Franciscan Moments

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Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 17, 2016

 
I have to admit that I have been struggling lately with my faith. Well, maybe not so much my faith as my determination in the face of uncertainty and struggle. You see, I have noticed how bad people prosper and good, hardworking, ‘give-it-all-we’ve-got’ folks seem to wither. I saw recently where a former priest took on the Franciscan Habit. It almost destroyed my will because of my deep love and significance of the habit we wear as Franciscans. Everyone knows that the Franciscan habit is a powerful symbol. I think of it every time I place it over my head. I think of the years I spent in formation, the hardship, the giving up of everything that I own – one-thing-by-one-thing – until it was all given back to the Creator again. I thought of how my life is more and more about others and less and less about me. I thought about how this simple piece of fabric is cut into the shape of the Tao Cross to remind those who are Friars that we must die every time we put it on. And then comes along someone who knows so little about the Franciscan way of life and simply wants to use it to take advantage of ‘the system’ and I almost crumbled. It is almost ironic that we are fast approaching Halloween.
 
Yes, the habit we wear is more than dress or simply some type of outer garb, it is us and represents our very soul exposed to a world that may often reject it, but we must go on in our life of dedicated service. And while everyone may not know exactly what it is, the habit universally speaks to religion, peace, and approachability. That’s not a bad thing to be recognized when meeting people on the street, or within the walls of our parish or on our beautiful campus, especially when someone is looking for prayer or guidance. But it is not something to be taken lightly or abused.  So, I keep asking God why, but no reply seems to come; at least not one that I noticed as of yet. I have prayed about it, spent time in Adoration with our Lord, begged Him, and even sat with my Spiritual Director to try and find a sense of calm and direction, but to no avail. Nothing. No whys, no ‘hang in there’, no response at all. I wanted to give up.
 

Then yesterday’s Gospel came about the unjust judge and even after writing a homily, God sent the holy spirit to change my mind and rewrote an entire sermon to reflect my sense of hope. There is not enough hope in the world. We speak of it more often than we actually believe in it. Hope is not a strong word for us. It has more to do with “wishing” than “expecting.” It has the sound of resignation, an inability to bring about, influence, or even believe that a desired event or goal might ever come to be. “Well, I hope so” we say almost sarcastically! Hope, as we understand it, is not a word of excitement and expectation. It speaks more often of resignation and helplessness…even for those of us who wear a collar or habit.

Then it hit me! When I was a seminarian, I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to live and work abroad on the cloistered grounds of Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec, in Bec valley, which is midway between the cities of Rouen and Bernay, in Le Bec-Hellouin, France. And, while a Benedictine Abbey, they, too wear a habit and I have maintained my friendship with Brother Aelred. So, last evening, in my desperation, I emailed him and he returned my email with profound words of strength. You could tell that he actually listened intently to my struggle and to my deep sense of dread and my ‘lost-ness’ and then, he wrote back: “My dear brother, I will give you in French what I wish to say to you in English if only my diction was better! You will then go and translate and live these words, as you always have, and pay no need to others who thwart the work of God. Imposters are always abound, my friend; you know this! Your job is not to correct them, but to live your life of prayer, punctuated by daily work, all for God, not for you.” Then he ended with, “Remember, ‘L’habit ne fait pas le moine.’”

Ahh! There it was! In those simple words, my life and direction was handed back to me. “The clothes do not make the man!”  You see, St. Francis never considered a separation between our corporal and spiritual life. For him, all is united in God, the creator of all. Our daily lives, then, in his footsteps, must constantly challenge us to give a faithful response to the Franciscan way of life, even when it is most hard. Even when we feel we cannot go on. For it is only then that we find the illusive hope, for ourselves, but more importantly for the world!

How will you show the world your true habit today?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 10, 2016

 

They say to receive everything, one must open one’s hand and give. But that is paradoxical to the way the world lives, isn’t it? In today’s world it is about ‘me’, not ‘us’ and certainly not ‘them’?

