Confraternity of Penitents Newsletter
FRANCISCAN SPIRITUAL ADVISOR’S THOUGHTS: THE VOCATION GOD HAS FOR ME
Holiness lies in doing God’s will. That doesn’t mean bending God’s Will to our own. It means really detaching from our own agenda and doing whatever God may ask of us.
Prayer is of the utmost importance in discerning one’s vocation in life. Pray continually to be led like a child along the path that God wants.
Detaching from our self-will is a life long struggle and quite necessary in discerning our life’s vocation. Our self-will can creep up silently and insinuate itself into our souls as quietly as a whisper, but one will discover its presence when suddenly our own desires and plans are thwarted.
Many young people feel lost about their vocation in life. It is very important to surrender daily to the LORD and not to worry. He slowly reveals His will sometimes, so the simple act of trustful surrender will not only give one peace of soul but also help one to grow and increase in virtue.
It is safe to say that doing God’s will day in and day out consists of doing one’s duty for one’s state in life. We know we are “doing God’s will” if we are faithful to the duties of our state in life! What are these “duties” for my state in life?
If you are a child in school, then it is your “vocation” to study, to obey your parents, to love God and neighbor. If you are a college aged student, the same applies but with the added duty of works of mercy for one’s neighbor in ways a little child would not be able to do. For example, a younger child may have compassion on a poor homeless person he or she sees on the way to school and can always offer a prayer to God for them. An older college student might be able to buy them a hot meal or direct them to a homeless shelter.
Doing one’s duty for one’s state in life is a very simple rule, but it is often forgotten. Even though I am a mother and wife, I may fail in my vocation by gross neglect of my duties. A husband and father may also fail in his vocation by neglecting his duties for his state in life. Same with a priest or religious. Being faithful to the duties of our state in life, where we are now and not someday in the distant future is important. Sometimes young people get so tangled up in trying to decide “what to do” with their lives that they become quite anxious, always living in the future. Anxiety is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are anxious because we are cowardly at the thought of suffering. It is important to discuss these things with a wise and holy spiritual guide.
It is true that the priesthood is a most sublime vocation that requires the renunciation of many natural goods for the sake of the Kingdom. But if it is not God’s will for a particular young man, the path to holiness for him may be to be a married man or even a single man who is free to do many works of mercy that a married man and father of children may not be able to do. Imagine if the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux had not married! We would not have St. Therese who is a doctor of the Church. God’s Will is best! –Fr. Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, CFP Spiritual Advisor for Franciscan Matters
HUMOR – TRUISMS
Apparently, its appropriate to say “Oh, look at you! You got so big!” only to children. Adults tend to get offended.
How to frighten the new generation: Put them in a room with a rotary phone, an analog watch, and a TV with no remote. Then leave directions on how to use in cursive.
NO GREATER LOVE: JESUS AND MOSES
In his Introduction to Volume 1 of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict gives us the context for understanding the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is described by Pope Benedict as the “New Moses”. The Book of Deuteronomy contains a promise that is completely different from the messianic hope expressed in other books of the Old Testament, yet it is of decisive importance for understanding the figure of Jesus. The object of this promise is not a king of Israel and king of the world---a new David, in other words---but a new Moses. Moses himself, however, is interpreted as a prophet. The category "prophet" is seen here as something totally specific and unique, in contrast to the surrounding religious world, something that Israel alone has in this particular form. This new and different element is a consequence of the uniqueness of the faith in God that was granted to Israel. In every age, man's questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation. Pope Benedict gives some very valuable reflections in this introductory chapter which are well worth reading and meditating upon them.
First, we need to see how Moses was different from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who came before him and King David who came after him. The first three patriarchs were family leaders or clan leaders. The end of the book of Genesis relates how Jacob brought his whole “house” to Egypt, at the invitation of his son Joseph who was second only to the Pharaoh, to escape a famine in Canaan. The total House of Jacob numbered seventy people. (Gen 46:27) After several hundred years in Egypt, the House of Jacob grew into a very numerous people which the Egyptians feared. Moses was the leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt. After Moses came David who was chiefly a political and military leader who defeated the enemies of Israel and governed the nation.
As distinct from David, Moses was chiefly a prophet. However, what was the role of a prophet in Israel? In Exodus 20, God gives to Moses the Ten Commandants which the Israelites were to observe. However, when the people observed the thunder, lightning, the sound of trumpet, and Mount Sinai smoking, they were terrified. They said to Moses “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18) We need intermediaries to speak for God to us. This is what Moses and the prophets after him did. While the people promised Moses “we will hear”, they did not hear for by Exodus 32 they were already worshipping the golden calf. From the time of Moses down to the present, many people neither listen to nor obey God’s appointed intermediaries.
