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.”

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, 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.

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,
the-birds-preach-back-by-fr-daniel-barica. Accessed July 6, 2019.
Image: Giotto, San Francesco predica agli uccelli, 1297-99., 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


Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director - April, 2019

Brothers and Sisters,

May the Lord give you peace!

I am humbled to have been elected to serve you as St. Katharine Drexel Region director of formation. I would like to continue the practice of my predecessor, our brother Ted Bienkowski, OFS, by posting something for formation on a monthly basis. My format will be a PDF file that can be printed out (two sides of one sheet) and used for individual reflection or as a discussion piece for ongoing formation in a fraternity meeting or similar setting. This month, I consider how early 13th century penitents influenced St. Francis and how penance became the founding charism of our own Secular Franciscan Order. I  welcome your questions, comments or suggestions. Thank you!

Pax et bonum,

Justin Carisio, OFS

Director of Formation

St. Katharine Drexel Region

Francis of Assisi, Penitent
One of the easiest ways to misunderstand Saint Francis is to overlook how much he was a man of his times influenced by the environments in which he found himself: family, city, culture, and church (including one of the great church councils). In the Secular Franciscan Ceremony of Introduction and Welcome (1), the person who is being introduced to the fraternity is handed a biography of Saint Francis by the formation director and told “to read it carefully, in order to learn how to live the gospel life of our Lord Jesus Christ by following [Francis’s] example.” One hopes if it is the first biography of the saint a potential inquirer reads, it will not be the last. There is always more to learn about his remarkable witness and the world in which he lived.

An aspect of his life we should not lose sight of is that before Francis was a friar, he was a penitent, and in a very real sense, he remained a penitent all his life. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Church experienced a resurgence in penitential lifestyles as “vast numbers of the laity became voluntary penitents.” (2) Francis’s conversion took place in that context. It is likely his encounter with penitential groups influenced his vision of a life of penance and the expectations he had for penitents who later became associated with his own movement. What were some specific characteristics of Franciscan penitents? Consider a few described by Raffaele Pazzelli, TOR, in his history of the Third Order:

  • Adherence to Catholicism and fidelity to the Church. “[The penitents’] beliefs and lifestyle…correspond to Francis’s basic principle of complete adherence to Catholicism and absolute fidelity to the Church” (3)
  • High regard for the sacraments and the priesthood. “Francis understood that, according to the teachings of Christ, no spiritual life was possible without the Eucharist [and] without the sacrament of penance there would be no remission of sin. Eucharist and penance, in their turn, cannot exist without the ministry of the priesthood.” (4)
  • Penance is a journey to God. “The ‘life of penance’ is a road of ascent and a means for this ascent. This is a fundamental point of spirituality for Franciscan penitents, those of yesterday as well as today.” (5)
  • The spirit of love is part of the life of penance. The “relationship of love between God and man, between God and creation…is for Francis the only light, the only reality.”(6)

If we attend to this history, we readily appreciate that Francis’s own message of penance and conversion often fell upon fertile soil ready to receive it. Many Catholics of his day were ardent in their desire to imagine a way to live the gospel life in their own time and place and to do so literally. It is no wonder that the example of Francis and his brothers inspired so many. Francis went on to found the Order of Lesser Brothers—the Friars Minor—but in the Franciscan movement, penance would always remain the fundamental charism of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the progenitors of the Third Order and, by extension, of our own Secular Franciscan Order. Penance, especially in the form of joyful, ongoing conversion, retains a central place in the lives of Secular Franciscans to this day. As individuals and in fraternity we should seek ways to embody the love and zeal of those early Franciscan penitents.

From the Rule & General Constitutions:
United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father’s mercy and the source of grace. (Rule, 7) Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times “the brothers and sisters of penance,” propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion. Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. They should approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and participate in the communal celebration of it, whether in the fraternity, or with the whole people of God.
(Constitutions, 13.1)
Questions for discussion:
1. “The term Penance in Franciscanism is equivalent to the biblical meaning of metanoia, understood as an intimate conversion of the heart to God, as a continuous state of being. It is not a question of doing penance but of being penitent.”(7) What are some of our present-day characteristics of being penitent?
2. During his time as a penitent, Francis was formed in part through the influence of others. Who has been influential in your journey of penance?

