Published for the Lay Association of
The BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE
FROM THE WRITINGS ON ST. FRANCIS:
St. Francis felt like an exile so long as he remained in this earthly life
separated from God and at the same time, his love of Christ had left him
insensible to all earthly desires. Therefore, he tried to keep his spirit
in the presence of God, by praying to Him without intermission, so that he
might not be without some comfort from his Beloved. Whether he was walking
or sitting, at home or abroad, whether he was working or resting, he was so
wholeheartedly intent on prayer that he seemed to have dedicated to it not
only his heart and his soul, but all his efforts and all his time. He was
often taken right out of himself in such an excess of devotion that he was
lost in ecstasy. Then he experienced things which were beyond all human
understanding, and he would be completely oblivious of all that went on
Saint Bonaventure's Major Life
COMMENTARY: by Bruce Fahey BSP
As Lent ends and we approach the rest of the year we all must face
the reality of continuing our formation in the spiritual life. In the real
world, all development is self-development it is said. It takes energy to
advance in the secular life, and we must make up our minds that we are
going to apply it. As one saying goes: "If you don't know where you are
going you will probably end up somewhere else."
We all need to consider where we are going. As we ponder this writing
from St. Bonaventure we face the reality of making decisions for our future
that will affect both our current behavior and where we will end up. If we
don't do this, there is a great probability that we will end up somewhere
else, and that might not be a happy place because "the gate is wide and the
road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are
many" (Mt. 7:13). This simple Gospel reality and admonition should be
sufficient grounds for each of us to seriously consider the example of St.
Francis in the above quote from St. Bonaventure and make it our own.
What did he do? He made a conscious decision to act on what he felt,
and what he felt was "like an exile". And, so, "therefore, he tried to
keep his spirit in the presence of God". Do we do that yet? Do we feel
that way yet? Perhaps not. However, if we persist in the life of the Rule
of 1221 we will in time. It is the life that St. Francis gave us, and a
holy calling. It is the narrow way that leads to life, and on that narrow
way the Spirit of God will be with us for sure, and His love will draw us
to do holy things for God can only draw us into holiness for He loves us
and always wishes only good for His creatures. There is no greater good
than God Himself, and He most certainly knows it. So, He will draw us to
Himself, and to do that he will draw us to prayer. Not just the prayer of
words, but the prayers of the heart, the mind, and soul. Contemplation, and
more, so that like St. Francis whatever we are doing we will be dedicated
to prayer in our hearts and souls, but also with all of our efforts and all
of the time. And in time, like St. Francis, if we pursue this, God will
grant us mystical prayer, and we may well get lost in ecstasy, as did St.
Francis, for it is written: "eye has not seen, and ear has not heard...
what God has prepared for those who love him," (1Cor 2:9) except for the
spiritually mature, which is what we will become if we but pray always...
So, let's try to be oblivious to what is going on around us and think
only of God, at least often.
by Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
"Remember this, you who are my servant! I formed you to be a servant to
me" (Is. 44)
As Lent ends it is good for us all to reflect on this Scripture, in
our lives, and in the BSP. We are servants of the Lord, and it is to this
he called us. We serve the living God, and He did not make that difficult.
He made it TOO easy. He made serving Him the act of serving those around
us. We are working to be among those who serve Him, the "righteous", and
his words to us in the Gospel of Matthew are 'Amen, I say to you, what you
did for one of these least ones, you did for me.' (Mt. 25:40) That is, so
long as we in fact did those things he speaks of. That is our ongoing
challenge. To become the Gospel to those around us. The Gospel of good
deeds. To this we must be faithful. To do good for those around us.
For most of us we like challenges. We even seek them out. The world
is always challenging us to be self actualized. All we can be. To
accomplish all we can accomplish for worldly ends. How often have we been
drawn into that endless circle of self centered selfishness which the world
calls "success", for the world measures success in the wealth we have
acquired and the pleasures we can enjoy, not the people we have helped or
the workers we have cared for. We are successful businessmen if we make a
lot of money, more than we need to live on, and have many toys so those
around us are envious of our fame. We are successful mothers if we don't
have too many children but have nice things and enough money and time to do
things for ourselves. We are successful athletes if we reach national fame
and make millions of dollars and the fame of unlimited personal pleasure.
The common threads of this success are pride, greed, and lust. The three
pillars of evil against which the servants of God must pit the cardinal
virtues of humility, poverty, and chastity.
The Lord said "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my
love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love."
(Jn. 15:10) So, as His servants we need to take Him quite literally, and
work to keep His commandments and remain in His love. This is not a
stifling love. It is an ever enriching and deepening love, for He is love
and His love was deep, perfect, and endless for every one of us. That is
how we are called to keep His commandments. By loving others as He did. In
doing this we are His servants and the fullness of the beatitude of what He
had in mind for us comes into reality. He made us to be His servants, not
as the world makes servants, but to experience His love. "Whoever serves
me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The
Father will honor whoever serves me." (Jn. 12:26)
This then is our work. To be servants of the Lord and do the things
the servants of the Lord will do. We must learn to pray and work for the
Kingdom of God, for that Kingdom is our life. Our life here building it,
and our life in the world to come, in heaven, experiencing it in the
triumph of Easter joy. Forever, doing what it is that God has in mind for
us in the life to come. We can all marvel that most of us go through this
entire life never using more than 10% of our brains according to doctors.
People like Einstein, geniuses, use 10 %. Most of us much less. So, somehow
God has saved 90% of the human mind for what is to come. For that reason we
don't have to believe that we will be idle in heaven. We will go on
learning forever, and God will go on being God, and the marvel of the
infinite power and goodness of the Almighty One will always be before us.
Always awe us. Always give us endless joy and refreshment.
So, when we hear the call "Remember this, you who are my servant!"
(Is. 44), and consider it against the call of the Gospel, we can all know
it is a call to reach the fullness of human potential. Here, now, on earth
in being all the Lord wants us to be in the life we have where we are with
the people around us, and to be all that God has in mind for us forever in
heaven, the joy of which will be overwhelming and eternal. Blessed be the
Bruce and Shelley BSP
The Blessings of the Easter Season
by Winnie Spencer-Dealy
Our long Lenten fast is over, and now we can celebrate the rising of Our
Lord in the Easter Season! This is such a beautiful time of year, even
more beautiful to me than Christmas. In the Advent and Christmas Season,
the atmosphere is one of hope and joyful anticipation, with Christmas a
time of new beginnings and spiritual resolve. Lent has that characteristic
as well, as we fast and abstain to join our sufferings with Christ. But
now that time is over, and we may now celebrate fully. Christ has died;
Christ has risen!
What makes this season so holy, and Easter so important, is the fact of His
rising. If Our Lord had simply died, then He would have been just another
man to meet his end. But Christ rose to meet his destiny. And the message
He brings us, with His awesome resurrection, is that we, too, are destined
for eternal life with our Creator. He frees us from the bondage of
sin--and sin we certainly all do. His death is important, yes, but His
rising is the key to our spirituality. The men of his time were so brutal
in their treatment of Him--caring so little that He suffered so much, and
jeering at Him as He died on the Cross. They must have thought themselves
the victor as He called out to God, and breathed His last breath. It must
have been a "bad" situation put to rest, and He was laid to rest inside the
borrowed tomb. Yet He had a little surprise in store for them. "Destroy
this temple and in three days I will raise it up again."
What must He have felt on that Sunday morn, as he unwrapped the burial
cloths from His body, and even folded neatly the one on His head?
Triumphant indeed, yet still full of forgiveness for the wicked people who
had outright murdered Him. What a loving Savior! What kindness and
merciful charity! For in dying He saved us from our sins, and rising He
brings us to new life. Awesome!
Let us celebrate this Season fully, with joy and newness of life and
resolve to do what we can for Him. Let us renew our commitment to live the
Rule of the BSP, for Christ, through Christ, in Christ. For in Him we
live, in Him we hope, and in Him we love. May the BSP, and all people are
blessed this Easter Season!
Winnie Spencer-Dealy BSP
NO GREATER LOVE: by PAUL BEERY BSP
"My wanderings you have counted;The Office of the Passion of St. Francis
my tears are stored in your flask;
are they not recorded in your book?
All my foes whisper together against me;
and take counsel together.
They repaid me evil for good and hatred for my love.
In return for my love they slandered me, but I prayed:
Father, King of heaven and earth,í
be not far from me, for I am in
be near, for I have no one to help me.
My friends and my companions stand back because of my affliction.
You have taken my friends away from me;
you have made me an
abomination to them;
I am imprisoned, and I cannot escape."
