10th Catholic Anniversary Reflections

So, I have not blogged since Easter Sunday.  I’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the last ten years — I’ve been Catholic now for ten years.  I’ve not been disappointed, or ever doubted my calling — the way in which I ran into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church.  There is no other way to come in — when you already believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  At least I already believed enough in order to seek the rest of the story.  This year my Easter Vigil was extra special — knowing the Elect and Candidates through my participation on the OCIA team this year.  Ah.. Easter Vigil — I come for the smells — the bon fire, incense, and Chrism oil.  I come for the baptismal water and a renewal of promises.  I even come to hear a large portion of Bible read — from Creation to Resurrection.  It makes it all so real for me again — something the Catholic Church does well — making things real again.   I feel that my spiritual life was rescued the day I sat in my first Inquiry session and said, “I want to be Catholic.”   I was very hungry — starving — raised in a tradition that lacked vital nutrients.  Every day I fall more in love with heaven — my heaven has more people in it now that I can talk too. <grin>  Where ever I’m at, I can pause, close my eyes, I can literally taste the heavenly meal — the Eucharist. 

In the last ten years,  I attended World Youth Day in Toronto, made two pilgrimmages to Italy and one to the Holy Land.  I made two trips to Assisi.  I completed a year of Pastoral Ministry Formation  and then went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in Management.  I became a professed Secular Franciscan — that to which I was asked if I was moving too quickly, to be so new in the Catholic Church and then into a religious order.   To that I can only say, “You are saying I cannot live the Gospel life?”  I do understand the questioning — it is a serious life long commitment — a religious profession.  Being a Franciscan is not simply about the Gospel — it is about being in relationship with a community of people — Franciscan family.  Every one who aspires to St. Francis’ spirituality is not meant to spend several years becoming a professed Franciscan.  My whole Christian experience from age 9 forward has been about discovering what Jesus has said in His Gospel.  In my own Southern Baptist experience, I learned nothing of Saints.  Having been brought into the Catholic Church in a Franciscan parish, I was bound to learn about Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was the exclamation point for all that I’d read and studied — the Gospel lived according to Jesus — indeed.  Sometimes, you have to join the family to continue in conversion.  I saw that in him — a model of continuing conversion.  The Christian life is a narrow road.  What does Jesus mean when He says, “Follow me?”  It is a different calling to each of us — you must listen and He will speak.

I feel I should say something profound about my future expectations.  I’m looking forward to the Archdiocese of Atlanta Eucharistic Congress in June.  I’m excited to see Greg and Jennifer Willits will be official speakers.  There is something else I’m looking forward to as well — as God so wills it —  but — I’ll save that for much later.

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal Day 8

Continuing with Day 8, and the final installment, of excerpts from my February 2000 Jubilee year Holy Land pilgrimage journal.

 

The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

The Way of the Cross in Jerusalem

Day 8 – Tuesday, 2/22/2000 Jerusalem/Emmaus

Our day begins with early breakfast as we proceed to begin the Stations of the Cross.  In groups of three, we take turns carrying a cross between each station.  Father read the stations as we pause at each one.  The Holy Sepulcher Church is built on top of Calvary.  We are invited to go individually and touch the rock of Calvary on which Christ was crucified on the cross.  I am crying.  Wiping tears from my eyes with my hand, I touch the stone.  My best offering at this moment is my tears.  Next, we touch the slab of His anointing where I place my grandfather’s medal to be blessed.  We are then invited around the empty tomb as Rula gives us all candles.  She lights a candle from the tomb and lights Father’s candle.  We light all our candles.  On the Saturday before Easter, Rula says Christians have an ecumenical candle ceremony in the church.  We are asked to keep our candles and light them on Holy Saturday this Easter.  Our Mass today is in the Holy Sepulcher church.  I have the first reading here and it is very emotional for me.  I think of the song “The Old Rugged Cross” which begins “On a hill far away…”  I’m thinking, today that hill isn’t so far away.  It’s in this very place – this church.  The reality of this is incomprehensible to me.  We travel out to Emmaus to visit the Church of the Breaking of Bread.  We walk a short piece of old Roman road that is located in the enclosure of the church grounds.  Our last site of the pilgrimage is St. Ann’s church.  We depart for the airport at 3AM to head for London.  I’ve not slept at all this night.

