Seeking Franciscan Perfection
A Reflection on the Franciscan Life by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Part 9 - Family Life / Fraternity Life.
We have come to the part about Family Life / Fraternity Life. Family Life is the central focus of our existence on earth. All of us, well, most of us, were born into a loving family, consisting of one man and one woman who loved each other, and thus were eager to have children. Similarly, the Secular Franciscan Order milieu is also Family, but here we have the Father, in Heaven, Our Lady, Queen of the Franciscan Order, our Mother, and Jesus Christ, our brother, and it is around this family that the Franciscan Family feels at home. Saint Francis of Assisi and all the Franciscan Saints and Blessed, of whom there are many, are very special to us; they are a part of our family. Let us not forget our sisters and brothers who have gone to be with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to their reward in Heaven. They are good intercessors in prayer for those in the fraternities in which they served.
Today, many teenagers no longer are able to recognize their home-life as that of a normal family. Many who are in jails and prisons, has lost hope because they have no family circle to look forward to. Before the onset of television, the family still was more or less together; afterward, TV and Computers pull siblings in all directions - they no longer seem to speak to one another. A devout family that prays together is a "little church", "where the Gospel takes root in the most intimate of personal relationships; man-wife, parent-child. The group of persons that comes together around the Eucharist is--or is trying to be--a community."
Our parents are our first teachers of the Faith. My parents gave me a strict-Catholic upbringing, and throughout life I have never forgotten their influence. They passed away in 1963 and 1983, and I still recall from fondly. It is sad in so many families that parents are not recalled in a good light.
I never went to CCD in USA, since my Confirmation took place overseas, but I think I was as well or better prepared than most. Part of that excellence in teaching was at the behest of the religious brothers and sisters who taught when I was young.
Now the Fraternity life is somewhat like this. We are a family that meets once a month or more often and we participate in apostolates, backed up by the community. Just as in the family, there is a certain intimacy between us, specifically the unity of striving for Franciscan Perfection. We do not live in a vacuum. "The essence of Christianity is to love God and neighbor and self as Christ did and by the power of the Holy Spirit."
A very important consideration here: I cannot love others if I do not love myself! There are many who have forgotten how to love self so as not to exclude others. They love things, material things, and they do not love God. They are habitual sinners. I realize that I am preaching to the choir, as our Secular Franciscans do everything possible to strive for perfection.
But we all sin and we need absolution. So we pray, and Franciscans pray a lot. "Forgive us as we forgive all others. Franciscans do not hold grudges, we do not seek revenge. We are not playing the blame game. We strive to treat everyone equally. Thus freed from matters that could drag us down, we can be honest with each other, in community, and loving to all. But the love we have for one another is never emotional love. It is spiritual love. Living the Gospel, we try to be Christ to everyone. Following St. Francis of Assisi is a privilege, a gift of God. "Being Christ is not only giving of one's life on the cross. It is ordering food for a little girl just raised from the dead, asking for drink of water because the Samaritan woman needed his healing, being concerned about the embarrassment of a bride and groom at Cana, and putting his arms around the little children."
Many people have lost their faith. That includes people within the Franciscan family as well as lay people. Franciscans are less likely to lose their faith if they live in community or fraternity. But once they go it alone, and the "community" or "family" fades from the picture, they could be in trouble. I listened to a homily by the Vocation Director of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, Fr. Yves Franois, last evening, he told us, there was no Vocation Crisis in the Diocese. There is, however a Faith Crisis - Our Lord keeps calling people to become priests, deacons and religious, but people lack the Faith in Him to accept that calling, that vocation, and parents of teenagers seeking to go in that direction, have other plans for their children that often do not include God. A Vocation not answered is very sad, because when God calls for us to serve Him in this special way, this is a great Gift to us. So even if parents have the best of intentions, some have stopped going to Holy Mass, and any call from God is like the seed that falls by the wayside.
The United States of America, in a few days, will elect a new President. We humbly ask God's help, that the outcome of this election won't be what we fear the most, a total loss of the respect for Life, in a government that has not shown it cares much. We don't know what will happen in the long run, we can only pray this will not become a worse bloodbath than it already is, with 45 million (plus) infants aborted since 1973's Roe v. Wade. That is a National scandal. It fills me with fear and horror. Part of my family was eliminated by the Nazi murderers in World War II; my Mother and I were in a camp and all this was directed by Adolf Hitler whose policy for the Third Reich was to purify it from unwanted races (the six million (plus) Jews, murdered in cold blood). Aren't we doing the same thing - in fact, when we eliminate infants, when we abrogate life by the millions? I know, it is a terrible comparison, but to me it is a compelling argument, that the unwanted infants are just killed as if they were biological specimens, undesired, therefore without merit. But they are creatures made in the image and likeness of God - from the moment of Conception to Natural Death! And they deserve our love and support, not the back of our hand! Let us, as a family, pray that this abomination will stop. Only with God's help it can cease, and for this we pray every day.
We see Christ in others, this applies to everyone but especially to Franciscans, whose Franciscan Rule includes strong emphasis on the respect we must have for all others. Franciscans have always championed Peace and Justice issues. Franciscans International (an NGO to the United Nations), and Franciscan Action Network were created to report on and action Peace and Justice in Creation issues, globally.
"Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of Saint Francis, who often said " I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood," should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life." (Art. 5, SFO Rule)
The above article of our Rule speaks for itself. That's what it's all about, loving our sisters and brothers, not only other Franciscans, but everyone!
Can we really see Christ in Others?
"Obviously, I cannot see Christ in someone's rage and anger, selfishness, laziness, cruelty, stubbornness, etc. And since most of us have at least a smidgeon of all of these, isn't this ideal of seeing Christ in others just that−an ideal, and a rather distant one at that?"
"We are sure, theoretically, that it is not an impossible ideal, but it remains the difficult virtue of the Christian life since it involves faith, forgiveness and a refusal to judge others. True love is not divisible. Genuine love of God implies love of neighbor and self; genuine love of neighbor and self can only come out of a love of God."
In Part 10 of this series, I will reflect on Justice. Justice is a matter of taking charity and love seriously.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #9, 11/01/2008, 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, to guide me along a certain path in this writing).
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Officers as of 1/10/2016
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS