SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
14TH MAY, 2016
Greetings to you all in Christ, St. Francis and St. Clare. Before we hear of about Life in Fraternity I would like to ask you to greeet your brothers and sisters with those wonderful words “The Lord of Peace be with you”. (Thank you)
The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God – laity, religious, and priests – who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi
Some have felt called by The Holy Spirit to follow Christ in the manner of St. Francis, or by someone`s example of how they were living their lives they decided to enquire about the Secular Franciscan Order.
We are gathered here today to assist you with new aspirants who wish to consider joining the Secular Franciscans.
We speak today of Life in Fraternity, Prayer and Study
The first place our aspirants enter, is the Local Fraternity and we make every effort to make them welcome and by doing so we introduce ourselves to them and they in turn share something of their lives.
They will be presented with the Green book “My life with God” which will be their daily office book and introduction to the Rule which is “The Way of Life and we cannot emphasise how much it contributes to our vocation. It is important to nurture the new candidates as they may feel lonely and we all need to feel that sense of belonging, (even as time goes on) after all we belong to one large family consisting of Three Orders. One of our aims in the Fraternity is to encourage all members to grow in confidence in order to be able to lead, and we find this through Fraternity, Prayer and Study. All brothers and sisters are co-responsible for the life of the Fraternity to which they belong and for the Order. If there is no communication between the councils and its members, and if the tasks are not shared in a fraternal way, taking all the capabilities into account, some will be greatly overburdened, while others perhaps feel themselves useless. It is also important to introduce one Rule and discuss it at each Fraternity meeting along with a Gospel Reading and some Formation using the Writings of St. Francis or any other book relating to Franciscan Charism. All aspirants need to be given instruction with their Formator and team whenever possible. It is important they visit the Local Fraternity at the monthly meetings and share with the other members.
Why was it necessary to formulate a new Rule?
It was thought necessary to formulate a new Rule so that the Secular Franciscan Order would be included in the general renewal of the Church required by the 2nd Vatican Council; and further, to respond to the needs of the modern world.
The New Rule is made up of the PROLOGUE entitled: Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance and the three chapters:
1. THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
2. THE WAY OF LIFE
3. LIFE IN FRATERNITY
Life in Fraternity
The various Fraternities make up the Secular Franciscan Order. Individually, each Fraternity is a cell of the Church and the Order.
Each one has its own moral personality within the Church.
Fraternities are organised and grouped according to
Local, regional, national, and world-wide levels.
A local Fraternity, even when small in membership is a cell in the entire Order because it is recognized and approved by the Church, has legitimate officers, and seeks to live the Franciscan way of life. It can, therefore be said, that it truly is a part of the Order. In the same manner, a local Fraternity is a cell of the entire Church. It is truly part of the Church.
In a local Fraternity it is pssible to live and share the life of the Church and the Franciscan vocation. It can be the spring-board for many tremendous apostolic activities.
What is the period of Formation? And Who is responsible for the guidance and formation of the candidates?
1. The only statement of Rule 23 Article 38 of the General Constitutins is that the period of Formation should last for at least one year.
2. Each Fraternity is animated and guided by a Council and Minister who are elected by the professed according to the Constitutions. Their service, is a duty of responsibilty to each member and to the community. Within themselves the fraternities are structured in different ways according to the norm of the Constitutions, according to the various needs of their members and their regions, and under the guidance of their respective council
How should fraternal life be encouraged among the members?
The Rule places great importance on the good works that bring the members together and asks that these be cultivated in every way possible.
Regular and frequent meetings are mentioned in the Rule.
The regular meetings spoken of refer to the customary gatherings of the members of a Fraternity. These may be held once a week, as is the custom in some localities or once a month. Gatherings of the members of a Fraternity may be arranged also for special festivals or anniversaries ie. our Pilgrim day to Knock which takes place every year at the end of June and our Assembly in Allhallows in August and members celebrating 25 and 50years and of course their Profession in the Order. With the same idea in mind the Rule mentions the deceased members. These members continue to be our brothers and sisters, for whom we have a duty to offer our prayers.
How is the Fraternity to use the contributions of its members?