After-thoughts

I’ve been home several weeks now and still can’t believe I was really there.  I read scripture now and so many places come to real life for me.  I still get emotional and cry, if I think too much about it.  I miss the routine of community Morning/Evening Prayer and Daily Mass.  The places in scripture I’ve only read about all my life have become realities.  I feel I’ve been re-baptized in the Spirit — like a candle that is redipped many times to reach its fullness.  I feel a special grace has been given to me.  Every step I take reminds me I walked in Jerusalem — drifted on the Sea of Galilee — knelt at His manger — strolled down the Palm Sunday route — felt His agony in the Garden and in the dungeon — carried the cross — and stood on the place called Mount Calvary where Jesus died for me…..

How fitting that I close my series of journal exerpts on Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week.  Just this afternoon, I led our RCIA group in the Stations of the Cross.  I still cry.  My memories are powerful and make themselves present.  The Christian practice of making a Holy Land pilgrimmage dates back to early medieval times.  During periods of time where access to the Holy Land was closed, it became a practice to errect replicas in churches.  On November 21, 1342, Pope Clement VI entrusted the Holy Land to the Order of Friars Minor.  Read the Bull.  A lot of information on the history of this can be found on the Custody web site.   Resulting from this was that Franciscans were given exclusive permission to build Stations of the Cross.  Special indulgences were given to pilgrims praying the Stations in Franciscan churches.  Below is a small quote from a very good article on the history of the Stations of the Cross.

Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.  — Tim Puet — Read rest of article

 I made my pilgrimage in February 2000.  By the Summer, there was again unrest in Israel – the sort that affects tourism.  On April 2, 2002, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was taken in a 38 day siege.  Franciscans were barricaded inside the church.  I was stunned.  I watched the endless Cable live news reports.  I cried.  What had changed for me is the fact I had been there a little over a year ago.  It was news like that written in the quote below that was piercing me.

At least 200 young Palestinians, some of them armed, others simply civilians who found themselves cut off from their homes, took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, believing that the Israeli army would not dare to shell or storm the sacred spot. Forty Franciscan brothers, four sisters and about 30 Orthodox and Armenian monks found themselves locked inside with them. They were not hostages, however. According to Fr. David Jaeger, a spokesman for the Franciscan friars and nuns inside the complex, the Franciscans chose to remain because, as traditional custodians of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, they felt it their duty to stay and protect the shrine’s sanctity.   Read rest of article at Messenger of St. Anthony

 

My pilgrimage made this very personal to me.   I gained a new respect and understanding for all the Friars who greeted us in all the sacred sites.  As we begin Holy Week, know the Way of the Cross and from where we have come.

Order of Penitents – Short History

Special to my Secular Franciscan readers — Just a quick post to share a link to Fr. Seraphim Beshoner, TOR’s most recent audio podcast on the Order of Penitents.  He gives a great brief history on the Penitents and how the Franciscan Order grew out of the Penitents.

Link to Mp3 file here  Program is about 40 minutes

Link to Fr. Seraphim’s post The Penitent Man

Fr. Seraphim teaches for the Franciscan University of Steubenville at the Gaming Austria campus.  If you enjoy this program, he posts a new one almost weekly.

Immaculate Conception Fraternity SFO Jubilee

Today, the Immaculate Conception Fraternity of Secular Franciscans of Jonesboro, GA, Brothers and Sisters of St. Francis Region, celebrated their Jubilee Anniversary.  To honor this special occasion, we received a special Papal Blessing.

Jubilee Anniversary of Immaculate Conception Fraternity - Jonesboro, GA

Jubilee Anniversary of Immaculate Conception Fraternity - Jonesboro, GA

We celebrated a special Mass and luncheon at St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Jonesboro, GA.  Mass was celebrated by Fr. Michael Kolodziej, OFM Conv, Minister Provincial of the Saint Anthony of Padua Province.  Fr. Michael also delivered the homily which reflected on the “party” spirit of St. Francis as appropriate to our festive spirit.  Our Gospel reading was the parable of the Prodigal Son to which Fr. Michael likened St. Francis and challenged us to place ourselves in that Gospel as the father, the son, and the jealous brother.  
Concelebrating OFM Conventual Friars were Fr. Gregory Hartmayer (Pastor of St. Philip Benizi), Fr. Mark-Thomas Booth, Fr. Abelardo Huanca and Fr. Linus De Santis.  We were joined by brothers and sisters from neighboring fraternities in and outside of Georgia.  We are deeply grateful for the support of our First Order friars and fellow Secular Franciscans.

