This essay is part of a series about aspects of the Franciscan message that partners-in-ministry appreciate. The previous by a young adult who grew up as part of St. Francis of Assisi Parish at the New Jersey Shore describes his devotion to “Church and island” and the honor of speaking at the Vatican. Below, a CUA graduate who spent three years as a Franciscan missioner in Guatemala reflects on being “fools for Christ.”
“May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world.”
This line from a Franciscan blessing accurately describes nearly every Franciscan I know. After my encounters with a variety of Franciscans from different places and points in my life, I think it’s safe to say that many of them — just like St. Francis — are fools for Christ that live believing they can, indeed, make a difference in the world. Through these encounters, I have truly come to love the Franciscans and their charism. From their dedication to the poor, simple living, and ministry of presence, I have seen how so many Franciscans live for Christ and others, while sometimes acting like fools. But what does it mean to be a fool for Christ?
On the first day of my freshman year of college at The Catholic University of America, I walked into my general theology class that every student was required to take, unsure about what, exactly, I was getting myself into. And then, a man, dressed in a brown habit, with a deep belly laugh, entered the classroom. In that moment, I knew that this man, Fr. Jim Sabak, OFM, was a fool for Christ. He opened my eyes and heart to theology and to the Church and Her teachings, and he challenged me to deepen my faith.
Fr. Jim, one of the first Franciscans I had ever met, opened not only his mind through teaching his Introduction to Theology course, but also his heart, as a friend and mentor, and I am certain that Fr. Jim made a lasting impact on more lives than just mine. As a fool for Christ, he allowed me to see that, in deepening our understanding and love of the Lord, we are able to make a difference in the world.
Feeling Heard and Called
There is something special about a person who can make you feel like the most important person in the room when they speak to you, and something even more special about that person truly believes that as you stand before them that you are the most important person in the room. Fr. Jude DeAngelo, OFM, is one of those people. My campus minister at CUA, Fr. Jude guided me through some of the most influential moments of a college career. During my sophomore year, while on a retreat, I went to confession for the first time in a very long time. As I walked into the room, I wanted to run away as fast as I could, but as I sat before Fr. Jude, I felt a sense of peace come over me. Fr. Jude made me feel heard, comfortable, and safe. In this beautiful ministry as a priest, Fr. Jude was a fool for Christ in the everyday. His presence made a difference in my life during those moments in confession.
After my years at CUA, I was hooked on the Franciscans and their charism; I knew that I wanted to continue working with them. I felt God calling me toward mission life, and I quickly found my way to Franciscan Mission Service After having been a missioner with them for the past three years, I have been influenced by a number of Franciscans from all walks of life. During the 13-week long Mission Formation program with FMS, there were countless Franciscans who accompanied my classmates and me through the formation process. Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM, was one of those friars. There are a lot of different ways to describe Fr. Joe, but one story sticks out as representative of who he is.
As I stood in the kitchen at Casa San Salvador, the formation house for FMS, I was in awe of Fr. Joe. We had just finished a session on a mission in Latin America and we were discussing liberation theology. I had written my senior thesis on Blessed Oscar Romero and the impact that liberation theology had on his martyrdom. After sharing this story with him, Fr. Joe began telling me about his work in Latin America when liberation theology was being developed. He was on the mission field during this groundbreaking time in the Church, and I was incredibly inspired by Fr. Joe and his dedication to loving and serving the poor. Fr. Joe’s foolishness helped me realize that believing we can make a difference in the world is the first step to doing just that.
Making a Difference
Interestingly, one of these Franciscan believers who has made a significant impact on my life is someone I’ve never met. Fr. Rocco Famiglietti, OFM, founded Valle de Los Angeles orphanage and school in Guatemala in the late 1980s with the motto “give the best to the poor.” This is what his life was about, and almost 30 years later, his dream continues to grow. In January 2015, I joined in the mission that Fr. Rocco initiated when I became an FMS missioner and went to live at Valle with the staff and the 215 beautiful children who also live there. Everyone on campus welcomed me into their Valle family and changed my world forever. Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Fr. Rocco, by living at Valle I can confidently say that he was a true fool for Christ, too, clothing himself in the spirit of St. Francis, reaching out and touching the hands of the poor, and loving all as his own children.
While my own life journey would have been very different without Fr. Rocco and his dream of a school having come to fruition, there’s another Franciscan that made all the difference when I first arrived in Guatemala unsure of what being on mission would bring. To be honest, I stepped off the plane in Guatemala more terrified and anxious than I think I had ever been. And then I saw Fr. Michael Della Penna, OFM, dressed in his habit, jumping up and down, screaming my name, and waving a bouquet of roses in the air. Immediately, I was put at ease. Fr. Michael’s dedication to the Franciscan virtue of hospitality solidified him as a fool for Christ in my mind. He went out of his way from my first day in Guatemala until my last to make me feel at home there. He taught me that being a fool for Christ is welcoming your neighbor.
The list of Franciscans who have influenced me — priests, brothers, sisters, secular, and Franciscan-hearted people alike — could go on forever. Shaped by their influence and having become part of the Franciscan family, I, too, have found myself a fool for Christ believing that I can make a difference in the world. Throughout all of my encounters with the Franciscans, I have been transformed. They have helped me learn about God and deepen my relationship with him. They have helped me discover my most authentic self and how to live that out in every aspect of my life. They have shown me that simply loving another person is the most profound way to become a Christ-like fool and to make a difference in the world.
“May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world.” As I reflect on all of the foolish Franciscans I know who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the world, these words have inspired me to live my life like a fool, striving to love others as St. Francis did.
— Amanda Ceraldi graduated in 2014 from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and served as a missioner through Franciscan Mission Service from early 2015 until November 2017. She is currently participating in FMS’s re-entry program. In 2013, another former missioner – Kristen Nalen – wrote a Franciscan Influences essay.
Editor’s note: Laymen and women who are interested in writing an essay for this Franciscan Influences series are invited to contact Jocelyn Thomas in the HNP Communications Office at email@example.com.
- “Joseph Nangle Honored at Pax Christi Event” – Dec. 6, 2017, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Mission Service Commissions Service Three” – Dec. 5, 2017, HNP Today