Category: Spirituality

A Theology for the Homeless (from a Philosophy for Dogs)

In graduate school, I wrote a master’s philosophy thesis on the concept of animal souls, ethics, psychology, and other related things. One of the most outstanding things I discovered during the writing process is that many philosophical and theological authorities attest to psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals. (Yes, even Aquinas! [i]). Basically, what this psychological continuity means is that humans and non-human animals may share a common psychological life. While all humans and non-human animals are “subjects of a life”, what’s most striking about psychological continuity is that some humans and some non-human animals share psychical experiences in common with each other [ii]. It’s an exceptional discovery, but for some reason I found it almost impossible to apply in a specific and concrete way.

Until a few days ago.

Along with my interest in dogs, I have a deep, abiding interest in the poor. In fact, my patron saint, St. Roch, is not only the patron saint of dogs, he’s also a Franciscan mendicant that most would label “poor.” The poor, dog-loving saint: sounds good, doesn’t it? I could say a lot about my love and devotion for the poor and dogs here, but for now I’ll leave it with the words of Bl. Frédéric Ozanam, who said, “Knowledge of the poor and needy is not gained by poring over books or in discussions with politicians, but by visiting the slums where they live, sitting by the bedside of the dying, feeling the cold they feel and learning from their lips the causes of their woes.” [iii] We could say the same things about dogs, too.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the poor. There’s an image I return to often when I recall my time spent with the poor. It’s the image of a homeless man sitting near a bridge with his Border collie. Whenever I see this man, he appears tired and worn out. His skin is strikingly tan and leathery, as if he were some old buffalo hide used to keep villagers warm. Seeing him is like seeing the wounds of Christ — which are unseen seen from afar — that would become manifest if one were to only approach close enough to the man’s venerable appearance. There’s a lovely Border collie that accompanies this venerable-looking man. Anyone with eyes could see that the two of them are an inseparable pair. And that’s what I think when I look at them: Why do they appear so inseparable?

“Knowledge of the poor and needy is not gained by poring over books or in discussions with politicians, but by visiting the slums where they live, sitting by the bedside of the dying, feeling the cold they feel and learning from their lips the causes of their woes.”

~ Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

People sometimes become sensitive about issues concerning psychological continuity between human and non-human animals. And rightfully so. I imagine they become sensitive about it for a number of reasons: for one, they don’t like the idea of psychological ‘sameness’ or ‘parity’ between humans and non-human animals; or else, they’re scornful about the ecological and ethical ramifications involved with there being psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals. Whatever their issue might be, it seems like there are good reasons to get sensitive about psychological continuity. I mean, think about it: Aren’t dogs treated better than the homeless sometimes?

I think what really bothers people is not that a homeless man and his Border collie together represent psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals; instead, what bothers people is that they can’t disregard the poor, especially when the poor are accompanied by the sentiments of an animal that represents their struggles. In one sense, the homeless man and his Border collie represent what’s good about the meaning of psychological continuity; in another sense, they represent everything miserable about it. On one hand, they represent what it means to regard the idea of psychological continuity positively. (The homeless man and dog “stick-it-out” together because only that will do when humanity chooses to not care!) It’s beautiful, really. But, on the other hand, they illustrate what it means to disregard the idea of psychological continuity as something positive. (The homeless man has to keep a representation of his injustice and plight with him just to get his fellow humans to notice!) The central question in either case is whether the life of the vulnerable is being regarded with adequate care and concern.

We are quick to dismiss the suffering and plight of the homeless. We judge, but we don’t do so sufficiently because we do it without charity. Then, we try to excuse ourselves, but in doing that, we miss out on the rationale of simple love and action. Capturing the eternal law for the poor is what really matters, because so many actions, even if they’re noble or honorable, pale in comparison to the higher lawfulness of merciful acts of justice and charity in feeding, caring and sheltering the poor, oppressed, hungry, thirsty and vulnerable.

“It is the notion that, in truly witnessing dog and man in a ‘bond of love’ — in a bond of psychological unity — the fire of compassion toward humanity is lit.”

