FAREWELL FATHER VAL!
The primary focus of this issue is to wish a final farewell to our long standing friend and spiritual guide, Father Valerius Messerich O.F.M.. Father Val, who is 85 years old as of this writing, has been moved to an assisted care retirement home in Illinois and he will no longer be able to attend BSP events here.
No other priest has had the influence on the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance that Father Valerius has had. He loved the story and image of the butterfly for us, and he personally blessed all of the crowns of thorns thus far given within the Association. He has been present, and spiritual director and visitor to the BSP, through its long history of development and refinement in Minnesota and within the Church. He has been active in guiding the formation of dozens of members since 1991. He accepted the first pledges to the Rule of 1221 of 17 people on the feast of St. Francis in 1997 at St. Mathias in Hampton, Minnesota where he was pastor making them novices and members of the new Association for life. These first members all received certificates of membership, and their names are recorded in the history of the BSP. This happened just one year after we were recognized as a private Association in the diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, all with the support and loving attention of Fr. Valerius.
Father Val's fingerprints and approvals are on all of the documents of the Association now used to guide it and he confirmed to the writers before his leaving that he was most pleased with all that we have done with the BSP in Minnesota and as the Private Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis in the Church.
All that Father Valerius ever asked of us was prayer, and that we be faithful to the treasures of St. Francis that we guarded. His First Rule and call to the life of penance. Fr. Val himself was an easy advocate of a firm life of penance, and he often said we needed to 'become the Rule' as his best counsel on how we should live it in our daily lives. He was and is always a brother in Christ and St. Francis and we will make every effort to remain close to him in his final, golden years. Let us all remember him in our daily prayers. We are who we are in large part because of Father Valerius Urban Messerich O.F.M. God bless you, and thank you, Father Val!
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
FR. VALERIUS URBAN MESSERICH O.F.M.
THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE FIRST VISITOR AND SPIRITUAL GUIDE
Urban John Messerich was born on December 17, 1919, as one of three boys in a family of four children living in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He was baptized and confirmed in St. Matthews parish in West St. Paul, and entered the seminary when he was thirteen. He was ordained into the priesthood on June 20, 1946, taking the name Valerius Urban Messerich.
Father Valerius has worked all over the world as a Franciscan since his ordination primarily within and for the Franciscan Order. He taught theology in the seminary for years, both here in America and in Europe. He said that the highlight of his priestly career occurred when he was living in the Antonianun friary at Via Mesulana 124, in Rome, Italy from 1962 until 1969, during the days of Vatican II. He served the Secular Franciscan Order from 1978 until 2001 as a spiritual assistant. First to local SFO fraternities and then to the Queen of Peace Region of the Secular Franciscan Order. This was the second region of the Secular Franciscan Order to be established nationally when the SFO made it's transition from provinces to regions in the early 1990's. The canonical establishment of the Queen of Peace Region was accomplished in one year through the dedication and sacrifice of Fr. Valerius, working with Bruce Fahey, its first minister, his wife, Shelley, also in the SFO, and other secular Franciscans in Minnesota.
Father Valerius has supported the founding of the Private Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis from it's earliest roots within the Secular Franciscan Order. He authored the name for the "Stella Matutina Movement" in the early 1990s, and guided it's vision and mission. That movement was one of the first steps towards the Association as it exists today. The movement itself began in the home of Bruce and Shelley Fahey SFO, now administrators and officers of the BSP of St. Francis, and it is still having a residual impact within the SFO locally.
Fr. Valerius was spiritual guide to the publication of "Reflections in a Morning Star" also. This was a book of compilations and excerpts of various modern and historical Franciscan documents published by Brother Not SFO and Sister Not SFO for use in the Secular Franciscan Order. The book was aimed at summarizing arguments and data from Scripture and the writings of St. Francis promoting the lifestyle of the Rule of 1221 as a viable response to living the Pauline Rule of 1978. Fr. Valerius blessed this book by including in it an "Open Letter to All Franciscans," which is itself a classic endorsement of the need to live a committed life if one wants to be called "Franciscan."