Each of our twelve dining tables had a table-scape reflecting a scene in Francis or Clare’s life.  The table-scapes were a collaboration of contributed items from fraternity members and those scavanged (with permission) from around our Franciscan parish.  Fr. Linus spoke at our luncheon and challenged us as the Penitents.  Not the sort of penitence that is inflicted through acts of self-mortification; but, the sort that is found in relationship with our brothers and sisters, “We are in continuing conversion.”  This is exactly what drew me to St. Francis — his love of the Gospel and I saw through his expression of Gospel life – a true model of continuing conversion.

 

Francis prays before the San Damiano cross

Francis prays before the San Damiano cross

Francis preaches to the birds

Francis preaches to the birds

 

Clare allows Francis to cut her beautiful locks of hair

Clare allows Francis to cut her beautiful locks of hair

Candle memorial table for our deceased brothers and sisters

Candle memorial table for our deceased brothers and sisters

 

Is living the Gospel of Jesus in the spirit of St. Francis calling you?

Extraction of Franciscan Saints & St. Angela Merici

 

St. Angela Merici before a crucifix

St. Angela Merici before a crucifix

As I said in an earlier post, my SFO fraternity observes the custom of Extraction of Saints for Epiphany.  This is a practice done by our First Order Friars.  This year, the saint I am to journey with is Saint Angela Merici.  Her feast day is celebrated January 27th.  I didn’t know anything about her which makes this practice a wonderful way to learn about a new Franciscan saint. 

Angela was born in the Province of Brescia around 1470-75.  She was orphaned at a very young age and had an independent spirit.  She became a Franciscan Tertiary at the age of 15.  She lived a life of mortification and was dedicated to the sacraments of Confession and Communion.  On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she was struck blind.  She recovered her sight while praying before a crucifix.  She had a burden to teach young girls but women were not allowed to teach and unmarried women could not go out alone.  Nuns were educated but cloistered.  To get around these restrictions, she brought together other unmarried Franciscan Tertiary women.  Together they would gather up young girls and teach them.  This was around 1535 when Agela was in her 50′s.  Angela founded the Company of St. Ursula and they were known as the Ursalines.  Her body is incorrupt. 

Information on the museum dedicated to her and her biography

Information on her at SQPN’s Saint web site

Information from Catholic Encyclopedia

St. Angela Merici incorrupt

St. Angela Merici incorrupt

Mary Follows Me Into 2009

Happy New Year!  My first blogpost of 2009.  I am finally coming out of the fatigue I seem to get the last two weeks of the year.  It is a blur of Christmas, my birthday, and then the New Year arrives.  I seem to celebrate my birthday for an entire week.  I always celebrate New Year’s Eve by attending our Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.  On New Year’s Day, I join with friends to celebrate the birthday of a friend whose birthday is January 1st.  This year on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I watched the Vespers and Solemnity of Mary Mother of God from St. Peter’s on EWTN. Mostly because my Deacon friend said he was to be in the choir on Wednesday and serving communion on Thursday.  I may have seen him once.  I came closer to recognizing some of the security officers — from when I attended his deacon ordination in October.  I find that I do not make New Year resolutions — my SFO fraternity sort of does that for me.

In January, at our first SFO meeting of the year, we draw a name to pray for, a Franciscan saint to journey with, and a verse from scripture, or the Rule for the year.  The way this works is a person draws a name and that becomes the person to pray for all year.  Then, the person draws the saint and verse for the person whom they will pray for — make sense?  You do not draw your own saint or verse.  We begin this process by praying over the three baskets.  The person who just got their saint and verse then draws the next name. 

If you have been following my previous articles, it should not surprise you that I received this to follow all year–

“The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for [the Virgin Mary] by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.” — The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 9

If there are two things that characterize 2008 for me, it is first a re-commitment to praying the daily office, well, daily; and secondly, a new devotion to the rosary.  The commitment to the liturgy of the hours has been accomplished simply by not turning on the TV when I first wake up and not turning it on when I first walk in the door from work.  I then discovered I could add Night Prayer.   I add my own petitions before praying the Our Father.  I am praying for people now in ways I never did before – and praying for them every day — twice a day.

