“Come to Bethlehem and see / Christ Whose birth the angels sing!”


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Nativity scene at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church

The Franciscans of Life wish to extend to you our most sincere hope for a peaceful and joyous Christmas!

Christmas is a very special time in the life of mankind, because it sets into motion the fulfillment of the Covenants that the Lord had made with Israel at different times before pre-Christian history.

Th12313767_1724552867778905_4437807418574257125_ne Incarnation and the Virgin Birth set into motion the journey to Calvary and our redemption.

Our holy father St. Francis was sensitive to the connection between Christmas and the Pasch of the Christ. He sets up the first creche, not because Christmas is the center of our Faith, but it is the first step in the final chapter of the Covenant, which was fulfilled during the Easter triduum.

As we enter the Christmas season let us remember that Christmas is not an end. Rather, it is the beginning of the journey to Good Friday and Easter.

Let us begin. Up to now we have done nothing.

– St. Francis

The Franciscans of Life will remember your intentions at Midnight mass. If you have a special intention, you can email it to us, and your communique will remain strictly confidential: email

Have a grace filled Christmas!

Nativity scene at our mother house

The Brothers

St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”


We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.

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It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.

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The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

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To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.

 

 

“Never Forget to Love”


St. Maximilian, Pray for us.

St. Maximilian,
Pray for us.

On Friday, 14 August, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.  Many know that Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Conventual Franciscan friar who gave his life, in a concentration camp, to save the life of a young man who was a husband and father.  More here

Maximillian, along with the Immaculate and Saint John Paul II, is patron of the Franciscans of Life.  Maximilian also founded the Knights of the Immaculate, movement to promote devotion to the Mother of God, devotion that allows her to point to Christ as she did at Cana.  This he did after he consecrated his life to the Immaculate.    The Church has named Maximilian the Patron Saint of those who work for the Gospel of Life.

In honor of Saint Maximilian, the Franciscans of Life will gather for a festive supper and solemn vespers on the evening of August 14th.  There will be food, music, pictures, games and a great deal of fraternal spirit.  Please keep the Franciscans of Life in your prayers this day.

Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life . . .” (Evangelium Vitae).

“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.

eucharist in creche

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.

St_Seton

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.

gloves

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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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).

"Louis-ix" by El Greco - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Sfan00_IMG using CommonsHelper.Author: Original uploader was Uri at en.wikipedia. 2003-07-01 (original upload date). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louis-ix.jpg#/media/File:Louis-ix.jpg

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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As He is in the light . . .


RAUL & TASHAThe Franciscans of Life have had an exciting week.  It all began with Brother Raul Camarca arriving at the mother house on Sunday and Brother Leo Balanger on Monday.  Both are in different stages of formation, but in formation nonetheless.  It is exciting to watch our little family grow.  We began with two brothers, of WP_20141201_004which only one has persevered.  But today there are many more of us.  With the grace of God, more will follow.

Brother Jay attended mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Mission Chapel Sts. Francis and Clare, the patriarch and matriarch of the Franciscan family.  Contrary to francis and clarewhat some extreme Traditionalist bloggers are saying about Franciscans, the people at the mission were very happy to see two Franciscans in  the congregation.  They were very gracious and welcoming.  Some thanked Father Superior for allow the brothers to attend the TLM.

We don’t attend mass in the extraordinary form as the norm.  Our constitutions are very clear,

That which is extraordinary cannot be imposed on the brothers, nor may the brothers choose to make it the norm.  The brothers are bound to think with the Church.  As long as this form is extraordinary, the brothers shall make use of it as such.  

However, the constitution is very clear that there is no prohibition on the brothers attending the mass in the old form, as long as every brother in the house agrees to attend.  Liturgy is central to the fraternal life. On Sunday, the Lord gifted us with a very nice liturgy and many new friends.  I think WP_20140819_035that we will be going back to visit Saints Francis and Clare Mission, especially because we have brothers who are attached to the Latin Mass Community and to the TLM.  Currently, the plan is to attend once a month.  Plans are never written in stone.  It can be more or less frequently in the future.  Man proposes and God disposes.

