Nuova opportunità vocazionale francescana in Italia, per frati e vocazioni:
Se ha avuto il desiderio di seguire San Francesco come i suoi primi compagni facevano, adesso c’è una nuova opportunità di farlo, osservando la Regola Bollata di San Francesco secondo i decreti papali di un tempo:
L’osservanza antica della Regola Bollata di San Francesco d’Assisi è la forma di vita ispirata di Gesù Cristo, scritta dalle mani di San Francesco, approvata da Papa Onorio III il 26 Novembre 1223 e confermata da più che 20 papi. Essa è la forma di vita originaria della vita Francescana che non si osserva in nessun altra comunità religiosa in tutto il mondo.
Questa vita è distinta dal non uso dei soldi, il non avere di proprietà sia personale sia in comune, il portare indosso del saio francescano sempre e ovunque ecc., della predica dei quattro nuovissimi: in somma, dalla osservanza di tutti i precetti della Regola Bollata di San Francesco senza mitigazioni. (leggi più qui sull’invito di formare comunità).
L’obbligo divino di una vocazione
Da quando mi sono separato dalla mia comunità, sono venuto a conoscenza della grande benedizione e della sfida che rappresenta l’essere fedele alla propria vocazione. Mi sono anche rattristato venendo a conoscenza di molte persone che hanno perso la loro vocazione e che si sentono molto tristi per questo motivo. Confusi, turbati, non trovano consolazione da nessuna parte e non sanno come sfuggire al loro problema, ammesso che lo riconoscano.
Oggigiorno una vocazione è un fenomeno raro. La cultura popolare dell’Occidente, tutta tesa a un consumismo assoluto senza nessun riguardo per la sua fede religiosa, prescinde da ogni elemento apertamente cattolico e non si interessa di nulla che appartenga alla nostra santa religione, salvo saltuarie eccezioni.
Pertanto, un uomo che è chiamato da Dio al Suo servizio eterno incontra molte difficoltà a comprendere, apprezzare ed essere fedele a tale vocazione, semplicemente perché non ha nessuno che possa dargli dei buoni consigli; ha poche opportunità di coltivarla e nessuno con cui parlare di essa, oltre a Dio e ai Santi durante le sue preghiere private.
Quando si pensa a una vocazione, la si associa immediatamente alle associazioni umane che provvedono l’ambiente per la sua espressione: la parrocchia, la diocesi, la comunità religiosa, etc., in cui chi ha la vocazione trova se stesso o percepisce l’ispirazione divina che lo guida.
Quando una persona entra in una comunità religiosa, dunque, vi sono molte ragioni naturali e soprannaturali che le sono provvedute all’interno della comunità affinché la sua vocazione cresca. Tuttavia è inevitabile che, quando una persona con la vocazione lascia la sua comunità – per buone o cattive ragioni –, il mero uscire da quella comunità sia la causa della perdita di molte benedizioni e quindi anche di molte sfide e problemi.
Mi riferisco qui al caso in cui una persona con la vocazione si separa dalla sua comunità, perché è chiaro che non tutti quelli che entrano in una comunità religiosa hanno una vocazione divina. Un uomo carnale con molta forza di volontà e con forti motivazioni umane – che per natura possono essere buone o cattive – può perseverare nella vita religiosa e rappresentare una grande croce per la Chiesa, per la sua comunità e per i fratelli che vengono a trovarsi alla sua presenza. Se un uomo del genere si rende conto di non essere chiamato da Dio alla vita religiosa e lascia la sua comunità, rende un grande servizio a Dio, alla sua comunità e a se stesso. È quel che dovrebbe fare, non per la disperazione umana di raggiungere una meta che si è preposto, ma per la sua fede cattolica e per la virtù dell’umiltà, non volendo compiere un sacrilegio e presumere di se stesso. Anche se un uomo del genere non dovesse mai raggiungere nessuna meta dopo la sua separazione dalla comunità, quando egli la lascia essendo spinto da tali motivi, agli occhi di Dio egli compie una gran dimostrazione di rispetto per Lui, un rispetto che Egli non dimenticherà mai. Questa forma di rispetto è un grande atto dettato dalle virtù naturali e infuse della religione. Quindi, ironicamente, riconoscere di non avere la vocazione e abbandonare la comunità per evitare di offendere Dio fingendo di essere religioso quando non si ha la grazia, si diventa nell’atto – ossia in quel momento stesso – un uomo religioso, ossia, si realizza un atto di rispetto religioso nei confronti di Dio che è tra quelli di più alto rango che un semplice laico, che non ha la vocazione, possa effettuare.
Come cattolici, dovremmo avere tutti un gran rispetto religioso per i sacerdoti e per i religiosi; tramite il battesimo ciascuno di noi è stato consacrato a Dio; ma il frutto e l’effetto pieno di questa consacrazione si manifestano solo nel Cielo, dove i Beati si dedicano ininterrottamente ed eternamente alla venerazione di Dio e godono di Dio Stesso, Che è Infinita Bontà, Bellezza, Verità e Beatitudine.
In questo mondo, tuttavia, solo poche persone possiedono la grazia straordinaria di partecipare più pienamente a quella vita divina, già qui sulla terra: si tratta degli uomini e delle donne che hanno la vocazione ad essere religiosi consacrati, tanto eremiti come monaci, frati, anacoreti, canonici regolari, etc.
Queste persone meritano tale distinzione, perché sono chiamate da Dio a dedicarsi al Suo servizio nel senso più pieno della parola: “servizio”, ossia, non solo dedicarsi alle opere di misericordia per gli altri, come il Vangelo ci chiama a fare, ma al culto divino, non solo nella liturgia, ma più personalmente e completamente nelle loro stesse persone, tramite i voti di povertà, castità e obbedienza e una vita dedicata alla contemplazione e all’offerta dell’uomo interiore ed esteriore a Dio, nella preghiera e nel culto.
Tale vocazione è un obbligo divino per quanti hanno la benedizione di riceverla. Chi si è preparato a riconoscerla, desiderarla, anelarla, ad avere fame di essa ha già ricevuto innumerevoli grazie; egli trova sollievo, conforto, ispirazione, forza, rinnovamento, vita e vitalità del cuore solo quando si orienta verso di essa, la abbraccia e la vive.
Per questa ragione, quando una persona con la vocazione si separa dalla sua comunità erra gravemente e rischia di perdere la salvezza eterna se si allontana dalla sua vocazione.
Il mero fatto di lasciare la propria comunità non implica che si debba abbandonare la propria vocazione. Una vocazione proviene da Dio, non da una comunità di uomini, per quanto essi siano santi, perché nella Chiesa Dio rimane Dio e non condivide la Sua Gloria con nessun’altro; le vocazioni provengono solo dalle Sue mani e conducono solamente a Lui. Molte persone non arrivano a comprendere questo, e confondono una comunità religiosa con una squadra di calcio, e una vocazione con l’affiliazione a una squadra.
Anni di esperienza dando consigli a persone con la vocazione mi hanno fatto vedere che circa il 95% degli ex-religiosi commette questo errore e perde la sua vocazione. Da questo errore nascono tutti i problemi in cui essi precipitano: morali, finanziari o matrimoniali. Rovinano le proprie vite e rimangono fino alla fine dei loro giorni con una voragine nei loro cuori e nelle loro anime; una voragine che nessuno può riempire, perché è stata messa lì da Dio affinché essi rimangano inquieti per Lui, che è l’unico che la può colmare.
Pertanto, esiste solo un rimedio per un errore del genere: tornare al servizio divino, a seguire la propria vocazione. Ciò non significa necessariamente entrare in una comunità, ma certamente significa che si debba adottare l’osservanza dei consigli evangelici, ritornare al discepolato di qualche Santo e che ci si debba dedicare sopra ogni altra cosa e prima di tutto alla vita da religiosi, nella maniera migliore possibile secondo le circostanze concrete in cui ci si trova. Ciò aprirà la porta a molte grazie: Dio farà il resto.
Per questa ragione, ho pubblicato su questo blog una serie di spunti per aiutare queste persone, che sono ex-membri della FFI. Ma anche i lettori che siano ex-membri di altre congregazioni ne possono trarre beneficio.
San Francesco embarca per la quinta crociata.
La parola italiana “devozione” viene dal verbo latino devovere (consacrare). La devozione, in quanto relazione tra i pellegrini e i Santi, non è nient’altro che la fedeltà, la lealtà e la risoluzione nel seguire Cristo imitando il loro esempio ammirevole.
