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.

Fierce like Francis

While all Secular Franciscans follow the same call, to live a Gospel life in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, every Secular Franciscan follows this call differently, according to his or her own abilities and state of life. Every Secular Franciscan has a particular way in which we can say that he or she is like Francis.

Eileen was fierce like Francis.

Despite the many difficulties, health crises, and hardships she endured in her later years (or maybe because of them), Eileen was not about to waste time thinking but never acting. She challenged us: are we doing enough? Are we praying enough? Are we listening to God enough? What is God telling us to do?

Sometimes Eileen would come to a Secular Franciscan gathering and ask bold questions, seemingly out of nowhere. But those questions were born of her deep faith and constant prayer. When she was not physically able to do more, she always prayed and contemplated.

In Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, Pat Gohn noted,

The good of the Gospel is that it leads us to new life in Christ and, ultimately, eternal life in heaven. This gospel of life has a very practical application for Christians. A woman’s influence in the world consists of being a guardian of life. We give witness to it in our very nature, and that should extend to the moral leadership we have wherever we live and work. (161)

Indeed, Eileen was a mother and grandmother, giving witness to the gift of life; but her work did not stop there. Eileen had a deep concern for the unborn, and she participated in the March for Life as she was able. Throughout the year, she worked to keep the cause of the vulnerable unborn in the public eye by writing letters to the editor of our local newspaper, many of which were published.

St. Francis had many fierce moments in his life: his embrace of the leper, his journey to Egypt with the aim of converting the Sultan, his refusal to stay in the fine monasteries he’d advised the brothers not to build, his renunciation of his father’s wealth. Some might call these reckless moves, but they were not at all reckless. They were born of faith and prayer and a wish to live up to very high ideals. They required courage and fierceness.

The dream of Pope Innocent III: Francis holds up the Lateran Basilica with his shoulder. Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Early in his ministry, St. Francis traveled to Rome to receive papal approval of his rule of life. Pope Innocent III hesitated in granting this approval, thinking that Francis’ way of life was impractical. But according to legend, Innocent dreamed he saw Francis propping up the Basilica of St. John Lateran with his shoulder — and this convinced him to give his blessing to the Franciscans. It’s fitting, then, that we celebrate Eileen’s life today, on the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the first physical church building and the symbol of the Church that Francis had set out to rebuild.

Not all of us are courageous enough to be fierce like Francis. But Eileen was, and all of us who knew her are better for her boldness.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

fierce like francis

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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Via @franciscanmom

Small Success: Perfect Joy!

Thursdays at begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

On Monday, the Secular Franciscans celebrated the Transitus of St. Francis, marking his passage from earthly life to eternal life in heaven. It is a solemn moment with a prayer service that includes readings from a biography of the saint along with the Gospel, Psalms, prayer and music.

Transitus of St. Francis @franciscanmom
Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS. All rights reserved.

I spent the day Monday putting out all kinds of fires, some related to the Transitus and others completely separate from it, but all serving as a distraction from what was about to take place. From missing copies of the readings to sheet music that didn’t include all the verses to a soccer practice that ran late and a request by someone I respect that I do something that would compromise my integrity (I declined), by midafternoon I was DONE and tweeted:

Via @franciscanmom
Copyright 2016 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS.

In the end it all turned out fine, at least as far as the Transitus was concerned. We were happy with the turnout and participation. The parts of the song I messed up because I was trying to track lyrics and guitar chords for a song with 7 verses went unnoticed by the assembly, who knew the song so well and sang so enthusiastically that I was basically drowned out.

As we enjoyed light refreshments and conversation after the Transitus, I observed to one of my fellow Franciscans that it had been a crazy day. She said the same (she was on the other end of the missing-readings problem, and had other things happening as well.) Later she emailed me and said that she remembers this happening every year. All The Things seem to go wrong on Transitus day.

Here we are, trying to remember one of the holiest people who ever lived, someone after whose example we wish to model our lives, and things are just a mess.

Maybe that’s what St. Francis meant when he talked about Perfect Joy.

Small Success dark blue outline 800x800

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

#WorthRevisit: My Franciscan Saint for the Year

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Yesterday my Secular Franciscan Fraternity enjoyed its annual celebration of choosing a patron saint for the year. I’m revisiting a post I shared at that explains the process–and at the end, I’ll tell you what saint was chosen for me this year!