We can see a good example of this from the time of Jeremiah the prophet. The last King of Judah who reigned with political power was King Zedekiah. He reigned from 598 to 587 BC. He had been installed as King of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon in 598 BC. However, he soon rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Jeremiah advised Zedekiah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. (Jr 38:17-23) This would seem like good practical advice since Babylon was at that time a powerful empire while Judah was small and week. False prophets gave Zedekiah contrary advice. Many false “prophets” assumed that God would never allow Judah to fall into the hands of Babylon. In fact, in 701 BC, the Assyrian General Sennacherib was forced to retreat from just outside Jerusalem when his army was destroyed by a mysterious plague. Yet, one cannot assume that God will do again what He did in the past. When the army of Nebuchadnezzar entered Jerusalem, Zedekiah fled with his soldiers but was soon captured. His sons were killed, he was blinded, and he was sent in chains to Babylon.
Moses, therefore, was a prophet who spoke for God to the people of Israel. Jesus also was regarded as a prophet by many of the people who heard Him. (Mt 21:11) However, Jesus was certainly much more than a prophet. Moses had a very close relationship with God. “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend”. (Ex 33:11) Jesus was much more than a Friend of God. He was also His Son. (Heb 1:1-2) At His Transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses, who represented the Law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets. Both then and at His Baptism, God acknowledged Him as His Son. (Mt 3:13-17, Mt 17:1-17) In the Old Covenant, Moses told the people of Israel what God expected of them through the Mosaic Law. In His Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1-7:29) Jesus did not overturn or replace the Mosaic Law; He fulfilled it. (Mt 5:17-20) The Sermon on the Mount teaches us the goal of the Mosaic Law, with all its precepts and laws and commandments. Those who heard Jesus speak were not just listening to one who spoke with God as a friend. They were listening to God.
Moses told the Israelites what God expected them to do, but he could not give them the power to do it. The people of Israel continually fell into sin beginning with the golden calf and continuing right down to the time of Jesus. In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul recognized the attraction of evil. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rm 7:16) Paul knew that we need the Grace of Jesus Christ to overcome the evil in our lives. This is why faith in the Lord is so important. (Rm 7:24-25) We need faith in order to have access to the Sacraments which give us the power to overcome sin if only we would use it. As God’s Son, Jesus could do more for us than Moses could ever do.
In the book of Numbers, we learn that some men were prophesying. When Moses’s successor Joshua, the son of Nun, asked Moses to stop them, Moses said “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them”. (Num 11:29) Moses could not give the spirit of God to the people. In the Old Covenant, God’s Spirit was given to certain people but not to everyone. For example, God’s Spirit was given to Saul (1 Sam 10:9) and later to David. (1 Sam 16:13) Jesus was able to give the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit). “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22-23) While this particular gift was given to priests, the Holy Spirit is available to anyone. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13)
Jesus also surpassed the humility of Moses. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth”. (Num 12:3) Humility is more than just admitting your weakness and failures. It is the truth. One is humble when one does not take the glory, praise and honor which is your due. Jesus did just that since He was equal to the Godhead, and yet he humbled himself down to the level of a slave or criminal as St. Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians. (Phil 2:5-11)
Moses gave the people of Israel the Mosaic Law, which is also called the Torah. Moses promised the Israelites that if they keep the commandments which God gave, God would heap blessings upon them. Their bodies would be blessed, the land would be blessed with abundant rain, and their enemies would flee from them. They would have peace and prosperity. (Deut 28:1-14) If they disobeyed the commandments which God gave them, God would curse them. Their bodies would be cursed, the land would be cursed, and they would be defeated and captured by their enemies. Eventually, they would be scattered among the nations. (Deut 28:15-68) In contrast, Jesus did not promise earthly blessings and prosperity to those who loved Him and kept His Commandments. Rather, Jesus promised that those who followed Him would be persecuted because of Him. (Mt 5-10-12) Then what did Jesus actually bring us? He gave us an intimate relationship with God in this life (the Holy Spirit) and eternal life with God in the next life. (for example, Lk 23:43). On the other hand, Jesus told us of the possibility of eternal separation from God (Hell) for those who refuse to obey the commandments of God. (Mt 5:29-30)
The Mosaic Law had the purpose of setting the chosen people, the people of Israel, apart from the other idolatrous nations around them. They were to be holy and righteous and a light to the Gentiles. (Is 42:6, 49:6) Jesus, through his followers (the Church), not only showed the nations (the Gentiles) the way to God, but brought them into intimacy with God. The promises made to Abraham and the other patriarchs by God (Gen 12:2-3 etc.) were fulfilled in Him. The writers of the Old Testament often expressed the hope that the ultimate fate of the righteous and the wicked were different. Jesus fulfilled this hope with the teaching on Heaven and Hell. Jesus gave us reason to live righteously other than just earthly prosperity which the humble and the poor did not always possess. In these and many other ways Jesus fulfilled the hopes of the just in Israel. – Jim Nugent, CFP
MORE ON OUR RULE AND MONEY: HOW A PENITENTIAL LIFE READIES US FOR INFLATION
YouTube is full of videos illustrating one aspect or another of a penitential life: Jennifer Scott and others praise the virtues of a 10-item wardrobe. Dawn Madsen shares a mom’s secrets on decluttering to live a minimal lifestyle. Lauren Singer tells us why she moved to a zero-waste lifestyle. Melissa Maker shares the decluttering secrets of a professional cleaner.