Il seguace devoto è colui che ha consacrato – ossia, dedicato – tutta la sua vita all’attività di discepolo. Nel linguaggio comune il devoto di un Santo è una persona che lo invoca ogni giorno e frequenta le celebrazioni, le chiese, le cappelle e i santuari costruiti in suo onore. Ma il seguace devoto, il discepolo devoto, è qualcosa di molto più grande. Per lui, l’imitazione del Santo è l’elemento fondamentale della sua esistenza, il fondamento della sua identità, la chiave per il suo destino personale in Cristo.
La devozione a San Francesco non è nient’altro che questa. La devozione che i figli di San Francesco dovrebbero avere non dovrebbe essere nient’altro che questa.
Si può imitare un Santo incorporando al proprio comportamento, ai propri ideali, alle proprie abitudini, ai propri costumi, elementi tratti dalla sua vita e dalle sue virtù. Ma tale devozione opera solo a livello materiale. Esattamente come, nella filosofia aristotelica, la causa materiale è subordinata alla causa formale, anche la devozione a elementi particolari associati alla vita e ai tempi di un Santo è subordinata alla vera devozione.
La vera devozione a un Santo necessita un’unione formale del cuore e della mente col Santo stesso. Non esiste imitazione più grande per il discepolo che diventare una sola cosa col suo maestro. Nostro Signore ha insegnato questo tipo di devozione quando ha detto ai Suoi discepoli: “Nessun discepolo è più grande del suo maestro; un discepolo deve rallegrarsi di essere come il suo maestro”.
Dunque, la vera devozione a un Santo deve trascendere la devozione materiale, poiché quest’ultima non arriva a incorporare la verità in Cristo che i Santi sono mezzi e non fini per l’imitazione di Cristo Gesù, l’Unico Maestro di tutti. Imitare veramente un Santo significa pertanto fare propri il suo stesso desiderio, la sua stessa saggezza e risolutezza nel seguire e imitare Cristo. In tal modo, la devozione a un Santo si transfigura in un’autentica vita di perfezione cristiana.
La vera devozione a San Francesco, perciò, non deve sforzarsi di raggiungere o di ammirare solamente lo spirito del Poverello e del suo stile di vita. La vera devozione a San Francesco deve amare quel che Egli amava con l’amore e il proposito con cui egli lo ha amato.
Ora, le fonti storiche sulla vita di San Francesco delineano chiaramente qual era l’amore preminente nel cuore di San Francesco. Egli stesso dichiarò, la mattina del 24 febbraio 1208, alla Porziuncola, vicino ad Assisi: “Questo è ciò che voglio; questo è ciò che io anelo con tutto il mio cuore”.
Il Santo pronunciò queste parole riferendosi a quel passaggio della Scrittura che il sacerdote gli aveva appena spiegato, e che era stato letto quella mattina nella Messa in onore di San Mattia Apostolo. Si trattava dell’invio degli Apostoli da parte di Nostro Signore e della fondazione della vita apostolica di mendicità: “Non prendete nulla con voi nel cammino…”.
La fiducia illimitata da parte del discepolo nei confronti del maestro che questo stile di vita richiede fu il marchio fondamentale della spiritualità e della consacrazione religiosa del Poverello d’Assisi. Questa è la chiave della sua vita e del suo amore per Cristo Crocifisso.
Ne segue pertanto che la vera devozione a San Francesco necessita quest’adozione fondamentale dello stile di vita della mendicità in tutto il suo rigore e in tutta la sua semplicità, non perché San Francesco l’abbia adottato, ma perché Cristo l’ha insegnato. Non per diventare un discepolo di San Francesco, ma piuttosto per camminare col Santo in questa vita per diventare un perfetto discepolo di Gesù Cristo Nostro Signore.
Tale devozione non richiede quindi altro che un ritorno all’osservanza risoluta dei precetti della Regola di San Francesco. Questo è lo stile di vita che il Santo ha voluto espressamente tramandare ai suoi figli come eredità e retaggio perpetui. Questa Regola incarna semplicemente e rigorosamente i principi della vita di mendicità che Cristo ha insegnato agli Apostoli. Questo è l’insegnamento di Papa Niccolò III e di Clemente V.
Essere un autentico figlio di San Francesco significa perciò essere un osservante della Regola. Una persona che trova l’essenza e la forma della sua vita, della sua vocazione e del suo carisma, non nelle costituzioni o negli statuti o nei costumi della comunità francescana a cui appartenga; ma piuttosto, una persona che trova l’essenza e la forma della sua vita consacrata e della sua vocazione, e finanche la sua vera identità e il suo vero destino, nella Regola di San Francesco, considerandola l’autentica disciplina che può guidare, giorno dopo giorno, la sua vita personale e il suo apostolato.
Sono passati ottocento anni da quando Dio Altissimo si è degnato di rivolgere il Suo sguardo al Suo servo Francesco per chiamarlo a una vita di semplicità evangelica. In un primo momento, tramite la visione miracolosa a San Damiano, durante i primi giorni dell’inverno del 1206; poi, durante la festa di San Mattia, il 24 febbraio 1209, quando San Francesco, che aveva l’abitudine di assistere ogni giorno al Santissimo Sacrificio della Messa nella chiesa della Vergine Regina degli Angeli alla Porziuncola, nella vallata sottostante al paese di Assisi, in Italia, udì con le sue orecchie il Vangelo dell’invio dei discepoli e rimase dopo la celebrazione per chiedere al sacerdote di spiegargliene il significato. Dopo aver compreso il significato di questo brano della Scrittura, il Serafico Padre esclamò con gioia: Questo è ciò che voglio, questo è ciò che anelo con tutto il mio cuore!
Che gran giorno fu quello, che giorno pieno di speranza fu per tutti i figli e le figlie del Poverello! Possiamo scorrere le innumerevoli pagine degli anni e tornare indietro a quel giorno meraviglioso e sorprendente in cui un uomo così umile, Francesco di Bernardone, che desiderava con tutta la sua anima e il suo corpo seguire il Signore Gesù, intraprese la vita evangelica in un modo straordinario e apostolico, mettendo in pratica le parole del Vangelo in modo letterale. Perché a partire da quel giorno San Francesco fece ciò che Nostro Signore comandò: non prese nulla con sé, né oro né argento, né una seconda tunica, né un bastone né una bisaccia, e cominciò una vita di completa, intera e perfetta dedizione al servizio di Gesù Cristo nella Sua Chiesa, predicando il pentimento ai peccatori e offrendo opere di carità ai lebbrosi e ai poveri.
Che giorni pieni di speranza sono quelli per tutti noi Francescani! Possiamo vedere che ciò che ha reso San Francesco così grande è qualcosa a cui non solo possiamo aspirare, ma che possiamo tutti ottenere, perché a San Francesco fu concesso dalla grazia di Dio, che Egli, nella Sua impenetrabile misericordia e generosità, si è degnato di concedere anche a noi, tramite la nostra vocazione, e verso cui e in cui possiamo camminare e progredire, se solo vogliamo seguire le orme del nostro Serafico Padre, San Francesco.
Umiliamoci, dunque, e camminiamo ancóra una volta con nostro Padre. Mostriamoci suoi figli ascoltando le sue parole e osservando la sua Regola. Imitiamo soprattutto la sua semplicità nella sua fede nel Vangelo, che era pari a quella di un bambino, come lo era il suo distacco da tutti gli interessi e le ambizioni mondani.
Sì, la grazia grande e consolatrice che è stata concessa a San Francesco in quei giorni gloriosissimi e meravigliosi è a nostra disposizione e a disposizione dell’intero Ordine: è sufficiente che allunghiamo le mani per riceverla, e che apriamo i nostri cuori per accettarla.
E non siamo soli, perché nel Cielo che ci sovrasta è schierata, insieme al nostro gloriosissimo Patriarca, San Francesco, l’intera compagnia dei Martiri e delle Vergini, dei Dottori e dei Vescovi, dei Sacerdoti e dei Fratelli Francescani, e delle Povere Clarisse, delle Sorelle e dei membri del Terz’Ordine che regnano oggi con Cristo nella Gloria eterna. I membri di questa schiera ci guardano dal Cielo con i loro cuori pieni di misericordia e affetto, con le loro mani piene di grazie per ciascuno di noi, se soltanto vogliamo riceverle.
Ma se dobbiamo celebrare degnamente questi anni di grazie, possiamo farlo solamente aprendo i nostri cuori con la disposizione ad accettare le stesse grazie che stiamo commemorando. E possiamo aprire i nostri cuori solo se torniamo all’umiltà di San Francesco; poiché, se è vero che Dio dà la Sua grazia all’umile e respinge l’orgoglioso, con quanta maggior ragione San Francesco e tutta la compagnia dei Santi Francescani ci offrirà delle grazie quando ci umilieremo e metteremo da parte il nostro orgoglio.
Ciò che rende necessario l’aprirci a questa speranza è oggi, sventuratamente, la coscienza del fatto che lo stato dell’Ordine, in tutte le sue comunità, è affardellato da molti problemi, da molti peccati, da molti vizi, da molti scandali, da molte imperfezioni, dalla sfiducia, dal dissenso, dall’infedeltà, dalla carnalità, da molte concupiscenze, da molti desideri carnali, da molta mondanità.
Sì, è un giorno triste quello che vede l’Ordine incapace di celebrare degnamente l’ottocentesimo anniversario della conversione di San Francesco: incapace, perché le tormente della storia e l’infedeltà dei suoi leader l’hanno sospinto ben lontano dalla semplicità evangelica, dalla Regula Bullata e dalla purezza e semplicità di San Francesco.
Ma per questa stessa ragione è anche un giorno e un anno pieno di speranza. Perché in nessuna epoca come la presente l’Ordine ha avuto tanto bisogno di ricevere di nuovo la grazia della conversione personale del suo Serafico fondatore.
Quest’anno, facciamoci un dovere di lasciarci rinnovare nella grazia della nostra vocazione francescana. Ascoltiamo il consiglio di un grande Santo Francescano, San Bonaventura, che ci mostra il cammino. Egli scrive: ubi est reformatio, ibi est conformatio et informatio [I. Sent., d. 17, p. I, a. unic, q. 1, sed contra 2.]
Vale a dire, laddove c’è bisogno di una riforma delle anime, è necessario tornare all’Ideale da cui, originariamente, si è ricevuta la vocazione, ed accettarlo.
E se ci sono dubbi su quale sia l’Ideale da cui abbiamo ricevuto la nostra vocazione, e unicamente nel quale essa può vivere, muoversi ed esistere, non dobbiamo far altro che rivolgere lo sguardo a quell’evento trasformatore nella vita del nostro Serafico Padre, un evento che lo ha marcato per sempre con il Sigillo della Passione stessa del Cristo: le sante stimmate.
Il nostro Ideale è Cristo Crocifisso. Ciò non vuol dire che ci possiamo considerare in alcun senso comparabili a Lui, Che trascende il tempo e lo spazio essendone lo stesso Creatore, Che stringe nelle Sue mani tutto l’universo e tutte le ere, Che è adorato dalle miriadi degli Angeli e dalla formidabile compagnia dei Santi. No, ma piuttosto, come figli di San Francesco, siamo chiamati a seguire spiritualmente le orme della Sua Sanguinosa Passione, che Egli ha sofferto come Uomo, ascoltando i Suoi consigli:
— Se non rinneghi te stesso, non puoi essere Mio discepolo!
— Cerca in primo luogo il Regno di Dio e la Sua Giustizia!
— Se non farete penitenza perirete tutti allo stesso modo!
Quando il Poverello, sulla montagna della Verna, è stato marcato con le sante stimmate, era come una massa di cera sciolta che ha ricevuto il Sigillo dell’Anello del Regno Eterno, e quindi egli reca per sempre il marchio di Cristo e dirige ora il Coro dei Santi nell’eterna lode del Cristo Crocifisso. L’intero proposito della sua vocazione, dunque, era quello di far rivivere nei cuori degli uomini sulla terra la memoria vivida e la viva devozione del Cristo Crocifisso, di tutto quanto Egli ha fatto, detto e sofferto per noi; e di corrispondere veramente a tutto ciò tramite il pentimento, la penitenza, la riforma della vita e della morale e la costruzione del Suo Regno, la Chiesa.
Ne segue che, dato che la vocazione di San Francesco è la nostra, anche noi dobbiamo aprire i nostri cuori per accettare il sigillo del Regno, tramite il nostro vivo pentimento, tramite le nostre rigide penitenze, tramite un’autentica riforma della nostra vita e della nostra morale, e tramite una generosa offerta di noi stessi per l’opera di costruzione del Regno di Dio, la Chiesa Cattolica.
E se ciò deve essere fatto, dobbiamo in tutta umiltà riconoscere gli ostacoli che si ergono di fronte a noi oggi: che le Costituzioni della nostra comunità aggiustano attualmente la semplicità evangelica alle convenienze moderne e ad ogni forma di egoismo personale; che i nostri programmi di formazione permettono e incentivano il dissenso, l’eresia, l’immoralità e ogni sorta di vizio, invece di richiedere e imporre in modo estremamente rigido una riforma della morale e degli ideali in ciascuno di noi, un rigoroso programma di penitenza per ciascuno di noi e per la comunità, ed opere di carità che siano consone ed armoniose con essi, coscienti del fatto che il progresso autentico non è dato da questo mondo, ma da quella stessa conversione e penitenza a cui il Vangelo e San Francesco ci chiamano.
Se il nostro Serafico Padre ci parlasse oggi, individualmente e come comunità, non c’è dubbio che griderebbe con tutte le sue forze: Penitenza! Penitenza! Penitenza! Sii un esempio di penitenza nella tua comunità, nella Chiesa e nel mondo! Io venni chiamato a questo, per essere un araldo di penitenza per il mondo, e ciò è quel che desidero, con ardente anelo, da tutti voi, miei figli e mie figlie! Penitenza! Penitenza! Penitenza! Tornate alla fede; tornate alla giusta morale! Tornate alle tradizioni spirituali e corporali del mio Ordine! Seguite le mie orme e quelle dei vostri Santi fratelli e delle vostre Sante sorelle che vi hanno preceduto! Mettete da parte il mondo e le persone mondane, siate sobri, cambiate i vostri cuori e tornate a me e al mio esempio! Non vi lasciate ingannare! Avete vagabondato a lungo in una terra deserta, pieni di fame per cose che non potranno mai soddisfarvi! Pentitevi e date una svolta radicale alle vostre vite, tornate alla terra in cui scorrono fiumi di latte e miele! Alla terra della fede, della penitenza, della mortificazione, e del Vangelo vivente! Non lasciatevi sedurre, perché l’amore del denaro è la radice di tutti i mali, e voi vi siete saziati abbondantemente di essa! Allontanatela di tra di voi insieme a tutti i suoi desideri! Siate di nuovo miei figli e mie figlie! Non scendete a compromessi con il mondo, con la carne e con il diavolo!
Let us return to the footsteps of Our Seraphic Father
It was 800 years ago, that God Most High deigned to look down with mercy on His servant Francis, to call him to a life of Evangelical Simplicity. First, through the miraculous vision at San Damiano, during the early winter of 1206 A.D., and finally on the Feast of St. Matthias, on February 24, 1209, when St. Francis, who was in the habit of attending the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, daily, at the Portiuncula of Our Lady Queen of Angels, down in the plain, below the city of Assisi, Italy, heard with his own ears the Gospel of the sending of the disciples; and remained afterward, to ask the Priest to explain the meaning of these. A Scripture, which upon understanding, the Seraphic Father rejoiced saying: This is what I want, this is what I long for with all my heart!
Oh, what a great day, what a great, hope-filled day that was for all of the sons and daughters of the Poverello. We see through the countless pages of the years, back to that wondrous and awe inspiring day, on which that so humble man, Francesco di Bernadone, desiring with all his soul and body to follow the Lord Jesus took up the evangelical life in such an extraordinary and Apostolic way: by putting the Gospel verse literally into practice. For on that day St. Francis did what Our Lord commanded: he took nothing with him, neither gold nor silver, neither a second cloak nor a walking stick nor a traveling bag, and he set out in a life of complete and entire and perfect dedication to the service of Jesus Christ in His Church, by ministering the word of repentance to sinners and the deeds of charity to the lepers and to the poor.
Oh what hope filled days these are for all of us Franciscans. We see that what made St. Francis great is something not only to which we can all aspire, but which we can all obtain, because it came to St. Francis by the grace of God, which He in his unfathomable mercy and condescension has deigned to share also with us, by our vocation, and to which and in which we can walk and progress, if only we follow our Seraphic Father, St. Francis.