The rosary — I had only been a random prayer of the rosary.  Various encounters had me rethinking this early last year.  My SFO fraternity decided to add a Franciscan Crown rosary apostolate.  Every Wednesday after our 7PM Mass, a few of us meet in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to pray the Crown.  We’ve been doing this every week for several months now.  The glorious thing is that it got me back to attending weekly Wednesday night Mass and I’m lectoring again.  [I took a long ministry break while I was finishing my college degree - graduated May 2006 - partly why I got out of the habit of praying the office - all the textbook reading and paper writing]  When I was in Rome in October, I prayed the Crown on Wednesday night – well — because it is what I do now.  While in Rome, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was celebrated.  In the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, I prayed a rosary where they had set up a special place for veneration of a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary.

 

Our Lady of the Rosary - Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Our Lady of the Rosary - Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

 

In December, I really celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  On Fridays, I go to Holy Trinity, a nearby parish that has adoration every Friday and Mass every week night at 7PM.  On that Friday, it was a Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There were some bilingual parts — but certainly weighted toward more Spanish.  This is what I love about the Catholic Mass — it didn’t matter.  I pick up words here and there and celebrate anyway.  I was with a few of my SFO friends.  I followed the procession around their parking lot and stayed for the pageant — the dramatization of Juan Diego and his visit to the bishop regarding Mary.  This was all Spanish — again — it didn’t matter.  I can follow the story.  At my parish on Sunday, it was decided to perform the drama in English at all the English Masses that weekend.  What a treat!   I bought a small Our Lady of Guadalupe statue at the Abbey Store yesterday.

Throughout the year, I also used Praying the Rosary with the Daughters of Paul in my car to pray the rosary every morning in my commute to work. 

What about my saint for the year?  I have St. Angela Merici 1470-1540 — a Third Order Franciscan whose feast day is January 27th.  I’ll post about her later this month. 

Praying that you have a wonderful and blessed 2009.

Immaculate Mary & a Franciscan Anniversary

I hardly know where to start when I think of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I will begin with my first catechism of the subject.  I think back to December of 1998 — when I was going through OCIA to join the Catholic Church.  The first 33 years of my life were formed in the Southern Baptist tradition.  I was accustomed to Mary coming out with the Christmas creche and quickly being put away again soon after Christmas.  We might mention Mary at the foot of the cross at Easter.  In December of 1998, I was asked to consider something new — that Mary was conceived without Original Sin — the sin that Adam and Eve brought upon their offspring and for all generations to follow.  I was already raised in the belief that Mary was a Virgin and Jesus was Virgin born.  It really seems simple when you ponder the perfection of God.  He doesn’t leave things half done.  Jesus was to be born without sin and we know he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit — divine — of God.  This points to a sinless Mother.  From Genesis and the fall of man, God laid out his plan of redemption.  It is only logical that God prepares the perfect vessel — a perfect Mother for a perfect Son.  Could Jesus have been born free of sin if his mother was not born free of sin?  It was no leap for me to understand and believe it so — Mary, born without sin.  In my OCIA class, we were asked to write a few lines of verse, poem, or story that would be my description of Mary.  I wrote the first four lines in class and completed the poem later.

          

Mary

 

 

                     I

Blessed Mary, the new Eve.

In your womb, you would conceive

God’s most precious gift to mankind.

Born of a Virgin, His own Son,

most divine.

 

                    II

Blessed Mary, Full of Grace.

When you kissed the baby Jesus’ face,

A mother’s love kissed us all.

Adopted children of God, we answered

His call.

 

                   III

Blessed Mary, handmaid of the Lord.

Arms that once cradled the tiny baby Jesus,

Now cradle His body, broken, and pierced

by a sword.

Reflect upon your girlhood vow

“May it be done according to Your Word.”

 

                    IV

Holy Mary, Mother of the Church.

Pray for us, adopted children seeking

God’s favor.

Please cradle our prayers close  to your heart

And place them at the feet of our Savior.

 

“Stfrancisgirl”

 

Dec. 9, 1998

 

 

 In the Summer if 1999, I was researching Franciscan vocations and found myself looking into life as a Third Order Secular Franciscan.  I began attending meetings at the Immaculate Conception Fraternity which was meeting monthly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Atlanta.  Okay.  If you read my reflection on Sacred Heart, you will know this is the first Catholic church I ever walked into back in June 1989.  This was also the church where our Neophyte Mass was held after I’d joined the Catholic church.  God has such a sense of humor.  So what if the Baptist publication house didn’t want to publish my reflection on Sacred Heart.  My perspective is much better now from the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in.  Back to the Secular Franciscan (SFO) story — I had approached the fraternity for inquiry and before long there were twelve of us.  We eventually moved our fraternity home to St. Philip Benizi in Jonesboro.  After a little over two years in formation, our group was ready to make our permanent professions.  December 8th, 2002 fell on a Sunday and we were professed at the 5PM Life Teen Mass.

So, we each said with our own name –

 

I, “Stfrancisgirl”, by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises

and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom.

Therefore, in my secular state, I promise to live all the days of my life

the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order

by observing its rule of life.

May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary

and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community

always be my help,

so that I may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.

–from the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order

 

And so, on this December 8, 2008, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the 6th Anniversary of my profession in the Secular Franciscan Order — with the Immaculate Conception Fraternity.  Our parish was also decorated for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Mary is everywhere…  I hope you are having a very thoughtful and prayerful Advent season. 

 

SFO Profession Dec. 8, 2002

SFO Profession Dec. 8, 2002

Related articles on my blog…. 
Reflection on Sacred Heart
Why I’m a Secular Franciscan
My Catholic Conversion story
Check my blog roll for Franciscan web sites
More instruction on the Immaculate Conception from the Catholic Encyclopedia

Funerals, Black Vestments, & Cemetery Musings

Family Graves

Family Graves

November arrived with All Saints on Saturday (squeezed into the 8:30AM Mass) and All Souls on Sunday.  Monday afternoon arrived with news of the death of an aunt.  We traveled to South Georgia for the funeral on Thursday.  My dad has a large family — five sisters and three brothers.  Actually, a sixth sister who died in infancy.  Her little grave is to the left of my grandparents.  Sometimes I wonder about the aunt I never got to know.  Another of my dad’s sisters passed away several years ago.  I watched my dad and his siblings bury their parents years ago.  It is another thing to watch my dad, aunts, and uncles attend to the burial of each other.  There are other seriously ill relatives.  I try not to think of who will not be at next year’s family reunion.  Only God knows these things.  
On the day my aunt was buried, the Archdiocese of Atlanta buried a beloved priest – Msgr. Thomas Kenny - Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King.  [Update 11/15: This week's Georgia Bulletin has posted a special edition for the funeral of Msgr. Kenny.  Check it out here.  Though I am not a parishioner at the Cathedral, I have fond memories of Msgr. Kenny from the 7PM Sunday Mass -- I have several friends who attend that Mass.  I would sometimes attend that Mass and visit with friends afterwards.]
  
Last night I dreamed of attending Mass and all the liturgical vestments were black.  In my dream, I was taking a picture of the vestments.  I’m sure it is because I’ve been researching a bit on vestments and browsing the various web sites.  I had been reading on the USCCB web site about approved colors in the United States — ” Besides violet, white or black vestments may be worn at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America.”  In my dream, even the young altar servers were wearing black — everyone with any part of the Mass was wearing black.  It was a sight for sure.
 
The Thursday Nov. 6 edition of the Georgia Bulletin included information regarding Catholic funeFranciscan Burial Shroudral rites.  Read the Georgia Bulletin article here.  This is another reminder to me that I should somewhere write down my funeral wishes.  Aside from a Catholic funeral, there are other considerations.  As a Secular Franciscan, we are permitted a special Franciscan Wake service.  While we do not wear habits other than a Tau cross, we are permitted to be buried in a special shroud. 
So, this is what has been on my mind this week.  Appropriately so as we are at the end of the liturgical year.  Nightly we pray—
May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.
–Amen
Franciscan Resources Burial Shroud

God Beyond All Praising

Last week, I was in Rome to attend a dear friend’s ordination to the Order of Deacons.  It is not every day that you have the opportunity to attend an ordination at the Basilica of St. Peter.  My friend is one of 25 who were ordained from the North American College (NAC).  While it will be hard to find the right words to describe the experiences of the week, I must try.

I must begin with my recent article on anxiety.  You see, at the time I wrote that article, I was experiencing a great deal of travel anxiety.  I have never been to Italy without a tour group and had not traveled International stand-by in many years.  I thought of everything that could go wrong.  I worried about being alone and trying to get around on my own.  By the grace of God, nothing went wrong.  Settling into first class with a mimosa, I was thinking this will be one of the best trips of my life.   Before you wonder about a Franciscan enjoying first class, it did not come without humility.  Be sure of your seat adjustment buttons — especially when seated next to the pilot crew rest seat.  If your seat is not moving, it might be because you pressed your neighbor’s seat button.  I woke up the pilot.  I was so embarrassed.

So much for my previous anxiety.  I found myself feeling very liberated during times that I was on my own.  I discovered that I would not starve.  I could communicate and read my map.  It was my fourth trip to Rome, so I am no stranger to the city.   I arrived in Rome on a Monday morning and by that night, I confidently walked back to my hotel on my own.  Of course I was not entirely alone.  There were family and other friends in attendance.  There were several things planned during the week as well as plenty of free time.

Immaculate Conception Chapel NAC

One of things I enjoyed the most was the invitation to join the seminarians for evening prayer.  They assemble in the Immaculate Conception Chapel.  Coincidently my Secular Franciscan fraternity is the Immaculate Conception.  As a Secular Franciscan, we promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  A majority of the time, we pray in private — alone.  I pray aloud and alone at home.  Once a month, we pray together at our fraternity meeting.  NAC currently has an enrollment around 200 seminarians.  The chapel was full and I believe the largest group with which I’ve prayed.  The rich sound of the voices reminded me that, although I pray mostly alone, it is the prayer of the Universal Church.  Even now, I’ve been home a few days — I still hear all those voices when I’m praying alone.  I remember what it sounded like and I remember them in prayer.  I remember that I am not alone in my prayer.

While on my own Tuesday, I mapped out a path from my hotel that would take me by Ss. Dodici Apostoli.  Our pilgrim guide book said it is the Mother Church of the OFM Conventuals.  It is through the OFM Conventuals of my parish home that I discovered St. Francis.  This church in Rome has a magnificant ceiling painting, “Triumph of the Franciscan Order.”  I spent some time in this church.  Coincidently, the Bishop ordaining the deacons is an OFM Conventual.  My friend introduced me to him and I was delighted to express my gratitude in person.

The day of the ordination came Thursday October 9th.  The events began with a scheduled scavi tour.  This is a tour of the excavation beneath St. Peter’s.  We got off to a late start due to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was celebrating a special mass in the tomb of the popes.  This area ajoins the scavi tour so security held us outside.  We got under way about an hour late.  The tour ends with veneration of the bones of St. Peter.  Following this, we moved to the upper church to wait for our seating.  Half the basilica had been blocked from tourists at this time.  We waited with tickets in hand — ready to rush for a good seat.

Next April, I will celebrate my tenth anniversary as a Catholic.  My friend being ordained is a big part of my faith journey — the person who explained the Real Presence to me and suggested I should be Catholic.  The first evangelical Catholic I’d ever met.  I took in all the sites around me as I sat in my pew — 4th row aisle.  The statue of St. Francis of Assisi has a prominent place at the Altar of the Chair.  The sun streams through the window and across the Holy Spirit window (now my blog header picture).

The procession begins at 4:30P and the basilica is now closed to tourists.  There must be near 1,000 in attendance.  I look around at the faces of parents, family, and friends.  We are united in that one of the 25 men to be ordained is our son, brother, uncle, or friend.  The diaconandi make their way up the center aisle and the particulars of the Rite of Ordination begin.  To say that heaven’s doors opened wide and angel choirs were singing might do justice to what we experienced.  I had thought I might cry, but, instead I had an incredible smile.  I had not felt like this since my own reception into the church.  I felt united with God and Christ in heaven and in celebration.  I’m not at all surprised that my friend has the honor of being ordained at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Elect prostrate themselves in a gesture of humility and supplication

The Elect prostrate themselves in a gesture of humility and supplication

Following the ordination and Mass was blur of camera flashes, hugs, and security telling us to leave.  Later there was a wonderful reception dinner with champagne, laughter, good wine, good food, more photos — more champagne.  A crazy taxi drive back to the hotel.  On Friday morning, we attended the Mass of Thanksgiving where the new deacon proclaims the Gospel and delivers the homily for the first time.  We are at Santa Maria in Trastavere, the oldest church in Rome.  I am still smiling — perhaps a little tired.  I could barely fall asleep the night before.  It reminded me so much of my feelings at Easter Vigil 1999 — I was awake well into the night after the mid-night vigil.  Final good-byes were said after this Mass.  My week in Rome ended with a delicious dinner, gelato, and a coin toss into the Trevi Fountain. 

