Confraternity of Penitents Monthly Newsletter -- July 2019
SPIRITUAL ASSISTANT’S ADVICE: FOLLOWING JESUS
(This month’s column is written by Sister Karolyn Grace, a Poor Clare nun who is a spiritual assistant to the Fort Wayne, Indiana, chapter of the Confraternity of Penitents.)
“I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” (Luke 9:57 – 58)
It was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, and the blazing summer heat was liturgically appropriate in our enclosure chapel where we Poor Sisters of St. Clare were welcoming one of our dear newly ordained diocesan priests to offer Mass. Packed in side-by-side with bare feet, but full habits, we could hear a little fan humming and announcing repeatedly that it is officially hot in an attempt to cool a new priest in his beautifully adorned vestments. Nuns can be an uncommon group to preach to, but we were caught immediately as this father in Christ picked this unusual setting to share a secret about “R and R.”
Summer is an ideal time to reflect on “Rest and Relaxation,” as people take extra time for leisure, reunions, and vacations. Of course, this can all be healthy and good and part of God’s plan for us. And yet we hear in the Gospel words that captivated our holy father St. Francis and our holy mother St. Clare. Jesus declares that He has "nowhere to rest . . .” For us Franciscans who aspire to live the holy gospel in its fullness, we might see not only a challenge, but also an invitation from the Heart of Jesus. Even foxes and birds have places to live and rest. Yet Jesus is revealing His Heart as He says to someone who wants to follow Him that He has no home.
If you take a moment now and tell Jesus that you will follow Him wherever He goes, how would this reply strike you? In a commentary on St. Matthew, from a parallel passage, Father Simeon* rephrases this response of Our Lord: “Can you do it? Can you follow me, as you say, but only me, even if that means that I have nothing to reward you with except myself? Are you sure you can wholly dispense with any ulterior expectations, things you imagine I can give to you?”
In the gift of our Franciscan charism, we can find extra cause for rejoicing in this reality of following Christ and following Christ for Himself alone. Francis and Clare didn’t want anything but Christ. It was so clear that voluntary poverty was the fast lane to this pure love of Christ for Himself. As our holy mother St. Clare proclaims, “O blessed poverty, who bestows eternal riches on those who love and embrace her!”
By the help of Lady Poverty, Christ Himself becomes our only Home, Refuge, Security, Rest. We penitents can say, “Poverty is ‘homey’!” And as we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus, learning to trust in His Presence and finding joy in the gospel even amid our sufferings, we will wish to reciprocate a place of rest.
Maybe Jesus didn’t have a place to rest His head on earth, but I believe He always had a place to rest His Heart. Our Blessed Mother Mary, who had the privilege of carrying the Son of God in her womb, is also the model of perfect receptivity to Jesus. In Her Immaculate Heart Jesus was always welcomed and honored and cherished.
It may be of interest in this reflection to note that St. Francis’ rule of life for the Third Order begins: “The Memorial of what is proposed for the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, living in their own homes, begun in the year of our Lord 1221, is as follows . . . “ Perhaps the gospel passage about Christ having no place to rest His head could be an opportunity to reflect on how Christ is welcomed in our homes. Of course, most importantly would be the living atmosphere of charity in whatever particular situations we find ourselves. But as Franciscans, we can also find profit in a certain simplicity that makes room for Jesus. Is a crucifix or other image of Our Lord given a place of honor? Also, we should bear in mind that poverty for love of God should include a certain beauty and cleanliness that shows the dignity of our vocation before our Creator. Jesus has set His gaze on Jerusalem (cf Lk 9:51). He is coming just at our house! May He find rest within us.
The young priest who spoke on a hot day in a cloister put a spin on the “R and R” that should delight as penitents. “Reparation and Reconciliation” are the two R’s that will console the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And as we grow in these R’s, we will uncover a third R: Rejoicing! --Sister Karolyn Grace, PSSC
* Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1996, page 354 (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis).
CFP HOLY ANGELS GIFT SHOP: Prayer Cards—CFP Exclusives!
The CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop offers several different prayer cards which are exclusively our own. The above card is one example. These cards are 2” x 3.5” and retail for 25c each. Buy any 10 cards (mix and match) which have RC in the SKU number (the RC 25c prayer cards) and get the 10th card free! For USA locations, postage would be $1 for the first 7 cards and then 50c for each additional 7 cards thereafter. For overseas postage, please contact us. Checks can be mailed to the CFP Holy Angels Gift Shop, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN 46803 USA. Full selection of the prayer cards is at cfpholyangels.com.
MONTHLY LETTER TO ALL PENITENTS: INSIGNIFICANT CREATURE PART 2
Hello, brothers, sisters, and friends. I just wanted to share a few lines with you about an experience I had out on the prison yard, back in the summer of 2018. I was walking out on the yard with Brother St. Francis. He was praising the Lord for the Little Flower, who has been so devoted since the beginning. All of a sudden Francis was called up to the third heaven, in the body or out of the body I don’t know. He looked a little out of the body to me.
As he was caught up, we walked by an earthworm, struggling for its very life, because it was hot and dry. The sun, the very thing that gives it life, was now killing it. St. Francis did not see it, but I did. I started thinking to myself, “It needs our help.” I knew St. Francis would not mind if I disturbed his contemplation, because I know how he feels about creation.
I said, “Brother Francis, we need to go back and help that worm.” We went back, and the worm was moving all around, trying everything to save its own life. Oh, how many times I have been in that very situation, not knowing what to do, but with God’s way, things work themselves out in the end.
I picked the worm up off the ground, and it was just wiggling all around my hand, and I thought, “What to do?” God said, “Breathe.” So, as I had the worm cupped in my hand, I breathed my moist breath into it. It became dead still. The moisture from my breath gave it exactly what is needed.
How many times has God done the exact same for us? He nourishes us and gives us exactly what we need. Do we take it for granted, or thank God for it? Do we really see the Holy Spirit giving us the life that God wants us to have? Have we thanked Jesus for what he does for us, by the actions of our lives? Have we thanked our Mother for saying yes and the example She gives? Have we thanked the saints for praying for us and giving us what they received? Do we listen to the Angels speak and feel their presence? And so on.
Well, I took the worm over to the water spigot, dropped it down into a little water, then let it go into the moist soil. The worm said, “Thank you,” and went about “its Way.”
(Study the Way: Acts 18.26; 19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14,22. IS 40.3;, Ex. 13.21, IS 35.8, 43.16-19/ 48.17. 15.10, 62.10-21).
--Thank you, CFP, for formation! Timothy Strickland, Alessandro Ministry, Associate Who Has Completed Formation
NO GREATER LOVE: THE WORD AS JUDGMENT
When we contemplate the Word of God, it comes to us certainly as our salvation but also as our judge. This can be very uncomfortable. In his book Prayer, theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar explains for us why this is true. What God tells us is his truth, not ours. It only becomes ours in so far as he speaks it and gives it to us, in so far as we submit to it. To the extent that we fail to submit to it and rebel against God, the word becomes our judgment. It is impossible, therefore, to enter into the truth of the word except as those who are judged, recognizing that our "being apart from the word" has been condemned and sentenced. This judgment takes place "once" (ἅπαξ) with an iron necessity, utterly fixed and unshakeable, at the point where God pronounces his condemnatory No to sin, to the old sinful aeon. The center of this No is the cross; all particular judgments, whether relating to individual men and women on their entry into the Church, or to particular phases of their earthly lives (in confession for instance), or to the believer's whole existence which is summed up after his death in a final conspectus (in the "particular" judgment) --- all these are only applications of that central judgment. There is only one economy of salvation and, in it, the cross (the sign of the Son of Man coming in the clouds) is the alpha and omega of all judgment.