Let us humble ourselves, therefore, and walk once again with our Father. Let us show ourselves his sons, by hearing his words and observing his Rule. Let us imitate him above all in the simplicity of his childlike trust in the Gospel, and in his childlike self-detachment from all worldly interests, all worldly pursuits.
Yes, the great and consoling grace which was St. Francis’ on that most glorious and wonderful of days, is at hand for us all and for the entire Order, if we but only stretch out our hands to receive it, open our hearts to accept it.
And we are not alone, for with our most glorious Patriarch, St. Francis, the whole Company of Franciscan Martyrs and Virgins, Doctors and Bishops, Priests and Brothers and Poor Clares and Sisters and Third Order members who reign now with Christ in everlasting Glory, are arraigned in Heaven immediately above us, and look down upon us with hearts full of mercy and longing, with hands filled with graces for each of us, if we only we receive them.
But if we are to duly celebrate these years of graces, it can only be if we open our hearts with the willingness to accept the very graces we commemorate herein. And we can only open our hearts if we return to St. Francis’ humility; for if God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud, how much more does St. Francis and all the Company of Franciscan Saints, give grace to us when we humble ourselves and put aside our pride.
What makes this time so hope filled, is alas, for us today, the knowledge that the state of the Order, in all its communities, is weighed down by so many troubles, so many sins, so many vices, so many scandals, so many imperfections, such despair, such dissent, such infidelity, such carnality, so many concupiscences, so much carnal prudence, so much worldliness.
Yes, it is a sad day that brings the 800th Anniversary of the Conversion of St. Francis to the Order so incapable of itself of rightly celebrating it: so incapable, because by the turmoils of history and the infidelity of its leaders it has wandered so far from Evangelical Simplicity, so far from the Regula Bullata, so far from St. Francis’ purity and childlikeness.
But it is a day and a year full, for this very same reason, with such hope. Because there is no age in which the Order has found itself, than today, in which it has such need to receive again the grace of its Seraphic Founder’s own personal conversion.
This year, let us do our duty to be renewed in the grace of our Franciscan Vocation. Let us heed the advice of so great a Franciscan Saint, St. Bonaventure, who shows us the way. He writes: ubi est reformatio, ibi est conformatio et informatio [I. Sent., d. 17, p. I, a. unic, q. 1, sed contra 2.]
That is, where a reformation of souls is needed, there must be a return to and reception of the Ideal by which, at the beginning, they received their vocation.
And if there be any doubt about what is the Ideal by which we received our vocation, and in which alone it can live and move and have its being, we have only to look to that consummating Event in the life of our Seraphic Father which marked him forever with the Seal of Christ’s own Passion: the sacred stigmata.
Our Ideal is Christ Crucified. Not that we are in any manner or in any sense comparable to Him, who transcends time and space, being its very Maker, who holds in his Hands the Universe and all Ages, who is adored by the myriads of Angels and the great company of the Saints. No, rather, as sons of St. Francis we are called to follow spiritually in the Footsteps of His most Bloody Passion, which He suffered as Man, by heading His counsels:
— unless you deny yourself, you cannot be my disciple!
— seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness!
— unless you do penance you shall likewise perish!
When the Poverello on the Mount of Alverna was sealed with the sacred stigmata, he was as a mass of molten wax, which received the Signet Ring of the Eternal Kingdom, and hence he bears forever the marks of Christ, and leads now the Chorus of the Saints in an eternal praise of Christ Crucified. The whole purpose of his vocation, then, was to revive in the hearts of men on earth a vivid memory and a lively devotion to Christ Crucified, to all that He did or said or suffered for us; and to respond to this in truth by repentance, by penance, by a reform of life and of morals, and by the up-building of His Kingdom, the Church.
And hence, because St. Francis’ vocation is our vocation, we must too open our hearts to accept the seal of the Kingdom, by our own lively repentance, by our own stringent penances, by an authentic reform of our life and of our morals, and by a generous self offering to the work of up-building the Kingdom of God, the Catholic Church.
And if this is to be, we must in all humility acknowledge the obstacles which stand before us today: that the Constitutions of our community now accommodate evangelical simplicity to modern conveniences and personal selfishness of every kind; that our formation programs permit and foster dissent, heresy, immorality, and every other kind of vice, rather than requiring and imposing most stringently a reformation of morals and ideals upon each of us, a rigorous program of penance for each of us and for the community, and works of charity which are consonant and harmonious with these, knowing that there is no authentic progress in this world, but the very same conversion and penitence to which the Gospel and St. Francis call us.
If Our Seraphic Father would speak to us, individually and as a community, to day, he would without a doubt shout out, with the utmost of his strength: Penance! Penance! Penance! Be an example of penance in your community, in the Church, and to the world! I was called to this, to be a herald of penitence for the world, and this is what I desire, with so much longing, from each of you, my sons and daughters! Penance! Penance! Penance! Return to the Faith; Return to right Morals! Return to the spiritual and corporal traditions of my Order! Follow my footsteps and those of your brother and sisters Saints who have gone before you! Put aside the world and its worldlings, and be sober, have a change of heart and return to me and to my example! Do not be deceived! You have wandered much in a deserted land, filled with hunger for things that can never satisfy you! Repent, and turn entirely about, and return to the land flowing with milk and honey! To the land of faith, penance, mortification, and Gospel living! Do not be deceived, for the love of money is the root of every evil, and late have you satiated yourself in it! Drive it from your midst along with all its lusts! Be once again my sons and my daughters! Make no compromise with the world, the flesh and the devil!
Nota Bene: Henceforth, the series of meditations published on this blog, in English, finishes; you can find more meditations by Br. Alexis Bugnolo at the Official Blog of The Franciscan Archive. An Italian translation of the English posts on the current blog, will be forthcomming, Deo volente.
True Devotion to St. Francis
The English word, “devotion”, is derived from the Latin verb, devovere (to consecrate). Devotion, as a relationship between wayfarers and the Saints, is nothing other than fidelity, loyalty, and resoluteness in the following of Christ after their admirable example.
The devoted follower, is one who has consecrated, that is, dedicated, his entire life to discipleship. The devotee of a saint is in common parlance one who invokes the Saint daily and frequents celebrations, churches, chapels, sanctuaries built in the Saint’s honor. But the devoted follower, the devoted disciple, is something much more. For him, the imitation of the Saint is the fundamental character of his existence, the foundation of his identity, the key to his personal destiny in Christ.
Devotion to St. Francis is no less such devotion. The devotion that the sons of St. Francis should have no less such a devotion.
One can imitate a Saint by incorporating into one’s behavior, ideals, habits, customs, things taken from the life and virtues of the Saint. But such devotion moves only on the material level. Just as the material cause is subordinate to the formal cause in Aristotelian philosophy, so is a devotion to particular things associated with the life and times of a Saint subordinate to true devotion.
True devotion to a Saint necessitates a formal union of heart and mind with the Saint. There is no greater imitation than for the disciple to become one with his teacher. Our Lord taught this kind of devotion when He said of his own disciples, “No disciple is greater than his Master; a disciple should rejoice to be like his Master.”
True devotion then, to a Saint must transcend material devotion. For such a devotion fails to incorporate the truth in Christ that the Saints are means not ends to imitation of Christ Jesus, the One Teacher of all. To truly imitate a Saint then, is to make the desire, wisdom, and resoluteness that was his to follow and imitate Christ, one’s own. In such a manner, devotion to a Saint is transfigured into authentic Christian life and perfection.
True devotion to St. Francis then, must not strive to attain nor merely admire the spirit of the Poverello and his way of life. True devotion to St. Francis must love what he loved with the love and purpose he loved it.
Now the historical sources on the life of St. Francis delineate clearly what this preeminent love in the heart of St. Francis was. He himself declares it on the morning of February 24, 1208 A.D. at the Portziuncula, outside Assisi: “This is what I want; this is what I long for with all my heart.”
The Saint said this of the passage of scripture which the priest had just explained to him, and which had been read than morning at the Mass in honor of St. Matthias, the Apostle. It was Our Lord sending out the Apostles and establishing the apostolic life of mendicancy: “Take nothing with you on the way …”.
The unlimited entrustment that this form of life requires of the disciple to the Master was the essential hallmark of the spirituality and religious consecration of the Poor Man of Assisi. This is the key to his life and love of Christ Crucified.