All of these videos are directly supportive of our commitment as penitents. Our Rule and Constitutions in broad terms call us to simplify our lives by decluttering (cleaning out our closets), eliminating flashy colors and patterns from our clothing, etc. These are addressed in detail during Novice 3 formation year.
Other videos tout the health benefit of intermittent fasting, which is what we do when we follow the fasting rules found in Chapter 3 of the Rule and Article 6c of our Constitutions. Fasting and abstinence are addressed in Novice 2.
In short, while we do all this and more for spiritual reasons, following in the footsteps of such people as St Mariana Of Jesus De Paredes and St. King Ferdinand III, who we are told “lived like a religious in the cloister,” elements of the penitential lifestyle are very trendy today. (What’s not trendy is 90 minutes of prayer a day, which is the foundation of the penitential sacrifice we are called to make.)
In this series I have focused on our Constitution Article 29c, which calls upon us to follow St. Paul’s command to pay up our debts so that we may engage more freely in acts of charity.
Last month I warned you that a confluence of events and policies has set the stage for a return of inflation to the U.S. for the first time in 30 years. Yes, I know. You’ll read and/or hear that “this time is different.” Don’t believe it. This inflation is almost certain to occur for two reasons. The first reason is the natural effect of too much money chasing too few goods. The second reason is that higher taxes on lower- and middle-income families are coming in 2025. Yes, I know President Biden promised he wouldn’t raise taxes on those families. He doesn’t have to. When Congress adopted the Trump tax cuts it did so through a parliamentary maneuver called “reconciliation.” Under reconciliation, those tax cuts could last no longer than 10 years. After that time, the tax cuts expire and the old, higher taxes automatically occur. Of course, Congress and the President could also enact a new round of temporary tax cuts. But the odds of that happening are between slim and none.
In short, we face higher prices and higher taxes. How do we get ready for this now, while we still have time to prepare?
Step 1 we’ve focused on in the last several months: Pay off our debts, especially variable-interest rate debt such as credit cards. Refinance higher rate debt with lower-rate debt, if possible.
Step 2 is to change what we buy. The idea is to simply reduce the amount of stuff we throw into the trash or the recycling bin:
In our house, we have eliminated the use of plastic zip-lock bags, replacing them with silicone bags.
I donated a year’s worth of maple syrup jars to fellow CFP life-pledged member Mariah Dragolich who makes maple syrup on her family’s 10-acre farm outside of Cleveland.
We use cloth or folded reusable shopping bags rather than the free plastic bags the grocery store provides. The cool thing about the reusable bags is they actually hold more, are easier to carry, and stand up better in the car than the free bags.
We buy in bulk when possible. Whole Foods, among other retailers, sells some products in bulk: You take your own containers or use plastic bags they provide.
Let us seriously consider avoiding – and convincing our family and friends to avoid -- fast fashion. A recent story in The Wall Street Journal details the harmful effects of cheap clothing. “Of the roughly 100 billion items of clothing produced each year, more than 50 billion are thrown away and subsequently burned or landfilled within 12 months of being made, according to a recent UBS report.” What’s wrong with that? The flood of cheap fashion is taking a toll on the environment. Clothing production requires a lot of water and chemicals. Finished garments are shipped long distances by sea—and increasingly by air as online shoppers demand a continuous stream of new designs. The product churn necessary for so-called fast fashion brands to continue to grow generates great waste.”
