FRANCIS OF ASSISI, EVERYONE’S SAINT


 Essay written in 2011

by +Dr. Franco Camarca (1950-2017)

Psychologist, Writer, Journalist

Father of Brother Bernardo, FFV


“The Providence, which rules the world…

…two Princes ordained in its behalf”.

Dante, Paradiso

Saint Francis of Assisi is perhaps the most “universal” Italian saint. We defined him “everyone’s Saint” to underscore this peculiarity of his person: venerated by Catholics but respected even by Muslims, when he joined a Crusade to preach the Good News, and studied by the Protestants, of whom Peter Sabatier wrote in 1893 the “Life” that has become a classic of world literature.

Assisi presents itself as a city dominated by a castle and surrounded by towers, fortified walls, and other constructions that immediately bring war to mind. Francis, of wealthy merchant family, contributed to those constructions, probably to defend the city against Perugia in one of the many wars that characterized his time. Francis lived between the 1100s and the 1200s: a time of wars between Christians and Saracens, Empire and Church, city and city, for prestige and commercial predominance. In the war against Perugia he was made prisoner for two years, 1202-03, and he was also sick for a long time. Once healed, he threw himself into a new adventure, but at Spoleto he was stopped by a new illness and by a vision that invited him to follow the example of Jesus and “rebuild the Church”.

What was the situation of the Church in that epoch?

Let’s briefly say that there was a deep popular displeasure against the excesses of wealth and corruption that characterized the high clergy. Preachers in the public squares condemned all of it, reminding all of the simple life preached by the Gospel. In Italy in the XI and XII centuries many social movements were born which united politics and religion, since political freedom and religious purity were values deeply sought after by the people.

Thus Dante wrote in Canto XI of “Paradiso”:

The Providence, which rules the world…

…two Princes ordained in its behalf,

who should serve it as guides on either side.

 (Verses 28 & 35-36) 

 

The “guides” to whom Dante refers are Saint Francis and Saint Dominic. Three more centuries awaited the necessary Reform of the Council of Trent, and a number of historians agree that without those powers of new purity triggered by the Franciscan and Dominican movements the Church would have suffered very grave damages.

His first companions and biographers called Francis “the herald of Christ”, “the invincible knight”, and the said he was “armed with the weapons of Christ”. In another contemporary work, “Speculum perfectionis”, he is compared with his disciples to the Knights of the Round Table. And the spouse – “dominam”, as one of his biographers says – of such knight was poverty, who appears symbolically in classical vestments in the frescoes of the great Giotto.

The Order of friars minor, his Rule, was approved by pope Innocent III, who also gave them permission to preach. Before we expose our thoughts on the Saint let us briefly mention some biographical notes, referring to the historical data of Martignetti (Italian Encyclopedia). Returned to Assisi, Francis founded with Saint Clare the “second order of the poor clares” and then went to preach the Gospel amidst the Saracens. His followers grew fast, reaching the thousands, but the Saint went back to preach to Egypt, where he was honored by the Sultan, and in Palestine. Returned to Italy in 1220 and leaving the direction of the Order to Pietro Cattani and eventually to friar Elias, he prepared the “first Rule” (1221) and then dictated the text of the “Second [Third] Rule” that pope Honorius III approved in 1223. Continuing in an intense spiritual life which included preaching – which did not impeded him to ‘invent’ in 1222 the Crèche that became one of the most intimate representations of Christmas – he founded the “Third order of the penitents”.

We thus reach 1224, when in a spiritual retreat of fasting on mount la Verna he received the stigmata.

      Then we find his autograph writings, the “Laudes Dei” and the “Canticle of brother Sun” in which, according to authoritative reviewers, “the rigid Benedictine spirituality is overcome in favor of a new conception of Creation characterized by an exaltation of a sense of universal brotherhood”, and, we think, of a sort of mystical fusion with nature and thus with the omnipresent God.

The hymn begins with an invocation to God, followed by the sun “beautiful and radiant”, the moon and the stars “clear and precious and beautiful”; then the four elements: the earth, the water “useful and humble and precious and chaste”, the fire “beautiful and playful and robust and strong”, and the air.

Our Prezzolini, faculty of Columbia University, mentions that the adjectives applied by the Saint reveal a new interpretation of Nature and place it in a new relationship with Man. The hymn is not written in Latin but in the vulgate language of the people of Umbria, which for the first time assumes an artistic form, although preserving the simplicity and characteristics of the local dialect. The language is mixed with Latinized words; the verses do not have a regular metric yet there are many rhymes and assonances. The epilogue, according to Prezzolini, was added at the nearing of the Saint’s death in 1226, a death that Francis calls “sister”.

It is worth mentioning what Sapegno recalls in his History of literature: “It is certain that the hymn of grace, raised to the Creator by a beautiful world, admirable in its harmony and its ends, finds its roots not in an easy and superficial enthusiasm, but in the “labor pains” of ascesis and penance, from which the soul resurrects renewed, capable of contemplating the things and events of the earth with new, peaceful, and joyful eyes. The simple poetry of the Saint translates itself in the adjectives that accompany one step at a time the evocation of the creatures and they underscore the poetic aspect […] but the power and resonance of the hymn resides instead in the deep intimacy and novelty of the religious feeling that pervades it, outside and in a certain sense above pure poetry”.

The behavior of Saint Francis towards animals, with whom he spoke (like the wolf of Gubbio) opened a new field in painting: Giotto and his successors felt a great influence and even the architectonic structures of the churches of the Franciscan order displayed a new disposition of the altars, a new amplitude of the walls, a significant austerity in their entire edification.

Towards the end of his life, with a serious illness in his eyes, Francis returned to Assisi and asked to be taken to Saint Mary of the Angels, where lying on the bare ground he reached the Lord that he so much loved in 1226.

Saint Francis was canonized by Gregory IX in 1228. His feast in the Catholic Church is October 4th and Pope Pius XII proclaimed him, with Saint Catherine of Siena, “Patron of Italy”.

It is interesting to note that many centuries later the charm and personality of Saint Francis still live. His fame is worldwide. Saint Francis remains one of those figures of Western civilization without whom our history would not be complete.

The Franciscans are today, and we witness it by our personal and direct experience, an imperishable and daily example for all the orders.

The letting go of Saint Francis was in actuality acquisition of a superior freedom and his poverty was the acquisition of spiritual wealth, and Jesus rewarded him with the gift of the stigmata.

Published in: on May 9, 2017 at 3:09 AM  Comments Off on FRANCIS OF ASSISI, EVERYONE’S SAINT  

Divine Mercy Sunday – Remember Me


As we approach the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, it is important that we understand what the Lord Jesus meant when he spoke about mercy, in the Scriptures and to Sister Faustina.

There are some very conservative Catholics within the Traditionalist community who do not trust Sister Faustina’s visions and dialogue with Jesus.  At the other extreme, many Catholics focus solely on the humanitarian dimension of the Gospel and on the hot button issues of today; these Catholics have watered down God’s Mercy.  They have interpreted God’s mercy to mean the same as “good works”.  Neither group leaves room for God to be God.  God must do and speak according to a script as they conceive it.  In the end, both groups deny God’s freedom.

The extreme conservative asks for a reason behind Mercy Sunday.  After all, we have the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.  The other extreme likes Divine Mercy Sunday, because it’s new and because it says what they want it to say about good works and it affirms their presumption of God’s forgiveness and mercy; so, they believe.

Original “Divine Mercy” painting prepared under the guidance of Sr. Faustina and her Spiritual Director

The truth is that God’s mercy is infinite and available to anyone who asks for it.  The infinity of God’s mercy should comfort us.  God’s mercy is infinitely greater than his creation.  Man is his crown jewel and we know that God is infinitely greater than man.  Sin is of man’s doing, not God’s doing.  Since it is man who sins, then man is superior to sin or greater than sin.  This greatness does not relieve him of his responsibility.  On the contrary, it points to man’s sinful will and his obligation to atone and ask for mercy.

God’s mercy is infinite.  Man is God’s creation.  God is infinitely greater than man.  Sin is man’s creation.  Man is greater than sin.  If God is infinitely greater than man, then he is infinitely greater than sin.  The only sin that God cannot forgive is the one that we believe surpasses God’s power to forgive.  Such a mindset places the supremacy of sin over the breadth and scope of God’s mercy.  Believing that this is the case, the sinner fails to confess his sin, express contrition and ask for forgiveness.

First painting of the Sacred Heart (1780, Batoni), disapproved by Congregation of Rites. The Sacred Heart was first depicted alone. The Congregation of Rites approved these for private devotion, but required the visible figure of the Heart represented externally on the breast of Our Lord for public exposition and veneration.

To benefit from God’s mercy, man must have something to offer in exchange.  He offers contrition and a resolve not to sin again. Some will say, “I know that I’m going to fall again.  I’m human,” or “I have an addiction to a certain sinful behavior.”  This is not the time to worry about this.  We must focus on the present moment and surrender ourselves to God as we are.  We are sinners.  We are contrite and willing to do penance.  We ask for absolution, particularly in the confessional.  From that moment, we are free of sin.

We must never live recklessly, but we must not live in fear of the “next time I sin.”  The more we worry about the next time, the more likely we are to fall sooner.  The enemy has a way of taking advantage of our fears and using them against us, to the point that what we believe to be moral caution is a temptation; because our minds are not free of a particular sin.  We must place ourselves in the hands of the Immaculate and go forward, doing whatever he asks us to do in the present moment.

Not only is God’s mercy infinite, but it is always available.  God never tires of forgiving us.  It is we who tire of begging for forgiveness.  Let us take the example of the “good thief”.  At the eleventh hour he said to Jesus, Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  The first two words say it all.  “Remember me”.  He believed in Christ’s mercy, even though he was about to die and no time to atone for his sins.

Painting of Christ and St. Dismas, the “Good Thief” – unknown author

Why does he request that Christ remember him?  Because deep in his heart he knows that Christ’s mercy is available for the asking, even when Christ himself was about to breathe his last dying breath.  Christ was on the cross to save the world, not to condemn it.  The Cross is the greatest sign of God’s mercy.

Only the perfect man can offer the perfect act of atonement for humanity’s sins.  Human parents could not conceive a perfect son.  However, God the Holy Spirit and Mary of Nazareth can and did do conceive such a perfect son.  He is Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  Out of mercy, God becomes man.  From his side, he poured blood and water, his humanity and his divinity, poured out of mercy for us.  It was not for his benefit.  Who in human history, besides the Immaculate Conception, has no need to appeal to God’s mercy?

Divine Mercy Sunday is neither a feel-good day for our acts of charity and compassion for our neighbor; nor is it a replacement for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.  Mercy Sunday reminds us that we can trust Jesus, because he poured himself on the cross out of mercy for us and to prove the veracity of his sacrifice, he rose on the third day.  On Mercy Sunday, it is Jesus who speaks the words of the good thief, “Remember me.”  To which we respond, “Jesus I trust you.”

Depiction of the Sacred Heart attributed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (c. 1685).

At the Foot of the Cross with Our Mother


If we believe what we pray and we pray according to our belief, is it reasonable to imagine that at the hour of our death, or that of a loved one, Mary will remain silent?  Is it reasonable to think that she will not intercede for every soul as it leaves the body?  Is it even imaginable to think that she is far away from any of us?

Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

Pray for us, sinners,

NOW,

And at the hour of our death.

Amen!

The idea that the Mother of God would ignore our prayer for the soul of a loved one and for our own is irrational.

It is reasonable to feel the pain of loss that Mary felt watching her son die on the cross.  Who can watch a son or daughter die and not feel as if the heart is being ripped out of her?  “Many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

The Immaculate Mother of God was not spared the pain of loss.  However, she chose to hurt and trust at the same time.“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word,” (Luke 1:38).

The Sacred Scripture never says that the Blessed Virgin Mary didn’t suffer.

And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold your father and I have sought you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48).

Feeling concern and anxiety for a loved one does not have to conflict with the Faith.  Suffering, for oneself or a loved one, is the most noble sign of our humanity.  Only the man who reaching his full stature as a human being can suffer for another and trust that Christ will always respond to his mother’s intercession.

“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51).

 “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’

 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’   Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’

 And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),” (John 2:3-9).

With a single sentence, the Immaculate convinces her compassionate Son.

It is important to remember that the “reception” at a Jewish wedding lasted an entire week.  Mary intercedes when they have run out of wine.  They had been drinking for a while, maybe more than a day.

If the Immaculate can open the door to her son’s heart for people who were drinking, having fun, and probably not paying much attention to Him, we can rest in the certainty that she has the key to the Sacred Heart of Christ.  No one who asks her to “pray for us sinners” will be denied her intercession.  Our Lord Jesus Christ will always hear his mother’s prayers and do whatever is for the greater glory of his Father and the salvation of souls.

Those who have not spoken to the Immaculate in a very long time (or never) can always begin today.  She is the mother with the Immaculate Heart.  She forgives!  She understands human weakness.  She has seen man’s lack of faith for centuries.  And she has been a witness to man’s greatest acts of cruelty and injustice.  Despite this, Mary allows us to take her into our very human homes, as sinful as they may be.

She needed only the word from her Son to crush the head of the Serpent that haunts us all. From that moment forward, she remains in our home as Mother.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home”(John 19:26-27).

The Immaculate Mother whom we contemplate at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, is our Sorrowful Mother.  Her sorrow is caused by the sins that her Son must carry on his back and the penance that he must do purely out of love, not because he was guilty of any fault of his own.

There is a difference between a sorrowful mother and a pitiful mother.  The latter is one for whom we feel sorrow because she’s an imperfect and perhaps a mother who has not owned her maternity. Mary, on the other hand, is the mother who feels the pain of sin inflicted on her innocent Son.  She feels the weight of man’s sinfulness.  She experiences great sorrow, not for herself, but for the sinner redeemed by the suffering servant that she brought into the world.

There is no room in her Immaculate Heart for anything else than love, crushed by sorrow but never extinguished.  This makes it possible for her to enter our homes as Mother and mediate for us the graces that her Son earned through His most sorrowful Passion, till we reach that perfection of charity which is the perfect fulfillment of Our Lady’s one and only commandment: “Do whatever He tells you”. Let us make this our meditation as the Holy Week begins.


O Mary, conceived without sin,

pray for us that have recourse to you,

and for all those who do not have recourse to you,

especially the enemies of holy Church

and those recommended to you“.

-Prayer of the Knights of the Immaculate

Aftereffects of Holy Mass


The following is a non-exhaustive list of the aftereffects of Holy Mass:

  1. Peace:

My soul and my mind are at peace.  It shows in:

  • The ability to communicate with others (human and animal) in a peaceful manner.
  • The strength to brush off words, events and people that usually rattle me.
  • The absence of anger in my mind, words and actions.

  1. Humility:

The realization that I am what I am before God.  I am nothing more and nothing less, as evidenced by:

  • An effort to present myself to others as I really am:
    1. Without fears
    2. Without pride
    3. Without condescension
    4. With sincerity that is not blunt or offensive
  • Apologizing if I am in the wrong
  • Remembering that I don’t have to do battle with the world

  1. Charity:

I give more to others than what they expect, as evidenced by

  • Greeting with a smile
  • Waiting patiently in the parking lot
  • Yielding the right of way to others
  • Refrain from name calling or ridiculing others
  • Reminding myself that as I treat others, so I treat Christ
  • Avoiding sternness (intimidating rigidity)

  1. Faith:

No doubt that I have witnessed the sacrifice at Calvary and that I have received the body and blood of the living Christ:

  • Comfortable explaining the Eucharist to others
  • Not becoming upset if others are upset that I go to mass too often
  • Remembering that everything in life does not have to be explained to be believed, life has mysteries
  • Aware of God’s presence wherever I go and whatever I do, and of His awareness of my thoughts and intentions


If this is not happening, one must question him or herself: “Am I focusing on the right things?

These are also the sort of things the devout soul – especially the consecrated man or woman – must discuss with a spiritual director.

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 1:00 AM  Comments (1)  

David and John


How-The-Human-Nervous-System-WorksDuring Lent, many of us agonize over what we should sacrifice during this holy period in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  Chocolate seems to be the most common “expiatory lamb.”

I’ve always wondered how giving up chocolate is a real penance.  I realize that for some people, chocolate is addictive, as is smoking for others.  But is the idea of penance to make ourselves miserable for misery’s sake or is the idea of penance to offer God something in atonement for our sins?

If we look at the Old Testament, David dressed in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of atonement and

paris_psaulter_gr139_fol136v

NATHAN REBUKING DAVID FOR HIS SIN

was excoriated by Nathan.  But it was a sign.  His atonement included much more than making a fashion statement.  David fasted.  He dealt more justly with his people, especially those whom he had offended.  He offered the animal sacrifice prescribed in the law.  Above all, he prayed.  Many of the psalms are the product of David’s intense life of penitential prayer.  David has become the model penitential man for the Jewish and Christian people.

 

Another personality that jumps out at us as a model penitent is John the Baptist.  The New Testament tells us that he came dressed in animal skins and ate bugs.  Yuck!  He preached conversion from sin.  His fight against sin cost him his head when he pointed out that Herod was living in an adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law.  David and John are still relevant penitent models.

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JOHN REBUKING HEROD ANTIPAS

David teaches us that atonement for sin goes beyond, “I’m sorry.”  There are consequences that the responsibly contrite person must assume.  This was the king who walked through his kingdom in sackcloth and ashes, dressed as a pauper instead of royal robes.  This was the king who humbled himself before his people admitting that he had sinned against God and against man.  He tried to do something to make it up to both God and man.  David understood and taught that true penance must cost us something and that it should offer a gift to God and man; but it had to be a gift that came from the penitent’s heart, not from his wallet.

John, on the other hand, had no sin for which to atone.  But he knew that many people around him needed to atone for sin.  He did penance for those who didn’t do penance for themselves.   Essential to a penitent life is to bear witness to the Truth.  John proclaims,

caravaggiosalomelondon

“Behold the Lamb of God, and I must decrease so that he can increase.”  By decreasing, John, like David before him, surrenders the glory that comes from attention and admiration and directs it to God.

Our life should be an on-going Lent.  But during the Great Lent, 40 days before Easter, let us be truly sorry for our sins.  David and John are our models of penance.  We must present ourselves to the world, not in the best possible light, but as we really are, men and women who struggle with human weakness and sin, one hour at a time. True penance reaches out to those around us, especially those who are most in need of our compassion, the man and woman involved in abortion, the adolescent who is rebelling out of control, the neighbor who has lost a loved one, lost a job or is in deep financial crisis.  The person whom we fear is also worthy of our love and prayer, especially those who engage in acts of terrorism, those who molest children, or those who abuse their spouses.

In our family, there is always the one person who is the thorn in the side.  We must have the courage of

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THE INEVITABLE THORN

John and denounce his or her sin.  But we must also have the humility of David and admit that we too are sinners. Finally, let us not forget to proclaim the Truth.  God forgives and embraces a humble man.  Humility is being who we are in the sight of God.  Nothing else.

 

Published in: on March 2, 2017 at 12:23 AM  Leave a Comment  

You’re invited to a Lenten walk


san damianoIt feels as if we just took down the Christmas decorations, lights and trees.  Yet, Lent will be here in less than two weeks.

Lent is a time of penance.  For many people, the word “penance” is a negative word.  They choose to refer to Lent as a time of “conversion.”  The assumption being that every Catholic knows that the Church means conversion from sin to virtue; which has an a priori condition to it.  One must acknowledge one’s sins, ask for absolution in the Sacrament of Confession and have a firm resolve not to sin again.  Being human, we often fall into the same sinful hole from which we were just rescued by the Sacrament of Penance.  However, we keep trying.

Sorrow for our sins, confession, absolution and a firm resolution to avoid sin brings many graces.  The early Fathers of the Church taught us that the only way to overcome sin and not end up confessing the same sin time and time again was through concrete acts of penance, as we shall see below.

“Convert and believe in the Gospel” in plain English means, stop sinning and live per the Gospel.  The idea of believing in something with which we are unfamiliar and we don’t follow, is silly.

The Franciscans of Life suggest that you to try one or more of the following this Lent.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Usually that leads to failure, which leads to frustration and abandonment of our good intentions.  It’s like overfilling your plate at an “all you can eat buffet”.  You can only eat so much; the rest is thrown into the garbage.

We invite you and your friends to join the Franciscans of Life this Lent.   You can join us from your home.  If you you’re male and live in South Florida, you can join us on a Monday night family meeting.

First:  We’re going to begin with a good examination of conscience.  This means that we’re going to take inventory of the sins we have committed as well as the things that we should have done, but failed to do.  If you have poor memory, make a little list for yourself.  Make sure to dispose of it properly when you no longer need it.

Second:  We’re going to Confession as soon as we can get there.  As soon as we can get there means exactly that.  Go to confession as soon as there is a priest to absolve you.  Never put off what may never happen, if you get hit by a bus the day after tomorrow.  You had better go to confession tomorrow instead of postponing it until next week.

Third:  The Franciscans of Life invite you to join us in doing penance to atone for our sins.  The keyword here is ATONE.  We don’t do penance to feel good. We do penance, because we know that we have sinned and that we must make up for it.  If you steal from me, you must ask for forgiveness.  Justice demands that you return what you took or offer to pay for it.  The same is true with God and sin.  God forgives, but his justice demands that you make retribution for your sins.

Our first commitment this Lent is fasting and abstinence.  Every Wednesday and Friday, from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, the brothers observe a fast and do not eat any kind of meat or meat product.  This does not mean that we replace steak with crab, lobster or baked salmon.  You may as well have the steak.  It’s probably cheaper.  Tuna, eggs, or simply a nice soup with bread is enough.  It’s not as if we were going to do this forever.    Obviously, we use common sense.  People with certain health conditions or those who are too young or too old should not engage in a fast. Maybe they can abstain from something else, such as the Internet.

Fourth:  Try to get an extra mass in at least once during the week.  If your schedule does not coincide with your parish’s daily mass schedule, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at least once or twice a week.

Fifth:  Pray with your bible.  You can pray a psalm or two every day.  You can read a short passage from the scriptures and ask yourself how you would respond in a specific situation in the Bible.  Ask God for the grace to do so.  Storing up on grace for when we need it is the best savings plan around.

Sixth:  We’re going to be doing something concrete for those who are not as fortunate as we are.  We’re going to collect money to purchase soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes to those who have none.  We’re also going to be praying a weekly rosary for those who are being persecuted and those who are refugees and have no place to go.  We’re going to beg the Immaculate to help us help them.  If she wants to help them in her own way, that’s good too.  But we must never dump on God, Our Lady and the saints asking them to solve problems that we can help solve.  We start asking for the grace to find ways to reach out to our neighbor and we conclude by asking God to find another way, if He believes that it’s the better way to go.

You don’t have to live in our community house to join us.  If you care to join us in one or more of these penances during Lent, please let us know by writing to us at

email

Please include your first name only, age (so that we can offer you appropriate support) and anything else that you want to tell us about yourself.

Always your brother and servant,

Brother Jay, FFV, Superior

JPII W EUCHARIST
In a few weeks, we will be announcing the time and day for our evening of contemplation that we call Carceri (Prison) in honor of the Prisoner of Love.  Stay tuned in to this blog for that information.

 

 

 

Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 5:02 PM  Leave a Comment  

Christmas in a Galaxy Not So Far Away


Earlier, one of our younger brothers asked me if I had an article to publish for the blog, because he noticed that I wrote several articles this week.  I told him that none of my current articles were Christmas material, to which the young brother asked me for permission to read my articles and determine for himself if any were good Christmas material.  Just a few minutes ago, he approached me and said, “You’re right, none of these articles is Christmas material.”

I was very touched by his interest in publishing a Christmas article written by me, given the fact that he is a much better writer than I am and a lot smarter, he can probably write a better article.

Suddenly, the thought hit me, “There is a dimension of Christmas that is rarely mentioned.”  During the Christmas season, we write beautiful cards and letters wishing our loved ones a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, whatever the custom in your family may be.  We inject adrenaline into the household with shopping, travel plans or preparations to welcome friends and loved ones for the holidays.

When we go to Church, be it Midnight Mass or on Christmas Day, we hear beautiful sermons about the birth of Jesus, God’s love for humanity and how Christmas sets the stage for the Cross.  Let’s not forget that Jesus was a child born with a price on his head.  The Holy Family did not travel to Egypt to visit the great pyramids.  The Egyptians and the Canaanites were not the best of neighbors.

Mary and Joseph pick up and go to Egypt out of love for their son.  They wanted to protect him from Herod’s insecurities, which would have concluded in murdering the child along with the rest of the innocents at the time.

The more that I thought about these points and the fact that the young brother was so interested in publishing one of my articles, rather than using a piece of his own exemplary writing, spoke to me about the undercurrent of Christmas.  It is the undercurrent of Christmas that truly counts.  That undercurrent is love.

Just as an undercurrent draws in everything that gets close, so too does the love that is born at Christmas.   Brother wanted to publish one of my articles, not because I’m the best writer in the world.  We all know that’s not true.  He wanted to publish one of my articles because of love.  He loves his superior and his brother.  He rejoices when others learn from his superior’s writings and when they praise what they read.

In a simple request, Brother taught me that the Christmas spirit is truly the Love of God breaking into human history and radiating through every century, every culture and every human being to this day.  Christmas is not simply a happy holiday, it’s a celebration of generous love.  We keep Christmas alive not only when we give gifts, welcome guests or visit others.  Those are just starters.  Once the gifts are unwrapped and the greetings are over, what’s there besides food?

There is the love of God that has broken into our lives and is here to stay.  God’s love is not a feeling, but a living being whom the Father calls “Son.”  The Son of God wants to show all men that they are loved, not just give them a warm Christmas hug and a gift.  He wants to gaze into the eyes of our neighbor, through our eyes and say, “There is something special about you that I believe must be shared with the rest of the world.”

This faith in the giftedness of the brother is the highest expression of love on this side of Heaven.  It makes the birth of Christ closer to home, not as a story of long long ago in another galaxy far far away, as they say in Star Wars.  No, the birth of Christ is God saying to man, “You are special and I will prove it, by sharing in your humanity and lifting you up to my divinity.”

Brother’s request for an article was a subtle message that told me, “You’re special to me.”  This is the true message that the eternal Word of God says to mankind on Christmas morning.

Br. Jay

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Is A Peaceful Christmas Possible This Year?


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Peace begins in the family

Normally, I prefer not to comment on the politics around me.  I’m not indifferent to right and wrong.  I’m indifferent to people who like to argue instead of engaging in a dialogue that arrives at some constructive conclusion.  I’m afraid that this Christmas is being marred by so much hatred that it would be irresponsible for any Franciscan not to say something and continue to refer to himself as a man of peace.

On the national front, we have hate speech, conspiracy theories and a great deal of anger concerning the results of the elections.  The fact is that no matter who won the election, there is no way that we would not be facing an uphill battle against sin and oppression of the voiceless, be they the preborn person or the immigrant and many others.  We do not achieve peace by exacerbating conflict, by throwing fuel into the fire.

We achieve peace first and foremost through prayer.  A man or woman who prays cultivates interior silence.  He who cultivates interior silence opens an interior space where he can hear his brothers and sisters.  The soul has many chambers.  There is also another chamber where we find true Wisdom.  In there, as well, one must be silent to hear the Word.  It is the living Word that gives us the peace that the world cannot give, but that we can share with the world.

This is discernment through contemplation.  It leads to answers that are appropriate for today’s concerns.  Without proper discernment and contemplation, we run the risk of providing our own answers to the problems of today.  So far, our answers have not taken us very far along the road to peace, interior and social peace.

There are Catholics who believe that they must provoke the Pope and the bishops until they bend or explode.  Whether the Pope and the bishops bend to a certain point of view or they lash out in anger and frustration, the fact remains that the Church does not win.  I’m not referring to the Mystical Body.  The Mystical Body is holy.  The Bride of Christ cannot be seduced to compromise with culture or to erupt in anger after being insulted and pushed around.

Those of us who make up the Body of Christ have not risen above our mortal nature.  Shouting insults at the pope and bishops, calling the pope a heretic and a Communist leaves greater scars in the minds and hearts of the faithful who read the blogosphere and listen to the podcasterium of our time.  Others who are not Catholic are looking at us and wondering, why in the world would they believe that we have the fullness of Truth, when we fail to give witness to charity, respect and humility.  Where is the prize to be won by such aggressive behavior?

There are many serious questions on the table that we pray the Holy Father will address, for the sake of clarity.  I believe that he is not a heretic and that it is not his intention to mislead the faithful and distort the faith.  We hope and pray that he shed some light on the questions on the table.

It is equally important that the faithful: lay, clergy and religious, not take it upon ourselves to speak out as if we were a newly instituted magisterium.  That’s giving in to the devil’s temptation to sow the seeds that divide rather than unite.

With terrorism surrounding us and taking innocent lives, is it necessary for Catholics and Americans to raise the level of anxiety with so much rhetoric that solves nothing and provokes every sin against virtue?

Published in: on December 16, 2016 at 2:46 AM  Leave a Comment  

“In God We Trust” Really?


I’ve been trying to keep up with news and thoughts by and about Catholics on Facebook.  However, I’m starting to feel somewhat disappointed.  It is naive to believe
St_Setonthat one is going to find much that is worthwhile on Facebook; but occasionally one runs into another person who thinks with clarity and shares his or her thoughts in such a way that encourages us to rise to higher moral ground and to a more intense life of virtue and prayer.

Having said this, I must confess that it has been a great disappointment to find the many priests and consecrated religious who post on Facebook talk about every social and civil ill, encourage people to rise in protest, at times denounce those who do evil, but something is obviously lacking from their posts.  God, Jesus, the Immaculate, prayer, the perfection of charity and atonement for one’s sins and those who don’t do penance.  These are never mentioned.

A good example of this gap in “Catholic” posts is found in discussions on discrimination and racism.  Since the US elections several Catholic bloggers have taken to the Internet to denounce racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination, be due to religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender-dysphoria.   They have denounced politicians, Church hierarchy, business men and women, and other members of society for behaviors that are often cruel and unnecessary, or at times for failing to speak up for the voiceless.

Another important area of life in which we find protesting, finger pointing and even name calling is in religion.  We have politicized religion to such an extent that we now speak of fellow believers using popular political jargon:  liberals and conservatives or novus ordo and traditionalists.

Here too, the language is very often offensive.  At times, it offends because it is vulgar and sometimes it offends because words are used to assassinate someone’s character.  They don’t simply describe an immoral behavior or a statement that contradicts absolute truth.  These are words that encourage hatred.

It is important for all of us to be aware of injustices, abuses and disregard for God and man.  When priests and consecrated religious brothers or sisters write only about the evils and don’t mention what the Scriptures, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium have to say about these things, we fail our people.  People have a right to expect clergy and religious to refer to faith to enlighten human life.  We don’t become priests or religious to be social workers or activists.  Ordination and consecrated life are not essential to the work of an activist.  Conviction is what matters.

I encourage clergy and religious who post on Facebook and in blogs to remember that faith enlightens reason.  Reason enlightened by faith strengthens convictions.  Christ did not come into the world to lead men into a godless revolution.  His followers were to be guided by their faith.  Their faith shed light on the rightness and wrongness around them.  Then they denounced what was wrong and defended what was right.  But they always proclaimed the faith that enlightened them.  Many were martyred for doing so, but there were more converts than martyrs.

Let us look at the world, including the Church, through the eyes of faith.  Let faith help us see what is good and what is evil.  Let faith supply the courage to fight for good and against evil.  Most importantly, never forget to share the faith that drives us, lest others see us as simple social activists or worse.

We who are priests or consecrated men and women have committed our lives to living according to the faith.  The Church has charged us with the duty to proclaim the perfection of charity and the Kingdom of God.  The first step in serving God is to find Him.  The search for God is the search for truth.  We must begin by discerning what God has called each of us to do and how God wants us to go about it.  For priests and religious, the call is not a call to godless social work or godless political activism.

We must never give up and never surrender our awareness of God’s presence in human affairs.  Going into battle for purely human reasons or as some say, for the sake of justice alone, is not the Gospel.  Christ exemplifies true justice.  The exercise of evangelical justice leads man back to the Father.  Christian justice and renewal is built on faith and preached with courage.  There is nothing courageous in insulting another person or group of people.  There is no hope when God is not part of the discussion for justice.

We Fail to See the Light


Very often we hear people say, “That’s good for you guys, because you’re in vows; but the rest of us are not.”  This comes from practicing Catholics.  I believe that people who make such a comment do not understand the temporal purpose of the vowed life.

The vowed life is for the benefit of the person who makes the vows, but also for the benefit of the whole body, the Church.  Married couples also make vows.  Imagine what would happen if people of faith adopted the belief that the marriage vows are for the benefit and responsibility of the couple, but have no bearing on the rest of Christ’s Mystical Body.  Marriage would make no sense.

A vowed life, whether one vows to observe chastity, poverty and obedience or one vows to be faithful to one’s spouse until death, in good times and in hard times, is not wp_20150118_016a private relationship between the person who makes the vow, the people in his life and God.  God does not call people into private relationships with him to the exclusion of everyone else.  Even hermits, such as the Carthusians, embrace the cross in silence and solitude for the benefit of the Church as well as their benefit.

The vows of consecrated life (chastity, poverty and obedience) have a transcendent quality to them.  The individual making the vows renounces everything that the world has to offer in order to live more perfectly the vows made at Baptism.  He or she does not promise to do profession-of-vowssomething different from the rest of the baptized.  He promises to do the same, but more perfectly or as close to perfection as is possible for him.  In doing so he becomes a sign of life in the Kingdom of God.

This leads us into the temporal quality of the consecrated life.  God chooses to place consecrated men and women in the middle of His people for the benefit of the Church.  Through their life of prayer, sacrifice, service and love, God’s grace pours into the world.  God is willing to do Julian_Corpus_Christicartwheels to save us.  He gives us the Scriptures.  He gives us Himself through the Incarnation and the Eucharist.  He shares His life with us through the sacraments.  And he places many other sources of grace in the middle of the marketplace for the salvation of his people.

If one assumes that the life and works of the man or woman in vows or the married couple does not affect us or commit us in any way, then one is ignoring and possibly bride-groomrejecting the grace that God wishes to share with us through these states in life.

We need not be married to learn to love without holding anything back.  Everyone is called to love without restrictions on his love. JEANNIE 31 WEEKS PREGNANT

The married couple is God’s sign of such love.  We can’t simply turn away and say, “Love without reservation is for you, because you’re married.”

We need not to vow chastity, poveuntitled-4rty and obedience to learn how to think and act with a pure heart, how to let go of the many things, people and places that redirect our attention away from God and we don’t need to be in vows to be bound to obey God as he reveals His will to us through Sacred Scripture, Jesus Christ and the Church.

This last one is key, obedience.  Obedience to what God asks of us at any given moment is not for a select few.  oratoryThose bound by a vow of obedience are to be the models of submission to the will of God, not the only people bound to submit to God’s will.

Maybe one of the reasons why vocations to the consecrated life are down and the reason that some consecrated persons are lukewarm in the way they live out the vows, is because we have separated the vowed state in life from the secular man and woman. When we separate the Evangelical Counsels from the secular sphere, what counsels are left to guide the secular man and woman to fulfill his or her baptismal promises?  Chastity, poverty and obedience are the yard-lines that lead to the final goal, the perfection of charity.

How does one know how close or how far he is from the goal without the yard-lines?

When the vows of chastity, poverty obedience and hurricane_matthewthe
vows of marriage are lived as they should be lived, they become a torch that is a sign of God’s light in what sometimes seems like a dark and scary world.flame