Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Message of St. Francis for Today

Every year we celebrate the feast of all time popular and famous Man St. Francis of Assisi. Many books, articles and blogs are written to mark his feast. There are men and women who make their commitment on this great day to mark their entry into religious life. It is heartening and consoling for all the sons and daughters of St. Francis to know that he is loved and accepted in an age, which is marked by positive development, and a world that is divided on the basis of religion and economic progress. On the other hand the world is experiencing a sharp divide among the nations, the gap between developed and underdeveloped is widening day by day. We are also witnessing a global unrest due to the indiscrimination on many fronts. 

The present crisis of refugees flocking to Europe due to civil war in Syria is placing a tremendous stress and tension on the European government. Thought the Europeans would be glad to receive them and look after them but due to the on going economic crisis does not allow them to do so. As I was reflecting to write this blog, the situation of Francis of Assisi came to my mind. It was more or less similar and the society and church was experiencing a radical change. The society was undergoing an economic transformation and the Church was also undergoing a spiritual transformation and change. Francis saw and experienced this transformation and changed with his own eyes. He belonged to a privileged group as far as the economic life was concerned and he had everything at his beck and call.

As mentioned above, the faithful were longing for a spiritual renewal in the church. The desire was becoming stronger as many groups of faithful wished to live the same life of the early Christians. They wanted a change in the Churchs liturgical and spiritual atmosphere. As it is today, people longed for priests and religious who lived their call in a authentic way. And those who lived holy and spiritual life were well sought after. The Laity in general were aware of the sins committed by the responsible people including them. There was a need of someone who could lead them on to the path renewal and conversion.

Young Francis, full of life and promises, his rich father could afford everything for him was chosen and called by the Lord to fulfill the desire of the church and the faithful. He was not only called to preach but to live what he preached. The conversion process was dramatic and effective in his life. The call to rebuild the church was not understood by him properly but the grace of the Almighty revealed everything in due course of time. The spiritual repair work of the Church needed many souls, which he got due to his simple, humble and poor life style. Christ called him to build the Body of Christ by preaching and living an authentic Christian life. The faithful who were waiting and longing to see this example flocked to him in a great numbers.  Francis was a person of deep prayer and radical conformity to Christ, which is seen in the stigmata—the wounds of Christ—on his body. Francis believed that the most important way to preach was to witness to the Gospel by the way one lived. He used to tell his followers, “Preach the Gospel with your life; if necessary, use words.”

Francis lived 800 years ago and his world and ours are profoundly different. But we can make many connections. His life shows us the unity of prayer and action. His critique of the economic injustice of his time through preaching poverty challenges us today to denounce injustice and oppression and build structures of equity and peace.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Three years ago when we concluded our 84th general Chapter and the Capitulars returned, to their respective provinces with a challenging question, “Who am I and what is the depth of my Catholic Faith”? Fr. Paolo Martinelli, one of the Franciscan scholars, who presented a paper on our Holy Constitutions, in which he made a reference to the Faith of St. Francis of Assisi and the response of all the Franciscans to his challenge, to live our Catholic faith. I have taken most of the material from his presentation, in order to prepare this article on the topic “St. Francis and Faith”. The Catholic Church has announced the “year of Faith” to be celebrated, throughout the coming year. I am sure, everywhere the catholic community will reflect and meditate, on the gift of faith that we have received. It is an opportunity, to recognize and accept, that it is a free gift from the Loving father. One of the great heroes of the faith, is undoubtedly is St. Francis of Assisi. As the Franciscans will be celebrating the founders day on 4th of October, it would be appropriate and in place, to speak about Francis as a man of faith. His life of faith has definitely touched millions of people in the world and he continues to do the same even today. Francis sought God, with an intensity and constancy that might be instructive. As a young man, Francis joined the forces in order to fight against the enemies, but God had a different plan for him. After his return to Assisi, he was trying to find a meaning and significance in his human life. Every day, at length, he knelt before a crucifix, in a little broken down church and prayed these words, over and over: O most high, glorious God, Enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me a correct faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, wisdom and perception, that I may do, O Lord, Your most true and holy will.

