Category Archives: Ruth Vogel

Our Imitation of Christ

Our purpose in life is not just to root out sin, it is much more. It is to root in Christ, to let Christ take root in our hearts, to yearn to have Him grow and blossom within us, to produce fruit that is abundant and desirable. It is to recognize and use the humanity of Christ as an example for our humanity as we strive towards a closer union with Him.

Mary, Star of the Sea
A true Franciscan should have a real desire to go beyond what is a minimal requirement for being a Catholic. For a Franciscan there is no minimal requirement. It’s an all the way proposition, — climbing to the top of the mountain and reaching for the stars.

Thinking of Jesus
I am just sitting here thinking of Jesus. What is Jesus to me?
Jesus is the sun; hot, burning, warming, and healing.
Jesus is the four seasons — cold and bracing winter; searing, sometimes shower drenched, full-blown summer; mellow, brilliant autumn; new birth and promise, as at Bethlehem and springtime.
Jesus is quiet as a whisper, or demanding as a stern father. Exacting — a perfectionist; yet tolerant. Unbending; yet forgiving. Compassionate, yet relentless.

Christ Centered Prayer
What is Christ centered prayer?
It is, very simply, talking to God directly; all by myself, talking to Him in my own words, in my own way, telling him all about something; consulting with him; praising him; telling him I really do love him even though I don’t act like it sometimes. Christ centered prayer is remembering that the Holy Spirit is in me and remembering that Christ is in me and in my life.

My Version of the 23rd Psalm
The Lord is my shepherd. He is everything I want. He guides me along His pathway.
At early morning He sits down at my table beside me. He shares my toast and coffee.
Together in the freshness of the morning, He stills my fears and doubts.
He makes lush and green and fertile the fields of my mind and heart.
I pause for a while beside Him while there flows over me the restful waters from His sacred side.

The morning came.
A pebble lay white and round in the brook.
The clear water rippled around it… over it… meandered on its way.
A branch of a tree bent low over the water as though protecting it.
Blossoms shed their petals and they dropped on the water and were carried away.
A child skipped and danced up and down a green knoll at the forest’s edge. Her childish treble was sweetly in harmony with the trill of a bird in a tree.

Jesus’ Presence in our Lives
There is the hymn that says: Lose yourself in Jesus and you will find yourself. That is for us. We need to really work at falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus right down to the core of our being; to become imbued with His presence in our lives, so that our thoughts will fly to Him when we wake up in the morning. They will be with Him at night and throughout the day — thoughts of Him will pop into our heads at odd moments. We will encounter Him in anything and everything — in the song of a bird; in the heat of the sun; in the blue of the sky; in flowers, trees, grass, people — pretty people, ugly people, old and young — in a dog or a cat or in a cloud — something like what happened to me one evening several years ago.

Concentrate on reading the Gospels: Ruth’s writings

Ruth Vogel, SFO

When we concentrate on the words we are reading In the Gospels, we are in the presence of Jesus. We can walk with Him as He walks. We can listen to Him when He speaks. We can watch what He does. We can even, if we really concentrate, see the expression on His face, concentrate—see the expression on His face, His gestures, in short, see Him alive, a living, moving person in those pages, rather than just a succession of words.
If one can come to feel this, then is a good time to take a little while to talk to Jesus—talk to Him about what one has just read. This is one way to meditate.

The entire Church acts in the liturgy, hierarchy and people. The work of these is carrying on the teachings and example of Christ in an evangelical harmony in the parishes, dioceses, homes and society in general—this, in my opinion, is the nature of the Church. This cannot be done alone. That is why we must worship in community and togetherness.

We know that the sacred Host is Jesus, the Son of God. We believe it firmly. But how this can be so, is [a] mystery to our human minds.
Christ gave us the Mass as a perpetual gift of His re-enactment of sacrifice on the cross.

Do not take things too literally.
Do not take them out of context.
Do not reject beliefs because they are not mentioned in the Bible.
Keep in mind tradition, one of the bases for our Catholic belief.
i.e., Remember the Doctrine of the Assumption.

Listen to the Lord
St. John said, “Let us love, not in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth…”
The Franciscan Rule says, “and let them be moderate, showing all mildness to all men.” Also, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged”
Let us not point to the devil walking at that man’s side. The Franciscan rule says, “One way the brothers can conduct themselves among the unbelievers, spiritually, is to avoid quarrels and disputes and to be subject to every living human creature for God’s sake.”

That is something we could ponder with profit” — to be subject to every living human creature for God’s sake.”

We hear something that Jesus said and we say, “That is good I like that. It reminds me of so-and-so he is just like that, isn’t he?” Stop right there and think. Who is Jesus talking to? Is He talking to so-and-so? No, not right now, He isn’t. So-and-so isn’t here right now. No one is here right now but me. So, who is Jesus talking to?

