“To be held as precious”


Today the Latin Church celebrates the solemnity of Corpus Christi to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.

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Although the Seraphic Father never experienced this feast, he and his brothers certainly had a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist during his lifetime. In fact, St. Francis focused his first Admonition on the Holy Eucharist, professing that

the Sacrament of the Body of Christ which is sanctified by the word of the Lord upon the altar by the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine […] is really the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Francis emphasized that the Holy Eucharist shows the Lord’s great humility and simplicity, the same that He showed in the Incarnation:

Behold daily He humbles Himself as when from His “royal throne” He came into the womb of the Virgin; daily He Himself comes to us with like humility; daily He descends from the bosom of His Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest.

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The awe inspired by the great love of the Word made Flesh, united to the awareness that in this world we can see nothing corporally of Christ except the Holy Eucharist (Testament) moves us to revere the Real Presence and, by association to show respect for “the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice“. These, Francis reminds, us, must be held as precious (Letter to all the Custodes).

In the Latin Church, such reverence was expressed in ways that were typically European, according to the circumstances. Customary gestures arose, some of which acquired meaning, and others to which meaning began to be attributed.

The latter revealed a weakness: the meaning of reverence appeared from the outside in. One had to ask “Why?” in order to be told “it is a sign of reverence“.

Other customary gestures, however, allowed the action to speak for itself. Consider for instance the elevation after the consecration, a late medieval introduction intended to show the consecrated host to the people. When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, prior to her conversion from Anglicanism, witnessed this for the first time, she was well aware of what was being done (since it existed in the Anglican rite), but the awe that accompanied it was what she perceived, an awe sparked by the Catholic belief in the Real Presence. This, and not the gesture per se, would eventually lead her to the Eucharist. Reverence, then, can be experienced or defined.

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The Church, rather than rigidly defining reverence, mediates its experience by pointing to the value of that which is sacred. This she does in a twofold manner: expressing dismay when that which is sacred is treated carelessly, and showing forth the different degrees of reverence due to the sacred.

As an example of the former, the Church states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing…are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use” (CIC 1171), and that they be made of materials “truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, [being] reprobated…any practice of using…common vessels…or which are mere containers” (RS 117).

As an example of showing the different degrees of reverence that are due, consider the chalice. The minor clerics handled the empty chalice. The subdeacon handed the filled chalice to the deacon before consecration. The priest handled the consecrated chalice.

When for practical reasons laymen replaced the ministry of the minor orders and subdiaconate, the lay ministers handled the empty chalice, the deacon poured wine into the chalice and handed it to the priest, and the priest consecrated.

When order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

If, however, we do not let reverence speak for itself, but rather focus on rigidly defining it, we risk embracing two imperfect mindsets.

In the first of these, we may apply gestures that express reverence in situations that do not call for it, which leads to an over-generalization or over-use of such gestures, so that eventually they lose their reverent meaning and become “common”.

An example of this is the practice of genuflection. In the Latin Church, genuflection became a common sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, genuflections became common throughout the liturgy even when the Blessed Sacrament is neither present on the altar, nor reserved in the Tabernacle. This begs the question: “Why genuflect?” To which the answer comes: “As a sign of reverence“. This led to confusion, as the distinction between reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament and respect due to a sacred object (namely, the altar) became unclear. This of course can lead to such gestures being eventually discarded because they are no longer associated with the original context and thus  perceived as superfluous repetition.

The second of these mindsets, one may begin to perceive the absence of certain gestures as a “lack of reverence”, or the presence of certain gestures as a “need”, given our sinfulness or even “uncleanliness”.

Consider, for instance, the usage of gloves by altar servers. When the law of the Latin Church reserved, so to speak, the handling of the sacred vessels to the minor clerics, this came neither from divine revelation nor because of an intrinsic spiritual meaning. Certainly it was not the Church’s mindset that the laity was “unworthy because unholy”. It was done for very practical reasons. Furthermore, laymen and religious often functioned as sacristan. At times they handled the vessels with a piece of cloth, because it was fairly easy to transfer grease and dirt from their hands to the vessels.

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Yet by the 19th Century we read that if the sacristan is a layman rather than a minor cleric, “it is at least becoming that a veil be used in handling the chalice and the paten” (Collectio Rerum Liturgicarum). Statements such as these were understood in the negative, as implying that the gesture of a lay man or woman handling the chalice with bare hands is a lack of reverence, because the laity are somewhat “unclean”, hence the need to “restrict” them outside of the sacristy and to grant clerics alone the “privilege”of handling the sacred vessels. This, of course, confuses the way the Church intended to bring order and distorts the meaning of reverence. Even the previous Code of Canon Law stated that the sacred vessels could be handled by either the clerics or those who had their custody, including laity and religious (CIC/1917 1306), where the word “laity” made no distinction between male and female .

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St. Therese of Lisieux as sacristan

As for the honor due to the clergy, the Seraphic Father reminds us that it is “on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others” (Letter to all the Faithful). That is to say: we honor them because they are the ministers of the Eucharist; they are not the ministers of the Eucharist because of their holiness.

In brief: this mindset, which focuses on our sinfulness alone, fails to acknowledge the Incarnation. Yet, it can still be found today, even when minor orders are no longer present in the Latin Church (with a few exceptions) and their functions are performed by the laity.

To avoid the two slippery slopes that we have described, we should bear in mind that the Church does not rigidly define reverence, but rather orders roles and gestures according to the need. Again, when order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

Consequently, the focus shifts from our sinfulness and unworthiness to the Incarnation. At that moment, the Word becomes Flesh and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumes our nature, breaking into human history and beginning the journey towards our redemption.

True reverence has its roots in the Incarnation and naturally returns to it. We reverence Our Lord Jesus Christ when we acknowledge Him as true God and true man, hence becoming aware of who He is, our very brother, and of who we are in relationship to Him, children of the Most High.

