Reflecting on Fraternity and Brotherhood for St. Francis Feast

HNP Communications Features

The annual feast of St. Francis of Assisi is always met with excitement and devotion by friars and ministries throughout the Province. This year’s Oct. 4 feast day of the founding father of the Order of Friars Minor comes with even greater anticipation and interest. On Oct. 3, Pope Francis is expected to begin a two-day visit to Assisi – the birthplace of St. Francis – where he is scheduled to sign the papal letter, titled “Fratelli Tutti,” translated “Brothers and Sisters All.” Neither the venue nor the timing of the encyclical’s release is a coincidence.

The papal letter reportedly focuses on fraternity and brotherhood – core components of the Franciscan Order. During a recent meeting of communicators of the English-speaking Conference, a friar noted the words of St. Francis about fraternity – that when friars come together, they should show that they are part of the same family.

With the document’s strong correlation to Franciscan ideals and way of life – along with the timing of the feast of St. Francis – HNP friars were recently asked to reflect on how living in community with their friar brothers has enriched their lives, and what this fraternal support and brotherhood have meant to them and their ministerial journey. They wrote about hope, perceptions of self, the importance of community, and opportunities for encountering the mystery of the other. They also shared their thoughts on the significance of the theme of Pope Francis’s new encyclical and signing his papal letter in Assisi.

Casey Cole, OFM – Macon, Georgia
Casey professed his solemn vows in 2017 and is currently serving in ministry at St. Peter Claver Parish in Macon.

The brothers are always the ceiling and floor to me. They humble me when I get too high, and they lift me up when I get too low. They are a great support for me and I hope that I am good support for them.

We live in a very fractured world and our Church has reflected that of late. I think a reminder of our universal relationship with God and each other is so desperately needed today. I hope that Pope Francis’s new encyclical will engender a greater sense of fraternity in our social and political lives.

Abraham Joseph, OFM – Chicago, Illinois
Abraham professed his solemn vows in 2018 and is stationed at St. Peter’s in the Loop Church in Chicago.

When I contemplate the reality of living in community with my friar brothers, there is a shift in my perception of self. I become aware of my belonging to this brotherhood. For me, it is a very affirming and empowering experience. More than a year ago, when I was at a very vulnerable time in my life, I experienced the unconditional love and support of my brothers – which helped me deal with and get through this difficult time.

I firmly believe that Pope Francis is right on target promoting “human fraternity and social friendship” during this time of forced distancing and isolation. People are yearning for connection, cooperation, and community. A better job, higher education, proper housing, and all other material stuff are useful. But they cannot appease the human desire for meaningful relationships. To reach full potential, the human person needs fertile ground of social friendship and fraternity. Our founder St. Francis understood this, and Pope Francis seems to share his insights.

Kevin Kriso, OFM – West Clarksville, New York
Kevin, who professed solemn vows in 1994, is assigned to Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Community in Western New York near St. Bonaventure University.

Living in fraternity these more than 30 years has mainly taught me how to open up to all of God’s created universe. Fraternal life showed me that I had, and still have, subconscious attitudes of self-concern that blocked out the needs, outlooks, and experiences of other people and society as a whole. I have witnessed great and inspiring examples of fraternal charity. I have seen men in disagreement and conflict hang in there until they were able to work things out. Alas, I have been involved in these disagreements and conflicts, but my brothers have shown me that I am being called to additional conversion and transformation.

“Friar Brother” is not a title; it is a relationship and stance to the world. Years ago, I remember another friar say something to the effect, “Hopefully, after being five years in solemn profession, you are more of a Friar Minor than when you made your profession.” After 26 years in solemn profession, I hope that is even more true now for me.

David McBriar, OFM – New York, New York
David professed his solemn vows in 1964 and is currently living in retirement ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Friary on 31st Street in Manhattan.

During my 63 years as a friar, my ministries have included theology professor, college administrator, and pastor. During all of these assignments, I have lived and ministered with other friars, and I have always seen myself as one brother among many brothers. As in any family, not all days were wine and roses. But they were days of love and connectedness, days of rich memories, silly arguments – and always forgiveness, gratitude, and closeness. During the death of my parents – my mother died suddenly, three months before my ordination – my friar brothers were there for me in prayer, fraternal sympathy, and love. During my years of retirement, as I recover from major surgery, I live in community with friars who constantly ask how I am doing and whether I need anything. I am grateful and proud to be one with my brothers. They are busy with their ministry and yet they have time for me – and that’s what fraternity means.

