Sunday, 4th October 2020
Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi
“But as for me, God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” Gal. 6:14
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order in the 13th Century. At a time when the world was growing cold in the love of God and was becoming more interested in worldly riches, God inspired St. Francis to give up his wealth and choose a life of poverty. Within ten years, St. Francis had five thousand followers at his Chapter of Mats in Assisi. Dom Gueranger, in his book, The Liturgical Life, Vol. 15, comments: “Avarice was the crying sin of the age; the hearts of men, too preoccupied with earthly affairs to have a desire of heaven, must be delivered from a slavery which crushed out all noble thoughts, all love, all devotedness. Holy poverty, the mother of that true liberty which disarms hell and laughs at tyrants, could alone achieve such a deliverance. Francis was taken with the beauty of poverty, in spite of the jeers and insults of the vulgar, and of his rejection by his own family (father and brother); but his sublime folly was the salvation of his people, and he was blest by our heavenly Father, as a true brother of His eternal son.” Gueranger, p. 328
“Francis, seest thou not My house is falling to decay? Go, then, and repair it for me” Bl. Thomas Celano, Life of St. Francis, I, 3
At first, St. Francis thought that he should be repairing the Church with rebuilding the chapels around Assisi with stones. Later, he realized that the Lord was calling him to rebuild His Church which was falling into laxity and vice. For this, he embarked upon a life of penance and poverty. When he had received some men who were also interested in his way of life, he called the group, “The Penitents of Assisi”. At this time, according to one historian, there were thousands of wandering penitents in the Church, especially in Italy. They also, like St. Francis, wanted to do penance for their sins. St. Francis, like the penitents of the early Church, put on sackcloth of undyed wool, gray in colour, girded with a rope, for his habit of penance. Once he received twelve followers, like the twelve apostles, he went to Rome for the approval of the Holy Father, Pope Innocent III. This is what most distinguished St. Francis from the other penitents of this time; he was always obedient to the Church and Pope in Rome, the successor of St. Peter. At first Pope Innocent hesitated in approving this unknown beggar from Assisi who wanted to live the gospel life. After consulting with his cardinals, he realized that he could not refuse someone the blessings of living the Gospel. Also, at this time, he had a dream that St. John Lateran was falling down when two figures, St. Francis and St. Dominic kept it up. He then approved of St. Francis’ rule. The pope realized the Church would need both the Franciscans and Dominicans to counteract the materialism and secularism of the age. Within a short time thousands of men and women, even those of noble birth, kings and queens, lords and ladies, joined his three orders: these included the first order for men, the second order of Poor Ladies (later Poor Clares) for women, and the third order for those who were married and lived in the world.
St. Francis saw that all life and creation were a gift from God. For him, nature reflected the beauty and goodness of God. For him, the most evil act in the world was mortal sin as it destroyed the life of grace in the soul. In his “Canticle of the Sun,” he praised nature, but he also warned us: “Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Death of the Body from whom no man among the living can escape. Woe to those who in mortal sin will die. Blessed those whom He will find in your most holy graces. For the second death (after judgment) will do no harm to them. Praise and bless my Lord, and thank him too, and serve Him in Humility.” St. Bonaventure praised St. Francis’ vision of beauty: “In the beauty of all things, he saw the Author of all beauty, and followed in the footsteps of his Beloved, who has imprinted His image on all created things.”
Stigmata of Christ
In imitation of Jesus Christ, St. Francis was blessed with divine approval of his life by the impression of the five wounds of Christ on his body. He was the first man to have this heavenly sign of his holy life. St. Francis was a man of prayer and penance; he kept seven lents in the year. In the fast dedicated to St. Michael on Mount Alverna in 1224, he received the sacred stigmata after reciting this prayer: “O my Lord, Jesus Christ, two graces do I pray thee to grant unto me before I die: the first, that while I live I may feel in my body and in my soul, so far as it is possible, the sorrow, sweet Lord, that thou didst suffer in the hour of thy most bitter passion; the second, that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love wherewith, O Son of God, thou wast enkindled to endure so willingly for us sinners agony so great.” (John Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order, p. 61) Our Lord granted him both of these requests which characterized St. Francis’s Seraphic love.
It is not often heard that St. Francis started a Marian order in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, this is true as St. Francis loved Our Lady. It was she, the Mediatrix of All Graces, who requested from her Son an order to rekindle love in the world. St. Francis loved the Blessed Mother of God because it was she who gave birth to Jesus our Saviour and brother. It was at Our Lady’s Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, the Portiuncula (little Portion), on the plain below Assisi where he founded the order, where the order grew in holiness and numbers and where he died. It was Our Lady who taught St. Francis the riches of poverty, Lady Poverty, to gain the favours of God. In St. Francis’ prayer, “Salute to the Virgin,” he called Our Lady “the fullness of grace and everything good.” So great is Mary that in St. Francis’ “Office of the Passion,” he says: “Holy Virgin Mary, there never was anyone like you born in the world among women, Daughter of the Most High King, our Father in heaven, Mother of the our most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Francis loved Jesus Christ so much that he was willing to suffer all for him. He understood what St. Paul called “the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding...” Phil. 4:7 Christ’s peace is seen in St. Francis’ suffering which he thought pure joy because he was glad to suffer something for his Lord and Master, “My God and My All.” For St. Francis “perfect joy” was to suffer all kinds of misfortunes for Christ who said in the Eight Beatitudes in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and exult because your reward is great in heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you. Mt. 5:11-12.
St. Francis’ Final Exhortation
If St. Francis were here with us today, he would want us to realize the truth about the meaning of life which he expressed in his final exhortation to the friars of his order: “O Most Beloved Friars and Sons forever blessed. Hear me, the voice of your Father. Great things have we promised; still greater things are promised to us. Let us observe the former; let us aspire to the latter. Pleasure is short; punishment is everlasting; many are called; few are chosen. Retribution to all! Brethren, while we have time let us do good.” (cf. Gal. 6:10) In our baptismal vows, we have promised God to obey His commandments and His Church and renounce Satan. God has promised us life everlasting for serving Him. This is why St. Francis worked tirelessly for souls and told his friars to preach about virtue and vice: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses his soul.” Mt. 16:28 This is why in The Canticle of the Sun he warned all to fear the “second death” when the unjust would be condemned to hell for all eternity. Only the just enter into eternal life. Life’s pleasures pass swiftly, but punishment is eternal. All of us have been called to life everlasting, but few will be chosen. Recall what Jesus said, “Many are called, few are chosen.” Mt. 20:16 We will all be rewarded or punished for what we do; this is why we need to do good while we can for after death there is only the judgment. “Let us,” as St. Francis preached, “begin today for up to now, we have done nothing.”
The First Friday, 2 October 2020
Now is a good time to continue (or begin) the devotion to the “Nine First Fridays” of the Month. The Sacred Heart of Jesus promised to St. Margaret Mary: "I promise thee in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving the Sacraments; My Divine heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment." There is no better way of honouring the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus than in receiving Holy Communion on the “Nine First Fridays.”.
The First Saturday, 3 October 2020
Our Lady told Sr. Lucia in 1925 “…I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months go to confession and receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for a quarter of an hour while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me." If only we would do what Our Lady asks, we would be assured of eternal salvation. Our Lady promises us all the graces necessary for our salvation if we keep The Five First Saturdays! Just think that when you are about to die the Blessed Virgin Mary will be there with you to help you get to heaven! “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” How many times have you said these words in your lifetime?
“The Little Number of Those Who Are Saved” Part III
by St. Leonard of Port Maurice
The Words of Holy Scripture
But why seek out the opinions of the Fathers and theologians, when Holy Scripture settles the question so clearly? Look in to the Old and New Testaments, and you will find a multitude of figures, symbols and words that clearly point out this truth: very few are saved. In the time of Noah, the entire human race was submerged by the Deluge, and only eight people were saved in the Ark. Saint Peter says, "This ark was the figure of the Church," while Saint Augustine adds, "And these eight people who were saved signify that very few Christians are saved, because there are very few who sincerely renounce the world, and those who renounce it only in words do not belong to the mystery represented by that ark." The Bible also tells us that only two Hebrews out of two million entered the Promised Land after going out of Egypt, and that only four escaped the fire of Sodom and the other burning cities that perished with it. All of this means that the number of the damned who will be cast into fire like straw is far greater than that of the saved, whom the heavenly Father will one day gather into His barns like precious wheat.
I would not finish if I had to point out all the figures by which Holy Scripture confirms this truth; let us content ourselves with listening to the living oracle of Incarnate Wisdom. What did Our Lord answer the curious man in the Gospel who asked Him, "Lord, is it only a few to be saved?" Did He keep silence? Did He answer haltingly? Did He conceal His thought for fear of frightening the crowd? No. Questioned by only one, He addresses all of those present. He says to them: "You ask Me if there are only few who are saved?" Here is My answer: "Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." Who is speaking here? It is the Son of God, Eternal Truth, who on another occasion says even more clearly, "Many are called, but few are chosen." He does not say that all are called and that out of all men, few are chosen, but that many are called; which means, as Saint Gregory explains, that out of all men, many are called to the True Faith, but out of them few are saved. Brothers, these are the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Are they clear? They are true. Tell me now if it is possible for you to have faith in your heart and not tremble.
Salvation in the Various States of Life
But oh, I see that by speaking in this manner of all in general, I am missing my point. So let us apply this truth to various states, and you will understand that you must either throw away reason, experience and the common sense of the faithful, or confess that the greater number of Catholics is damned. Is there any state in the world more favourable to innocence in which salvation seems easier and of which people have a higher idea than that of priests, the lieutenants of God? At first glance, who would not think that most of them are not only good but even perfect; yet I am horror-struck when I hear Saint Jerome declaring that although the world is full of priests, barely one in a hundred is living in a manner in conformity with state; when I hear a servant of God attesting that he has learned by revelation that the number of priests who fall into hell each day is so great that it seemed impossible to him that there be any left on earth; when I hear Saint Chrysostom exclaiming with tears in his eyes, "I do not believe that many priests are saved; I believe the contrary, that the number of those who are damned is greater."
Look higher still, and see the prelates of the Holy Church, pastors who have the charge of souls. Is the number of those who are saved among them greater than the number of those who are damned? Listen to Cantimpre; he will relate an event to you, and you may draw the conclusions. There was a synod being held in Paris, and a great number of prelates and pastors who had the charge of souls were in attendance; the king and princes also came to add lustre to that assembly by their presence. A famous preacher was invited to preach. While he was preparing his sermon, a horrible demon appeared to him and said, "Lay your books aside. If you want to give a sermon that will be useful to these princes and prelates, content yourself with telling them on our part, 'We the princes of darkness thank you, princes, prelates, and pastors of souls, that due to your negligence, the greater number of the faithful are damned; also, we are saving a reward for you for this favour, when you shall be with us in Hell.'" (To be continued next week)