The truly compassionate have witnessed and suffered through one of the most gut-wrenching dramas of modern times, which almost perfectly parallels the most dramatic event in human history: the Passion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I refer to the passion and death of Terri Schiavo, the importance of which is not lost on anyone who strives to promote the Gospel of Life. She is truly "imprisoned, and cannot
I wish to spend some time on this case, for it so perfectly illustrates the clash between the forces of good and evil, the Gospel of Life vs. the Culture of Death. It is equivalent to Roe vs. Wade as an opening shot in the euthanasia war. Choosing sides is not so easy, since the Church has a long history of refusing extraordinary means in some cases to prolong an earthly life when eternity beckons. In spite of the fact that food and water are not extraordinary means, polls show up to 70% on the side of publicly starving an innocent woman to death. The only way such an outcome could occur is by a successful campaign of disinformation and outright lies. Many do not know the truth about Terri Schiavo, because her case has been demagogued by a media obsessed with the culture of death, a culture that many have accepted.
I presume most of you know those facts, for those who seek the Truth have learned to take the opposite position of the so-called "mainstream" media on almost every issue. It pains me grievously to say that, for in such a great and free country as America, to have a disingenuous and partisan elite form the conscience and culture of the nation is very offensive. It forces everyone to discern the difference between good and evil, between those who are trustworthy and those who are not Ė even when watching the news. God has ordained that the Evil One and his minions seem to be in control, ever since our first parents succumbed to his blandishments. Each of us goes through this personal drama every minute of every day; we know the power of evil, even when our heart desires to live in the goodness and love of God. Imagine the plight of those who donít live by His grace, defenseless in battle, in the war between good and evil. So if we seek to live a life pleasing to God, we must look elsewhere for objective information to form our conscience.
The "alternative" media is the only place one consistently finds truth in the modern world. For many of us it comes down to Catholic/Christian, conserve-ative programming such as EWTN, Fox News, talk radio and the internet. Other means of communication like books, newspapers and magazines lack the power of combining all the senses such as through a video. We know the powerful effect of Mel Gibsonís "Passion of the Christ." There is no definitive video of the passion of Terri Schiavo. No one can see her struggle for life. There are only contradictory snippets of information. Once her husband got the settlement money intended for Terriís rehabilitation in 1992, he has been on a mission to hasten her death. Follow the money. He has deliberately withheld rehab from her for 13 years, denying even normal care. Any sane person would consider that to be cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU would file a lawsuit that would make headlines in the media if such treatment were given to convicted criminals, or terrorists held as prisoners of war. But Terri has not committed a crime. Those who defend the guilty donít care about the innocent.
Thatís one of the striking similarities between the Passion of Jesus and Terriís plight. A whole article would be necessary to list the cast of characters. Some are obvious. Michael Schiavo is Judas. For 30 pieces of silver he betrayed his own wife. Instead of giving her up to the care of her parents, he gave her the kiss of death, turning her over to the chief priests in black robes, to Caiaphas, Judge Greer. He wouldnít allow truthful testimony from those who said Judas should never be Terriís guardian, for he had a huge conflict of interest. He made a mockery of their marriage vows by living with another woman and fathering two children. He cared nothing for Terriís welfare, and at various nursing facilities was heard to say many times such things as: "When is the b____ going to die?" Yet when the governor of Florida tried to take Terri into protective custody to save her life, Judas stated: "We had to run to the courts to PROTECT TERRI from the ABUSE OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA." ďTerri should be Ďallowedí to die, instead of being Ďforcedí to live.Ē (Editorial in The Washington Post) Have words lost all their meaning?
The practitioners of death gave their own false charges to Caiaphas... She was in a "persistent vegetative state," a determination made in 20 minutes by a Right-to-Die doctor. No, said another neurologist who spent ten hours with her. His testimony was disallowed because he was a biased "Pro-Life extremist." And how about this whopper: "Death by starvation is really quite painless." Really? Ever tried it? Terri said she didnít want to live this way according to Judas, seven years after saying he had no idea how she felt. The testimony of her girlfriend who did know how Terri felt wasnít admitted because Caiaphas erred on the date she learned this bit of information, saying she was too young at the time. When his error was pointed out to him, and the girlfriendís testimony had to be admitted, he said, "It wouldnít have mattered anyway." The judgment was predetermined, and the judge would not be confused with the facts.