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Br. Bernardo di Carmine

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“Life calls out to life”


A couple of months ago we mentioned that there would be some upcoming articles focusing on Project Joseph and on our family, the Franciscans of Life. The former we addressed in April. Today we continue this “mini series” by answering the question…

Who Are The Franciscans Of Life?

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   The Franciscans of Life is a private association of Catholic laymen who are celibate, singler, or married.  It is the hope of the society to become a public association of the faithful someday, maybe an institute of mixed life, where regular and secular meet.

   We exist with the permission and blessing of the Archbishop of Miami, the Most Reverend Thomas Wenski. Men from six countries, four language groups and three generations make up the fraternity.

   We attempt to replicate that brotherhood that grew up around Saint Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century, where there were friars, nuns, married men and women, diocesan priests, widows and single people who followed the Gospel according to the Rule of Penance written by Saint Francis.  Today, our fraternity is comprised of men only.  There are “regular” brothers who live the evangelical counsels in private vows and “extern” brothers who live the evangelical counsels as single or married men.

Our Way of Life

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The Franciscans of Life make a covenant to live the Gospel according to the Rule of Penance and the constitutions of the society.  Every brother, celibate, single, or married is a full member of the fraternity.  Therefore, each one binds himself to observe obedience to the Church and the superior of the fraternity, to live a life of detachment from material things and temporal honors, and to persevere in chastity in the celibate, single, or married life.

While all of the brothers in Franciscans of Life are lay and secular, we use the term “extern” to identify those brothers who are married or single and hoping to marry, and the term “regular” to identify those brothers who live in community, are in private vows and are celibate.

 Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer, fasting and abstinence are the guiding lights for the brothers.  Fraternity is a hallmark of Franciscan tradition.  Therefore, the brothers look to Christ and the apostles and endeavor to follow that model of fraternal life and service.

Common prayer, sharing, openness to each other, our families, and support for each other along the journey toward the perfection of charity are the means by which the brothers sanctify their lives and the lives of those they touch.  The brothers are faithful and obedient to the Catholic Church as she speaks to us through the successor of Peter and the local bishop.

Our Mission

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The mission of the fraternity is to proclaim the Gospel of Life through service to the voiceless, in particular the preborn child and his family, the terminally ill and the elderly, the immigrant poor who feels hopeless, and the person living with disabilities.

The brothers engage in a variety of apostolic activities in the Archdiocese of Miami. These include catechesis, campus ministry, Respect Life, prayer vigils at abortion mills, and serving fathers in crisis pregnancies through Project Joseph. Other apostolates are hospice and linking immigrant poor with community resources.

The invisible dimension of the brothers’ mission is a life of atonement for those who embrace the culture of death.

Extern Brothers

 

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The extern brothers live in the secular world, but are not of the world.  They are husbands, fathers, and single men.  The fraternity is also open to deacons and diocesan priests who have the permission of their bishop to join.

   These brothers hold typical jobs in the world and belong to different parishes in the Archdiocese.  However, they come together with each other and the regular brothers at the weekly family meeting, liturgical functions, prayer, and apostolic activities.

   Those who are husbands and fathers include their spouses and children in as many of the fraternal activities as possible.  In this way, the Franciscan spirit is carried into the family and the family is embraced by the fraternity.

   The extern brothers and their families engage in the proclamation of the Gospel of Life through participation in activities that promote the sanctity of life.

Regular Brothers

 

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These brothers live in community under the leadership of a superior.  They make private vows of obedience, poverty and chastity and are celibate for life.

None of the brothers owns anything individually or in common.  They rent their home, share their material resources, and work to provide for their material needs as prescribed by Saint Francis in his Testament.  When the income is not enough, the brothers beg as did the early Franciscans.

The daily life of these brothers is comprised of prayer, apostolic service to the voiceless, study, and labor that generates enough income to support the brothers and their work for the poor.

Under the guidance and encouragement of a superior also known as a guardian, the brothers strive to live as a family where brother serves brother as Christ served the apostles when he washed their feet at the Last Supper.  These brothers spend a great deal of time together at prayer, work, ministry, study, recreation and rest.

 

Trinitarian

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Like Saint Francis and the first generation Franciscans, the Franciscans of Life look to the Trinity for guidance and example in community, intimacy, love, unity and holiness.

 

Marian

 

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Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Saint John Paul II are the patrons of the Franciscans of Life.  From these saints we learn to live under the mantle  of the Immaculate and to protect the sanctity of life from conception to death.

Vita ad vitam vocat…”

Prayerfully consider whether the Lord is inviting you to walk the way with us. In doing so, bear in mind the sayings of our patron saints: “Do not be afraid…forget not love!”

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Holy Week: a time to choose


Palm Sunday

As Holy Week moves along,palm-sunday-crosses-6 the Franciscans of Life are also moving right along with the liturgy and the celebration of the paschal mysteries.  The week began with the liturgy of Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday).  The brothers attended  the liturgy as family.  It was a very moving day for us, especially for those brothers who had never seen the liturgy of Palm Sunday in the Ordinary Form.  The beauty and solemnity of the liturgical celebration removed any doubt that the Ordinary Form can raise the heart and  mind to God as much as the Extraordinary Form.  In both, Christ does his part.  It is up to us to do our part.  The young men and women from LifeTeen reenacted the Lord’s passion as the Gospel was read. We were impressed to see how prayerful the kids looked and how well they memorized the many lines in the Gospel reading.  Of course the priest and the deacon helped out during the reading.

Meet Our New Postulant

Monday night was a very special night for the fraternity.  We received a new postulant, Alberto Emilio Rodriguez.  Alberto joined us as an aspirant several months ago.  He is the product of a solid Catholic home and

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Postulant Alberto Rodriguez, FFV

Catholic education.  We thank his parents and the Marist Brothers for their investment in Alberto.  Postulant Alberto is active in the community, especially in youth retreats.  As a student the only thing we can say is that he is brilliant.  He was accepted by three leading universities in the United States, all of which offered him full scholarships.

