We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, here, and in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
St. Francis of Assisi
Two years ago I was in Assisi with a group of United States Veterans as part of a Franciscan pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. That morning the friar leading our pilgrimage celebrated Mass at the Portiuncola. It was a peak experience for me and other members of our group. Now, two years later as we are reeling from the effects of this global pandemic those days come into sharper focus. Pope Francis has designated the entire month of May as a time of prayer for relief from Covid-19. Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM who is the provincial of Holy Name of Jesus Province of the Order of Friars Minor has designated today as a special day of prayer.
Therefore I’m joining Franciscans and others in a special day of prayer. The crucifix below is a San Damiano Cross I received on the pilgrimage.
I spent the last several days here at St. Francis University in Loretto, PA with nearly forty Secular Franciscan sisters and brothers. We learned a great deal about multiculturalism and diversity. It was a great conference in a wonderful setting. What does it mean to do penance in today’s world? What are worthy fruits of penance? Is penance merely a word or a pious act? I believe that penance is a call to conversion. It’s not turning a blind eye to injustice. Worthy fruits of penance are helping immigrant families, helping the poor and marginalized, reaching out to the LGBTQ community and making them welcome. Being Franciscan in the twenty-first century means caring for all creation both animate and inanimate. It’s making sure that all are welcome in this place. It’s more than saying peace and wishing for peace, it’s about living peace.
Today on our way home from Albany, New York we stopped twice in the Mohawk Valley first at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs at Auriesville, New York. I’ve been stopping here since I was a young boy. My Mom first introduced me to the shrine in the late 1950’s. As I walked around the shrine today I sought the intercession of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha. There are numerous references to Kateri at the shrine and even statuary too. After a bit less than an hour we traveled five and half miles west on Route 5 to the Kateri Shrine which I’ve known about for only about a dozen years. The Kateri Shrine which is maintained by Conventual Franciscan Friars is where the actual birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha was. It is a lovely shrine and decidedly Franciscan. Today the St. Thomas More Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order were showing a video Kateri’s life. We didn’t stay for the video, but I did manage to meet one of their members. I spent quite a bit of time walking the grounds and enjoying the surroundings.
Pacem in Terris is the famous encyclical of Blessed John XXIII. As I’ve stated before Pope John was my favorite Pope up until now. When former Pope Benedict decided to resign i prayed that his replacement would be a man like Pope John XXIII. So far I have not been disappointed. This video that came from the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation website of the United States Secular Franciscans is a good synopsis of the encyclical. Pope John XXIII was a Secular Franciscan and there is no doubt that Pacem in Terris is evidence of that.
In the past year I’ve looked more and more what it is to be called to be a Secular Franciscan. I was professed into the order in April of 2002 and since then I’ve grown in fits and starts. What is it that I’m called to be? Am I to be a pious “stick in the mud?” I hope not. As a Secular Franciscan I’m called to live the Gospel and to move from “Gospel to life” and “life to the Gospel.” That’s a tall order most of the time, but that’s the ideal. I’m blessed to be a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and refer to myself as the “least of the brothers.” I’m drawn to shrines, monasteries, quiet chapels and working with people. My heart breaks when I’m confronted with injustice. Being a Franciscan is a blessing of tremendous consequence in my life.
United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.
My life is one of conversion and each day I become a little more converted. I can live with that. A simple daily walk of conversion that has produced a radical interior change. Not perfect. Perfection is not the mark of the creator. Imperfection is a blessing bestowed by God.
I haven’t blogged here much in the past several years. I was busy earning a degree at St. Bonaventure University which I finished a couple of years ago. Then after earning my administrative credentials in New York State I began to seek employment elsewhere. I continue to feel like Thomas Merton and not know where the road ahead may lead, but I am excited to have a more positive outlook on that direction lately.
I’ve been actively engaged in Yoga classes for over a year now. The unanticipated consequence of that is a deepened prayer life which has awakened within me a call to vocation like the one I experienced as an adolescent in the mid 1960’s. I’ve applied for some ministry related positions but at the same time wishing to stay close to my wife and family. I hope to re-energize my writing and reflecting because it helped me before and seemed to help others too.
Recently at a regional Secular Franciscan gathering I met two men who had read my blog with interest in the past and were positively influenced. I’ve also been using Tumblr.com for the past year as it integrates well with my iPhone and Instagram which I thoroughly enjoy. I’ve become in the words of one of Secular Franciscans a photo-journalist.
