Everyone knows St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. They’re arguably the most famous saints in the history of the Church. Most people know of St. Clare, if for nothing else, that she was associated with St. Francis. And all throughout the world, the name Padre Pio has become more and more popular after being canonized a little over a decade ago. When most people think of the Franciscans, these names come to mind.

But… we’re an 800 year old movement. We are by far the largest religious family that has ever existed in the Church, and we’ve had some holy people along the way. Surely we have more than four saints, right?

Coming up with the exact number was hard to find (typical Franciscans, right?). If you include all of the saints who were professed as Secular Franciscans before becoming associated with another Order, the number is around 177, but even conservatively estimated, we’re well into the 100s.

That’s a lot of holy men and women. And I think we should remember them. In this week’s video, I’ve selected seven Franciscan saints that I think everyone should know, and offered my take on the holiness of our charism. If you stick around to the end, you might even get a quick joke at the expense of the Dominicans (no offense Dominicans!)

A little over three years ago, I had an idea one morning: why don’t I answer the most common questions I get asked and put them together in one video? That afternoon, I threw it together. In what was probably the quickest turnaround of any video I have ever made—from idea to posting in under 24 hours—came the most successful video of them all. Not only did it produce a response from people that would take more than two years to match in another video, it has consistently been top five in new views each month since.

Just last week, that cumulated in quite a feat: 100,000 total views.

In honor of that occasion, I decided to recreate one of my earliest videos with an updated script. Now three years later, interacting with people in different settings on a different scale, what questions do I find myself answering on a regular basis? As with the original video, I made a list of questions, got people to ask them on camera, and I just answered them on the spot. There was no script, no extensive preparation, just me in front of the camera answering (sort of) in the way I would respond as if I were really right there on the street being asked a question. It was not meant to be super refined, just quick answers to normal questions.

Which… is why I have a few caveats and additions.

  1. Since it’s still warm out, I don’t get this question often, but in about a month the number one question I’ll get is “aren’t your feet cold??” The answer is always no. My body runs very hot and wearing sandals in the winter serves as a necessary exhaust system to keep me cool with all the layers on.
  2. In question 2, I slightly “misspoke.” In answering a question about sexual activity, I said that Christians cannot engage in sexual activity unless it is unitive and “for the purpose of” procreation. What I meant to say was “open to procreation.” Not every sexual act has to have this as its intention, but it must be open to the possibility if that is what God wills.
  3. I get a lot of questions about traditional Catholicism, e.g. the Latin Mass, placement of the tabernacle, design of the Church, particular prayers, or liturgical theology. It might be the number one thing I respond to on YouTube. Given the tone and scope of this video, I didn’t think responding to any of those questions in 30 seconds would be appropriate or adequately address the issues, and so I have planned to answer many of them through Catholicism In Focus.
  4. I still get asked all of the time, “What’s the difference between a monk and friar?” “Are you a Jedi?” and “What’s the difference between a priest and brothers?” but since I have answered them pretty regularly elsewhere, I decided to leave them out.

Other than that, these ten question are legitimately the top ten questions I get asked on a regular basis. If you have questions you’d like me to answer, head over to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube and let me know!

Eight hundred years ago, a little man from Assisi, a man without tremendous wealth, power, stature, or societal influence, set a movement in motion that would leave the Church and world forever changed. That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Within just a short decade, there were already more than 5,000 friars in countries all across Europe, the Poor Clares had spread to multiple monasteries and established itself as a new way of monastic living, and the penitent movements had received their rule and amassed a larger number even than the rest.

It’s difficult to underestimate the effect that the Franciscan movement had on history. With its great size and diversity came the ability to spread its culture and values, including a number of innovations, in a way that had never been seen before. Constantly on the move, they could respond to the signs of the times, enflaming a people with passion before moving on to the next place. The way they served the poorest of the poor, living humbly themselves, preaching in new and popular ways, and not asking for much in return challenged the secular priests of their day to serve in a different way. The nativity scene and stations of the cross, while not invented by the Franciscans, are popular devotions today because of their insistence on an incarnational way of prayer. And the breviary, the shortened and compacted way of praying the psalms found in every religious house in the world today, was first employed by these traveling preachers.

At every level of the Church, in every country in the world, the Franciscans have not only been present, but have left their mark in irreconcilable ways.

But why? Why didn’t the Dominicans, who were formed around the same time, not grow as quickly? Why did it take the Jesuits, who were founded to do similar forms of ministry, so long to get its first pope (who took the name Francis!) Why haven’t the Benedictines, who have existed for much longer, had such a lasting effect on the imagination of the Church? And why haven’t the countless other religious orders that were founded throughout the history of the Church been able to match what the Franciscans have done in 800 years?

