The Franciscan Option

I am a Secular Franciscan and I live in the suburbs. I have a husband and a family and a job. And as the minister of my Secular Franciscan fraternity, responsibility weighs heavy on my heart.

You see, it is the role of the minister to serve the fraternity. We’re not called the president or even the leader, though ministers preside over meetings and are called to lead by example. The minister is called to serve. In the case of my fraternity, that has been a difficult call to follow in the past several years. Ministers are normally allowed to serve two 3-year terms. My six years were up six years ago, and I’m still here.

Not all Franciscans live in community and serve in the inner city or mission territories. All my life, I have known Franciscans who did this; in fact, having such Franciscans in the background of my life is surely part of the reason I followed the path to becoming a Secular Franciscan. I grew up knowing friars from the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor who ministered in New York City, in the mountains of Bolivia, and in a soup kitchen in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood (where my older son later volunteered a few days a week during his college years). Later I came to know one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a priest who regularly takes a stand against the culture of death by leading prayerful processions to abortion clinics twice a month. When he’s not involved with that work, he serves as a leader for the Good Counsel Homes, a network of housing, educational and parenting support, and prayerful encouragement for women in crisis pregnancies and their babies. When he’s not involved with that work, he’s living in the South Bronx and serving those in need in his neighborhood.

We Secular Franciscans do not live in community and not all of us can do that kind of work. All of us, however, can pray for those who do. We can financially support those who do. We can cast our votes and contact our government representatives and advocate for those who are most vulnerable, whether they be unborn children in danger of abortion, pregnant mothers with nowhere to go, people who are hungry, or people who are lonely.

While we cannot devote our lives 24/7 to the kind of service that vowed Franciscans do, we can live our call to serve others in many ways. Anyone, no matter what their state in life, can find ways to live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

As I watched The Franciscan Way, a video featuring one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the OSV Talks series, I was inspired to renew my commitment: a commitment I made 20 years ago, on October 4, 2001. I made a promise “to live my life in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order.” I need to recommit my life of service, because I am not the same wife, mother, professional, and Franciscan I was 20 years ago.

The Franciscan Option is the belief that the radical Christ-centered incarnationalism of St. Francis, renewed in those called to engage society, has the power to transform the world. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

How can we engage society? How can we bring Christ to the world today? How can we bring Christ to our own family? How can I bring Christ to my fraternity?

Right now, my Secular Franciscan fraternity is in a time of struggle. We don’t have many members who are able to attend meetings and serve the fraternity on the Council. We can’t elect a new Council because we don’t have enough people to serve on it. Our members have served for many years, and I need to remember that some of them are now the needy I am called to serve. I’ve been trying to find ways to do this. They’re not big things, and they’re not time-consuming. But doing a little thing can be meaningful. I’m listing a few to help you think of things you can do to serve the needy in your life.

  • Each week during folk group rehearsal, I call one of our homebound members, put the phone on speaker, and we sing one of the songs we’ll be singing at Sunday Mass.
  • When our parish wasn’t giving out printed bulletins during the pandemic, I printed the PDF from the parish website and mailed it to one of our members who doesn’t have access to a computer or smartphone.
  • The week of a fraternity member’s birthday, I dedicate my holy hour for their intentions and send them a card.

Francis would say that we need to incarnate Christ in our own lives. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

Love of the poor; joy of the cross; loving a Church with the Eucharist as the center: this is the Franciscan Option.

St. Francis embracing the leper
Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Images: Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This post was inspired by Fr. Agustino Torres’ Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.

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