Lazaro Rodriguez (father), Postulant Alberto, Br. Jay and Br. Luis sign the registry after Alberto is received as a posulant

However, Alberto has decided to study in Miami and form with the Franciscans of Life.  He has responded to what Jesus said to his apostles at the Last Supper when he washed their feet:

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:14-16).

As we have said, he is academically gifted, speaks two languages, is the class president at his school, has been a retreat speaker and altar server, is an excellent drummer and an aeronautics aficionado.  Most important, he is a man of great faith and a deep prayer life.

New Secular Franciscan of Life

We have also received a new brother as novice for the Secular Franciscans of Life, Brother Luis Charbel.

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Br. Luis Charbel, FFV was received as a novice at St. Maximilian Kolbe Chapel.

Br. Bernardo di Carmine and his mother, Mrs. Angela Torres

 

Brother Bernardo Di Carmine delivered a beautiful reflection during solemn vespers when Luis was received.

Luis is originally from Colombia.  He and his wife have made Miami their home along with their beautiful eight children.  Luis came to us driven by the Holy Spirit.  He has always experienced an attraction to the spirit of St. Francis.  His children serve the poor in a Franciscan ministry.  However, Luis had never done anything about his craving for Francis of Assisi and his way of life until he saw an article about Project Joseph, which the Franciscans of Life operate for Respect Life Ministry Archdiocese of Miami.  Docile to the Holy Spirit, he responded to Christ’s challenge to the apostles during his Passover with them:

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these. (Jn 14:12).

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St. Louis IX by El Greco

Like Alberto, Luis is also a man of profound faith and prayer.  His patron saints are Saint Louis King of France, the patron of the Third Order of St. Francis, and Saint Charbel Makhluf, Maronite monk and hermit, known for his intense life of prayer and asceticism.  Luis couldn’t have picked better patron saints.

Saint Louis IX was a contemporary of Saint Francis of Assisi and king of France.  He is one of the earliest secular brothers in the Franciscan family, a faithful husband and the father of eleven children.

Saint Charbel Makhlouf, O.L.M. The Wonder Worker

Saint Charbel was Maronite monk and hermit at the Monastery of Saint Maron where he lived a life of severe asceticism.  For those who may not understand the term asceticism, it has little to do with corporal penances and much to do with the practice of the virtues.  As an ascetic, Saint Charbel disciplined his mind and body to conform to the virtues of Christ and his Blessed Mother.

Like Saint Charbel, Luis has a very personal relationship with the Immaculate and recently completed his consecration to Mary in the Kolbe tradition.

Holy Week: time to reach out

John’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus had finished the Last Supper and had washed his disciples’ feet he said to them

“Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”  (Jn 15:12b-17).

Holy Week is the perfect time to reflect on our universal vocation:  the perfection of love. It’s a time to examine what we do and who we are, keeping in mind the precedence of being over doing.

Jesus calls us friends, for that is our universal vocation.  He has loved us enough to call us his friends.  Brothers Alberto and Luis have taken the leap of faith.  Christ chose and extended his hand from the cross in friendship.  Like Saint Francis of Assisi, they responded.

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Transformation


We had a great couple of days for Project Joseph and the Franciscans of Life!

On Saturday, March 21st, the Franciscans of Life attended the 5th Catholic Men’s Conference of the Archdiocese of Miami. The event, which featured Catholic apologist Tim Staples, took place at St. Mark Catholic Church. We represented Project Joseph along with some of the mentors of Respect Life Ministry.

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Our display included some literature and a poster describing the roots of Project Joseph and where it is today. It also featured pictures that the Project Joseph dads allowed us to share, either of their classes or of their beautiful children.

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The event was well attended, and we had a chance to talk with several men, some of whom were dads themselves, and present to them information about Project Joseph, as well as invite them to our upcoming workshop.

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On Monday, March 23rd we had the joy of receiving Brother Luis as a novice. He received the name Brother Luis Charbel, FFV.

As a secular brother, Br. Charbel exchanges the cord that holds the wooden tau around his neck from a brown one to a red one. The red signifies the Sacred Blood shed by Christ during His Passion, and constitutes for Br. Charbel a reminder that he is called to “obey as Christ obeyed, without murmuring, complaints and resentment”, in order to “live perfect charity as Christ taught us on the cross”.

The exchange of the color and the reception of a new name are for the secular Franciscan of Life “an outward sign of his desire for transformation from the old man enslaved by sin to the new man, liberated by the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ”.WP_20150323_030It was a beautiful and moving reception, attended by the regular and secular Franciscans of Life and their families. Brother Jay directed the ceremony, and Brother Bernardo offered a reflection on the call and life of the secular brothers.

In the next days we will feature more news about FFV and Project Joseph…stay tuned! 🙂

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Thank you!


The season of Lent has begun, in which the Church unites herself to Jesus in the desert (CCC 540) and invites us all to engage in spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, voluntary self-denial, and fraternal sharing (CCC 1438). All these, of course, as part of our lifelong process of conversion.

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Lent is violet time…

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers…take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery … remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart” (Dt 6:10-12, 8:2)

Indeed, this is not a time of mourning, but a time to look back in order to move forward; a time to make ours the invitation that was made to the Church in Ephesus: “Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Rv 2:5) It is a time to examine our consciences, that is, in the words of the Holy Father Francis on January 1st, a time “through which we review what has happened; we thank the Lord for every good we have received and have been able to do and, at the same time, we think again of our failings and our sins”.

“To give thanks and to ask for forgiveness”. In particular, would add the Pope in this year’s message for Lent, by confronting the culture of indifference, striving to become “islands of mercy in a sea of indifference”.

In this context, we wanted to begin by giving thanks, first and foremost to the Lord, and immediately afterwards to you.