If there is one quality Pope Francis has in abundance, it is caring. He cares for the poor and the least among us. At this time of worldwide pandemic, Pope Francis’s prayer to Mary shows how he grieves for the human family. He truly cares for creation and for the Church he guides. He especially cares for women and their important place in the Church. He is criticized for what many call a liberal point of view, but I congratulate him on this. To be liberal is to be free, to recognize that we are not in this world for ourselves alone. I pray that his leadership continues, that God gives him health and many years in the Chair of Peter. I believe Pope Francis has a Franciscan heart – and his new encyclical “Brothers and Sisters All,” manifests that heart.

Bob Menard, OFM – Clemson, South Carolina
Bob professed his solemn vows in 1970 and currently serves as the campus minister at Clemson University.

From the beginning of my journey in fraternal life, I was welcomed as a brother among other brothers. The many years of study, formation in community, ministry, and service in the larger Church continue to challenge me to live a fuller fraternal life. It takes courage to engage and remain engaged in the life-long learning we call fraternal living. So, what have I learned thus far? Each person is an opportunity for me to encounter the mystery of the other – and not an occasion for me to judge, label, or endure them. My words have had the power to hurt and to heal the other (brother). Fraternal correction, both received and given, has been most painful and most healing. Diversity in ideas, persons, places, and generations is value-added to my life.

My participation in the common life tends toward an experience of communion. Communal discernment leads me to more grace-filled action. Being part of something larger than myself, i.e., contemplative friars in mission, yields inexpressible meaning to my life. In recent days, the hunger for a more fraternal living has been powerfully and profoundly expressed in the lives of people across genders, generations, nationalities, and races. In this time of COVID-19, we need a message of hope – like the one being proclaimed by Pope Francis in his new encyclical – to remind us that we are brothers and sisters all.

Jim Sabak, OFM – Raleigh, North Carolina
Jim, who professed his solemn vows in 1999, lives at St. Francis of Assisi Church-Rectory and works as director of divine worship for the Diocese of Raleigh.

I believe that living in community with my brother friars has taught me the value and importance of mutuality and care for each other’s welfare that moves much deeper than any other relational experience I have had. Day-to-day living with my brothers has made me aware of the blessing of fraternal life. It is the laughter and sharing, and the relaxed knowledge of a common belief, outlook, and perspective on life at the core. This is more powerful than the differences and variations of our individuality. It is waking up one day and realizing what a blessing it is that these brothers have become a part of your life.

My brothers were especially supportive when I made the difficult decision to leave my position as a professor at a college because the institution’s charism was in direct contrast to the Franciscans – and because it fostered an academic philosophy I could no longer embrace. My departure presented challenges on many levels, including confusion about my desire to teach in the future. The friar community of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston provided the support and encouragement I needed to envision a future beyond this teaching position. I continue to live by the advice that one of the brothers gave me at the time – that you are the only one who can live your life, and you do it with God’s help and guidance.

I believe that the coming encyclical of Pope Francis is significant because it seems to address one of the great failings of post-modernity: the failure to establish authentic community, and instead replace community with an individuality that undermines it. A fundamental attribute that has shaped my life as a Franciscan is the call to be a person of hope. People who hope think differently, and I believe that St. Francis and St. Clare’s ability to achieve and accomplish came as a product and consequence of hope. I believe that true hope can only be embraced and realized when we realize that we are not alone, that we need one another not only to accomplish great things but also to survive. “And the Lord gave me brothers,” emphasizes God’s design for the Order, not of one person’s vision only, but of a community envisioning together.

Recently, I’ve been drawn to the phrase “sure and certain hope” – which describes so well the attitude of a believer to the fulfillment of God’s promises. It seems to me to communicate a more profound response to the situation in our world – the pandemic, civil unrest, and political division – than the often overused, and perhaps trite, term “new normal.” I pray that God not only leads us through this period in our human history but also provides us with a new insight and awareness of the importance of human relationships and care for one another. In this time and age, especially, Pope Francis is being led by God to help us pray for the strength and wisdom to know what must be done – and to have the courage to accomplish it. It is an echo of St. Francis’s own prayer that God shows us what we must do.

  – Edited by Stephen Mangione; researched by Jocelyn Thomas