 The experience of Christ in the life of Francis has been very well noted and indicated, in the rule and many other writings. The study of faith, in these writings and biographies contains the spirituality of Francis. These writings reveal to us, that Francis was a man who believed intensely. We need to ask a question about emergence of faith and its role in his life, as a man of God. We know from his writings and encounters with brothers, that faith determined and challenged everything in his life, mind and emotions. His relationship with the triune God helped him to strengthen and grow in his faith. He believed, that the Father sent Jesus, to save the world. For him, faith was Trinitarian and Christocentric. In his admonitions, he writes that “to see and believe” in Jesus and the Eucharist – the Son of God sent by the Father, who takes the form of humility.  The faith in Holy Trinity, the fundamental mystery of Christianity leads him, to preach the Gospel to the infidels. Francis’ faith in Jesus led him to have a close communion with Him and one of the writers write about Francis saying that “He was always with Jesus: Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands; he bore Jesus always in his whole body”.
 The followers and devotees of Francis, are aware of his faith in the Church and in the Priests, so, he not only uses the word ‘faith’ in relation to Trinity, but also to authority too. In his Testament, he writes that, “that the Lord gave me such faith in churches, that I would pray with simplicity and say: “we adore You, Lord Jesus, in all your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the word.” Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the Holy Roman Church because of their orders so that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them.” So faith in church and priests don’t indicate something more to be believed in, but manifest how faith is lived, in concrete situations. The faith of Francis, is always a ‘faith situated’ which means, that he encouraged to express faith in Churches, by entering and praying, participating in the Eucharistic liturgy and listening, to the proclamation of the word of God. He makes us, believe the importance of the church, as essential in the life of faith. He teaches us, that we can encounter Christ in the church, as he encountered Christ who spoke and transformed him.
 Francis’ faith in Christ, Church and priests led him to have a deep faith in the Eucharist, which sustained and made strong his faith in God. For Francis, Eucharist became a moment, where he could meet and encounter Christ, the word of God made flesh. The Eucharist became the heart of life of faith for Francis. For Francis, all the three realities are inter-related and connected, which helped him to be close to God. Let us see, what he speaks, in his Testament, where he explains his faith in priests. He affirms: “And I do not want to consider any sin in them, because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my Lord's. And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the Most High, Son of God except His most holy Body and the most holy Blood, which they receive and they alone administer to others”. His faith in the priests, irrespective of their sin or ignorance, and to whom one returns, even if persecuted by them, is founded on his faith in the sacrament of Eucharist. Therefore, it must be said that Francis's life of faith, is deeply related to the sacrament. In him , there is a real sacramental dimension, to the act of faith, which however, determines its relationship, not only with the Eucharist, but also with the whole reality. In fact, we could say that Francis‟ faith, as seeing with the eyes of the spirit, has got to do with every human relationship and every fragment of reality, is a way of seeing the whole reality, to which the Eucharist itself educates us continuously.