(1) Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order, 10.
(2) Robert M. Stewart, OFM, “De Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiam” The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins, Development, Interpretation, Instituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 1991, 120.
(3) Raffaele Pazzelli, St. Francis and the Third Order, The Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential  Movement, Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, 1989, 118.
(4) Ibid., 119.
(5) Ibid., 120-21.
(6) Ibid., 121.
(7) Lino Temperini,TOR, Penitential Spirituality in the Franciscan Sources, Franciscan Publications, July 1983, 41.

Copyright © 2019 by Justin Carisio, OFS

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director - March 2019

March 2019

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi. All peace and good be with you! May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary!


In my February 2019 “Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director” I continued a discussion on the wonderful Feast of Epiphany. This month I will finish our discussion on what it means to be “Epiphany” and why it is so important.


I want to go straight to the sacred scripture and hear what our Lord has to say. You might expect me to share the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16. We hear it all the time and even see it at sporting events. And it is a beautiful and special passage but there is one even more special to me.


“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”


This entire passage should bring us to our knees and make us cry with joy and amazement! Listen to it slowly and prayerfully, Jesus is explaining that what our Heavenly Father has done thru Jesus’ love is enfolded us into the Blessed Loving Circle of the Trinity! The Father loving the Son loving the Holy Spirit loving us and then back the other way! This is not only why we should be Epiphany but it is how we are to be Epiphany.


By being completely immersed in the Trinitarian love we can then be brought to perfect love. That perfect or Agape3 love will cause us to love God more perfectly and love those around us. This love will in turn attract those that are seeking perfect love themselves, even if they don’t know it at the time. That same love helps us to live and love as Jesus does and how our seraphic father, Saint Francis did. Our desire should be the same! That all those given to Jesus should be enfolded into the Blessed Trinity!


I know some may think all this talk of love is a bit over sweet, but let’s look at how the prophet Isaiah describes Jesus treatment even the sinners.


“A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

This passage is powerful and should speak volumes to us. Jesus would not damage the bruised reed or put out the smoldering candle. What did he do? He healed the sinner and reignited the sinners’ light to the world. He did it in a gentle loving way. But some might say “he made a whip and cast out the money changers” that wasn’t so gentle.


We need to take a close look at that event. First, it was not Jesus’ normal behavior. Secondly we must ask why he did it. It is very simple really, the money changes and sellers set up their shops in the outer court of the temple. The outer court was also known as the court of the Gentiles. You need to know a little about temple worship back then. Gentiles wishing to worship the one true God were allowed to enter only into the outer court to pray and worship. The next court was the court of the women. Women, even Jewish women, were only allowed to enter the temple to that point. Then there was the inner court. That is where Jewish men could go. It was right next to the Holy of Holies or where the tabernacle was. And only the high priest could go there and only once a year to offer sin offerings for himself and the people.


“Then Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’”


So, when the ruling priests and Sanhedrin8 allowed the sellers and money changers to set up shop in the outer court they in essence made it impossible for the gentiles’ to enter into a prayerful and worshipful relationship with God! That is way Jesus did what he did. The Jews were actually preventing people from encountering God in a meaningful way and they were doing it to make a profit. To them the gentiles had little value as people and could be abused.


My sisters and brothers, I ask you to truly be Epiphany to let the love of the Blessed Trinity shine thru you and place a spotlight on Jesus!

Pax et Bonum Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation Director


1 John 17:20-26 2

2 Emphasis mine

3 This Greek word, agápē, and variations of it are frequently found throughout the New Testament. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for his followers.

4 Isaiah 42:3

5 Gentiles (Heb., usually in plural, goyim), meaning in general all nations except the Jews.

6 Luke 19:45-46

7 Emphasis mine

8 The Jewish ruling council or government

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director – February, 2019

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

February 2019

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi.

All peace and good be with you! May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary! As we prepare for our Regional Chapter of Elections this coming March, I ask you all to be praying for and seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and that those called to serve the next three years be filled with the grace and wisdom of God!

In my last edition of “Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director” we started a discussion on the wonderful Feast of Epiphany. I asked you to reflect on this incredible feast and what it meant to us as Franciscans. I also gave you some scripture passages to reflect on as I did sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and our Rule. This month, I want to continue that theme even though Epiphany is long past. Although, for those of us who see the church’s calendar as a continuation of our faith and a part of our ongoing conversion, it is not past, it is just getting ready to come around again in eleven months!

This month I would like to focus more on the idea that we, as Catholics, but especially as Franciscans are called to be “Epiphany” to the world around us. Remember, the word and concept of Epiphany is to reveal or to be revelation, to shed light into the world around us and to live the gospel so clearly that others will see Jesus in you and be attracted to that light and vocation.

I want to share with you a section of the prolog to our rule of life:

“Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50). We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill “the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 12:50). We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).” 1,2

In the prologue to our rule, In the Exhortation, Francis himself said we are to “Give Birth to Him,” meaning to reveal Jesus to those around us. We further see this idea in our own rule:

“United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed His will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.”3,4

In Rule 10, we are called to “witness to Him.” What does that word witness mean? Simply put, it means to testify. But for us it means not only in word, but in actions also.

Definition of (give) witness to: To declare belief in (a god or religion) They gave witness to their faith.5

Pope Francis once asked: “Am I a Christian giving witness to Jesus or am I a simple numerary of this sect,” unable to let the Holy Spirit “drive me forward in my Christian vocation?”6

Although his Holiness did not use the word “witness,” it is definitely the idea he is conveying. “Am I simply an official elected to a lifetime position within the church, or am I truly driven by the Holy Spirit?”

For this month, I will end with another part of our rule:

“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. Mindful that anyone “who follows Christ, the perfect man, becomes more of a man himself,” let them exercise their responsibilities competently in the Christian spirit of service.”7,8

Here, too, we are called to be a light and witness for Christ, to be epiphany, not instead of Christ, but pointing to Christ as the solution to the world’s issues.

Next month we will finish up on this topic and discuss examples of what it means to be epiphany!

Pax et Bonum

Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation


1 SFO Rule (Prologue) Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance In the name of the Lord!

2 Emphasis mine

3 SFO Rule 10

4 Emphasis mine

5  give witness to

6 May 6 2013: Homily at Mass Tuesday in the Domus Sanctae Marthae

7 SFO Rule 14 8 Emphasis min


Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director – January 2019

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

January 2019

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi.

All peace and good be with you!  May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary in this New Year!  I pray that your Christmas was blessed and that, as we prepare to celebrate the wonderful Feast of Epiphany, I ask you to reflect on this incredible feast for a while. We all too often see the Epiphany as the three wise men coming to adore the Baby Jesus, and it is that, but oh so much more.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks volumes:

“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.”[1],[2]  

So, we see that according to the Catechism, Epiphany is not just the visitation of the three magi, it includes the Baptism of Christ and the sign (as Saint John calls it) of the Wedding Feast of Cana.  First, I would like to take a look at this year’s Old Testament reading for the feast.

“Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.  Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, upon you the LORD will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen.  Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning.[3],[4]

In this beautiful passage from Isaiah the prophet proclaims that not only will Zion (the chosen people) see the Glory of the Lord, but all the nations of the earth will see his great light!  This was a very new message for Israel.  In that time, and right up to Jesus’ time, Israel frequently shunned the stranger, or even castigated him, even though they were called to be the light of the world.

Now I would like to look at two scriptures that describe the Baptism of our Lord, one directly and the other indirectly.

“After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”[5],[6]

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the one of whom I said  ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”[7],[8]

In both the Gospel of Mathew and in the Gospel of John we see the Father revealing to the world his beloved son, not as a baby but as the Lamb of God.  John’s Gospel does not directly link the revelation to Jesus’ baptism, but does link it indirectly.  In both cases, Jesus is revealed in a new and clearer way.