You see, on January 1st we “manifested without fear our needs” in the form of an article that expressed a simple question: “Can you help?“.

In the following weeks, we received much support from you, and we were greatly moved by how you helped us meet our needs, particularly now that we have more brothers in formation in the motherhouse.

The first challenge met was the replacement of the toaster. We have been blessed with an “upgrade”: a toaster-oven that has been our companion beyond breakfast and has even allowed us to save some energy 🙂

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Breakfast time!

Shortly afterwards, the second challenge was met: the replacement of an old mattress. Here, too, we were greatly blessed: the new mattress came with certain features to help the brothers that suffer from backaches; it also came with a pillow!

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How the brothers feel on the new mattress

Last but not least, we tackled the leak problem in the AC unit and the hole in the ceiling. The issue got worse before it got better. One day, an additional dripping began, a few inches away from the opening…but right on top of the kitchen table!!

However, we had already set aside enough to be able (we hoped!) to pay for the repairs. That same day the repair crew found and fixed several issues with the AC unit, and finally they tackled the hole in the ceiling. The latter was no small task! The repair required opening up that spot on the ceiling, inserting two layers of wood, and finally sealing the opening.

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As easy as 1, 2, 3? Not quite…!

Again, THANK YOU for being there for us. This has been a very edifying experience for us.  Be assured that you are always in our prayers.

Last but not least, we should mention our brother who is pursuing doctoral studies. He has been working with dedication, while pursuing with great love the formation time. You can see him below, presenting a final project!

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“Good night, son!”


“Pax et bonum”! I am very happy to wish you a blessed new year and to share with you the highlights of my first week of postulancy in residence at the Franciscans of Life motherhouse. I hope you like it!

It has been great to begin my residency during the Christmas season.

In retrospective, I can see I experienced both the great solemnity of the Nativity and the secular “holiday” of New Year as times of “glad tidings”, of a new beginning, as well as a reminder that Christ lives. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it”, says the Lord. And St. Paul, who was no “forgetful listener”, would say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”.

In short: this first week was for me the time to welcome the birth of Christ in my heart and embrace Him in my brothers.

Nativity and Christmas tree

Arriving to the motherhouse was not a new experience, but this time it took a whole new aspect. I wasn’t just visiting. I was at home, now.

After settling in, I was invited to go to evening mass at the nearby parish of St Boniface. It felt great to begin this way. As Brother Jay always reminds us, “everything begins at the beginning”. I was very happy to attend this mass with my brothers and to pray Vespers with them afterwards, before the Blessed Sacrament.

This would be the first “in residence” taste of the fraternal liturgical life. Little did I know (I say this with great joy!) that this would become the “heart and soul”of my daily life of love!

The life in fraternity is “in common” in many ways. We strive to serve one another and to meet each other’s needs. We all seek to love and be loved, and in the life of the regular brothers we are always attentive to each other’s needs for spiritual support, safety, and affection.

The common life is also very practical. Our community embraces early Franciscan poverty in which the brothers did not just share common property. We simply have what is strictly necessary.  For this purpose, Father Superior worked right away on the motherhouse weekly schedule to meet the needs of a postulant student brother and assure that I can continue my formation while pursuing my first doctoral degree – all the while living the peaceful and joyful life of penance of the Franciscans of Life.

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My days begin at the “cella” (pronounced like “shell”), where I sleep “at a pillow’s distance” from Father Superior. It is always a joyful experience, as we encounter one another in awakening and, shortly afterwards, our Lord in the prayer of Lauds.

Due to the diminute size of the “cella”, the brothers must take turns; one brother takes care of the beds while the other lights the candles at our little prayer table, before the icon of the Immaculate and the crucifix of San Damiano. It is here that we keep the prayer intentions entrusted to us.  On one day in which my turn came around for the latter and I was particularly sleepy, I recalled the words of an earlier liturgical reading: “Awake, sleeper!”. For a moment, I thought I could feel the Lord’s eyes on me…but when I turned around, I realized it was Father’s glance! “Are you done waking up, or do you need a hand?” 🙂

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Having warmed up the soul with prayer, we take care of the rest with breakfast (and, not uncommonly, some laughter!) On more than one occasion I “showcased my cooking skills” by preparing some awesome toasts with coffee (although I ought to admit that the greater merit goes to the new toaster oven that we recently received from a kind benefactor).

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What happens in the mornings depends on the daily schedule.

Most weekdays we coordinate our schedules for academics and apostolate, and we often share the community car by planning our daily trip accordingly. Several days, however, the morning begins with a formation class in topics such as spiritual theology, sacred liturgy, and Franciscan studies.

Saturday is dedicated in a particular way to prayer and to taking care of the motherhouse. Once a month, we dedicate it to a full day of prayer and recollection. This week, however, was my opportunity to “brush up” my broom and mop skills 😉

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Sunday is our family day. Usually, we begin the day by going to the nearby parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe to attend mass.

Once a month, however, we also travel to Miami, to the mission of Sts. Francis and Clare, where I serve as acolyte for the local Latin Mass Community. While we worship in community in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Father Superior and the brothers know that I have been an E.F. altar server for several years with great joy and to my spiritual benefit. They have kindly accommodated for me to be able to continue to do so without turning the extraordinary into the norm.

The weekday afternoon usually includes some free time for spiritual reading, private prayer, a walk around the lake, and (for me, in a special way) time for homework. This doesn’t mean I am “off the hook” for an afternoon formation class, however! 🙂

Saturday afternoon is often the occasion to buy the necessary groceries for the week and take care of the needs of our lovely companions Max and Tasha.

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On Family Day, it is not uncommon to spend the afternoon at a nearby park, alternating times of prayerful contemplation to times of joy and fun.

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The evening is usually marked by attending daily Mass followed by Vespers, in turn followed by supper.