This brings me again to the point I am trying to make. We don’t really listen to what Jesus is saying. We are very impolite. We only listen from the outside of our heads. We don’t listen from inside where our minds and hearts are attuned to the little voice of conscience trying to make itself heard. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” the little voice quavers, but is drowned out by the strident words that pour forth from our mouths.

Take the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” We immediately think, “I am not like that, I would stop and help the injured man. I am a Franciscan, I want to advance in spiritual perfection, don’t I. All right then, if I do, let me read those words of Jesus again – carefully. I am not really trying to advance in spirituality unless I look right down underneath and see Jesus standing there pointing a finger at me.

“Don’t go applying my words to anyone else,” He says, “I am talking to you.”

So, I sit down and think about my prejudices. I think about how some of these are built-in prejudices, born in me. I remember way back when I was in the second or third grade and a few school chums and I went skipping gaily along the sidewalk chanting, “Smarty, smarty, thought you had a party. No one came; but, a red headed darky.”

Did anyone say, “Stop that! That isn’t nice. That isn’t Christian!” No one did and no one thought of it. How could they, they thought the same way.

The prejudices that were born in us don’t have to stay in us. Most of us say glibly, I don’t have prejudices. I don’t have a thing against blacks, yellows, reds, Jews, or what-have-you. I treat everyone alike. Of course that doesn’t mean I want to live next door to one of them. “Ah!” Right there we stumble over our own thoughts. Look at Jesus’ words again. See Him there, still pointing his finger at us. See His eyes boring right down into our inmost hearts.

“Ask me,” he challenges. “Ask me. Would you live next door to one of them? And, after you have truthfully answered that question, let me ask you another. By what right, and by what exertion an your part, did you come up with the personal achievement of being born white instead of black? By what failure or fault on their part did they bring themselves to be born black instead of white. By world standards, they have three strikes against them at the outset simply because their skin is dark. By what right do you consider yourself superior because you were born rich or highly intelligent or endowed with a glorious singing voice; or a great talent for drawing, painting, writing; a genius at figures, or a whiz in the business world, or great in athletics; or possess a beautiful face or body; or born male, or female; or born into a good Christian family instead of the bastard child of a prostitute mother and a thieving father? It’s not under what circumstances you came screaming and kicking into the world that counts. It is all important what you do with what you received from God — mental, physical, and spiritual that tells the story.”

Jesus pauses for breath. “Remember,” He continues firmly, “there are a lot of morons in my everlasting Kingdom. There are many who would be called dummies by some of you. St. Margaret Mary wasn’t too bright. There are a lot of prostitutes and thieves and bad guys in My Heaven. Think of Matthew, my Apostle and Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene, and Dismas, and Augustine, and many more. Oh, and don’t forget that one first class playboy, Francis of Assisi. St. Augustine was not only a bad guy at one time; but, he was black. If I spoke to you in the lingo of my days on earth I would say to you Amen. Amen. I say unto you, many a man who is black on the outside is whiter inside than many a white man who is a whitewashed wall on the outside; but, splotchy and muddy and worm infested inside.”

Jesus stops and toes at the ground under His feet and thinks of the time He bent over and started to write in the dust. “He who has ears to hear let him hear,” He goes on. “Do you have ears to hear? I hope so, because I am talking to you. Why can ‘t you listen to what I am saying to you? This man over here is black outside, but he is a child of God. He is my child. You are white and you are a child of God, and you are my child and that makes you brothers. When you sing in church, ‘With God as our Father, brothers all are we; let me live with my brother, in peace and harmony.’ Stop, just mouthing words. They are empty words unless you put them into action. Start right now and work on this. It isn’t easy. Who ever told you that being my disciple is easy? When you stumble and make a mistake, and you will, you poor weak little thing! Don’t mind too much, I will understand. It takes a lot of doing, and goes on and on. The thing is to keep trying. Hang in there. Don ‘t give up. Judas gave up. He needn’t have gone the way he did. I would have forgiven him.”

“That reminds me,” Jesus’ eyes begin to dance, “I’ve heard some of you say about someone who has wronged you; forgive him, “but.” Tell me, what do you mean by that “but”? He shakes His head. “You people,” He says wonderingly, “it’s a good thing I love you.”

Jesus, We love you too. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; what a comfort it is to repeat your name. Teach us to be polite to you. Teach us to be polite to each other. Teach us to really see you hanging on the Cross, between two thieves. Help us to understand what that really means. Help us to really see the hordes gazing maliciously up at you. Help us to hear the thud of the blows as they rain down on your body, “Yeh!” they scream. “If you be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.”

