Preaching is an essential part of Franciscan life. When St. Francis encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ his life was radically altered. Almost overnight Francis went from a man of this world to one in pursuit of the things of heaven. He traded in his fancy clothes for those of a poor beggar. He said goodbye to his earthly father, who could not accept his son’s transformation, and embraced God as his Father. He abandoned his middle class Italian life, with all of its pleasures and luxuries, and went to live with lepers and those estranged from society.
St. Francis did all of this, not because of political or economic motivations, but because he wanted to imitate Jesus who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6). Francis’ desire was simple: to live the Gospel and share with the world that “pearl of great price” he had received. The rich, the poor, young, old and even animals listened to this “troubadour of the Lord,” as he went about proclaiming the Gospel to all of creation. The whole world was not only his cloister, but also his audience.
I too share the same passion that St. Francis did for preaching. When I first heard the Gospel it was like fresh spring water washing over me. It was purifying, refreshing and humbling. For some time I simply bathed in those waters, not trying to understand, but just enjoying its freshness and vigor. Fairly soon, however, I would realize, this good news was not meant only for myself. I needed to share it.
My own Franciscan life is not an ordinary one. I am a part time hermit and a part time preacher. In my community we have a few full time preachers, called itinerant preachers, but no hermits. I am somewhere in between. I love the silence and solitude of hermitage, yet I also love the opportunity to preach the Gospel. Like St. Paul I believe, “an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Whether it is a retreat, a parish mission, a day of recollection or some other preaching event, I am generally excited and anxious to share, what I believe, is the heart of the Gospel: that no matter who you are, where you are from, or what you have done, God is deeply in love with you. Jesus is the proof.
Perhaps I am a bit naïve, but every time I venture out to proclaim this message I expect a smooth takeoff. Within moments, however, I encounter turbulence. Traffic jams, car problems, flight delays, headaches, stomach pains, difficulty sleeping, and miscommunication are just some of the commotion that I encounter along the way.
Followed by this is what I like to call “mind turbulence.” It begins with questions: Why am I preaching here? Why did I choose this topic? Did I really discern this properly? Are my talks too long, too short? Are they too theological? Next comes an endless array of thoughts plagued with doubt and insecurity. Nobody is going to come. The pastor thinks I’m too young. I shouldn’t have left my hermitage. I’m such a hypocrite; I shouldn’t be preaching on something I’m not living, etc.
Finally, there is the “environmental turbulence.” Like clockwork, as soon as I arrive for the event something goes wrong with the sound system, electricity, air conditioner or heater. Coupled with that is a whole group of enthusiastic people waiting to tell me their hopes and their expectations for the event. Somewhere inside this crowd there is that one person who does not hesitate to tell me everything that is wrong with this place, its people, its pastor, its programs and that my being there, despite good intentions, will not really change anyone.
By this point my head is usually spinning, my stomach is in pain and I am convinced this event will be a disaster. Clearly this cannot be God’s will. I turn to prayer for confirmation. There is no consolation, no affirmation and no sense of God’s presence. If God does “speak” to me in these moments, it is often with the same words he gave to St. Paul in the midst of his own struggles he encountered in proclaiming the Gospel. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness"(2 Corinthians 12:9).
When the time has arrived to begin preaching I approach the microphone with a deep awareness of my own poverty. I have been completely stripped. I have no confidence, no wisdom and no strength. I am not exactly sure what I will say or how I will say it. I feel alone. I open my mouth and suddenly it happens: everything disappears. The turbulence ceases, and I feel, quite literally, as if I am floating, being carried by a Presence much stronger than anything of this world. Somehow the words flow and most importantly, in a way my audience can understand. The Gospel, despite all these difficulties, is being proclaimed, and strangely enough, I am its messenger.
After the event is finished I go to the door to say goodbye to people and thank them for coming. Most people shake my hand, nod in appreciation and say thank you. A few approach me and look directly into my eyes and say, “thank you, I really needed to hear that.” A few more people come forward with tears in their eyes, “I really experienced the love of God in your words today. I can’t thank you enough for coming.” Humbled and somewhat embarrassed, I simply respond, “God bless you.” Occasionally, someone will say, “This event has changed my life, thank you.” I am left speechless. I simply smile at them and embrace them, while tears of my own begin to well up inside of me.