On Monday night, the secular and the regular brothers gathered at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Pembroke Pines for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception where we celebrated a beautiful mass in the Ordinary Form.  At the end of mass, Rev. Giovanni Peña, Vicar at St. Maxx, blessed the Miraculous Medals and the brothers, after Brother Jay had led them in the consecration to the Immaculate, as prescribed by St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Miraculous Medal II

It was a beautiful event.  There were professed brothers present, novices, postulants and aspirants.  It was just absolutely awesome to have our entire family consecrated to the Immaculate at the same time.  I think that the most beautiful part of it, along with the consecration to the Immaculate, is the fact that all of our brothers are friends.  We’re not just a group of francis and leorandom individuals who came together to start a new branch of the Franciscan family.  I prefer to believe that we are a family that St. Francis has adopted and presented to the Immaculate for her care and protection.

Tuesday morning, Brother Jay awoke with a heck of a cold.  His head felt as if it were the size of a melon.  Staying awake was very difficult.  Even being sick was a beautiful experience.  The brothers took very good care of their father superior.  They brought him breakfast in bed.  While everyone went about his business, Brother Leo (just like the original) sat with the superior making him tea and bringing him toast with cheese and honey.  It was awesome.
Wednesday night was a very interesting night.  If our detachment from material things was ever put to the test, it was Wednesday.  Two brothers went to the local perpetual adoration chapel just a few blocks from the mother house.  Before they left their car, a rather loud noise was heard.  Brother Jay thought that one of those pesky critters had knocked off another coconut from an adjacent palm tree and that we had been hit.  Brother Raul thought that we had been shot at.  He lifted himself up to see.  At that point, Brother Jay asked him what he was looking for and Brother Raul explained, to which Brother Jay responded, “When someone is shooting at you, you don’t get up to check out who it is.  You duck, not stand.”  There were no snipers to be seen.  However, the rear glass of the car came crashing down into a million pieces of what can be falsely sold as diamonds.  I had never seen glass in such small pieces.  Of course, it was the coldest night of the cold_thermometeryear in South Florida, with temperatures in the 40s.

To us, 40 degrees is a big deal.  Realizing that we had no protection from the cold, Brother Jay proceeded to have a word with the Lord.  “Did you have to pick the coldest night of the year?  No wonder you don’t have many friends.”

But that didn’t stop the adorers.  They left the car parked, with a big JPII W EUCHARISTopening in the back and went into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel that remains open 24/7.  There they spent a good 45 minutes with His Majesty.

This is also finals week at the local universities.  We have a few brothers  who are students.  This is a stressful week for them.  You would have never known it.  They were so involved with their brothers, with the Lord and His Blessed Mother that they had everything in order on time.  They prayed. They talked, played, sang songs and played games for our Immaculate Mother.  We were able to ask her for the gift of inner peace and silence, rather than ask her for a specific grade.  blessing of st francisAt the end of the day, one’s degree does not get us past the front door in heaven.  What will get us through will be the love that we have shown to Christ, His mother and to all of those around us, especially under stress.  It was beautiful to hear one brother say to another, “Please be patient with me.  I’m in exam week,”  and the other brother responding. “Just tell me what to do.”

One of the brothers is spending Thursday and Friday night with his biological family.  Brother Jay drove him into the city, but not in the car with the broken rear glass.  We had to rent another vehicle.  By evening time, there were texts flying around between the brothers asking for prayers for sick relatives and friends, telling each other how much they appreciated being together on Monday evening and telling each other how much they miss the other.  It all reminds me of St. John who said,

“if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another.” 

Sermon for the Transitus of St. Francis


04 October 2014

Almost 800 years ago, Francesco Bernadone, also known as Francis, died in his hometown of Assisi, Italy. On the evening of October 3, 1226.  He was canonized July 16, 1228 and declared to be saint of the Church.  The faithful were commanded to observe his memorial and venerate him every year on the 4th of October by Pope Gregory IX

Tonight, about one million Franciscan men and women around the world and their families, on every continent, are hosting this ritual called “The Transitus of St. Francis”or the “Passing of St. Francis”

There is an important question here that demands a response.Why are we still commemorating the death of this man 800 years later? Other people die everyday and life goes on.  But on the anniversary of the death of St. Francis the Church has created a space in her calendar to begin the commemoration after sunset on Oct 3rd and conclude with sunset on Oct 4th

The answer to why we’re still commemorating this death lies in the answer to another question of greater importance.  What if this was the night of my death, would it be remembered?

  • By whom?
  • How?
  • What have I given to God and to the world that deserves to be remembered?
  • Have I given anything to God and to the world that deserves to be remembered?

