CONFRATERNITY OF PENITENTS NEWSLETTER-- FEBRUARY 2020
MUSINGS FROM FR. JOSEPH TUSCAN, OFM CAP. – CFP SPIRITUAL ADVISOR FOR FRANCISCAN AFFAIRS
Father Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, is the CFP’s Spiritual Advisor for Franciscan Matters. This month, he shares his thoughts on Saint Francis and Lent.
“Nothing should displease a servant of God except sin. And no matter how another person may sin, if a servant of God becomes disturbed or angry because of this and not because of charity, he is storing up guilt for himself” (Francis of Assisi, Admonition XI).
Saint Francis lived the spirit of Lent all year long. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving characterized the whole life of Saint Francis after his conversion. His religious discipline created the character in him, it is said, that would elicit virtue in people who were not virtuous. He never lost sight of the fact that he could betray God at any time. St Francis was grateful for the mercy shown to him, yet he lived with the profound realization of his human frailty and thus created a longing desire for God.
Padre Pio used to say that; "I only suffer when I don't suffer because when I suffer, I have something to offer to God." Can we take this Lent to deepen our understanding of that profound Franciscan insight? What might our suffering be? Physical? Spiritual? Emotional? Perhaps it’s the suffering we have in the disappointment of those around us? Or maybe we are disappointed in some of our leaders? Can we make of all those sufferings an offering to God not only for our own purification but also for the renewal and purification of others and of the Mystical Body of Christ? Let us use this Lent to re-embrace the genius of our founder and the freedom it brings through prayer, penance and acts of charity. God bless you all and have a blessed Lent.
“That person truly loves his enemy who is not hurt by an injury done to him, but, because of love of God, is stung by the sin of his soul. Let him show him love by his deeds” (Francis of Assisi, Admonition IX)
NO GREATER LOVE: CHRIST, THE SPIRIT, AND THE FLESH
As we contemplate the tension in our lives between flesh and spirit, we encounter the problem that our human flesh is not totally under the domination of our human spirit. St. Paul describes this problem in his letter to the Romans. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind. And making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:21-24). Here St. Paul is writing about what we now call original sin, our natural attraction to evil. What is the answer? In the next sentence, St. Paul gives us the answer. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Rom 7:25) Thus, we absolutely need the Grace of Jesus Christ to set our spirit and flesh in a right relationship.
In his book Prayer, theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar tells us more about our need for Christ in our contemplation. If we wish to find a theological and practical path through these many and varied interrelated aspects, christology will show us the best way. While it is true to say that Christ became flesh on account of our sins, that does not exhaust the meaning of his incarnation. Nor, having accomplished our redemption, did he again strip himself of human nature and return to "naked divinity". In the first place, therefore, all Christian contemplation must focus on that historical event in which the Father's Word appears on our side and speaks to us---sinners that we are, certainly---in a language we can understand. This is the language of flesh in its humble condition, and it can do no harm if the contemplative who desires to soar to God's pure spiritual realm is also humbled by being obliged to contemplate the Word-become-flesh; thus he will learn to understand what, in its plainest language, God's love has to say to him. In his contemplation he is to confess that he is the sinner who stands in need of such language since, in Adam, he too has fallen and has lost the ability for direct communication with the Creator which was proper to Paradise prior to the Fall. It is no accident that all four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ begin with the empty tomb. He appeared in His Body, certainly His glorified Body, and ascended into heaven with His Glorified Body. Christians, therefore, cannot despise their bodies. They cannot assume that “sins of the flesh” are of no consequence since our bodies just decay in the tomb and our spirits redeemed by Christ go to heaven.
How did Jesus Christ resolve the dilemma mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans? Von Balthasar tells us that the cross of Jesus Christ is the solution to this dilemma. What we have in the cross is the expiation of human nature's displaced center of gravity which had shifted from the "spirit" to the "flesh"; we have an atonement in which the spirit undergoes its freewill yet constrained imprisonment in the flesh right to the bitter end, to the prison of hell, and thus, in this darkness, liberates the sinful senses and faculties so that, redeemed, they can fix upon God. As believers privileged to share in the Lord's resurrection, our senses acquire something of the pneumatic quality of the Lord's glorified senses even prior to our own resurrection, so that, in him and together with him, we can grasp the Father and the Spirit and the entire world beyond. On the cross, the flesh of Jesus Christ died, however that was not the only thing that died. Jesus did not die in ecstatic contemplation of the Father for the Father withdrew from Him. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice ‘Eli, Eli, laˊma sabach-thaˊni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34) Christ died both in the flesh and the spirit so that the Father could raise both in the right relationship to each other. Does this not mean that we must do the same? Hans Urs Von Balthasar tells us more about this. And if contemplation were prepared to die to all forms presented by sense and intellect in order to draw close, through nonseeing, nonhearing and nontouching, to God's sovereign form, precisely this would be a most radical discipleship of the Son. The Son would perhaps be withdrawn as contemplation's object, but only in order to incorporate the contemplative more profoundly into the Son's subjectivity, into his consummation of life in death and resurrection. We must follow the Son completely, both in His dying to the flesh and His dying in the spirit.