I have often used the words of St. Paul, “When I am weak, it is then that I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:11) to encourage people in their own ministry when they become overwhelmed by their inadequacies. God can do a lot with nothing, I tell them, if you are willing to surrender even that to him. St. Francis stripped himself of his clothes to become utterly dependent on God. I too, when I preach, am stripped of any self -reliance so as to learn the same message: God’s grace covers our weakness.
On average, a person takes 16 breaths a minute, 960 breaths an hour and 23, 040 breaths a day. Like most people, I have spent my life oblivious to this ordinary human act, until recently.
I was sitting in my backyard reading a book and closed my eyes for a few moments of reflection. Suddenly, my thoughts disappeared. The ideas I was meditating on had reached their limit. Out of that silence I felt my chest expand as I inhaled fresh air. I calmly listened as I exhaled and continued to watch, in almost childlike wonder, the sound of each inhale and exhale.
I put the book down and remained sitting, paying attention to my breathing. After about 20 minutes or so had gone by I opened my eyes and almost didn’t recognize where I was. I hadn’t moved yet something was different. The pine trees I see everyday as I look out my window were still there. The neighbors’ blue truck had not moved from their driveway and the pond a few hundred feet away from my house was still resting in its usual place. Externally, life was normal, but, internally, a shift had occurred. It was as if I were looking at the world around me, not with the familiar eyes that tend to gloss over each moment, but with the eyes of a child, in whom everything is fresh and exciting.
What amazed me was not that I was breathing, but that I had never paid attention to it before. How have I lived 38 years and never reflected upon this ordinary human act? Perhaps what is ironic about this experience was that paying attention to my breathing was not simply a physiological or psychological experience of myself. It was an experience of God, who felt closer to me than my own body. It was as if God were breathing inside of me.
Many of the world’s religions speak of paying attention to one’s breath as a valuable spiritual practice. It is used, not as a tool to escape reality, but as a way to transcend the endless dialogue that occurs in our over active minds. Once we can move beyond that chatter, many religions say, we see things in a purer light. The reason is because breathing lacks the rigidity of an overly rationalistic outlook that many of us in the West seem to possess. One stands then, from this perspective, before reality, not as a teacher, but as a student. It is this posture that allows one a more genuine experience of the Ultimate Reality that we call God.
Some people can be uncomfortable or suspicious speaking about the spirituality of breathing because they associate it with Eastern meditation practices. However, breathing has been an essential part of Christianity from the beginning. The book of Genesis tells us that, “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). On Easter night, after Jesus “recreated” the world by his Passion, death and resurrection, he met his fearful disciples and “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). It is the breath of God that gives us life, both physically and spiritually. Every breath we take then is a reminder not only of our dependence on God but also of our union with him.
As a priest I often find myself pulled in many directions. I am constantly juggling what I believe are three areas the Lord is calling me to: prayer, writing and preaching. Despite these activities, there is always somebody to help, there are many communal and familial responsibilities always at hand, and then there is just life, with all its surprises and annoyances. Lest anyone think I am walking around in the beatific vision, I, like the majority of people, spend most of my day without a sensible or consoling experience of God’s presence. In other words, I stumble around from one moment to the next, attempting to walk more “by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Despite my best efforts, I often find myself bumping into everything around me because in reality I walk more by sight than by faith. Though I believe in God and know He is present to me, and providing me with every grace I am in need of, I often do not feel this in any tangible or sensible way.
Stopping, if only for a few moments, and becoming aware of my breathing has provided me an opportunity to ground myself in reality. On days when I try to control life this truth can be utterly terrifying because it reveals my own poverty and need, something all of us, including myself, would rather talk about than experience. On days when trust is greater and the desire to surrender myself to God permeates my heart, this truth is liberating because it enables me to place my hope where it belongs: outside of myself and onto God.
Paying attention to one’s breathing, I have realized, can also be a way of prayer. If the simple act of breathing can remind us of the reality of God, that same breath can also be a means of surrender to God. Through my breathing I am saying yes to life, not as I want it, but as it really is. This “yes” to our life is essentially a yes to God, since it is “the breath of the Almighty that gives me life” (Job 33:4).
Podcast by Fr. Luke Fletcher, CFR. The reality and role of the angels can be a challenge to our modern mentalities. The testimony of the Bible and other private revelations are shocking! Listen to learn more!!
