Sunday, February 28, 2010
First and foremost in the heart of our Seraphic Father and all us is the love of Christ crucified. This love, however, has to be aided with a love for poverty for it to grow and mature. Hence we say that poverty together with love, constitute the essence of Franciscan spirituality. These elements cannot be separated because love of Christ cannot exist alone without poverty, and on the other hand, poverty alone is merely a negative virtue, a means, not an end. The purpose of our life is love, and thus poverty has no value except it be united with love.
We know that Saint Francis denied himself all things so that his entire love might be given to Love itself, and he did this ‘with his whole heart and soul, and with his whole strength.’ He realized that if he were in any way to give himself to a love other than the love of God, he would fall far short of his goal. Perfect Love will not allow itself to be divided.
Is the love of Christ and identification with Him, rightly called Christ–centered spirituality, the ultimate end of our endeavors as Franciscans? It is not, but only the proximate means to the ultimate end, the love of Infinite Love.
‘I am the way,’ Christ has told us. He was and is the way to the Father in the unity of Infinite Love.
What, then, constitutes Christ–centered Franciscan spirituality?
It is a combination of poverty and love, the means by which a Franciscan strives for a union with Infinite Love. By the detachment of oneself in all things, and by love of Christ crucified, he is transformed into Christ. In Christ, the Franciscan acquires His perfection, and he lives Christ's life. But this is done for one purpose only: that by loving Christ, he may be enabled to love the Father, and thus participate in a union with Infinite Love.
Saint Francis prays, ‘I beseech You O Lord, that the fiery and sweet strength of Holy Love, may absorb my mind from all things which are under Heaven, so that I may die for love of You Love, as You did demeaned Yourself to die for love of my love.’
Our Seraphic Father directed his love to the Incarnate and Crucified Love, so that this Love might lead him to the end he sought so tirelessly. ‘Through Him, with Him, and in Him,’ the Franciscan must work to acquire a participation in His life -- in the bosom of the Trinity, in the unity of Infinite Love. Then the heart, created for Infinite Love, may take its rest, for it has fulfilled its destiny. ‘You alone are Good, all Good, the Highest Good, the Lord God, living and true, You are charity, Love.’
Monday, February 15, 2010
Although each type of spirituality must abide by the teaching found in the Holy Gospel, it is the manner in which Saint Francis lived the Gospel that differentiates his spirituality from others. For him, the Gospel is simply Christ and His life. Indeed, the evangelical doctrine is nothing but the life of Christ, for Christ first acted and then proceeded to teach. Hence the spirituality of the Franciscan must center about the contemplation of Christ crucified.
As Saint Francis contemplated on Christ, his heart was filled with love and he desired nothing else but to become one with his Beloved. This is the result of a love that unites the lover and the Beloved; and this is the goal of every true Franciscan.
A Franciscan to be in union with the Christ crucified will only be effected when he possesses Christ Himself, and with Christ, the virtues of Christ. He becomes one with Christ by imitation of Him, transformation into Him, and identification with Him, so that he may exclaim with Saint Paul: ‘It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.’
This is the truly supernatural life. This is the Christian perfection to which we are called – the perfection of Christ in us! When the ‘old man’ is dead to himself, he makes way for the ‘new man,’ i.e., for Christ living in us, so that the mystical Christ may become one in all.
The words of Saint Paul found in the office of the Stigmata of Saint Francis, provides an excellent description of Franciscan spirituality. ‘With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.’ Saint Francis, inspired by love, lived these words. We as his followers, must also live them.
The love of Francis for Christ crucified is a response to the love for us that Christ expressed on the Cross, and it is the source of Francis' self–crucifixion by mortification, poverty, and humility. For, since the foundation of Franciscan spirituality is the love of Christ and, through that love, union with Him, this crucifixion must be undergone. It is only by crucifixion of the self through mortification, humility, and poverty, that one is transformed into Christ. This transformation into the likeness of Christ, or conformity with Christ, cannot be secured except through the destruction of the ‘old man’ in us, so that we may live as new men in Christ.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Having seen that each religious order has a spirituality that is its own, we look at our own way to holiness – the Franciscan way. The spirituality of each order is based upon the intention of its founder, to whom Christ assigned a special place and work in His Mystical Body and a particular way of holiness, along which he was to lead others to sanctity. Hence we need only to look to our Seraphic Father to find out the manner by which we are to attain holiness.
Pope Pius XII, has this to say concerning us Franciscans and our Seraphic Father: ‘The Patriarch of Assisi, the most fiery lover of the Gospel, the herald of the Great King, the shining image of Christ, wields an indescribable influence upon the hearts of all men. This influence is so great that he very frequently draws to his love even those who do not profess the Catholic Faith. How much more, then, should you who are his sons and followers, give an example of extraordinary devotion to him! Let this devotion however be evidenced more by your actions than by your words. If you truly love him, follow his precepts, walk faithfully in his footsteps, become inflamed by the inspiration of his seraphic spirit.’
We see it in the very first words of our Rule: ‘To observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, our Seraphic Father longed for the simple observance of the Gospel. In these words of the Rule we see the simple man. He was not tainted by the influences of pagan literature, philosophy or ethics. Thomas of Celano states: ‘His greatest desire and foremost purpose was to observe the Holy Gospel in all and through all things, to follow the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly and to imitate His life with all care, with consuming zeal, with his whole mind and with all the fervor of his heart.’
To do this, our way must follow that of our Seraphic Father – complete acceptance of the Holy Gospel, led solely by the rule of Divine Love with the desire for perfection and holiness, observing ‘…poverty, humility, and the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as we firmly promised.'
We see the distinguishing character of our way to God – the observance of the purity of the Gospel, which we are to keep free from any influence that would detract from its teaching. We are to live and preserve it in its integrity, vigilant lest we fall into only a partial observance of it or look upon it with the prejudiced eye. Moreover, our total dedication to its observance must find its strength in Love. ‘You shall love the Lord Your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength, and with your whole mind.'
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
CATHOLIC theology teaches us that all Christians are bound to strive for holiness as they journey toward God.Regular and secular religious, however, are to seek holiness in an incomparably greater manner than that of the ordinary Christian's. Our very vocation is to live in the state of holiness – to strive daily, even hourly, to become saints.
This manner of holiness is taken upon ourselves by our profession. The manner of obtaining perfection and holiness is proper to each religious order, although essentially perfection and holiness are the same for everyone, consisting in an intimate union with God through love, in a participation in His nature and life.
God would not establish such a variety of religious institutes and inspire their founders unless He approved this difference in their mode of spirituality. We read that, ‘each religious order should have its own nature and character and it is necessary that it preserve them, if it desires to occupy the place destined for it by God in the Mystical Body of Christ, which is beautified in many ways.’
Continuing further, we find that this goal is reached only by the imitation of Christ and identification with Him. The perfection of Christ, however, is infinite and proper to Christ alone. Perfection is achieved only in the fullness of His Mystical Body, in the unity that exists in its many members. Among these members are the various religious orders, which possess their own individual spirituality.
Each order completes this Body only by the preservation of its own spirituality, sanctifying its own members, by its own proper rule. If this is not accomplished, what further reason can there be for the existence of any particular order and its members? The religious would continue to live on, but on a false basis. They would be traitors to the original purpose of their order and would be straying completely from the path of sanctity.