This brings us to the issue of the “dark night of the soul”. In the “dark night” the contemplative shares in Christ’s abandonment by the Father on the cross. Von Balthasar says that every contemplative must undergo this. Every contemplative (and not only the gifted mystic), if his contemplation is an expression of a living discipleship, must be prepared to experience the dark night to some degree. It is a sign that he is on the path of Christ, i.e., it is a sign of consolation, even though it is bound to take the form of a withdrawal of consolation. The beginner is usually granted "sensible", tangible consolations by way of encouragement; his senses and intellectual powers rejoice in the discovery of divine meaning and divine presence in the words and events of scripture. As he advances, these consolations are necessarily withdrawn from time to time and for indefinite periods, for God does not wish to be found on any other path than that of his Son's dying and rising. The spirit must die in the flesh so that the flesh may rise in the spirit. This death has taken place sacramentally and in principle in baptism (Rom 6:2 f); we must be thankful that it also takes effect in our relationship with God. We need to recognize here that it is God who controls the process. We are not to withdraw from God on purpose or out of laziness or weariness. We must always seek Him. It is His Gift that He withdraws from us in order to prepare us for something better just as his Father withdrew from His Son so that the Son could rise on Easter Sunday.
All this means that we cannot put our contemplative states into some sort of program or technique. God has His own “program” for us. Theologian Von Balthasar explains this in more detail. We would be wise, therefore, to avoid setting up rigid laws regulating the sequence, the succession of contemplative states---laws which would in any case have only a very general application. God is in control of the person who prays; he is also in control of the states in which he regards it necessary and right to place him. No sequence is irreversible; we may have undergone a severe time of aridity, of the dark night: we cannot assume that we will not have to face an even more testing time in the future. Therefore, as we have already mentioned, the three-stage structure of the via purgativa-il1uminativa[JM1] -unitiva must only be used with great care. There is no intrinsic contradiction in a Christian being led along paths of sublime union and blissful, nuptial experience of God, and finally dying in what to him feels like God-forsakenness: this could in fact be one of the highest forms of union with the Lord, who ended his earthly existence in a night of the senses and of the spirit.
We see in Jesus Christ the most extreme tension between Spirit and Flesh. Christian theology teaches that Jesus Christ was true God and true Man. As God He was pure Spirit. However, as Man He possessed a human spirit which operated through the flesh. On the Cross, through His absolute obedience to the Father, He resolved this tension and put Spirit and Flesh in their proper relationship. We could never do this ourselves. As Christians we realize that through Christ we can share in His Victory. We can and must do penance to break our attachment to earthly joys. However, that is not enough. We need to break our attachment to the gifts which God has given us so that we are attached to Him alone and nothing else. However, only God can do this for us. We have to let him do it for us by being open to everything He gives to us whether attractive to us or not attractive. Perhaps this is the most difficult aspect of our life with God.
– Jim Nugent, CFP
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Warning! There is an email going around offering pork, gelatin, and salt in a can. If you get this email, do not open it. It is spam
So if a cow doesn’t produce milk, is it a milk dud or an udder failure.
I am so old that, when I was a kid, we actually had to win receive a trophy.
We’ll be friends until we’re old and senile. Then we’ll be new friends!
Huge fight at seafood restaurant! Battered fish everywhere.
I’m taking care of my procrastination issues. Just you wait and see.
Nurse came in and said, “Doc, there’s a man in the waiting room says he’s invisible. What should I tell them?” Doc says, “Tell him I can’t see him today.”
MONTHLY LETTER TO ALL PENITENTS: GRATITUDE MATTERS
My dear Brothers and Sisters in St. Francis, have you ever contemplated Gratitude?
Have you ever discussed Gratitude with someone close to you?
Have you ever looked up the definition of Gratitude in a dictionary or even in Wikipedia?
