A Franciscan priest ministering in the Bronx shares what he's learned about renewing the culture.
When a stranger approached Fr. Agustino Torres with a surprising request, he left an unforgettable impression. Now Fr. Torres is sharing what that encounter, and countless others, have revealed to him: The world desperately needs Christians on fire with Christ’s love.
“I need $30 dollars for a tattoo,” the stranger said to Fr. Torres, a Franciscan priest ministering in the Bronx.
“I’m like, ‘That’s one I have not heard before,’” Torres laughed. “What’s your story?”
The stranger was a gang member who happened to wander into a church one Sunday and heard a deeply moving homily.
“He said, ‘The words were burning in my heart because life began to change,’” Torres said.
But one doesn’t just leave a gang, of course. The man obtained permission to leave for religious reasons, but he was required to remove his gang affiliation tattoo from his body—or be killed.
This was what sent him to Torres’ door, after asking for help at several other churches first. He had only hours left to remove the tattoo, and no money to pay for it.
“All of a sudden his voice began to raise,” Torres said.
He said, “You know what, you Christians need to be more who you say you are. You Christians say that you help people and stuff, but I have been to every church in the Bronx looking for $30. Man, when I was in the gang, I had everything I needed. I had money, I had places to stay. I’ve been on the streets since Jesus has been in my heart, and when I turn to his followers, they turn their back on me.”
Thankfully, Torres was able to help the man remove his tattoo. Even better, a family at Torres’ church gave the man a place to stay while he figured out his next steps. But the encounter confirmed for Fr. Torres the dire need for Christians who burn with love for Christ and his people.
The video is one in a series of OSV Talks, which shine a light on creative means of evangelization, springing from the wisdom and deep prayer that energize these approaches. The talks, which are similar to TED Talks but with a Catholic focus, are free and available to watch at OSVTalks.com.
In his talk, Fr. Torres shares several ways that a truly Franciscan approach can transform the culture. He draws on his lengthy experience in ministry: He has been working in active ministry within the Church, mostly with youth, the poor and the pro-life movement, since he entered the Franciscan friars of the renewal in 1999. He now serves as a member of the general counsel for his community and has been a part of founding various apostolates around the world. He is the founder of Corazon Puro, an organization dedicated to awakening and accompanying young leaders, along with Casa Guadalupe and JPII houses of discernment.
In his talk, Fr. Torres shares these three keys to following the Franciscan way.
1Let Christ fill your heart
“What is this something that can sometimes grab a hold of our hearts and just burn?” he asks. This approach rejects lukewarmness and instead embraces awe and wonder at the presence of God.
Those who know, know that it’s not something but someone and this someone is Jesus, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. He upholds the universe by the word of his power and after making purification for sins, he now sits in majesty in heaven.
Love for Christ animates Christians to serve others in real and meaningful ways. It also turns even hard times and suffering into an opportunity.
“When we bring our pain to the cross, we give God the chance to glorify himself,” said Fr. Torres.
2Learn from St. Francis
Sometimes we are in situations when it’s hard to know how to put into practice Christ’s teachings. For those times, Fr. Torres encourages looking to the example of St. Francis, who imitated Christ to a degree that’s extraordinary in world history.
“For those of you who feel this call, I propose to you the Franciscan option,” Fr. Torres said.
The Franciscan option is the belief that the radical Christ-centered incarnationalism of St. Francis, renewed in those called to engage society, has the power to transform the world … St. Francis gave us a template to engage a world that’s grown cold.
Fr. Torres shares fascinating details about St. Francis’ life in his talk, as well as ways to put those into practice in daily life.
3Love and serve the poor
“Jesus is very clear: You cannot separate the revelation of Christ from this love of the poor,” Fr. Torres said.
I say love, more than checking a box. Sometimes we serve the poor just to feel better about ourselves. The poor do not exist for our own meditation. We’re meant to see them as our family, and in remedying their need, we realize our own poverty.
Putting personal witness first is a powerful approach. Fr. Torres believes this kind of orthodox, evangelical, committed approach to service can change the world.
“It shouldn’t be the Franciscan option,” he says. “It should be the Franciscan necessary. Because the world needs this fire. The world needs us to burn.”