Paragraph 25 of the Rule states:
Regarding expenses necessary for the life of the Fraternity and the needs of worship of the apostolic, and of charity, all the brothers and sisters should offer a contribution according to their means. Local Fraternites should contribute toward the expenses of the higher Fraternity Councils.
These offerings should be used in the first place to settle the internal expenses of the Fraternity; namely, office up-keep, travel of Ministers, library materials, correspondence and our annual subscriptions to Regional and National Level. In the second place, for stipends for Masses for deceased members. Also, apostolic and charitable enterprises, and the Missions.
The 11 Vatican Council has directed the Theology of Charisms to consider the charismatic potential of the Spirit already present in embryo in the natural talents. It is, then, up to us to discover and to appreciate what God has already constitutionally given to each one of us.
The Rule of the SFO begins saying (article 1)
The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the People of God – laity, religious and priests – who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi
In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.
We have just read that we Franciscans, ALL OF US, have to make present the , not our own.
Because of this, at this point, it is essential to clearly understand:
WHAT IS CHARISM AND , IN PARTICULAR, WHAT IS THE CHARISM OF ST. FRANCIS.
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach us about Charisms:
Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of all and to the needs of the world.
Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full confority with authentic prompting of the same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charism. (1Cor 13)
The Holy Bible tells us, from various books:
The spiritual gifts (often called charisms which means gifts): are for the good of the community. For this reason, they can also be called services (or ministries) and works. Even though we know that the gifts and ministies are valid inasmuch as they encourage real love and communion the most imortant of them are the apostolic ministries of the founders and those responsible for the churches.
The Charism of the Founder is the gift (or gifts) granted by God to a believer that leads to the foundation of an Institute or religious movement and that includes a specific way of being though exclusive spiritual experiences that God grants to him/her.
CHARISM OF FRANCIS AND OF HIS FAMILY
The mission to which Francis is called has an exceptional character and, as far as we know, it has remained unique in the history of the Church.
St. Bonaventure writes that Francis “by perfect imitation, strove to be conformed while living to Christ living; dying to Christ dying, and dead to Christ dead, and deserved to be adorned in his body with the visible image of Christ”.
His charism, therefore, in its fundamental nucleus, consists of a strong and radical son-like ( a feeling to be a son in the hands of the heavenly Father, just like Jesus-Son) experience which manifestd in the joyful, loving and trustful attitude and in a serence and responsible behaviour of readiness to do the will of the heavenly Father. He used to say “I desire to be found alway and completely in harmony with and obedient to God`s will alone in everything” (1C. 2nd Book), just like Jesus the Son who said that `My food is the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work`.(Jn 4:34)
God wanted Francis to perceive, as never before, His humble essence, the depth of His love without reservation, His poverty, His simplicity with all the consequences that derive from all this, which, then, become living practices.
Jesus, the Son, the Way, the Truth and the Life, is saint`s Francis only model, the mediator between the God of Love and the world, He who incarnates the eternal project of the Father, He who has made the Father visible, audi ble, touchable (1Jn 1:1-3 and Jn 14:8-11)
Francis only has eyes, heart and mind for Jesus and incessantly contemplates his donation of Self, His lowering, His total surrender in the Incarnation, in the Cradle, on the Cross, in the Eucharist.
God went on as far as imprinting in his flesh the signs of the Passion Christ and, in this sense we now understand the affirmation of the Popes about Francis being “another Christ”.
Franicis is not Christ. He remains always (other), however, he has become (Christ-like) to a degree no one else has ever reached.
This is the gift. This is the Charism.
Francis accepted, without reservation, to be guided, moulded, with docility, by the Grace of the gift:
This is what I want, this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart (1Cl. 1st Book)
From the living charism of St. Francis have derived practices, the specific ways of being and of relating to God, modatlites, a spirituality, that we call `Franciscan`.
This spirituality is characterized especially by:
A very intense Eucharistic spirituality (contemplation of God `s kénosis)
Poverty (the consequence of kénosis)
Minority-Humility ( “ )
Obedience (to conform to the eternal project of the Father)
An essential characteristic of the spirituality of Francis is his obedience to the Church. In it he recognizes the presence of Christ`s Spirit in its fullness. His obedience to the Church and to its representatives is total and he never stops to exhort his friars to be “catholic”. The Church is for Francis the infallible mediator through which he receives the confirmation of the goodness of his the journey on which he has embarked. Her sacred pastors, the priests, the b ishops, the Pope are the object of his veneration, because Francis is rooted in the belief that there is no Church without Eucharist, and there is no Eucharist without those who consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ.
