Part 2 - True Order in the Roman Catholic Church
The Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) is a true Order in the Roman Catholic Church. Some supporting texts:
“…, (Francis) founded a true Order, that of the Tertiaries, not restricted by religious vows, as the two preceding (Orders), but similarly conformed to simplicity of customs and to a spirit of penitence. So, he was the first to conceive and happily carry out, with the help of God, what no founder of regulars (religious Orders) had previously contrived, to have the religious life practiced by all.” (Benedict XV, Encyclical “Sacra Propediem” June 6, 1921)
“You are an Order: a lay Order, but a real Order. Ordo veri nominis, as our predecessor of holy memory, Benedict XV (Sacra propediem, June 6, 1921) called it. You will not, as is obvious, be an assembly of the perfect; but you must be a school of Christian perfection. Without this resolute will one cannot suitably be a part of such a chosen and glorious militia.” (Pius XII, July 1, 1956, Speech to the Tertiaries in Rome)
“…you are also an ‘Order,’ as the Pope said (Pius XII): A Lay Order, but a Real Order;” and after all, Benedict XV had already spoken of “Ordo veri nominis”. This ancient term – we can say medieval – “Order” means nothing more than your intimate belonging to the large Franciscan family. The word “Order” means the participation in the discipline and actual austerity of that spirituality, while remaining in the autonomy typical of your lay and secular condition, which, moreover, often entails sacrifices which are not lesser than those experienced in the religious and priestly life.” (John Paul II, June 14, 1988, General Chapter, SFO)
As a lay order, the SFO "stresses personal holiness first, the second basic but equally essential aim is the personal and social ministry or apostolate.¹" We are not an order of special people or elitists, but we do strive quietly for personal holiness. "Since Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, [Secular Franciscans] should have the deep conviction that, by baptism and profession, they must become like Christ crucified, and follow his Gospel as their rule of life. As they live their lives in the world, they are imbued with the mind and spirit of Christ.¹"
A series of questions were appended to the introductory message for the 2008 SFO General Chapter, and these questions can be used by each professed Secular Franciscan, as a review of what our Order stands for and how you personally "belong" -
By way of pure example, we offer, in the form of questions, other possible tracks for discussion and reflection, it being understood that you have full liberty to develop this preparatory work at your own discretion.
1. To what degree is your being Secular Franciscan an essential part of your life? Is your life in Fraternity only a meeting among many others?
2. What can you do to be more involved in the intimate life of the SFO?
3. Profession by its very nature is a permanent commitment. Do you live it as such?
4. Why, according to you, is the local Fraternity so important in the life of the SFO? To what an extent is your Fraternity helping you to accomplish what your Profession demands of you?
5. Does the Fraternity help you to remain faithful to your Profession and to give you a sense of belonging? To what extent do you yourself work to help the brothers and sisters of your Fraternity to achieve these very same goals?
6. Why did you want to enter the Secular Franciscan Order? What contribution do you give to the SFO by means of your Profession and your presence?
7. To what an extent do you believe that the new Rule has contributed to the changes that have taken place in the way of “feeling” the Order and “being” part of it.
8. Do you believe that the sense of belonging that you live today corresponds genuinely to what the Order truly is, to its “nature” and to its mission? Or does it correspond to something else that belongs to the past or to a personal conception of the Order?
If you think that there is not a sufficient sense of belonging to the Order, what are the reasons, according to you?
1. Lack of formation?
2. Lack of communication?
3. Lack of contributions and sharing?
These questions could be a part of your next Fraternity's discussion. I think they are very important for all SFOs to consider.
Catholic Spirituality consists first of all of Christlike love and forgiveness, community (e.g. "The Body of Christ", and community as in Church, your Parish or your Diocese). It consists of the Sacramental life of the Church. Most committed Catholics go to Sunday Mass, and to Mass on Days of Obligation, perhaps say some daily prayers, the Rosary, and try to keep themselves in line as far as the Ten Commandments, the Church rules, go. But Franciscans have yet another emphasis in their spiritual life, and that is, of course, the Rule of St. Francis. And, other orders will have the Rule of their respective founders. There are different spiritualities but one is not better than the other. None of us are better than the other person because our Lord loves us equally.
To live the Gospel life as Franciscans, there has to be a special communion (union) with Jesus Christ poor and crucified, loving the Father and the Holy Spirit, in brotherhood of all men and women and all creation. We are expected to participate in the life of the Church, be continually set on personal conversion (metanoia), and participate in a life of prayer, be it liturgical, personal or in community as instruments of peace.¹
We often contemplate the form of Jesus on the Cross with St. Francis comforting Him. People have said that in this and similar images, Francis's foot always rests on a skull, and that this is somehow unbecoming... but that's what sacrifice and suffering is all about and that's part and parcel of our Spirituality. Franciscans who look down on the skull and other reminders of suffering must be people who are looking for that styrofoam cross they are seeking to carry. That's unrealistic. The effects of original sin will be with us until our death. Might as well get used to it!
The love we speak of in my humble writings and those I sometimes quote from, stem from Our Lord Jesus Christ. He defined love, and what it is. For He gave us his love by dying for us on the Cross, to give us a second chance to be with him in Paradise forever. Jesus is the first and most important person who gave His life for us. Some people need or thrive on physical, emotional and human love, but that's not the kind of love we're talking about here. The kind of love I'm writing about is unconditional love, love given without seeking something in return. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, bathing, clothing and feeding a human being she found in the gutters of Calcutta - that kind of love. For that is what Our Lord does, He feeds us when we are completely down and out, and He feeds us Manna from Heaven as well as his Grace to carry on as a human being, a person of dignity created in the image and likeness of Himself.
How often, these days, we meet people in the street, whose luck has run out, as they put it - who put up their last stance of defiance and shout at God "What have you done to me?" - and then they curse him. No, God doesn't do anything to us that makes us lose control like that, He only gives us love. It is those who do not love God, who end up in the street, eventually, and they are spiritually deadened to even receive a smidgeon of love and goodness. These would be people, often homeless, and alcoholic, whom we serve in soup kitchens, temporary shelters, and the like. They are also people suffering from AIDS. They need our help too. Physical as well as spiritual help. Many SFOs are involved in those apostolates, as well as in prison ministries, which is an area I'm involved in.
So we realize that God is love, but we also know that our brothers and sisters are loved by Jesus Christ. As Franciscans we must live in a Christ-like manner, telling our brothers and sisters about God's love. It is the Central theme of our mission.
Our Lord gives us Grace. He gives Grace to ALL people. But many are not open to His Grace and thus it is like a seed that falls on concrete. It cannot take hold and nurture and foster into a strong ally in our lives. Grace is totally free. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but Grace is totally free! The relationship forged by characters in the Bible with Jesus, is what saves them (potentially saved them) from Gehenna. (Hell). Never, please, never turn away God's Grace, His gift to you unless you are hell-bent on destroying yourself. His Grace is the cement, if you will, that keeps us Christ-centered, focused on Him. St. Paul says "Everything is Grace! The love of a man and woman (to each other, and to their children, friends) is but a tiny portion, of God's love for us all. He speaks to us and says "I am the Life, the Good News, come and follow Me!"
In the next reflection on "Seeking Franciscan Perfection," we will dwell more on Jesus today - among us.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #2, 11/01/2008 rev. 2014
1. "The Third Order Vocation" Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM.1976 Published by St. John the Baptist Province of the OFM (my writing follows the subjects in this books, but is not a more copy of it).
A Gift of a New
by Fred Schaeffer, OFS 2019
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
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Five Franciscan Martyrs