Something beautiful happens on Monday evenings, as the regular and secular brothers gather for the weekly “chapter”. This is one of my favorite experiences of our fraternity life – to welcome all the brothers and be welcomed with a warm embrace, and then pray Vespers together, receive formation, plan our joint efforts in our common service to the voiceless, and also share weekly experiences.

It is written: “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!” This is exactly what I experience at our “family meetings”, as the secular brothers, who are husbands and fathers, enrich us with the experience of a Catholic family life, and at the same time allow us to share with them the fruits of peace and good that we find in the celibate life in community.

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At the end, Father Superior sends the secular brothers back to their families with a warm embrace. This is a very moving moment, but it is also a reminder that I must retreat to the “cella”, for this evening is the time for the regular brothers to have the Chapter of Faults. The regular brothers recollect, as Father Superior enters the cell and sits quietly. One by one, we “come into the light, that our deeds may be manifested”.

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When my turn comes, I kneel before Father Superior, entrusting myself to his justice and mercy, and opening myself to my brothers, as I accuse myself of my faults against the Holy Rule and our Constitutions. After receiving Father Superior’s firm but gentle correction, I prostrate before the Crucified Lord and, arms outstretched, I recite my Confiteor. As I hear Father’s words “Arise, in the name of the Lord”, and I sit down amidst my brothers, I have the unshakable certainty that despite my limitations, my Superior and my brothers still love me. As Brother Leo steps forward, I glance at the eyes of the Crucified. Those eyes, and the peace in my heart, are enough to make me wish to leap for joy. But I remain recollected, as I recall the words of our Holy Father St. Francis: “Let us begin, for up to now we have done nothing.”

The night finishes with a visit to His Majesty, who in the Blessed Sacrament awaits for us at the St. Francis chapel of a nearby parish.

Before walking into the chapel, Father Superior guides us through a review of our day. This is one of the most meaningful times of the day for me, as I can rejoice at the good experiences of the day and analyze missed opportunities to encounter and serve Christ, in order to see what got in the way and what can I do better.

After a time of adoration, we lift our cowls and we let the words of Compline echo silently before His face: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace…”.

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We return to the motherhouse and retreat into our “cella”, our beloved cloister. Lights go off. I lay down in bed “and sleep comes at once”. It’s been a good day, I tell myself. The night is silent. I thank God for the present moment, for the love, and for the gift of a life of penance in service to the voiceless.

And just as I am about to fall asleep, a pillow hits me. “Good night, son!”

Br. Bernardo, FFV

[How to Help]

“Walk in my presence . . . ,” Brother begins his journey


The journey of a consecrated brother in the Franciscans of Life has several steps.  At the beginning they seem to move very quickly and then they slowly settle down.  That’s because the early steps are short.  As the child learns to walk, he takes wider steps.

Let’s follow the journey of Br. Bernardo.  It began at Baptism when his parents and godparents promised to raise him in the Catholic faith and he was washed clean of Original Sin by the waters of Baptism and initiated into the Catholic Church.  He would later make his First Holy Communion and then be confirmed, concluding his initiation into the faith.

But God does not stop working with us on the day of our Confirmation.  On that day, He is finished with the initial part of the process.  Then began the next step.  Like any other man, Bernardo had to find his place in the Church.  After a few years involved in campus ministry and debating Traditionalist points on Catholic Answers Forums, he met the Franciscans of Life.  This dialogue/debate between Bernardo and Br. Jay went from 2012 to the September 2013.  It was almost one year.

Br. Jay invited Bernardo to attend a workshop on the Church’s teachings on the life issues with an introduction to Project Joseph.

This is the young man who entered the door on June 14, 2013 at 9:00 AM.  He was very friendly, but reserved and very guarded.  Almost wondering, “What’s a nice boy like me doing in a place like this?”

That didn’t last very long.  Bernardo can’t keep quiet more than 20 minutes at a time and remaining distant is against his nature.  This is a man who is naturally oriented toward others.  This became obvious very quickly, especially as he and Brother Christopher Thomas enjoyed some coffee and donut.

But God was not finished.  Later, Brother Jay would ask Bernardo to visit a family meeting with the Franciscans of Life.  When the meeting ended, he was excited and happy, like a kid who has just been told that he got an A on a math exam.  He continued to attend the family meetings.WP_20140825_066

On August 23, 2014, Brother Jay decided to risk it and invited Bernardo to enter the aspirancy program.  Brother still had reservations.  But he put it all in the hands of the Immaculate.   On the 24th of August, Bernardo accepted the invitation and was received as an aspirant on August 25, 2014.

The aspirants receive a white shirt and a Tau pin that they wear on their collar

WP_20140825_081On October 27, 2014, Brother Jay found himself at prayer in front of the Immaculate.  As usual, he prayed for all of his brothers, secular and consecrated; aspirants, postulants, novices and professed.  He was very tired and his eyes started to close.  As if in  a state between asleep and awake he clearly saw Bernardo’s face.

“Is that whom you want me to call for you,” Brother Jay asked the Immaculate.  “But Mother, there are some complications, because he’s a doctoral student and I don’t yet know his family,” Brother Jay told the Immaculate.  “Please give me a sign that I’m understanding you correctly.”

Suddenly, the sleepiness vanished and Brother Jay started to laugh.  He was not sure what was going to happen next, but he was sure of one thing.  He had a message to deliver for the Immaculate.  It didn’t make a difference whether Bernardo believed it or not.  Brother never promised the Immaculate and she never demanded that Bernardo would believe the message.  He was to deliver the invitation to enter the Franciscans of Life.  The  Immaculate had already placed a strategy in Brother Jay’s mind how Bernardo would be a postulant and finish his degree.  On October 29, 2014, Brother Jay delivered the message and the plan that the Immaculate had put into his mind.  In less than 24 hours, Bernardo accepted the invitation.

