A Culture of Contempt

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the TAU-USA)

By Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR

“Grant all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel.” (III Mass for Various Needs)

This Prayer of the Church and the Profession of the OFS Rule direct our witness and mission to build a more fraternal and Gospel-centered world. In St Francis’ day, and in our own day, the members of the Franciscan Family are in a continuous struggle to build an alternative society. The dominant paradigm in our world is division, polarization. Herein lies the challenge: Is our world God’s world? And in my own quirkiness, why can’t people stand each other?

Attitudes are difficult to change. One attitude has come across my radar: “We know…but so what?” Charmed, no. Chilled, yes. Such an attitude infects and poisons truth. Lying voices fly 24/7, while the truth of the Gospel at Sunday Mass gets less than 20 minutes…a week!

You’ve heard these voices. They tell you to swap personal integrity for what they sell. They persuade you barter your convictions for an easy deal; to exchange your devotion for a cheap thrill. “We know…but so what.” Lies and deception eat away at the human spirit, tear at the fabric of society. They taunt and tantalize; they flirt and flatter. It’s ok; don’t worry, no one will know.

Evil breaks down the doors of our hearts. Jesus stands and taps gently. The voices of lies and deception scream for our allegiance. Jesus softly and tenderly requests it. They promise shiny new objects. Jesus invites us to dine with Him at table.

Our Rule challenges us as Franciscans to build the Kingdom of God in temporal situations and activities. We do not live in two worlds, nor do we live two lives. We may not accept everything that people develop, nor embrace ideas that oppose the Gospel. Like it or not, we live in one world. And it belongs to God. (Thank you, dear brother, Father Lester. May God be good to you as you have been to us!)

Our Constitutions reiterate the fact that we have membership “both in the Church and in society as an inseparable reality” (20.1). This world is where we implement the Gospel. Here is where we work to build the kind of society that offers light and life rather than darkness and destruction. Our political systems need to be constantly called to accountability. We will do our best to fulfill what the Gospel asks of us. We support the Church when we accept personal responsibility to be Gospel- oriented. We discard any approach that makes us two-faced.

Our Profession mandates that we be the best servants we can be. Formation in fraternity, enriched by life experiences, having intimacy with Jesus in prayer—these are key in being good and responsible Franciscans, whose primary contribution is to build a Gospel society.

St Francis experienced polarization in the Order, in the Church, and in the society of his day. It was painful indeed, but he showed us that pain can be quenched by mercy and forgiveness. Habits and temptations will always be with us. What’s needed is a change of heart, a heart filled with mercy and forgiveness.

Let us, then, pray with St Francis’ the Salutation of the Virtues, where he reminds us to take to heart and not forget the virtues—simplicity, poverty, humility, charity, and obedience, led by holy wisdom. May we stand firm in the challenge of social transformation, for a world governed not by sin and evil, but by virtues. Virtues proceed from the heart of God. We pray that we may have God in the heart.

2020-06-29T06:43:59-04:00June 22nd, 2020|Categories: CNSA, Formation, From the Newsletter|1 Comment

The Virus and the Emmaus Road – Fr. Christopher, T.O.R.

We have all travelled the road the two disciples walked that Easter night—the road of deep disappointment, sadness, despair, and anger. But it is also a road in which we meet the Risen One in the guise of those who offer us support, compassion and counsel along the way.

One of my favorite holy pictures shows this scene of three robed figures walking along a dirt road, shafts of sunlight breaking through trees and clouds. The person in the middle, hand upraised as he talks, seems to fascinate the others. I like this artistic rendition because it allows us to observe the travelers from behind. They are walking away from some event; they are walking away from something. They have wavered from their calling.

Today, a different kind of stranger joins us. It’s a death-dealing presence, a presence from which we cannot walk away. It has interrupted our lives, our happiness, our social gatherings and fraternal responsibilities. We wish this stranger, this threat, not be in our company. It has invaded everything that we enjoy doing and loving. As in the story of St Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, so now with us—befriending the present danger we must, for our sakes, and the sake of others.

Befriending is not easy; it takes courage, it takes faith. For us today, it means: shelter-in-place, isolation, surrendering freedoms and routines. The Risen Lord surrounds us. God is with us. Everything in the Emmaus story is applicable to our life today. Jesus was more with the two disciples on their journey—even in their doubt and unbelief—than when they actually saw and recognized Him and finally believed. I find this paradox of faith—this distance and closeness, of belief and unbelief—repeated over and over again in our lives.

As Vatican II teaches, we meet Christ in the Scriptures. Let this time of deprivation help us intensify our love. Routine can become very customary. Teilhard de Chardin once wrote poetically about offering Christ on the altar of the world, “The Divine assails us, penetrates us and molds us   We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.” If Emmaus is correct, then the Risen Christ surrounds us. Yes, He stays with us through the entire journey of life.

2020-04-27T09:47:57-04:00April 27th, 2020|Categories: CNSA|1 Comment

Easter Sunday 2020, Fr. Christopher, T.O.R.

The time—a Sunday morning in the year 33 A.D.

The place—a garden on a hill outside Jerusalem.

The scene—a stone slab in a darkened tomb.

A torn, lifeless body wrapped in white, resting motionless upon the stone.  It’s quiet.  The guards are asleep outside.  The turmoil and excitement of the previous Friday have faded away into boredom.  The man is dead.  He promised much, but came through with little.  He stirred up a fuss for a while, a typical agitator disturbing the people.  But now He’s dead, and let’s quickly set about the business of forgetting Him.

Then the sun peeps over the horizon.  A shaft of light pierces the darkened tomb.  And something happened.  What happened?  How do we know?  Look not to the empty tomb for proof.  Even if we proved the tomb empty, we can still refuse to believe.  Most people refused belief.  Rather, look to the lives of His followers.

Look at those dejected, despairing men on Saturday.  Look at them gradually come to life on Sunday.  Look at them slowly come to the conviction: He lives!  He lives on!  After death, He gives life!  His words, His deeds, His very person who promised life, healed life, built life, and redeemed life—now lives on to give life forever.

That to my mind is the message of Easter—the message of Resurrection.  Not so much that a torn and lifeless body came back to life, appeared a few times, and left the world never to return until Judgment Day.  That is not the message of His followers.  They proclaim:

  • “Behold, I am with you all days…”
  • “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am in your midst.”
  • “I am the vine, you the branches.”
  • “What you do or not do to these least ones, you do or not do to Me.”
  • “Live on in My love, and the Father and I will come and make our home in you.”
  • “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.”

Those who are baptized live no longer their own life but the life of Him who died for them and rose again.  Christ is in you—your hope of glory!  Do you not know that you are the body of Christ!

Mysterious?—indeed.  Baffling?—yes.  Confusing?—of course.  That’s the Word of God.  That is what His followers experienced.  They gradually become convinced not that Jesus left the world, but that He remains in the world, more closely, more widely, more intimately bound up in the affairs and lives of men and women than He ever was before.

You see, before the Resurrection, Jesus had a body like yours and mine (not so big!), a body confined to time and space, a body that could trudge the roads of Palestine, a body that limited Him so He could live within the confines of one set of hands and feet, one human frame, one human heart.  But now, with Resurrection, His followers proclaim He has a new body, one united with millions of other human frames, present to all those men and women who fill their lives with faith and love, a body that can walk the streets of Jerusalem and Rome, Washington and New York, through you and through me.  And so…

The time—Sunday morning in the year 2020 A.D.

The place—a garden-spot on the outskirts of Hollidaysburg.

The scene—this Chapel.

Let us see this Chapel today as the darkened tomb in which a body, this body of Christ, rests motionless, waiting for resurrection.  It’s quiet.  Outside, many are asleep.  Good Friday has slipped even farther into the past so that the world is even more bored with Christ than it was 2,000 years ago, a world no longer disturbed by Him, a world that has succeeded quite well in the business of forgetting Him.  After all, the man is dead.

