Franciscan Corner: Pentecost 2017

Fr. Lody

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (5:22-23) says,

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In Saint Francis of Assisi, these fruits were made manifest through his way of life after his conversion, achievable only after demonstrating total reliance upon God’s Will. Only then could God work through him.

Anyone who has read even the shortest story of the life of Francis can attest to the fact that before his conversion he was anything but patient, faithful, or controlled. He was a person who enjoyed the comforts of life and who made every effort to be part of Assisi’s social scene. After all, he was a socialite who played the role well with his peers.

But the Lord works in mysterious ways and put Francis in a time and place that forever changed the way he looked at life. In his Testament, Francis begins like this:

The Lord gave to me, Brother Francis, thus to begin to do penance; for when I was in sin it seemed to me very bitter to see lepers, and the Lord Himself led me amongst them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter was changed for me into sweetness of body and soul.

Recognizing the divine intervention that brought about this new outlook on life, Francis demonstrated a submission to God that enabled the fruits of the Spirit to take shape in him.

Francis let God work through him. He truly offered his body and soul to God so that he could be an instrument of peace, patience, kindness, and fully embody the Spirit for the greater glory of God. It was an intentional act on the part of Francis. He was not forced. I am confident that, if he had wanted to, Francis could have ignored the leper and continued on his journey. But he didn’t and his life, and the life of the Church, was forever changed.

I believe the same potential for greatness is true for each of us. We are each invited to accept God’s invitation to be instruments of His presence here on earth and make manifest the gifts of the Spirit. Or not. The choice is ours. Francis did not set out to create the wide-reaching impact that would result in the founding of a global religious order, bring a pope to dream about his role in reforming the church, and author the last of four religious rules upon which all future religious communities would base their way of life.

Francis did not set out to do these things, but they all ended up as the result of his “yes” to God’s call. He could not, and most likely would not, have predicted the wide-reaching, canonical, and historical impact his conversion would have. The Lord works in mysterious ways. But the only way the Lord can work through each of us is if we get out of our own way of being God’s instruments here on earth.

Francis expected this same submission from his early followers as well, reminding them of the seriousness of answering God’s call and that it was not meant to be taken lightly. In his Letter to the General Chapter, Francis writes:

Listen, then, sons of God and my friars, and give ear to my words. Give hearing with all your hearts and obey the voice of the Son of God. Keep his commandments wholeheartedly and practice his counsels with all your minds. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good; extol Him in your works. This is the very reason He has sent you all over the world, so that by word and deed you might bear witness to His message and convince everyone that there is no other almighty God besides Him. Be well disciplined then and patient under holy obedience, keeping your promises to Him generously and unflinchingly. God deals with you as with sons.

 He wanted to make sure that his brothers were as serious about the life of conversion and witness as he was and how intentional and personal answering God’s call is, which is why submission is so important. The fruits of the Spirit cannot flow from us if we’re focused on our own needs and wants.

The Holy Spirit makes faith useful, and helps create a tangible experience of the divine in our lives and, for those in ministry, the lives of those to whom we minister. This is the unseen power of Jesus made visible. I remember my first ministerial experience while I was in my first year of seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was so focused on ‘doing’ ministry the right way that I did not yield to the working of the Spirit in me and I ended up feeling disconnected from the patients I was visiting at the hospital. It wasn’t until I reflected over time with my spiritual director about the uneasiness of my ministry that I realized that I needed to get out of my own way and let the Spirit work not only in me but through me.

As a minister and witness to God’s presence in the lives of those resting in the hospital beds, it was my responsibility to make God’s tender mercy and unconditional love known and felt. But there are some potential pitfalls that Francis was aware of and, in Admonition 17 he writes:

Blessed is that servant who is not more puffed up because of the good the Lord says and works through him than because of that which He says and works through others. A man sins who wishes to receive more from his neighbor than he is himself willing to give to the Lord God. 

When we allow the Spirit to work through us we remind ourselves, as Francis reminds his followers, that it’s always about the other, not about the self. May we rely totally upon God’s Will so that the work of the Spirit may flow through us and create an impact as wide-reaching as Francis.

Let us pray:

 

Most High, Glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of our minds.
Give us a right faith, a firm hope and a perfect charity,
so that we may always and in all things act according to Your Holy Will.
Amen.

 

Rev. Jason Lody, FCM

St. Anthony of Padua ANCC (Centreville, VA)

Fr. Jason is Minister General of the Franciscan Community of Mercy

 

Deacon’s Corner: The Many Tongues of Pentecost

Deacon Kane

The Spirit is among us! What a joyous feeling this is!

I remember as a child being taught about Pentecost and learning that when the Spirit descended upon the apostles, they began proclaiming in different languages. I never quite got that glossolalia stuff.