Von Balthasar next tells us what this means for each particular Christian. Confronted with the word of God, the Christian experiences a division within himself which shows up sin's self- contradictory character. As a baptized person he has undergone the judgment of the word of God; in principle he has abjured the dominion of the demons which lie under God's damnation, to which he formerly was subject; he has acknowledged God's truth to be his own, Christian truth in place of Satan's lie. But he cannot manage to keep this "baptismal vow" unbroken throughout his earthly life. He falls into sin, whether light or grievous, not merely through inadvertence or physical weakness but also, always, by spiritually rebelling against the truth of the word (otherwise we could not speak of moral guilt). If, where grave matter is concerned, he opposes his own word to God's word in complete free will, he commits mortal sin. If, however, he does this in a grave matter but not in a fully free and conscious way, or in a light matter (which he knows to be such), so that he does not reject the fundamental authority of the word in his life, his sin is only venial. Even here, however, he introduces a contradiction into his own existence; indeed, he contradicts his own word, for he maintains that he is a Christian and (in his baptismal vow) has actually sworn so solemnly. And since no one is without sin, and anyone who says he is, is deceiving himself and is outside God's truth (1 Jn 1:8), it remains a fact that, for every man, as long as he lives, the word of God which brings grace also presents the aspect of judgment. Here, Von Balthasar gives us the traditional teaching on mortal and venial sin which is certainly familiar to those of us who were Catholic in the period before Vatican II. This teaching, however, has been deemphasized or rejected by much of modern moral theology. One needs to make a “fundamental” decision against God in the depths of one’s being in order to lose one’s salvation. It is taught that a person cannot lose their salvation on the basis of an individual action. This “fundamental option” teaching was rejected by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical The Splendor of the Truth. However, it has not been abandoned by many in the Church.
Theologian Von Balthasar also tells how all this relates to contemplation and especially our personal contemplation. This is particularly in evidence where man puts himself spiritually in the presence of God's word, as in contemplation. In everyday life he can banish the contradiction from his conscious mind or put off its solution to a more propitious time (which gives him a temporary sense of security); in contemplation he cannot do that. He must look the word in the eye, he must feel God's gaze upon his life, and he is obliged to condemn himself and acknowledge that God is in the right. This is one of the main reasons why people are so good at avoiding contemplative prayer; even if they affirm the necessity of it in general, they recoil from personal encounter with the word.
It is impossible to contemplate the word without the serious intention of doing justice to it in practical behavior. It demands love for God and our neighbor, and does so with such immediate and unmistakable urgency that it is pointless even to pause before this demand unless we are willing to respond. It calls for prayer, unceasing prayer, and it is at bottom sheer stupidity to respond to this demand theoretically if we allow it no claim on our life. Theological reflection on the word without the accompanying readiness for repentance is bound to lead to a heightening of the existential contradiction; many Christians are aware of this and consequently, if they have decided that they are not going to make any decisive changes for the better in their lives, they are honest (in a way) in leaving contemplation alone.
Finally, Von Balthasar tries to correct the contemporary image of Jesus as only the gentle Lamb of God but not the fiery judge as he is portrayed in the Book of Revelation. The contemplative must have the courage to face the Word's sharp sword and fiery appearance. Initially there seems to be a repetition of the Old Testament truth that no one can see God and live. To really see the Word of God in contemplation just as he is, undisguised and unveiled, without being shielded by sin and habit, must throw us to the ground "as though dead". The more insistently and mercilessly the full light of Truth approaches, the less we are able to bear it; for if the Word, "in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7) is able to fill the full measure of love before our eyes, what excuse can we make to him and his love? And if God's love so humbles itself to become the human friend of all men, does it not become (by the same token) the most implacable "foe" (as Augustine insisted) of the sinner in his obstinate refusal to love? "I will come. . . and war against them with the sword of my mouth" (Rev 2:16). The visionary describes the Logos as he goes out to do battle, his eyes like flames of fire, with his robe dipped in blood and a sharp sword issuing from his mouth "with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty" (Rev 19:11-15). No one who prays can say that this form [Gestalt] of the Word does not apply to him, but only the gentle figure of Jesus the Redeemer. If we fail to let the word's sharp edge have its effect on us, we shall always be meeting a merely imaginary Redeemer; if we fail to face the judgment of Christ every time we contemplate, we shall not perceive the distinctive quality of divine grace. The consuming fire of crucified Love is both redemption and judgment; the two are inseparable and indistinguishable. It almost does not matter which word of holy scripture the contemplative chooses; the fire to which he exposes himself will not abate until it has penetrated his inmost being, provided that he yields to it and does not draw back. "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4:12-13). This tremendous affirmation concerning the Logos applies not only to particular utterances, to occasional isolated actions on his part; it describes his very being. Every word of revelation, every word of the Old Covenant, the gospel, the epistles of the apostles and the Revelation to John clearly displays this characteristic of judgment. It will be experienced by anyone who is prepared to face it. Thus, contemplation is an anticipation of the fire of judgment, which is nothing other than the final and inescapable confrontation with the Word for all who have so far avoided it.