My Franciscan Saint for the Year

It is a Franciscan tradition that at the feast of the Epiphany, each person is given the name of a patron saint for the year. Many Secular Franciscan (Third Order) groups observe this custom, and it really is a lovely way to begin the year. We are encouraged to learn more about our chosen saint, reading about their lives or reading works the saints themselves have written.

In my Secular Franciscan Fraternity, we receive a patron saint for the year as well as a virtue to cultivate and a maxim upon which to meditate. This maxim may be a quote from Scripture or from Saint Francis. We also receive the name of another member of the Fraternity and are asked to keep that person in special prayer throughout the year. Other Fraternities might have a different prayer or procedure; this is how our local group celebrates this ritual each year.

The leader begins by reminding everyone:

We believe that God speaks to us in many ways, not the least of which is through the example of His saints, and through the inspired words of Scripture and other pious writings.  Your patron for the year—as well as the maxim and the virtue—can be a special source of inspiration in the challenges which might be facing you during the year.  Read the life of the saint; what does the message of his/her life have to say to you?  Reflect on the maxim and the virtue.

We pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, we celebrate that day when your Word became flesh for all the world to see.  In becoming one with our human family he sanctified human activity and made us holy through his life-giving word.  Through the ages, his message has continued to touch the hearts of men and women of every place, taking flesh in their lives through Christian service.  May these holy men and women stand as shining examples of Christian virtue and the Gospel life, for each one of them reflects a unique aspect of your divine love.  Be with us today, Lord our God, as we choose one of these saints as our patron for the new year.  With the help of your Spirit, may the saint given to us today serve as a special reminder of our call to holiness.  May his or her teaching and example serve to inspire us to exercise Christian virtue and to follow your Son more closely in our Franciscan family.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Super-Low-Tech Franciscan Saint’s Name Generator consists of four stacks of index cards, a basket, and slips of paper with each member’s name written on them. The cards contain the names of many Franciscan saints, the virtues, the maxims, and the members of the Fraternity. The slips of paper go into the basket, which is passed around the room. As each name is drawn, cards for saints, virtues, maxims and “prayer partners” are chosen for that person.

We then pray Psalm 150 together and conclude with this prayer:

O God, you have raised up men and women outstanding in holiness as examples to your people in following in your footsteps.  Grant that we may ever look to the example and teaching of your saints, imitating their virtue, and thus merit to arrive at your heavenly banquet.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

It is a prayerful experience, but it’s often punctuated by joking and laughter, especially when someone is handed the virtue of Poverty or (yikes) Patience. There are also many expressions of gratitude for prayers to come when people learn the name of their prayer partners, and offers to share biographies of saints.

And now for…The Big Reveal!

My patron saint for 2016: St. Clare of Assisi (feast: August 11)

My motto: “Good works must follow knowledge.”

My virtue: Love



worth revisit


Transitus? What’s a Transitus?

Franciscans all over the world observe the Transitus today, on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis. (Technically, for us, it’s a Solemnity, which would be extra cool if it weren’t already Sunday! As it is, the Sunday takes precedence over the Feast. Or Solemnity. St. Francis would probably let someone have it if he heard them complaining that a Sunday canceled out his Feast Day. Actually, there’s no “probably” about it. I’m quite sure he would.)

St. Francis statue at St. Anthony Shrine, Paterson, NJ. Copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
St. Francis statue at St. Anthony Shrine, Paterson, NJ. Copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Today we observe the Transitus, because today is the day Francis died. “Transitus” celebrates transition: between Francis’ life on earth and his new life in Heaven.

We observe the Transitus by gathering together in prayer. The Transitus is not a Mass, but a prayer service. At the Transitus my Fraternity is hosting, we will sing “All Creatures of Our God and King” because Francis wrote the words. And we will sing all the verses, spread out at different points in the service, because those last two verses concern earthly death–or, as Francis called her, “Sister Death.” We will read from biographies of Francis by St. Bonaventure and Thomas of Celano. We will also read from the Gospel of John and Psalm 142. After the homily, we will pray together and then enjoy some fellowship with our guests.