Many people have done all four, but not as many as you might think.
In many places, gratitude is not fashionable. When you take the time to really research Gratitude in more than a cursory way, you will find that the “experts” deliver a number of short definitions. We learn that Gratitude is (1) an emotion, (2) an expression, (3) a possession, (4) a recognition of value, (5) an affirmation, (6) an internally generated something, (7) an experience, (8) a temporary feeling, (9) a trait,(10) a process of recognition, (11) a social emotion, (12) a survival value, (13) a biological function, (14) a feeling, (15) a practice, (16) a personal benefit, (17) a behavioral practice, (18) a facilitator, (19) a mood, (2) an attitude, (21) a disposition, (22) an appreciation, (23) a quality, (24) an act, and (25) a process.
I am happy the “experts” all agree: Gratitude is something. I am relieved to know that Gratitude is not nothing. Take a minute and contemplate these highly informative definitions. Gratitude is an experience. Gratitude is a practice. Gratitude is an act. Wow, who would have guessed? I have just found 25 definitions that tell us nothing. Water is wet and hot is not cold. I am getting smarter all the time. I feel wonderful about my intellectual growth. I thank the experts for this because I wish to express my gratitude. But how will I do that? I have so many choices. So why not get real?
How can I show my Gratitude as a Franciscan? Let’s see, I don’t want to facilitate anything so that leaves that expert out. Also, I don’t want to practice anything. I want to do it for real. I suppose that eliminates another expert. I better be careful. Soon I will have to express my Gratitude all by myself regardless of my mood or disposition. I may not even gain a personal benefit. I may just have to express my Gratitude because I love God that much, just God and myself together, creature and Creator, one with one in the Cosmos.
No expert telling me how to love my truly great Love. How can this be? Not one of these experts linked Gratitude with Love. How could I possibly have the nerve to do this? Do I think I know more than them? I wonder. I contemplate the mystery. What a question! As I listen to God’s invitation to accept His Love and love my Divine Father back, I can only stand in awe and utter: “I Love You O Holy One, My God”.
The only way I know how to express my Gratitude to “My God and My, All” is simply to Love Him as He calls me to Love Him. God made the first move. God called and God invited. I must listen, forever listen, and respond. God is Love, God is Gratitude. I barely see God’s radiance of Holiness with my feeble sight, but my soul senses it. I want everyone to love God not for their sake alone, but because God is so wonderfully lovable that everyone should love Him because He is lovable and yet beyond understanding. The Mystery is real.
This, then, is the path of Gratitude. I see it now more clearly. Gratitude is a habit of the will. It is virtue. Strange the experts never mentioned that Gratitude is a virtue. What kind of gratitude is disconnected from Love and not formed as Virtue? It is not any kind of gratitude that is enduring.
The experts also tell us that: “Many cognitive factors influence how much gratitude any of us can feel in any situation.” Really? This is not Gratitude; it is rational reciprocity, a tit for tat. The poet in me says that Gratitude is the dance of Angels. It is the admiration of God for His Angels and the admiration of the Angels for their Creator. It is the never ending dance that God invites us to join.
What people generally experience when they attempt to express gratitude is not this Divine Gift. Rather, they merely display an attitude or a mood that is disconnected from virtue. Authentic Gratitude, however, immerses one in the Divine Dance of the Angels. Aren’t we fortunate to know such a gracious God? When you see the Goodness of the Lord, your love deepens proportionally, and you have reached the threshold of impossibility as it becomes impossible to hold back the expression of Gratitude because Gratitude is Love.
So now we return to the beginning and ask the question one more time: What is Gratitude? It is everything because it is Love. The Mystic is incapable of loving without expressing Gratitude. Love and Gratitude are intimately united. Gratitude is much more than what the experts would have us believe. Gratitude is a state of being in active relationship with God. It is the mystical dance through which Gratitude nourishes Love and Love nourishes Gratitude in infinite deepening always new.
God bless us all. I am so grateful to be a Franciscan. I wish to express my Gratitude to the Confraternity of Penitents. Thank you for loving God.