Don’t worry though. I have a way to help inspire these actions of eternal significance. The notion of the Dog of God can be our guide. With this notion, we’re inclined to regard the life of the poor, especially if, alongside the poor, the common plight of our canine friends is evident therewith. The Dog of God is the notion that, in truly witnessing dog and man in a “bond of love” — in a bond of psychological unity — the fire of compassion for humanity is lit (Col. iii, 14). Witnessing this inspires us, but given the temporal nature of the bond of love between man and animal, one must act soon or else lose their inspiration and, with it, their willingness to act in mercy, justice and charity. The spiritual gift or reward for acting promptly? – the exuberant and waggish joy a dog feels when he has pleased his master. It’s a little gift for a “little dog” [iv]. Won’t the Eternal Master, Who is seated at the right hand of the Father, shower his flock with a higher gift than that of a natural dog? Yes, and the feeling of this spiritual gift is likened unto “entering into the joy of your Master”! (Matt. xxv, 21).

After being afflicted with a serious disease, St. Roch laid in a forest, dying, awaiting his death. Low and behold, it was the heroic action of a local man’s little dog who saved St. Roch’s life by bringing him the “bread of life.” There, together, the poor mendicant and the little dog represented not merely psychological continuity and unity between humans and non-human animals, but a holy image (see above) that signifies the loss of psychological diseases and the obtainment of Heaven. Let’s use this holy image to cure our own psychological disease of indifference towards the poor and the common plight of all creatures, who are all “subjects of a life.” In so doing, we follow the example of the holy life of charity. Those subjected to such a life (and follow it willingly) know that in visiting the poor, “we gain much more than they do.” [v] And let it be so.


[i] cf. Judith Barad’s treatment of this in Aquinas on the Nature and Treatment of Animals (US: International Scholars Publication, 1995), print.

[ii] cf. Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights”

[iii] cf. http://vincentians.com/en/quotes-collection/frederic-ozanam-quotes/

[iv] cf. Greek kuón in Matt. xvi, 26

[v] ibid; http://vincentians.com/en/quotes-collection/frederic-ozanam-quotes/

Reflections of Season & Saint: Christmas and the Feast of St. Stephen

When I was young, I didn’t enjoy Christmas time much. Like many kids, receiving gifts, soaking in whatever feelings of nostalgia and comfort, and (and this could probably go without saying) having time off from school, were all things quite welcomed by me. But other things that I assume a lot of people cherish about the Christmas season (e.g., family time, merry-making, etc.), just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I did have a vague or obscure sense of the uniqueness of the Christmas season when I was young, but having a deep realization of the true spirit of Christmas required a lot more interior formation.

The Advent season is a time for disclosure and new spiritual birth. It’s a time during which God reveals Himself in flesh, in substance — to a degree so real and concrete that to escape it would be to escape a holy fate. Advent is a time of prophecy and revelation; new imagination replacing old; and a relative assurance of things to come, whether solemn or happy. There’s joy, fire, love, peace; there’s a looking-back, a looking-in, and a looking-forward. Following the festivities of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my wife and daughter (and our little child who’s on the way!), I awoke this morning, the 26th, to a certain realization about Christmas. On this, the Feast Day of St. Stephen, there is a powerful reminder of the Advent season that serves to evince the true spirit of Christmas.

On December 26th, just one day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr and deacon. Traditionally, it’s said that St. Stephen was the first martyr (hence: protomartyr) in the Church and one of the first seven ordained by the Apostles to diaconate (cf. Acts vi-vii). Due to injustices committed against Hellenists in the Christian community in Jerusalem, the Apostles (who were too busy to manage the disputes of the community themselves), selected among them seven men, who were “full of Spirit and of wisdom”, to be ordained as deacons (vi, 1-3). Through the “laying-on of hands” bestowed upon these seven men by the Apostles, the ecclesial order of the diaconate was established (vi, 6). Stephen, a holy and highly influential one among these seven men, was known in Jerusalem for his teachings, which aroused and incited the anger and vitriol of the local Jews. They had him arrested. At the time of his arrest, it’s written that the Sanhedrin saw that St. Stephen’s face was “like the face of angel” (cf. vi, 15). And in a rousing testimony of faith before the Sanhedrin and local Jewish community, St. Stephen presented his apologia (a reasoned defense of the Christian faith per the oracles and cultural history of the Jewish crowd before him) with a cutting persuasive power — so much so that Stephen was to be stoned to death (cf. vii). Just before being put to death, St. Stephen gazed into heaven and, in seeing the glory of God, declared “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (vi, 56). Surely: December 26th is a marvelous feast day for a marvelous saint, martyr and deacon. But our question here is: What on earth does all this have to do with the true spirit of Christmas?

I’ve been in a serious state of growth and development over the past few years. (“Growing pains” is a popular phrase, but it hasn’t lost its bearing for me!). My inner-transformations, my perpetual conversions and my return to the heart of Jesus, has all been a concentrated focus with two words at its center: charity and the poor. These two words have been my focus partly because of the considerable amount of time I’ve spent reading Deacon James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate (a great little book) and The Deacon Reader (a book containing numerous different articles by different authors). Both books deal with the subject of the diaconate, which is, to put it deeper into an ecclesial context, a term suggesting what the ministry of the deacon is — that is, diakonia, “service.” A deacon is an ordained clergyman in the ecclesial hierarchy of the Church. At the top of the hierarchy: bishops; in the middle: priests; at the bottom: deacons. As an ordained clergyman, the deacon has the Sacrament of Holy Orders; therefore, they’re impressed with an indelible mark of ordination. For deacons in particular, this mark is an indelible mark of Christ the Servant, who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mk x, 45). The diaconate then is an order or assembly of those called to the service or ministry of the deacon, which is three-fold: Word, Charity and Liturgy. Deacons minister the Word, for they proclaim the Gospel and, with the faculty of preaching, serve as homilists for the edification and growth of their fellow Christians. Deacons also administer Charity, for they’re responsible for carrying out charitable services on behalf of the Church, which includes visiting the lonely and the widowed, feeding the poor, reaching out to those imprisoned, managing the Church’s finances responsibly, and so forth. Lastly, deacons assist the priest liturgically, for they distribute Holy Communion, administer baptism, perform last rites, proclaim the Gospel, and so forth. Deacons are the ordinary ministers of ecclesial functions that Catholic Christians might do in exceptional circumstances. But the difference between the two is in who the deacon is; with their special and indelible mark of ordination, the deacon is a living icon to the Church and the World. The purpose of the deacon — as St. Lawrence, the deacon par excellence, suggests to us — is “obedience unto death” for the sake of the true treasures of the Church: the poor (Philip ii, 8).

Bl. Isaac of Stella defined charity as “the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or left unchanged; it is the initial principle and the end to which all things should be directed” (cf. fn.). If this isn’t a sufficient definition of charity, take the Apostle’s words to heart: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal vi, 2). The meaning of “the poor” is appreciated in a similar vein of thought — not as something having a spiritual meaning separate from an economic reality, but rather as something having a spiritual and economic reality, that, while distinct, are in no way separate from each other. This truth indicates that charity, while distinct from the poor, is absolutely inextricable from the poor and thus inextricable from the security of eternal salvation; for, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Final Judgment, to greatly lack love for the poor — the “least of these”, the “poorest of the poor” — is to be met-with the fierce and righteous judgment of God (cf. Matt xxv). And so it is charity for the poor, even unto this great holy magnitude, that makes Christmas real; because love for the poor guides what we say, think or do with respect to our vindication before a Holy and Almighty God, it must be that this positive and benevolent guidance, this heart of charity for the poor, of God, reveals to us the true spirit of the Heart of God, which is, namely, Christmas.

What I’ve come to realize is that without a heart beating with charity for the poor, Christmas is less than what it can be, and less than what it should be, too. Imagine Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: notice the merry tidings, the gaiety, the ghost-like scenes and images of holly and wine, cheer and second-chances, family and renewal — all of this is nothing without charity for the poor. Without charity for the poor, the true spirit of Christmas amounts to an exercise of the vain, superficial, consumeristic and gross. Without a charitable spirit full of love for the poor, the doings of Christmas resound like the “clanging cymbal” of a clock tower or a Church steeple (1 Cor xiii, 1). Charity for the poor empowers one with the sacramental grace necessary to enjoy the hallmarks of the Christmas season — merry-making, family time, and much more. May we all be empowered to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy for the poor. May we all allow individual almsgiving for the poor to be a mighty weapon of the real, holy and true spirit of Christmas. Charity for the poor evangelizes the evangelized. It is an evangelical counsel, after all. And, in fact, charity for the poor might be one of the last things capable of effecting serious change. Let’s hope so.

Pray for us, St. Lawrence!

For further reading:

cf. http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/week5saturdayor.htm for quote by Bl. Isaac of Stella in the Liturgy of Hours Office of Readings.

Keating, James (2015). The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ. NY: Paulist Press. Print.

(2006). The Deacon Reader. Keating, James (ed.). NY: Paulist Press. Print.

The Secret of True Power

What is true strength and true power? A man thinks it is the ability to overpower any other man with ruthless and unreserved displays of strength to make it known that he is not to be trifled with. A woman thinks it is in her cunning that allows her to obtain anything she wants, whether through flattery or the use of her body. What difference is there between these and drooling, four-footed beasts? Any animal can react according to its instincts, bearing its fangs and lashing out when angry, gorging itself past satiety when hungry, or finding anything to mate with when impassioned. One who acts according to his base emotions is no better than such an animal — he is a weak creature, a slave to his swaying and unsteady passions. These voluptuaries cannot help but succumb to every whim of their god, hedonism, that throws them to and fro like a paper boat caught in the ocean’s mighty currents; the ultimate result: dissolution within the miry waters.

True strength is that which breaks free from these innate and carnal desires.

True power allows one to disobey these desires.

Men of all ages have sought ceaselessly to obtain this power. The late 3rd century holy Hieromartyr Cyprian of Nicomedia, for example, was once a prominent pagan priest educated in philosophy and the sorcerer’s craft and served Satan, the Prince of Darkness, in his attempt to know this power. Similarly, the mid-3rd century holy Martyr Christopher of Lycia sought to serve the greatest and most powerful king in the world when he, too, found himself under the rule of Satan, the Prince of the Worldly Powers, after realizing that the king he served feared Satan. However, upon encountering the Lord Jesus Christ, both men departed from the devil’s reign after witnessing how Satan could only tremble in the face of Christ’s power, and for this reason, they vowed to serve Christ as their Lord for the remainder of their lives. This fearsome and wondrous power we see Our Lord exhibit in certain passages of the scriptures, such as in Luke’s gospel where he casts a demon out of a man with a simple command. The observers were amazed: “What a word this is?” they exclaimed. “For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Lk 4:36). Cyprian and Christopher were graced by Christ to have this same power imbued into them, and with it, they and countless others endured fierce beatings and horrible deaths for the gain of sainthood and the glory of Our Lord’s Name.

So, how might one obtain this same power? It may disappoint you to learn that it is unobtainable through purely human efforts. Rather, it is only in Jesus Christ, who is not merely human but theanthropic, through which it can be attained. Only those who have united themselves to him through Holy Baptism are freed from the carnality that enslaves our minds, bodies, and souls and chains them to the fetters that are our passions. With Christ living mystically within the newly baptized, they are then adopted as sons (and daughters) of God by the seal of his Holy Spirit given in the holy sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation). Through this mystical union with Christ, we are given the strength and ability necessary to deny our carnal passions and make the about-face turn from the way of sin that leads to death, to the Way of Life that is accompanied by, and leads to, Christ.

Exemplifying this perfectly is St. Mary of Egypt, a 4th century ascetic who is commemorated in Eastern Christian traditions on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent. She is celebrated for what she accomplished centuries ago through the grace and love of Christ and the power that he bestowed on her. St. Mary received this power when she confessed her sins to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by her holy intercessions to her Son, our God, she was gifted with the strength to live a life of total repentance, turning from a life of debauchery and overindulgence to one of probity, abstemiousness, and holiness. St. Mary’s former life was characterized by the most libertine indulgence as she did all that pleased her body; beginning at the age of twelve, after forsaking and abandoning her parents, in her own words, she for seventeen years “unrestrainedly and insatiably gave [herself] up to sensuality.”i She did so, not “for the sake of gain,” as she tells us, but “so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain [her], doing free of charge what gave [her] pleasure.” Indeed, she made even prostitutes appear prudish. “I lived by begging,” she says, “often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life. That is how I lived.” In her retelling of the story of how she approached her encounter with the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross and Our Blessed Mother, she finds herself unable to describe to Abba Zosimas, her sole attender, the acts she committed and now regarded as so terrible and atrocious:

How shall I relate to you what happened after
this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took
place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently
forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is
no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their
teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how
the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not
swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls.

Yet, although not a single soul in the world may have had any hope for her, God continued to hope in her, which she realized after her miraculous conversion: “But I think God was seeking my repentance,” she recounts. “For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him.” And return she did. By the grace of Christ and with the power he imparted to her, she repented and dwelled for decades in what monks of all ages have labored and strained for intensely, only to receive a mere taste. She became violent towards her own carnal nature and destroyed the powers that once held her so miserably captive, fulfilling the words of Our Lord that “the violent take [the kingdom of heaven] by force” (Matt 11:12). In conquering her former slavemasters that were her passions and overcoming worldly desires, she has made herself ruler, becoming a pillar in the temple of God and having his Name and the Name of his Holy City written upon her (Rev 3:12). One indication of true power (and true strength) is illustrated in St. Mary of Egypt’s 47-year struggle to live a holy life in the desert. For St. Mary of Egypt, true power (and true strength) was the protection of the Omnipotent Word of God.

At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many terrible temptations. But from that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rock” (Job 24; Heb 11:38).

O holy saints Cyprian, Christopher, and Mary who now stand in the immediate presence and glory of God in all His power, please pray for us sinners that we, too, may become by grace what God is by nature.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philip 4:13)

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insult, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

REFERENCES

i cf. Sandiopoulos, John (2017). “Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt (St. Sophronios of Jerusalem).” (Retrieved from https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/, fall 2019). Note: all other direct quotes in this post about St. Mary of Egypt were taken from this source.

*All scriptural quotations taken from the New King James Version (NKJV).

José Luis Sáenz is a graduate student studying nutrition and dietetics at the University of Texas-San Antonio. For the last four years or so he has sought to serve Christ and currently finds himself a catechumen within the Russian Orthodox Church. Although no expert, he enjoys playing the guitar as well as viewing art and reading poetry.

Calling of Devotion: Discerning the Charisms of Franciscan Spirituality

Introduction

My wife and I have been discerning a call to religious life — that is to say, we’re currently discerning a call to a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Third Orders. Before my wife and I married, we discerned the possibility of a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Primary Orders. I discerned joining the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap.): a First Order within the general Franciscan religious and spiritual sphere; and my wife discerned joining the Carmelites (O. Carm.): a Second Order within the general Carmelite religious and spiritual sphere. The Church’s First and Second Orders are the thing most people have in mind when they think of a nun, a monk, or friar. Those in First and Second Orders usually wear habits, live in monasteries and/or convents, and so forth. For those in Third Orders, things are quite different, even though Third Orders are, in at least some ways, the same as First and Second Orders. Normally, members of Third Orders are married and have children. They don’t wear a full religious habit but may wear a scapular or another form of habit. In addition, they don’t normally live in monasteries and/or convents. What members (i.e., tertiaries or oblates) in Third Orders do similarly to those in First and Second Orders includes prayer; adhering to general charisms (i.e., spiritual grace(s) and/or gift(s) given to a particular organization by God to build up His Church) as well as rules and principles established by the founder of the Order; and they live in fraternity with other members of the Order. The identity of Third Orders can be summarized as that which exercises and practices essential features of the religious and spiritual life of First and Second Orders, — without being held to specific or particular Rules of the First and Second Orders. For those out there like me and my wife, Third Orders are an answer to the calling to integrate the vocational attributes of the Sacrament of Marriage with the deep sense of religious and spiritual obligation to the Church and the World. This obligation is something we, and so many others, feel compelled to do.

When my wife and I first met, I told her that St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s parents, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, discerned a calling to a spiritual and religious life. Eventually, God called them to the vocation, the Sacrament, of marriage; however, their call to marriage didn’t imply that there was no religious calling for them to answer whatsoever. After all, everyone is given the universal call to holiness [i]. And although Lumen Gentium was before their time, Sts. Louis and Zélie nevertheless answered the universal call to holiness through integrating particular forms of religious and spiritual devotion into their family life: St. Zélie is said to have been active as a Third Order Franciscan, and St. Louis was very active in the ministry of charity as a worker for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Both Saints devoted their respective religious and spiritual sensibilities to states unique to them as individuals, and their unique individual-states of devotion helped them to rediscover their identity as a married union. Undoubtedly, their respective forms of devotion to Christ and His Church helped them to develop the inner-life and witness of their daughter, Thérèse, who developed her own form of devotion by witnessing that of her parents. St. Thérèse changed the world through her “little doctrine” of holiness — a way of “abandonment of the little child who goes to sleep in its Father’s arms without fear”, which culminates in the “divine furnace” of God’s love [ii]. St. Thérèse’s form of devotion has inspired millions of people. By witness to the life of St. Thérèse, a calling to a religious and spiritual way of life can be just the beginning my wife and I, as a married couple, need to change the world. As St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) discussed in her Nobel Prize speech: First, we begin praying and loving in the home; soon, that praying and loving can expand to the care of a neighbor far away, and after a while, we have impacted the whole world [iii]. We all want to help change the world. To do that, we must first love and pray well. As my wife an I understand it, loving and praying well involves religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Holy Church.

My wife thinks proper religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Church is exemplified well through St. Thérèse’s own form of religious and spiritual devotion: that of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.). That’s one reason why she wants to be a Carmelite, and it’s quite agreeable to me! I have zero qualms about her preferences. In another post, it’d be great if my wife described the charisms of the Carmelites and what about them draws her to the Carmelite Order. But for now, I’d like to describe my own preference, which is a life of devotion with the Secular Franciscans. What draws me to the Secular Franciscans is their religious and spiritual charisms that are, to me at least, the totality of Christ’s gospel in the glorious seraphic love and vision of the episodes, stories, teachings, and other contents, of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. These charisms include Poverty, Penance, Peace, and Secularity [iv]. I’d like to describe each of these charisms of the Secular Franciscans and discuss what about them draws me to the Franciscans. After providing some detail about each of them, I’ll conclude this post with some final thoughts.

The Charism of Poverty

“Poverty” does not have much of an economical designation in Franciscan spirituality. In Franciscan spirituality, ‘poverty’ does not simply denote “being below the poverty line” or “having little money.” It can, of course, and most often does; but for Franciscans, poverty is perhaps better understood as something denoting a life of radical simplicity; a life of detachment from earthly things and attachment to “things above” (Col 3:2). Franciscans also consider poverty as a source of wisdom. Poverty as a source of wisdom is given definite expression in the account of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmatic vision (or his “vision of seraphic love”) of Christ crucified while he was praying and contemplating atop Mt. Alverna. Franciscans understand the source of wisdom and poverty as that through which they, by following the imitation of Christ in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, emanate “the vision of seraphic love” to creation — especially to those who, whether economically-wise or not, are truly “poor in spirit” (Luke 6). Franciscan poverty does, in seraphic love, the Beatitudes of Christ. It’s how Franciscans live Christ’s gospel.

The Charism of Penance

Penance requires “the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” [v] Accordingly, penance, whether committed by interior or exterior methods, engages the sinner’s recognition that they have sinned; by failing to do that which is “contrite of heart,” the penitent acknowledges thus the possibility of denying their selfishness, and by this acknowledgment, the penitent examines and acts upon a judgment of the self so to release, and turn from, “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21). This meaning of penance is related to the Franciscan meaning of poverty as a source of seraphic love, wisdom and vision, for both poverty and penance take as their fundamental source a “transformation into the likeness of Christ crucified” through the “complete conflagration of mind.” [vi]

The Charism of Peace

Franciscans don’t take peace to be a “let’s-all-be-nice-to-each-other-and-sing-kumbaya” sort of thing. Instead, it’s a sort of “do no harm to others” whereby Franciscans are obliged to not retaliate with lethal weapons against others. Franciscans may self-defend, but this self-defense may refer to circumstances in which a Franciscan is being “attacked” with incomplete, erroneous, inconsistent, or misguided doctrines and actions. A rather famous example of such a circumstance is Bl. John Duns Scotus and his defense of his doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception [vii]. Some have taken St. Francis of Assisi’s charism of peace by misconception, and have thereby accused Francis and his Order of being peace-loving in the same way “hippies” are; but this accusation misinterprets the Franciscan charism of peace and what it actually entails. In good estimation, this accusation and/or misconception has been dealt with accordingly [viii].

The Charism of Secularity

Some people think “secular” only means “immoral” or “of the world” or something closely-related to such. Franciscan spirituality does not, nor does it intend, to practice immorality of any kind. Franciscan spirituality renounces things “of the world.” Therefore, the meaning of “secular” or “secularity” must be something else aside from the typical gross conception of ‘the secular.’ Indeed, for the Franciscan, “secular” or “secularity” simply implies apostolic activity in the world, not apostolic activity of the world. The meaning of the “Franciscan secular” furthermore suggests that Secular Franciscans do not stay cloistered in monasteries or convents contemplating the divine. Rather, Secular Franciscans are active-contemplatives who contemplate the divine in the world as they live their being in it. To state it another way, Franciscan secularity means “going into the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And by “preach the gospel to every creature,” we really do mean every creature.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what’s your religious and spiritual devotion? For a long time, I wanted to be like the great Archimedes; I wanted to use a fulcrum and lever to move the world. I realize now that the Saints are the ones who have obtained the “fulcrum and lever of God”: the fulcrum, “God Himself”; the lever, prayer which “sets on fire with a fire of love.” [ix] We obtain both through religious and spiritual devotion. If you don’t yet have a form of religious and spiritual devotion, I encourage you to get one!


REFERENCES

[i] cf., Pope Paul VI (1964). “Chapter V: The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church” in Lumen Gentium. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-iii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.

[ii] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 88. Print.

[iii] cf., Mother Teresa (2019). NobelPrize.org (Eds.). “Acceptance Speech.” Nobel Media AB. (Web accessed, June 2019). (Actual speech took place 10 Dec. 1979). DOI: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/26200-mother-teresa-acceptance-s    speech-1979/.

[iv] cf., Vail, Benjamin (n.d.). “In Search of a Secular Franciscan Charism.” Blog post. (Web accessed, Jun 2019). DOI: https://onepeterfive.com/secular-franciscan-charism/.  

[v] Catholic Church (n.d.). “Part Two: Celebration of the Christian Mystery” in Vatican Online format of Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1450. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm. *Note: Print version reference to be provided upon update.

[vi] cf., Mcginn, Bernard (2006). The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: Modern Library; 229. Print.

[vii] Author Unknown (n.d.). “Blessed John Duns Scotus.” Blog post. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/blessed-john-duns-scotus/.

It is commonly held in the Church that Bl. John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception during a time in which many, including St. Thomas Aquinas, did not. Bl. John did indeed defend the doctrine(s), and it can be considered a form of self-defense given his singular-stance on the doctrine(s). His singular-stance on the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception were declared dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

[viii] cf., Chesterton, G.K. (2008). St. Francis of Assisi. New York: Dover Publications; 70-81. (Originally published in 1924). Print.

[ix] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 140. Print.

Day of the Flaming Heart

Sunday is a day when I especially feel like feasting; I often enjoy partaking in the banquet of life. Because a meal of simple bread and wine becomes divine, this day always looks promising. And Oh!–How the day is even more glorious on the radiant feast of Pentecost. It ignites a burner under my heart! The Spirit’s sweet food and drink transforms my simple being. 

On this particular Sunday red flames consume me; I am on fire with the body and blood of Christ. His soul and divinity starts a passion of love that arises within the deepest recess of my soul. The singing of The Gloria even sounds more glorious than usual. I promise God my day’s praises. In this day, he grants me glory. 

My newly flaming heart’s flames grow higher as the feasting continues. Our family receives an abundant harvest of chicken wings and beer as we dine at a local restaurant. The celebration must go on, after all. My husband and I enjoy the restaurant’s bar-like atmosphere in holiness as we reminisce over our encounters with religious devotees and the homeless. We agree that the poor beggar is in fact the rich one–that is, if you consider his spirit.

The cheerful weather seems to be especially designated to us this Sunday, a kind of “unspoken rule of nature” found most pleasing to my soul. Along with the feast of the Holy Spirit comes the radiant sun. This day is a simple and satisfying one. The celebration imbued with a powerful love, making this typical time of rest and recuperation also adventurous and eventful in many subtle ways.

For me, there have been other Sundays both personal and unprecedented in memory. These are only ever surpassed by grander and more glorious occasions of another weekend, ripe with a holy mass, being with family, and continuously celebrating the crossing paths of our extended family–the other members of the human race.

Sundays are my favorite days because they push the reset button on my worn and wearied path once again. My heart loves and longs for these days of blissful excitement and simplicity. It sings about seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of beautiful creation in a city of culture and nature. We are out of our typical surroundings. 

Perhaps the glorious amount of sunshine is responsible for my sheer joy in these moments. It is true that the rays give a boost of warmth and brightness to relax my body from a previous week. Or, can it be that my gladness comes from the kind of rays that are made of love–all from God’s heart, to my family, to me?

On a summer day whose flaming heat matches my flaming heart, I think so.

Elizabeth Gracy is a mother, wife & writer. Her interests include developing as a Montessori educator, growing spiritually in her calling to the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and caring for her family. She has a degree in Speech Pathology and attended Texas A&M’s Master of Public Health program.