Itís hard to come to the conclusion that we are looking at the Dark Side, at how the forces of evil operate openly and publicly. Michael Schiavo, in his attempt to torture and kill his ex-wife, has had many accomplices. We now know who has the ultimate power in the nation: the courts. This was proven again when Judge Greer thumbed his nose at Congress by ignoring its subpoena, and a federal appeals court ignored a direct order signed by the president to review the case. "Men in Black" by Mark Levin catalogues the evil done by judicial tyranny, activist judges who are most responsible for de-moral-izing America. Professors can teach moral relativism, Hollywood can glamorize the culture of death, and leftist lawyers can bring lawsuits against the innocent, but it takes corrupt judges to change laws to convict the innocent while protecting the guilty. We now know how important elections are. Even after being repudiated at the polls, the Pro-Abortion party is threatening legislative chaos in a frantic attempt to prevent Pro-LIFE judges from being confirmed by the Senate, because the liberal left agenda has been foisted upon the American people by the judicial, not the legislative or executive branches of government. Too many Pro-Life judges might return America to its God-centered foundation. They may actually follow and correctly interpret the Constitution, the most widely admired - and one of the most Christian - documents in the world.
The Passion of Jesus Christ has brought about our salvation. It has brought my faith in Him to its fullness. But itís Pro-Life issues like the passion of Terri that have forced me to become a Catholic activist. The faithful must not only be Pro-Life, and vote Pro-Life, but make our voices heard on critical issues such as this one. The judicial branch is no longer a co-equal branch of government, and it must be reined in. The legislature has the constitutional authority to limit judicial review, but it refuses to do its job. The best hope for the future of America then, is for Pro-Life federal judges to be appointed to the judiciary to bring about reform from within. The faithful have had their fill of corrupt judges who de-humanize the human person through abortion, euthanasia, or embryonic stem-cell research. No more torture of the disabled like Terri, who is truly imprisoned and cannot escape. We pray that by the grace of God she is able to offer up her sufferings like the victim soul that she is. We pray there will be no more torture and death of the innocent, for Innocence Itself has given His Life for us. Let us give our life back to Him in love.
"Then do my enemies turn back, when I call upon you; now I know that God is with me.ĎHoly Virgin Mary, among all the women of the world there is none like you; you are the daughter and handmaid of the most high King and Father of heaven; you are the mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ; you are the spouse of the Holy Spirit.í" Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.
From the Second Reading on Easter Sunday:
by Janet Klasson BSP
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
This familiar passage is a beautiful description of what we as penitents are called to do. However, I have found that "setting my mind on things that are above" is easier said than done! There is so much to draw me towards the things of this world. We tend to think of the things of the world as being bad things, but I have found that the things that draw me away from a life of complete surrender to God are most often good and worthy things.
I live in a very small town, about 1000 people. In most communities, I am sure you have noticed, it is the same few people that contribute to the life of the community and this can be the same in a parish community as well. So it is tempting for people of conscience to want to help wherever we can. In a small town, where everyone knows who you are there is even more pressure to contribute to the worthy life of the community. In the past I have had trouble saying no.
But what the Lord has shown me in recent years is that when I am feeling pressured to say yes, it is that much more important to spend time in prayer, to discern if what I am being asked to do is in step with Godís call in my life. What I have discovered through this practice, is that even worthy activities can be a distraction from the life and mission I am called to.
Often our "hidden lives" are hidden, not just from those around us, but from ourselves as well. All the more reason, then, to spend time discerning and discovering what is the will of God for us. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I do not need to "do it all". God has called many people to fill the all the roles in any given community. If others choose not to answer that call, that should not be my main concern. My only concern should be to fully cooperate with Godís plan for ME.
Those of us who have been called to the BSP have been called to a life of prayer and penance. This can be time-consuming, leaving little time for outside activities. Some commitments, such as family and work of course do take priority, as the rule states. But, if we are certain that God has called us to this lifestyle, then no matter how much we feel called to other things, we must ensure that they interfere as little as possible with the life that is "hidden with Christ in God", the penitential lifestyle.
It is not easy. I know that for me, if it were not for this community of penitents, I would fail more often. If it were not for the prayer and fasting of the rule, I would be less able to tell the distractions from what I believe God is asking of me. The really wonderful thing about this is that as I surrender more to the "hidden life", I feel more confident that God is working through me for the greater benefit of my community. When I do less, I allow him to do more. There is beauty and serenity in that.
May we continue to set our minds on things that are above, that our hidden life may be fulfilled as perfectly as God has desired.
