Tag Archives: Saint Francis

23 May: Pentecost

Homily by Fr Stefan Acatrinei

I posted this homily in the dark days of January; it was a relief to read of a great gathering of the faithful when that had been impossible for almost a year. Whatever restrictions we are under when Pentecost day comes, enjoy reading Stefan’s homily! Will

Dear brothers and sisters,

We celebrate today the feast of Pentecost which is also the birthday of our mother, the Church. Mothers enjoy giving gifts than rather just receiving them. Actually, the only gift which they really enjoy, according to my own experience (and I guess this is universally valid), is the presence of their children. So, here we are: to please Her with our presence and let Her make us happy with Her teaching.

I don’t know how you find today’s readings, but the atmosphere described by the Acts of the Apostles (2: 1–11) is very familiar to me. This familiarity is not due to the fact that I’ve studied the New Testament, nor it is because I know Jerusalem, for I’ve never been there, but simply because I’m living in Canterbury. The author of the reading says that there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven”, and he mentions 16 different nationalities. To be honest, I don’t think that we have in Canterbury people from “every nation under the earth”, but I’m quite sure that we have representatives from more than 16 countries. Right now in our chapel, I know people from at least 11 different nationalities; and then if we take into account those who will attend the next Mass, this total number of people is increased. This parallel makes me see a certain similarity between what was going on in Jerusalem, nearly 2000 years ago, and what is happening here right now in our own city, but, of course, that’s not the point. So, we should explore a little more.

By the way, why were those people in Jerusalem? The author tries to give us a clue, by telling us they were “devout Jews”, but he refuses to give an exhaustive answer to our question. Anyway, being told that they were devout, it is not difficult to presume that some were there to fulfil a religious obligation, because Pentecost was the second of the three great Jewish Feasts; others were there to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to thank God for it, or just to pray, to ask for help from God; some, perhaps, were there for business reasons or out of curiosity, or ambition. Anyway, whatever their motives might have been, one thing is certain: they all were driven by the powerful, though invisible, engine which can generate both positive and rewarding feelings, or negative and unsatisfactory feelings, named by us as “desire”. Saint Paul though, in today’s second reading, says that every person can be led either by a spirit of slavery or by the Spirit of God (Romans 8: 8–17). This is wonderful.  It means that everybody is free to follow one of two guides.

A good example would be to look at our seraphic Father, St. Francis. We know that his life was abundantly animated by this energy, which we call desire. Since childhood he sought to develop the desire for human glory, which was seen by him as the only way to happiness. His ambition and the economic possibilities he received from his father nourished his humanity and directed him towards that end, but instead of finding happiness, he experienced a terrible disappointment, which led him to rethink. Once he identified and experienced the right desire, which led him to taste real happiness, he never ceased to recommend it to his friars; he writes: “that above all, they should wish to have the Spirit of the Lord working within them” (Later Rule X, 8)

You may ask, what does all of this have to do with us today?  We are baptized and confirmed and have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us. We are totally immersed in the life giving Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.  What does this entail?  St. Paul gives us a comprehensive explanation.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In chapter twelve, he says that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord.  Indeed that makes us powerful people. However St Paul also insists that all these gifts are for the benefit of helping others, for building the community of the church.

I hope that you don’t mind if I refer to St. Francis of Assisi again. We all know that he was asked by Christ to rebuild His church, a mission which he, actually, carried out by making use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of his life, he wanted to share the secret of his success with the generations which would follow him, so he wrote it down in his Testament: “no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel” (Testament 14).

Dear brothers and sisters, I guess, we all know what it means to be faced with a challenging situation, I mean to have to make important decisions for our own life or for the lives of our beloved ones. Where do we look for advice? Saint Francis, wanting to help the beginner on their spiritual journey, used to say: “If they ask advice, the ministers may refer them to some God-fearing brothers” (Later Rule II, 8). Counsel and fear of the Lord are gifts of the Holy Spirit and Jesus gave us this guarantee concerning these gifts: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 2:26).

Now, unlike the devout Jews from Jerusalem, we have not been gathered here by any strange sounds of wind blowing, but I strongly believe that we have been driven here by the same Spirit. We are in this chapel not just to fulfil a religious obligation, but out of love for Him, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is eager to make a new dwelling within us.

Fr. Stefan Acatrinei OFM

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26 February: the Way of Penance

There has been an intimacy about our walks in the countryside during this virus time: Mrs Turnstone, our daughter and I have trodden paths, lanes and byways, often along the Pilgrims’ Way that crosses Kent, making for Canterbury and then down to Dover for Rome or Compostella. Sister Margaret offers us the insight that the way of penance is the way of intimacy with God.

The way of penance, the life of penance, is a call to a life of intimacy and union with God. The way of penance began for Francis, as we have seen, with an experience of God that radically changed his whole life. Because of this he was able to take up daily this life of penance, this daily turning away from himself to His God. It was through this way, the way of penance, that Francis found union with God.

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24 February: Three Elements of Penance.

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St David’s Cathedral

We continue with Sister Margaret’s reflections on Penance as lived by Saint Francis.

Penance, as metanoia then, has three main elements:

  • An innermost change of heart under the influence of the Word of God;
  • Changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart;
  • Bringing forth fruits worthy of penance.

Putting this another way, we then see that penance consists of three key elements:

  • Conversion: a change of mind, a change of heart, a turning from self to God;
  • Repentance: this change of heart, this conversion, reflects itself in a change of life (style, habits formed, etc.)
  • Fruits of Penance: the change of life results in the fruits of penance, in doing penance, in doing good deeds

By way of conclusion … it is important that we realise from the above that for Francis the life of penance begins with God, the initial action comes from God, and then come the visible signs of repentance. This fact is crucial to a true understanding of Franciscan Penance.

This ties up completely with the biblical teaching of penance as metanoia in which conversion (turning from self to God) is the central dynamic of the life of penance. For Francis, and for us, the way of penance is the way of choosing God in response to His invitation, the way in which God, and not ourselves, becomes the very centre of our existence.

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23 February: under the influence of the Word of God.

More wisdom from Sister Margaret.

I finally found what John the Baptist and Christ were saying to us in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance. There he says, The term and the very concept of penance are very complex. If we link penance with the metanoia which the synoptics refer to, it means the inmost change of heart, under the influence of the Word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom. But penance also means changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart and in this sense, doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance. It is one’s whole being that becomes penitential.

St. John Paul has here recalled to us the true meaning of penance as found in the Scriptures: penance as metanoia. This was the penance rediscovered by Francis in the thirteenth Century. Over the centuries this meaning of penance once again became lost as emphasis was placed more and more on the externals of penance, with the interior meaning being either forgotten or overlooked.

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MMG

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21 February: Doing Penance: What did Saint Francis mean?

Zakopane, Poland

Sister Margaret gave me the following week’s posts when Lent was already filled, so I’ve had them filed away. It’s a privilege to offer her Franciscan perspective on Lent this year.

In the first three verses of his Testament,Francis of Assisi reveals to us that he had discovered anew the true meaning of penance. He does this by saying: The Lord granted me to begin to do penance in this way: while I was in sin it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. Note that, for Francis, the life of penance was a gift from God.

If we even begin to mention the word penance today the majority of people start to close up inside themselves as negative words and feelings flow into their minds and senses. Penance, they think, that awful practice where I have to do something that is uncomfortable to me.

How often, when the season of Lent in particular is drawing near, have we heard the question, or been asked it ourselves: What are you doing for Lent? The next words you might then hear are: I know what I am going to do. I’m giving up sweets and cakes – and I might even lose some weight while I am about it.

Is that really what Lent is all about, what penance is about, where the whole focus is on me with no mention of God and it’s all rather negative? Is that what Pope Innocent III was commissioning Francis to do when in 1209, orally approving Francis’ proposed Way of Life, he instructed him and his followers: Go with the Lord, brothers, and as the Lord will deign to inspire you, preach penance to all. Is that really what Francis meant when he sent his eight brothers out telling them: Go my dearest brothers, two by two into the various parts of the world, announcing to men peace and repentance?

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MMG

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10 December, Relics XXIX: Our Lady of Loreto

I wonder about this feast. This site is more than respectful of relics but angels carrying a house from Palestine to Italy? That does not move me to prayer.

Even, dare I say it, the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Saint Francis died, seemed lost in the basilica erected over and around it, and did not call me to my knees. Maybe I’d never make a Franciscan, and this site is more than respectful of Franciscans. And of Saint Francis.

It’s not just saints’ places that we value, and not just Christians that troop around palaces, or Gilbert White’s rectory, or the home of a teenaged Beatle to be, or even Dylan Thomas’s writing place overlooking the Estuary in Laugharne. We may not touch the exhibits or sit on the chair but we breathe in the air, sort of.