In 1996 Archbishop Harry J. Flynn canonically approved the Brothers and Sisters of Penance to live the Rule of 1221, gather in support of it, and promote it gently in the Church. He personally designated Fr. Valerius as the first Visitor to the BSP. Father Valerius continued to faithfully serve as Visitor to the Association from then until May 2003. He conducted BSP retreats and Days of Recollection, and took the first pledges of BSP members. He briefly retired to a friary on the Eastside of St. Paul early in 2003, at which point he resigned from work in both the SFO and the BSP. He has since come out of retirement and is again serving the Church as priest-in-residence at St. Mathias parish in Hampton, Minnesota. He still happily joins in discussions with area leaders on life in the Association of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, which he helped found.
We have all been deeply blessed by the prayers, works, and wonderful guidance of this holy man of God. Let us all keep Father Valerius in our prayers!
This commentary is based on an interview with Father Valerius and approved by him, at his parish home in Hampton, Minnesota in November, 2003.
Father Valerius and Archbishop Flynn concelebrate Mass during
the BSP Retreat at Prior Lake in 2005. The Archbishop always
expressed his great regards for Father Valerius and gratitude
for his ongoing work in the diocese.
Bruce and Shelley and Father Valerius at Retreat 2005.
Paul and Fr. Val at lunch during Retreat 2005.
Father Valerius, Paul, Archbishop Harry Flynn, and Donna Beery in a 2003 picture. Paul and Donna have always been great friends of Father Val.
NO GREATER LOVE: by PAUL BEERY BSP
"Jesus went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray" (Mt. 14, 23)
If Jesus went off by Himself to commune with His Father, even more should we. The Second Vatican Council has called on all followers of Jesus, be they religious or lay, to realize the necessity of prayer, for all are the People of God, in the same boat with Peter. We all have the same need to seek union with God by separating ourselves from the daily grind to go to a place of silence where we can hear the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to the humble heart in the stillness of the night.
Thomas Merton endured years of frustration to break the monastic tradition that militated against any sign of singularity in its members. Like Francis, St. Benedict wanted to make sure his followers were to live without property, so they would have nothing to take pride in. But part of the beauty of creation is the fact that each of us is a supremely singular creation of a loving God. Each of us has a unique vocation, with individual talents God has given us to fulfill our mission on earth. There must be some flexibility in any form of Christian life to allow each individual to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a very difficult matter to discern, for one will never attain holiness without the virtue of humility, and the humble do not seek to be in control of their own lives, much less the lives of others. The humble heart is not likely to go into battle unless responding to a clear call by the Holy Spirit. That call to Thomas Merton resulted in hermitages becoming available to most Benedictines.
Our holy father Francis was far ahead of his time. He could have shown the Benedictines much earlier the same lesson on the need to pray in secret, for he certainly imitated Jesus in this regard. And he made provision for his followers to go to hermitages, where they lived in solitude, but also prayed the Divine Office, which was part of the Rule (#3). "All the friars, both clerics and lay brothers, must say the
Divine Office with the praises and prayers they are obliged to."
The highlight of a trip to Italy some years ago was visiting Mount Alverna. What a beautiful place for prayer! Especially noteworthy was the "cave" in the rocks where Francis loved to go, especially in the heat of summer. Makes me feel better praying in an air-conditioned Church…
Francis enjoyed such freedom in prayer. He knew how essential it was in the fulfillment of the Gospel way of life. In his Rule he codified how we are to pray frequently during the day, praying without ceasing. One cannot do away with the Gospel requirements of prayer and penance. Modern man has drifted away from the "ONE THING NECESSARY." Or worse, prayer and penance have been legislated away, causing the faint of heart to drift into mediocrity, the enemy of the spiritual life. The mediocre are always at their best, but they will never attain holiness, the goal of the disciple. There is a constant battle going on between the mediocre and the seeker, in ourselves, and in society. Those who strive for holiness must be encouraged, not discouraged, from seeking their goal. Archbishop Chaput points this out very well in his talk: "Francis as the model of authentic Church reform." He explains how a great religious ferment is spreading: "God has raised up many new charisms and communities in the Church over the last 60 years, and especially since Vatican II." A woman who wrote to him called them 'flaky, right wing groups.' No. They are authentically Catholic.
God has also raised up many new charisms locally, including that given Bruce and Shelley Fahey. These two 'good shepherds' were instrumental in allowing this charism to grow, bringing the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis to birth. In order for a better understanding of the situation, a little background is in order. Third Order Franciscans have existed since the time of St. Francis, who wrote the Rule of 1221 for lay people to observe. There have been several revisions of that Rule, approved by the Holy See, the last being in 1978, which bears little or no resemblance to the original.