It follows then, that true devotion to St. Francis necessitates this essential adoption of the life of mendicancy in all its rigor and simplicity, and not for the reason that St. Francis lived it, but for the reason that Christ taught it. Not so as to become a disciple of St. Francis; but rather, to walk with the Saint in this life so as to become a perfect disciple of Christ Jesus Our Lord.
Such devotion requires, then, nothing less that a return to and resolute observance of the precepts of the Rule of St. Francis. This is the form of life that the Saint wanted expressly to hand down to his sons as a perpetual inheritance and heritage. This Rule embodies simply and rigorously the principles of the life of mendicancy that Christ taught to the Apostles. This is the teaching of Popes Nicholas III and Clement V.
To be a true son of St. Francis is to be, then, an observer of the Rule. One who finds the essence and form of his life, vocation, and charism, not in the constitutions or statutes or customs of the Franciscan community to which he may belong; but rather, one who finds essence and form of his consecrated life and vocation; indeed of his very identity and destiny in the Rule of St. Francis, and holds this to be the very day to day discipline that guides his personal life and apostolate.
Behold your Mother!
These words of Our Divine Redeemer echo throughout the ages. They resound from Mt. Golgotha, from the pages of Sacred Scripture, in the memories of St. John the Evangelist, in the preaching of the Apostles and first evangelists. They are recalled in the divine liturgies of the Church, are meditated upon by the prayers of the Saints, explained in their writings, emblazoned in art and music, in churches and paintings and frescos and statues. They have become the call to arms of saintly founders and are the mottoes of monasteries, convents, priests and bishops and cardinals.
Beautiful words, consoling words, words of confidence and words of hope. I personally think that in their own way, these words of Jesus from the Cross are the most beautiful in all the pages of the Bible — the most encouraging among all the words men have or shall ever hear.
I remember reading a study on the Shroud of Turin, which explained the exact manner in which, according to this holy relic, the Body of Jesus hung from the Cross, and the exact manner of His Death. The study pointed out that when Jesus in the moment of death shouted out and laid down His Most Sacred Head, He did so in a very telling manner. This final position of Our Lord’s Head is recorded in the blood and sweat stains of the Sacred Shroud.
What made this description so poignant was what the author observed about these facts in his summation — namely, that Our Lord Jesus Christ in the very final moment of His earthly life did a thing which remained the only thing He could do: that is lay down His Head in a very significant manner. In such a manner as would enable Him to look straight down to the right hand side of the foot of His Cross.
As I wondered why this was, there came to me a wonderful and most consoling realization. Have you ever noticed paintings of the Crucifixion? I would dare say that most of them depict Our Blessed Lady standing at the foot of the Cross with St. John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. But Mary is nearly always under Christ’s right arm, that is to say, on the right side of the Cross.
A conclusion presses itself upon our devotion: that in the last moment of His Life, Christ Our Lord made a decisive effort to make sure that the very last gaze of His mortal life would be filled with the vision of the sorrowful and most compassionate face of His Mother, Mary.
I don’t think we Christians can think of this long without being very much touched at heart by it, and even brought to tears by it, especially if you have made it the habit of meditating on the Passion, as all the Saints recommend us to do, or have at least been awakened to this holy exercise by Mel Gibson’s recent and literally stunning film, “The Passion of the Christ.” I think, weak creatures that we are, that this is especially true if we have had the personal experience of being at the death bed of a mother or father or son or daughter. The reality of how ephemeral our existence is inescapable in such moments. And it is only natural and fitting that we should burst out in tears at such tragic separations – something which is not unfitting, since as our Holy Religion teaches us, death is unnatural – and Jesus Himself cried at such occasions.
Of course being God Almighty, Jesus had no need of consolations in the Hour of Death. Indeed many a Saintly author speculates that to drink the very dregs of the bitterness of His Passion, He forced Himself to look upon the woeful suffering of His Mother in that last moment of His Life, so as to offer the merit of a Son’s Heart torn open at the sight of a Mother’s suffering, as the very last and final oblation to the Father for our salvation.
Yes, I do believe, that in that last moment, Christ received the compassion of His Mother, received Her Sacrifice of Himself, and looked upon Her in His death as if to say, “Look! Since I go now to the Father, I receive and take from Thee all that Thou has borne for My Sake with Me here and throughout all Thy life up to this day, and throughout all Thy life until I call you hence to be with me! I take it with Me to the Father, to offer it to Him forever in union with My Own Sacrifice.”
I think too many of us forget that the very last moments of Christ’s Passion were very Marian. The Holy Spirit Himself teaches us this, when the Evangelists cite the fact that Christ did not say, “It is consummated!” until first He said, “Woman, behold Thy son; son behold thy Mother!”
These marvelous words are, as it were, the “Ite Missa Est” of Golgotha. With them, Christ the High Priest completes and finishes His Sacrifice, and lays down not only His Head but now His whole human Life, accepting death and allowing His soul and body to be split asunder in the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross.
Now just as the Passion of Our Lord is the most central Mystery of our divine Religion, so the final moments and words of Our Lord from the Cross ought to be something very central to our interior life of prayer and meditation. For if Our Lord went to such lengths as to ensure and enable our remembrance of Him by promulgating the Holy Mass and ordaining the Apostles with His own powers as High Priests, saying, “Do this in memory of Me!”, how much must He want that we remember that which He did for us, and especially the very crowning moment of that Salvific Event!
Of course there are many graces, especially of consolation and encouragement for anyone who mediates on Sacred Scripture, and most of all, who meditates on the life of Jesus and Mary. And this is a very exquisite consolation that few find or enjoy in this life, trampled and trammeled as we are by the hubbub of daily life and the plethora of the modern means of mass communication. How sad and tragic, that so many, for example, make it a daily ritual to read the news, yet give not a thought to spending some quite time alone, with the doors of their room shut, or in some solitary place, meditating on all that Jesus and Mary did and said and suffered for our sake.
One of the great truths which we can mine from these final words of Our Lord, by means of meditation, is that which will teach us something of the magnitude of how much confidence we ought to have in the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
If we but consider that “before the foundation of the world” God had been considering and pondering from eternity all the details of creation — not as an architect who draws up plans and changes this or that, perfecting the project day after day, right up and even often during construction, but as the Infinite Eternal, Omnipotent and Most Wise uncreated Intelligence, Full of Charity and Truth, conceiving in the depths of His Divine Heart the most wonderful and stunning manifestations of His Divinity — we must certainly stop and ponder once again, and more and more, these words of Our Lord, “Behold thy Mother!” For in them are hidden great treasures of grace.
If we but recall the reason why God became Man, that it was to save our sorry souls from the eternal perdition of Hell, to which we all would have voluntarily wandered to by the end of our lives, born as we are, bereft of sanctifying grace, of faith, hope and charity for God, we can taste in mind something, however so small, of the savoriness of the remedy of these words: “Behold thy Mother!” “Thy” here means “you and I”, “each one of us”, “all of us”, “believers and those yet to believe”: “all of us in need of salvation and redemption”, howsoever much grace we have already received.
And since this is why Christ came and suffered and died: this final proclamation of the King of the Ages must have everything to do with the revelation of the ultimate means of salvation.
I believe Our Lord gives us His very own infallible commentary on this passage in the same Gospel of St. John, as He speaks with Nicodemus under the cover of night. “Unless you be born of water and the Holy Ghost…” He says. It is Our Lord Himself who uses the metaphor of birth for justification. It follows that being newborns in grace, we need a Mother.
This conclusion is inescapable, when we consider that the One who uses this metaphor is the Same as the One who created all living things, and who made us male and female, establishing some of us father or mothers for others of us: who in short preordained the human family within the original and individual necessity of our corporal being.
We must ask ourselves, then, “What was Our Lord thinking of when He spoke those wonderful words at the crowning moment of all that He would merit for us?” In His human mind, all the saints tell us that He knew all about creation, past, present, and future; foresaw all of us and all of our sins and good deeds, foreknew all of our thoughts and feelings and all of the movements and inclinations of our hearts. But just as importantly, as Our Divine Master and Teacher, in that final moment He considered all the pious questions of all His faithful who would beg him in prayer to explain something more to them about the meaning of His Life, Suffering and Death, especially at this final moment.
And so, these words, “Behold thy Mother” are without doubt the Answer of Christ to all our questions regarding the meaning and significance and importance of His Passion.
“Have confidence, I have overcome the world!” says Our Lord to the Apostles at the Last Supper. These words find their historical consummation, without doubt, in the Passion and Death, and point to the meaning of these words He speaks to St. John, “Behold thy Mother!” They indicate to us that all that Christ would do would be both truly victorious, and hence that the remembrance of it should be a source of confidence for us.
