Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director – December 2017

(A PDF version of this document can be downloaded here.)

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

I pray that the peace and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ and our spiritual father Saint Francis of Assisi are with you and, in you, overflowing in life-giving abundance to others. “We must radiate” the love of God i.   It is by radiating that life giving Agape “LOVE”ii,iii that we will attract our brother and sister Catholics and help them hear the call to vocation increasing the “Helpmates” answering the call of Jesus to Saint Francis, go rebuild my Church.  As I discussed in my November letter, and spoke of at the recent regional gathering, we are called to be Jesus’ helpmates, building and rebuilding the church in love and fraternal perfection, to radiate the spirit of Francis and of Jesus!  This nuptial relationship with Jesus makes our profession sacred and our fraternity sacred. We need to protect both our profession and our fraternity, and the best way to do that is a healthy and strong formation process.

Thank God for those who have gone before us!  They have laid a very good foundation and given us the tools we need to do this important and noble task.  We have the FUN Manual, the Regional Formation Guide, and the Franciscan Journey.  We also have each other and sources on the SKD Region web site.  I want to start with a very simple one-page document that gives you an immense amount of aid:  the “Pathway to Profession” Chart (the chart can be also be found in the regional formation handbook, second section, page 43).  For this month, I will focus on the First Contacts.  The chart tells us to conduct initial interviews and Faith Inventory.  I cannot over emphasize how important this simple step is and, if done properly, can help you avoid problems in the future.  It can also help the individual going through the process to overcome any simple impediments in their faith.

The template for the initial interview is on page 53 of the regional formation guidebook.  The Holy Cross Fraternity took that template and made it a fraternity document so that it is easy to print and save to record.  (By the way, it is essential that all documents created or collected are saved.  I recommend digitizing them and saving to a file and a disk or other external drive.  That way, if something happens you have multiple file sources.)

A careful and slow read of the form will give you a very good idea of how detailed this interview is.  It gives you the opportunity to find out very specific information about the person.  And note that anyone who is not comfortable answering any of the questions should send up that RED FLAG.  Don’t be afraid to ask your own, additional questions.  For example, if you ask questions about sacramental development, and the person says that he does not have any record of being confirmed, ask some more questions concerning his family of origin and faith development.  If an irregularity is found, assist the person by directing him to a parish priest for resolution.  All irregularities or perceived impediments should be resolved before initial formation begins.

A question that comes up fairly regularly is “What about a person who is in the RCIA program?”  Can they start the initial formation process?  After all, most RCIA programs are one year and our formation can be three years.  The answer is simple, although it makes some people uncomfortable.  If a person is in RCIA, they are not yet Catholic.  To start the process a person has to be a catholic in good standing who has received all the sacraments of initiation.  Also, as a former RCIA director, I would not have wanted any of my Catechumens distracted in any way.  Their entire focus needs to be on their journey into full communion with the church!

Next month we will start discussing the importance of reference letters.  I use three at a minimum.  More on that next time.

Peace and all Good

Ted Bienkowski, OFS
SKD Region Formation Director

i Excerpts from Walbert Buhlmann OFM Cap – Address to European Capuchins, May 5, 2005
ii Agape (Ancient Greek ἀγάπη, agápē) is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, “”the highest form of love,” “charity”” and “”the love of God for man and of man for God”””
iii H. G. Liddell; Robert Scott (October 2010). An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. Benediction Classics. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-84902-626-0.

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director – November 2017

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director

November 2017

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

I pray that the peace and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ and our spiritual father Saint Francis of Assisi are with you and, in you, overflowing in life-giving abundance to others.  For it is this peace, joy and life-giving union that is truly the external sign of our Franciscan charism.  As Walbert Buhlmann, OFM Cap puts it.  “We must radiate!”  It is the love of God traveling in both directions that make us radiate.  When I say both directions I mean first and foremost from God to us, then, in response to his love for us, we love him back.  In this reciprocal love affair, we can become what Buhlmann said: “we can be a question mark, an exclamation mark…”[1].

It was in great humility and a bit of good old fashioned “Who, Me?” that I accepted appointment to the position as Regional Formation Director a few months ago.  I ask that you pray for me as I seek, with your help, the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Over the next year or so, I plan to attend your regular Fraternity gatherings in order to get to know you and you to know me.  I will also be listening to your Initial and Ongoing formation questions.

In the meantime, I do have some thoughts to share concerning Initial Formation.  These thoughts come from the study of what we have come to know as “The Cangelosi letter”.  Let’s take a look at one part of the letter, a part that I am sure we all have read before but may not have embraced it fully into our lives.

Father Cangelosi said, “Indeed, most people have foggy ideas on the value of Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order and because of this many Secular Franciscans do not live the “grace” of Profession for what it really is. A true nuptial alliance with Jesus Christ[2] aimed at a further consecration to God and at accomplishing a closer bond to the Church to reach the perfection of love andthe realization of Saint Francis mission.[3]

I assume we have all heard this talk of Nuptial Alliance and realization of the mission, but have we really taken a deep look at it and grasped what the words are saying?  If we had, it would be life changing!  By virtue of our profession, we are in a nuptial relationship with Jesus.  What does that mean?  We are also called to the realization of Francis’s mission…  We are called to be Jesus’s helpmates, building and rebuilding the church in love and fraternal perfection, to radiate the spirit of Francis and of Jesus!

            This nuptial relationship with Jesus makes our profession sacred and our fraternity sacred.  We need to protect both our profession and our fraternity, always making sure that they remain sacred.  In my mind, the best way to do this is to secure our foundation and have the basics down.  And that means initial and ongoing formation!  I am asking each and every one of you to make sure that you are following the FUN manual, the Regional Formation Guidelines and the Pathway to Profession so that we may truly accomplish our mission to rebuild His church.

[1] Excerpts from Walbert Buhlmann OFM Cap – Address to European Capuchins, May 5, 2005

2 Emphasis mine

3 Emphasis mine

Peace and Good

Thoughts for July from the Regional Formation Director

Greetings dear brothers and sisters!

Hope all of you are enjoying your summer and when necessary keeping cool as well.

This month I would like to speak about prayer and the spiritual journey.

We know that our Rule addresses prayer in our articles which are Article #4, Article #8. Article 4 We devote ourselves to careful reading of the gospel with openness going from gospel life and life to the gospel. We reflect on scripture and listen to God and see how he is speaking to us and incorporate the Gospel into our lives. Article 8 addresses the sacramental life of the Church which is the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Word and of course the Liturgy of the hours.

We must quiet ourselves in our reading of the scriptures. Our quiet place can be in our home but more enjoyable in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. » Click to continue reading “Thoughts for July from the Regional Formation Director” »

From Your Regional Formation Director - June 2017

I would like to wish you all a happy Pentecost, a time for a new conversion.

A little bit of History. Some of us may know that Pentecost began as a Jewish celebration of the wheat harvest in the late spring. It gradually became customary to celebrate the feast 50 days after the Passover. The Jewish scholars calculated that when their ancestors left Egypt, they arrived at Mount Sinai approximately 50 days later, this gave an additional meaning to the feast. It was there that God gave them the Law and made a covenant with them. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Pentecost became a time for Jewish people to celebrate the covenant with God which made them God’s chosen people.

Jesus claimed these words from Isaiah as his own mission: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” By following Jesus and Francis, we are challenged to do the same. What are you called to do? Serve the poor in some way. Bring communion to those who are homebound? Making a phone call to someone who lives alone? It goes on and on the possibilities to Serve, Inspire and to Evangelize.

We must be messengers of joy in every circumstance, striving to bring joy and hope to others with the realization that Christ is present in everyone. (article19)

An example in scripture of what conversion looks like: We hear the story of Lydia and how her experience of listening to the Lord opened her heart, she was moved by grace. She listened to the Lord and responded and asked to be baptized and shared her experience with her household, and they too were baptized. This is the pattern of conversion: God give His grace, we respond, and the result is a powerful transformation. This type of “ongoing conversion” can happen anytime and anywhere.

May we experience the grace of God at Pentecost and all during our lives, and respond to do what is ours to do.

Resources: Little books of the Diocese of Saginaw, Queen of Peace Regional Fraternity and a commentary from scripture The Word Among Us.

May the Lord give you His Peace!


Thoughts from our Regional Formation Director, May 2017

Brothers and Sisters,

Many of us when speaking about love can take it as life giving or not. Although it we celebrated that day months ago, it is still amazing that we seem to think alike on that special day called “Valentine’s Day.  We convince ourselves that candy, flowers presents and dining are the essentials to love someone and use this event for a promise to be married. These are certainly ways of showing love and affection but we know there is only one true love that will never die and He loves us before we were ever formed.

Just to share a funny little story:

I remember my first Valentine’s Day I was in first grade. Want to laugh??  I received about ten bubble gum rings and from another a chocolate heart. Very cute at that time.

However Franciscan spirituality is centered around one simple fact. God is love.

Pope Pius Xll describe Franciscan spirituality this way: ‘There is, then, a Franciscan doctrine in accordance with which God is holy, is great, and above all, is good indeed the Supreme Good. For in this doctrine, God is love. He lives by love, creates for love, becomes flesh and redeems, that is, he saves and makes holy, for love. There is also a way of contemplating Jesus…in His human love.

The great emphasis then is on the fact that God is love. Every Christian believes this, of course, but some choose to emphasize it as Francis did

To live the Gospel according to the spirit of Francis means participating in communion with Christ poor and crucified, in the love of God.

In brother and sisterhood with all people and all of creation, in life and mission of the Church, in continual conversion, in a life of prayer-liturgical, personal, communal as instruments of peace.

Let us not forget St. Francis’ love for Mary our Mother.  It was shown in his prayers and how he lived his life. He used Mary as a model for how he could follow Jesus.

There were two major prayers he wrote The Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second prayer that Francis wrote about Mary is the Antiphon from the Office of the Passion.

Let us pray for all Mothers during the month of May; for the mothers to be and those who have gone before us.

IF you chose to you may use the following,

Ongoing Formation:

Questions for Reflection Read: The Testament St. Francis of Assisi

What is your image of God?

What is unique about Franciscan spirituality?

Why does Francis’s way attract you?

May the Lord give you His peace!!

Thoughts from our Formation Director - April 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This article comes to you while we all still in the season of Lent. I do hope your journey through the remainder of Lent and through Holy Week will bring Easter Joy and many blessings to each and every one.

I would like to share with you at this time the prayer I have been using during lent. When we get to Holy week I will be using The Geste of the Great King OFFICE OF THE PASSION OF FRANCIS OF ASSISI. It was written by Laurant Gallant OFM and Andre’ Cirino OFM

When reading please take time to reflect and to apply it to our lives as Franciscans:

Holy One who journeys with me on the road of life with its hills and valleys.

May I recognize the daily cross that is mine and carry this burden in a trustful way, confident that the undesired parts of my life can be guides to my spiritual growth.

Teach me how to be with my personality traits that I consider unworthy or unacceptable.

Inspire me to release my tight grip when I wrestle with the resistant part of myself that insists on having everything in life turn out the way I desire or demand.

Increase my awareness of the false judgements and unfair expectations that quickly arise to crowd out kindness and compassion for myself and others.

Lessen unrestrained fears and wearisome worries that keep us imprisoned in turmoil and confusion and, thus, lessen my spirits strength and courage.

Soften any hardness of heart I have toward another. Increase my ability to be understanding. Help me topple the walls that prevent my being a forgiving person.

Expand my perception of the good things my life already holds. Decrease apprehension about not having enough, doing enough, or growing enough. Awaken the undying song of hope in my soul as I carry my unwanted cross each day, so that even in the worst of times I continue to trust you to provide for what is needed.

Confident of your grace and daily empowerment, I give myself to you as fully as I am able at this time. As I carry the burden that is mine, remind me often that you are always with me and never against me. I rest my desire for union with you and into your loving care, Amen

Blessings to all at Easter.

Peace and Joy,

Thoughts from our Regional Spiritual Director - March 2017

Brothers and Sisters,

This year lent begins on March 1st. Once again we dedicate ourselves to follow and imitate Jesus, through self-denial and experience conversion through Gospel living in solidarity.

I am presently reading The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton by Dan Horan OFM. In it, Ilia Delio, OFS, offers a reflection on this experience of conversion according to the Franciscan Tradition. She writes:

True poverty creates community because it converts self-sufficiency into creative interdependency where the mystery unfolds for us. Only those who can see and feel for another can love another without trying to possess the other. Poverty is that free and open space within the human heart that enables us to listen to the other, to respect the other and to trust the other without feeling that something vital will be taken from us. . . .Conversion to poverty and humility is the nucleus of Christian evolution because it is the movement to authentic love; a movement from isolated “oneness” toward mutual relatedness, from individualism toward community, where Christ is revealed in the union of opposites in the web of life.

The culmination of this experience of change in Francis life took place in his life when he renounced his social status and perhaps taking too literal the words of Jesus, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple”(Lk.14:26) » Click to continue reading “Thoughts from our Regional Spiritual Director – March 2017” »

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Let us begin again.

It was in the third Sunday of Ordinary time that we listened to the reading of Isaiah 9:1

The people who walked in darkness have a seen great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Now we are celebrating this month the Presentation of the Lord celebrated 40 days after Christmas, almost as though we don’t want the joy of Christmas to be forgotten and really it should not. It is like a post Epiphany. Christmas should be everyday with joy hope and the light of Christ in our hearts.

Here we are recalling Simeon’s words calling Christ “the light to the nations” We have the custom of blessing the candles for Church and in the home. The popular day was called Candlemas. The candles that are blessed are a symbol of the offering of Christ, they are consumed by the flame and so light is spread about.

This feast is also a meeting where we come to meet Christ the light so that we can become as St. Paul puts it to become “children of the light”

As the Church joyfully celebrates this feast she reminds us that we are to share in the mission of bringing God’s peace and good news to all people as Catholics and especially in our Franciscan vocation. Mary our Mother and patron of the order, Joseph and the faithful priest Simeon and Anna give us examples of joy and hope in God’s plan.

If we meditate on these events we can apply them to our lives as Franciscans. We also can look to the Prayer Intention of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of February, COMFORT FOR THE AFFLICTED especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized may they find welcome and comfort in all our communities.

We also know St. Clare (named Chiara which means light) as a young child followed her mother Ortolana feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

Let us pray: Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me, Lord a correct faith, certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out Your holy and true command.

Thoughts from the Regional Formation Director - December 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Advent!

We all know that St. Francis created the first Crèche in history. Celano writes (1Celano 84-86) that when Francis went to the Holy Land he had gone to Bethlehem, bringing home with him the memory of the town where the Savior was born. He then reproduced the scene of the Nativity on the famous Christmas Eve in Greccio.

I came across an interesting article entitled No Nativity, No Eucharist by Tony Angesi (wife Diane) It captured so much of what we encounter as Franciscans, reflective and most significant of the Holy Birth. Luke2:7 “And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…..

We all have the quiet place in our homes where we chose to perhaps make a phone call or just get away from the noise & activity of the day. It is our quiet room. This is where Diane sets up the Nativity scene every year. This place for Tony & Diane has become a place where they enjoy going to pray & reflect on the birth of our Savior.

In contemplation of the scene, they realized for the first time that the Eucharist was a continuation of the Nativity, the coming of Christmas. The manger a simple trough where the animals were fed, held the same body of Jesus the bread of life which we are fed in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

When Tony received communion the next day at daily Mass as he held the Blessed Sacrament in his cupped hands, for a moment he thought, “my hands represent the manger as I hold Jesus body soul & divinity” and his mind went back to the manger where they both prayed the night before. In that moment the stable where Jesus was born (Bethlehem “House of Bread”) became the tabernacle and the manger became the ciborium.

We as Franciscans remember what St. Francis quoted, “I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood”, should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life. (Rule 5)

May we be strengthened during this Advent season and be your faithful servant in the world. Let us look to Mary who said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

To you and yours, Have a Blessed Christmas of Peace!  Rose

Thoughts from your Regional Formation Director – November 2016

Following the Gift of God’s Mercy

As we come to the close of the “Year of Mercy” on November 20th, you and I can look back and recollect, how did I cultivate mercy in my daily life? In our family? And how about in our fraternities?

Undoubtly there are many issues within the Church being revisited as a result of the “Year of Mercy.” We know that mercy is not something we should live just for one year. It is to be forefront as compassion in our lives, so we may be the mercy of God to all we meet.

I’d like to share a few excerpts taken from the text, The Life of Saint Francis” written by St. Bonaventure (1217-1274) taken from the very Prologue to the biography. Bonaventure writes that one of the Divine perfections that is clearly reflected in St. Francis was Divine Mercy. (pg.105)

In these latter days the grace of God our Savior has appeared in his servant Francis and to all who are truly humble and a lover of holy poverty. In him they can venerate God’s superabundant mercy and be taught by his example to live in conformity with Christ, and to thirst after blessed hope with unfailing desire. In (Chap.11) section 6. Another time a woman devoted to God had an abusive husband who hindered her in the service of Christ. She besought the holy man to pray for her, that God of His clemency would soften the heart of her husband. “Go in peace” said the man of God, for in a short time you will receive consolation from thy husband, and he added: “Tell him from God and from me that now is the time of Mercy. It shall be a time of justice. And so returning home the woman gave the message to her husband and suddenly the Holy Spirit fell upon him, and in a mild voice he uttered “Lady let us serve the Lord and save our souls.

In a biography entitled: Francis of Assisi The man who found perfect joy, Michael de la Bedoyere writes that when Francis lay dying he asked his brothers to sing with him “The Canticle of the Sun” which he composed in praise of his Creator. It was Brother Elias who protested and asked Francis “Should you not keep recollected and silent” pg.302 Francis replied “O let me rejoice in Him for all my sufferings and by grace feel so close to the Lord, that in the knowledge of His mercy, I can sing again.

Resource: The Message of Saint Francis and Divine Mercy by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception

Resource: Introduction to Compassion Living In the Spirit of St. Francis    Ilia Delio O.S.F.

The transformation into love in Francis life making whole of the scattered fragments of life was compassion. Francis is an art of healing broken hearts by collecting the tears of the forgotten, frightened and the lonely in his hands holding the wounded as his kin. He entered the world of the stranger and made him his brother. He learned to love what was weak, fragile and to care for what the world discarded.

The Life of St. Francis by Bonaventure,  for your research Chapters 9,26,&45 (on mercy)

In closing, let us ask ourselves this question “How have we shown mercy in our lives”?

May God who is rich in mercy, give us the grace of a merciful heart. Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!!