02 April 2009

Saint Francis of Paola: A Life of Perpetual Lent

Saint Francis of Paola (1416-1507), was the founder of an order of hermits known today as the Order of Minims. The life of the Minim Friars is one of extreme asceticism, a perpetual Lent. In their diet, the Minims abstain from meat and dairy products.

Saint Francis of Paola writes: “You must flee from evil, and drive away dangers. We and all our brothers, although unworthy, pray constantly to God the Father and to His Son Jesus Christ, as well as to Mary the Virgin Mother, to be with you as you seek the salvation of your souls and your bodies. I most strongly urge you to work for the salvation of your souls with prudence and diligence. Death is certain, and life is short and vanishes like smoke. Therefore you must fix your minds on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ Who so burned with love for us that He came down from heaven to redeem us. He gave us a perfect example of patience and love. For our part, we too must be patient when things go against us. Put aside hatred and hostility. See to it that you refrain from harsh words. But if you do speak them, do not be ashamed to apply the remedy from the same lips that inflicted the wounds. In this way you will show each other mercy and not keep alive the memories of past wrongs. Remembering grievances works great damage. It is accompanied by anger, fosters sin, and brings a hatred for justice. It destroys virtue and is a cancer in the mind. It thwarts prayer and mangles the petitions we make to God. Be lovers of peace, the most precious treasure that anyone can desire. You are already aware that our sins drive God to anger, so you must repent of them, that God in His mercy may spare you. Turn to Him with a sincere heart. Live in such a way that you bring upon yourselves the blessing of God, and that the peace of God our Father may be with you always.”

Today we also remember that it was four years ago when the world had to let go of a great Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. In May of 2001 he had written a Message to the Minims Tertiary. Here are some of his words: “Today the penitential proposal of your Rule is very fitting: founded on a ‘Lenten’ spirituality, it is the real novelty of the charism of the family of the Minims in which you share. The invitation to do penance, made by Jesus at the beginning of his preaching (cf. Mark 1:15), puts baptized persons into the condition of being in the world without being of the world. Thus your Rule calls you, with the words of the Apostle John, to affective detachment from the world: ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world’ (1 John 2:15); and with Saint James it reminds you that: ‘Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God’ (4:4). The explicit exhortation to flee usury, unlawful contracts and every form of avarice stresses how the founder then clearly perceived the changes taking place in society; changes that were to create, by ignoring the evangelical dimension, the social and economic imbalances that we still deplore today. How useful the wise suggestions of the penitent hermit Francis of Paola appear even today: ‘the glory of this world is false and its riches are fleeting. Happy is he who thinks of a good rather than a long life; happy is he who worries more about a pure conscience than a full coffer.’ The need for spiritual action is born. It is achieved in prayer, in contemplation of the Face of Christ and in interior discipline. Your founder led you on the path of inner discipline, demanding of you this spiritual commitment as a necessary condition for belonging to his Order: ‘Whoever wishes to serve God in this kind of life must dominate his flesh.’ He then recalled, in support of the Rule's prescriptions, the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Put to death ... what is earthly in you’ (Colossians 3:5), because ‘if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live’ (Romans 8:13). The commitment required by your Rule does not enclose you in a totally interior spirituality but, appealing to your special penitential mission, urges you to share what is yours with your needier brothers. The Church's call to love God and neighbor must impel every baptized person. Saint Francis of Paola, follower and imitator of the ancient Fathers, in the Rule that he left you, very wisely combined under one heading, fasting, abstinence and works of mercy, thereby giving you, in the unity of the charism you share with the friars and nuns, the preference for the commitment to an active charity. Then in your code of life there is the exhortation to care for the purity of conscience with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The words used in this regard retain all their charm, although they are associated with a spirituality that is far from our way of feeling: ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ - he writes – ‘full of flowers, whose joy it is to stay with the children of man, delights in the flowers of the virtues.’ Lastly you have the invitation to participate in the Eucharist in which you find the source of your fidelity. The founder's words deserve to be remembered for their power of expression: ‘May daily attendance at Mass be for you a wholesome piece of advice, so that fortified with the arms of the Passion of Christ, which are recalled in the Mass, you may be strong and faithful in your observance of the commandments of God. In attending Mass you will also pray that Christ's death may be your life, his pain the mitigation of your pain, his toil your eternal rest.’ By lengthy meditation on your Rule, you will find a new incentive to give even more value to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to Sunday Mass. May you be accompanied by the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Church and pillar of our hope. For my part, I assure you that I will keep you in my prayers and, while I invoke on your intentions and on your commitment the protection of the founder Saint Francis of Paola and of the holy Patrons, Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Joan of Valois, also Minims Tertiary, I sincerely bless you.”

Saint Francis of Paola, pray for us!
Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, pray for us!