Friday, July 11, 2014

Farewell to the Franciscan Brothers, Faithful Sons of Mary

       By Monica Siemer, The Lamb Catholic Worker

      It is with sorrow that we bid farewell to the Franciscan Brothers Minor who have graced Columbus with their presence for the past few years.  They are moving back to Indiana, and our hope is that their quiet yet powerful and cataclysmic model of living the life of St. Francis will return here some day!

Brother Crispin Mary

      Whether seen on the icy or blazing hot pavements in their bare feet, or witnessing their humble prayerful voices alongside them at an abortion mill, or enjoying their contagious beard-lined smiles at dinner, they brought warmth to the heart and the spirit.
      Our community has had the pleasure of fellowship with 8-10 of them here, followed with a talk by Brother Crispin on living the life of poverty.  He eloquently gifted all of us with his knowledge and substantiation, from sacred Scriptures and Church teaching, on embracing a life of poverty.  When I find his notes he gave me I will better relay his wisdom (!)
       To be honest, more than any words could sound, his power and lesson came from he and his companions' way of life -- exuding Christ, His Apostles, and the early Church communities who were often spoken about as having great love, profound poverty, and profound joy.  In these they are all very rich.  These virtues are stated loudly and clearly in their coarse, patched, heavy, brown, hooded robes worn all year, their rough rope belts, nearly shaven heads and bare feet, and in other aspects and habits of their lives.
       They wear long rosaries that dangle and remind them to pray.  They never touch money and only eat what is donated to them, clearing the entire refrigerator each night, sharing it with those around them.  Knowing this last part, I kept pushing second or third helpings on many of them, but they would not take much.  It had become a way of life for them.  I was very moved.
       They are true sons of Mary, as Jesus said to John at the foot of the cross:  "Woman behold your son. John, behold your mother."  All of their middle chosen names are "Mary." Her prayers are special indeed for all, but especially for those who live a consecrated life, which has encouraged me to finally undergo a 33-day "total consecration to Jesus through Mary," as St. Louis Montfort promoted. I had never done this before. Single people and even married ones can make this consecration.  Two people within a year have suggested it for me, and on July 13, I will begin so that I finish on a Marian feast day (a requirement): the Assumption.
       There is a shortened version that is less complicated and allows for far more time to "ponder things in your heart," as Mary did.  Her prayers, those of the woman conceived of by God, or contemplated in advance, even before being conceived, are taken directly to her Spouse, the Holy Spirit, and to her most beloved Son, Jesus.  A person once challenged me that we Catholics worship Mary, and I answered the following: "Do you believe that Jesus had a mother?  (Give long wait time for them to think about and answer yes or no, which is quite a profound role of a human being).  Do you believe that Jesus wants us to honor His mother?"
        St. Louis de Montfort and Fr. Michael Gaitley put it most eloquently:  "'When Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38),' we can see most clearly that she's the spouse of the Holy Spirit for at that moment, she gave the Holy Spirit permission to conceive Christ in her womb.  Thus, at that moment, the already unfathomably deep bond between Mary and the Holy Spirit that had begun at the first moment of her Immaculate Conception [when she herself had been conceived in an immaculate manner, planned in advance by God] was revealed as nothing less than a two-become-one marital union... As a result of that union [unique to no other human being but Mary], the Holy Spirit is pleased to work and act through his spouse, Mary,..." (Booklet: "33 Days to Morning Glory, p. 5).
        Another thought-provoking message of Fr. Gaitley in this booklet was that even God entrusted Himself  to Mary.  That Jesus, who existed before the world was even made, came down from His heavenly glory to become a human being - of a few extremely fragile cells - entrusting  Himself to her body, her soul, her very being to nurture Him and put into motion His plan for salvation.  Fr. Gaitley put it this way:  "We should give ourselves to Mary in imitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  After all, didn't Jesus give himself to Mary from the moment of the Incarnation?  Yes he did" (p. 9). If God entrusted Himself to Mary to that degree, we can trust in her intercessory action as well.
       Msgr. Reuf gave a stirring homily on Mary recently and explained how Mary freely decided to conform her will to God's will, and so began God's transformation in her that continued her whole life.  Mary also pondered things at length in her heart, a worthy trait and virtue for us all.
Mary Mother of the Eucharist
      Today I had to wait in line for an hour and a half at the BMV where there seemed to be not a single adult without one or more gadgets that monopolized their time, continuously.  These had complete power over them, keeping their minds and attention occupied (captive) the entire time.  It seems at the level of an alarming addiction now in society, with people having grown up with cell phones and somewhat with smartphones.  It appears to be almost a Satanic grip on all of society, choking up any hint of time for pondering and reflecting, or even conversing face-to-face with people beside them.

       Social networking online at the home computer and with a cell phone (Facebook, etc), and especially the feedback from others, can have a powerful effect on young minds too.  I have heard that it sometimes feels as though one's popularity and "worth" are directly tied to how many responses one gets to one's posts.  I am wondering if it contributed to a recent suicide of a mid-20's handsome, college grad here who posted his new picture 2 days before he killed himself.  One Catholic Worker supporter said that he had to get off of Facebook altogether because it was affecting his self-esteem somewhat.  Good for him.  He cut himself free.  I have even had to pull away from this website some, because, even though we are above 21,000 viewers, I will think that it should be much higher, and doubts creep in at times.  It is only the Evil One trying to pull downward.  It is good though, to step back from gadgets, even ones used for good intentions, and take a spiritual and psychological pulse.
       So, does this radical (meaning going back to one's roots) and counter-cultural Franciscan lifestyle look primitive and boring?  Talk about an adventure when one does not know if he will eat the very next day or not!  How exciting when God comes through for them, when Mary's prayers for them are answered!  What a thrill, each day, on how the prayer will be answered, who the Holy Spirit will place in their paths, and for what reason.  Every day would be unpredictable and quite a new adventure, but the greatest aspect of all seems to be the grace that comes with it in the joys, trials, and even sorrows.  What a brotherhood of support!  This is also very Catholic Worker, in the spirit of trust and adventure one must have to take up the call to live radically poor.
       On this feast of St. Benedict (who began monasticism), I can vouch for even those holed up in an abbey, whose entire life is dedicated to prayer - seven evenly-spaced scheduled chapel times per day, in addition to other prayers and reading!  When I had to end my 3-week silent retreat two years ago - the last 8 days being at Thomas Merton's Trappist abbey, Gethsemane, in Kentucky - I was so sad and could have gone for 4 more months.  It was exhilarating!! So much went on in my spirit, in my soul!
        I believe my spiritual life raised to such a higher level (hopefully) because of that very aspect of removing oneself from society, like the desert fathers.  There is little to distract you and to hold your time and attention captive - except for God and a rhythm of prayer and openness and listening constantly.  You can pick up that still small voice, that is God, in that wisp of communication here and there that would normally be very hard to catch.  Msgr. Mottet said that most of his active early priesthood he would take a whole day retreat every month just for listening to the voice of God all day, in a quiet, removed retreat to think and pray over all the typically social justice-oriented projects and people in his life.  He always says that he went in with questions and came out with answers.
       Most profound was an intimacy with God that I had not experienced since my youth.  I had focused mainly on the Carmelite spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila (Interior Castles) and St. John of the Cross with The Ascent to Mount Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul, which could be summarized with the first reading on the very last day of all three weeks (a recent reading as well):  "I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert where I will speak to her heart... On that day, says the Lord, she shall call me 'My husband,' ..."I will espouse you to me forever ..." (Hosea 2:17-21).
       It was actually quite a honeymoon in nearly every modality, not just interiorly too.  Strange and beautiful songs kept being put into my heart like the refrain of the Moody Blues song, "Knights in White Satin," that goes, "yes I love youuuu, ohhhhhh how I love you..." The other two main songs in my heart were:  "I Have Loved You With an Everlasting Love," and "Shepherd Me O God." It was a very touching time with the ultimate Bridegroom.  Even the details or special touch of awe-inspiring European castle-looking architecture and windows of the massive Our Lady of Consolation Shrine and Basilica in Carey, Ohio (the first week of the 3-week retreat) late at night with its changing lights - it is open all night - was almost too much. At one point there, I was the only one in the church and the organ started playing, "Shepherd Me O God," without me ever having noticed or heard anyone come in (which obviously they did).  When they finished the song, they left (so it wasn't organ practice).
       The exact same can be told of constantly meditating along the medieval-looking monastery and many high stone walls of the Abbey of Gethesemane, where I felt placed back in the time of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.  This was exhilarating since they fought hard to reform the Carmelite order back to its roots, back to holiness, back to its Bridegroom, which may also be in the works for the Catholic Worker movement.
      Even action-packed physical adventure was part of this retreat, beginning on day 1 at the Abbey of Gethsemane with the death of the most beloved Trappist, Brother Ambrose.  He had quite a large crowd of Kentucky locals come to pay tribute to the man from Mexico who could fix any of their tractors, knew and helped constantly on their farms, and was always there in other ways for their families.  The many stories reminded me so much of Peter Maurin, especially the monks' stories about him being so talkative (which was ironic!).  Retreatants at that time were able to join in for the funeral in a part of the chapel no outsiders were ever normally allowed to go. Later, I helped with shovel to bury him deep in the ground on a bed of Juniper (yes, it is true!), getting to further know the personalities of the monks and brothers.  This life for Christ is not boring!  I conversed with and asked Brother Ambrose's prayers for our Catholic Worker, as I sat at his gravesite many hours, having made a small flower bed on the tall pile of dirt that will eventually sink down even with the ground.  I did the same at the gravesite of Thomas Merton (Brother Louis), where I placed many natural, beautiful things.
       As Columbus has lost quite a witness to living the life of radical poverty in these austere Franciscans leaving, I pray that the Catholic Worker community here will take up that baton valiantly, even to a World Cup level, or even, to the early Church level, of living out the call to embrace "Lady Poverty." I pray that, like St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, those drawn to this life become truly consecrated to Jesus, to Truth itself, through the intercession of Mary and her simple, immaculate heart.  I am certain that these Franciscans have had a lasting effect everywhere, especially to other seminarians and faculty at the Josephenum.  It is a call to all in living more simply in this world, and to solely be channels of love and of peace, as St. Francis preached and lived.  They are a great inspiration for other Franciscans too, I am sure.
     The shorter version of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is in a booklet called, "33 Days to Morning Glory," a "Do It Yourself Retreat."  There is also a bestseller book (same title) explaining it in full depth, but for those who feel nudged by the Holy Spirit to do this and wonder when they will have enough free time to read a whole book, this large booklet makes it accessible to everyone right now. It is also for those who cannot give up 33 days at a retreat center.  In addition, it's also for those who do not have a great deal of time figuring out the flipping back and forth with daily, building prayers, given the complexity of their lives in de Montfort's book (which I also have as a resource and plan to read fully), but who still feel very called to undergo this.  You can call and order the booklet at 1-800-462-7426 or online at You must begin in 33 days before a Marian feast day, and some start dates to come are: start on August 6 - with Fr. Schalk - to end on Sept. 8, the Nativity of Mary; start on August 13 to end on the September 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The cover is the Mary picture above (although she was probably dark-haired and dark-skinned).
     *For those who are pacifists, like the Christ-followers of our Church for its first 300 years, the comments on the first day can be disturbing, with the analogy of having the zeal of nearly crazed, slashing, passionate Celtic warriors.  I see it more as the even higher passion and zeal of the Apostles who gave all, their very lives, passionately, to be martyred brutally as Christ had been.  That one sits much better in this world that justifies participation by Christ-followers in modern war killing - the ending of another sacred human life (even children), for whatever reason the secular government at hand orders, even if it is against our Pope (as in the Iraqi War).  
       One can also see it more along the lines of the disciplined, self-sacrificing passion of a Brazilian soccer player, or those rugby players in the movie, "Forever Strong."  Pushing oneself in an over-the-top strenuous manner, in body, mind, virtue and soul, is always a good thing from time to time.  The harder one strikes out for God, the harder Satan strikes back at him or her.  One needs spiritual readiness, preparedness, for what comes his way in his personal life and in the world, putting on the armor of love and self-sacrifice. 
       Mother Mary and St. Francis, pray for us!  Brother Ambrose, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, we need your prayers too!

Shepherd Me O God

Here you go: Refrain 
Shepherd me, O God, 
beyond my wants, 
beyond my fears, 
from death into life. 

1. God is my shepherd, 
so nothing shall I want, 
I rest in the meadows 
of faithfulness and love, 
I walk by the quiet waters of peace. 

2. Gently you raise me 
and heal my weary soul, 
you lead me by pathways 
of righteousness and truth, 
my spirit shall sing 
the music of your Name. 

3. Though I should wander 
the valley of death, 
I fear no evil, 
for you are at my side, 
your rod and your staff, 
my comfort and my hope. 

4. You have set me a banquet of love 
in the face of hatred, 
crowning me with love 
beyond my pow’r to hold. 

5. Surely your kindness and mercy 
follow me all the days of my life; 
I will dwell in the house of my God 

I Have Loved You With an Everlasting Love
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine

seek the face of the lord and long for him
he will bring you his light and his peace

I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine

seek the face of the lord and long for him
he will bring you his joy and his hope

I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine
I have loved you with an everlasting love
I have called you, and you are mine