The criterion for our own particular judgement will be the Word. When we contemplate the Word with the aim of conforming our lives to it, we are in a sense “studying” for that final “final exam” which no one is exempt from taking. When we do this honestly it will bring us great consolation, since what other criterion for our judgement can there be other than the Word? – Jim Nugent, CFP
FOLLOWING FRANCIS, FOLLOWING CHRIST: Angels, Demons, and People
Thomas of Split remembered seeing Saint preach in the town square of Bologna in the year 1222. He remarked that his habit was filthy but that he spoke with such eloquence on angels, demons, and people, that one would think that he was highly educated. His speech was not the learned, eloquent words of theologians, but a colloquial, down to earth preaching that captivated his audience. When he was done speaking, he was thronged by the crowd who tried to touch him and even cut off pieces of his habit for relics. We can imagine how St. Francis would have felt about people acclaiming him a saint while he was still alive.
Francis was deeply aware of his own sinfulness. Even if everyone else saw only goodness and holiness, he saw his sins and failings. He often said that the good that someone does is attributed to God’s grace, so we cannot claim that as our own. We can only claim our sins and faults and failures because they come from us, not from the perfect God. On his deathbed, Francis confessed that he had not lived his Rule perfectly, and he asked forgiveness of his brothers.
Francis realized that Angels were perfect beings who, if they sinned once, became demons for all eternity. In their great wisdom, Angels understood their place in creation, and they would also understood how infinitely wiser and more powerful is God who created them. We, as human creations of the Divine’s Love, have every reason to thank God and serve him.—Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP
CONFRATERNITY PHOTO ALBUM: PAUL MICHAEL PHELAN, CFP ASSOCIATE: MAY HE REST IN PEACE
Paul Michael Phelan, a CFP Associate who had completed formation, went home suddenly to the Lord on July 3. Paul was a delightful man with a deep devotion to St. Francis and to all creation. We reproduce here one of his poems which had been printed in the December 2012 CFP Newsletter. Paul, may you rest in peace and please pray for us!
A Saint Francis of Assisi Moment
A thud is heard, and another bird has hit a window!
A female Finch is stunned, and does not want to go.
What a cute little bird! I wonder what she needs?
She does not want water, or any bird seeds!
I put her on a feeder, hanging from a branch aloft.
On this kind of cylinder feeder, she may fall off!
She looks content in a hex shape feeder, there she will stay!
Until sometime that evening, when she flew away.
You beast, wild and tame, bless the Lord.
PHOTO OF CFP LIFE PLEDGED MEMBERS AT FUNERAL FOR CFP ASSOCIATE NANCY MYER, OFS
Nancy Myer. OSF, was another CFP Associate who had completed formation and who died in 2019. Attending her funeral were CFP life pledged members (some also privately vowed) Jim Nugent, Madeline Pecora Nugent, Karen Hopersburger, and Phyllis O’Brien.
Nancy and Paul, you had met each other at a CFP Retreat, we believe. May you both have a great reunion in eternity! Please pray for us CFP’ers here who will follow you. We were so blessed to have you both as CFP Associates!
You never know what you have…until you clean your room.
I love cleaning up messes I didn’t make. So I became a mom.
My room is not dirty. I just have everything on display. Like a museum.
A clean house is a sign of no Internet connection.
And the true, short story of every parent: “My house was clean. Then the kids woke up. The end.”
REFLECTION ON THE RULE
RULE: CHAPTER III: FASTING
8. From the Pasch of the Resurrection to the feast of All Saints they are to fast on Fridays. From the feast of All Saints until Easter they are to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, but still observing the other fasts enjoined in general by the Church.
