Called to Radical Love: A Franciscan Journey

My journey towards joining the Secular Franciscan Order started out with a bang courtesy of the Holy Spirit (a story for another day). From that point onward I knew deep in my heart that I was meant to be spending time with a local Secular Franciscan fraternity, and that I very likely had a vocation brewing. I had a few concerns about Franciscan spirituality, however:

  1. St. Francis famously experienced a dramatic conversion of heart, in which he stripped naked in the public square in order to physically cast off his possessions and give himself over to a new life with God at the center. I, uh, rather liked my clothes, and didn’t care to make such a fuss
  2. Franciscans are all about minimalism, right? Does that mean I need to begin hating material possessions and never buy anything again? Do I have to get rid of all my stuff?
  3. Francis clearly felt strongly about renouncing his old life in order to embrace his calling. What if I’m not sure that I feel as strongly about doing the same?

I remember my formation leader holding back a smile as he began to talk me through my concerns. He told me that if I truly do have a vocation to the Secular Franciscan Order, one day I would look back at my written responses in those early months of Initial Formation and be amazed at how far I had come. He was right.

What I have come to see is that we’re all called to a conversion of heart. For some of us this happens suddenly and dramatically, and for others it is a much quieter, subtle process. But we are all called to draw nearer to Him our entire lives. Sometimes we will experience moments of epiphany (I’ve had a few of these “Holy Spirit moments” in my life so far), but largely our faith deepens (or stalls out) incrementally over the course of decades. We wake up one day and realize how much we’ve changed, even though at the time we didn’t see it happening.

The way Francis lived his life seemed extreme to me, and it was. Thank goodness he was extreme, because it mobilized a following and eventually started a movement that has come to be beloved by Catholics and non-believers alike. Francis “astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit, and without a sense of self-importance.” I’d argue that we need Francis now more than ever. We need Christians that are radicalized by love and self-abandonment. Franciscans have a reputation for being warm and snuggly, strumming guitars and petting dogs. (Which is fair — have you ever seen a friar running the annual Blessing of the Animals in the church parking lot? He is living his best life.) But they are so much more than that.

During my five years of formation with the Secular Franciscans, I came to realize that minimalism was the least of the gifts I’d received by virtue of diving deep into Franciscan spirituality. I’ve made a lot of donation runs, but the way I live out my faith has been completely transformed. Francis has radicalized me with love and devotion to the poorest and most marginalized in our societies. My relationship with God has gone from one of polite and reverent attachment to two best friends getting along like a house on fire. Francis will sweet talk a wolf into not eating any more townspeople, but he will also make you uncomfortable. He will make you reexamine the way you treat your neighbors and, even worse, how you think about them.

I dare you not to become radicalized by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, for example, searching police stations and morgues for the body of a local addict and prostitute who was also their close friend. She had no family and was not treated with dignity by the vast majority of people she encountered on the streets. And yet, the friars spent days searching for her body so that they could give her a funeral.

At the last police station, after the friars shared what they were doing and all of the different places they had looked, the police officer asked with deep interest, “Why are you doing this?” The friar answered, “Because she’s our sister, and she deserves it.”

Fr. Mark-Mary Ames, CFR. Habits for Holiness: Small Steps for Making Big Spiritual Progress. Ascension, 2021.

St. Francis challenges me daily, and often not in the ways that I expect. On this his feast day, I challenge YOU to allow God into your heart through the lens of Francis. Look for Him in the homeless shelter that your town is fighting against opening. See Him in the faces of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing their war torn countries for a chance to save the lives of their children. Hear Him as you lovingly wash and pack baby items from your home to donate to a local crisis pregnancy center, and know that He is with every mother staring with fear at a positive pregnancy test. He is everywhere, He just needs us to stop, listen, and lead with love.

“Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

A voice heard in prayer by St. Francis, Franciscan Media

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