It is a Franciscan tradition that at the feast of the Epiphany, each person is given the name of a patron saint for the year. Many Secular Franciscan (Third Order) groups observe this custom, and it really is a lovely way to begin the year. We are encouraged to learn more about our chosen saint, reading about their lives or reading works the saints themselves have written.
In my Secular Franciscan Fraternity, we receive a patron saint for the year as well as a virtue to cultivate and a maxim upon which to meditate. This maxim may be a quote from Scripture or from Saint Francis. We also receive the name of another member of the Fraternity and are asked to keep that person in special prayer throughout the year. Other Fraternities might have a different prayer or procedure; this is how our local group celebrates this ritual each year.
The leader begins by reminding everyone:
We believe that God speaks to us in many ways, not the least of which is through the example of His saints, and through the inspired words of Scripture and other pious writings. Your patron for the year—as well as the maxim and the virtue—can be a special source of inspiration in the challenges which might be facing you during the year. Read the life of the saint; what does the message of his/her life have to say to you? Reflect on the maxim and the virtue.
Almighty and everlasting God, we celebrate that day when your Word became flesh for all the world to see. In becoming one with our human family he sanctified human activity and made us holy through his life-giving word. Through the ages, his message has continued to touch the hearts of men and women of every place, taking flesh in their lives through Christian service. May these holy men and women stand as shining examples of Christian virtue and the Gospel life, for each one of them reflects a unique aspect of your divine love. Be with us today, Lord our God, as we choose one of these saints as our patron for the new year. With the help of your Spirit, may the saint given to us today serve as a special reminder of our call to holiness. May his or her teaching and example serve to inspire us to exercise Christian virtue and to follow your Son more closely in our Franciscan family. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our Super-Low-Tech Franciscan Saint’s Name Generator consists of four stacks of index cards, a basket, and slips of paper with each member’s name written on them. The cards contain the names of many Franciscan saints, the virtues, the maxims, and the members of the Fraternity. The slips of paper go into the basket, which is passed around the room. As each name is drawn, cards for saints, virtues, maxims and “prayer partners” are chosen for that person.
We then pray Psalm 150 together and conclude with this prayer:
O God, you have raised up men and women outstanding in holiness as examples to your people in following in your footsteps. Grant that we may ever look to the example and teaching of your saints, imitating their virtue, and thus merit to arrive at your heavenly banquet. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is a prayerful experience, but it’s often punctuated by joking and laughter, especially when someone is handed the virtue of Poverty or (yikes) Patience. There are also many expressions of gratitude for prayers to come when people learn the name of their prayer partners, and offers to share biographies of saints.
And now for...The Big Reveal!
My maxim for the year: "Live always in truth, that you may die in obedience."
My virtue for the year: Purity.
My saint for the year: St. Joseph of Leonissa, a Franciscan priest who was imprisoned for helping Christian galley slaves in Constantinople. In a sermon, he taught, "Every Christian must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the gospel."
I've got my work cut out for me, and I look forward to learning more about my saint for this year.
Copyright 2014 Barb Szyszkiewicz
About the Author
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is editor at CatholicMom.com. Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count. Her booklet, The Handy Little Guide to Prayer, is coming in May 2021 from Our Sunday Visitor.