 Francis believed and lived the intrinsic relationship, between the Eucharist and the Word of God. He believed and lived the Word of God. He listened to and read the Scriptures in faith. He read as a believer, because in those Words he recognized the Word that is addressed to him personally, here and now. For him God spoke through the words of the Scripture and this made his faith stronger and deeper in God. Through the reading of the Word of God he would experience the presence of Christ. Hence the obvious link between the Word and the Eucharist, as two facets of the same mystery: the person of Christ as the Word of God, who became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and he who remains permanently in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This aspect of the Franciscan spirituality, is connected with a conception of the Fathers of the Church, in relation to the concept of "body of Christ", which included not only the Eucharist but also the body of the Scriptures and the Church.
There is another aspect of Francis‟ faith that we must know: it is the importance of the "Catholic faith." We call to mind, the well-known expression in Regula non-Bullata: “Let all the brothers be, live and speak as Catholics. If someone has strayed in word or deed from Catholic faith and life and has not amended his ways, let him be expelled from our brotherhood”. He wants his friars, to live according to the faith professed by the Church and therefore they must not alter in any way, the content of the Catholic faith. This appears in the writings of Francis, as one of the true motivations for authentic vocations. The candidates who would like to join the Order, must be tested in the catholicity of faith, as it is reminded in the Regula Bullata: If there are any, who wish to accept this life and come to our brotherhood, let them be sent to their provincial ministers [...]. Let the ministers examine them carefully, concerning the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the Church. These days, in the Order not much attention is paid to Catholic faith of the candidate, but to the psychological and emotional life of the candidates is given importance. It is good to recognize the importance of human sciences,, but one cannot bypass totally the fact of solid and deep Catholic faith. Francis of Assisi was willing and ready to forgive the weaknesses of the brothers, but he did not compromise on the fact of the catholicity of the faith. He wanted his friars to have good catholic faith and they were admonished, to spread the same catholic faith, wherever they went.
The writings of St. Francis, will show us, that he was truly a man of faith and the faith of Francis was certainly, also a matter of the doctrine of faith, which was fixed, to a very precise content; moreover, it was not simply a matter of outward formulas. Many might raise a question, as to what is the difference, with regard to the life of faith between Francis and us? And the answer would be found in his writings, where we observe, that for him faith was something very personal as well as communitarian and hence intimate as well as universal. The faith of Francis, was never closeted in his conscience, but exhibited in his personality, writings and prayers. For Francis, the experience of faith was always the experience of the truth, which Jesus Christ revealed. It is evident that the faith in Francis in its existential core is strong. The intensity of his belief and his missionary zeal reveal a definite faith. This is evident in his prayer before the crucifix, "Give me true faith", that is attributed to him.
Finally, it seems necessary to remember, that for Francis, faith is essentially a gift that is to be accepted with gratitude and cultivated above all, through prayer. It is not a gift acquired, once and for all. That is why, we find an interesting exhortation in the Regula non-Bullata, in this regard: “Let us pray and beseech in humility, so that we may persevere, in the true faith”. Even here in fact, not about perseverance in a generic, but in the true faith, so that our faith, may be a real theological act and may never be reduced, to a mere "belief".

Monday, September 28, 2015

Novena to St. Francis: Reflection on Francis and Nature.

Laudato Sii is out and it is well accepted by all irrespective Religions and political parties. The Church and religious Orders to learn and know the role are organizing the debates and discussions, seminars and symposiums that each one can paly in order to preserve the Nature. When we observe the nature with faith it enchants and takes us to spiritual realm. Saints and Sandhus of our Land have always recognized the importance and relationship of Nature and Spirituality. Everything in the Nature has the potency and power to take us to the spiritual realm provided we discover the hidden reality in it. The nature has led many souls to the Creator and it has been a constant and great source of wonder and awe. St. Francis of Assisi discovered that nature is continuing revelation of the divine. He understood better God as creator when he related himself to the creation. He gave an active response to the wonderful creation of God by calling them as brothers and Sisters. Francis first developed a strong and deep personal relationship with the God and that helped him to develop a right relationship with nature and other human beings.
Today the International community is crying out to save the nature and inviting everyone to participate because there is so much of ecological imbalance and crisis. We are all responsible for the deforestation, climate change, and pollution of air and water and soil erosion. These are big and dangerous problems, which we face in India and elsewhere in our world. The changes are enormous and beyond imagination, the nature and its blessings that we enjoyed are no more to be seen. Everything is affected and touched by this change. The international community is aware so every now and then it makes a clarion call to take some effective measures to restore environmental ills.
St. Francis, our father saw God’s glory revealed in the natural world that led him to compose the Canticle of Brother Sun. He wanted to preserve the Nature so he called everyone to admire and accept the nature. He was able to know and love God through the creation. He prayed thus: Praise be my Lord for our brother the wind, and for air and cloud, calms and all weather, by which you uphold life in all creatures.       
As Franciscans we can first care for the environment and then call and collaborate with those who care for it. Let us make it as part of our personal and communitarian life. Pope John Paul II said, “The ecological crisis is a moral issue and the responsibility of everyone”. Let us build up like St. Francis a wonderful relationship with the environment.
Let us not subdue and dominate the earth but like Francis consider it as our Mother and Father. Let us recognize and accept the marvels of the earth, its beauty and the wonderful creatures. The Life of St. Francis teaches us respect for the earth and calls us to live within its limits by accepting everyone as brothers and sisters.
The bible has abundant images that connect the earth to God, and teach about God; the wind, water, soil, seeds, trees, birds, sheep. Many passages speak of the need to respect the land, for example.  The metaphors of planting and tending, pruning and harvesting are used to speak of God and of life. The bible also teaches about an equitable distribution of resources, including sharing land, animals and water. This insistence on justice is often directed towards distributing the bounty of the earth and providing for those who are marginalized.  The profound interconnection between God’s care for humans and care for the environment is noted in Psalm 146: The maker of heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them … secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry … sets prisoners free … gives sight to the blind … raises up those who are bowed down … protects the stranger [and] sustains the orphan and the widow.
Each one of us is called to deepen our capacity to appreciate the wonders of nature as an act of faith and love. In the silence of contemplation, nature speaks of the beauty of the Creator. Let us collaborate to restore the environment and repair some of creation’s wounds, which have been inflicted due to our ecological sins.