STATEMENT OF THE COMMUNITY OF FRANCISCAN FRIARS OF THE RENEWAL
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a Catholic Religious Institute of Pontifical Right existing in various dioceses throughout the world, offers the following statement on the occasion of the “Red Rose Rescues” which have occurred on September 15, 2017. Fr. Fidelis Moscinski, CFR, a professed member of the community, in partnership with other pro-lifers, participated in a rescue at Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 101 S Whiting St. #215, Alexandria, Virginia.
An essential part of our work of evangelization and care of the poor is our public and prayerful witness to the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. We recognize that the human right to life is the foundation of a just and peaceful society. Furthermore, we recognize that those whose right to life is denied them, for whatever reason, are truly poor and most in need of Christian service and the saving power of the Gospel.
Through our prayers, public witness, and solidarity with the unborn, the elderly, and all those whose lives are threatened by death as the proposed solution to problems, we seek to uphold the right to life and the dignity of every human being. We try to accomplish this within a variety of apostolic works and commitments including supporting crisis pregnancy centers and homes for expectant mothers, prayer and counseling at places where abortions occur, spiritual retreats for those who have been affected by abortion, and providing programs for inner-city youth.
The Constitutions and Directory of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal provides that “with appropriate permissions, the friars do not hesitate to participate in acts of conscientious objection to actions that attack the inviolability of human life and seek to break the common bond of human solidarity.”
In this regard we recall the clear teaching of Pope John Paul II in The Gospel of Life who reminds us that abortion is a crime which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10). (Cf. The Gospel of Life, n. 73).
Therefore, remembering the pro-life witness of many who tried to rescue unborn children and their mothers from abortion, especially the inspiring activity of Bishop Austin Vaughn, Bishop George Lynch, and our own Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR we fully support our confrere, Fr. Fidelis Moscinski, CFR as he joins with others in the “Red Rose Rescue.” He, along with other individuals in a number of U.S. cities, has sought to persuade mothers seeking abortion instead to choose life for themselves and their babies. They have reached out with love and compassion and offered life-affirming alternatives, abiding in solidarity with the innocent unborn babies scheduled to be aborted.
Finally, as disciples of Jesus Christ and followers of St. Francis of Assisi, we call upon all people to acknowledge, respect, and zealously defend the right to life of our unborn brothers and sisters, to reach out to mothers and fathers in crisis pregnancies, and work together to build an authentic culture of life.
As a kid I dreaded the month of September. The last days of August caused my mind and my body to revolt. I felt depressed, angry and frustrated. Life, as I knew it, was ending, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was unwilling to surrender; yet I was surrounded on every side. My friends, who promised never to leave me, all of a sudden disappeared. I was alone.
Every June the last bell would ring, singling the end of another school year. Summer had begun. My eyes flung wide open as my heart began to jump inside my chest. I bolted out of class as quickly as I could without looking back. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do, but I knew one thing: I was free.
For the next two months, nothing but a constant stream of bliss lay before me. There were no teachers telling me what to do, what to think or how to act. There was no alarm clock shouting at me. There was no school bus to catch, no homework to complete and no curfew to obey. Days were bright, and nights were open. I had no responsibilities and no plans, just time to explore, relax and experience life in its naked simplicity.
This newfound freedom and the ecstatic joy it brought was short lived. The days and weeks passed quickly. The thrill and the excitement I possessed at the beginning of summer was turning quickly into despair. Something had to happen, I thought, and quick. Time was slipping away from me. I still felt incomplete. Summer was my only hope, the one chance I had to live a life without interruption.
Reflecting on that period in my life now many years later, I understand the mystery of what I was hoping for. My summer vacations were a desperate attempt to experience heaven on earth. The freedom, excitement, and joy of summer sunk deep into my own heart, where I discovered what could be called heaven’s radar: the desire for complete and infinite happiness.
It wasn’t necessarily spending all day at the beach, camping with friends, or road trips that I was looking for, but what I thought those activities contained: endless joy without interruption. Heaven has been defined as “the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.” If that is true, as I believe it is, then it comes as no surprise to me that the beginning of summer felt like a new birth, while the end of summer felt like a slow and painful death.
St. Paul reminds us that, “our commonwealth is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). In my eagerness for this change to occur I have often ignored an important word in this passage, will. This change St. Paul speaks of is occurring now in this world, but is never complete in this life.