God donates Himself completely. What else can we desire? God alone is sufficient, there should be no more place in us after the inrush of God`s fullness in our life. In Him we are made able to love everybody, much more and much better.
A true “specific vocation reequires that we understand the deep reasons for our feeling attracted towards Francis. Then, we have to put ourselves to the search of the same Jesus “found” by St. Francis and ask ourselves if we are ready to develop the same king of “relationship” with Jesus that Francis lived. If we are, then, we will discover in us the germ of the charism, and gradually God`s project for me will manifest itself more and more clearly.
If I find the humble God, the simple God, the servant God, the God who has emptied Himself, and if I find Him in the Son and if in finding Him, I make Him not only object of intellectual reflection but I manage somehow to make Him the foundation of my life and practice as Francis did, then, this is Franciscan vocation.
A true vocation is not compatible with apathy, with the routine of daily life. If we find ourselves in this situation this may mean that either we had a true vocation and we have not brought it to fruition, or that we did not have the vocation at all.
A great analogy:
There is nothing worse than to be in the `wrong shoes`. Before w even imagine they start to inflict pain on our feet and, if we insist on wearing them, they will deform our feet and be an obstacle to future walking. At this point it is better to change shoes otherwise we will not be able to walk anymore. Only the right shoes will take us where we have to go.
Receiving Francis charism me ans:
receiving Francis as our model, constant inspiration, spiritual brother and father. Receiving and accepting him, enables us to receive his “spirit” in a way similar to the spirit of Elijah as reequested by Elisha. (2KIngs 2,9)
Together with the Charism of Francis, we receive also some fundamental gifts to fulill our vocation and to accomplish our missionin the Franciscan modality.
A special Grace which God bestows on His children, to help them and enable them to carry out this type of following and mission. This is a form of grace of state, springing from Profession, which is a true and real nuptial alliance with God for life. This Grace is the gift of the Spouse: we give our life, He gives His.
The new patrimony, this new `dowry`, is added to all other particular gifts we have already received, “our personal charisms” which make us those unique persons that God has been thinking and loving from eternity.
LIFE IN PRAYER
Rule 8 informs us that as Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all we are to be and do.
Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.
What does this tell us.
The other precondition is to make worship of the Father as central in our own lives as it was in Christ`s. The Secular Franciscan, then, communicates and unites with the Lord through the sacraments (again especially the Eucharist), the liturgy of the hours, contemplation, and any other expression of prayer.
We do not grow in God`s life unless we pray. We cannot find strength to do His will except from God Himself. Prayer has the power to open our souls to His action within us.
In times of prayer, however, we must not separate the three Persons in God from each other. We are not able to live the life of Jesus Christ, to love Him in and for Himself, unless we share His relationship to His Father and to the Holy Spirit whom He sent. The Prayer of Jesus was always “not my will but yours be done” – and in all things he glorified his heavenly Father.
Francis through his intimacy with Jesus came to know the will of the Father and be able to receive the strength of the Holy Spirit. His life of prayer, so simple and direct, is summed up in the phrase Francis so often used: “My God and my All” which is considered the motto of the Franciscan Order.
We have a wonderful role model of Life in Prayer in our Blessed Mother who has taught us the Holy Rosary which can be used in various ways.
The Mysteries of the Rosary- Joyful, Glorious, Sorrowful and Light
The Franciscan Crown which contains the seven joys of Mary
and The Rosary beads can also be used for The Divine Chaplet.
How Blessed we are.
Rule 9 tells us The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of His family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently. This means, the description of the way of Life now moves to the manner of proclaiming the gospel every day by life-style and ministry or apostolic activity.
First of all, Mary`s self-giving and prayer are set up as the primary example of gospel living. Devotion to her has always been a hallmark of the Franciscan calling, both as a way of expressing love for her and as an important way of finding Jesus Himself.
We all know that beautiful Prayer of Mary
Let us now pray it together.
St. Francis Prayer to the Blesssed Mother.
“Hail, O Lady!
Hail, His Palace!
Hail, His Tabernacle!
Hail, His Dwelling!