And if He remains dead this morning.  If the sun does not burst over our horizon.  If a shaft of light does not pierce this darkened tomb.  If the body remains lifeless, undisturbed by Jesus, uncommitted to God and to others, this Easter, then it will be because you and I do not offer Him new flesh, new hands, a new heart in which He can rise.

Once again, the Resurrection of Jesus will be proven not so much by arguments over an empty tomb, but by proof of filled-up lives.  Do you not know that you are the body of Christ?

Many of us do know that.  Many spouses, fathers and mothers, young and old know that—by their commitment to healing and compassion, care and self-donation.  Many have offered Christ a body in which He is proud to dwell, in which He is proud to rise again.

But even we need to hear.  And those sleeping outside need even more to hear about the dignity and responsibilities of vocation: to be Church, to live in fraternity, to be a new humanity.  The Church, and in many ways the entire human family, are people first and foremost called toward the Risen Christ—people in whom He lives, people in whose hearts He dwells—that He might continue the work of mercy and peace, forgiveness and healing to a world still reaching out for life and reconciliation.

The Church is not a divine comfort station where we gather to admire the pretty flowers and music.  The Church is a launching-pad which sends us forth from this darkened tomb, to plant the seeds of new life, in a world still gasping in the pains of death.

So, I say to you this day—the heart of our faith is not an empty tomb.  The heart of our faith is filled-up lives, lives full of what Jesus said and did, lives that are poor in spirit, full of mercy, thirsty for justice, makers of peace.  The Gospels say that the Risen Lord left His garments behind in the tomb.  Let’s see this as a symbol that Jesus is now clothed with the garments of the world—the lives of men and women.

The tomb is empty.  But men and women are filled.  We are filled with the Risen Lord if we would look within, down deep into our lives, and find there the power to heal and the power to love.

So as the Risen Christ proclaims “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” I proclaim to you: “we are the resurrection and the life.”  We are the body of Christ, risen to life from the tomb, sent forth into the world to care and to cherish an earth, which stands bathed in the light of Easter morn.

Father Christopher, T.O.R.

CNSA, Servant-in-turn

2020-04-20T12:33:13-04:00April 20th, 2020|Categories: CNSA|1 Comment

Make Your Weeks Ahead Holy

Sisters and Brothers, may the Lord grant you peace!

Countless millions of us are ordered to “stay-at-home,” not to go to work, not to go to school, and to practice safe and social distancing when venturing out of doors for specific purposes. Religious services and events are being cancelled while religious leaders are asking that church doors be locked. Let faith and reason prevail, and let us not curse the darkness of this pandemic hovering over us. We have truly realized that we are a “domestic church.”  And, we are brothers and sisters of penance.

As we follow these directives to “painfully” stay at home, I spy a blessing in disguise. Let us, Secular Franciscans, join with the many contemplative religious orders of women and men in prayer, study and reflection. Let St Clare, our mother and teacher, inspire us to “gaze, consider, contemplate and imitate” Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. For Mother Clare speaks:

“If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him,
weeping with Him, you will rejoice with Him,
dying on the cross of tribulation with Him,
you will possess heavenly mansions with Him
among the splendor of the saints and in the Book of Life
your name will be called glorious among the peoples.”
(1 Letter to Agnes, #21)

Let us pray for the grace needed to endure the days and weeks ahead. Activate those calling lists of fraternity members. Be a source of strength to our sisters and brothers especially to those who are elderly and vulnerable, those “home alone” in extended care facilities whose visitors and family members are restricted. With words of comfort and calm, sing joy into joyless hearts of neighbors known only to you. Pray God to grant us ways to order human life.

Sometime during the day, with your beverage of choice, make an effort to re-connect with the Rule and Constitutions, studying and reflecting, actively contemplating on what you professed to be and do. You gotta stay bright to be the light of the world. May the Lord make us partners in our living, increasing our compassion as messengers of faith.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27). Let me share a reflection by Philip Andrews: “There is dignity here—we will exalt it. There is courage here—we will support it. There is humanity here—we will enjoy it. There is a universe in every child—we will share in it. There is a voice calling through the chaos of our times; there is a spirit moving across the waters of our world; there is a movement, a light, a promise of hope. Let them that have ears to hear—hear. But look not for the end of the world. Behold, we bring you tidings of great joy: the incarnation.”1

Let faith and reason prevail. Peace and All Good.

Father Christopher, T.O.R.
CNSA, Servant-in-turn

1Philip Andrew, “The Song of the Magi,” in Suffering and Hope, Ron O’Grady and Lee Soo Jin, ed., Christian Conference in Asia, 1976.

2020-04-02T20:12:07-04:00April 2nd, 2020|Categories: CNSA|1 Comment

Secular Franciscan Spirituality – NSA Course November 2019

[This is only a list of what you will find in this article – a tremendous amount of Formation and J.P.I.C. information that we can bring to our fraternities.  The entire article can be found under Resources – CNSA – Spiritual Assistant Resources – Formation Course for NSA to OFS November 2019 – (or click here) Secular Franciscan Spirituality – Fr. Amando Tujillo Cano, TOR]

Formation Course for National Spiritual Assistants to the OFS-YouFra  


Seraphic College, Rome – November 11, 2019

Fr. Amando Trujillo Cano, TOR

The spirituality of the secular Franciscan is a plan of life centered on the person and on the following of Christ, rather than a detailed program to be put into practice (Const. OFS 9.1; cf. Rule OFS 5).


This presentation is not intended to be exhaustive or only theoretical, but rather a set of proposals that arise from my experience as a general spiritual assistant and from reflecting on some fundamental concepts of the topic at hand: Secular Franciscan spirituality. I hope that these lines serve to stimulate the reflection of each one of the participants in this formation course and to renew our desire to know and promote this spirituality among the secular brothers and sisters and the young people who want to live the Gospel in fraternity inspired by the saint of Assisi.

1.   What do we understand by spirituality?

… In principle it is important to arrive at the distinction between the different meanings of spirituality and Christian spirituality.

2.   Anthropological approach to spirituality

From an anthropological approach, the theologian J. M. Garcia says that: Spirituality is identified with a certain attitude of people in facing the finitude and radicality of human existence, referring to certain deep and vital values that encourage them to think, feel and act. …