I ask these questions not to put down other Orders or even to shamelessly promote the Franciscans (okay, a little bit of the latter), but simply to marvel at what seems inconceivable: a religious movement started by a simple man like Francis should have never worked at all, let alone have changed the Church and world as it did.

Why is that? And maybe more importantly, what might we learn from the success of this movement 800 years ago in what our Church and world are facing today? That is what I was employed to talk about last weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Arizona. While I can’t repeat all 5 hours of talks, I wanted to share the central points here in this week’s vlog.

I hope it inspires you to join in the movement, in however you can in your situation, and happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

From the start, back when Breaking In The Habit was just a little blog no one knew about, my goal was to share the real life of a Franciscan in the 21st century. Over my first two years, I did almost no teaching or preaching, just sharing stories about my journey as a Franciscan, recounting events, and informing the public on important information. More than evangelization in any specific sense, much more than catechesis, I just wanted people to know what our life was like. Even as the mission has grown and expanded to other forms of media, the essential focus remains at the fore of everything I do.

On the one hand, I am able to share more than ever before. Beyond just a few written posts a week as in the beginning, I can literally show people what our life is like. Through videos and pictures, I can invite people into our lives like never before, allowing for one to make their own interpretation rather than reading my own. Why read my words when you can use your own eyes and ears?

And while this is a major step forward and truly a good thing, it also has a danger to it: people might begin to believe that what I am sharing is the complete and unbiased picture of Franciscan life. This, quite obviously, can hardly be the truth. Simply from a philosophical sense, pure unbiased presentations do not exist; because it is impossible to share every experience of every day, there is always a decision of what to share and what to leave private, which introduces a level of subjectivity. In doing so, we are not necessarily being manipulative, but we must be conscious that the persona we present is far from the whole truth.

Such is the case with Breaking In The Habit: what I show is nowhere close to my full life, but rather snippets of what I find interesting, pieces put together to tell a story I want you to hear. And while I think it is probably well-known to everyone, it something that is worth reminding people about. As much as I make it my mission to share a lot about our life, much of what makes this life significant simply can’t be shared. Truly, what I show is nowhere close to the totality of my life. If it was, I don’t think I could do what I do or be as enthusiastic about it. Behind the camera and beyond the public’s eye is a life that is by no means secretive or scandalous, but nonetheless private in a way that no camera could capture. What we live, day in and day out, can be shared in a simple sense, but can only be truly understood by those who live it.

I hope that makes sense, and I hope you enjoy this video, as well as the others.

Better late than never, right? With all of the chaos of starting the mission tour this week, I completely forgot to post this video to the blog. My apologies to all, hopefully you haven’t been waiting around to hear the decision!

Anyway, the vote passed among the six OFM provinces of the United States, and we’re looking forward to our future together. More details certainly to come, but thank you for your prayers and be sure to continue to pray for us!

As the world changes, so too does religious life. 150 years ago, there were thousands of women and men religious in the United States running schools, hospitals, orphanages, and centers for the poor. The significance of women religious in particular was so great in founding this country that Congress actually thanked them some years back.

Now, they represent but a remnant of their past glory. Even more than men’s religious groups, women’s religious groups have diminished almost out of existence. It would be very easy to say that there is no future for such groups.

At least, “no future” for the way that they operate today. That was the theme of this weekend’s talk by Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ at the gathering of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus motherhouse. Honoring the Poor Handmaids on their 150th anniversary in the United States, she recounted their past and their great accomplishments, how they were among the tremendous labor force of the Catholic Church to build institutions and evangelize the new world. Their thousands were necessary to do the work of God. But not so much now, she said. Looking to the future, she turned their sorrow of diminishment into something for the future: “When the Church needed a labor force, we provided it. We served as teachers and nurses and founders when there was no one else to do it. But now, the world and Church have those things and does not need that from us. Rather, what it needs us to be is the leaven, the agent that inspires and lifts the already-working institutions. That is our role for the future.”

Sr. Carol went on to remind the sisters that religious institutions have often gone through cycles of growth, death, and rebirth over their histories. Every three hundred years, she said, a movement needs to either transform or die. We are at that point now. What will we do?

