Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Why Jesus Wants Us Poor

Homily at the Lourdes Grotto by Fr. Luke Fletcher, CFR.
Saints Francis, Therese and Bernadette all knew the spiritual secret of littleness and humility. Listen to learn more!


Thursday, September 20, 2018

CFR Sisters Update

The Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal are happy to announce that Sr. Clare Matthiass is the Sisters’ new Community Servant (Superior General) as of September 12, 2018, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary. She is now known as Mother Clare. The Community is tremendously grateful to Mother Lucille Cutrone for 23 years of dedicated leadership as Community Servant in the important first stages of the Community. Mother Lucille will continue to remain a member of the Sisters’ Community Council. Won’t you please keep the CFR Sisters in your kind prayers during this time of transition.

After Mother Clare's renewal of vows, all the professed sisters kneel and renew their vows to Mother Clare.

Mother Lucille receives Fr. Andrew's chalice from Fr. John Paul. Fr. Andrew left this chalice to the Sisters in his will, and it was presented to them on this special occasion.

As part of the ceremony, Mother Clare renews her vows in the hands of Mother Lucille.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bringing It To Completion

Several weeks ago I received some of the happiest news of my life:  a publishing company contacted me and informed me of their interest in publishing a series of reflections I sent them three months earlier.  I was so shocked, I said, somewhat embarrassingly to the editor on the phone, “Are you serious…, really publish it…as a book?’  
Laughing, he said, “Yes I am serious, a real book.  We really like what you sent us.”  
He began to speak about some of the details of publishing, mentioning words like contracts, royalties, and deadlines.  As soon as he began speaking, I was swept away by a euphoric feeling of joy and gratitude.  “Maybe I wasn’t wasting my time writing these reflections,” I said to myself.  “I can’t believe this is happening.  Thank you Lord.” 
“There is only one problem,” he said.
Immediately, my daydream came to a screeching halt.  
“Your manuscript is currently at 20,00 words.  We need it to be at 35,000-40,000 words before we can publish it.  So, keep writing.  We will set a deadline for six months.”
There was a long pause.
“Father,” he said, “are you there?
“Yes,” I said, hesitantly and feeling like I was just punched in the stomach, “I am here.”  
“Good.  Now, another editor will email you the contract in a few days.  Please read through it and sign it so we can begin the process.  In the meantime, keep writing.  I look forward to seeing how this project progresses.”
“Um, thank you. Me too.” 
I hung up the phone and began to experience a dramatic shift in my emotions. My joy and gratitude quickly turned into anxiety and fear.  
“How am I going to write 20,000 words in six months?” I said to myself.  “I am a priest with other responsibilities.  I have homilies and retreats to prepare, spiritual direction appointments to attend to, responsibilities from my own religious community to fulfill, etc.  I am not a full-time writer.  I can’t do this. Why did I ever start writing this book in the first place?  I should have known that I don’t have time for this.”             
Whenever I am given a task, regardless of its nature, there is a subtle voice that whispers inside of me, “You can’t do this.”  This voice has followed me for as long as I can remember.  After my “reversion” to Catholicism at age 18, a voice kept whispering to me, “You are going to lose all of your friends.  Everybody is going to laugh at you when they see you praying and going to church.  You will never be able to withstand it.  You care too much what people think.”  When I was discerning joining the Franciscans a voice kept telling me, “You can’t live in New York City.  You’re from the country.  It will be too much for you.”  A few years ago, when I began to spend extended periods of time in hermitage, a voice kept saying, “Who do you think you are spending all this time in solitude?  Look how weak and insecure you are, you will go crazy.  You can’t do it.”      
St. Ignatius of Loyola believes that each person must contend with three voices in their life: the voice of God, the voice of the devil and the voice of one’s own humanity/psychology.  Each voice, like each person, has a distinctive character to it.  The voice of God, generally, is uplifting, encouraging, and loving, lifting one’s heart and mind to higher things, while the voice of the devil is filled with discouragement, negativity and sadness, leaving a soul entirely earthbound in its pursuits, pleasures and vision.  The voice of one’s own humanity is not always so clear.  Perhaps it can be a mixture of both, depending on one’s own history and life decisions.  Regardless of which voice is speaking, St. Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians is an appropriate one:  “For we are not contending against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12).  Hence, reality contains many other powers or forces that are always present, even though we don’t often perceive them.  
The real question is not, how will I finish this book, but which voices will I listen to?  I will finish this book the way I have accomplished everything in my life: with God’s grace.  If God wills something for us, his grace is never lacking.  Every time the voice of discouragement has appeared in my life it has always proven to be false.  I returned to the Church despite what my friends thought.  I spent many wonderful years living in New York City as a Franciscan, and despite my weaknesses and insecurity I have spent a significant amount of time in hermitage alone with God, and remain (at least somewhat!) mentally stable.    
What God asks of us at times can seem impossible.  How can I forgive that person who hurt me?  How can I face life with this disease, embarrassment, or failure that is always before me?  Instead of feeling strong and confident before God’s will we often feel inadequate and incompetent.  Abraham asks God, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?” (Genesis 17:17) The prophet Amos, hoping to escape his vocation laments, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores” (Amos 7:14).  Zechariah asks the angel Gabriel, “How am I to know this?  I am an old man; my wife too is advanced in age?” (Luke 1:18)  In all of these examples, however, these instances are not the last chapter.
This voice that has been telling me “You can’t do this,” cannot be the voice of God.  Whether it is the voice of the devil, or my own humanity, or a mixture of both, the conclusion is evident: I must refuse to listen to that voice and persevere in this writing, while relying completely on God’s grace for inspiration and strength.  
The same is true for each one of us.  Wherever God’s will has us at this moment, we move forward not by asking why or how, but by sifting through the voices until we arrive at the voice of our Father, who loves us, encourages us and strengthens us for the journey ahead.  “I am sure of this much: that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