We call this a “transitus” from the word “transition” or better said, “the point of no return”

Once we reach the moment of death, there is no return.  You will not come back to finish what you should have done.  There will be no coming back to go to confession.  If your death is unexpected, such as a tragedy, there will be no time for confession or Anointing of the Sick.  You transition from here to there as you are.

In addition, the death of St. Francis reminds us that nothing comes to a complete stop at death.  The fact that we’re remembering St. Francis’ death 800 years later is the best proof of that.   Another good proof that nothing comes to a complete stop at death is the fact that whatever you planted will continue to grow after you die.

If you planted love, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, humility, kindness, fairness, love of God and love of man, those are good seeds and they will continue to grow into sturdy plants, maybe trees.

If you planted prejudice, laziness, gossip, miscommunication, lies, arrogance, resentment, vindictiveness, impurity, vulgarity, indifference toward good things, or irresponsibility, those are the bad sees and they too will continue to grow . . . into weeds and maybe poisonous plants that will continue to kill in your honor long after you’re gone.

Francis’ died leaving behind good seeds, a family of brothers and sisters committed to living according to the Gospel without glossing over it, without trying to find loopholes by interpreting it this way and that way.  He left behind seeds of obedience to the Church.

We don’t always understand the Church and we don’t always agree with her.  How many of us always understand our mothers or always agree with them?  Do we stop loving, respecting and obeying them, even when our hair turns grey or at age 50, we run out the door because Mom called that she needs something or she needs me to run an errand?  “Oh God she couldn’t have picked a worse time.” But we go.  That should be our relationship with Holy Mother Church

Francis planted seeds of forgiveness and peace.  He did not live in a perfect world.  War, crime, political conflicts, poverty, disease, social conflicts, religious wars, battles for power, turf and pleasure were part of their daily bread in the 13th century. He tried to convert the Muslims and failed, or so it may seem.  To this day, the sons of St. Francis have a presence in Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Israel.  To this day, the Franciscans are the custodians of the Holy Land appointed by the Holy See.  Jews, Muslims and Christians don’t seem to care about their presence.  Probably one of the few points on which they agree.

Francis did not convert the Muslims, but he did not push their back to the corner either with hate language or resentment.  He did not retaliate for their crimes against Christians.  He told the Sultan that he was a Christian and he spoke to the Sultan about Christ.  The Sultan asked him many questions about himself and quickly realized that Francis was an honest man. He truly lived according to what he said he believed.  He was credible, which made him respected.  Francis died, leaving the Muslim world with a sense of respect for his memory.  Will we leave the world with gift?

Throughout his life, Francis warned his brothers and sisters about the danger of dying in a state of mortal sin.  Some people say that because we don’t mention mortal sin, it has ceased to exist.  Not true.

He was very aware that all of us are going to face judgment.  He writes for his brothers and sisters a short rule with guidelines on how to avoid sin and do penance for their sins and for those who don’t do penance.  This is the rule that the Franciscans of Life follow, the Rule of the Brothers of Penance.

Penance has several important effects on our souls.  It’s a way of atonement for the wrong things that we have done and for the good things that we didn’t do.  It’s a way of suffering on earth, rather than suffering in purgatory or worse, in hell.  It’s an act of justice toward God and neighbor.  Asking for forgiveness is not the same as giving back the money you stole.  Asking God for forgiveness only gets us out of hell and into Purgatory.

Doing penance is asking for forgiveness, atoning for our sins, and showing God that we love him and that we love mankind, whom God loves very much.  It means restoring things to their proper place.  This is what got Francis into heaven.  It was not that he never sinned.  It was that his entire life was spent trying to change, to love God more, to love mankind more, to make up for his sins, and to do the right thing rather than avoid it or postpone it.

He was a man who spent his life in a constant state of conversion and the Gospel was his guide.  Christ was his role model.  There was a wedding between the soul of Francis and the mind of God and children were born to this spiritual nuptial.  His brothers are the product of his love for God.

We are here, because Francis of Assisi loved God and man so much that his love cannot be forgotten.  It lives on in his Franciscan family.  We are here because we want to learn to die as saints should die, in the arms of God.

Published in: on October 4, 2014 at 1:24 AM  Leave a Comment  

Francis of Assisi, the Communion of Saints and His Sons


san franciscoThis is turning into the most amazing “St. Francis Week” that I’ve ever experienced.  I know that some people may not understand this, but there is no magic or mythology here.  The Communion of Saints is real and we can experience it in our lives.  Maybe we can’t experience it often; but it’s there.