FRANCISCAN SAINTS: John Bradburne (1921-1979)
John Bradburne was born in 1921, the son of an Anglican minister serving at that time in Cumbria, England. John attended an English private school and served as an army officer in Malaysia, India and Burma during the Second World War. It was in India that he first met John Dove, a Catholic man who at that time was also a serving officer and later became a Jesuit priest. Helped by John Dove, John Bradburne became interested in the spiritual life and began to explore Catholicism. In 1942, when he was still a soldier, had a vision of Our Lady in the jungle, and his specifically religious quest began there.
John playing in the church
John became a Roman Catholic after World War II when staying at Buckfast Abbey in England. Soon after, he joined the Third Order of St Francis. He remained a layman until his death.
For the next twenty years he lived in complete poverty trying to discover Godís plan for his life. He tried to become a monk, twice in England and once in Belgium, but gave it up. He fell in love and came close to marrying. He made a penniless pilgrimage to Jerusalem, wandered round England as a species of minstrel, became caretaker of the Archbishop of Westminster's country house in Hertfordshire, and while living for a year in southern Italy, made a private vow to the Virgin Mary that he would remain celibate. He could not find a way of blending love of contemplative solitude with his love for the poor. Eventually he returned to London where he spent time as a sacristan at Westminster Cathedral. In time, he contacted his Jesuit friend, Fr. Dove, who was working in Rhodesia, to find out if there were any caves he could inhabit and live as a hermit. Taking advantage of a cheap air flight, subsidized by the government to attract more white voters, Bradburne left for Rhodesia to start a new life.
For seven years he worked as a lay missionary, helping Fr. Dove in several missions without finding his role. Finally he did a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, after which he returned to Africa. His friend Heather Benoy, who used to play the guitar to his long recorder, suggested him to go to see the leper settlement at Mutemwa, about whose poor condition she had heard. They arrived to find a scene of dereliction. The lepers were dirty and hungry, the roofs of their tiny huts falling in. "I'm staying," said Bradburne, and being him he meant it literally - that he would stop there and then, and for good, to devote himself to the care of lepers.
Bradburne was not a doctor, but he gave the lepers, whom others avoided, his limitless love, in a Franciscan style. He gave them back their human dignity. He bathed them, gave them their drugs, and treated their wounds and sores. He managed to get a little chapel built, and the lepers were able to worship God in the midst of their sufferings. John lived among them in total poverty. If he was given gifts of food or clothes they were passed on to the patients.
Sometimes he wore a Franciscan habit, but on the whole he dressed more like a hippie, with long hair, a beard, and a red head band. To serve lepers, die a martyr, and be buried in a Franciscan habit were his three ambitions, as he used to say.
John and two lepers at Mutemwa
The lepers loved him. He knew them all and wrote a poem about each one of them (there were more than 80). With his encouragement, a small round church was built at Mutemwa, where he taught Gregorian plain chant to the lepers. When they lay dying, he read them the Gospel.
After about three years, the Rhodesian Leprosy Association, the body responsible for Mutemwa, fell out with John Bradburne. They seem to have had a narrow view of their duties, and felt that Bradburne was extravagant. He was criticised, for example, for trying to provide one loaf of bread per leper per week. And he infuriated the Association by refusing to put numbers around the necks of the lepers, insisting that they were people with names, not livestock. The Association expelled him from the settlement. But he would not go away. He lived in a tent on Chigona, the mountain hard by Mutemwa on which he was accustomed to pray. Then a friendlier farmer gave him a tin hut, with no electricity or water. There he lived for the next six years, and ministered to the lepers as best he could, often by night.
At the time, Rhodesia, which had become independent from Britain in the mid 60s, was ruled by Ian Smith's apartheid-style government, which was battling with rebel Marxist fighters backed by Moscow and China. Bradburne was utterly uninterested in politics, and was only concerned with the welfare of the lepers. But he was abducted by guerrillas in 1979. At midnight on 2 September, about ten youths came to John Bradburne's hut. He was captured and kept hostage for a few days, and then shot in the back by his captors on September 5. In the early hours of the morning, the security commander ordered him to walk a few places ahead and then stop and face him. He did so, and fell on his knees and prayed for about three minutes, showing no sign of fear. Then he rose to his feet, and as he did so, the commander shot him. He was 58.
