Some Thoughts on How to Live Our Secular Franciscan Vocation
Benjamin J. Vail, OFS
Brno, Czech Republic
In recent years, Secular Franciscan newsletters around the world have published formation texts from international OFS leaders, such as the Italian Benedetto Lino, meant to help us think about our mission and vocation as Secular Franciscans. Inspired by these materials, I would like to tell you about the advice I have gleaned from various Franciscan sources, both historical and contemporary, that I think is useful.
The question of the meaning and purpose of the Third Order is not new. Neither is the question of how to live as Franciscans in the workaday world. There are certain practices that have been traditional for tertiaries that can strengthen our Franciscan identity, helping keep us on the straight and narrow path. These are simple, practical actions we can take to fulfill our vows to live according to the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. A few are listed below.
- 1. Read the Bible. The Rule (4) says we should going from the gospel to life and from life to the gospel. So, one important way to live as a Franciscan is to read Sacred Scripture, especially the New Testament. If you can read a little of the Bible every day, it can really help your life. For example, you can follow the missal and read the daily Mass readings.
2. Read the writings of St. Francis. It is very helpful to go to the source of our spirituality and to listen to the words written by our Founder himself. You can better understand his mission and vision for the Third Order by reading not only our current Rule and General Constitutions, but also all of his writings, such as the Rules for the Friars Minor and Poor Clares, his Admonitions and other writings, and the early biographies by St. Bonaventure and Thomas of Celano.
3. Follow the Franciscan calendar. There are so many Franciscan saints, it can strengthen your Franciscan identity and increase your knowledge of the Order by following the daily Franciscan liturgical calendar which includes saints and blessed that are considered “minor” and may not be mentioned in the missal. There is a Franciscan to celebrate virtually every day!
4. Say your daily office. As Secular Franciscans, we have vowed to daily liturgical prayer. We can fulfill this pledge in more than one way. The usual way is to say the Liturgy of the Hours. However, other traditional Franciscan liturgical prayers include the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also the Office of the 12 Our Fathers. This regular prayer connects you with your fellow tertiaries and the whole Church.
5. Simplify your life. St. Francis himself was, of course, a model of poverty. Both poverty of spirit (humility) and actual material poverty. The Rule (11) urges us to “seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.” Our earlier historic Rules advised us to avoid rich food, to wear simple clothes, and warned of the spiritual dangers of going to dances and the theater. This can help us save money, reduce environmental impacts, and focus our attention on God rather than worldly pleasures. Of course, pleasures are not necessarily bad in themselves, but they can become distractions. Moderation is good.
6. Beware of the media. Television, film, radio, the Internet, books, music, newspapers and magazines can give us needed information – but also can bring temptations and unholy messages and images into our homes. Time spent surfing the web or watching TV could be better spent with family, in rest, or in prayer.
7. Seek out good catechesis in the truths of the Catholic faith. No matter your age, we are all always learning and growing in our faith. The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are reliable sources of understanding of our faith. The writings of the saints can also be trusted.
8. Practice mortification. The Third Order of St. Francis was originally called the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Self-denial can help you grow in faith. As St. Therese of Lisieux shows us, even small sacrifices for the love of God are a good way to grow in faith and love. Could you forgo sugar in your coffee today? Can you wait in line or in a traffic jam patiently instead of complaining? Do you abstain from meat on Fridays?
9. Meditate on the passion of Christ before a crucifix. This is a traditional Franciscan practice that can bring you closer to Our Lord in His suffering, and can help keep you focused during prayer.
10. Pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary. This seven-decade Rosary has a very special place in Franciscan history. It is part of our distinctive Franciscan prayer toolbox.
11. Be an example to others. Think about the effects your behavior has on others. You can have a strong influence on the people in your life, for good and for bad. Can people tell that you are a Christian and a Franciscan by your words, actions, and lifestyle? Are you a good ambassador of Christ in your family, neighborhood, and at work?
12. Don’t forget to wear your habit! Wearing the symbol of your profession every day will help you to remember your vocation. It does not need to be visible to others; you can wear it under your clothes. But you know it is there, reminding you that you are a Franciscan.
13. Try to be a saint. The Second Vatican Council affirmed the “universal call to holiness.” Every baptized person should strive to be a saint. Getting to heaven is the highest priority. Holiness is not limited to the great heroes. We are called to go to heaven – and bring as many others with us as possible! – specifically by living our vows as Secular Franciscans. That is our primary vocation. That is our mission.
In addition to these specific points, general advice for all Catholics includes going frequently to Mass and Confession, praying the Rosary, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, along with the innumerable other prayers and devotions recommended to us by Holy Mother Church.
I am sure there are many more approaches to living out Franciscan spirituality, as well. Can you think of any other practical and distinctively Franciscan ways to holiness?