“The Lord is Kind and Merciful”
by Andy Buchleitner, OFS
“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt. 9)
I have always liked the term Francis used for his early band of followers - “Brothers of Penance.” But just how did one become a “brother or sister of penance” without having to wear sackcloth and sit in the dirt all day?
Although not a Franciscan, my friend Tom Neal who gives spiritual guidance at a seminary in New Orleans, gave me some excellent insight into what Francis must have meant by “penance.” These reflections should be especially timely as we begin our special season to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”
“There are a number of occasions when those who repent in ashes are received favorably by God, like Nineveh in the book of Jonah. The key is heartfelt repentance expressed in a ritual action. The problem is when the ritual is thought magic (do this and God will forgive, regardless of your inner disposition), or becomes an end in itself (which is detached from its deeper purpose).
Penance is never a part of forgiveness but a part of reparation (re-pairation) for sin, i.e. symbolic or direct actions that are meant to contribute to repairing the damage caused by one’s sin. Damage done to oneself, to others, to creation. Forgiveness is given to us by God all at once, but the restoration required in the wake of sin, God wishes us to cooperate with and not receive only as a freebie.
Voluntary penitential ascetics is not a self-inflicted punishment, but a self-administered cure done under God’s actual and sanctifying grace, which renders our small acts of penance, done with love, super-naturally fruitful. Penance can also be offered for others, vicariously in their stead (like Jesus in the Passion), to obtain restorative grace for them to lead them to conversion and heal the harm created by their sins.
Penance is not forgiveness; it’s not “making up” for sins, as if God want to exact a certain amount of suffering out of us to satisfy His (twisted!) justice. Penance is reparation, in the sense described above. And for one whose relationship with God is based on love and not fear or guilt, joining Him in healing His world that He so loves is a joy - which is why the ancient tradition of penance always associated it with joy - as in, “blessed (blissful) are those who mourn.”
I would like to add further wisdom/reflection from an early pope, St. Leo the Great, that calls us deeper into this penitential season: “Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvelous beauty of the elements as they obey Him demands from the intelligent creation a fitting expression of its gratitude.
But with the return of that season marked out in a special way by the mystery of our redemption, and of the days that lead up to the Paschal Feast, we are summoned more urgently to prepare ourselves by a purification of spirit.
The special note of the Paschal Feast is this: the whole Church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins. It rejoices in the forgiveness not only of those who are then reborn in holy baptism but also of those who are already numbered among God’s adopted children.
Initially, men are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet there still is required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.
Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.
There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. The love that we owe both God and man is always free from any obstacle that would prevent us from having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace.
The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”
Instead of focusing on “giving up” something this Lent, let us rather consider “giving” something: our time, talents and treasure. These are the alms that God values most. These are the “works of mercy” that bring peace and joy to ourselves and a world that needs us/God so much.
Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?
by Andy Buchleitner, OFS (Received 1/4/2019)
The New Year! Hooray. Made it to another one. Thank you dear God!
I’m sure we all gave time to reviewing our relationship with God (and neighbor?) during Advent as we prepared for this new beginning. As for myself, my examination of conscience made me question just how well I am “running my race,” especially regarding my perseverance. With my busy schedule and worldly concerns have I not, perhaps, forgotten some old acquaintances? Have I cut my service short to those still in need by moving on to another challenge too soon? Or did I just get “burned out” trying to solve the unsolvable, seemingly kicking my foot against that same rock without causing it to move.
I had an opportunity, a number of years ago, to visit Haiti a year after it was devastated by a terrible earthquake. I met a young man there who was working as a “toy renter” for one of the cruise ship lines. As we got talking, he said some things that have had a profound influence on my ministry life. He began by praising the U.S. for all the help they had given to his Haitian people in their time of need. Without this help, he felt, Haiti would not have survived. He went on to describe the destruction and how so many were left homeless, without any means of support, who had to look to a neighbor that might still have something left they might be willing to share. He considered himself one of these fortunate; his house had remained livable. And, although it was a small one-room dwelling, he felt blessed to be able to invite six needy displaced people to share his home with his wife and child.
The one point that still vividly sticks in my mind from our conversation was his comment that it certainly would have been much appreciated if the support they were receiving shortly after the disaster would have continued until his people were able to stand on their own. He wasn’t criticizing, for he was very appreciative of what had been given, but was simply pointing out a sometimes forgotten fact that the job of putting people’s lives back together is, many times, not a quick fix. He also mentioned that, although the cruise line that supported him was a blessing, he was living day-to-day completely dependent on the few times that they would schedule their cruises to his port, allowing him to work. As he was the only wage-earner in the home, I felt his desperation. He even prayed for more tourists - so unlike many of us who try to discourage these interlopers from invadingour domain and ruining our natural resources. Tourists, for him, were seen as a blessing for they would continue to allow him the privilege of working/sharing.
I now see my community’s current situation after Hurricane Michael in much the same way. Living in the distressed area, I have also seen a truly remarkable initial outreach. People were amazing in their generosity. The government made good efforts in feeding the hungry and many homeless were taken in or provided with shelter - at least for the first month or two. Many neighbors, and even complete strangers, donated enormous amounts of time, treasure and talents. It was truly a beautiful thing to see. Unfortunately, what began with a “bang” has now become a painful silence. One case in point, and I hate to be negative but, involves 500 homeless people who were initially given tents and allowed to stay on some church property in Panama City. Everything was working pretty well, at least as well as sleeping in a tent in the winter can be, when, after a couple months, the church was pressured into “evicting” the tent-dwellers from their property. The City asked this as they felt the “tent city” was an eyesore that would deter the tourist trade. Whatever the case, I see in this incident that, once again, perseverance was indeed lacking in providing help until the problems were overcome. Maybe our problem is, that after our initial effort, we just give up, thinking we have nothing left to give. Take heart! St. John Vianney, the patron of priests, assures us; “I have given much from my empty hands.” So can we -persevere!
For a number of years my wife and I took care of a Haitian girl, who, now a woman, holds two Masters degrees and is married to a doctor (she did good!). She also directs an orphanage in Haiti for children with AIDs. For years I had been active with my support for her ministry - until I stopped. No reason. Shame on me! But my New Year’s resolution is to, once again, become involved in supporting her efforts that have unfortunately been challenged by several severe hurricanes recently. Perhaps you will join me in reviewing where you might also have “dropped the ball” by not persevering in some effort to serve. Let us together not forget “old acquaintances” but, with renewed zeal, reach out to those that continue to struggle.
Now, for something completely different. It’s time, once again, to ask that you consider who, in your opinion, has shown that perseverance in their outreach/JPIC efforts that would identify them as someone to be recognized for our next yearly JPIC award. The award, (including a drum roll by Marie Thomas), will be presented at our Annual Meeting this Spring. Please consider the attached outline of suggested attributes (while sharing this with your fraternity) and get back with me with your selections. Even Jesus needed some encouragement, which He received from His Father, ”This is my well-beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Let us also give praise and encouragement to those who especially deserve it.
May God bless the Franciscan Order with special grace this new year.
A Gift of a New
by Fred Schaeffer, OFS 2019
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
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