The Beauty of Minor Capuchins of Old times

I went to my old parish where I was baptized and celebrated my first Mass, Holy Cross Church. It is in this parish that I did my schooling too. I was loitering around in the church and school campus. I was so happy to see the same building, ground and even the trees that brought back sweet memories to my mind. Nothing has changed in 40 years. But one thing surely has changed and that is the discipline and standard of education. Today it is more sophisticated and modern not like our days when we were ask to screw ourselves and rely on the intelligence we had and possessed. Today a lot of external help and the students have to rely on the wisdom and intelligence of the teacher and tutor. The discipline today is only a word that is being spoken of. Many of the students don’t want or appreciate it because it demands a lot from them. As I was sitting on one of those benches in the school compound, an old parishioner who recognized me immediately and whispered words of wisdom into my ears. He said that it is the same old school and a lot has changed except what you see. He went on to say that a lot has changed in the Capuchin Order which i have experience and witnessed in my younger days. He shocked me with his knowledge of the Capuchin spirituality and charism. He quoted some great names of the Indian Capuchins. As I wondered at his wisdom, he whispered again into my ears and said that the church wants Capuchins to be what they were. He requested me to communicate with the capuchins that the church and world loves the simple and humble capuchins. Remain what you are and don’t hesitate to challenge us with your simplicity, poverty and fraternity. We are all looking for it. We are all hungry to see holy and godly me. We want to see the old Franciscans who gave us faith centuries and centuries ago here in Vasai.
I believe in his words of advise that we can be guided by our true identity as Capuchins and that is our simplicity, minority and fraternity. The old people do still remember the brown habit capuchins whom they loved. Our prayers and efforts should be geared towards being humble and minor capuchins. The world and society at large is trying to be big and bigger, we can give a counter witness that being small we can move and shake the world with our life of witness. We should be small and little which will make us men of the Gospel, believing in the mercy and support of the Lord. We do understand the blessings that come on our way when we are little and small. Being minor leads us to those who are small, little, hungry, thirsty, needy and who have no name and face because they are poor. We can be brothers to these nameless and faceless people if we are aware of being minors and vulnerable. St. Francis did recognize that this reality in his life. He surrendered to God seeking his mercy and compassion. He received God’s grace and light in being humble and minor. By doing this act of being little he came out of his own world and that of his father’s world, the plans and agendas of his and his family. He totally surrendered his person, plans, views, wisdom and understanding and went beyond his own world, world of God. Being minor, he had to sacrifice many things in his life…comforts, food, popularity, friendship, and warmth of family, securities. What he did not like first, he embraced all that in his being minor. His closeness to the poor and needy was clear enough of his intention of sharing his life with them.