On Saturday, another brother and I gave a talk on the Franciscans of Life and Project Joseph, our ministry to dads in crisis pregnancies.  We spoke before an audience of 350 or more people.  In order to prepare, Brother and I coordinated.  Before I knew it, we had fliers, a YouTube channel for the Franciscan Brothers of Life and a link to our web page, which I’m hoping that one of our brothers who is a geek can touch up, because it needs updating.

Nevertheless, during those few days leading up to the conference, Brother was also getting ready to leave town for a few days.  We had to work together, work quickly, work well and pray that everything would go without a glitch.  I should mention that Brother and I have never given a presentation together.

What transpired was incredible.  We not only presented and people loved the presentation, but we enjoyed being together and working on a common project.  I must state here that this brother is young enough to be my son.  I mean truly.  He’s actually three months older than my biological son.   However, no one would have noticed the age difference were it not for our physical appearance.  There was a harmony, comradery, and a sense offrancis and leo mission that held
us together.  It was Christ’s mission.  We were not preparing thing presentation for us, but for Christ and his Church.

The next day, Brother left for NY.  He had to travel to NY for research purposes.  No . . . he was not researching NY.  This was real science.  He was going to be gone from Sunday to Tuesday.   However, before he left, the other brothers texted and sent messages encouraging him and letting him know that they would be praying for his success.  We don’t’ all live in the same house.  In addition, some of our brothers are secular brothers, with spouses and children.  They have lives outside of the Franciscans of Life.  Yet, the Lord brought us together behind this young brother of ours who was leaving on what we considered an adventure that we wanted to support, because we knew that it means a great deal to him and it’s something that he enjoys doing.

Were it not for the Gospel, the Church and our Franciscan family spirit, we would never have met and maybe not even cared.  When all was said and done, the project is so technical and scientific that none of us understood a word of what Brother explained.  From where I’m sitting as superior, I’m seeing Christ and his apostles gathered in brotherhood after the Resurrection.  Christ had fulfilled his promise, “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you” (Gen 28:15).

It is the presence of Christ in the lives of sinful men that keeps bringing us back through mutual love and support.

We have brothers in formation to be secular brothers and brothers in formation who will profess the evangelical counsels and are consecrated celibate brothers.  On Monday, Brother Leo, one of our celibate novices and I spent the day together.  We took the time to review the changes that have to be made to our habits to make them more practical.  Then I went for a doctor’s appointment and Brother went with me.  He brought me lunch, which was delicious.

That night, we had formation class for the men preparing for the consecrated life.  We remembered the one brother in NY.  Smack in the middle of the formation class, we decided to call NY to find that our brother was about to pray the Divine Office.  We put him on speaker phone and gathered round to share with him what was going on here in Florida and to find out how his mission was progressing.

This may sound small to many people, but the fact is that this is what speaks to us about Christ and his Apostles.  The brotherhood of the Franciscans of Life is built upon the brotherhood between Christ and his apostles.  The yearning to be together across the miles, the excitement of one brother’s success, and the desire to hear each other is very much the same as that of the Apostles after the Crucifixion when they thought they had lost it all.  They sat in the upper room longing for days gone by.  These men loved each other, because they had been loved by the Master.  They knew what love was, because they learned to love from Love himself.

As we progress along our journey as Franciscans of Life, we enter into a profound relationship of trust, concern, support, and family.  In this family, we find Christ who said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mat 18:20).

Wednesday evening came and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with two aspirants planning the Transitus for October 3rd.   I’m going to ask you to imagine this scenario.  There is the superior general of a young community, but a superior general nonetheless.  There is a certain degree of respect that comes with that office.

But the beautiful part of this was that we began with prayer for the grace to plan the Transitus well.  We want it to be a true memorial of the life of St. Francis and a celebration of the gifts that God gave to the Church through Francis.  The whole time that we’re being very serious and reverent about the parts of the ritual, who’s going to do what and when, I’m also teasing the aspirants about many things, from their antics to the weight of the brother who will play St. Francis and whom we get to carry around.  Of course, the aspirants are dishing it back at me as quickly as I can dish it out to them.

During the course of the evening, I proposed a format for the Transitus, but I asked the aspirants what they thought of each proposal.  They gave their input and we made some changes.  Some things we could not change, because they’re part of tradition; but at least I learned from the aspirants about the importance of working with each other as brothers, allowing the Holy Spirit to move freely and guide us.

Brothers keep their superior company as he catches his breadth.