Think deeply today: we, in our modern instant communication world, we think ourselves always so busy! So busy making money, being parents, running errands, caring for children, being students and caregivers that we fail to recognize that when our gaze and efforts are so close to where we stand, we fail to make room for God. We fail to even see that we are always so busy caring for ourselves that there is little room for any other, let alone God. We must make time to deepen our relationship and spiritual journey with God before it is too late.

Even St. Francis, in a world that he was in, but never apart of fully, was busy teaching and preaching and writing, but never failed to stop to pray to make room in his life for God. Francis found that as he deepened his closeness to God, it was his substance and strength to endure whatever came his way. Francis knew that through his taking time to be in a real relationship with Jesus, his life would have more meaning and be more fulfilled.

How wonderful for all of us to remember that God calls each of us by name, every day, to be closer to Him. Our names are written on the very palm of God’s hand and we should take time – make time – even schedule time if we must, to be closer to the One that truly sustains us.

God wants to be close to us. He wants to be so close to us that He sent His only begotten Son to be with us,because He loves us so deeply. Our part is simple: we need to just make time for God. In doing so, we find our world changes and our life enriched.

How will you make time today for God to be closer to you? 

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 3, 2016

 

Well, the pumpkins have arrived and the garden in overturned. The kids are back at school and folks are returning to a rhythm in their routine as their weeks quickly head toward cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons; a time when the trees show us how magnificent they can really be even in the midst of what looks like an emptying.  Emptying only to be filled again in the Spring following the quiet, empty stillness of a winter.

I love the smell of burning leaves, or a good fire in a stone fireplace, the taste of apple cider, warmth of pumpkin coffee on my tongue, and the sound of a neat pile of leaves dispersed by a sudden and raging wind! I enjoy walking outside with a warm hoodie and mug filled with hot cocoa as I watch all the beautiful colors that are present! And I love the rustling sound as the leaves swish and crunch under my feet as I walk along a stone path through the woods! Yes, the Fall is always filled with such keen sounds, intense smells, and longing memories. 

But those changing and colorful leaves had to once learn to let go; it was time to release from that tree that held its life for the season. Time had passed and change was now needed. It is a reminder to me that I have to do the same, too. Change is never particularly easy for some, but I embrace it because I know good things are coming. I know all about the importance of change in my life, and I know that it is the only way that we grow, but sometimes I hate giving up all the leaves of my life.  I’m comfortable with what I have now, but I need to learn to trust Something – Someone- greater. I need to let Him embrace me and tell me when it is time to let go. To change. To become something new.  

I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to enjoy what’s all around me right now, in this present moment, but I know that I should inhale deeply, love profoundly, and laugh loudly because change is coming. Change is always coming.

I want to be brave in my season of change. I want to be bold enough to say, “Bring It On! I’m ready”, but I am not always that strong.  Sometimes, deep down, I wish things could stay the same. The leaves could just hang in place and remain a deep hue of green until it is spring again. Why do they, and so much of the things I love – outside and inside of me – have to fall and die and leave the tree so bare and so alone; so vulnerable?

Perhaps it is God’s way of changing something in me that needs changed…

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 26, 2016

 

In The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Brother Masseo once inquired of St. Francis, “Why do people run after you? You are not handsome; you are also not deeply learned; you are not of noble birth! So why?!” Francis replied, “Do you wish to know? I know the answer from a God whose eyes see the good and the bad all over the earth. And those most holy eyes have nowhere seen a greater, more miserable, poorer sinner than I, and yet he has chosen me, the most wretched, to do his wonderful work so that all will know his power and virtue comes from him.”

Yes, Francis never took credit for what he accomplished. He was always less than everything around him and always acknowledged the God who did it all, gave him all, and was his all. Humility was literally sewn into the fabric of the Friars. Even the name given,

Friars Minor, means ‘lesser brothers’. We are the same today, as some 800 years ago, the little, unknown, ‘lessers’ of the world who find nobility only in their goodness and desire to help others. We still follow that simple rule, composed by Francis himself, for those first eleven friar followers, the Regula primitive, or “Primitive Rule”, which came from verses in the Bible. The rule was simple and direct: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” So we give our all, literally, to the world created by a God of love who called us to service and to love. Pride is alluring, but almost always sinful because it gets in the way of others.