8. In keeping with section 8 of the Rule:
8a. All Fridays are days of fast for penitents. From the Feast of All Saints until Easter, penitents are to fast on Wednesdays as well. Wednesdays and Fridays are also days of abstinence, following section 6 of the Rule.
8b. Fasting guidelines shall follow current Church law and are listed in Appendix A of these Constitutions.
8c. The amount of food eaten on fast days will be particular to the individual penitent who should feel hungry but not debilitated, drowsy, or ill. The penitent should consult a spiritual director, confessor, or, if needed, a physician regarding the amount of food to be eaten.
Fasting is a traditional prayer of the body. Fasting is a sure way to tell God that we mean to sacrifice for the greater good that he wishes to bring about through this prayer of the body. Fasting is meant to be spiritually enriching, but for some people fasting is difficult. Our rule tells us that fasting should be adapted to the physical needs of the individual and not to some general rule regarding the amount of food to be taken. This means that those who are more physically active or who are larger people would generally eat more quantitatively on a fast day that people who are in active physically or who have a small physical build. The spiritual director can assist a penitent in determining how much food to allow on a fast day. The Church guidelines state that, on a fast day, two small meals and one large meal may be taken with no solid food between. However, the two small meals, if put together, should not equal in quantity the amount of food taken at the larger meal.
Penitents can determine how much food they need by seeing how they feel. For some people, not eating enough brings on dizziness, tiredness, or mental laxity. We may feel hungry and should. However, we should be able to function as well when we are fasting is when we are not. If we see a measurable difference, then we need to increase our food intake.
REFLECTION FROM A CFP FRIEND: Eucharist
Some of my favorite memories are going up as a family to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. Some years we would visit my father’s side of the family and other years my mother’s side. I often wondered if there would be enough food to feed all of us. Some of us drove a few hours, and, when we got there, we were always hungry. Thanksgiving is a time of sharing, being together and giving thanks for the many blessings that we had been given. There were always plenty of leftovers. No one left the table hungry.
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is faced with a multitude of people who are following him. They were in a remote, deserted place where there was little food. All they had among them was five loaves of bread and two fish. This multitude wasn't following Jesus because they were physically hungry. Their hearts were hungry. Back in the in 1980's Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called 'Hungry Hearts' which was influenced by Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses". Tennyson wrote this poem when he was grieving the loss of a friend and was going through some family struggles of his own. Tennyson writes, "I cannot not rest from travel. . . I am become a name: for always roaming with a hungry heart". Tennyson said that Ulysses was written under the sense of loss. That loss is what Bruce Springsteen sings about in 'Hungry Hearts', "Everybody needs a place to rest, everybody wants to have a home, don't make no difference what nobody says, ain't nobody like to be alone. Everybody's got a hungry heart".
Friend of the CFP
I always like to imagine myself in the multitude whom Jesus fed that day. People from all walks of life. Young, old. Rich and poor. Jesus’s breaking of the bread reveals to us what we all desire, what we all seek--a place at the table where we can be healed, where we can be made whole again. We hunger for a relationship not only with God but also with those around us. As Jesus gave himself for us, we are called to give of ourselves to others.
Eucharist comes from a Greek word that means' to give thanks'. That giving thanks is done in community, in union with our neighbor. Jesus presents himself in the bread and wine but is revealed to those that receive him as such. This is the Gospel vision, a recovery of one's right mind and heart. Jean Vanier writes about a Eucharist community in this way, "When I reflect on the Gospel vision, I find that it is incredible, it is a promise that we human beings can get together, it is a vision of unity, peace, and acceptance. It is a promise that the walls between people and between groups can fall, but this will not be accomplished by force". The Eucharist is not about violence. It reveals to us the mystery of the Universal Christ that is within each one of us. Ghandi understood this when in 1931 he wrote, "Whether mankind will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. The law will work whether we accept it or not. And just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the laws of nature, even so a man who applies the law of love with scientific precision can work great wonders". The Eucharist is more than giving thanks. It is a sharing of what was given to us out of great love, His body and blood that we share together. Peace. Jesse Pellow, Friend of the CFP