Instead of fast-fashion, let’s patronize those stores that sell quality, well-made clothing that will last for years. Karen Sadock, CFP, says her philosophy is to buy well-made clothing and wear it until it is rags. Her penitential secret: Whenever possible she shops at second-hand stores in wealthy neighborhoods. Good quality clothes, lower prices – and she’s keeping them out of landfills.
Let’s not assume Amazon has the lowest price. Wikibuy will alert you anytime you’re shopping on Amazon and let you know if the item you’re about to buy is available for less elsewhere. Thus far, Wikibuy has saved users more than $70 million.
You can develop your own list as your consciousness grows, but these are a starter.
Step 3: Grow our own food to the extent you can reasonably and effectively do so. I think it makes sense to grow what we can. It’s cost effective, it’s healthier. My wife’s a big blueberry fan, so I bought her a couple of blueberry bushes. We’ve also grown tomatoes. What you might grow depends on your family’s eating habits and taste. You can get advice on growing from the Agricultural Extension Service agent in your county. (Every county has one – even New York County, which is also known as Manhattan.) If we grow too much, we can donate the surplus to a local food bank.
For your amusement and inspiration, watch a great YouTube video by Los Angeles-based fashion designer Ron Finley on how he started a movement to plant food in that space between a sidewalk and a street in poverty-ridden, food-desert South Los Angeles. Needless to say, the city cited him. Then, after protests and a petition, the city council praised his efforts! He calls himself the “Garden Gangsta.”
Step 4 is to go solar by putting solar panels or, even better, solar shingles on your roof. Solar panels look ugly, in my opinion. Solar tiles look like a normal roof. Normally you don’t want to put solar panels on an old roof because that old roof will still have to be replaced at the end of its natural life.
The average cost of solar panel installation is $17,000 in the U.S., though tax breaks and other discounts can make it as low as $5000 in some states. The savings you earn by going solar can take anywhere from seven to 20 years to cover the initial cost. But the average savings after 20 years? A whopping $20,000. In addition to cutting down on your monthly energy bill, solar panels also offer the benefit of adding value to your home.
As for solar shingles, obviously they are more expensive that asphalt shingles. But a roof of solar shingles is said to be less than the combined cost of a conventional roof plus solar panels.
Aside from any environmental or cost-saving benefits of going solar, the most persuasive reason, in my view at least, to go solar is that there have been repeated failures of the power grid in recent years, whether it is in California or Texas or other states. If your house has its own solar generating capacity, you’re not dependent upon the grid when the grid fails. And in most states, you can sell any excess power back to the electric company, which not only earns you money (remember to give 10% of earnings to charity) but also helps other consumers by reducing the need for new power generators, thereby helping to hold down other peoples’ rates.
All of this – from paying off credit card and other debt to growing some of our own food is about simplifying our lives so we have more time to pray and help our neighbor. That’s what penitents throughout the centuries have done, and that’s what we are called to do, too. -Joel Whitaker, CFP
Next month: Tithing.
FOLLOWING FRANCIS, FOLLOWING CHRIST: WORKS OF MERCY
This article is a combination of sharing by two members of the Alessandro Prison Ministry. They deal with works of mercy. Saint Francis was known for his mercy toward lepers and his service of them.
Works of Mercy—Not Quite!
David Farrell composed this unfortunately perpetual observation of what can be described as the progressive's version of Matthew 25. Maybe you've seen it before, but I thought it was worth sharing:--Eric Welch, Novice 3.
"I was hungry, and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned, and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick, and you knelt and thanked God for your [own] health.
I was homeless, and you preached to me the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy, so close to God. But I'm still hungry and lonely, and cold [imprisoned]."
Works of Mercy – Yes!
Eric noted how we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are performing works of mercy when we are comfortably avoiding them. His own behavior is different. In prison, Eric acts as tutor, accountant, and advisor to prisoners applying for early release. His work has been successful many times.
Anthony LaCalamita, CFP, whose article follows, shares in detail the works of mercy which he’s implemented in prison while following, he believes, God’s Will.