Five days later, after the body was prepared for burial and placed in a coffin, the funeral was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and presided over by Archbishop Chakaipa. However, during Communion, faithful attending the serviced were aghast to see drops of blood dripping from the coffin. When the coffin was opened, it was discovered that Bradburne had not been dressed in his Franciscan habit. The blunder was put right and he left this world for heaven as he wished: a servant of lepers and a martyr, buried in a Franciscan habit.
John might well become Zimbabwe's first saint. The Archdiocese of Harare has initiated a preliminary investigation into the life of this "strange vagabond," who travelled great distances before reaching what he called "the end of his journey": the Mutemwa leper colony.
Devotion to John Bradburne has grown over the years. Fr. Dove says many cures have been obtained, which might well be miracles, although rural people leave no records and testimony is often lost.
John was a layman, member of the Third Order of St Francis. He just loved St Francis of Assisi and he faithfully obeyed the rule of 1221 written by Saint Francis. "He was an extraordinary man -- his whole life was a prayer," stated Fr. Slevin, a Franciscan who lived with Bradburne for 9 months in 1962. "John Bradburne's life had all the simplicity, beauty and mystical depths which one finds in reading the life of St. Francis in the accounts called the Fioretti", said another priest.
John was a poet too and left in his poor hut dwelling no less than 6000 pages of verse. He had an extraordinary love for Our Lady. His poet's eye saw her as the most beautiful girl and Mother. He wrote poem-prayers to her.
He kept up a constant rhythm of prayer the rosary and the Jesus prayer of "The Way of the Pilgrim" which he adapted for the needs of Zimbabwe and the World at large. At night he would steal into the chapel and sing and play the harmonium in front of the Blessed Sacrament for two hours or more. He was a mystic, poet, and music maker all in one. He had easy converse with God both in his quiet, solitary prayer and through his poetry and music. He did, however, lean on another book too "The Cloud of Unknowing". He loved "The Cloud" and longed to pierce the veil that stood between him and the sight of God.
The center of every soul has a need which demands satisfaction. God alone can answer this need, and the only solution is straightway to take the road leading to Him; because our end is the living God, and we cannot rest entirely except in Him. As St. Augustine puts it: "Our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee." Let us strive to be of the number of those who seek God, and to whom it is said: "Thou wouldst not seek Me, if thou hadst not already found Me."
Spring is in the air by John Bradburne
The Thought of God is written in the air,
Weather and wind express him with His Word,
Behold the hills so high above low care
And hark to Yahweh's Voice in larksong heard;
The Thought of God is God the Father good,
The Word of God expresses what God thinks,
The Voice of God rings vibrant in the wood
Singing, or in our hearts with silence links;
These Three are Love Begetting, Love Begotten
And Love Proceeding as the Voice of both.
Love is our God and King and nothing loth
To sink into the silence, unforgotten.
Submitted by Anna FerronióTurin, Italy
- Back Row standing:
Bruce Fahey, Paul Beery, Donna Beery;
- Front row sitting:
Shelley Fahey, Anna Ferroni, Mary Girling.
Please pray for Anna who is now living with the Fahey's in Scandia as she
prepares to undergo surgery for breast cancer.
Bruce and Shelley are even learning some Italian...
True and False Mysticism by Anna Ferroni BSP - Italy
Can we Know God? In the Bible the issue was stated in terms of sight: Can a human person see God and live? Does God reveal himself face to face, or does he only allow his back to be seen? And even if a great prophet, like Moses, is allowed to see God face to face, yet how penetrating, how complete is that vision?
Sentences in the Bible give assurance that we can grasp a true knowledge of God. A number of these are found in the Book of Psalms: "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:9); "Be still and know that I am God, high over the nations, high over the earth" ( Psalm 46:11) and more. The prophets were so convinced they had encountered God personally that they spoke in His name, and were killed because of that.
In the Bible God assumes certain forms as he communicates with people: an angel, fire in a bush, a gentle wind, still small voice, a thunder in which the powerful voice of God is heard, the brilliant light of Tabor, and more.
Scriptural sources for Christian mysticism are also found largely in John's Gospel in imagery such as that of the vine and branches (John 15) or Christ's prayer for union (John 17). We may also think of the description of Paul's rapture into the third heaven (II Cor. 12:1 - 4) or statements such as that referring to a life "hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). But the historical foundation of any study about mysticism is the beginning part of John's Gospel: the Incarnation of the Word. By introducing this view of the Word as the Son of God who speaks to man and, at the same time, is One with God, Saint John suggests that God is not a distant and hidden divinity; rather, he actively pursues his creature to raise him to himself. His Word is a gift of grace; indeed, God can be found only by his special gift of grace. In meditating on the revealed Word of God, one encounters God's Word and thus is introduced into the realm of the higher mysteries and approaches God himself.
