Tag: Family Life

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.

Imagine the Home

Imagine a home where one day we might roam the big grassy yard, its trees providing random canopies of shade. The German Shepherd free to run to and fro, from air condition to the natural air, with his fur still falling everywhere. 

A place where wooden Montessori toys abound for a little girl just learning to toddle about them. Maybe in a designated room with colorful foam puzzle pieces, interlocking on the floor. The shelves will be little and lined with activity after activity: all practical, sensorial, and fun.

The room next door will be a working place of another sort, lined with bookshelves containing everything from literature and philosophy to poetry and theology. History of the Saints will also have its special place. An old wooden desk, perhaps vintage and found at a thrift shop or antique store, will be the platform where hubby burns the daylight and sometimes the midnight oil on law studies and the like. 

Perhaps there will be a red door too.

In Chinese culture a red door means “the house is payed off”. And I like thinking our house is payed off.

There may be stairs in this house to climb; or it could be that I will never have to traverse, up and down, up and down for seven days a week again– like I do now with our second floor apartment. Dennis, the German Shepherd also likes that he may never have to ascend decrepitly to a square in the air for the rest of his life. The old man in his dog years says “woof!”–he would like that for the rest of his days. 

Oh design and decoration! Let’s not forget those, a homemaker’s paradise. Because let’s be honest, it’s not the dishes and the laundry that the wife-mother fantasizes about. It’s in the details and little unspoken delights that accent the walls, the windows, and the floors. 

Speaking of fantasies, did I mention the bedroom? And by bedroom I mean where the master sleeps. There’s a big lush bed for two to four, depending on who comes to the door crying in the middle of the night. Maybe more than four depending on how well the bed works…

Imagine the home, a place where love is fostered and memories are made. This is the place I’ll spend most of my days until a new job for my husband, a new adventure for our family, or simply a need for another space, tells us it’s time to move. 

Well I could go on and on, but I’ll end here by saying it again:

Imagine the home.

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

Everything the Light Touches

“Did you see that light?”

The way my husband described the aura surrounding our daughter the moment she was born sounded like something otherworldly.

“I didn’t see it, but I could feel it. Something in the atmosphere changed the minute her body left my body,” I mused. Though I wasn’t quite sure what kind of change it was.

“Yeah,” my husband continued. “The air hit her pure and pinkish flesh and it was like something different had set in. Her skin tone changed– transformed almost. Like a mystery veiled, but still vulnerable to seeing eyes…” His voice trailed off.

 “What do you think that was all about?” I asked. 

It was my first time giving birth, my first time being around birth, really. I pondered whether this was an unusual occurrence or not.

“Maybe it’s a divine law of nature when a baby leaves the womb or something.”

“Yes maybe so,” I responded. “I heard a woman speaking at a Marian retreat say that at conception, one is given a divine mission, the mission for their life. Like, it’s imprinted on their soul, and their path has been laid out before them. Everything that individual has been destined to become–the life they were chosen for–can be seen by all in the invisible realms at that exact moment.”

I then also recalled the last women’s Bible study I went to. It was the last one I went to before Alice was born and there were only two other women, my friends, in attendance that night. They had asked if they could pray over me and although I hesitantly responded yes, simultaneously, I welcomed the prayers. I knew I had an intense journey ahead of me with labor and delivery coming up soon and needed many blessings.

My husband saw me daydreaming.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

“You know it’s interesting that you mentioned seeing a light around Alice when she was born. One of my friends at Bible study said she got an image of light surrounding the baby in my womb after praying for me.” 

I was a little embarrassed to tell him that I had let the women at a Catholic Bible study pray over me somewhat “charismatically”. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to share what happened.

My husband smiled. “Makes perfect sense to me, Elizabeth.”

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

Alice, Twilight

In the reflection of the sun, her mother is the moon;
in the shadow of the moon, she, is twilight
.”

I wake up every morning about eight o’clock to the sounds of a little Biddle-Bop coo-ing and goo-ing. She has a cherish-able delightfulness about her that gets my day started on the right foot, even if I do wake up on the wrong side of the bed. A feeling of warmth bubbles deep down inside of me, and this lovely volcano assures me that it will be spewing over very soon. Today will be another good day, I am reminded.

A little twilight-colored darling, dressed in fairytale-green clothing, Alice is and will be anything but ordinary. I never thought I would see this day, not even in a thousand years. Let alone did I think to make such a great idea as this–to bring a little mystery of grace and light into this world, a world that is so often dark and cold.

She’s like me; like me but … glorified. If I could return back to those freshly innocent beginnings, I would look similar. I would look promising. Perhaps even as promising as the beauty of the cherub herself. My glow pales in comparison to the light that colors the sky just before the dusk. Her smile glorifies the creator, and her maker relishes in the delight of his craftsmanship in this one.

Did I mention Alice’s charming nature? Well it’s beyond all telling, of course. That twinkle in her eye would have any star put to meekness. Though that playful look in her big blues seems to be foreshadowing a future of mischief! I’ll have to remind myself that the glasses I wear must never become a rosy-colored hue.

Ahh… rose, like the color of the undertones in my little darling’s cheeks. To match her little petaled-pout, which only needs a stem to become the most glorious of flowers. Now mind you, as her mother, I am determined to help this little rose grow into the holiest of plants. For “beauty is fleeting and charm is deceptive…” and, well, you know the rest.

But fear not! For her father has promised her to be a shield maiden, a woman of valiant honor, worthy of utmost respect and praise. Men of all statures, from near and far will sing her these praises. With the confidence of the mother whose children “rise up and call her blessed”, Alice will shine on consecrated. At last, she will be a mystical rose, like her mother the moon. A little, TWILIGHT. Alice, my little twilight.

Elizabeth Gracy is a mother, wife & writer. Her interests include developing as a Montessori educator, growing in Carmelite spirituality, and caring for her children. She has a degree in Speech Pathology and attended Texas A&M’s Master of Public Health program.