Traditionally, Third Order Franciscans were guided by, and under the control of the four different branches of the First Order Franciscan Friars. Recently, however, Third Order Franciscans have become independent, and have organized themselves into different Regions, calling themselves Secular Franciscans. One of the reasons for this was the fact that there could be different groups of Third Order Franciscans living in the same area, and they might not even know each other, because they were meeting under the auspices of four different groups of Franciscan Friars. Now all Secular Franciscans from the same area meet together. But the role of the Friars has changed dramatically. Instead of being responsible for the spiritual welfare of their charges, the Friars are now merely "assistants." The Secular Franciscans, being independent, are now completely in charge of their own affairs, temporal and spiritual. That's a dramatic change from past tradition, going back hundreds of years. Many welcome this process of de-clericalization, but it's a very serious step, fraught with danger for the spiritual welfare of lay Franciscans, most of whom do not have the training or spiritual wisdom of most priests, not to mention the authority with which Jesus has endowed the priesthood. I doubt the lay followers of St. Francis would have wished to separate themselves from him or his friars in the time of St. Francis.
Father Valerius weathered the transition as well as anyone could. He has a special place in his heart for Third Order Franciscans, and dedicated much of his life to us. He was Spiritual Director for Third Order Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province, then Spiritual Assistant for all the Secular Franciscans absorbed into the Queen of Peace Region. He handled both duties with equal aplomb and grace, though the two jobs
were very different. Being one of the most Christ-like Franciscans I have ever met, he was aware of the difficulty awaiting the Secular Franciscans who were now governing themselves. Certainly there were things he didn't like, and could do nothing about; but that didn't stop him from serving the Secular Franciscans well, and they appreciated his service very much. There is mutual love and respect on both sides.
But this good shepherd, so like his founder, had the opportunity to see a group of people seek to return to the first fervor of St. Francis as embodied in the Rule of 1221. He saw the inspiration given to Bruce and Shelley, and worked with them for years to guide this charism for the good of Holy Mother Church. Fr. Valerius had such prestige as a charismatic Franciscan, and parish priest in good standing of the Diocese of
Minneapolis/St. Paul, that our Chief Shepherd Archbishop Harry Flynn soon approved the formation of the BSP. He has steadfastly supported the Brothers and Sisters of Penance ever since, owing at least in part, I feel, to the support and guidance Fr. Val gave to Bruce, Shelley, and the BSP. Fr. Val really gave of himself for our benefit. And he enjoyed doing it. We will always be grateful to him.
Why is this important? The Gospel is open-ended. There is no way we can fulfill its demands. We can only strive for holiness under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There must be a place to which we can retreat to commune with our heavenly Father. And to those who are called to follow Jesus in the spirit of St. Francis, and need a more prescriptive and challenging Rule, there can be none better than the original Rule of St. Francis, judging by the millions who have been inspired to become great Saints and saints by it. The modern Rule of 1978, duly approved by the Church, is a wonderful Rule which can bring sanctification to many people today, especially those who are self-starters and don't need a more prescriptive Rule. But it is open to wide interpretation of how to live it out in daily life. In one sense this is good, owing to the wide variety of gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit, as outlined above. One would think that one of the ways the modern Rule can be legitimately lived is to be a Franciscan in the tradition of St. Francis and his modern followers like Fr. Val. That way of life must be preserved and made available to anyone who like the rich young man in the Gospel seeks something more, especially the original charism of St. Francis. No one has done it better. No one has achieved greater perfection in the art of combining a Gospel life of prayer and penance as part of the greatest adventure on earth: pursuing the GREATEST LOVE possible for man – in time and eternity.
Father Val, a gentle soul...
Anna and Fr. Val on her recent visit to the U.S.A.
by Anna Ferroni BSP - Italy
The phrase that comes into my head speaking about Father Valerius is "Gentle Soul".
The first time that Father Val touched my life was in February 2001, when I found the BSP website on the Internet and read Father Val's article of the month. Month after month, I became familiar with him through his articles. What impressed me in the first article, as it did forever after, was Father Val's simple kindness.
During my staying in Minnesota with the Fahey's from last March to August, I met him personally. The first time I went to visit him with Bruce Fahey on a cold day at the end of March. He nicely and kindly listened to my confession, and asked about my health and family.