+  Fr. Jeremiah, CFR
Monticello, NY

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Letter to the Nuncio

For Immediate Release 
September 5, 2018
Contact: Fr. Angelus Montgomery, CFR: (212) 234-2203

“Send forth your Light and your Truth” (Ps 43:3)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,  
Given the grave nature of the situation in the Church today, the Community of Franciscans of the Renewal has written and is making public a letter written to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. The letter was sent on the memorial of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (September 5, 2018) as the Friars join their voices to the growing number of Bishops, priests, and lay faithful who are asking for a full investigation into the specific allegations made by the former Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ². The full truth is the first step in bringing justice and healing to the victims of abuse and restoring moral integrity to our Church.
Leading up to the feast of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29, the Friars of the Renewal are taking a time of prayer and fasting, beseeching the Lord to bring about a new grace of renewal in the Church at this time in history. Join us in praying for all victims of abuse, our Holy Father Pope Francis and all Bishops, priests, and lay faithful.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Martha’s Gift

As a child, I would often go for long walks in the woods behind my house to be alone with God. There in those solitary woods, the presence of God was as natural to me as the air. The trees, the animals, and the lakes were a reflection of a reality much greater than this world. What fascinated me was not the forest per se, but the creator of such magnificent scenes. Though I did not utter many prayers in those woods, I went there to simply be with God, which, I would learn much later, is the real essence of prayer.
After dinner, when I was no longer able to roam about outside, I felt compelled to try and articulate what I encountered in those solitary moments with nature. Curiously, the attempt to write about my own experience was almost as exciting and beautiful as the experience itself. Writing, for me, was a process of discovery. Even though I had felt something, heard something or seen something, it wasn’t until I wrote about it that I came to a clearer understanding of how near God was to me.
Both writing and prayer have consumed a significant amount of time and energy in my life. When prayer is consoling me and writing is nourishing me I feel alive and eager to share my joy with everyone around me. Yet when prayer is dry and I am suffering from writer’s block I often feel frustrated and want to isolate myself from the rest of the world. At various periods in my life I have vowed to quit one of these activities, so as to focus exclusively on the other, only to find myself a few days later plunging more deeply into both of them than I had before.
On the surface, writing and prayer can appear to be two different activities. However, I am discovering a surprising symmetry between them. Writing, I have come to realize, is my Martha, while prayer is my Mary. In the Gospel of Luke there is a famous episode where Jesus enters the home of Martha and Mary. Mary sits at his feet and listens to him while Martha is busy serving and taking care of the practical needs of her guest. Frustrated by her sister’s apparent laziness, Martha complains to Jesus and asks him to support her. Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
We can often view the activity of our life, whether it is our job, family, or social responsibilities, as a distraction from the “better part” that Mary chose. What we often fail to recognize is that our activity often prepares the way, both for ourselves and others, for this silent receptivity that Mary exemplifies. Without Martha’s activity Mary wouldn’t be free to sit at Jesus’ feet. Mary herself was not free from daily responsibilities. It was only by fulfilling them that she was able to receive Jesus with such reverent attention.
I am beginning to understand my relationship with writing and prayer in a similar fashion. I have often wondered what purpose my writing serves as a Franciscan priest and have been tempted to quit writing because of my inability to see how it relates to my vocation. I have entertained the notion that writing is a distraction, preventing me from deeper intimacy with God, and that if I just quit writing I would be holier because I could devote more time to prayer, meditation and preaching. Within the past few months I have discovered that writing is not only an expression of my love for Jesus, but that without it, I could not sit quietly at his feet and listen. In other words, without Martha I cannot be Mary.
There is a misconception among certain people that those who live in monasteries, convents or friaries sit around and just pray all day. My own sister often tells her friends, “I’m not really sure what my brother does all day!” Despite the fact that religious have times reserved for prayer, meditation and spiritual exercises, when we are not engaged in those pursuits we live a normal human life, a life filled with activity. Even though God loves us and cares for us, he does not cook our food, clean our homes, or answer our doorbell.
It would be a mistake to assume that this activity is a distraction in my relationship with God. On the contrary, it is the activity of the day that opens my heart and creates in me a longing for God. As I sit in prayer in the morning with the duties and the responsibilities of the day staring in front of me, I become aware of my need for God’s grace before I approach these tasks. When nighttime arrives, with the activity of the day behind me, my heart and mind are more disposed towards quiet contemplation, as I ponder the many ways I encountered God that day.
Perhaps Martha’s fault was not her activity, but her inability to see how her activity was meant to be a bridge to something greater. The activity of our life, whether it is writing, or anything else, is never an end in itself. What Mary has to teach us, and what I am learning through writing, is that our work here in this life is never complete. If it were, we would never experience the deep peace that comes from simply resting at the feet of Jesus.

+ Fr. Jeremiah, CFR