How about you? Where do you place the glory for a day’s work well done? Do you remember God when you stand at the precipice of good fortune, as often as you do kneeling when your world is falling apart? If you have twice the talent of others in any skill such as music or art or accounting, etc., what does God expect of you to do with it?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 19, 2016

 
A sort of malaise is in effect. Folks just don’t think they need God anymore. They think they can do it all on their own; everything. And what’s worse is that they are teaching the youngest among us to believe the same. Weekends are about fun, not God. Church attendance is down, involvement in CCD and religious educational pursuits is at an all-time low, and belonging to a parish means very little anymore. The famously haunting words of Nietzsche come true, “God is dead.”
 
What Nietzsche was concerned about in relating the above is that God is dead in the hearts and minds of his own generation of modern men; killed by an indifference that was itself directly related to a pronounced cultural shift away from faith and towards rationalism and science. The fruits bear out still to this day. We don’t pray to God when we get good things, but God is first when we are in need or an illness comes or death happens to finds its way into our family, or terrorism strikes our city.

St. Francis once said that in a picture of our Lord or the Blessed Virgin Mary painted on wood, our Lord or the Blessed Virgin Mary are honored, and yet the wood and the painting, nor the painter, ascribe anything to themselves. So the servant of God ought to attribute nothing to himself, for indeed without God he is nothing.

How about you? Are you more powerful than God? Where were you yesterday? At Mass worshipping God, or at a movie, or picnic, or simply traipsing through some wooded area oblivious that it was even Sunday at all?

Maybe take some time this week to reevaluate your life and give credit to God for all that you have, and prepare for all that will come your way, then worship Him before you find it’s too late.

“Of myself I can do nothing”  I praise You, my creator, for what You choose to do in and through me. Amen.

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 12, 2016

 

We began this past week offering beautiful custom-made rosaries at the parish. We have always offered many beautiful rosaries made from glass beads, but this week we also have them in beautiful authentic stone in both Franciscan Crown and standard rosary designs. I decided it was time for a new rosary for myself and I chose a ‘Skull Rosary’ because I have a skull on my Franciscan Habit Rosary and now my personal rosary will tie in to my habit life.

It might surprise you to know that skulls on rosaries have been used for hundreds of years, and it spans several different religions and is not anti-Christian! In fact, there are many old paintings of Saints with skulls. Some crucifixes depict a skull at the bottom, to signify Christ’s victory over death. Many Nun rosaries feature a skull bead to serve as a “Memento Mori,” or a reminder that one’s life is not infinite.

The Latin phrase, Memento mori, means, “Remember that you must die.”  It is a reminder both of our mortality and of the judgment that will follow our death. Memento mori is also the name given to paintings or sculptures that illustrate the theme of the phrase. Usually featuring a skull, or at least bones, such sculptures were a common feature of tombs in churches in Europe during the late Middle Ages and early modern age. Skull rosaries, then, or a rosary with a skull on it, remind the user that life is not infinite, and is to serve as a reminder that everyone dies in this life and to this life. Therefore, you should live your life with the knowledge that your life will not go on forever. So every time I look at the rosary, I am reminded of those famous words on Ash Wednesday, “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” 

Why? Well because I follow St. Francis and he saw poverty and humility as twins of sorts. You see, we are absolutely dependent on God and we find God when we are most humble, undistracted, not dependent on the things of the world, and want not nothing but God. As created ones, we stand humble and poor before God; there is nothing we can offer God, but in our nothingness apart from God is where we find that God gave us all! God loves us so much that in Him we have true life.

So for me, the Skull Rosary allows me to be mindful that nothing can exist apart from God. My heart will not beat one more beat without Him, my next breath will not take place without His blessing, the very blood inside my veins will stop its course without God. I am but mortal, but being more and more fully reliant upon the Creator, I find God brings me true and exhilarating life! I am only truly alive when I live for God and God lives in me.

How will you remind yourself and the world around you this week that God is alive in your world and that all that we have comes from Him? How will you be more humble and more secure in Him, not things?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 5, 2016

 
 

Today is the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, but this past Sunday, Mother Teresa, the diminutive Albanian nun whose work to feed the hungry and comfort the dying in India became the foundation of a new religious order, and who earned the Nobel Peace Prize as a result, is now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, canonized by Pope Francis.