After consulting with the brothers, the date was set.  Bernardo would be invested in the seraphic robe on November 17, 2014 the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, whose rule the Franciscans of Life follow.  Brothers have to be invested in the name they received at baptism, when they become novices, a new name is assigned to them.  That evening, he became a Student Brother, in the FFV.  Assisting in the investiture was Mrs. Angela,  Bernardo’s mother and Brother Christopher Thomas, whom Bernardo had chosen as his sponsor and witness.

The habit and all the pieces come in a plastic bag.  Brother Chris was holding the bag, handing Mrs. Torres one piece at a time.  When he handed her the Seraphic Tunic she said, “Que emoción,” which Spanish means “I’m 009so moved.”  

There is no such thing as an investiture without comic relief.  We had to take off Bernardo’s shirt to throw the tunic over his head.  But Bernardo just stood there as his mother and one of us fiddled with the tiny buttons on his shirt.  Finally, Brother Jay said, “Oh for goodness sake.  You can help us, you know.”  The buttons were tiny.

But all worked out well.  At the end of the investiture, Brother, his mother, the brothers and some of his friends who attended took pictures and offered Brother their best wishes.

One thing that the new postulant has to be able to do, besides dress himself is to explain each piece of his habit.  The grey was chosen because it was the original color worn by St. Francis and the early brothers.  The tunic stops at midcalf, because that how many Italian peasants wore them in the 13th century.  The cowl (hood) was worn for warmth and the scapular of Our  Lady we have added over the years in honor of the Immaculate who appeared to St. Simon Stock wearing the clothes of a peasant woman, undyed brown wool for her tunic and apron (scapular) and undyed white wool for the mantle.

The postulant’s habit is held together by a leather belt as a reminder that St. Francis also started his journey wearing a leather belt, before he gave it up for a piece of rope.  The cord is received when one enters the novitiate.

Over the heart, every Franciscan of Life wears the Tau just as St. Francis drew it on his habit when he first learned of its meaning.  Postulants and novices wear a wooden Tau, while professed wear a bronze Tau.  The red cord that holds the Tau in place reminds us of the Passion of Christ to which we have a special devotion.  Finally, there are things to do around the house.  This postulant’s first assignment was to learn how to cook.

Each step is recorded in our family’s chronicles and witnessed by two people other than the superior.  Bernardo had chosen Brother Chris as one of his witnesses, Brother Jay chose Bernardo’s mother to be her son’s second witness, something that does not happen too often. The journey of a new Franciscan of Life only begins here.  There is still much to learn and many steps to be walked.  There is a one year novitiate and at least three years of temporary vows.

You too can walk this path.  Think about it.014

Enjoy the pictures.

Let's see if the oven is ready.

Let’s see if the oven is ready.

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Making Mom’s sauce — “Where is she when I need her?”

Figuring out how to cook a precooked lasagna

Figuring out how to cook a precooked lasagna

Getting the lasgna ready for the oven.

Getting the lasgna ready for the oven.

Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel’s Snowball


fr__benedictI want to begin by expressing to the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal (CFR) the most profound condolences from the Franciscan Brothers of Life on the passing of Fr. Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  The Franciscan family may well have another icon in heaven.  Father was certainly an icon while he was still with us.

My first encounter with Father Benedict was at the retreat house on Long “Gisland” as it sounded to me when he pronounced it.  It was Advent 1980.  I can’t recall the exact date, but he was hosting a Christmas party.  I was attached to the Province of St. Augustine, but I had a Capuchin classmate at Catholic University of America from the Province of St. Mary.  He had told me all about this colorful friar whom he wanted me to meet.  As Providence would have it, we had to travel to New York for something and I got to meet the man whom I would later dub “Uncle Mame”.

He was loud, excited and to my young eyes, a little off.  But, since he was a psychologist, I didn’t think much of it.  All of us in this field are eccentric, neurotic or both.  Yes, I became a neuropsych, but not at that point.  Something remained with me.  Like Auntie Mame, Benedict’s energy came from a noble heart.  There was nothing pretentious about it.  It was very credible.

A few years later, I asked for a dispensation and left the Capuchin Order, married, fathered three children and was widowed with two surviving children.  Not having the Capuchins, having lost my wife and one child, and left alone to parent two children who were still in elementary school, life became terrifying.  Like all people who are afraid, I too found different routes of escape that only complicated my life rather than help.

One day, in 1997, I can’t recall if I was watching EWTN or listening to some Catholic radio station, but I clearly remember that Father Benedict was doing a live program and you could call in after the show and speak to him off the air.  I wish I could recall the name of that program.

In any case, I remembered my encounter with Uncle Mame, some 17 years before.  I didn’t expect him to remember me, why should he.  I was one of thousands of friars in the Capuchin Order and we had met in the midst of Christmas party.  There was no time to get to know each other.  Nonetheless, I had listened to him that morning and I remembered that energetic brand of kindness that emulated from him.  I decided to call, thinking that I would never get through, maybe hoping that I would never get through.  I’m not sure which.  The fact is that I did get through.

I quickly explained my situation to him and told him that I was a former Capuchin, now a widowed dad of two very young children whose life was upside down and I couldn’t find a way get it on its feet again.  I remember telling him of my fears as briefly as possible, figuring that this is a telephone interview, not a face to face spiritual direction.  To this day, I have no idea what he said and it does not really matter.  What matters is that whatever he said got me on the right path.

I remember his voice of concern for me, as if I were the only person on the queue waiting to talk to him.  His voice was strong, but soft and soothing.  Whatever his words were, they didn’t seem as important as the fact that this friar truly cared about me.  I felt loved and cared for in a very special way.  There was nothing mystical or magical about it.  My life was still difficult.  But as the days went by, whatever Father Benedict said to me started to kick in, kind of like a time-released medication.

