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  

Easter Wishes from the Brothers


The Franciscans of Life wish all our family, friends, and benefactors all the blessings that the Easter Season brings.  May the mother of the Risen Lord walk with us and increase in us the desire to atone for our sins and those who do not do penance and may she guide us to greater virtue so that we live with the Risen Christ through eternity.

Brother Bernardo’s Pizza Rush

 

MosDSCN0076t of the brothers remained in Florida for Holy Week.  Brother Bernardo and I flew to Virginia where we spend time with my daughter, son-in-law and my granddaughter, Katherine Marie Therese, who turned six-months during Holy Week.  We also had a fantastic opportunity to surprise Brother Bernardo, whose birthday it was on April 13, Holy Thursday. pizza_icon

Because it was the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, we kept the celebration simple and quiet.  Brother Bernardo’s favorite food is pizza.  Brother Jay’s daughter made sure that he was not disappointed.  She served him about nine bagel pizzas for breakfast, which he devoured.  For lunch, it was an individual DiGiorno pizza with rising crust.  In the evening, he was treated to not one, but two large pizzas with his favorite toppings and a musical card from Brother Jay’s family.

Brother Bernardo haCARAVAN 1s voluntarily stepped up to serve as Brother Superior’s caretaker and health monitor.  He can tell when Brother Superior’s diabetes is too low or too high by looking at him and quickly dispenses the correct amount of insulin.  He installed a railing on Father Superior’s bed after the superior fell twice during the night.  Brother Superior’s vision is failing and everyday his legs grow weaker.  He moves from a wheelchair, to a walker that Brother Bernardo purchased at a White Elephant Sale, to a cane with a cuff around the forearm.   When Brother Jay must go anywhere, Brother Bernardo drives him and his medical equipment in the community’s van.  This allows Brother Jay to run Project Joseph at the Archdiocesan level, give talks, teach religious education and work on his book.

None of this love and support has gone unnoticed by Brother Jay’s family.  Because Brother Bernardo has no nieces or nephews and has never been married, he does not have frequent interactions with infants.  Brother Jay’s granddaughter, who just turned six-months on the 15th of April, love Brother Bernardo.  katherine at easterShe breaks into a smile and reaches out to him as he approaches.  We won’t mention that Brother Bernardo is quite attached to Katherine.  He holds her, feeds her, rocks her to sleep and has even taken her on a short walk in her stroller.

Virginia_babyWe have many good reasons for being forever grateful to Brother Bernardo.  The least we could do was fly him to visit his beloved Katherine, feed him pizza for an entire day and formally incorporate him into the family.  Brother Jay’s family has adopted him.

We pray for Brother Bernardo, who is still in formation.  We ask the Immaculate, if it is her Son’s will, to walk with him to the end of his formation period, when he will make perpetual vows of obedience, poverty, chastity and fidelity to the Gospel of Life.

Prayers for Brother Leo

Our brother Leo has had health problems during most of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017.  He was unable to participate in the community’s Easter meal, because he is too ill to walk.  He’s under the care of

Br_Leo_nurse_san excellent physician and is properly cared for at home.  We pray that he will be up and running soon.  Brother Leo is one of those special souls who has a natural gift to bring peace, comfort and hope to the terminally ill and their families.  He has served in hospice ministry for more than a decade.  It’s an emotionally draining ministry.

Brother is a registered nurse and is also trained in Christian spirituality.  He brings medical and spiritual support to the bedside.  His greatest gift is listening.  Brother is always willing to listen to the concerns, fears and hope of the dying and their families.  His quiet and gentle manner communicates the Lord’s peace to people in terminal situations.  He also provides guidance when moral questions such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, and extraordinary means of life support arise.

Please join our prayer to the Immaculate that she will intercede for her son and our brother, Brother Leo, so that he can return to bring Christ’s comfort to those who are dying, their families and their healthcare providers.  Losing a patient is never easy for a doctor or nurse who is truly committed to preserving and respecting life from conception to natural death.

Project Joseph, Up and Running

On the 29th of April, we will have a workshop for all who volunteer to mentor our dads in crisis pregnancies.  We will also welcome and begin training new volunteers who wish to serve fathers who are struggling with unexpected and often unwanted pregnancies.  The brother bring light where there is darkness.  They provide education to help the dads become better dads.

BROS FORMATION

They also provide material assistance to poor moms and dads who come to our pregnancy centers.  This material assistance goes from things as simple, but important, as disposable diapers to cribs, stroller and every other contraption that modern parents need to keep their babies safe and occupied.  Don’t ask me what those contraptions are called, because I don’t know.  Lately, I have begun to feel very old when a five-year old helps me open a childproof bottle of pills.  CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?  It’s supposed to be childproof but it takes a first-grader to help a 65-year old with several graduate degrees open a vial of pills.  Ugh, I’m aging faster than I thought!

Detachment

The Franciscans of Life don’t do much marketing for vocations, but I think it’s time that we invite men between 18 and 50 years of age to think about a life detached from the material cares of the world, totally dependent on God’s Divine Providence to support you and guide you, and a life attached to the Immaculate who always leads us to Christ in the Sacred Host for spiritual nutrition and contemplation.  The brotherhood is poor.  Every brother engages in some kind of part-time job over and beyond our apostolic commitments to eat and pay utilities, rent, food, healthcare.  We own nothing.  Like our father, St. Francis, we share all things in common and some things we simply don’t need; therefore, we don’t have them.

Our life of prayer is very rich.  The brothers engage in the ancient monastic tradition of praying the WP_20160130_004Divine Office five-times a day, quiet prayer and adoration, spiritual reading, mass, and service to the voiceless.

I promise you that we are very tired, but very happy building something beautiful for the Immaculate.  Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, we hope to present Christ a holy city where men, women and children live, work, study, play and sing confident that Christ is alive and very close.  This is not a physical city, but a spiritual city of people open to God’s embrace.

Single men between 18 and 50 are invited to come and discern if this is where they can best serve Christ, living and being one with, the voiceless and doing penance for those who have not entrusted themselves to God’s forgiveness and mercy.

 

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)  

Do you dare to “Entrust your life”


Many people look at St. Francis of Assisi as someone to be admired, but too difficult to follow.  We often hear, “St. Francis was a saint; I’m not.”  That’s the point.  St. Francis was not born a saint.  He grew physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  He became a saint through his efforts and the help of Grace.

Today, the Franciscans of Life seek only one thing.  As the psalmist said, “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the Lord’s beauty, to visit his temple,” (Psalm 27:4).

We’re a brotherhood of married (Extern Brothers) and celibate men (Regular Brothers) that seeks to recover the original way of life of the early Franciscan family, both the friars and the secular penitents. 

Regular Brothers vow obedience, poverty, and chastity.  We live in a community house.  We are profession-of-vowsconsecrated to the Immaculate and we make a fourth vow, to proclaim the Gospel of Life.  Regular Brothers comes from the Latin “regula,” those who live in brotherhood guided by a rule of life.

We consecrate ourselves to live in the “house of the Lord” all the days of our lives.  Every brother crucifies himself next to Christ calling out to his Redeemer, “Remember me . . . “(Luke 23:42). 

Ancient rabbis taught that, after the coming of the Messiah, all sacrifices would cease except the Todah (the perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving), which would never cease to be offered throughout all eternity.  The sacrifice of the cross is the Todah.  Christ’s blood can roll backwards to the first sinner and forward to the last.

Christ_and_Francis“You cannot glory; that, however, in which we may glory is in our infirmities, and in bearing daily the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Admonitions V, St. Francis of Assisi).

Like the “Good Thief”, St. Dismas, every Regular Brother entrusts his eternal life to the perfect sacrifice offered by Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow.  The brother consecrates himself to live the Gospel living the Rule that St. Francis gave the Brothers and Sisters of Penance as our Constitutions explain it for us.

We strive to live the Gospel in an intense life of prayer, penancelogo_of_the_ffv, and poverty. We freely exercise our ministry to the voiceless, paying special attention to the preborn child and his family, the chronically and terminally ill and their families and caregivers, and the immigrant poor. (Constitutions, Part II, Chap one, Parr 1).   http://www.franciscansoflife.org/Constitutiones.pdf  

The Regular Brothers day has a fluid structure, not unlike that of a Benedictine day, but in a smaller family unit which is by its very nature very informal.  The vows are a means to an end.  We vow to strive, with the help of Grace, to live the virtues of obedience, poverty and chastity in the manner that St. Francis lived.

Our effort is sustained by the common recitation of the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), Lectio Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrates Mass for Nascent LifeDivina, spiritual reading, silent prayer in solitude, keeping a log of our faults (the Culpa) and keeping a journal of God’s activity in our lives.  Community worship, prayer, Eucharistic adoration, meals, recreation and apostolate are essential to the primitive Franciscan life. 

Discipline is an essential element of our life.  Every night, we proclaim our faults before our brothers and open our hearts and minds to hear and heed whatever correction they may offer in charity. 

Blessed is the servant who bears discipline, accusation, and blame from others as patiently as if they came from himself. Blessed is the servant who, when reproved, mildly submits, modestly obeys, humbly confesses, and willingly satisfies. Blessed is the servant who is not prompt to excuse himself and who humbly bears shame and reproof for sin when he is without fault, (Admonition 23)clock

We make proper use of the time that God has given us, with full knowledge that only God is the Lord of Time, not man.  Therefore, time is not man’s property to waste. 

St. Francis taught the first-generation Franciscans that silence is a necessary part of our way of life.  While we do not observe a strict silence as do Cistercians, we do observe exterior silence to achieve interior silence.

“Blessed is that servant who does not speak through hope of reward and who does not manifest everything and is not ‘hasty to speak,’ but who wisely foresees what he ought to say and answer,” (Admonition 22).wp_20150118_016

Finally, fasting and abstinence on Wednesdays and Fridays are essential to the way that we live and to the discipline in which we need strength to grow in virtue. 

“Living this Rule transforms us in, with, and for, the Love of God so that we, in humble ways, begin to transform our world by serving as the voice of the voiceless and offering penance for those who do homeless mothernot do penance. A penitential life resounds a constant invitation to prayer and self-mastery

 Prayer, fasting, abstinence, temperance, and a solid, family based Christian response to others drive all our daily activities in the home, fraternity and the world,” (Constitutions, Part II, Chap Six, Parr 49).

 As Jesus said to the first disciples, “Come and see.”  http://franciscansoflife.org/

An installment of the life of the Extern Franciscan of Life will soon be available.  Check in with us as often as possible so that you don’t miss it.

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Help us extend our apostolate.  Visit our  home page to donate through PayPal.  God Bless you!

 

Published in: on March 8, 2017 at 3:34 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

advent2016d

“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

SPARE ME THE LITURGICAL GEOMETRY LESSON


People have been trying to impress upon me and others too, that the “new” form of the mass is horizontal whereas the traditional Latin mass is vertical.  I’ve given this a great deal of thought.  From the perspective of language (not Latin, but words) the traditional Latin mass orients the person’s focus toward the transcendent.  There is no mistake about this.

But there is another mistake, which is to say that the current form of the mass fails to orient us toward the transcendent.

There are two ways to “touch” the transcendent.  One can reach up, or that which is transcendent can reach down to man.  Whether man reaches up or God reaches down, the vertical dimension of worship and Catholic spirituality has never been abrogated.  Rather, the action can be uplifting or incarnational.

I think that it would be fair to say that today’s form of the mass, if and when it’s celebrated as per the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM), has a very dynamic vertical dimension, because it places the focus on God breaking into human history:  the Incarnation.

Everything begins with man reaching out to God asking for forgiveness, during the penitential rite.  This rite is found in both extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman rite.  Next, we move to sacred Scripture.  In the ordinary form of the mass, the scriptures are proclaimed in the language of the people.  In the TLM, Latin is usual.  For those who understand Latin or have a missal with the translation, following the proclamation of the scriptures is not a hardship.

Here is where the weakness of both those who love the extraordinary form and those who love the ordinary form of the mass is most visible.  Unfortunately, catechesis in  the Latin Church has been very weak in the area of Sacred Scripture.  To say that many of the religious education books published in the United States could have just as well been produced by Disney Enterprises would not be much of an overstatement.  They fail to convey  the fact that God speaks and we must listen and then respond.

For many Catholics, traditionalists and other, the proclamation of the Sacred Scripture is like story time in elementary school.  Our priests and deacons add to the reduction of the proclamation, because they often fail to mention that what we are about to hear and what we have heard is God’s voice, not the lector’s or the clergyman’s.  Those people are conduits through which God wants to speak to His people.  The vertical quality of the Word of God is obscured by a lack of appreciation on the part of the congregation, poor delivery from those who read it, and very often sermons or homilies that sound more like motivational talks than Divine messages from God to man.

Those who see and hear the voice of God in the proclamation of the Scriptures are definitely praying, because prayer is simply lifting one’s mind and heart to God.  We don’t have to do more.  God does the rest.  During the proclamation of the Scriptures and the homily God calls out to man, as he called out to Adam in the garden, to Abraham, Samuel, and Moses, and to the apostles.  He communicates His love for man and repeats His promise to be save us.

But God also communicates the conditions necessary for salvation.  He reveals to man the moral law that we must observe to be saved.  He offers the means to reconcile, if we violate that law.  He also reveals the consequences for those who violate the moral law and do not repent.

It is during this message that says, “I AM your God and you are my people,” that the soul is intimately tuned in to the voice of God.  But the soul must have a springboard to make the leap from here, into the Word of God.   The springboard for the soul is not an object, but awareness.  We must be aware that it is God who is speaking and that we are commanded to listen carefully.  This is not story time, history class, catechism class or motivational speech to improve your fortune and acquire a younger and better looking wife.  This is the literal voice of God that becomes Incarnate in the Word.  This Word will be offered to the Father in an unbloody sacrifice under the appearance of bread and wine.  Then again, God responds by offering us the Word as spiritual nourishment in Holy Communion.

The horizontal dimension of faith plays an important part in the ordinary form of the mass.  We come to God as a people to fulfill the two Commandments that God gives us, “Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”   To understand that we relate to each other, not by how we interact at mass, but because of who we ARE, the People of God, and to convert our manners so that everything we do and say reflects God rather than us, adds the horizontal dimension necessary to complete the cross.  This is called ecclesial consciousness.

The ordinary form of the mass provides us with the means to touch and be touched by the Transcendent who speaks directly to us through the Scriptures.  The Word that is proclaimed in the Scripture points our attention to the sacrifice on the altar, which is the life of the Word Himself laid down for our Redemption.  But the Word does not remain in the grave.  It rises and reveals himself to us, glorious and triumphant at every elevation of the sacred host.  He invites us to eat and drink His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine.  Such great wonder and mystery becomes visible to those who are familiar with the Sacred Scripture, who have an ecclesial consciousness and who attend mass  to present themselves to God, not to fulfill an obligation or to experience the warmth and friendliness of parish life.  Parish life that nurtures the soul is that life which begins with the acknowledgement that the Word has become flesh and is speaking to us.  This is not a replay or a reading of some historical event.  This is reality, more real than the pains of a woman in labor.

 

Br. Jay

The Quiet Amidst the Storm – Part 2


In our previous article on Hurricane Matthew, we closed discussing the attitude of anxiety that can contaminate others during such events, and we mentioned that our Holy Father St. Francis taught us instead to always go through the world filled with the Lord’s peace and joy.

In this article we wish to share a bit more alongside some practical “hints” on how to achieve and maintain inner peace during difficult times.

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

On his deathbed, afflicted by physical suffering and by the struggles of the newborn Franciscan family, St. Francis was able to compose his beautiful Canticle, of which we quote only some strophes:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather …

 Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation…

Blessed are those who endure in peace…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death…

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl…

This is the commitment that the brothers take upon themselves when they profess to follow the life of St. Francis, when they commit to become mirrors of perfection.

Such was the inspiration that our Father gave us, that he would inspire other great saints to imitate this model. St. Teresa of Avila would write: “Let nothing disturb you”. St. Ignatius of Loyola would speak of “holy indifference” as “not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, long life to a short one[; instead] wish only for those conditions that will aid our pursuit of the goal for which we have been created”.(Spiritual Exercises) There are many other examples, but  ultimately, they all refer back to the ultimate source of Peace and Joy, the good Lord who once said: “Do not worry about your lives…do not worry about tomorrow!” (Mt 6:25,34).

lighthouses-lighthouse-looking-wide-open-sea-horizon-cloud

Furthermore, as Franciscans of Life, we bear the additional commitment of witnessing to the power and majesty of Life, eternal and all-powerful. “I have come that you may have life, and have it fully” (Jn 10:10). Church Father St. Irenaeus once commented:

“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God.”

In a practical way, we know that “nobody has seen the Father except the one He sent” and that “he who has seen the Son has seen the Father”, as our Lord reminds us of this and St Francis wishes us to imitate this. Therefore the Franciscan of Life, when seeking to proclaim the Gospel of Life, looks at the person of our Lord within his earthly life, particularly at times when He was surrounded by great agitation and nervousness. How did He act? What did He say?

Thus walking unhurriedly amidst a hurried crowd, being polite at a tired stored employee, smiling at an upset customer, helping a frustrated stranger who is looking for batteries, all of these take a different meaning as they proclaim the Light that shines in the darkness.

A friend of our community mentioned to us during a recent conversation that she felt “ashamed” as she, too, was guilty of having rushed through several stores and having been glued before the TV screen following the alert updates. We do not wish you to misunderstand us… as we said, we too went through the necessary preparations, as prudence is a great virtue. There are, however, certain elements that everyone – even those who have not been through years of formation in Franciscan spirituality – can apply in their daily life to find more of that interior silence that helps us maintain the quiet through the storm.

For example, we avoid following the secular news – including weather updates. The Superior, a man who has mastered interior silence, is tasked with following the development of the event – whatever the event may be – and sharing what he considers necessary for the brothers to know.

To build on a metaphor by Thomas Merton, it seems that the media in this day and age has sadly become a sort of “digital acupuncture” designed to stimulate every possible nerve in the human body, to keep us “on the edge”. “Fortunately”, though, our first-world stores come to the rescue with every sort of product that will reinforce our sense of safety by reinforcing our sense of “having” – even when we purchase those items on credit cards and therefore we are increasing our degree of “not having” (that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that money is something one can “have”, that is, if we assume that money “is” something).

To make things worse, the media – even those with the best intentions – often miss the elephants in the room. Mother Teresa, recently canonized to the great joy of us all and of so many around the world, reminds us that we need not look far in order to find our neighbor in need. Even before we look at Haiti and the Caribbean, we ought to ask ourselves what we can do to help the homeless men and women on the streets of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and many other cities of Miami-Dade and Broward who may not even know that there is a deadly hurricane coming their way. Some of them may not have the means to reach a shelter, others may lack an ID that will allow them access into a shelter. Could we find it in our heart to welcome them into our homes for the length of the emergency?

To turn off the “excitement” of the media and to turn from “self” towards the “other” – here are two very useful ways to maintain inner silence, peace, and joy.

The last suggestion I would like to make comes from the spiritual director of St. Teresa of the Andes, a young Carmelite mystic to whom the Lord revealed that she would die within the month. Upon mentioning this to her spiritual director and asking how to go about the remainder of the month, she was told: “Live as usual, as if you were not going to die“. For, in the words of St. Francis, “blessed are those whom the Lord will find doing His holy will“. Then even dreadful, ugly, scary Death becomes no longer our enemy, but our sister.

Francis_blessing

Following Mary’s GPS


On August 14, we celebrate the feast of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, patron of the Franciscans of Life, and the 75th anniversary of his martyrdom.  The next day, August 15th, is the solemnity of the Assumption, also known as the Feast of the Dormition of Mary in the Eastern Churches.  For the moment, let’s put the Assumption on the side.  By the end of this article, we’ll see how it all fits together.  Let’s begin with Maximilian Kolbe.

 

  1. Todeszelle_Pater_Maximilian_Kolbes,_KZ_Auschwitz_I,_Block_11We must get past the end of the story in order to understand any saint and his or her journey into the mind of God. All too often we look at the finished product, who the person was at the time of death or in the later years of their life, completely missing a life journey that should inspire us to do better.  Such is the case with St. Maximilian Kolbe.  When you mention his name, everyone remembers him as the priest who traded places with a condemned man Auschwitz and whom the Nazis starved and killed by lethal injection.  This heroic act of faith and charity did not spring up on the spur of the moment.  There was a lifetime that led to Maximilian’s ultimate sacrifice where he unites his life and death to that of the Crucified Christ to give man a chance at new life.
  1. MAX AND MARYAccording to his parents’ and brother’s memories, Maximilian was typical pre-adolescent who had the ability to get under people’s skin like most kids in that age group. His mother often cried out in despair, “What’s to become of you Raymond?  Note:  He was born Raymond Kolbe.  But there was something special about this apparent little magnet for trouble.  His parents had taught him to pray.  As a child, he knelt before Our Lady and asked her, “What is to become of me?”  Our Lady gave him a choice between a crown of martyrdom and a crown of purity.  Raymond chose both.

Here is a learning moment for those who are parents.  As important as it is to reign in your restless children and protect them from getting into trouble, as seemed to be Mrs Kolbe’s daily task with Raymond, it is imperative that we never forget that even those little mischievous creatures that we love and call children were given to us to form so that they can return to God.  The school that any child must attend is the school of prayer.

256px-Luxembourgers_in_England-_Evacuees_in_Surrey,_1942_D11110Raymond, despite the grief that he caused his mother, learned to go to prayer when he didn’t know where else to turn.  This is not something that comes built into a child.  This is the work of actual grace given by God to the parent, which the parent passes on to the child as he promised at the child’s baptism.  In other words, Raymond prayed because his parents had fulfilled the covenant they made when they baptized him, “to bring him up in the faith.”  A child who is brought up in the faith may be derailed, but can find his way back more easily than those who have not grown up in the Catholic faith.  We should pay special attention to those parents who raise saints.  Often, they serve as good models for parenting.

  1. At the age of 15, Raymond decided to join the Franciscans. He enters that branch of the Franciscans known as the Friars Minor Conventual or simply the Conventual Franciscans. Upon entering the novitiate, he is invested in the Franciscan habit and given the name Maximilian Maria.  From that point until his death he will be known as Friar or Brother Maximilian Maria. There is much to be learned here.

Jesus and boyFirst for youth – St. John Paul told the youth of the world, “Do not be afraid of Jesus Christ.” When Our Lady offered Raymond a choice between martyrdom and purity, he chose both.  We think of this story and we swoon over this wonderful little boy who was so pious and so holy.  We completely miss what God wants to teach us.  Those who struggle, as did Raymond, are also called to a life of virtue and sacrifice.  Prefabricated saints don’t need to practice heroic virtue or make heroic sacrifices.  Sinners do.

Raymond admitted that he was a sinner.  He also trusted Christ.  He was not afraid of Him.  If Christ used his Immaculate Mother to guide Raymond to Himself, Raymond was willing to take that step into the unknown and follow her lead.  He didn’t become a Franciscan Friar because this was what he wanted to do.  He may have wished to be a friar.  But he examined his attraction to the Franciscan life in light of the call that Christ made to him through the Immaculate.  Raymond entered the Franciscans because the Immaculate said to him, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She promised to be by his side along the journey.  There was no reason to fear Christ, no reason to fear embracing a life of uncertainty, sacrifice, long days and short nights, penances and many humiliations.  Maximilian teaches us that Christ calls us down paths that he has paved specially for each of us.  Christ never calls you where you cannot walk.

The question for the young person should be, “What is to become of me, Lord?”  This was Raymond Kolbe’s question and the Immaculate responded, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Life is not about what I want to do, but about God’s plan for me.

ST MAX AUSCHWITZ

Second for parents:  The Kolbe parents were committed to raising their children in the Catholic faith, as they had promised at their baptism.  They were also conscious that their children were not their special project, but they were a temporary gift from God that they would have to return when God asked.  However, they had no idea what God would ask of their children, when or how.  They st josephremained open to the God of surprises rather than planning out their children’s lives in advance and trying to steer them into careers and marriages without consulting God’s plan for them.  They educated their children in the faith, provided the academic education available to them and offered them guidance along the way.  But they never owned their children.  Their children belonged to God.  When Christ called Raymond to become Brother Maximilian, it may have not been what Mr and Mrs Kolbe expected or planned, but they trusted.  If this was truly the voice of God calling their son, he would be safe and they could offer him no better assurance of his happiness and salvation.  If it was simply an illusion of youth, God would open their son’s eyes to the folly of his choice in life.  Again, they trusted.

Madonna001The lesson to be learned is that even when we are unsure what God wants  from our children, if the choice is not a sinful one or a danger to to self or others, we can stand back and let the Immaculate guide.  She can only guide our children to her Son.  Her GPS is locked on Christ as the compass is locked on the North Pole.  There is nothing to fear and much to be gained.

This year, during the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, let us focus less on the end product, the martyr and more on the boy, the man and his parents.  Let us learn to follow the guidance of the Immaculate and to trust her Son as they did.  When we commit to following the guidance of the Immaculate, which leads to her son, then the Assumption needs very little if any explanation.  She who leads others to her Son was also called to follow Him in body and soul and will lead all men to the same end.

Shrine to the Immaculate Conception and St. Maximilian Kolbe at the FFV Motherhouse.