Her response spoke very true to my own experience of religious life. She told us that gone are the days when we could define ourselves narrowly by what we do and people would be attracted to that. Among other reasons, one of the greatest reasons for decline in religious life came at the Second Vatican Council (and no, not because Vatican II is a bad council… ugh) when it insisted on the primacy of baptism and the universal call to holiness. Now, one did not need to be a brother or sister to be holy; now, one did not need to take final vows to teach, care for the poor, help the sick, or do extraordinary work. In the case of women, it was also at this time that women across the world began to break the barriers of the workplace, able to do incredible work and be taken seriously even without the backing of a religious order. The greatest decline in religious life came not because of some theological reason or because of lack of faith, but because people began to realize that they could do almost anything a brother or sister could do… and still have a family. If a religious order is simply a workforce, why would someone go through all of the troubles and sacrifices when they could do the work anyway?

This is the shift that religious life needs to make if it wants to survive: rather than defining itself by the work that it does, it needs to focus on the life that it lives. No matter how robust its ministry may be, a religious community is first and foremost a brotherhood/sisterhood of people wanting to live the Gospel in prayer and humility. What defines religious life is the life together. It is only from that life with God and each other that any ministry makes sense; it is only from that life with God and each other than anyone will want to join us.

For me, this is what we need to (re)claim if we want to have a future. As important as ministry is—and it is critical to this life—it must always be seen as the fruit of our life rather than the substance. People join us not because of what we do but because they are seeking an intentional community to live the Gospel. They join us for intimacy and support, for inspiration and foundation.

And we need to give it to them. Too often, in my experience, our houses are not houses of prayer—they are domiciles for workers, barracks for priests. This is not enough. We need to make sharing meals with one another a priority. Common prayer a necessity. Routine faith sharing, recreation, spiritual nourishment, and times to just be together are not luxuries, they are the very things on which our life rests.

For me, that is where the future of religious life lies: in communities that are so filled with love and support of one another and the Gospel that they cannot help but go out and spread it to the whole world. If that is our focus, religious life will absolutely have a future.

 

A few weeks ago, the friars in our community had a House Chapter, a regular meeting where we discuss fraternal or spiritual issues to grow closer and build up the fraternity. The topic was on fraternal correction: how we do lovingly approach a brother when issues arise.

Overall, it was a fantastic meeting that showed how mature every member of my house is (not always the case…) One brother brought up a story that has stuck with me for weeks. He shared how here was a friar in one house who no one could stand. He was annoying to be around, self-centered, and just problematic to live with. Finally, the brothers got together and requested the he be transferred to another house. In many ways, this part of the story is sadly not uncommon; sometimes, guys just don’t get along. No, what was striking about it was how that brother reacted. Shocked and hurt, he could only respond, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I was difficult to live with?”

So often, we are blind to our own weaknesses. Whether it’s because they’re difficult to spot or simply because we don’t want to see them, others are always better equipped to point out those areas within us that need the most growth. Without a community around us who is mature (and loving) enough to step in a correct us, to point out our blindspots when we can’t see them, we will go through life hurting and annoying others without a care in the world.

I’m not sure about you, but ignorance is not bliss.

For so many of us, it is not that “we don’t know what we don’t know,” it’s that “we don’t even know THAT we don’t know.” We are completely oblivious (or completely deny) that there is even anything in us that needs to change.

And so before we walk away thinking that this reflection is all about others and how we need to fix them, let me bring it back to our poor brother. He was most certainly blind to things that caused trouble for him in his community, and no one can outright fault him for not seeing what he could not see, but it is not entirely up to others to take responsibility for our behavior. Knowing, of course, that we ALL have blindspots—that we all have failings we cannot see, that we all have rough edges that do not reflect the kingdom of God—it is most certainly our responsibility to have the humility to accept this in ourselves and the courage to do something about it.

How we go about that seemingly impossible process… is the topic of this week’s video.

Sometimes, life is hard.

Yeah. That’s the sort of amazing insights that keep people coming back to Breaking in the Habit.

Throughout our life, we face challenges, difficulties, frustrations, setbacks, and feelings of immense stress. At the midpoint of my first semester back in school, those words have a particular familiarity to me right now.

But what’s interesting about the situations that these words describe is that nothing ever starts out that way. No, normally, we begin a new project or stage in our life with excitement and joy. A fresh start. A new opportunity. We begin with idealism for what might come, for all that we can accomplish.

And maybe that’s what makes our frustrations that much more frustrating: we expected something very different than we got. Our idealism has been replaced with a disappointing reality.

That was the topic of my reflection this week, something that I found in the readings at Wednesday’s daily mass. For email subscribers, click here to watch the video.

