I WAS A TEENAGER when an Episcopal priest, Father Ralph Byrd, introduced St. Francis of Assisi to about 150 of us retreatants by showing us the movie, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” He said it had transformed his life. The movie is a dramatized biography, largely inspired by St. Bonaventure’s Major Life of St. Francis. From then on, I was captivated.
I graduated from high school, then college, got married, had children – and throughout these years, I attended a variety of churches near wherever I was enrolled or we lived.
In my experience, it seemed that it was only in formal, traditional churches, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian, where I found regular Holy Communion, but that it was primarily in evangelical congregations, which focused on worship and edification, where I found sermons that focused on Bible readings – and not mainly on social or intellectual topics, instead. I longed for a church that combined both.
I’d occasionally see a story about Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, or listen to Mother Angelica on EWTN, and I’d think, “I want to know how to understand and live out my faith like that.”
But I harbored absolutely no doubts in my mind that I was doing exactly what God intended in my vocation as a wife and mother; that has been my deepest desire since I was a young girl, and marriage to my husband, Kevin, and motherhood to our sons has only confirmed that calling.
It was our sons who led our family to the Catholic Church, after we enrolled them in a local parochial school. Their tales of how they loved morning prayers and First Friday Masses soon led to a request: “Could we try the Catholic Church, please?”
So we did, and felt like we’d found a good place for our family. I felt like I’d finally found that church home which taught Christ’s Gospel message with an evangelical spirit and valued regular reception of the Eucharist with all its heart.
In 2006, our older son, who’d been baptized Methodist, received First Holy Communion in the Catholic Church; our younger son was baptized into the Catholic Church; and my husband and I, raised Presbyterian and Episcopalian, respectively, were received into the Catholic Church.
And once again, I encountered St. Francis of Assisi, this time through a Secular Franciscan Order fraternity.
In St. Francis of Assisi I found someone who, like me, wished to live out the Gospels in a way consistent with Christ’s original intent, but also in a way that was relevant to the world in which he lived. He wasn’t perfect, like Jesus, but fallible and human, like the rest of us. His powerful love of Christ led him to start orders for celibate brothers (first order), sisters (second order), and married and single laypeople (third order).
The orders have since split into subsets and expanded into other Christian denominations, inspired by a way of life that, as it says in the Secular Franciscan Order’s Rule, is to go “from gospel to life and life to gospel.”
I took time exploring the order, and wasn’t admitted into it until November of 2009; I made my permanent profession in October of 2011.
Now after all these years, I feel as if I can confidently say that I’m finally living the full life God has called me to live.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Secular Franciscan Order, visit nafra-sfo.org or call 1-800-FRANCIS (1-800-372-6247).
Birth, a member of the St. Michael’s fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, is a wife, mother, freelance writer and parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, S. Ozone Park.