3.   Christian spirituality

4.   Historical evolution of spiritual theology

5.   Spirituality of the lay faithful

6.   Franciscan Spirituality

7.  Sources of Secular Franciscan Spirituality

7.1. The history of the Order:

7.1.1. The previous Rules:

7.1.2. Chronicles and speeches

7.1.3. Testimony of saints, blessed, venerable, etc.

7.1.4. The Letters of the General Ministers of the Franciscan Family

7.2. The current documents of the Order

7.2.1. The Rule Seraphicus Patriarcha, 1978

7.2.2. The General Constitutions of the OFS, 2000

7.2.3. The Ritual of the OFS, 1984

7.3. The current experience of lay people and young Franciscans

8.    Elements of Secular Franciscan Spirituality

8.1. Living according to the form of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ

8.2. The love for the Word of God

8.3. Living in a spirit of ongoing conversion

8.4. Faithfulness to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit

8.5. Deep and familiar communion with the Trinitarian God

8.6. Living in fraternity

8.7. Ecclesial communion

8.8. Prayer, contemplation and sacramental life

8.9. Spirituality of family and marriage

8.10. Active presence in the Church and in the world

8.10.1. Secularity: building the Kingdom of God in earthly realities

8.10.2. Taking courageous initiatives in your life in society

8.10.3. Spirit of minority: or preferential pion for the poor

8.10.4. Spirituality of Work

8.10.5. Peace bearers

8.11. Living evangelical poverty

8.12. Living with hope and evangelical joy


At the end of this presentation we can conclude by saying that the spirituality of secular Franciscans has developed and manifested itself in a huge variety of historical forms, all of which have emerged from their common sources, such as the evangelical experience of St Francis of Assisi – passionate about Christ Jesus, and the penitential movement to which the saint gave new vigor at the dawn of the thirteenth century. These sources have fed the historical trajectory of the Order, going through moments of growth and challenges, through diverse kinds of relationships with the Franciscan friars, sometimes in constructive ways, but other times in contrasting ways. Throughout this process, secular Franciscan tertiaries and more recently secular Franciscans have developed a rich and fluctuating spirituality as they interacted with their respective historical and ecclesial contexts. In doing so, they have demonstrated their fundamental attitudes, which respond to their shared faith and values. Many have made a big difference in their particular time and place; some have even given their lives for the love of Christ and neighbor.

The epochal and climate changes we are experiencing today present not only new challenges to secular and young Franciscans, but also unique opportunities for them to be an evangelical ferment in our convulsed world, which is at the same time pregnant with a future that is ours to build in hope, assuming our unavoidable co-responsibility for our common home and history.

As spiritual and pastoral assistants of the OFS and YouFra, we are called to be catalysts of the Franciscan charism, through our testimony and collaboration in formation. Hundreds of thousands of Secular Franciscans and thousands of young Franciscans have also received the gift of this charism, which has not lost its value in the face of the phenomena of secularism and postmodernity. As one and single spiritual family, secular and religious Franciscans are called to build together a «life-giving union with each other» (OFS Rule 1), not seeking our self-aggrandizement, but to be true bearers of «the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church»44 for the life of the world.


Questions for reflection and sharing

  1. What do I understand by spirituality?
  2. How do secular Franciscans live their spirituality in the fraternity I assist?
  3. What can I do to promote a better understanding and practice of the spirituality of the OFS through my service as spiritual and pastoral assistant?
2020-01-31T18:30:33-05:00January 29th, 2020|Categories: CNSA|0 Comments

Father Michael Higgins Videos of Life-Giving Union Talks Now Available

Fr. Michael Higgins, T.O.R. – Video – “The Nature of Spiritual Assistance in the Secular Franciscan Order”; Keynote Address at the Life-Giving Union – Discernment and Discussion conference, August 26-29, 2019

Fr. Higgins keynote addresses from our August, 2019 gathering are now available in video, enhanced with selected slides from his presentations.  You can also view the entire PowerPoint presentation here Our Life-Giving Union – Discernment and Discussion – August 2019.


2019-12-17T18:04:52-05:00December 8th, 2019|Categories: CNSA|0 Comments

Our Life-Giving Union – Discernment and Discussion – August 2019

St. Louis – Life-Giving Union Reflections – Father Christopher Panagoplos, T.O.R.

Co-Responsibility in the Church’s Mission to Serve Better

“Secular Franciscans are the vast majority of Franciscans; they live immersed in the things of the world, and with their contribution it is not possible to convert and restore the world to Christ, in its most intimate and vital ways. The laity and the Seculars are therefore essential. For this reason, the First, Second and Third Orders of St Francis must rediscover the meaning of the common mission, each coordinating with the other two Franciscan Orders. It is an essential mission in God’s plan for Franciscans.” Benedetto Lino, O.F.S.

Fr. Michael Higgins, T.O.R.

In August, 2019,, fifty-five Franciscans journeyed to St Louis in our country’s heartland. Three days of dialogue and discernment, with passion and the flame of the Holy Spirit in our hearts—a true gathering of the Franciscan Family—the dream of many sunsets became a reality. Those attending were Provincial Ministers, Friar delegates of the Provincial, Regional Spiritual Assistants, and OFS leadership of the National Executive Council. We celebrated our “Life-Giving Union” as one Family. The keynote addresses were presented by Father Michael Higgins, T.O.R., Eighth President of the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego. With his affection for the OFS as a “tertiary,” he and Benedetto Lino, O.F.S., (who is quoted above), gathered our desires and concerns which gave rise to the manner in which our service to the Church is to be understood.