Recently I attended a formation workshop on “Servant Leadership” sponsored by the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Region of the Secular Franciscan Order. I’ve been a member of the Secular Franciscan Order since 2000 and professed since April 2002. I was once fraternity minister of the St. Irenaeus OFS Fraternity in West Clarksville, New York. At our fraternity gathering in February of this year I volunteered to take on the leadership of “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation” for our own fraternity. I also volunteered to attend the workshop on “Servant Leadership.” Not really knowing why I did that, but following the spirit I traveled to the Stella Maris Retreat Center at Skaneateles, New York. While I was there I was approached about taking on a leadership position with the Kateri Region. Af first I balked and then refused despite the fact that for much of the winter and all of Lent I had been praying for direction.
Here direction fell into my lap and like Jonah I was refusing it. I have since reconsidered and sought the direction of my spiritual advisor and a good friend in the Secular Franciscan Order. I’m anxious and excited at the same time about what this opportunity will present. I hope that you will join me in praying that I will continue to follow the spirit’s lead.
Today was the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Gosh, The other three Sundays have breezed by. The sun was out today on my trip to Mt. Irenaeus and though it was a chilly 20 degrees Fahrenheit it made for an enjoyable day. Christmas is only five days distant and when I got to the Mountain I climbed out of my car with my bag of groceries. Almost immediately I was surrounded by a small flock of chickadees who welcomed me home. Coming to Mt. Irenaeus always seems like home especially if I’ve been away a week or two. Today, once again the chickadees lit in my hand and I’ve embedded a video that I took with my Flip Camera. I feel so blessed to have these little fellows land in my hand. It’s very inviting and true to the Mountain’s mission they have a way of making all things new in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Lou McCormick, OFM today’s celebrant, asked me to read the Second Reading today and I also got to bring up the gifts along with fellow Secular Franciscan, John Dutcher. Today’s attendance was small due to the end of the semester at St. Bonaventure University, but these smaller gatherings are always a bit more intimate and that is very enjoyable for me. After brunch was complete I drove down to Olean, New York for a bit of shopping and then stopped by St. Elizabeth Motherhouse, the home of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. They have a lovely creche that I like to visit during the holidays. I also spent sometime in their chapel. I arrived in time for Eucharistic adoration. Thank you very much to the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany who were my teachers from Kindergarten through some of high school.
Yesterday, I drove over to Mt. Irenaeus for the celebration of the Mountain’s 25th Anniversary. I’ve been a part of the last ten of those years and also as Minister of the St. Irenaeus Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order I was to be part of a ceremony marking the profession of two of our candidates. Originally all of the festivities were to occur outside and under some tents on the retreat centers spacious grounds. Mother nature had other plans as snow began falling Thursday night and by midday on Saturday there was 7 inches on the ground at Mt. Irenaeus.
Outside activities were not to be yesterday. So, everything moved inside. By the time the Cyprian Consiglio concert with John Pennington began about 4 pm there were almost 200 people crowded into the House of Peace. I’ve never seen so many people in the house and was amazed that the structure sustained it. I have heard Cyprian and John before and there music is great. Cyprian had much to say about St. Francis and one of the songs he and John performed really touched my heart and those who were at the concert yesterday. St. Francis of Assisi’s “Praises of God” are said to be influenced by the 99 beautiful names of God that he learned from his encounter with the Sultan.
Bismilah, Bismilah. ArRahman, ArRahim, bismilah
That translates, “In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful.” We were blessed by Cyprian’s music and ministry. Mass followed the concert and then the profession of two of our newest Secular Franciscans. It was a great day.
This week I actually attended more liturgical services at St. Bonaventure University than at any other time in my life. Since I’m now a graduate student there that is probably not too surprising, but it was a personal first. Last week I attended Sunday Mass and again this evening I joined the university community for a lovely Eucharist in the university chapel. When I first moved to the area in 1979 I used to come and sit in this chapel. I always liked it’s architecture and the peace that surrounded it. Tonight during the service I could hear a flock of geese as they were honking their way overhead. That seemed quite Franciscan as tonight we were marking the Feast of St. Francis. Last night I joined the university and local community along with Friars, Sister and Seculars as we marked the Transitus of St. Francis and renewed our commitment to follow the Gospel way of life in the manner of our seraphic father St. Francis. I felt honored and humbled to be in the presence of so many holy men and women. I’m grateful to be a Franciscan. I’m definitely one of the lesser brothers of the Secular Franciscan Order, but I am nonetheless a brother and follower of our Christ and St. Francis. Pace e Bene!