Brothers keep their superior company as he catches his breadth.

My brothers teach me much more than what I teach them and they don’t realize it.  

We finally ended the evening at 1:00 AM celebrating and discussing our work, spiritual experiences and our journeys.  We even shared our struggles with sin and what we do to overcome them.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because as we get ready to celebrate the feast day of our Holy Father Francis, the Communion of Saints becomes more evident.  We are brought together by the love and respect that he taught us to have for each other and for all of our brothers and sisters. But Francis is not the source of that love and respect.  He is not the source of that joy that we experience in all of these moments of family life.  Francis is the master teacher.

blessing of st francisHe has taught us how to find love, respect and joy in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ.   From him we have learned how to find Jesus through our brothers and sisters in the Church militant, the Church suffering and the Church triumphant.    In one simple term, our Franciscan experience is one of an apostolic family united with its redeemer through the Communion of Saints.

This Communion of Saints allows us to experience and share with the world the love and peace that Christ and his apostles shared.  The feast of St. Francis is really a celebration of the wonders that God has reserved for the pleasure of the Communion of Saints.

Obedience is deadly


I’ve been thinking, what can I say or write in preparation for the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th) that would speak to others and would come from my heart rather than san franciscomy head.  Then it occurred to me to share the Lord has taught us through St. Francis.  Every teaching has been a blessing.

I have to say that the most visible blessing that God has given to the world is the Franciscan family.  I don’t think that anyone really knows how many sons and daughters St. Francis has. If I were to compare Francis to a biblical personality, it would be Abraham, the father of many.   I think the first quality of St. Francis that I respond to is fatherhood.

This is interesting, because Francis always identified himself as our little brother.  But this little brother has commanded the attention of millions of men and women around the world, not all of them Catholic.  He has certainly had the obedience of thousands of men and women during the last 800 years.  What makes Francis such a special man and a father figure is not that he was authoritarian or controlling.  What makes him a special figure and a father is that he was respectable.  Francis is credible.  Credible people are respectable.  He set out to live his life according to the Gospel.  To everyone who came to him, he offered the Gospel.  He did not impose himself on anyone.  On the contrary, he was the father who guided his sons and daughters into the future.

Parents normally point to careers, education, potential spouses, hobbies, social activities and many other things that they believe will enhance the lives of their children.  Francis is no different.  He points to Christ and his Blessed Mother.  He points to the Church.  He points to prayer, penance, poverty, family, service  and to the Cross.

I have often thought that Francis is like the man who has an elderly parent who may no longer be physically attractive, but he knows his parent and he knows the beauty inside.  This man makes sure that his children are exposed to this grandparent, who has warts and wrinkles, is old and appears to walk a little out of step with the rest of the world.  He exemplifies filial love and love that goes beyond the faults, to the heart of the other.

This is Francis relationship with the Church and his sons and daughters.  In some respects, the Church can be WP_20140819_001that grandparent that is no longer physically attractive and at times can be cranky.  Just like Grandma’, she is beautiful inside and has much wisdom to pass on to us, if we open ourselves to receive it.  Francis loves the Church, warts and all.  He takes his sons and daughters into the heart of the Church, through example more than words.  He teaches us to look beyond the surface and see the glory of the Church.

I can’t speak about Francis without speaking about family.  As I said above, Francis identifies himself as everyone’s little brother.  He was right to do so.  You see, in a large family the youngest is usually singled out.  Sometimes his older siblings will bully him and at other times they will spoil him.  This certainly was the relationship that Francis had with the first generation of brothers.

Everything was not sugar and roses as some people want to make it appear.  There were
brothers who worshipped the ground upon which Francis walkedRAUL & TASHA.  There were also brothers who fought his vision of the Gospel Life tooth and nail, to the point of being mean.  But like all good little brothers, Francis loved them just the same.  Little brothers can often become the most forgiving persons.  Francis was the brother who always forgave.

Even when his brothers were wrong, Francis maintained the clarity of mind necessary to separate between the person and the deed.  I wouldn’t say that he hated the sin and loved the sinner.  Francis went beyond this.  He did not judge anyone to be a sinner.  It would be contrary to his way of thinking to look at someone and say that he or she is a sinner whom I must love, even when he has committed a sin that I must hate.  What we see in Francis’ writings and his actions is honesty.  He recognized sinful deeds and he pointed them out when necessary.