I doubt the authenticity of the site at the top of this blog, the reputed house of the Visitation, where Elizabeth welcomed Mary, who had come to be a home-help for her pregnant cousin. But the shrine is a reminder that this story is about two flesh and blood women and their flesh and blood sons. The statues show them about to burst into song and dance, which they surely did: Luke 39-56 is almost all poetry and song.

So today, let’s celebrate two real women who lived in real houses and raised real families. And may we heed Elizabeth’s son’s call to prepare the way for Mary’s son, however strange a Christmas we might be expecting.

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10 October, Little Flowers LXXXII: Dens in the Woods 6.

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

And the feast of the Assumption being now come, Saint Francis began the holy fast with great abstinence and severity, mortifying his body and comforting his spirit with fervent prayers, vigils, and scourglngs ; and in these prayers ever growing from virtue to virtue he made ready his soul to receive the divine mysteries and the divine splendours, and his body to endure the cruel assaults of the demons, with whom he oftentimes fought in sensible form.

It befell on a time during that fast, that Saint Francis leaving his cell one day in fervour of spirit and going aside a little to pray in a hollow of the rock, from the which down to the ground is an exceeding deep descent and a horrible and fearful precipice, suddenly the devil came in terrible shape, with a tempest and exceeding loud roar, and struck at him for to push him down thence. Saint Francis, not having where to flee, and not being able to endure the grim aspect of the demon, he turned him quickly with hands and face and all his body pressed to the rock, commending himself to God, and groping with his hands, if perchance he might find aught to cling to. But as it pleased God, who suffereth not His servants to be tempted above that they are able to bear, suddenly by a miracle the rock to which he clung hollowed itself out in fashion as the shape of his body, and so received him into itself, and like as if he had put his hands and face in melted wax, even so was the form of the face and hands of Saint Francis imprinted on the rock; and thuswise helped of God he escaped out of the hands of the demon.

But that which the demon could not then do unto Saint Francis, to wit, push him down thence, he did a good while after the death of Saint Francis, unto one of his dear and pious brothers, who was setting in order some pieces of wood in the selfsame place, to the end that it might be possible to win there without peril, out of devotion to Saint Francis and the miracle that was wrought there, on a day the demon pushed him, while he had on his head a great log that he wished to set there, and made him fall down thence with the log upon his head. But God that had preserved and delivered Saint Francis from falling, through his merits delivered and preserved his pious brother from the peril of his fall; for the brother, as he fell, with exceeding great devotion commended himself in a loud voice unto Saint Francis; and straightway he appeared unto him, and catching him, set him down upon the rocks, without suffering him to feel or shock or any hurt.

Then the other brothers having heard his cry as he fell, and deeming him dead and dashed in pieces by reason of his fall from such a height upon the sharp rocks, with great sorrow and weeping took up the bier and came from the other side of the mountain for to gather up the fragments of his body and bury them. When they were come down from the mountain, that brother that had fallen met them with the log upon his head wherewith he had fallen, and he was singing Te Deum laudamus1 in a loud voice.

1We praise you, O God.

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8 October, Little Flowers LXXX: Dens in the Woods 4.

York Minster

Saint Francis was one day thinking on his death and of the state of his Order when his life was done, and saying: “O Lord God, what will become of Thy poor little family after my death, the which of Thy goodness Thou hast entrusted to me a sinner? who will pray to Thee for them? and other such words. There appeared unto him an Angel sent by God, and comforted him, saying : “I tell thee in the name of God, that the profession of the Order will never fail until the Day of Judgment, and there will be no sinner so great as not to find mercy with God, if with his whole heart he love thine Order, and none shall live long, that of malice persecutes thy Order. Moreover no very wicked person within thy Order, that does not amend his life, will be able to remain long in the Order.

Wherefore grieve not thyself, if in thine Order thou see certain that be not good brothers and do not observe the Rule as they ought, and think not that thereby this order will decline; for always a many shall be found therein that will perfectly observe the Gospel life of Christ and the purity of the Rule; and all such, immediately after the death of the body; and all such shall go into life eternal without passing through Purgatory; some will observe it but not perfectly, and these before they go to Paradise will be in Purgatory, but the time of their purification shall be left by God to thee.
But of him that observes not the Rule at all, take no heed, saith God, for of such He Himself taketh no heed.”