As disciples of our Lord Jesus, we are called to hear God’s voice and respond. When we really listen and respond, we can be amazed at what follows. In January 2021, I had a secure job here in a Michigan prison as a dog handler for the PAWS program, not only getting a chance to live with and train a potential service animal, but also getting paid the highest monthly wage one can earn while in prison here. I had a great bunkie in Doug - a Benedictine Oblate, mature, shared interests, and someone who is a good friend Yet God called me to something else. On March 12, I said good-bye to a great dog handler partner and Catholic brother in Doug, a high-paying prison job, and living a stable, comfortable life by prison standards, not sure what would come.
Yet my discernment of God's call to move on led to great opportunities. I was asked to run for unit representative for the Warden's Forum, a chance to serve the men in my unit and the facility. Sure enough, I was elected. This position opened up more opportunities for me, particularly since one of the Lenten commitments that God gave me this year was to befriend at least one person each week.
First, God led me in March to bunk with Buck, a 47 year-old from Detroit serving life without parole for murder (like me), from a tough upbringing in Detroit, dealing with paranoid schizophrenia, and a self-proclaimed messianic Jew. We have connected and he considers me his counselor and friend.
Second, my unit rep job has opened up conversations with many different men in the unit, as God provided multiple chances to honor the Lenten practice he led me to, challenging me to grow in love of my neighbor. I had great talks with a young man, "D", who was raised Catholic, but now has questions about the faith after straying into a life of drugs and away from his relationship with God. I was fortunate to help him answer questions about why God allows suffering (his toddler son was hospitalized), how to hear God speak, and understanding who God is.
Third, I've had multiple conversations with Scott, my unit rep partner about prison life, his innocence claim, challenges entering prison as a juvenile for rape 32 years ago (he spoke in tears at times), and sharing the legal success he learned in March of proving his innocence, as he told me "You're the only person in here who is genuinely happy for me to be getting out of prison".
Fourth, I've been freer to offer prayer and encouragement to Tom, a Christian brother (who I've also tutored for the GED test) and been able to walk with him as he struggles greatly with self-esteem and his relationship with Christ.
Fifth, a week after I moved out, a gang leader asked me to tutor one of his associates so he could pass his GED test in Math. "Duke", 21-year-old from Detroit, and I have been meeting semi-regularly in the unit, and our tutor times have also become mentoring sessions.
Sixth, as unit rep I've been engaged as a peacemaker in the unit, such as trying to resolve a conflict between staff and prisoners regarding removal of a microwave and communicating to the warden concerns about protocols not being consistently applied to stop the spread of COVID (we had over 77% of the population test positive and nine deaths here before I took office). By God's grace, protocols were changed in March, and we've had minimal positive cases with no sickness since February.
Needless to say, with all of this activity, it has been a juggling act between these many acts of service, prayer, and meditation. My Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and abstinence were not consistent. So, a few days before Holy Week I prayed about my commitment to our Lord. I was led to a period of complete fast and abstinence starting on Monday of Holy Week until Easter Sunday morning.
Providentially, another Christian brother was asking me about submitting proposal to the MDOC for a "Daniel fast" of nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables later this year, when I brought up my fast for Holy Week. I was joined by him and two other Christian brothers in my fast, as we gathered each morning for prayer after breakfast that week. We prayed for God's people becoming a new creation in Christ through the resurrection this Easter season, the well-being of families, friends, and benefactors of the incarcerated, that the governor, MDOC and SRF administration and staff would use their authority with greater care for the common good of prisoners, for repentance from God's people to return to the Church, that God's people would find rest in Christ, that God's people would discover hope in Jesus during this challenging time, and in thanksgiving for the victory won by Christ in the resurrection.
Since we've had no Easter services due to the COVID protocols, the four of us gathered around sunrise on Easter Sunday, giving God praise for our new life in Christ. By heeding God's call over the past few months, I have been blessed in so many ways. By listening to the voice of our Lord Jesus, responding in obedience, my life became fruitful. He has provided me a chance to be his presence for others, while showing me how I need to let go of the old self and become that new man in Christ, growing into the person he called me to be. May all of us continue to respond to the voice of our Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd, with love and obedience toward him and serving one another.
CONFRATERNITY OF PENITENTS PHOTO ALBUM
CFP Retreat 2020—Lynn Frederick, Novice 2, Fr. Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, and John Marchese, CFP Affiliate. Mark your calendars for CFP RETREAT 2021--OCTOBER 13-17. THE MESSAGE OF FATIMA AND THE RULE OF 1221. St. Felix Retreat Center, Huntington IN. Fr. Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, Retreat Master.
$195 plus $15 worth of food or paper goods for overnight retreatants. $60 plus $15 worth of food or paper goods for commuters. Plan to attend!