His admonitions are full of sinful deeds that he notices among his brothers and sisters.  poor man walking in integrityThat’s why he wrote the admonitions.  Why admonish those who need no admonishing?  However, when one reads through the admonitions, his letters, his rules and his testament, he does not refer to a single person as a sinner, other than himself.  He leaves that to God.  In other words, St. Francis is a person who can teach us what belongs to God, what belongs to the Church, to the superior and to the individual.  He does not cross those boundaries.

Today, we have too many people who want to make the world right by dictating to others, including correcting the Church.  There is such a thing as fraternal correction, which Francis used quite often.  But let’s look at his style.  Look at the admonitions.  He speaks about faults that are to be avoided and how they are to be rectified if they are committed.  He is a brother, not a policeman.  He didn’t even police his own brothers.

A brother corrects while being very careful not to cross the line and assume authority that he does not have.  A brother who is faithful to the Gospel corrects without making a judgment about the state of the other person’s soul.

I want to draw attention to an aspect of him that is rarely addressed, obedience.  Francis’ poverty is well known.  But very little is said about Francis’ obedience and what he taught the brothers concerning obedience.

Francis knew that Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  He knew JohnBaptist-athat John the Baptist is the voice who points out the Lamb of God.  Each of these men had a
mission assigned to him by the Father.  In both cases, the mission ended up terribly, if we measure it by human standards.  Both were executed.

As tragic, as cruel and as unjust as both of these executions were, they could not be any other way, because to change the conclusion would be to thwart God’s plan for our redemption.   Our loss of paradise is the product of disobedience.  Recovery can only happen through obedience.  Obedience goes beyond compliance.  Obedience is charity.  Obedience is poverty.  Obedience is the greatest expression of union between the soul of man and the mind of God.

Therefore, Francis demanded that his sons and daughters obey.  Above all, we are to obey God.  We know when God speaks to us, because the Church confirms it for us.  We can’t jump a rung on the hierarchical ladder.  We seek to know the will of God in order to fulfill it.  It is the Church who tells us if we’re on the right track.  We can’t simply say that the will of God is X and the entire college of bishops is wrong and I’m right.  It doesn’t work that way and Francis knew it.  He reminds us in his Testament that the rule was of divine inspiration, not human influence.  He quickly adds that he knows this because the Lord Pope confirmed it for him.

Obedience can be deadly.  John lost his head.  Jesus was crucified.  We already mentioned Fr. Miguel Pro, SJ Martyrthis.  Francis reminds us that we cannot be obedient without dying.  This death is not symbolic, metaphoric or allegory.  It’s very real.  We die to ourselves and to many things
around us.

Francis taught us there is only one question that we need to ask.  “Is this a sin?”  If I’m being commanded to sin, I have a duty to disobey.  However, if I’m being commanded to do something that is not a sin, even if I believe it is not the best decision made by legitimate authority, I am bound to obey.  God is pleased by obedience more than by the thing that we do or not do.lamb of god

Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”  (Matt 11:11)

John would obey, even though it would cost him his life.  Jesus knew that his life would take the same turn.  At some point, his obedience to the Father would cost him his life.

From a human perspective, these deaths were scandalous, because they were foolish.  There was no just reason for these men to be executed.  But from a divine perspective, these deaths were the greatest acts of love that the world has ever seen.  When one obeys the Beloved, even unto death, there is no greater love, regardless how foolish the command.  One is freely giving.  No one is taking.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father,” (John 10:18)

Francis teaches us what he learned from Christ, “obedience, even unto death,” without murmuring and without second thoughts, obedience given, rather than compliance demanded.WP_20140825_081

Today, there is much talk about the Church and her prudential judgments.  Many excuse themselves from obedience, because the Church, the bishop, the superior or the boss is less than prudent or the command is not infallible. They’re looking in the wrong direction. Francis taught us to look out for sin.  If there is no sin, we turn our complete attention and gaze to what is asked of us and we respond with love for God and for the authority that God places over us.

Despite everything that Francis said and wrote about Lady Poverty, he begins his most important piece of writing with the words, “The Rule . . . is to observe the Holy Gospel in obedience.”

Christ is the Master and Francis is his hired teacher sent to us, through the Church, by the Holy Spirit.  He teaches us that obedience is an absolute requirement in order to be like Christ, even when obedience is deadly (in the eyes of the world).

franciscans of life

Holy Father St. Francis . . .Pray for us.

A Deacon’s Deacon


caravaggio_st_francis_in_ecstasy
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)