To begin Part 5, please, first read the following paragraph, quoted from: "Franciscan Spirituality, what is it?" Tr. by Fr. Nicholas M. Weiss, O. F. M. Conv.. Source: "Litterae de Spiritualitate Franciscali" Fr. Bede M. Hess, O. F. M. Conv., which follows below:
"CONTEMPLATION AND ACTIVITY
As we continue our discussion of Franciscan prayer, the question arises: "Exactly what effect does prayer have on the Franciscan life?" The answer is simple. As we have already seen, Saint Francis desired that his sons should practice continuous prayer, with the result that the Franciscan life is eminently contemplative. But the love of our brethren in Christ, Who desires the perfection and completion of His Mystical Body, makes our life also an active form of religious life. This activity finds its outlet in the exercise of the Apostolate. The life of the Franciscan, therefore, is not first of all active and then contemplative; but rather, our activity is the result of the abundance of our contemplation. For, contemplation is the source of love, and love inflames souls with zeal for the Apostolate. Thus contemplation and prayer occupy the first place in Franciscan spirituality. This is so because our way of life is entirely supernatural and we must look to God for all things, trusting neither in our own strength, nor in mere human means. Moreover, there is a mutual reciprocity between the Franciscan contemplative life and apostolic works. For, just as the former leads to the active ministry, so also does the Apostolate lead to contemplation; which should bring the Franciscan into a closer union with God. We say this because all of the Franciscan's work and all his love will be directed to Almighty God, since he sees Christ Himself in his brethren. Hence his apostolate draws him deeper into the contemplative life, and he daily grows closer and closer to the one goal of all souls- union with God by love. It is well to note that when the contemplative life becomes rather difficult in the midst of external activity, it is best and often necessary, to observe days of recollection, in order to foster a greater union with God. It is also beneficial to establish retreat houses where the friars, over a protracted period of time, may be able to replenish the spiritual energy which they have expended in the Apostolate. Bypassing such periods in recollection, we are following the example of our Seraphic Father, who often retired to Mt. Alvernia or other suitable places for this same purpose. There, after the arduous task of preaching to the laity, he found a safe refuge where he could speak, undisturbed, with his God. "
I've highlighted a sentence, which I would like to speak about now.
The Secular Franciscan, often does not have the opportunity to read many spiritual books. He or she does not have access to a Franciscan library as friars and sisters do, and also does not have strong access to a general religious library. Here in Florida, there are few religious libraries. So we, who wish to pursue a strong spiritual life resort to taking direction from our Franciscan Spiritual Assistant, and sisters, brothers in our Fraternities, and/or we have obtained such works as St. John of the Cross, St. Terese of Avila, and many other books. I particularly recommend books authored by Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM, who is an excellent teacher of spirituality, especially contemplative spirituality. His book "Fire Within" is one I highly recommend (Ignatius Press, 1989).
I strongly believe that Fr. Bede M. Hess, in the above-quoted text, particularly the last sentence of the highlighted portion, also meant to include the Secular Franciscan in this thought. (But note, at the time Fr. Bede wrote this, the SFO was still a part of the friar provinces). In other words, we could say that our apostolate which is the result of our promise to follow the Rule of Saint Francis for life, will only be fruitful when it is based on a strong source of love, contemplation and prayer. At the same time, contemplation is such a subtle gift, that most of us aren't aware that we have this relationship with God, until He makes it known to us. So prayer and meditation is the way to start as a Inquirer and Candidate in the SFO. Contemplation, if we receive this gift at all, comes later as the person matures in his life as a Franciscan. One may pray to ask for this gift, but it is not something we can learn from books only.
I spent 7 years total in religious life, the last four and a half as a monk (but had to leave for reasons of bad health in 2002). It was during those years that Our Lord gave me His gift, and it places me in the position to be able to speak about it to you. I have done so in this series of articles and in a few other articles listed in this menu. I am a strong believer in the necessity to have a life of prayer as a basis for any Apostolate or Ministry to the Church we might get ourselves into, and always the Holy Spirit guides us to these activities directly or via another person.
