 Matthew 6:26, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, The New Testament (Ignatius Press, 2010).
3 Roger D. Sorrell, St. Francis of Assisi and Nature, Tradition and Innovation in Western Christian Attitudes toward the Environment (Oxford University Press, 1988), 68.
4 Sorrell, 46.
5 Armstrong, 131.
6 Daniel Barica, OFM, “The Birds Preach Back,” Franciscans for Justice, www.franciscansforjustice.org/2012/02/10/
the-birds-preach-back-by-fr-daniel-barica. Accessed July 6, 2019.
Image: Giotto, San Francesco predica agli uccelli, 1297-99. Wikiart.org, public domain.

Copyright ©2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director, August 2019 PDF version

SKD Formation Monthly-August 2019.docx (1)

July 2019 Formation Article by Justin Carisio, OFS

SKD Formation-July 2019.docx (1)

Monthly Formation from the Regional Formation Director – June 2019

“You will be my witnesses”

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)

**********

The time between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost is quiet but thrilling. Quiet, because it is an in-between time of wonder and awe. Thrilling, because it anticipates Pentecost Sunday when we remember the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. During this interlude, we recall how the Risen Lord, after a period of time in which he appeared to the apostles and others, departed from them. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand.”1 Jesus commissions his followers: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation.”2 And he assures them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”3

These events and mysteries have special meaning for Secular Franciscans. They present to us the origin of the Church’s mission of evangelization. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), Pope St. Paul VI teaches that “the task of evangelizing constitutes the essential mission of the Church… Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”4

That task of evangelization is one that Secular Franciscans share, in a most definite way, by virtue of our profession. Our Rule says we “should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.”5 Furthermore, we “are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively.”6 Franciscan scholar Andrea Boni, OFM, wrote that Franciscans “have been entrusted by God with the task of rebuilding his house. The Church is rebuilt with the same tools with which it was constructed: evangelization and witness of life.”7

For Secular Franciscans, both in fraternity and in our individual lives, the role of witness is fundamental. Again, to cite Pope St. Paul VI, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”8 What does that witness look like? He offers a very Franciscan description: “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience, humility.”9 And he clearly intends this to be the action of individuals, adding poignantly, “In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the Gospel than by transmitting to another person one’s personal experience of faith?”10 Secular Franciscans know how to do this. We know how to go from “gospel to life and life to the gospel.”11

In our culture, evangelization is often associated with a particular form of proselytizing. However, to be truly evangelical is simply to embrace the gospel and proclaim it fearlessly. We evangelize by the example of our fraternities when we live as communities of love. We evangelize as individuals by following Jesus after the example of St. Francis. Our witness will look different depending on how we are graced and on our various situations in the world. But the Church’s mission of evangelization—to spread the gospel—is central to our vocation. The General Constitutions affirm this: “Secular Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. Their preferred apostolate is personal witness in the environment in which they live.”12

 **************************************************

 From the OFS Rule and Constitutions

  • They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they   should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words. [Rule, 6]
  • Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively. [Rule, 14]
  • Called to work together in building up the Church as the sacrament of salvation for all and, through their baptism and profession made “witnesses and instruments of her mission,” Secular      Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. Their preferred apostolate is personal          witness in the environment in which they live and service for building up the Kingdom of God       within the situation of this world. [Constitutions, 17,1]

For reflection and discussion

  • Pope St. Paul VI says that the “Church exists to evangelize.” How do you imagine an authentically Catholic evangelization? What form or modality might it take?
  • If the mission of the Church is to evangelize—to proclaim the gospel to all the world—what does it mean in your daily life to be a “witness and an instrument” of that mission?
  • Our Constitutions make the striking statement that for a Secular Franciscan the “preferred apostolate is personal witness in the environment in which they live and service for building up         the Kingdom of God within the situations of this world.” What are some of the ways you can develop such an apostolate in your own life as a Secular Franciscan?

Further study

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS