I can command it (fourth-graders fear me) but living it is another matter.

After all, it’s my way or the highway.  Isn’t that what we all expect?  It’s taken me 40-mumble years, but I am coming around…a little…to the realization that it’s not always going to be my way.  Not even close.

Every January, the Secular Franciscans in my fraternity start the year off right.  We pray together, and then each of us is given the name of a patron saint, a virtue to cultivate, a maxim to live by, and a person within the fraternity to hold in prayer through the year.

My virtue this year is Obedience.  (Cue eye-rolling.)  Obedience?  Really?  I follow the rules, except for the speed limit.

There’s a little more to it than that, though.  It’s the question of attitude.  Like the “how dare they” mentality I get when I’m asked/told/required to do something that really IS the right thing to do, but since it’s not what I happen to want to do at the moment, I’ve got no mind to obey it.

The word “obedience” comes from a Latin root meaning “to hear.”  That’s what it’s all about, really.  That’s why, when I’m dealing with fourth graders, I’ll sometimes ask them to repeat directions back to me so that I can make sure they heard them correctly.

But what do we hear?  To whom do we listen?  There are so many messages to listen to:  Facebook, Twitter, the news media…I’m reminded of a line from Pippin that asks, “Would a newspaper ever print anything that wasn’t true?”  Are we listening to those sources that have our best interests at heart?

Psalm 119 says:  “Train me to observe your law, to keep it with my heart.  Guide me in the path of your commands; for there is my delight.  Bend my heart to your will and not to love of gain.”

It’s all about “Thy will be done.”  And we don’t want to have to say that.  But if we really believe that God has our best interests at heart, we will learn to say it.

My prayer this year, then, will not be one written by Saint Francis but instead this one composed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola:

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

Do Your Best

Twice now, in the past couple of days, the issue of how to properly pray the Liturgy of the Hours has come up.

As a Secular Franciscan, I am committed to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in union with the Church.  I generally don’t get beyond Morning and Evening Prayer, but the expectation of us in this Order is that we pray at least those Hours, whether in common or in private.  Now that my fraternity meets during the day, we have begun praying Midafternoon Prayer at our meetings.

We don’t all, however, have the same breviary.  Most of us have the one-volume “Christian Prayer” version, but a few use the four-volume set.  I used to type out the prayer for that day’s meeting, but it would change with the week and with the season and that got to be a huge time sink, not to mention the use of ink and paper for 15 copies–so now we just muddle through together, with all the “what page is it on?” and other general fumbling that goes along with it.

We’ve discovered recently, though, that the folks with the four-volume set expect that the antiphon will be repeated after each psalm or canticle, before moving on to the next.  In the single-volume format, it’s not indicated anywhere that this should be done.  This has gotten us into a few liturgical traffic jams recently.

I brought up the issue at our November council meeting, and together we worked out a plan.  Before beginning prayer at the December meeting, we would introduce the idea of the repeated antiphon to everyone–and one of the owners of the 4-volume Breviary would be the antiphonarian.  While we were at it, we worked out solutions to a couple of other technical difficulties that other council members had noticed.  It was all good.

At the council meeting on Tuesday, I reviewed the plan.  We had a few members sitting in at the council meeting, because we had been working on a project before that.  The council did not mind having a more “public” meeting this time; it wasn’t like anything sensitive was going to come up.  Most of the members just listened and let us do what we had to do, until we got on the subject of Liturgy of the Hours.

At that point, someone commented, “I don’t think God cares very much exactly HOW we do it, as long as we do it.”

Well, yes.  And no.

Daria Sockey wrote, yesterday, about the challenge of fitting in the Hours when you have a busy family, a demanding job, or nowhere quiet to pray (or all of the above!)  She quoted G.K. Chesterton:  “A thing that is really worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Badly when that’s the best we can do?  I can live with that.  I do live with that.  I’m sometimes praying with the theme song from Phineas and Ferb as my background music; other times, I’ve got Little Brother in my face even though I try to gently remind him that I’m saying my prayers now.  A home with a family in it is not often a quiet refuge for prayer.

But when we can do better, we should.  I think that we should give God the best we’ve got.  If the best we’ve got is interrupting kids, then we offer that.  On the other hand, if we are together in fraternity, in a nice quiet location, and capable of making a little extra effort to ensure that we are all united in prayer, we can go that extra mile.

Repeating the antiphon is a little thing–there’s no doubt about it.  But it’s those little things, those little efforts and sacrifices, that can bring us closer to God, a little at a time.

Deer and Dogs and Rosaries

On the third Friday of each month, members of my Secular Franciscan fraternity meet to pray a Franciscan Crown Rosary for the intention of the protection of the unborn and healing for post-abortive mothers.

Last night, due to circumstances beyond my control, I brought Little Brother with me to the Rosary.

If weather permits, we pray outdoors at a little Blessed Mother statue at the back of the church. Last night’s weather was beautiful, and just before we began to pray, I looked over behind the parish office building and saw several deer. I pointed them out to Little Brother and my fellow Franciscans.

We counted at least seven of them before they all ran off a few moments later. They were so beautiful and graceful–and some of them were babies, so cute!

Little Brother wasn’t sticking with the Rosary too well, and I wasn’t about to force him, but he did wander over a few times and pray a few prayers with us. I was using my seven-decade Rosary, but I also had my very beautiful “Mary’s Month” Rosary with me, so I passed that one to him. A few of the people present didn’t want to be decade leaders, so I asked him if he’d lead the final decade.

And he did. I was so proud! And afterwards, all the other Seculars (all grandmothers, and some even great-grandmothers) made a big fuss over how well he did.

In the car going home, I told him how proud I was that he helped us pray the Rosary. After a moment, he changed the subject. I guess he was seizing the moment: “Mom, can I get a beagle?”

“No, bud.”

“But they’re so cute!”

“And they howl at the moon…”

“No, they don’t! They’re not werewolves!”

“Yes, they do. It’s called baying. Believe me, they do.”

“No, they’re praying. They pray to their God. He’s an awesome God and he likes dogs. Not like you.”

Well, I guess he told me! But he’s still not getting a dog, even if it is the praying kind.

A Bigger Responsibility

This week I was reminded of what I am expected to be as a Secular Franciscan. Someone asked a church-related question and I was expected to be the one with the answer.

“I don’t have any corner on this market,” I protested.

“You’re the one with the cross (meaning the Tau). We depend on you for this. You’re the closest thing to Grammy that we have,” her daughter-in-law replied.

Sometimes we might think that being a Secular Franciscan is all for ourselves. But it’s not–in the same way as being a Catholic is not all for ourselves either. “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words” was the guidance Francis gave the early Friars.

We wear our Tau as a sign of our faith. But wearing that sign means that we are expected to LIVE our faith, to KNOW our faith and to SHARE our faith. We’re not meant to grow just for our own personal benefit, but to reach out to others as well. It’s part of being “salt for the earth and light for the world,” as we are all called to be.

Francis certainly took time for solitude, but he was no hermit. He lived in community, but he was no monk. Instead, he reached out to those around him. That is what we, too, are called to do–even when we are “out of uniform.” Those who know who we are expect it of us.

Secular Franciscan Thoughts on Lent

We’re planning a discussion on Lent for our Secular Franciscan gathering later this week. But I don’t want it to degenerate into reminiscing about what we used to give up for Lent as kids, or what we ate on Fridays for lunch. That happens sometimes when you have a group discussion. Keeping it (gently) on topic can be a challenge. So I want to have some good discussion ideas ready.

*Father H. is reminding us each day at Mass that the purpose of Lent is to ready us to renew our Baptismal promises at Easter. Will we know what it means to reject Satan and all his empty promises, and to believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

*Here’s a passage from Reflections of a Secular Franciscan by Ruth Vogel, SFO.

[Christ’s] words, “Let him take up his cross and follow me,” is discipline and self-control, as he taught. Isn’t this what it means to live the Gospel way?
Now, the only way in the world we can cultivate these virtues is by persistent and arduous training. It is sometimes a grueling, day-in-and-day-out forcing ourselves to practice these acts of self-denial.
Self-denial covers a multitude of things. It is not only fasting from something to eat, or denying ourselves some desirable entertainment or recreation. It includes saying no, no, a thousand times no, to ourselves in such pleasurable little goodies as giving someone a piece of our mind; talking behind someone’s back; wanting our own way too much; … making excuses for our own faults and having intolerance for other people’s faults, etc., etc.–so many etceteras. Most of these are little failings, but some are bigger and some can be down right deadly. St. Paul said, “They who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.”
We, who are of the “Order of Penance,” should examine our consciences daily, and if in addition, we reverently make use of the Sacrament of Penance, we will find ourselves strengthened in purpose and icreased in the holiness of the Holy Spirit. We say we are striving for perfection–all right then, we should soft-pedal our pride, our greed, our lust, our envy, our anger (in particular our revengeful anger) and our sloth or laziness in exerting ourselves to penance. We should show loud and clear what it means to be humble, patient, moderate, kind, meek, and poor in spirit.

More to come!

Prayers Appreciated

Tonight is the election for the Fraternity Council at my Secular Franciscan Fraternity. This is a big deal; the regional minister and regional spiritual assistant will be on hand to witness, so we not only have elections, but hospitality to worry about. The hospitality will be the easy part!
Because of many people’s health issues, we have had trouble composing a slate of eligible members to serve on Council. That will make tonight’s election a little more challenging. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us all as we make choices that will affect the future of our Fraternity in the next 3 years.

Question: How do I look into the SFO?

I found a question in my combox today: “How do I look into the Franciscan Third Order?”

As the commenter didn’t leave a contact email, I am only able to answer through the blog. But that’s OK, because this information might be useful to someone else.

The Secular Franciscan Order (formerly known as the Third Order) is an international order of lay adults who promise to live a life according to the Gospel-based Rule developed by Francis of Assisi. Secular Franciscans are not bound to give up their families, spouses, homes or jobs; they are to live the Gospel to their best ability in their unique situations within the world. We’re not hermits, monks or nuns. We’re parents, grandparents, great-grandparents; spouses, widows, and single folks; homemakers, bus drivers, secretaries, teachers, accountants, and more. We meet regularly in local groups called “fraternities” to pray, learn, and encourage each other.

In the USA, the best place to locate a Secular Franciscan fraternity in your area is through NAFRA: the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. You can use their website and check out a regional listing of fraternities, call 1-800-FRANCIS or read a little more in-depth on the Franciscan vocation.

Becoming a Secular Franciscan is a lifelong commitment and includes several years of formation. So take your time; explore fraternity life in your area; learn about St. Francis and the Franciscan way of life (I like to recommend St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton and any Franciscan book by Murray Bodo, OFM to people inquiring about the SFO.)

May God bless you as you discern your Franciscan vocation.

What does a good Franciscan do before a snowstorm?

Yesterday after everyone in the Philly area was warned to expect snow tonight, they all headed out to the supermarkets to stock up on bread, milk and eggs.

There will be plenty of French toast consumed tomorrow, I think.

I did not go to the supermarket. Instead, I went to Petsmart to stock up on wild bird seed.

In the coming year

My Secular Franciscan Fraternity held its annual “Extraction of Saints” on Friday evening. This is a beautiful custom and we just love participating in it. In fact, we have members who have moved out of state, as well as the Sisters who no longer minister in our parish, asking to remain included in it. Naturally, we would never turn them away!

This year I was given the virtue of FAITH as the virtue I am to strive to develop. The Scripture that is to inspire me this year goes along with that virtue: “Come to my help, Lord God of my salvation.” And my patron saint for the year will be St. Michael the Archangel.

I’ve heard people say, “Watch what you ask God for–you just might get it!” And every time someone says they need to pray for patience, they are warned that what they might get is plenty of times in which they need to USE patience. So when we host our Extraction of Saints, and the virtue is chosen for each person, that’s the time when we all hold our breath. (Nobody likes to hear “Poverty” or “Fortitude!”)

I know that my husband is very worried about what will happen for people of faith due to the inauguaration of the most anti-life president ever. I know that this is a time in which we cannot hide our faith–we must be sure to let it show, and to work hard to defend it. With that in mind, and calling upon the help of St. Michael the Archangel, I will try to keep the faith and not be shy about standing up for what I believe in.

This will not be an easy year. Obama made that clear by rescinding the Mexico City policy, and there is the threat of FOCA (though cousin Thomas doesn’t think that threat is as imminent as some might believe–read more here.) And we’ve got the Speaker of the House, third in line for the presidency, telling our nation on national TV that federal funding for contraception will be helpful for the economy. That’s right–she has suggested that it will help our nation’s economy if people stop having babies; she contends that educating children is too expensive, as is their health care. Children are the future of our nation, but the Speaker of the House, a mother and grandmother herself, considers them more of a drain on national resources than a gift from God.

I was heartened this morning to hear a teacher at my younger children’s school explaining the dangers of FOCA to our library aide. I am disappointed that my parish has done nothing, however, to join the postcard campaign or even include a bulletin announcement about the issue. So my first step this year will be to contact my pastor and encourage him to do this.

If we take even the smallest action in faith, those actions will add up. They will make a difference.

117 People

This afternoon our Secular Franciscan Fraternity once again hosted our Living Nativity at Greccio celebration.

It was a little different this year. Actually, it was very different this year. First of all, we had it in a new location, as our parish merged with another parish and has leased the property where we used to hold this event.

Second, we held the celebration indoors because of the morning’s very nasty weather: ice and freezing rain and then damp cold.

Third, we had to cancel the animals as we could not have a pony, a llama, two sheep and two goats in our parish gym.

BUT we found a four-year-old boy who was there with his grandparents and willing to put on a fleecy costume and walk along with the shepherds–even if he did have to exit the scene before it was over so he could take a potty break.

This year, “Baby Jesus” was a very happy little one, so Middle Sister (as Angel Gabriel) and “Mary” didn’t have to go looking for the Holy Binky as in years past.

We had a nice big choir and the audience actually sang along. And there were tons of little angels and shepherds.

I did have to zip home to pick up a forgotten costume part, but made it back in plenty of time.

Our indoor Greccio was better than I expected–especially since I didn’t have to freeze my fingertips off while playing my guitar.