If you’ve followed anything I’ve written or said in the past six years, you know that fraternity is a pretty important part of being a Franciscan and one of the main reasons why I chose this life. While our public lives may look the same as diocesan priests or dedicated lay volunteers, there is just something different about our internal lives that makes this whole thing meaningful to me.

At least, ideally there is.

The problem, sometimes, is that we conflate “living together” with “fraternity.” While the former is pretty essential to developing the latter, it does not guarantee it. Sometimes, even when a Franciscan house has all the right elements—communal prayer, meals, recreation, shared work—it is not truly a fraternity. Sometimes, it is just a group of guys that share a common domicile and peacefully interact with one another on a daily basis. In other words, sometimes we’re just roommates to one another. In such cases, the life of the fraternity is left up to the personalities of the inhabitants: if they get along it’s “good fraternity” and they enjoy each others’ company, and if they don’t get along it’s “bad fraternity,” and they live largely anonymous lives under the same roof.

I didn’t join this life for a roommate. I don’t think I’ll survive in this life if it’s completely dependent on personalities.

No, for me, fraternity means much more than casual encounters. Fraternity, at its best, is the act of giving one’s life to another to create something more than oneself; of being vulnerable and interdependent with a group of people, in making sacrifices on behalf of the group, to become a part of someone else’s life and to let them be a part of yours. It’s not enough to be in the same place at the same time doing the same thing. At its best, fraternity requires a genuine desire to know and support one another as a brother, someone whom we care about and want to walk with.

I can’t tell you, though, how many guys I have lived with over the past six years and had no idea what they were going through or who they really were. Or who didn’t know me. Especially when living in a big house with busy people, it can be almost impossible to get to know everyone in a meaningful way. We go about our lives, praying the scripted Liturgy of the Hours and exchanging small-talk at dinner, without ever knowing what is going on in someone’s life.

And really, that’s not a knock on any person or house, that’s just the reality of the situation: dinner is not the usually the best time to share about one’s struggles in prayer or relationships, and most of our communal prayers are pre-written without room for additions. Unless a problem (or joy) is extraordinary, it’s probably going to be kept private or shared only on a personal basis, never reaching the life of the fraternity as a whole. In many cases, I have seen a group of men yearning for an opportunity to be more intimate with one another without an outlet to do so. The large group becomes very formal and business life, stuck in small-talk and superficiality, with intimacy and friendship reserved for later in the one-on-one encounters with those personalities that best fit us. In essence, there really isn’t a fraternity but a house of potential friendships.

For me, as forced or artificial as it sounds, I think you just have to schedule time for fraternity. We schedule time for food, prayer, work, meetings, and so on. Why don’t we schedule time to simply be one another?

One of my favorite examples of this, something that many in our house this year have begun to do, is faith sharing. Each Thursday night after dinner, a group of us meets in the living room for Lectio Divina and community time. Over the course of an hour, we listen to and silently reflect on the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday, share with one another what the reading means in our lives, and conclude by checking in with one another, offering to the group what’s going on in our lives and what we might need prayers for.

It is truly one of the best parts of my week.

Built around a basic structure, the act itself is not what’s important and we’re flexible each week to do something different. What makes the time meaningful is that we have decided to be with one another, for something, and come knowing that it is a space to share our lives with one another. Sometimes, the conversation is light and relaxing. Other times, guys share deep personal struggles and fears. Either way, I leave better knowing my brothers (and they knowing me), having taken the time to build a relationship.

Naturally, there are any number of ways to do this in a fraternity and the need for intentionality is not limited to a group of religious. Families need this. Spouses need this. Friends need this. Churches need this. As connected as we may feel in one sense through social media, we are a tragically disconnected world today, many people going through life feeling alone and yearning for greater intimacy. You don’t need to be in a religious community to find intimacy and joining a religious community will not guarantee it. What you truly need—what truly need—is to simply find the time with the people that matter to me so that we can share our lives with one another.

This is the sixth and final episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.

“Never go to the restroom in the middle of a board meeting.” These words of wisdom, learned the hard way, are the reason that Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM and I ever lived together. A councilor of the province from 2011 to three weeks ago, Fr. Joe, then 82, excused himself from a meeting about replacing the current director of post-novitiate formation only to find, when he returned, that he had been voted the one for the job.

“Never go to the restroom in the middle of a board meeting” he told us in a tongue-in-cheek way when he moved into our house. “You’ll find yourself with jobs you never wanted.”

And yet, the job he never wanted is the job that he found himself doing. With great enthusiasm no less. At 82. That’s Joe Nangle for you.