We must discern however, the balance between prayer and works. We read in the Epistle of James 2:14-17, about the relationship between works and prayer, that they go together. If our apostolate or other works take the upper hand over our prayer life, we become an empty shell. We have to take time to pray. To sit down with Jesus in a quiet place. I've seen friars and monks amid a crowd of people, blissfully at prayer, because they have this interior discipline to shut out what goes on around them when it is time for prayer. As a lay person, this is very difficult to achieve in a world that is so visually oriented and full of loud noise. Walls of religious houses and churches shut out some of this worldly noise, both graphic and sound - but those who do not have these protecting walls, will have to find a different place. In our homes, perhaps a large walk-in closet (if we have family around) or the kitchen table on a quiet night, or in Florida by the pool (not all of us have private pools). Better yet, an adoration chapel. In many towns there is at least one Catholic Church that has a specially designated adoration chapel where it is silent and where Jesus is exposed in the Blessed Sacrament. There are wonderful Apostolates built around the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, but they aren't all silent. They pray many prayers out loud as a group. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's wonderful that they do this, but for someone who is used to quiet prayer, this can be very distracting. We cannot consider ourselves "quiet prayers" if we constantly fidget at the thought of spending quiet time with Jesus. Some people simply do not have the patience and personality to sit quietly for 15-30 minutes or longer. If you're waiting for a quiet moment with Jesus it might not come. If you feel this is the case, don't worry - He may have a different relationship in store for you and it'll all work out if you leave the decision to Him. Just pray that He will guide you in this area.
In previous articles, I've also talked about reducing the occasion of sin. It is a given that if we do not love Jesus, we will probably continue to sin. If we want to have a strong prayer relationship with Him, then we really must love Him dearly. It is, however, very easy to say - I love God, and at the same time, always give in to sin. People make the feeble excuse that "God understands." What God understands is that we say we love him, but it is only lip service - we are not following up with action. Remember, God knows everything. We might be able to fool ourselves but we cannot fool Him. I wouldn't want to be in that person's shoes when Judgment Day rolls around. Jesus will make our faults and failings known to us. Many of us know what is wrong now, but we're not doing anything about it. We all die and no one knows when it will come. We could be in full bloom today and gone tomorrow. So repent. [Mark 1:14-15] "... Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: 'This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'" Repent now, for tomorrow might be too late.
It IS possible to stop sinning. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It is a matter of the WILL. God has given us a free will. And that's an important gift. For we can determine if we intend to love God or not. That is a choice we have. But God wants to be our friend, and in order to have Him as our friend, we have to please Him more. We do that by making the firm commitment in the confessional, as you repent for your sins, to sin no more. (Remember the words, "firm purpose of amendment", in the old formula.) Yes, we will fall again, but we try our level best to sin no more WITH HIS HELP, with the help of the Holy Spirit, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of St. Francis and all the Franciscan Saints who have made this trip before us and have succeeded to love God more!
It is very easy to acquiesce in favor of doing wrong. As Franciscans, we have made the decision to obey the Rule of Saint Francis, a guideline covering every part of our existence. Nothing has been left to chance. Why? Because St. Francis was guided by the Holy Spirit while he composed the Rule. It is my hope, too, that my writing is guided by the Holy Spirit. I'm just a regular guy, a Roman Catholic committed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, taking the Faith very seriously, but similar to everyone else, I fall from time to time, seriously. But I know that our Lord is loving and forgiving, so then I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and I go on, I pick up where I was at, and thank God that He has helped me through another debacle that can potentially set us apart. God never leaves anyone. It is us, people like you and me, who leave God every time we do wrong. Be strong. Join me in getting back to Him, reciprocating His love with ours. Stamp out serious sin in your life. Once you get beyond that, begin by lessening sins that are not as major, and eventually venial sins. We can do it! Use the "power of positive thinking" - we are in charge of ourselves. We have a free will. Exercise it and you will end up with a life of immense glory and love after you pass away from this earth that is unimaginable.
Nowadays, people wonder what life after death is all about. Most of us have no conception of what it will be. And, in truth, neither do I, but having read the lives of certain saints, and studied theology here and there (mostly in bits and pieces), and through prayer, I am convinced what it is, but I have no words to describe it to you. It is a place of extreme peace. We will lack nothing and have no pain. We will never be bored. We will be so involved with God that everything else is totally unimportant. I will leave my thoughts at that. It would be very human (I do it too) to compare what is to come, if we have any idea at all, with what we have now. Teenagers are apt to wonder if they will be playing ball in heaven? Who knows, I do not know the answer to that. But the specifics aren't important right now. What is important is that we get there. That, by how we lived this life, we may merit what comes after. That is important. Jesus gives us a wonderful gift. Contemplation! It is a way to come very close to Him on earth - It often becomes the beginning of heaven on earth.
May His blessing be with you now, and forever!