Lastly, we have the wedding feast of Cana:

“And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs[9] in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.[10],[11] 

Though Jesus performed many more than seven miracles, the Apostle John selectively cites only seven for this reason:  the number seven shows the completeness of God’s revelation of Jesus to the Hebrews and to the world, and is traditionally thought of as the number representing God’s perfect nature.  Each of the seven signs builds on the next to paint a complete picture of the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world.

“The first sign is the transformation of water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1–11); this represents the replacement of the Jewish ceremonial washings and symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus.”[12]

Accordingly we see that the Feast of Epiphany is much more than the coming of the Magi.  It is the celebration of the revelation of the Light of God to all peoples, the declaration and revelation of Jesus and God’s son and Lamb of God (sacrifice) and the revelation that Jesus is the transforming and creative force of the Godhead.

So, what does that have to do with Franciscan formation?  A great deal! And in the coming months we will continue to discuss this and reflect on our Rule of Life and the Sacred Scriptures.  I will leave you with a chapter of our rule to start contemplating.

“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.  Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.”[13],[14]



Pax et Bonum

Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation Director

[1] Taken from CCC-528

[2] Emphasis mine

[3] Isaiah 60:1-3

[4] Emphasis mine

[5] Mathew 3:16-17

[6] Emphasis mine

[7] John 1:29-32

[8] Emphasis mine

[9] “Sign” (sēmeion) is John’s symbolic term for Jesus’ wondrous deeds

[10] John 2:9-11

[11] Emphasis mine

[12] Introduction to the Gospel of John, NABRE, approved by the USCCB

[13] OFS Rule, Chapter 6

[14] Emphasis mine

Thoughts from our Regional Formation Director – December 2018

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

December 2018

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers in Christ and Saint Francis of Assisi.

All peace and good be with you!  May the peace and joy of our seraphic Father be yours in ever greater abundance as we journey with Saint Francis, Saint Clare and the Franciscan family in imitating Jesus and Mary.

It is hard to believe but after looking through my files, this will be a full year that I have been sending you my thoughts and it has caused me to reflect on mile-stones and anniversaries which in turn has caused me to contemplate a very special anniversary we all share!  The fortieth anniversary of the approval of our rule of life.  I can almost laugh to myself some times when I hear a sister and brother say “Our New Rule” or “the New Rule”.  Almost all the Secular Franciscans I know have known no other rule!

This rule of ours is a precious and most loved gift from our Order and from the Church.  It has brought us back to the foundations of our origins, brothers and sisters of penance and ongoing conversion.  It truly reflects the spirit of the Second Vatican Council in  LUMEN GENTIUM ( Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) where our Holy Mother Church redirects our thoughts to the original intent of “Church”  and mission.


“Christ is the light of humanity; and it is, accordingly, the heart-felt desire of this sacred Council, being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature (cf. Mk. 16:15), it may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church. Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament–a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men–she here purposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission. The condition of the modern world lends greater urgency to this duty of the Church; for, while men of the present day are drawn ever more closely together by social, technical and cultural bonds, it still remains for them to achieve full unity in Christ.”[1]

I encourage all of you to re-read the Second Vatican Documents, but especial Lumen Gentium.  And as you do you should see a striking commonality in tone and form with the Rule approved in 1978, and like the rule the constitutions and statutes.  It is intended to bring us back to our roots and original mission.

In my discussion with many of you I hear a frequent question.  What do we do for ongoing formation?  I can understand the question.  Our materials and guidelines for Initial Formation are very clear and abundant.  But at first glance not so much for ongoing formation.  Just like our rule is a return to our roots, I would suggest the same thing for formation.  Take the rule one paragraph at a time along with the reference material like the constitution and the “Franciscan Journey” and spend your ongoing formation time reflecting and discussing or “Re-Discovering” the most precious gift of our Rule of Life!

Pax et Bonum

Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS

SKD Region Formation Director


[1] LUMEN GENTIUM ( Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), The mystery of the Church, par 1