I met Father Val for a second time for my confession again in May, and for a third time in June. Then I met him at the BSP retreat, and finally I met him on Aug 8 for the last time. The last time of my life on earth, I believe.
I saw, he was all alone, though he was not the type of person who abided well alone.
His attitude always revealed to me the child-like simplicity of a prayerful soul and a spirituality founded on humility and obedience. He was childlike in his detachment from the world of affairs.
Jesus promises that "the meek . . . will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Jesus said: I tell you the truth...if you love only those who agree with you and support you what is that. Do not the worst idolaters do the same. I tell you pray blessings on your enemies. Make peace with your adversaries. Love and bless unconditionally. When you pray and seek forgiveness from God, first forgive all who have wronged you. Turn the other check. Go the extra mile. For your Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust, the wise and the ignorant, the good and the bad. So you too…love your enemies and then you will be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. This Jesus said.
Here is the beginning of wisdom and the filling of the Spirit. Here only, in this place of no compromise with the perfect law of love, is the place that Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the path that Father Valerius taught me. Thanks Father Val.
FR. VAL'S LAST NEWSLETTER ARTICLE:
A reflection on Lent 2003
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The twenty-eight ADMONITIONS OF ST. FRANCIS are evidence of St. Francis' remarkable understanding of the Word of God. Thomas of Celano tells us that St. Francis was never a 'deaf hearer' of the Word of God. (2 Cel. 102). His understanding comes from the daily living of a Gospel way of life.
The 5th admonition is entitled "That no one may boast, but glory in the Cross of the Lord."
I suggest that Lent is an appropriate time to reflect on this Admonition, for St. Francis, glorying in the Cross of the Lord meant to glory in our infirmities. In so doing we are to recognize our utter poverty and nothingness in the sight of God. It was through His human body that Christ redeemed us as he shouldered the cross that we imposed on him by our sins. And so, in return, by accepting patiently the infirmities of our bodies, we too shoulder the cross of Jesus and share with Christ in the work of redemption. St. Francis rightly reminds us that our body did not crucify Christ, but our mind and heart that use our bodies for sinful purposes and so harm one another and fail to love and serve them did. To mortify and control the desire for pleasure, the Church prescribes we fast and abstain during the Lenten season in the hope that we continue to observe the ten Commandments throughout the year and indeed for the rest of our lives.
Brothers and Sisters of Penance, let us keep in mind the exhortation of St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians that we ought to take no note of end the greatest gifts that God has bestowed on us, unless we have love in our hearts and use these gifts in the service of our brothers and sisters. These gifts are not our own, and anything that is achieved through the use of them is no achievement of our own, but for the praise and glory of God. Yes, glory in your body and its infirmities. With your body you carry the Cross of Christ and become a true disciple of Jesus Christ. It is not your body, but your mind, memory and will that leads you into sin. See how important it is for us to pray as St. Francis did: "Make me an instrument of your peace" . Our body is that instrument. Through it we acknowledge our dependence in all things upon God. This is the path to enter into the sublime poverty of Jesus Christ, as we empty ourselves and walk in the footsteps of St. Francis and the other Saints.
May our Lent not be a time of hearing the Word of God, but let us become doers of the Word as we faithfully observe the Rule that we have professed. And may we all participate fully in the Resurrection of the Lord as we were empowered in Holy Baptism.
Yours in Christ's love,
Fr. Valerius Messerich O.F.M.
FRANCISCAN SAINTS: Blessed Giuseppe Tovini (1841-1897)
Giuseppe, born 14 March 1841 in Cividate Camuno near Brescia, Italy, was the eldest of seven in a
family of modest means. With the premature death of his father, eighteen year old Giuseppe gave up the idea of joining a mission. In 1865 he finished his law degree and shortly after began work in a law office. Then he took on a second job in a notary's office to help support his younger siblings since by that time both his parents were deceased.
Tovini was a fervent Christian, attracted by religious life. But he loved a young lady named Emilia and was attracted by the perspective of a Christian marriage. He prayed and asked God's and men's guidance for seven years. Then, finally, he took his decision. He consecrated himself to God in the Franciscan Third Order and married Emilia. They had
ten children, one of whom became a Jesuit and two women religious.