Oh, my most holy Jesus, compassionate and understanding companion of my daily life; let me never forget that my face can so easily be numbered among those in that mocking horde who watched you die in slow agony on the Cross. Jesus, help me to be polite to you. Help me to listen to what you are saying. Help me to hear your merciful words from the Cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Let me see your eyes, now sunken deep in your head from the rending, tearing death you are undergoing. Turn to Dismas and let me hear your words of everlasting comfort, not only to him; but to all of us who entreat you. “Lord, remember us in your Kingdom.” Dear Lord God, help us to hear your voice ring out and know you are speaking to us (thank God you are speaking to us). “Some day, not too far away in the vastness of time, you, my poor, weak, beloved little ones, shall be with me in paradise!”

San Damiano Crucifix

By Ruth Vogel, S.F.O. from her book, Reflections of a Secular Franciscan

This crucifix you see above is very important to us, as Franciscans, because it had such a profound influence on St. Francis during his conversion process.

As Christ came to life and opened His lips and spoke to Francis at San Damiano, so should we let Him come alive in us, and speak to us.
Christ’s mouth is small, and to me, it shows great tenderness and compassion. His great eyes seem almost to be pleading and seem to be drawing us to Him.
Jesus does not appear to be nailed to the cross, but rather to be standing out from it.

If we could, for the moment, remove His arms from where they are placed, we would see behind them the empty tomb.
You’ll see, underneath His hands on either side, two angels; you can see that they are talking animatedly before the empty tomb. They are gesturing with their hands towards Jesus. These represent the angels who spoke to the holy women on the morning of the Resurrection.

Some figures are drawn small, some larger; this indicates their importance in this tableau. The small soldier with the lance on the left is the one who pierced Christ’s side. On the right, a small figure in blue is a mocking Jew.

Painted much larger are: on the left, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Apostle John. On the right is Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James, and the Roman Centurion. Note the centurion’s two fingers raised as he proclaims, “Truly this is Christ, the Son of God.” This was the first great acknowledgment by a Gentile that Jesus is the Son of God.

Above the shoulder of the Centurion is a small face, which is believed to be that of the artist himself, who sought a bit of immortality by sneaking his face into the picture.

Below, and obscure, is a painting of a rooster, if you look hard you can see his legs. I used a magnifying glass on the figure. This cock represents the one that crowed when Peter denied Christ, and it tells us, “Don’t be too sure of yourself.” Even Peter, who swore he would never leave Christ, denied Him three times before the cock crowed.

At the bottom, very obscure because of the antiquity of it, are some of the Apostles with upturned faces gazing at the ascending Lord. Remember the Gospel passage, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand there idle? This Jesus, whom you have seen ascending, will come again.”

So, now look away up above Jesus’ head to the red circle where Jesus is, indeed, ascending to heaven. In His hand He carries a slender cross, holding it as a scepter of triumph. Surrounding him is a choir of angels, singing His praises. (Fr. Kenan Morris, O.F.M., however said, this group are saints in heaven. He cited the two figures on either end of the cross shaft as figures of angels.) Father said there are 33 figures in the tableau. He said there might have been jewels at one time studded about the halo over Jesus’ head.

On the Cross of Christ, above the halo, was placed the titulus, in which was written: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

Above the circle with the ascending Jesus, in a half circle, is the right hand of the Father — see His two fingers outstretched.

At one of the churches, when I was in Italy we saw another crucifix that looked at first glance just like this one, but a second look showed it was not, because that one was of the dead Christ, his head sagging against His breast.

This one, the San Damiano Crucifix, is a cross of triumph; of victory over death and sin; over that empty tomb. It is the triumph of the risen Christ — Christ ascending into Heaven, into the Presence of His Father.

The entire redemptive process of Jesus is in this Crucifix of San Damiano.
“Go and repair my church,” He said to Francis. He is saying the same thing to us right now.

Formation is our Foundation

By Ruth Vogel, S.F.O.

