What is a Secular Franciscan?
by Dr. Marguerite Stein, SFO, Canonist
Reprinted from: NAFRA Newsletter, Winter 1992 (Previously publ. by Five Franciscan Martyrs in Jan. 1993)
The true formation of the Secular Franciscan begins with his profession. He is committed for the rest of his life, first of all, to daily prayer and meditation. Once he was one of the few seculars permitted to say the full Divine Office, but, since Vatican I and the new Code, all lay members of the faithful are now invited to do so. Many alternate forms of the Office are available to him, ranging from the single volume Christian PrayerThe Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Francis' Office of the Passion, and even to a short version of Francis' medieval office for the illiterate - the recitation of twelve Our Fathers, Hail Mary's, and Glorys.
He is committed to attending daily Mass, if it is at all possible as part of his ever developing devotion to the Eucharist which is so meaningful to Franciscan spirituality.
He reads the Gospel assiduously, striving to move from the Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel; he looks for Gospel meanings in his daily experience and takes to his daily life some thought to live by. He turns to God in his joys and his agonies: his surprises, and his drudgery.
He remains in active communication with the Church and particularly with the Pope, the vicar of Christ and leader of the Church on earth, acting as his defender in public and loyal follower in private, in imitation of Francis.
He loves the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Angels, protectress and advocate of the Franciscan family, and tries constantly to imitate her fiat.
He fulfills faithfully his duties in life, following the example of the poor and crucified Christ. He lives a poor and humble life as did Christ and Mary; he regards himself as only the steward of his possessions with which he deals in a spirit of detachment, being always ready to give to the needy or to accept any loss as coming from God. He strives to avoid any attachment to power.
He lives a life of chastity according to his state in life, seeking purity of heart and thus setting himself free to love God and his brothers and sisters with true caritas. He accepts all people, even the most difficult, as gifts of the Lord and as brothers or sisters placing himself on an equal status with all and being ready to serve all; he will find a way in which to render service to them regularly. He will stand for justice and defend it by word and example wherever he finds it endangered. He will esteem peace, fidelity and respect for life, and work for them in all ways and with all others, beginning within his family. He will respect all creatures and work for prudent ecology.
He will strive to be a messenger of Joy, bringing hope to others in every situation. He will hold himself ready for Sister Death at all times, looking forward with serenity to his ultimate encounter with the Father. That is a very long list of attitudes and a staggering blueprint for a way of life; it requires a lifetime to achieve anything like full conformity to these ideals. Each of them is taken from Chapter Two of the Rule and all taken together constitute the meaning of our simple profession promise.
To work toward these goals, the Franciscan immerses himself in a "community of love", his local fraternity. There he continues his learning process through discussions, study groups, reading, and daily prayer; also, he engages in some active, apostolic work of charity several hours a week, usually in company with other Franciscans.
He attends his monthly fraternity meetings, never refusing an office without reason, helping the formation team, joining in prayer for deceased members, and trying to make at least one retreat a year to keep the flame alive.
He offers financial contributions according to his means to cover the spiritual and temporal needs of the fraternity, its members, its apostolic works, and its charities; in turn, his local fraternity contributes toward the support of the regional/provincial, national, and international fraternities.
Chesterton says that the Third Order was designed to assist ordinary men to be ordinary with an extraordinary exultation. And that is true, for Francis was a medieval advocate of courtesy and song, a spreader of joy and love and laughter, who made the road to God seem marvelously fascinating even in the rough spots. He knew the value of companions on the way ("And God gave me brothers"), and in all truth the concept of brotherhood is fundamental to an under standing of the Franciscan spirit.
Membership in and devotion to the charsm of Francis' Third Order permit us to travel the road of life happily, in good company, with a means by which to see the deepest spiritual joy in humiliation and misfortune. For it is only then that we are children of the Heavenly Father and 'spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.' In the words of Francis, 'Oh, how glorious it is!'
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