That conversation led to other conversations with other holy men and women.  Father helped me to realize that more than afraid, I was hungry.  I was hungry for the Church.  I was hungry for my Franciscan brothers.  I was hungry for the life that Saint Francis had given to his sons and daughters.  I was hungry for a tangible experience of God.  My short conversation with him was the little snowball that rolled down the hill and grew and grew.

Fast forward.  Today, my daughter is happily married.  My son has finished his education, owns his own home, and is financially and socially independent.  Both are model Christians.  In 2009, I returned to Franciscan life.  This time, not as a Capuchin, but as one of the founders of a new Franciscan brotherhood committed to preaching the Gospel of Life and living the Gospel as the first brothers lived it.  We are the Franciscan Brothers of Life or Fratres Franciscani Vitae (FFV).

Is Father Benedict responsible for this?  I would say that he set that little snowball in motion that turned into a very big snowball that led to my “reconversion”.  In simple words, Father Benedict was a crucial element in a process, a small yet essential pebble on my journey’s road.

When we wrote our constitutions for the Franciscans of Life, we borrowed heavily from Father Benedict’s writings on the Franciscans of the Renewal.  Though our mission may be slightly different from that of the CFR, our vision and roots are the same, St. Francis of Assisi and the early brothers.  An important spiritual benefactor was Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel, CFR.  His courage and that of the early CFRs inspires our brothers to look back and go forward to proclaim the Gospel of Life while living it as did those first brothers.

Thank you Father Benedict.  One never knows where the seeds will land.  But I can assure you, my good and faithful Franciscan brother that you planted a seed in my life, which was probably the first of many that I needed in order to begin again in a new garden.

Rest in peace my Brother.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 1:04 AM  Comments (1)  

A Deacon’s Deacon


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The Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi is just around the corner.  I’m moved to write a few thoughts on it.  What a surprise, right?

Our Holy Father Francis was a man who walked in many shoes.  He was a family man, even though he was never married.  He had parents and siblings and was very close to all of them.  He was a patriot who went off to war to fight for Assisi ending up as a prisoner of war for one year.  Fast forward just a little and we see him living the life of a hermit and a penitent asking God to tell him what to do next.  He was a layman, religious brother and very late in his life, a deacon.  Pope Innocent III approved the order 1209.  Pope Honorius gave the final approval to the Rule in 1223.  It seems that this is when Francis was tonsured.

It’s rare that I meet a deacon who does not remind me that Francis was one of them.  In philosophy we learn that words have meaning.  For the sake of clarity, let’s establish that Francis lived 800 years ago.  Today’s deacon shares in Christ’s Diakonia as Francis did in the 13th century.

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, youhave no part in me,” (John 13:8).

Simply put, he’s one of their predecessors in the diaconate.  As we approach the feast day of one of the world’s most celebrated deacons, after Stephen the martyr, there are some points that deacons may want to reflect on.

Rev. Brother Francis Bernadone did not limit himself to identifying with the poor, nor did he stop at giving back his father’s name, fortune and future inheritance.  He saw the poverty of Christ at the Last Supper, at Calvary and in the Eucharist.  The God of creationsan franciscon remains with us, out of pure love, fully alive in his glorified body under the appearance of the most basic forms of food, bread and wine.   Christ chose bread and wine in order to remain with all men.  Bread and wine are found in every culture.  In the Eucharist, Francis contemplates the poverty of Christ and he has only one desire, to make Christ’s poverty his bride.  Francis’ place at the altar went beyond performing certain liturgical functions; it was about becoming a poor man as Christ was poor on the altar of Calvary.

Can today’s deacons say the same about themselves?  Can they say that they see Christ’s poverty?  Can they say that they aspire to make Christ’s poverty their own or do they gloss over it, as Francis used to say, by labeling it “spiritual poverty” or “poverty of spirit,”  terms that Francis considered a form of white washing.

Deacon Francis wanted only one thing.  He wanted to reflect perfection.  Thus he spent most of his life trying to become The Mirror of Perfection, that mirror which reflects the perfection of Christ.  He became the reflection of the perfect deacon, Jesus Christ who came to serve, not to be served, Jesus Christ who said,

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them,” (John 7:22).

Francis became the servant of the voiceless as was Christ.  Diakonia, in Franciscan tradition, takes its inspiration from Christ who is one with the poor and serves among them.  In Francis’ mind, being a deacon and being a Friar Minor were perfectly compatible as long as the deacon focused on union with the voiceless and in service of the voiceless.

Francis also placed his ministry at the service of his brothers, not above his brothers.  It would seem that the idea of permanent deacons became difficult to fit into the Franciscan tradition when the diaconate became a transitional step toward the priesthood and when deacons themselves assumed a clerical attitude.   Some deacons are readily available and visible for liturgical functions and missing in action among the voiceless and among those who ask for their help with the faith.  Francis was to be found more often serving the sick, teaching the crowds, listening to a young man struggling with the faith, or serving food to the hungry, than he was serving at a liturgy.  That’s probably why we Franciscans don’t remember him as a deacon, but as a brother, teacher and spiritual father.

Those who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ must please all men in all ways. For they are not deacons of meats and drinks [only] but servants of the church of God (St. Ignatius of Antioch)

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Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 2:46 AM  Comments (1)  

Why do I do this?


I’m trying very hard not to engage in heavy philosophy and theology these days.  I’m tired, my health is poor, my brothers need my attention, it’s “Franciscan Season,” then I have to rest for the Advent Season.  But every once in a while someone says something or publishes bang-head-heresomething that stirs my juices and I can’t turn my brain off.  I keep asking the brothers to elect a new superior.  If someone else were the superior, he could order me to stop thinking about A, B, and C and I would have to make an effort to focus on something else.  But that’s not the way it works these days.

I read an article, which you can read, if you have time.  The link is at the bottom of the page. I refuted the writer’s comments and placed them on Facebook.  In a nutshell, the writer interpreted something that the Holy Father said about Mary as making her part of the Godhead and more important than Jesus.  If you read the article, the Pope never said such a thing.  After my refutation, a poster from Facebook chimed in

To me this is like arguing about which version of Little Red Riding Hood is correct.