Raymond Newkirk, CFP
REFLECTION ON THE RULE
All are daily to say the seven canonical Hours, that is: Matins1, Prime2, Terce3, Sext4, None5, Vespers6, and Compline7. The clerics are to say them after the manner of the clergy. Those who know the Psalter are to say the Deus in nomine tuo (Psalm 54) and the Beati Immaculati (Psalm 119) up to the Legem pone (Verse 33) for Prime, and the other psalms of the Hours, with the Glory Be to the Father; but when they do not attend church, they are to say for Matins the psalms the Church says or any eighteen psalms; or at least to say the Our Father as do the unlettered at any of the Hours. The others say twelve Our Fathers for Matins and for every one of the other Hours seven Our Fathers with the Glory Be to the Father after each one. And those who know the Creed and the Miserere mei Deus (Ps. 51) should say it at Prime and Compline. If they do not say that at the Hours indicated, they shall say three Our Fathers.
CONSTITUTIONS: SECTION 12. (Sections 12a, 12b, 12c, and 12d were discussed previously)
12e. All should renew the consecration of themselves and the Confraternity to Our Lady. The recommended prayer of consecration of the Confraternity, The Marian Consecration Prayer, is in Appendix B of these Constitutions.
12f. All are to pray a daily formal prayer (office) of some kind. The preferred method is to use the Liturgy of the Hours (breviary).
12g. For those who have no breviary, other offices approved by the Church may be substituted. These include the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin or the Office of the Passion.
12h. For those without breviaries or copies of other offices, certain Psalms may be substituted for each of the hours. These are listed in Appendix C of these Constitutions.
12i. If a penitent cannot read or has no Bible, breviary, or Office book, the penitent may pray Our Father's, Hail Mary's, and Glory Be's in place of each office as directed below under Option Four.
12j. All penitents are to pray daily Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, preferably using the Liturgy of the Hours. Morning Prayer (Lauds, called Prime in the Primitive Rule) is to be prayed between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. Evening Prayer (Vespers) is to be prayed between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. Night Prayer (Compline) is to be prayed right before retiring for bed.
12k. In addition, for Morning Prayer, all are to add the Apostles' Creed and Psalms 51 ("Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love," etc.) and 54 ("Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might," etc.) and 119 ("Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord") up to verse 32. If a penitent cannot read, he or she should endeavor to memorize the psalms. If this is not possible, three additional Our Fathers may be said.
12l. For Night Prayer, right before retiring for bed, all are to add Psalm 51 and the Apostles' Creed. If the penitent cannot read Psalm 51, an Our Father may be substituted.
12m. The Glory Be to the Father is to be prayed after each psalm.
These sections of the Constitutions indicate that the Liturgy of the Hours is the preferred prayer option for the Confraternity of Penitents and its members. However, several other options are available, some of which are delineated in these constitutions and others which will be delineated in future months. All of the prayer options are explored under Section 12 of the Constitutions. The purpose of prayer is to keep the penitent in continual union with God, and thus prayers are prayed throughout the day. An individual’s personal circumstances will help determine what prayers are to be said. The important point is to keep praying so that we keep in contact with God. The prayer options are fully discussed in Novice One formation, and a prayer option is selected that works for the penitent and is in line with the Rule and Constitutions.
Why are penitents consecrated to the Blessed Mother? Because she is the Mother of Christ, and because Christ gave her to us as our Mother! Therefore, we certainly can ask our Blessed Mother to bring our intentions before the Lord. Like any good mother, our Blessed Mother will want to assist us as much as she knows is good for us. Therefore, consecrating ourselves to her means remembering her along with the Lord every time we act, pray, and speak. This brings her into our lives intimately for a good mother should be part of the life of her beloved child.
You will notice that the first penitents prayed seven hours a day. Why is that? Those hours are mentioned in Scripture as times the Jewish people, and hence the apostles, prayed. We pray throughout the day to remind us that God is near and that we need him. Whatever prayer option you select, try to pray throughout the day at specific times to continually call yourself back to God’s presence even when your busyness tends to take you away from awareness of Him.
The early penitents added the Glory Be after each psalm. So do we modern penitents. Why? The Glory Be is a praise song to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It reminds us to thank God and praise Him and does, indeed do both. Scripture admonishes us to be thankful always and to praise God continually. The Glory Be prayer enables us to do this every time we pray the Divine Office. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Penitents pray Psalm 51 both in the morning and in the evening, reminding themselves that they are, indeed, repentant for their sins. In the evening, The Apostles Creed is prayed so that penitents go to sleep remembering the truth of their faith and taking time to ponder them, at least for the length of time that they pray this prayer. Thus prayer hedges in the penitent’s day.
CFP PHOTO ALBUM: BRING OUT THE DESSERTS!
Feast of the Holy Family Gathering at CFP Headquarters—Bringing out the desserts!