Returning to school again in September brought me face to face with this reality. Time, freedom, talent and even happiness all had their boundaries in this world. When I did possess them, even if for only a brief moment, they were exposed to constant interruption. The problem wasn’t that summer vacation was too short, but that it took place in a world that “is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Summer, for me, has become a foreshadowing of a future destiny. Though I no longer have those summer vacations of my childhood, they have provided me a glimpse of what heaven will be like: a happiness that is boundless and a summer day that never ends.
Podcast by Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, CFR. On this feast day of Mary's birthday we discern the presence of God. Listen to learn more!
Prayer from Saint Mother Teresa:
O God, we believe that you are here.
We adore You and love You with our whole heart and soul
because You are most worthy
of all our love.
We desire to love you
as the Blessed do in Heaven.
Flood our Souls with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess
our whole being utterly,
that our lives may only be
a radiance of Yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us,
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel Your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us,
but only Jesus! Amen.
When I was 16 years old I wanted it all: to be athletic, intelligent, strong, attractive, genuine, funny, articulate and whole lot more.
Every one of these desires demanded my full attention. They were the epitome of selfishness. Depending on the day, I would start with the one directly in front of me—in other words, whichever was shouting the loudest. To be athletic, I would throw myself into training like an Olympic athlete, organizing every moment of my day around improving the sport I was currently obsessed with. To be attractive I would examine all my faults, both physical and mental, and devise a plan, effective immediately, on how to eradicate my imperfections.
"verso l'alto" meaning "to the top" motto of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
By the time I was 19 I made another important discovery: my desires never quit. If I “conquered” one, whether it was a sport, a book, an exterior quality, etc., there would be more lurking in the shadows, begging to be noticed. If I could master throwing a curve ball, why not master throwing a slider and a changeup as well? If I read everything by Ernest Hemingway why not read everything by John Steinback or F. Scott Fitzgerald also?
When any one of them began to take shape inside my heart, a voice from some mysterious place whispered, “I am what you need. If you possess me you will be complete.” I honestly believed each of them was like a key and if I could attain that key it would open up for me the happiness, peace and serenity I longed for. Even though I played this game for several years, it took me a few more to realize an important component about this game: there is no end. One either has to quit, which I believe is impossible, or go beyond them, to what I like to call our original desire.
A few weeks ago I was speaking with a childhood friend, somebody who watched me pursue these desires day after day. Unlike me, he didn’t feel like his life needed an explanation. In fact, he believed there was no explanation. Life was just life, nothing more. These desires were random occurrences due mostly to our social conditioning and genetic makeup. After an hour or so of philosophical and theological debate together he simply asked me, “What then is the greatest thing Jesus has done in your life?” Without hesitation I said, “He has organized my heart.”
Ever since the fall of Adam the human heart has been disorganized. The answer is not just having all the necessary parts but having them in their proper place. The strange thing is that we often hide, or at least attempt to hide, from the only One who can bring order out of our chaos. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).
This hiding on our part forces God to ask, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) Despite Adam and Eve’s cleverness, and ours, God has not lost sight of them, or of us. We have lost sight of God. The question is meant to provoke in us a realization: there is only One who “formed my inward parts” who “knitted me together in my mother’s womb…when I was being made in secret,” and whose “eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139:13-16). In other words, God is the source of the human heart, and every desire, despite all its allure and glamor, is only a pointer back to that one true original desire, which is communion with its source.
As I began to read the New Testament and open my heart to Jesus this reality for me “took flesh.” At first I was like the tax collector in the parable who “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Fairly soon, however, after experiencing God’s mercy so deeply, my prayer became a gaze fixed on the person of Jesus, and I too “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 11:39). This love that I encountered in Jesus began to consume my heart, pushing everything else, including those pesky desires, away from my heart’s center. What at once I didn’t even know was possible was slowly beginning to occur: my heart was becoming organized.
The key, I believe, is not that my desires were extinguished, if that is even possible, but that they were organized. Earlier I was hoping, at least subconsciously, that each one of my desires would reveal myself to me. In other words, tell me who I was, because whether I liked it or not, I could not escape from my own hearts restless pursuit of that answer. Being strong, athletic, smart, outgoing, articulate, and funny, however, wasn’t enough. Finally, after much hesitation, I heeded the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
What did Jesus show me? Namely, that he is my desire. The point of our desires, I believe, is to reveal to us something greater, something beyond this world of space and time that contains not only our origin but also our destiny. Regardless of who we are and where we have come from, nothing else satisfies. It is simply our original desire.