In a letter to Emilia, written when she was still his fiancée, he said: "I have always considered marriage a means for moral and religious
perfection. Now I cannot thank the Lord enough for having given you to me as my bride. Oh! Yes, my
dear Emilia, with you I will become more virtuous and a better Christian."
Work, for Giuseppe, meant to serve the poor and to practise
charity and true justice. Thus, he would refuse to take on well-paying causes if they appeared dubious or unjust, saying: "better lose a handsome profit than one's soul."
Giuseppe promoted and directed many social organizations, and also held political offices. Advocate, vice rector and professor, town mayor; his ability to organize and act was prodigious. He
founded and promoted banks, railways, journals, schools and colleges.
Giuseppe Tovini's honesty and integrity were rooted in his deep, vital relationship with God, which he constantly nourished with the Eucharist, meditation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. From listening to God in daily prayer, he drew light and strength for the great social and political battles he had to wage to safeguard Christian values.
He died at the age of 56 in 1897.
Pope Paul VI said, speaking at Tovini's beatification ceremony in Brescia: "Why is Giuseppe Tovini elevated to the glory of the altars? Certanly not for his works and initiatives, but because in all of them he practiced the Christian virtues in heroic degree, living the Gospel according to the example of the saints, and I would tell particularly of St. Francis.
He exercised the moral virtues of Franciscan spirituality, ascesis, simplicity, poverty, spirit of prayer, devotion to the Eucharist and to Our Lady, going from the Gospel to the life and from the life to the Gospel, according to the Rule of Franciscan Third Order."
It's not easy being a Christian in the workplace. Antichristian, mundane ideology is so pervasive in the professional environment. Many of us simply "go with the flow," choosing to participate in the promotion of secular thought and values rather than risk being marginalized by defending the Christian vision and values.
Our mission in the world, through which we derive our full identity as laypersons, is "to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God. Through baptism, the lay faithful are made one body with Christ and are established among the people of God. They are, in their own way, made sharers in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Jesus Christ" (Lumen Gentium, n. 31).
"The lay faithful must accomplish their work with professional competence, with human honesty, with a Christian spirit, and especially as a way of their own sanctification. Moreover, we know that through work offered to God, an individual is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, whose labor with His hands at Nazareth greatly ennobled the dignity of work" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 67).
The lay faithful share in the prophetic mission of Christ through "their ability and responsibility to accept the Gospel in faith and proclaim it in word and deed without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil" (Christifideles Laici, n.14).
Herein lies the essence of Christian spirituality in the workplace. The laity are united to Christ and share in his priestly mission through "the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities" (Christifideles Laici, n.14).
The prayer and sacramental life of the Christian, while prior to the active life, has to be intimately connected with it. Therefore, professional and family life, lived in the presence of God, should be the overflow of the interior life.
Submitted by Anna Ferroni—Turin, Italy
ITS ALL ABOUT FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE:
by DONNA BEERY SFO
Faith reveres the poverty and lowliness with which Jesus clothed his
whole life! A garment that could not be removed! Our senses recoil from
suffering, but faith blesses suffering as a gift!
Jesus is here to save us. He came to save what was about to be lost! We
always Hope! We are about to sink! We deserve to sink! We truly ought
to sink! We are Sinking! AND Jesus wants us; He came to save us because
we are sinking! Jesus is infinitely good and infinitely powerful. To
the very last: to our last breath, we hope in him!
Once I hope in Jesus, then I know I can depend on Him to do anything,
anything He guides me to do. To attempt to fast, without Him, even if it
is for Jesus, results in failure. At the sight of the tasty morsel, my
hand reaches out for it, by force of habit. My natural sense of sight
plus MY LOOK to Jesus, will result in a new habit. Soon the sight of a
tasty morsel can become a means to present THE gift of myself to Jesus.
I can see that prayer alone is not enough! Jesus teaches us that prayer
will lead to fasting from food. Sure there are other ways to fast
which are not from food. At this time I need to learn both ways.
Jesus tells us to pray and fast. I am asking him to lead me; to be
fruitful in every way possible.
Love is present in my life as a Franciscan. For me, the guidance of the
BSP helps me to be fruitful. I realize that Love is present when I give
myself moment by moment in the decisions I make. I wish to love and
really do what I wish.
Madonna with Child and little St John the Baptist by Lorenzo di Credi, Accademia, Venice, 1480
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!
"It is not those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in Heaven" (Matt. 7:21)