And said these words, the Angel was away, and Saint Francis comforted and consoled.

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7 October, Little Flowers LXXIX: Dens in the Woods 3.

Devils in Canterbury Cathedral! Merely migrating to the mountain did not cut the brothers off from all cares and temptations. Francis here meets Brother Leo’s need for a physical token of God’s grace and Francis’s esteem and love for him. No telling him not to be silly or superstitious! Who does not have one or two personal relics like this? Grandfather’s spade, grandmother’s bedside table; a cup, a picture …

Brother Leo being assailed by the devil with a grievous temptation, not of the flesh but of the spirit, there came to him a great desire to have some devout sentence written by the hand of Saint Francis, for he thought that if he had it, that temptation would leave him, or wholly, or in part. Having this desire, yet for shame and reverence sake he dared not tell it to Saint Francis: but what Brother Leo told him not, that did the Holy Spirit reveal. Wherefore Saint Francis called him unto him, and made him bring ink-pot and pen and paper; and with his own hand wrote the praises of Christ, even as the brother had desired; and at the end he made the sign Tau, and gave it to him, saying, “Take this paper, dear brother, and keep it diligently until thy death. May God bless thee and guard thee against all temptation. Be not downcast, because thou hast temptations ; for at such time I deem thee a friend and a better servant of God, and the more thou art assailed by temptations, the more do I love thee, Verily I say unto thee that no man should deem himself a true friend of God, save in so far as he hath passed through many temptations and tribulations.”

When Brother Leo took this writing with great devotion and faith, straightway all his temptation left him and returning to his own place, he told his companions, with great joy, what grace God had shown unto him when he took the writing from Saint Francis; and putting it aside and taking diligent care thereof, the brothers afterwards worked many miracles by its means. And from that hour forth, the said Brother Leo with great purity and with good intention began to keep watch upon and to observe the life of Saint Francis : and for his purity’s sake, he merited to see Saint Francis full many and many a time rapt in God and uplifted from the earth.

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5 October, Little Flowers LXXVII: Dens in the Woods 1

We continue celebrating Saint Francis with a series about life on Mount Alvernia, where he and a few companions lived a hermit existence. Francis and his companions are setting up a camp in the woods on the mountainside on land made available by a local landowner, Orlando.

Orlando, hearing that Saint Francis with three companions had climbed up the mount of Alvernia for to dwell there, rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and on the following day set out with many of the folk of his castle, and came to visit Saint Francis, bringing with him bread and wine and other victuals for him and his companions; and being come there, he found them at prayer, and drawing near unto them, saluted them.

Then Saint Francis arose, and with great love and gladness gave welcome to Orlando and his company, and this done, they sat them down to have speech of each other. And after they had spoken together, and Saint Francis had given him thanks for the holy mountain that he had given him, and for his coming thither, he besought him that he would let build a poor little cell at the foot of a fair beech tree, the which was a stone’s throw from the place where the brothers lived, for that place seemed to him very fit and hallowed for prayer. And straightway Orlando let build it and this done, as it was drawing near unto evening and it was time for them to depart. Saint Francis preached unto them a little, before they took leave of him.

When he had preached unto them and given them his blessing, Orlando, finding he must needs depart, called Saint Francis and his companions aside, and said unto them: “My brothers most dear, I would not have you suffer any bodily want in this wild mountain, whereby you might the less be able to give heed to spiritual things : and therefore I desire, and this I say to you for once, for all, that ye securely send to my house for whatsoe’er ye need, and if ye do otherwise, I shall take it ill of you.” And this said, he departed with his company and returned to his castle,

‘Then Saint Francis bade his companions to sit down and taught them what manner of life they ought to lead, both they and whoso desireth to live the religious life in a hermitage. And among other ‘things, he straitly laid on them the observance of holy poverty, saying: “Take not such heed unto the charitable offer of Orlando, lest ye in any thing offend our Lady and Madonna, holy poverty. Be sure that the more we despise poverty, the more will the world despise us, and the more shall we suffer want; but if we cling to holy poverty with a close embrace the whole world will follow after us and abundantly provide for us. God called us into this holy Order for the salvation of the world, and hath made this pact between us and the World, that we give unto the World a good example and the World make provision for our needs. Let us then persevere in holy poverty, seeing that this is the way of perfectness and is an earnest and pledge of eternal riches.”

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