Hail, His Robe!
Hail, His Servant!
Hail, His Mother!”
St. Francis himself prayed to theBlessed Mother before each hour of the Office.
“Holy Virgin Mary, there is none like unto you born in the world among women, daughter and handmaid of the most high King, the heavenly Father! Mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us with Saint Michael the Archangel and all the virtues of heaven and all the saints, to your most holy, beloved Son our Lord and Master. Amen.!”
Prayers taken from To Live as Francis Lived (Leonard Foley (OFM)
St. Francis also loved to sing verses from the Psalms and you will find examples in The Ritual.
There are many forms of Prayer:
Our Daily Office
Praying with Scripture
What is Prayer?
Prayer is the God-given means by which we move on our Spiritual jounerys of life. We may commit the entire Holy Bible to memory. We may read ponderous volumes about Francis, Clare, other saints, Church History. We may do good works that bring joy to the world. But, if we do not pray, we miss the intimate relationship with God that we are promised. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) We go to God through Prayer. Wherever we are in our Prayer Life it is a good beginning. Jesus challenges us to desire more from Prayer and we must be prepared to give and to receive more, much more.
Prayer is praying not “offering up” our dish-washing, grass-cutting, swow-shoveling etc. Prayer is looking at God, listening to God, responding to God and to nothing else. This means that there must be portions of our day when there is prayer and nothing else.
What is the Purpose of Prayer?
Prayer is simply the response of the human person to the personal approach of God. Prayer rises above the temptation to think that God has so many children that He could`nt be interested in me. Our relationship with God depends on how we manage our relationships with others. But, at the heart of our lives the call to personal intimacy with God, our Father, our Mother, our Creator. God made us for Himself. In or Daily Office My Life with God on Friday one of the antiphons reads He made us, we belong to Him. We achieve that purpose by receiving God – consciously, willingly, reverently and joyfully.
There is so much to talk about Prayer and it would take a lifetime which we cannot do today.
Praying with Scripture (God`s Word)
Using the Scriptures
The Holy Scriptures are not only for information – they transform us.
The presence of Jesus is not limited to the appearances of bread and wine. With God and the Holy Spirit, He is present everywhere – but, in a most personal way to his brothers and sisters, good and bad. God speaks to us by many means – the voices and examples of others, our own experience of grace and sin, the beauty and mystery of nature but in a particular way, God speaks to us in His inspired Word, the Scriptures. Vatican 2 reminded us of the presence of Christ when the Scriptures are read in Church. We may be sure of a particularly powerful presence when we take up His words with reverence.
We learn in the Gospels how Jesus after any miracles, preaching etc. He retired to a quiet place to Pray.
Even the twelfth-century hill town of Assisi vibrated with enough noise of human, animals, carts and wagons to drown the voice of silence.
Not only sounds but reminders that tere is something we must be doing distracts us when we seek God in Prayer. Both Clare and Francis sought quiet spots where they could hear the Lord speak in their hearts. They knew God had much to say to them if only they could hear the message. Clare`s quiet place was the monasery; Francis retreated to mountain caves. – La Verna where he received the Stigmata.
We think that we may have found a quiet place till we hear a jet overhead or the rubbish being collected in the early mornings. We ask ourselves how we deal with it.
Silence is a precious commodity, one to treasure. God has much to say to us, as He did to Clare and Francis, if we can find the spae and place to listen.
What enables us to persevere in Prayer?
What enables us to strengthen our Faith?
LIFE IN STUDY
Study is an essential part of Formation as our sources materials such as My life with God, the Ritual and the Constitutions are the legacy of St. Francis. We need to approach the Fraternity with the understanding that Formation is not only the learning of doctrinal subjects although it is essential. We need to be formed in essential values that can be learned only by living them.
The Spirit of prayer and contemplation cannot be learned from books
The living spirit of Fraternity cannot be learned from books.
The perfection of love cannot be learned from books.
Study will help us learn about the “models”. It will offer all the essential background of formation but the living experience is something else. And this “something else” will have to be strongly present in our Fraternities.
In order to assist us with our studies we have My Life with God which is the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, we have The Ritual which guides us through the Rites for Entering the Secular Franciscan Order, Prayers for Fraternity Meetings and the Lectionary which consists of
Prayers of St. Francis.