I returned home in first class.  I began to think, how will I ever describe this week.  You just had to be there.  I know I had to be there — and I was never really alone. 

Related Article - Conversion Story

Transitus & Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Transitus

Transitus

This evening we commemorated the Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi. It always occurs on Oct 3, the eve of his feast day. This year we had readings that dramatized the relationship Francis had with several important people in his life. We were blessed with a relic and shared bread.I’ll be up early to attend 8:30A Mass to celebrate the Feast. I find myself very tired at the moment — anticipating my trip to Rome on Sunday — so much to do.

For more information on the Transitus

St. Francis Prays With Us – Vision In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel

My Secular Franciscan Fraternity has a Franciscan Crown Rosary prayer apostolate.  Every Wednesday night, a few of us meet after Mass in our Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  The picture of St. Francis on the left hangs on the center of the back wall and faces the Tabernacle.  Last week it started getting dark earlier.  The wall behind the Tabernacle is all glass windows.  The darker it becomes outside, the more vivid the window reflects back into the room.  From my seat, I saw that the photo of St. Francis was reflecting back into the chapel from behind the Tabernacle.  The reflection was off focus and Francis’ eyes appeared closed.  I turned to look over my right shoulder at the wall behind me.  The picture is vivid with piercing eyes that seemed to see through me.  I turned back to the window and the eyes appeared closed.  We continued to recite the Crown Rosary and I began to see Francis’ mouth move.  I looked over my shoulder — the vivid image — back to the window — the muted image.  Throughout the Crown, it seemed Francis was praying with us.  I told my companions once we had completed the Crown.  I mentioned it to a few at our fraternity meeting on Saturday.

 

Today, we celebrated the Feast of the Stigmata.  The chapel was full for the Crown and I sat on the other side of the room.  The same thing happened.  Maybe the image is all in my mind, but, I had the overwhelming feeling that Francis was praying with us.  He is also very happy to be facing the Tabernacle.

More on the Franciscan Crown

Mount La Verna Leaf & The Stigmata of St. Francis

On September 17, Franciscans will celebrate the Feast of the Stigmata.  On my last trip to Italy, our group took a trip to Mount La Verna – the site of St. Francis receiving the stigmata (wounds of Christ.) 

It was October and the leaves were turning.  We walked up a long tree lined road from the parking lot up to the monastery.  I rescued a fallen leaf from the ground and slipped it between the pages of my breviary.  It is still beautiful–it is there in my photo.  If I had not known I was in Italy, I could easily have been on a Fall leaf trip in the Blueridge Mountains of North Georgia.  I remember the air was crisp and we were scheduled for Mass in the church.  Our friar priest offered reconciliation in old fashioned confessionals — a wooden closet.  I thought that would be so cool.  Of course, as I was next, we ran out of time and I was asked to tell Father, “It’s time for Mass.  We have to go now.”  That is my one quirky memory of my visit on Mount La Verna.

 New Advent reports as many as 62 saints and blesseds who have received the stigmata.

Just as you may have thought that all Life of Francis Giotto’s must be in the Basilica of St. Francis, this famous Giotto is at the Louvre in Paris.  According to the Louvre information, “The theme of this altarpiece, painted in 1300 for a church in Pisa, is a well-known episode from the life of St. Francis of Assisi related by his companions: the miracle of the stigmata on Mount La Verna.” read more from Louvre

Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Portiuncula

As we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Portiuncula, the words of Thomas of Celano account not only the rebuilding of a church.  His words account the simple and devout way in which Francis desired with all his heart to imitate Christ.  The words divinely written in the gospels were Francis’ model for life. 

From The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano

From there he moved to another place, which is called the “Portiuncula,” where there stood a church of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God built in ancient times.  At that time it was deserted and no one was taking care of it.  When the holy man of God saw it so ruined, he was moved by piety because he had a warm devotion to the Mother of all good and he began to stay there continually.  The restoration of that church took place in the third year of his conversion.  At this time he wore a sort of hermit’s habit with a leather belt.  He carried a staff in his hand and wore shoes.

One day the gospel was being read in that church about how the Lord sent out his disciples to preach.  The holy man of God, who was attending there, in order to understand better the words of the gospel, humbly begged the priest after celebrating the solemnities of the Mass to explain the gospel to him.  The priest explained it all to him thoroughly line by line.  When he heard that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, not to have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, the holy man, Francis immediately exulted in the spirit of God.  “This is what I want,” he said, “this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.” The holy father, overflowing with joy, hastened to implement the words of salvation, and did not delay before he devoutly began to put into effect what he heard. 

Gospel References

Mt 10:9-10; Lk 9:2; Mk 6:12; Lk 1:47

A Red Letter Kind of Saint & Why I Am A Franciscan

 
Luke 9
Luke 9

      The photo above is from the King James version of the Bible I was using prior to my conversion.  Protestants have many flavors of the Bible.  Most of my pastors taught from this one.  My point with this is regarding “red letter” editions.  In red letter editions, the four gospels use red type for words attributed to Jesus.  My becoming a Franciscan is intertwined with my conversion to the Catholic faith. [you will want to be sure you have read my post "Why I Am A Catholic"]  After my first trip to Italy, I became aware there was more to my Christian history than was contained in my Bible and the parts I knew of the Reformation.  I had bought a book called “The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur.  I wanted to focus solely on the “red letters” if you will.  What did Jesus say?  This is the time when the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) bracelets were in the height of popularity.  I had a spiritual void that I didn’t know how to fill.  I grew up around a fair amount of church turmoil.  My church was the result of a split congregation.  At one point my family had “picked up our toys” and went elsewhere for awhile.  Sadly, my parents are still often “between” churches.

     It was in the midst of this inner spiritual turmoil that I met the friend who pointed me to the Catholic Mass.  I dug into apologetics.  My friend had suggested Scott Hahn’s “Rome Sweet Home.”  I’m sure I’ll blog more about that in other posts.  I did not take my conversion lightly.  I approached another friend about going to Mass with her.  By chance, or divine fate, I found myself in a parish administered by OFM Conventual Franciscan friars.  I was oriented into the faith through my interactions with these friars and the wonderful RCIA team.  After I was received into the church at Easter 1999, I began looking for the next thing.  My family had always said I would be a preachers wife or a nun.  I’m still single so my family got nervous when I became Catholic.  Mom cried on the phone at one point in fear I was headed to the nearest cloister.  No.  But, I decided to learn more about this St. Francis of Assisi. 

     Soon after Easter, I read two books (1) The Lessons of St. Francis by John Michael Talbot, and (2) St. Francis of Assisi – A Biography by Omer Engelbert.  I have to say, this is the point where my eyes were opened fully to my Christian history gap.  I’m not even sure I knew he was the bird bath and the bird feeder.  I knew nothing of the church fathers.  I had been limited to names such as Luther and Calvin.  When you think the Reformation is early 1500′s, I was missing some details after the book of Acts, a few letters and a supernatural Revelation.  The thing that astounded me about Francis was his adherence to the “red letters.”  Francis would’ve been all over a red letter edition of the holy scriptures.  The other thing that astounded me about Francis is that I see him as the opposite of Martin Luther.  Francis had his “road to Damascus” experience where “a voice” sent him back to Assisi.  In the church of San Damiano, praying before the crucifix, Christ spoke to him, “Francis, go repair My house, which is falling in ruins.”  For a short while, Francis piled and stacked literal stones of church buildings that were in disrepair.  Realizing that repairing the Church was to be a spiritual endevour, Francis began to preach penitence.

     The exciting truth I found here was this:  Francis worked within the church.  He remained faithful to the Pope and the Catholic Church.  Not only that, I’d never read of anyone who so closely tried to live exactly as the red letters dictated.  His union with Christ was so complete he received the wounds of the crucifixion on his own body.  I was 100% sure of my decision on Easter Sunday 1999.  After reading the life of St. Francis, I was 200% sure of the path I was following.  His first Rule was litterly an assembly of “red letter” verses from the Gospels.  I began google searching for Franciscan vocations.  In the life of Francis, I found my model for continuing conversion.  It’s easy for people to shirk off that no one could possibly live like Jesus did and as he commanded.  But, there are models of the faith who lived after Jesus and did their very best.

The red letters are also why I’m Catholic.  I was a good Baptist, reading my red letters.

This is my Body, This is my Blood

 And lastly for your musical entertainment.  One of my favorite DC Talk songs, The Red Letters.  My favorite DC Talk CD is “Supernatural”.  I attended that concert tour.  I saw this song performed live just as you will see in the video.  The video is in English with, I think, Spanish subtitles.  Watch this video.  Listen to the words.  Imagine Francis.  It delights me.

Lyrics if you are interested