I responded like this.  I’m just going to give you snippets of my response.

When we come to the person of Jesus Christ, we have to face the question about a real person who exists in real history, but has two natures, one divine and one human and he proved it to those who knew him. He died on a Friday and walked out of a tomb on a Sunday. Dying is very human. Walking out of a tomb after three days is not normal for human beings to do.

I gave a few other examples such as Jesus walking through walls and asking for food, before moving on to this other point.

VISITATIONNow we have the union of two natures in one man. The divine nature is that of the second person of the Trinity and the human nature is that of Jesus of Nazareth. But the second person of the Trinity, who happens to be pre-existent, is also the infant who was born of Mary and who could not be born, had there not been a mother to carry him for nine months and give birth to him.

Yes, I know that God could have taken on human nature using any means he wished.  But he’s God and I’m not.  Who am I to tell God how to enter the world?

Another post shows up and said  “Not buying any of it.”  That’s fine, because Truth is not for sale.

As Franciscans, we present it, but we don’t try to sell it, shove it down anyone’s throat, or seduce anyone into acceptance.  The Truth is of God and God does not need help to distribute grace. Faith is a gift of grace.  God just asks us to deliver the message.  He does the rest.

021001-N-3228G-008However, I did state that I would give my life for this, meaning that I am willing to die rather than deny that the Second Person of the Trinity broke into human history by taking on human nature from Mary of Nazareth.  I’m not about to argue with him why he didn’t use some other way.  That’s like arguing about technique with the lifeguard who’s trying to save your from drowning.

Of course it finally came out.  The famous question.

Explaining a fairy tale, is just explaining a fairy tale. Where is logic and science?

It seems that some people have elevated science to be the “Source of All Truth”, an assumption that even many non-believers reject.

In a certain sense, modern man is more naive than the ancient Chinese, Romans, Greeks, Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, Brahmans and other great thinkers.  The ancient thinkers never believed that one discipline had all the answers.  Truth is distributed among science, art, nature, human behavior and development, the environment, math, and other disciplines.  Theology studies Truth in order to understand that to which our faith has already given assent.   In plain English, science can only answer some questions, the answers to other questions are to be found in other domains out of the reach of science.

Can science create beauty or something that is beautiful?  Beauty exists before the beautiful.  Science did not create beauty.  It created something beautiful using technology.  Case in point, science does not have all the answers, so why even ask this question?  I explained that science can only deal with that which is contained by space, time or both.

einstein and jesus

Einstein also taught us that space and time are relative to each other and to that which occupies it.  If science could show us all truth, then truth would be limited to space and time.  In which case, there would be no absolute truth, because science is not absolute.  We’d exist in a world of relativism where nothing can be trusted, because nothing is guaranteed.

If there is no absolute truth, then there is no such thing as absolute love, friendship, fidelity, honesty, patience, kindness, compassion, purity, detachment and many other things.  If we contain these things in space and time, they would be relative, not constant.  You couldn’t trust that your feelings for a loved one are the same today as they were when you went to bed last night.  Einstein’s theory of relativity helps us understand the relationship between space and time.  To use a modern word, they’re synced.

I think that Truth has to be bigger than the bubble in which we live.  Einstein would agree.  He once said,

The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms.
( Albert Einstein – The Merging of Spirit and Science)

Fr. Miguel Pro, SJ Martyr

Miguel Pro, SJ Gave his life for Christ the King

After explaining why I would give my life for this, I asked my FB friend, “If you were put with your back against the wall and told to believe a falsehood or shot for denying what you believe to be false, which would you choose?”

The response was rather interesting.  “What a ridiculous choice. I would pretend to buy it and walk away, wondering at the stupidity of my captor.”

To which I was forced to respond, “There is the difference between you and I. I would never forfeit my life for a lie, but I would for the truth.”  Our preoccupation with empirical truth has actually deteriorated our ethical character.

So she hit me with, “Your perception of the truth is not necessarily the truth. You have submitted yourself to ideological brainwashing.”

 Here is the weakness in that thinking.  You’re assuming a great deal about the other person.  She’s assuming that I’m naive, ignorant, weak-minded and that she has no need to walk in my shoes, because she has her stuff and mine all figured out.  We can never make such assumptions.  St. Francis never assumed that he understood the other person.  He allowed the other person to open himself up to him and he in turn reciprocated by opening himself to the other.  He took the risk of loving, believing what he could not see and trusting.

I want to do the same.  I want to take the risk of sharing my faith.  I came to the faith on a risk.  I trusted a man named Francis of Assisi.  I believed that he would teach me about Jesus and he did.

For a few years, I lapsed in the faith and underwent a second conversion.  This time I trusted my eyes.  I had completed my studies in neurology and psychology and I’ went through a conversion experience that began in my mind.

As I studied studied neurology and human development. I came to the realization that the How-The-Human-Nervous-System-Works
human brain and its concomitant behaviors are too complex, too ordered, too consistent and at the same time outside of our ability to contain in time and space, which makes them consistently fluid and unpredictable, because we can’t create human experience.  We have to wait for it to happen in order to attempt to understand it.  We can’t create human passions.  We have to wait for them and then analyze them.

For anything that precise to exist free of human control and capable of transcending space and time, while obeying natural law, there must be a Law Giver more intelligent and capable of much more than what I give him credit for.

Why do I do this?  Why do I engage in discussions with fallen away Christians? Because I’m a Franciscan of Life.  God sends us into the world to continue the work of Christ who is the firstborn of many brothers.

What did Christ say was his work, Icame that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10)  The Franciscan of Life is the instrument of Life calling out to life.

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The article that triggered the dialogue.

http://www.inquisitr.com/1477428/pope-francis-about-to-decree-virgin-mary-to-be-more-important-than-jesus-christ/