When we attempt to define the nature of our knowledge of God, we meet with considerable difficulty. The chief issue is whether we can know God as he is in himself, in his nature, or is our understanding of him limited by the limits of our human nature? In theological language, that is said: can we know God in his essence or only in his works? There is no sure answer.
That there is a real meeting between God and humans at times is certain, but how full and immediate this experience is remains shrouded in a mystery. This mystery gave origin to the word mysticism. The Greek word Mysterion means secret, mystery.
The Webster's Dictionary defines mysticism as: "The belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth or ultimate reality, can be obtained through subjective experience."
"The immediate, direct experience of God" is a definition given by a number of writers. "Pure Consciousness" is a short definition some modern people are using to express the nature of mysticism. These definitions are incomplete, poor, pale shadows of true Christian Mysticism.
Another misleading definition was given by Albert Schweitzer: "We are always in the presence of mysticism when we find a human being looking upon the division between earthly and super-earthly, temporal and eternal, as transcended, and feeling himself, while still externally amid the earthly and temporal, to belong to the super-earthly and eternal."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines mysticism as: "a) spiritual discipline aiming at direct union or communion with ultimate reality or God through deep meditation or trancelike contemplation. b) The experience of such communion as described by mystics."
All of these definitions are also not correct and incomplete according to Catholic thought.
Mysticism is an empirical science, as it relies on experience of people who are given mystical graces by God, but the mystic life is without reserve a free initiative of God. No dispositions, however perfect, may demand this gift as a right. It ever remains a pure gift of God. Indeed, many people never realize they are given any exceptional experience of Godís mystery. Even lots of saints never did. God leads us through different paths and we just follow Him. So, we donít have to go for trancelike contemplation. We donít have to aim at direct union or communion with God, much less in Pantheistic sense. And we donít have to feel we are supermen if we have mystical experiences. The bottom line is true mysticism is never self-seeking, it first seeks God; then, filled with God, the soul is sent to other souls so that through them God may be honored and loved.
Mysticism is beyond all speculation. It knows God and this experience canít be properly described through human words. Mystical life is a prelude to Heaven. According to the words of Jesus in St. John's Gospel, eternal life is constituted by such experience: "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17: 3). Since each of us is born to spend eternity with God in, we can say that every single person in the whole humanity is created to be a mystic, having a real knowledge of God, now or later in Heaven.
Letís seek the Lord with "all of one's mind, heart, and strength". Mystical experiences are gifts for those who desire God alone, beyond all possession of spiritual wealth, i.e. for those who desire only to dwell in Christ as he dwells in the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit.
From Linda Curtiss:
The essence of prayer does not consist in asking God for something but in
opening our hearts to God, in speaking with Him, and living with Him in
perpetual communion. Prayer is continual abandonment to God. Prayer does
not mean asking God for all kinds of things we want; it is rather the
desire for God Himself, the only Giver of Life. Prayer is not asking, but
union with God. Prayer is not a painful effort to gain from God help in
the varying needs of our lives. Prayer is the desire to possess God
Himself, the Source of all life. The true spirit of prayer does not
consist in asking for blessings, but in receiving Him who is the giver of
all blessings, and in living a life of fellowship with Him...
--Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929), Hindu Sikh who converted to Christ.
Years ago, I was enthralled as I listened to a pastor who for several
years had faithfully served the church. His executive responsibilities had
taken him all over this country. As he concluded his message, he told of
one of the most frightening yet thought-provoking experiences of his life.
He had been on a long flight from one place to another. The first warning
of the approaching problems came when the sign on the airplane flashed on:
"Fasten your seat belts." Then, after a while, a calm voice said, "We shall
not be serving the beverages at this time as we are expecting a little
turbulence. Please be sure your seat belt is fastened."
As he looked around the aircraft, it became obvious that many of the
passengers were becoming apprehensive. Later, the voice of the announcer
said, "We are so sorry that we are unable to serve the meal at this time.
The turbulence is still ahead of us." And then the storm broke. The
ominous cracks of thunder could be heard even above the roar of the
engines. Lightning lit up the darkening skies, and within moments that
great plane was like a cork tossed around on a celestial ocean. One moment
the airplane was lifted on terrific currents of air; the next, it dropped
as if it were about to crash.