Franciscan formation
Franciscan formation is a process wherein an ordinary Christian becomes an extraordinary disciple of Christ by following the Gospel the way St. Francis of Assisi did.
I’m sure all of you have heard many times that one of the most important things in the life of a Secular Franciscan is Ongoing Formation — the down-to-earth, nitty-gritty, taking-the-bull-by-the-horns process of ACTIVATING in our lives what we have been reading, hearing, and praying about.
You can go through a Franciscan textbook as an inquirer and candidate; you can read every book you can get your hands on about St. Francis; you can read the Bible every day of your life; but, none of these adds much of anything to your formation growth unless you put the message into practice in your daily living.
Pope Pius XII, in a talk to the Secular Franciscans of Italy in 1956, said, “You must not just KNOW about the life of St. Francis; but, you must FORM yourselves in the spirit of his message.” Father Benet Fonck, O.F.M., said “Without formation, Franciscans don’t happen.”
Formation has been likened to a school of perfection, a school where one aspires to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
In this school of perfection, the candidate is not just LEARNING this new way of life; he or she is undergoing an APPLIED learning experience, an on-the-job training procedure
Once candidates are committed to this new way of life, they are never again the same. Candidates, no longer their own boss, can be compared to recruits entering an army.
In this army of St. Francis no one is drafted, each person enters as a volunteer. We don’t make our own rules. We operate under the tried and true “Rule” set forth well over 750 years ago by St. Francis himself. And he, as we all know so well, got it straight from the gospels.
What do we mean by that?
We mean this: Die to self; to our own egos; to our desire to have everyone go along with our way of thinking or doing what we want all the time.
The basis of our formation is just that, a dying to self and metanoia, a radical inner conversion.
In this army of the gospel way of life, we can get a lot farther as individuals if we motivate ourselves to a deep-seated sense of patriotism towards the great Franciscan family. It means getting a feeling of loyalty to the Church — a gung-ho attitude about God and St. Francis!
New candidates actually must form themselves; but, they do not do it alone, they have instructors who urge them on and members of the fraternity who guide them by their example and friendly acceptance.

Formation is Ongoing
We all need to read, read, read. Thus we will grow in the knowledge of the Franciscan way of life. But, growing in knowledge is NOT formation.
Formation is USING what you are learning; using it out there in the world where you knock elbows with a great assortment of temperaments — that’s formation. That is your on-the-job training and until you do that you will not grow much in the Franciscan way of life.
This applies not only to the candidates; but, to all the professed members as well.
I have been in the happy situation in my fraternity of having a few professed members attend my instruction sessions for the new people, including, thanks be to God, council members. This example of dedication and caring from our leaders and professed members is a tremendous boost, not only for the candidates, but for all of us.
A good Franciscan example, by all members of the fraternity, is the best teacher of all. It is worth a thousand instructions, a thousand books. It leads and it says, “This is the way, come follow me.”
I remember at a large gathering of Secular Franciscans in St. Augustine several years ago, the late Ralph Fenton, S.F.O., our then provincial president, in a talk to fraternity ministers and directors of formation, said, “we should not come at the candidates like a drill sergeant.” And finally, let me repeat the theme of what I have said before: We should lead, invite and show them by our example, with our actions saying: “see, I’m not asking you to do something I’m not doing myself.”

Formation Director
Formation Director can be scary for both the candidate and a newly appointed director of formation. In many cases directors of formation didn’t ask for the job.
One fatal day, one finds oneself looking down in disbelief at one’s lap where the role of director of formation has just been dropped, Kerplunk! It’s a bit shattering to say the least, but after a period of stunned immobility, there is the gathering of oneself together and running, not walking, for the nearest help.
Where is this help?
Where does any child run for help but to an understanding father and a loving mother — to God and to Mary. That is the first and the biggest step forward we need to take. It is a long, unwavering step into our prayer life.
We need to take a journey inward, away down into our mysterious inner self and get acquainted with ourselves. Down there we can, as Francis did, fall head-over-heels in love with Jesus Christ. This is what we are all about as followers of St. Francis — people crazy in love with Jesus.
I’ll never forget the first time I came across the passage by Thomas of Celano. (I’ve said this before, but it needs repeating). He was saying, “Francis was a man so deeply in love with Christ that he had Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in every cell of his body, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” Before I finished reading that, I was goose bumps all over.
To have this feeling is to have one of the greatest gifts God can bestow. It is the center, out of which EVERYTHING in our lives should radiate.
We must truly believe what Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.”
Ah, but with Jesus we can do so much. We can plunge into the awesome responsibility of being a director of formation.
Directors of formation, and those who instruct candidates are a terrific and privileged breed.
If you are chosen to be one, rejoice and be glad, even as you moan inwardly that you can’t do it.
Thank God, who saw fit to call you to this important work in the Franciscan family; because, the Franciscan who benefits the most is yourself, in your own personal formation.
To be a good, dedicated director or instructor is a gift of God. God is at your beck and call, and brings Jesus to your side to guide you in this great opportunity to delve heart and soul into the mysteries of what made Francis so great — this Francis who was so great that his name is renowned among Catholics, Protestants, non-believers and even atheists throughout the world.
If you are sincere and dedicated in this work (and this goes for those of you who are in any kind of Franciscan work) you cannot stand still. You cannot, because the preparation of the work itself will bring you to a closeness to God you never knew before.
It can grow to be so deep-seated that at times you have an overpowering desire to hug yourself because of the great wonder of what is going on inside you.
The mechanics of formation are important. They should be flexible enough at each session, whether it be candidate instruction or ongoing formation, to fit the needs of that particular day and group. They must not be allowed to become monotonous. They need to be dressed up in a new outfit every now and then — a springtime look — a new Easter bonnet.