A Franciscan Friar since before my parents were born, he’s lived an interesting, unorthodox, inspiration, radical life that never ceases to amaze anyone. A former missionary in Lima, Peru, Joe has spent the last thirty years living in an intentional community of lay and religious men and women in Washington, D.C., working at a parish, organizing demonstrations, giving parish missions, and furthering the mission of peace and justice in our Church. As long as there is injustice in the world, Joe has a job to do.

For many in our province, Joe is a legend. Fifteen years in the missions. In the room when Gustavo Gutierrez coined the term, “A Theology of Liberation.” A welcomed guest of Fidel Castro in initial peace conversations. Notorious priest of Washington, D.C. blessing the white house with ashes on Good Friday for the sins of the country, arrested for protests, leading demonstrations, and constantly acting as a rabble rouser of our province of friars, Fr. Joe is a one-of-a-kind friar.

And because of his apparent weak bladder, I found him as my director for eight months when the current director was called away for special assignment. What a pleasure. For all that I had heard of Joe, for the little bit I had experienced myself, I simply enjoyed his company.

Now 85, he lives with a passion for this life that people half his age don’t exhibit. He lives and breaths the message of Jesus Christ and won’t stop while there is still work to be done building the Kingdom of Heaven. Old age? Don’t tell him. Retirement? No reason for that. No, Joe is a man who lives with passion and there’s nothing that could extinguish that. And who would want to? A man like no other, Joe lives a life that cannot be replicated, and yet everything about what he does is a perfect example of what “A Friar Life” can be. Serving as the conclusion of (the first season) of “A Friar Life,” this video of his life captures yet another example of what it means to be a Franciscan friar in the world today.

For email subscribers, click here to watch the video of Joe’s life.

This is the fifth episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.

In any organization, team, or family, there’s always that one person who does such a fantastic job at what they do and gains such popularity that everyone else around them looks good and shares in their fame. For the Franciscans of Holy Name Province, that’s Fr. Dan Horan, OFM. Author of a blog, countless articles, and more than a few books; professor of graduate education and guest lecturer throughout the English-speaking world; popular preacher and engaging priest booked years in advance; and worldwide expert on Thomas Merton and John Duns Scotus, Dan has gotten his name out there a bit since becoming a friar in 2005… Still unsure whether or not he actually sleeps, he told me once, in a typical Dan way, that he doesn’t “spend day and night tirelessly working to get everything done,” he’s just “very efficient at getting things done quickly.”

I’m not ruling out that he’s a vampire though…

Whatever it is and however he’s able to do it, the truth of the matter is that Dan is a brilliant scholar, a hardworking man, and passionate friar that has always been a joy to be around. Despite his tremendously long list of accolades and accomplishments, he is quick with a joke at his own expense, easy to talk with, and a great guy to share a life with. Come August, after I make my solemn profession, I will have the privilege of living in community with him in Chicago and taking one of his courses at the Catholic Theological Union.

For email subscribers, click here to watch the video of Dan’s life.

This is the fourth episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.

When most people think of the essentials of living a Franciscan life there are a few things that come to everyone’s mind: humility, simplicity, fraternity, care for creation, and an intimate prayer life, to name a few. And these are all absolutely right. But having lived this life for almost six years, I can say that there is one often-forgotten aspect that might be most essential of all: joy.

What made St. Francis so inspiring to his early followers, and what has kept this order alive for more than 800 years, is the joy he experienced in life, in prayer, and in his interaction with the world. It’s been said that St. Francis never truly got over the fact that God loved him, that he lived until the moment he died with the unbridled joy of one who has recently fallen in love. Christian life for him was not one of sadness or stoicism, it was a life of profound thanksgiving and constant rejoicing as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake. While some may not see this in his life of mostly ascetic prayer and fasting, the joy of being a son of the Father was the very reason for everything he did. Even in suffering, there can be laughter and rejoicing because of our eternal destination.

There are few people I know that live with as much optimism and joy as Br. Angel Vazquez, OFM, one of our student friars studying in Chicago. Angel is the type of brother who is always at the center of a loud conversation, always with a smile on his face, and always bringing levity to a tense situation. I had the joy of living with Angel for a year and enjoyed his presence greatly. He lives his emotions on his sleeves and doesn’t hold back, and is a great instigator of friar game nights and outings to keep us a lively bunch. In a world where everything means so much and we’re given so much serious responsibility in people’s lives, it is Angel’s joy that reminds me how essential it is to our charism: we could not do the things we do unless we had the joy of being loved by God. Unless we’re able to step back from time to time and laugh until our stomachs hurt, we’ll never make it in this life.