We also have General Constitutions which contains the Articles and Rules which is very essential in our studies.
I remember when I went to a Formation Day led by Fr. Loman OFM and he informed us if we have any questions to ask we would only have to look through the pages of the General Constitutions and there your answer will be.
On that particular day I took some notes and what was outstanding to me was
He read the Gospel of John 10:10 Living life to the full.
He also told us we should have continued Formation,
that we should
set our hearts on fire with the Holy Spirit
share all our Gifts with all different denominations of Faith
and to remember the Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy on me a sinner
and to remember to pray the Rosary.
We may think some of the above to be difficult but if we look at them as a challenge which is reachable we will come closer to Living life to the full and holiness.
Holiness is not another word for learning, but a sharing into God`s life and holiness, and God gives to His beloved whateaver he wants when they sleep (Psalm 127:2) (I`m sure a lot of us have experienced this at some time of our lives). In any case, while endeavouring unceasingly with all our stength to grow in prayer, contemplation and holiness, by accepting and using God`s grace, we have a fundamental obligation to study, (article 9) General Constitutions.
article 9 – rule 4 par 3
The Secular Franciscan, committed to following the example of the teachings of Christ, must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture. The Fraternity and its leaders should foster love for the word of the Gospel and help the brothers and sisters to know and understand it as it is proclaimed by the Church with the Assistance of Holy Spirit.
We should never forget that the Church expects us to fulfill our mission to be at the forefront of its acton in the world. We are an instrument of the Church and, because of this, we have to keep constantly abreast with its Magisterium and its breath.
Formators will have to be specially prepared persons who, subsequently, will have to use their best judgment to adapt and to offer whatever their brothers and sisters locally need, making sure they offer, at least, the absolutely essential rudiments to become, be and be recognized as true Secular Franciscans, throughout the world.
How blessed we are to have the knowledge that our Founder, St. Francis and all the Franciscan Saints before us have shown us the way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. And now how further blessed we are to have a Pope who calls himself Francis. We only have to listen to how Jesus to speaks to us throught him and to study the way he conducts his way of Life in reaching out to all and truly living the Gospel way of Life.
The Word of God shows the way.
The Franciscan way of life, or pilgrimage to the Father, is the following of Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis imitated Jesus according to the example of His life on earth. It is necessary, therefore to know Jesus as He is revealed by the four evangelists.
Francis` highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the Holy Gospel in all things, through all things and, with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his mind and all the fervour of his heart, “to follow the teaching and the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He would recall Christ`s words through persistent meditation and bring to mind his deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the incarnation and the charity of the passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else. (1 Cel, Omnibus ;-299)
Rule 4 tells us:
The rule and life of the secular Franciscans is this: to observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the centre of his life with God and people.
Like all Christians, we the Secular Franciscans are constantly listening to the Word of God. We need not only to hear the Word, but also to understand it. Thus, in the explanation of the parable of the sower, we read:
“When anyone hears the word that tells of the Kingdom, but fails to understand it, the
evil one comes and carries off what has been sown in his heart.”
God speaks to us, not only through the Holy Scriptures but also through the life and liturgy of the Church, through the events of the world in which we live and through our relationships with people. In our study we shall therefore be seeking to widen our knowledge and understanding of the Church`s mission, of our Christian calling and of God`s world. All the things of this world may be examinated and studied with reverence. Such study is one possible and powerful means to enable us to become men and women of God, sensitive to His presence and to the inspirations of His will, filled with His spirit of wisdom, diligent in His praise, able to serve Him in every situation in the life of the Order and to make His presence evident by the witness of our lives.
There should be in the Secular Franciscan Order those who accept the duty of forwarding its special aims, by contributing through their researches and writings to a better understanding of the Church`s world-wide mission of the application of Christian principles to the use and distribution of wealth, and of all questions that pertain to human freedom and justice.
In a recent book I purchased 15 days of prayer with St. Clare of Assisi, in Chapter 10 the heading is Become Listening the Focus Point is:
This nearness of space and time, this dwelling of God in us will produce various and tasty fruits. To listen and receive the Word nourishes this communion with the Beloved. Then Clare goes on to say. “Where can one draw a true and sweet knowledge of Christ, if not by listening to the Word?