In a statement announcing the canonization, the Vatican called her a “metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness.” Perhaps it is here where we find the why for her sainthood. It was not in the miracles attributed to her, but rather in the manner in which she lived her entire life: for the poorest of the poor.

Did you know that one of Mother Teresa’s favorite prayers is the Prayer of St. Francis, sometimes referred to as the “Peace Prayer.” The sisters of her Missionaries of Charity prayed this wonderful prayer every day at her direction after they received Holy Communion. And, although this prayer truly embodies the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and the way he lived, scholars have determined he may not actually have written it, but it lives on attributed to those highest ideals to which he ascribed the manner of his life.

St. Francis like St. Teresa now, wanted to imitate the poverty of Christ, but poverty – at least as made real by those of us who are Franciscans – is neither good or bad, as determined by the world. It is rather the sense of ‘nonpossession’ of those things that can and do distract us from our mission of living the Gospel.  Like St. Paul, it is our focus to become ‘empty’ in order to become full for the Lord we serve. By doing so, we are better able to enjoy all that is around us, as a gift of God. We actually are able to see creation and gradually we understand more fully the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor.”

St. Francis and St. Teresa wrote no deep philosophical or theological works to explain their positions. They were not apologists for the Church, nor were they attributed any scholarly works of great significance or amassed volumes of ‘how to’ books on becoming more spiritual, they simply lived it; imitating the One they followed so closely and in that imitation true life came.

In the end, then, poverty is not just the mere absence of things, it is our ability and willingness to share what we have gained for the good of others. It is possible for a wealthy person to be unattached and giving, just as it is possible for a person of poorer means to be stingy. The question is not in the abundance, but the spirit of the mystery of Christ that lives in us. How about us?

Saint Teresa carried with her a small reproduction of an old painting of St. Francis in which the weeping saint holds a cloth to his eyes. “He’s wiping his tears,” she says, showing the picture to the Franciscans around her. “I think he’s crying after receiving the Stigmata.”

Are we really willing, too, to actually live being a Christian and carry the gospel message to the margins even when afraid, or unwilling, or difficult? Do we recognize that all that we have never really belonged to us in the first place, but rather is a gift from God? Are we willing to deliberately share more this week with the church, with our parish, with others, with those who need us to do just that,…

…or will we simply grasp all the harder to hold onto the things that will never fulfill or complete us?

 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 29, 2016

 
 

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”  So begins Genesis and the story of creation.  But did you know that St. Francis was named the patron saint of ecology in 1989? In fact, the Rule that we follow as Franciscans says that we should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which ‘bear the imprint of the Most High.’

So, Francis saw the imprint of God in all of creation and treasured all that God had given to us on this earth – from the high and lofty mountains that anchored the skyline to the thinnest of worms found nestled along the side of a dirt road. All was good and worthy of admiration as it was ‘very, very, good’.

In St. Francis’ famous “Canticle of the Sun”, he praises God for all creation, “the sun and moon, the stars and the heavens, the wind and air, the water and fire, flowers and fruit and herbs, too. It is said that Francis saw the world with the eyes of God and had an overwhelming gratitude for all of God’s gifts to us.

Think for a moment of your most treasured possession and ask yourself, ‘how do you care for it?’ I would imagine you hold it, coddle it at times, thank the giver often as you consider its meaning to you, you care for it with reverence and respect, you remember it often and you choose not to destroy it. So we must do for all that God has so freely given unto us though His generosity and love.

Later this afternoon, I will stand at the tiny grave of one of the smallest of God’s created in our new Angels of Assis Pet Memorial Section. I will lay to rest one small creature, not known to many, but held in high esteem by those few who did, and I am sure by God, too.

Why? Why did we invest to open such a section within our hallowed grounds? Why did we invest our time and energy in planning such a burial of one so small? Because the Franciscan Rule calls us to be in kinship with all God creation. That says we are related to each other. What is inflicted by way of harm to the earth and God’s creatures, inflicts and harms me, and what is held with esteem and care and tenderness, does likewise to me, too.

The Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”  This week, there will be such on two occasions because we love and honor.

O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Blessed be all creation and blessed be God; Father, Son, and Hoy Ghost.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 22, 2016

 
In the days when St. Francis began to reform the church, many clergy were not worthy of the name. The Church badly needed reform and clergy were one of the leading causes with their abuse and hypocrisy. Francis knew that if he was to reform the Church, he needed to begin with the clergy within the structure of the Church itself. 
 
You see, St. Francis saw the mystery of the Church! He saw the divine life, the moving Spirit of God, the healing and the dedication of so many that truly loved her and cared for her. But he also saw the weak, the selfish, those who acted like a priest, but deep within their hearts they served no one but themselves. They were the cholesterol that clogged the arteries of the Church and bought arthritis to her hands. They hampered the vision of her eyes and caused pain and grief through their lack of true love, true depth, true dedication. Perhaps they were deceiving themselves and the world, but not God.
 
The faults of the Church are evident here with us even today. I have witnessed firsthand the deception, the lack of participation, and the failure of many who once stated very clearly they would serve and serve well. I have seen those who have been deceived and follow, all the while leaving destruction in their wake. In the end, they serve themselves while God’s Church – and her people – suffer. This is deception, at its best. It is mortal sin at its worst.
 
What we need is a constant reminder of what the world could be, if only we all dedicated ourselves to truth, honesty, and a life of true service. If only we would put aside ourselves and put others and their needs first. We need clergy and secular Franciscans, and strong lay leadership willing to truly serve – not themselves and their need for admiration and titles – but within their hearts, to allow the divine glory from within to shine and to heal and to restore and to build.
 
To be a Franciscan is to willingly follow Francis in trying to lead the Gospel life where Francis lived it at its fullest: with the holy Church, that inefficient, broken, ridiculously awkward and often ineffective means to the Cross of Christ. How? By finding those good priests who are willing to give up themselves – even lay down their own lives – for you and God’s Church.
 
Do you know a priest that is serving only himself? Pray for him that God will enlighten and change his heart before real damage is done. Do you know a good priest? Pray for him today. He needs you most, as he serves within a spiritual realm, too, where slings and arrows deplete him.
 

Though your prayers today, for those who serve us well, you will help Francis rebuild  God’s Church.

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 15, 2016

 

When we speak of charism, we speak of that which gives a particular view its theology of God; how does God act in the world and in our lives? The catechism of the church says that, Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of mankind, and to the needs of the world.” And so there are many charisms that edify and build up!

The charism of St. Francis has developed over centuries, but is always based on a love of the Gospel. When we speak of the varied spiritualties of the greater holy Church, we find that many are based on the personalities of their founders. Franciscans are no different. For instance, when we speak of the Dominicans, we find a group of inspired souls with a deeply monastic vision and a determination to preach like St. Dominic. Pope Pius once described the Franciscans as, “…a doctrine in accordance with which God is holy, is great, and above all, is good indeed the supreme Good. God is love. He lives by love, creates for love, becomes flesh and redeems, that is He saves and make holy, for love…. the Franciscan way of contemplating Jesus in His human love…” So, then, the Franciscan emphasis is always on love: the love of God, the way we love one another and serve one another, but always in love; a selfless love. A giving love. A redeeming love.

You might say that all Christians believe this, or at least should believe this, but to live as Francis did we must believe and actually participate in the Gospel! We must be willing to live out the Gospel in communion with the poor and the marginalized, in deeper communion with God, in a concurrent communion with the greater mission of God’s Church, in a transforming communion with a life of deep prayer and personal spirituality, in a way that brings us closer to communion with all of creation, even the least among us, and yes, the animals of God’s created world, too! By focusing on these disciplines on being on in communion with a God of love, we cannot help but become instruments of God’s peace. The world loses its tarnish and we behold a brand new joy!

“Teacher,” asked someone who came to Jesus, “What good must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus replied, “There is only one good.”

What good will you do in communion with God this week? How will you let go of something that is binding you to this earth to all God to change you and the world?