And we can draw much confidence from these words of Our Lord to St. John. Yes, Christ has died and is Risen, and yet though He has ascended into Heaven, to sit at the Right Hand of the Father, and with Him, at the end of Her earthly life, His Mother, to intercede for us before the Face of God the Father, it nevertheless remains no less true, that He has given His Blessed Mother to us, to be our Mother! Our sweet Mother!
If we but consider the greatness of Mary’s holiness, the spotlessness of Her purity, the inviolability of Her Virginity, the excellence of Her Faith, the magnitude of Her Charity, the strength and firmness of Her Hope, and every other virtue which is Hers beyond the measure of men and angels, and if we but consider that this Wonderful, most Splendid and beautiful of women is now Our Mother! I say, who cannot be encouraged, who cannot be moved, who cannot be warmed at heart, stirred to a sweet delight, stirred to reach out in spirit to Her, to embrace Her and kiss Her and enfold both body and soul in Her embrace, embracing Her with soul and body likewise – to bury, as it were, oneself in Her Maternal Bosom, as a little child does, when seeing its Mother after a long absence, it runs swiftly and immediately up to Her, jumping into Her arms and hugging Her with every affection!
But if we consider even more, that this Woman, is not only Our Mother, but the very Mother of God, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Daughter elect by the Father, the Queen of Angels and men, the Mediatrix of Grace, the Co-redemptrix of the Universe, I say, who cannot be stirred to confidence, seeing that in Her are the treasures and means to obtain every good thing, every medicine of soul and body.
But what is most consoling and encouraging about the Blessed Virgin, being Our Mother, is that She is always listening to and observing and watching over us, and She is very able and powerful and willing to grant us our pious wishes and prayers, if we but ask with great confidence.
Perhaps you have seen little children who are brothers and sisters vying with each other for their mother’s affection or intercession. If one receives some special favor, the others are not slow in asking, begging, insisting, demanding the how and why of how they obtained it from her. How zealous they are! How innocent! And How Simple! Should not we be similar, when we hear of what Our Lady has done for some of Her children!
Yes, I am sure you have heard at least once of how Our Lady helped some saint: but it is more encouraging, I believe, to consider how She has helped some sinners, even more so than some Saints.
One such wonderful story is that which Our Lady did to a poor mule driver in Spain some 400 years ago. He was a very poor man, and not learned at all. I do not think he could even read or write. All he could do for a living, was lead his mule along the mountain paths nears his village, carrying cargo over the mountain pass for various merchants in the locale. He would rise very early in the morning, pack some food for the journey, load up his burrow, and walk up the mountain, arriving at the end of the day on the other side, where, having unloaded the same animal, and rested at a friends house, he would eat and sleep and rise the next day, to do the same thing, on the return trip.
And so he lived his life and scratched out a meager living for his wife and son and father and mother who lived with him in his two room shed.
But one day, the mule slipped as it clopped its way along the mountain path. And to save it and its load this poor mule driver ran quickly to the other side and did all he could to prop up the animal so that it would not slip and fall. But though he had done this successfully on many occasions, this time he failed, and the animal and all its cargo came crashing down upon him, knocking him to the ground.
He screamed, Oh how he screamed in agonizing pain!
Very soon the other peasants leading their own animals along the way, came running to help him, and succeeded in getting his animal up. It was then he discovered that he could not stand – he had badly injured his leg. The villagers came and took him in a stretcher to his home and to bed.
As the days passed it go no better. And when the local priest came to visit him, he assured him that it would not get better, and that the only hope was to arrange to be carried to the University Hospital at Salamanca.
It was a long a costly journey, but his best friends and relatives did him this favor.
Needless to say, by the time he arrived, gangrene had set in and there was nothing the doctors could do, but cut off his leg at the mid of the thigh.
For a mule driver, this was little better than death, for it meant that he could not work at his trade: and no work meant no pay, and no pay meant that he, though the only bread winner at home, could no longer support his family.
His friends and relatives bore him home and left him at home in his bed. And to add upon all his sufferings, as soon as they had left his home, his wife and parents turned on him with the most bitter and disgusting insults, saying: “What good are you to us now! It is all your fault! We are all going to starve on your account! Did you return home thinking we are going to take care of you!”
And with that this poor man pulled up his blanket, prayed desperately to Our Lady, and went to sleep, filled with the most bitter remorse and sorrow, bereft of any hope and overcome by the pains of sorrow and betrayal no less painful than the surgery wounds of his leg.
But this, thanks be to God, is not where this poor man’s story ends, but rather where a most consoling story begins. For that night, as he slept, he dreamed.
And in that dream, he saw Our Blessed Mother.
And this is what he dreamed: he saw himself sick in bed, and into his room stepped the Blessed Virgin, covered in a shining blue mantle, and looking upon him with such a tender compassion, as if She had come to him, on a sick call. And as he rejoiced at heart to see Her loveliness, She opened Her mouth and said to him, encouraging him as She touched his legs, “Be healed!”
In the morning, the man awoke, and as he had not yet opened his eyes, for it was dark still, he called to mind the dream that had given him such confidence. And he said to himself in his heart with the simplicity of a child, “O, how good you are to me, Blessed Virgin! I prayed to you, when I had no other hope, to help me! And you in your kind charity have given me such a consoling dream to lessen all my sorrows when I have suffered such a tragedy as this!” And so he reposed, until the sun had arisen, and his wife has gotten up and gone out.
After she left, he tried to make himself comfortable in bed. He suddenly felt so odd. The doctors had said that, although they cut off his leg, that it would feel that it was still there for some time still. And so it was: under his covers he could still feel his leg!
But as he looked down the bed, what he saw was all wrong. He saw not one, but two bulging points where his foot should be.
Two?, he thought to himself: Yes, I can still feel my leg, as the doctors said I should on occasion, for it is a trick of the nerves, but I should not still see two feet!
At that the memory of his dream came back to him and he ripped his covers of the bed to find TWO perfectly healthy legs!
He jumped from the bed and began to scream with joy: A Miracle! A Miracle!
Soon the whole village was gathered around his house and word spread far and wide of what the Blessed Virgin did for him.
And for our confidence, it happened that this story came to the ears of the King of Spain, who sent a commission of royal investigators to record and interview all the facts and testimony. They even went to the University of Salamanca and interviewed all who had assisted at the amputation of the peasant’s leg. They even unearthed the coffin in which it was buried. And they found it empty, but for the blood stained wrappings which once bound it fast!
Today, on the sight of the poor man’s bedroom, stands a magnificent Basilica to commemorate this miracle of confidence.
Let us therefore, have great confidence in the Blessed Virgin, who is in truth and has been made so forever, Our Mother! That She does and will and wants to grant us the things of which we or our loved ones, or some poor soul, is truly in need of.
We don’t need to be saints to receive Her favors. We just need to ask with humility, sincerity!
Therefore, let us pray and beseech Her everyday with unbounded confidence! And lest us offer up such prayers as this:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known,
that anyone who fled to Thy protection,
implored Thy assistance,
or sought Thy intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence,
we fly unto Thee, O Virgin of virgins, our Mother!
To Thee do we come; before Thee do we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions,
but in Thy gracious mercy hear and answer us. Amen.
The Praise of Poverty
By St. John Chrysostom
Patriarch of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church
Excerpted from Homily XVIII on the Letter to the Hebrews, nn.3-6.
He sat down on the right band of God, from henceforth expecting.” Why the delay? “that His enemies be put under His feet. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” But perhaps some one might say; Wherefore did He not put them under at once? For the sake of the faithful who should afterwards be brought forth and born. Whence then [does it appear] that they shall be put under? By the saying “He sat down.” He called to mind again that testimony which saith, “until I put the enemies under His feet.” (See above, i. 13.) But His enemies are the Jews. Then since he had said, “Till His enemies be put under His feet,” and they [these enemies were vehemently urgent, therefore he introduces all his discourse concerning faith after this.
But who are the enemies? All unbelievers: the daemons. And intimating the greatness of their subjection, he said not “are subjected,” but “are put under His feet.”
Let us not therefore be of [the number of] His enemies. For not they alone are enemies, the unbelievers and Jews, but those also who are full of unclean living. “For the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be.” (Rom. viii. 7.) What then (you say)? this is not a ground of blame. Nay rather, it is very much a ground of blame. For the wicked man as long as he is wicked, cannot be subject [to God’s law]; he can however change and become good.