The pastor confessed that he shared the discomfort and fear of those around
him. He said, "As I looked around the plane, I could see that nearly all
the passengers were upset and alarmed. Some were praying. The future seemed
ominous and many were wondering if they would make it through the storm.
"And then, I suddenly saw a little girl. Apparently the storm meant nothing
to her. She had tucked her feet beneath her as she sat on her seat; she was
reading a book and everything within her small world was calm and orderly.
Sometimes she closed her eyes, then she would read again; then she would
straighten her legs, but worry and fear were not in her world. "When the
plane was being buffeted by the terrible storm when it lurched this way and
that, as it rose and fell with frightening severity, when all the adults
were scared half to death, that marvelous child was completely composed and
unafraid." The minister could hardly believe his eyes.
It was not surprising therefore, that when the plane finally reached its
destination and all the passengers were hurrying to disembark, our pastor
lingered to speak to the girl whom he had watched for such a long time.
Having commented about the storm and behavior of the plane, he asked why
she had not been afraid. The sweet child replied, "Sir, my Dad is the
pilot, and he is taking me home."
There are many kinds of storms that buffet us. Physical, mental, financial,
domestic, and many other storms can easily and quickly darken our skies and
throw our plane into an apparently uncontrollable movement. We have all
known such times, and let us be honest and confess, it is much easier to be
at rest when our feet are on the ground than when we are being tossed about
a darkened sky.
Let us remember: Our Father is the Pilot. He is in control and taking us
home. Don't worry. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on
your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make
straight your paths."
RETREAT 2005: The Subject is Prayer
It is not too early to plan to come to our retreat this year. It will be held on the last weekend in July at the same place as last year: Franciscan Retreats in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
The estimated cost of the retreat will be $135 dollars complete, and will include dinner on Friday evening when we gather.
We are pleased to report that Archbishop Flynn will again celebrate Mass for us on Saturday, and that Fr. Robert Altier has agreed to be our retreat master again this year. Last year he discussed penance; this year his subject will be Prayer. He is a Carmelite and this is a special area of interest to Father so we expect his talks to be *fabulous* as they were last year.
More information will be published as we get closer to the retreat date. Registration for the retreat will begin in the second quarter of the year.
THE ADMONITIONS OF ST. FRANCIS: XIII. Patience
We can never tell how patient or humble a person is when everything
is going well with him. But when those who should co-operate with him do
the exact opposite, then we can tell. A man has a much patience and
humility as he has then, and no more.
STELLA MATUTINA BLOG
On Ash Wednesday a BLOG has been created by Bruce and Shelley Fahey in the BSP website to better document the beginnings of the BSP. It has been named Stella Matutina, Morning Star, in honor of Mary as was their first efforts to promote the Rule of 1221 in the SFO on and before 1994. The initial presentations on the BLOG is linked to the book, Reflections in a Morning Star, which Bruce and Shelley published in 1994 and is part of the roots of the BSP. In time the blog hopefully will be expanded to include the writings of other BSP authors. So, don't forget to visit our website at www.bspenance.org and go visit the blog!
Annuciation of the Angel to Mary
Painted around 1392 by Agnolo Gaddi, Italian painter, in a Chapel of the Cathedral of Prato, Italy.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE OF ST. FRANCIS
a.k.a. the BSP, is a non-profit Private Association of the Faithful, which is dedicated to renewing the ancient way of penance as contained in the First Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis of 1221 for lay people in our modern world. We have the blessing of the Catholic Church to do this through several of its bishops. If you are bound by another Rule of life in another profession of the way of St. Francis that does not permit you to enter other religious families you are nonetheless invited to become an Honorary member of our Association and add the elements of this beautiful way of life that Saint Francis of Assisi gave us to the lifestyle of your profession.
All members, and Franciscans, are welcome to submit articles for consideration for inclusion in this newsletter if they are directed towards the spiritual formation of members or are the outgrowth of the lifestyle of the Association. Just send them to the BSP at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to share this newsletter with your friends or neighbors. It is intended to be the primary monthly communication of the Association. And if you can find it in your heart and in your budget remember that donations to the BSP are used strictly to promote the lifestyle and are tax deductible. We remain, always, sincerely yours in the love of Jesus Christ!
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
Welcome to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance!
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us..."
(I John 3:1)
In the world, but not of it, for Christ!