Let’s take a quick forward 62 or 63 years later. Last week, my home parish, St. Francis of Assisi, had its first Mass offered in Tagalog for our Filipino brothers and sisters. Then on the following Saturday I happily attended St. Francis’ first Mass for Spanish-speaking people.

While praying during the Spanish liturgy I was happily struck by the feeling of how good I felt even though I couldn’t understand a word. The feelings of love and community just filled me up.

Last week also saw me going to Arden Court Alzheimer Care Unit, Brookdale Assisted Living Facility, and the Pierre Toussaint Food Pantry in Newark. In all of these places I met people who, when they spoke, I sometimes understood and sometimes didn’t. It didn’t make any difference.

At times like these, I experience a calm and serenity I don’t usually have. I can only ascribe this to the Holy Spirit being in my life. Do I have physical proof? No. Do I know this to be true? Yes!

In each step I take along this path of life, I feel, I know, the Spirit is alive and present, always forgiving and loving. I love learning to listen in ways other than with my ears alone. Sometimes we can communicate without words.

And, oh yes, that ‘glossolalia stuff’ makes a lot more sense now too! For me, the gift of tongues is the gift to understand each other even if we speak different languages or ascribe to different cultural norms. We, as people, can understand each other if we try. We don’t have to live in ignorance and hatred.

Sometimes, we can understand another even if we only use body language and smiles. At the Alzheimer care unit, when some of the folks perk up and began singing an old familiar hymn, their eyes light up momentarily and they and I communicate.

Actions can speak louder than words. We are given an opportunity to live in community, in a conscious, loving way. This is an awesome gift from God to us. Let’s try to accept and live the gift more and more each day.

Deacon Pat Kane

St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, JN)

Liturgically Speaking: Making Music, Praying Twice

Maureen Tauriello

I admit it. I am not a good pray-er. There I said it! It’s not that I don’t want to pray well, or that I am seeking some kind of perfection that is unattainable, but when I hear people talk about their prayers, and how moved and inspired they can be, I am well aware of how I fall short. There are times when I totally will forget to pray at all, or realize most of the day is spent and I have yet to even say hello to my God.

I have been on this quest for more years than I care to admit. My journey has included Charismatic Prayer groups, scripture sharing groups, theology courses, workshops, centering prayer, Taizé, and more. For me, it always seems to circle back to music as prayer. I realize this may not be the same for everyone. The oft quoted saying attributed to St. Augustine “when you sing you pray twice” comes to mind. Since my prayer life is so sporadic, the notion of praying being enhanced when one sings is appealing to me. I often find myself singing church songs in the car, or around the house, and it does take on a prayerful nature. 

When I became involved in music ministry, I thought I had found the key to my prayer problem. Then I heard the lyrics of Matt Redman in his song “Heart of Worship,” which said “I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required.” What did that mean for me, who was so sure that my song was exactly my God-connection? It came across as a judgment on the prayer method I had chosen. I was even annoyed, thinking “aren’t I praying twice as good by using music?” St. Augustine of Hippo said so. It must be true!

So what, then, is our worship to be? Where does music fit in?

The key words for me in understanding this better is the part of the lyric that says “song in itself.” I think the cautionary words for us to consider are that just because the song has God or Jesus or Holy Spirit in the lyrics and we sing it, we have not fulfilled our obligation to seek and worship God. It’s a good start, but like the song says later, “I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.” As long as we are focusing on the worship and not on the song, we are on the right track. Singing adds to our praise, but it shouldn’t replace it.

It appears that the church also agrees that music is a valid form of prayer, and it is most desirable when used in the context of liturgy. Sung prayer reaches its high point in the sacred liturgy, the public worship of the Church. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is made more beautiful by the singing of every Catholic, who is called to active participation—through sung prayer, especially—in the Mass.

Further we see that the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum concilium (#113) confirm that “liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (#40), the Church’s guidebook for Holy Mass, reminds Catholics that “great importance should be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass… every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people not be absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on Holydays of Obligation.”

There is much more discussion to be had on this topic. It would demand much more space than we have here. Was St. Augustine wrong, or right? Indeed, our song enables us to experience God in a new way, and when our voices are joined, we are amplifying our prayer. Thus, we are praying twice in a sense. There is the prayer expressed in the lyrics and there is the prayer without words that rises from the melody.

I think Augustine is mostly right, but we must be of the right intention when we offer our prayer in this way. We mustn’t be misled into thinking of it as a “two for one” deal. There should be no shortcuts when we approach God to pray. So, let us bring God our all: our song, our hearts, our minds, our whole being. Let us pray!

 

Maureen Tauriello

St. Francis of Assisi ANCC (Glen Ridge, NJ)