Seven years ago, Pope Benedict XVI spoke on “Ecclesial and Social Co-Responsibility” to the 6th Ordinary Assembly, International Forum of Catholic Action:

“co-responsibility demands a change in mindset, especially concerning the role of lay people in the Church. They should not be regarded as “collaborators” of the clergy, but rather as people who are really co-responsible for the Church’s being and acting.”

On the 40th Anniversary of the Rule, Encarnacion del Pozo, O.F.S., believes that “the future of formation in the Order must be oriented towards being. By only doing, without being, the Order will not mature, and gradually regress to simple and tiresome routine.”

Fr. David Gaa, OFM, Fr. James Gannon, OFM, Fr. Thomas Nairn OFM, and Fr. Jack Clark Robinson, OFM

At the great “Franciscan Jubilee,” inaugurating the Third Millennium, Roger Cardinal Etchegary spoke on the Franciscan charism. “Never has the Franciscan charism been so needed than today in order to offer the total Christ to a disintegrating world which fears a brotherhood of solidarity among all human beings without exclusion. It is the total Christ, all of Christ, every aspect of Christ, which we Franciscans must, like St Francis, bear within us and offer to the world. The areas of service to which we are called are, therefore, unlimited and demanding.”

We live in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope. Pope Francis

Below are links to documents from the gathering, including Fr. Michael Higgins’ PowerPoint presentation on Altius Moderamen, a list of participants, and the Recommendations made by the Participants.

2019-12-02T20:57:32-05:00November 13th, 2019|Categories: CNSA|0 Comments

Congress of National Spiritual Assistants in Progress in Rome

CNSA USA members Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, T.O.R, and Fr. Jerome Wolbert, OFM, are in Rome this week (November 10 – 15, 2019), attending the Congress of National Spiritual Assistants to the OFS. Fr. Christopher arrived on Friday, November 8th, and enjoyed some fraternity time at the Motherhouse of the Third Order Regular, The Basilica of Saints Cosmos and Damian, (courtyard shown at left), situated in the Roman Forum. Fr. Joined T.O.R. Friars from the Philippines, Paraguay, Croatia and Brazil.

The congress, a gathering of National Spiritual Assistants to the OFS and YouFra from around the world, is being held at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure, commonly called the Seraphicum. The Seraphicum is the international study center of the Friars Minor Conventual in Rome.

Some of the topics and presenters at the Congress are:

  • OFS History and Identity – Fr. Pedro Zitha, OFM, (General Spiritual Assistant)
  • OFS Official Documents – Tibor Kauser, OFS, (OFS General Minister)
  • OFS Spirituality – Fr. Amando Trujillio-Cano, T.O.R., (General Minister and General Spiritual Assistant) (The full text of his presentation is available here Franciscan Spirituality .
  • Spiritual and Pastoral Assistant to the OFS-YouFra, and Formation Process in the OFS-YouFra – Fr. Francis Bongajum Dor, OFM Cap. – (General Spiritual Assistant)
  • Relevance of the Franciscan Charism for Today – Fr. Alfred Parambakathu, OFM Conv. – (General Spiritual Assistant)

Among those in attendance were some familiar faces. Tibor Kauser, our General Minister, pictured here with Fr. Alejandro Isare, T.O.R., from the Philippines, and our own Fr. Christopher, and Fr. Francis Dor, who was with us at Chapter in 2016 and 2018.

We look forward to our CNSA Friars sharing insights and inspirations from the Congress when they return, and wish them safe travels.

Greetings from our General Minister, Tibor Kauser, OFS


2019-12-03T14:37:34-05:00November 12th, 2019|Categories: CNSA|1 Comment

Announcing New CNSA Website Pages!

Our CNSA website pages are now online!  We have moved content from the old web pages, as well as added new and expanded content, including documents and photos from the August, 2019 “Our Life-Giving Union – Discernment & Discussion” gathering in St. Louis.  Please take a look, and check back often.  New content will be added as available.


The Friars and staff of the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants

Conference of National Spiritual Assistants (CNSA)


2019-12-03T14:41:13-05:00September 25th, 2019|Categories: Announcements, CNSA|0 Comments
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