Let us then cast out carnal minds. But what are carnal? Whatever makes the body flourish and do well, but injures the soul: as for instance, wealth, luxury, glory (all these things are of the flesh), carnal love. Let us not then love gain, but ever follow after poverty: for this is a great good.
But (you say) it makes one humble and of little account. [True:] for we have need of this, for it benefits us much. “Poverty” (it is said) “humbles a man.” (Prov. x. 4, LXX.) And again Christ [says], “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matt. v. 3.) Dost thou then grieve because thou art upon a path leading to virtue? Dost thou not know that this gives us great confidence?
But, one says, “the wisdom of the poor man is despised.” (Eccles. ix. 16.) And again another says, “Give me neither riches nor poverty” (Prov. xxx. 8), and, “Deliver me from the furnace of poverty.” (See Isa. xlviii. 10.) And again, if riches and poverty are from the Lord, how can either poverty or riches be an evil? Why then were these things said? They were said under the Old [Covenant], where there was much account made of wealth, where there was great contempt of poverty, where the one was a curse and the other a blessing. But now it is no longer so.
But wilt thou hear the praises of poverty? Christ sought after it, and saith, “But the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” (Matt. viii. 20.) And again He said to His disciples, “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor two coats.” (Matt. x. 9, 10.) And Paul in writing said, “As having nothing and yet possessing all things.” (2 Cor. vi. 10.) And Peter said to him who was lame from his birth, “Silver and gold have I none.” (Acts iii. 6.) Yea and under the Old [Covenant] itself, where wealth was held in admiration, who were the admired?
Was not Elijah, who had nothing save the sheepskin? Was not Elisha? Was not John?
Let no man then be humiliated on account of his poverty: It is not poverty which humiliates, but wealth, which compels us to have need of many, and forces us to be under obligations to many?
And what could be poorer than Jacob (tell me), who said, “If the Lord give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on”? (Gen. xxviii. 20.) Were Elijah and John then wanting in boldness? Did not the one reprove Ahab, and the other Herod? The latter said, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother Philip’s wife.” (Mark vi. 18.) And Elias said to Ahab with boldness “It is not I that trouble Israel, but thou and thy father’s house.” (1 Kings xviii. 18.) Thou seest that this especially produces boldness; poverty [I mean]? For while the rich man is a slave, being subject to loss, and in the power of every one wishing to do him hurt, he who has nothing, fears not confiscation, nor fine. So, if poverty had made men wanting in boldness Christ would not have sent His disciples with poverty to a work requiring great boldness. For the poor man is very strong, and has nothing wherefrom he may be wronged or evil entreated. But the rich man is assailable on every side: just in the same way as one would easily catch a man who was dragging many long ropes after him, whereas one could not readily lay hold on a naked man. So here also it fails out in the case of the rich man: slaves, gold, lands, affairs innumerable, innumerable cares, difficult circumstances, necessities, make him an easy prey to all.
Let no man then henceforth esteem poverty a cause of disgrace. For if virtue be there, all the wealth of the world is neither clay, nor even a mote in comparison of it. This then let us follow after, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven. For, He saith, “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven.” (Matt. xix. 21.) And again, “It is hard for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. xix. 23.) Dost thou see that even if we have it not, we ought to draw it to us? So great a good is Poverty; For it guides us by the hand, as it were, on the path which leads to Heaven, it is an anointing for the combat, an exercise great and admirable, a tranquil haven.
But (you say) I have need of many [things], and am unwilling to receive a favor from any. Nevertheless, even in this respect the rich man is inferior to thee; for thou perhaps askest the favor for thy support, but he shamelessly [asks] for ten thousand things for covetousness’ sake. So that it is the rich that are in need of many [persons], yea oftentimes those who are unworthy of them. For instance, they often stand in need of those who are in the rank of soldiers, or of slaves: but the poor man has no need even of the Emperor himself, and if he should need him, he is admired because he has brought himself down to this, when he might have been rich.
Let no man then accuse poverty as being the cause of innumerable evils, nor let him contradict Christ, who declared it to be the perfection of virtue, saying, “If thou wilt be perfect.” (Matt. xix. 21.) For this He both uttered in His words, and showed by His acts, and taught by His disciples. Let us therefore follow after poverty, it is the greatest good to the sober-minded.
Perhaps some of those who hear me, avoid it as a thing of ill omen. I do not doubt it. For this disease is great among most men, and such is the tyranny of wealth, that they cannot even as far as words endure the renunciation of it, lint avoid it as of ill omen. Far be this from the Christian’s soul: for nothing is richer than he who chooses poverty of his own accord, and with a ready mind.
How? I will tell you, and if you please, I will prove that he who chooses poverty of his own accord is richer even than the king himself. For he indeed needs many [things], and is in anxiety, and fears lest the supplies for the army should fail him; but the other has enough of everything, and fears about nothing, and if he fears, it is not about so great matters. Who then, tell me, is the rich man? he who is daily asking, and earnestly laboring to gather much together, and fears lest at any time he should fall short, or he who gathers nothing together, and is in great abundance and hath need of no one? For it is virtue and the fear of God, and not possessions which give confidence. For these even enslave. For it is said, “Gifts and presents blind the eyes of the wise, and like a muzzle on the mouth turn away reproofs.”
(Ecclus. xx. 29.)
Consider how the poor man Peter chastised the rich Ananias. Was not the one rich and the other poor? But behold the one speaking with authority and saying, “Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much” (Acts v. 8), and the other saying with submission, “Yea, for so much.” And who (you say) will grant to me to be as Peter? It is open to thee to be as Peter if thou wilt; cast away what thou hast. “Disperse, give to the poor” (Ps. cxii. 9), follow Christ, and thou shalt be such as he. How? he (you say) wrought miracles. Is it this then, tell me, which made Peter an object of admiration, or the boldness which arose from his manner of life? Dost thou not hear Christ saying, “Rejoice not because the devils are subject unto you; If thou wilt be perfect [&c].” (Luke x. 20.) Hear what Peter says: “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give thee.” (Acts iii. 6.) If any man have silver and gold, he hath not those other gifts.
Why is it then, you say, that many have neither the one nor the other? Because they are not voluntarily poor: since they who are voluntarily poor have all good things. For although they do not raise up the dead nor the lame, yet, what is greater than all; they have confidence towards God. They will hear in that day that blessed voice,” Come, ye blessed of My Father,” (what can be better than this?) “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger and ye took Me in: I was naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick and in prison and ye visited Me. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. xxv. 34-36.) Let us then flee from covetousness, that we may attain to the kingdom [of Heaven]. Let us feed the poor, that we may feed Christ: that we may become fellow-heirs with Him in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.
What is a Religious Vocation?
“Unless you do penance, you shall all perish likewise.”
(St. Luke 13:5)
“So likewise, every one of you who does not renounce all that he has, cannot be My disciple.”
(St. Luke 14:33)
“Because he who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (St. Luke 14:11)
On one occasion Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska and showed her the night sky, filled with the moon and stars. And He pointed to the full moon and said to the Saint, “You see how bright the moon is tonight, compared to the stars? Know that the glory of one soul in Heaven who was a faithful religious is like that in comparison to the glory of one soul who was a faithful layman.”
The greatness, beauty, honor, and glory of the religious vocation is a thing unheard of, unknown, and unappreciated in the world. Not only today; but in the past and until the end of time. It is unheard of in the world because the world does not speak of the religious life, except to ridicule it. It is unknown of in the world, because the world knows only pride of life, pride of the eyes and vanity of spirit. It is unappreciated in the world, because the world’s love leads to death; while a religious vocation leads straight to eternal life.
When a vocation begins to think of a religious vocation, he invariably considers that it is a difficult and narrow path. It contradicts what our nature loves, wants and is comfortable with. It contradicts what our parents, relatives, friends and worldly idols encourage us toward. It contradicts the freedom of life, the self determination of a career and the control our society encourages us to have over our life, lived here and now for the there and now. In short a religious vocation is the exact opposite of the creed of the world, the flesh and the devil.
To understand and appreciate and begin to desire a religious vocation, let us consider the four aspects of the essence of a religious vocation: its greatness, beauty, honor and glory.
The greatness of the religious vocation is founded upon its essence. A religious vocation is a calling from the Triune God to devote one’s entire being and life, soul and body, heart and mind, prayer and works, to the knowledge, love and service of Him in this life, and to a special life and blessedness with Him in the world to come.
“Why did God make you?” This is the first question in the traditional Catechism, taught to children. And the answer is: “To know, love and serve God in this life, and to be blessed with Him forever in the life to come.” At Lourdes, St. Bernadette Soubirous, who was a cordbearer of St. Francis of Assisi, asked a favor of Our Lady. Our Blessed Mother replied: “I never promised to make you happy in this world, but only in the world to come.”
The idolization of technology during the last century has led to a complete here-and-now mentality in modern society. How many of our contemporaries are concerned solely and wholly with making money, getting a promotion, buying a house, raising a family, finding and enjoying new entertainments or be tourists here and there. But God did not make us for this world. God did not fashion us to be entertained in this life. God did not intend us to be satisfied here. If we are content with this life, entertained in this life, satisfied with this life, oh how sad, miserable, ignorant and wretched we truly are.
You shall die. God fixed the day before the foundation of the world. It will be for the punishment of your sins, for the punishment of the sin of Adam, if you die the friend of God; for the punishment of your own sins, if you die His enemy.
To be a religious is to consecrate oneself to the most important work in life: being the friend of God. If we become and remain His friend, His faithful servant, when we die He will grant us eternal life. This is the meaning of life; this is the mystery of life. It is that simple.
The greatness of a religious vocation is founded upon the essence of a religious vocation. A religious vocation is a calling from God to dedicate oneself entirely and purely to Himself. Since God is infinite goodness and eternal life, such a relationship is a arrow drawn and shot up into the infinity and eternity of God. As such a religious vocation is a calling to the maximum greatness a man can ever hope for and achieve: the eternal divine sonship, by the adoption of grace.
The beauty of a religious vocation consists in the beauty of God. The religious vocation is an invitation and path to become immersed in the life and beauty of God. This is accomplished by our cooperation with the life of grace. Grace as you know is the participation in the life of the Most Blessed Trinity. Now God is perfect, infinite and eternal Beauty. And beauty is the harmony of order in goodness. So a religious vocation is a calling to become absorbed in God, immersed via grace into the beauty of mind, the beauty of heart and the beauty of spirit.
The beauty of mind to which a religious is called, is the immersion of our intellect in revealed truth in this life by faith and the virtues of wisdom and understanding and knowledge. The beauty of heart to which a religious is called, is the immersion of our will in the pure love of God via the virtues of charity, hope, prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. The beauty of spirit to which a religious is called, is the exaltation of our mind and heart and body in the contemplation of God for his own sake and the dedication of our life to the works of mercy towards all.
The beauty of a religious vocation is seen so clearly in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose beauty of mind is so remarkably seen in the Magnificat, whose beauty of heart is so remarkable seen in her silent witness at the foot of the cross, and whose beauty of spirit is the sight which so many saints and holy souls have longed for and sought ought with so much prayer and fasting and good works. Indeed Our Blessed Mother is so beautiful that she has single handedly inspired the greatest of artists to the work of beauty.
The beauty of a religious vocation is seen also very clearly in the life of the Saints. How the saints inspire us to virtue, console us with their words, enlighten us with their teachings, encourage us in sorrows and urge us on to the perfection of charity. The saints are our best friends. How great an honor, if God should grant us the desire to follow in their footsteps. Thought not all Saints where religious; nearly all saints were religious, or if they were not, they lived more like religious than even some religious.
The honor of a religious vocation is derived from the One whom a religious serves. There is nothing greater than the service of the Most High and Blessed God, Three and One, the Eternal Lord, the Everlasting Creator, He who is all good, wholly good, without whom nothing is good.
Without God there is not honor, with God there is all honor; to serve God a little is a already a great honor, to serve Him faithfully a greater honor; but to serve Him faithfully and perfectly, that is entirely and wholly and perseveringly: this is the greatest honor, a sublime destiny and the work meriting a stupendous and amazing reward.
The honor of a religious vocation is the honor of serving a Great King, a most noble Redeemer, and a most powerful Master.
A religious is called to serve a Great King. Consider how High God is and you will being to understand the honor of a religious vocation. God is in His being beyond all angels and creatures: He is so good that all creatures by nature must desire either Himself or His works. He is so beautify that death would be the immediate result of seeing Him, so much would our soul flee the service of the body so as to grasp Him. He is so true, that to know Him as He is, is the root of immortality.
A religious is called to serve a most noble Redeemer. God the Son became a lowly man, a poor man, a crucified a rejected Messiah, so that by His poverty all of us might be rich in grace. God gave, God gives, and God will give of Himself and His riches to poor wretches sinners like ourselves. He is most generous, most giving, and most forgiving. What greater captain, general or lord is there to follow?
A religious is called to serve a most powerful Master. His faithful servants healed the sick, raised the dead, cursed to death the enemies of the Church, exorcised demons, and worked all manners of miracles. These were gifts which God gave them to manifest the even greater and truly safe spiritual gift which He gave them: the life of grace. God by His grace is Lord of heaven and earth. To serve him as a religious is to be taken up into a supernatural life, conversing with angels and saints and Our Lady, by faith.
How great then the honor of a religious vocation It is an honor to serve in the armed forces of one’s nation, to protect the safety of us all from temporal dangers. How much greater an honor to serve in the army of the God, the army of the Church Militant, to protect the Church from spiritual dangers? He who serves God faithfully in this life, will merit unimaginable riches in the life to come.
The glory of a religious vocation is the immense reward that lies in wait for the faithful religious. This reward is so great that if it were clearly known all the faithful would rush upon monasteries and convents in such numbers that the police would have to be called in just to control the crowds.
The glory of a religious vocation is the tremendous riches of heaven which are for all who serve God faithfully and over and above this very special graces and gifts which shall only be given to religious. Such are not even given to those saints who were not religious.
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him. To love God is to keep His commandments out of love for Him. But to love God perfectly is to love Him with one’s whole mind, heart, soul and strength, and this is perfectly fulfilled in the whole and entire and perfect and pure dedication of a religious soul. So then how great is the glory of the religious in the world to come? It is beyond imagining, so I would be a liar if I described it in words. I imagine it to be so truly, greatly, beautifully, wonderfully, stupendously good, that it would be stunning and truly beatifying. But I am certain that it is greater than all this. For God loves a generous giver. And the blessedness of Heaven consists essentially in God’s giving of Himself, as He is, to the soul by an ontologic contact of mind to mind, will to will, spirit to spirit. Such an embrace is truly to be wondered at. But how much more the embrace of One who has be all the more loved. Such is the blessedness of the religious in Heaven.
The Duties of a Religious Vocation
A religious has the duty to know, love and serve God. To know Him by prayer, meditation and the study of Catholic teaching and scripture in this light. To love Him by keeping the commandments and following His precepts and by works of charity for our neighbor. To serve Him by being faithful and persevering in what he has promised until death.
A religious vows poverty, obedience and chastity. Poverty, in that he forsakes personal property and shares everything with his community. Obedience, in that he forsakes his own will, and does what his superior’s legitimately ask him to do for the community or the Church. Chastity, in that he forsakes all carnal pleasure, of body or mind, and lives with the innocence of a child who is concerned with pure things, holy things, heavenly things, and not those of the earth.
Such duties encompass the entire day and year and life of a religious. A religious should consider vacations and remuneration shameful. What he does and is, is for God alone; and no recompense in the life is comparable. Indeed it is so unequal to the beauty, honor, greatness, and glory of a religious vocation that it is a lie and a deceit to compare it to a career or job. The Church will only be restored with religious who are what they are and do what they do for His sake.
The Need for Religious
There is a very great and urgent need for religious today. With the dissolution of religious life there is obviously a need for new religious and new communities. With the loss of so many priests and brothers and sisters in decades following the Second Vatican Council there is obviously a need for others to take their place. But there is also a need for good and faithful, holy and generous religious. If there has been failure in recent years and a dissolution and leaving of many of the faithful, it is only because the prayers and example and works of religious were lacking. Religious are like Moses on the mountain above the plains of battle; when they let down their arms the Church suffers loss.
“Who shall go for My sake?” says the Lord. It is the religious who says: “Here I am Lord, send me!”
The religious vocation is a call to be a disciple, a soldier, a knight, a servant, and a son. What calling is greater? What destiny more worthwhile?
May God grant you each such a desire; and if you do not desire this, beg Him for it, or at least beg Him to grant this desire to others.