Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity introduce Franciscan Friar of the Atonement Father James Puglisi. Here’s a Francisan Moment reflection for February.
Tell us a little bit about you.
I am a Franciscan friar of the Atonement born in Amsterdam, NY. Coming from a faith-filled family, I received my vocation though our Sisters who taught us religious instruction, directed our choir and trained our altar servers. They are not “school sisters” but ones who worked with people and families where they are. They inspired me by their humility, their love of Francis and their devotion. These were the years before Vatican II. My dream was to become a doctor never thinking of becoming a religious or priest. It was during my first year of university that I realized that God was giving me a call not to heal bodies but souls. It was the Atonement (or sometimes known as Graymoor) Sisters who introduced me to the Friars on a trip to their mother house at Graymoor, NY. You might say that the rest is history!
What of St. Francis’ life or spirituality is important to you?
Francis loved! This is what inspires me. But we use this word is so many ways: in song, in expressions like “Love, ya”. However Francis desired to know what this really meant in the experience of Jesus who would die for a sinner like himself, like myself. He wanted to know this experience of love from Jesus’ perspective. In discovering this love by learning to journey in Jesus’ foot steps he was transformed. He arrived at the point of experiencing what it meant to be at-one with his Maker again. I love exploring how Francis was able to reconcile many opposites in his own life and thereby become the same challenge to the world that Jesus was. Francis for me is also a model of reconciliation, of peace building and embracing all of the beauty of creation so he could embrace the Creator.
Is there any experience in your past that is especially dear to you?
Having lived for so many years in Rome and having had the privilege of being an eye witness to many events, one stands out as being particularly moving. I was in the Sistine Chapel for a service commemorating the 10th anniversary of the lifting of the mutual excommunications of the East and West. The representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch was there with Pope Paul VI. At the end of the ceremony Pope Paul stood up to greet the Metropolitan, but then he knelt down and kissed the feet of the bishop You can imagine the buzz among the Cardinals who were shocked by this gesture of the Pope before the representative of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In addition, Paul was already suffering from painful arthritis. When asked what this gesture meant he responded: It is simple “Blessed are the feet of the one who proclaims good news”. The reconciliation of the Eastern and Western churches after so many centuries of division was the good news he referred to. The Pope was such a humble minister who had great love for the Church and his own apostolic ministry of reconciliation. I felt so honored to have been an eye witness to this prophetic and living gesture of the Bishop of Rome. In many ways he was a figure of Francis of Assisi and we are so blessed to have another Bishop of Rome who this time even bears the name of Francis in honor of this great saint, servant of the poor and reconciler.
How does being Franciscan challenge you every day?
The great challenge for me as a Franciscan is trying to become a “lesser brother” in my daily life by creating a space for the other. It is hard to empty out oneself to be able to allow for the encounter with the other. Francis exemplified this is his own journey until he was able to embrace the leper and see in him the Other. This stance is one of evangelical poverty where “letting go” is far more important this holding on to possessions. It is this example of Francis who wanted to understand the divine love found in Jesus which was nothing other than the great love of the Father for all of creation. I often think of why God continues to seek us out in spite of our (my) great infidelity. Francis teaches me the answer is because God cannot not love what he has created (he said it was good!). This is why Francis calls God the good, the all good. How then am I to embrace this God if not by imitating the love of his Son for all of creation. This is the daily challenge: to learn to love as Jesus loves and how Francis did in imitation of Jesus.
As you look to the future, what gives you joy?
The great joy for me is to know that within the church today we have an example who in many respects challenges all of us Franciscans to put into practice the Franciscan values of Gospel living. We too often speak about these ideals but somehow do not incarnate them. The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato si are two teachings from another Francis which give hope to many women and men, Christian and not, that the world in which we live and for which we have been entrusted its care can become the very kingdom of God whose peace and justice can conquer the forces of evil contrary to God’s law of love. Joy for me is seeing the living of the Beatitudes to over come the forces of this world. This is the very project that Jesus has entrusted to us in his non-violent stance before the powers of this world.
Learn more about the Friars of the Atonement. Click here.