In Pope Francis, we have another Marian pontiff. Although all popes have a devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and of the Church, another pope who had a strong devotion to Mary, was St. John Paul II. I often think about him, as John Paul II has written so much about Mary, and as we all recall the symbol St. John Paul used, "Totus Tuus" ("Totally Yours," or, I belong entirely to you). This was John Paul's Apostolic symbol, and part of his Papal Logo.
As many "cradle Catholics," I grew up with the Holy Rosary in mind, and in use. Even though my mother was a convert of Judaism, she also used the Rosary to pray with, although I do not recall her telling me much about the practice. Having attended Catholic schools from when I was about 6 into my late teens, and then again in various Religious orders I've experienced (but never quite stayed with), the Secular Franciscan Order is very insistent that its professed members honor Mary, the Mother of God. Our Rule spells that out in Article 9:
"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."
People forget about the Rosary when the Rosary itself isn't evident. There are many orders of men and women who wear Rosaries with their habits. Unfortunately, many orders used to wear habits and since there are fewer now who do, the Rosary that used to hang from their cincture (belt or cord) is no longer there either. That does not mean, however, that they stopped praying it.
Secular Franciscans do not wear habits. We aren't supposed to wear any sign other than a Tau Cross or pin. More than often people ask me "Oh, what's this?" as they point to the Tau symbol on my lapel or on my chest. Then it is up to us to take advantage of that opportunity to tell them what it is and why we are wearing it, and about St. Francis of Assisi. Wearing the Tau is probably the best way to attract new applicants to our order.
The "Tau" is shown, principally, in two ways, either just the letter Tau, or, a Tau with the crossed arms over it. (as in the image of the masthead of this page). The "crossed arms" Tau symbol is extremely Franciscan, as the use of just the "Tau" (the letter itself) was a later development maybe because the other symbol was hard to make. Many Fraternities give Candidates upon their entry into the Order a metal crossed arms Tau (usually of Pewter), and I hope this habit will be continued, a great tradition. What do these crossed arms signify? One arm is the arm of Francis, the other, the arm of Jesus crossed over the TAU, both bearing the imprint of the Crucifixion nails. Francis' arm is enclosed in the sleeve of his habit. The "crossed arms" Tau symbol is the habit of the Secular Franciscan Order as well. When friars wear their habit some will also wear a TAU but it is optional it seems.
Mary is our Mother, and also the Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae), a title given her during the Second Vatican Council. The Franciscan Order was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, in a tiny chapel, known as "Portiuncula." (Little Portion). This is the chapel where the Cross (San Damiano Cross) he was standing or kneeling before "spoke to him." This is what Francis heard: "Francis, rebuild my house, for it is falling into ruin." St. Francis interpreted this as the need to restore that particular chapel, but in prayer and contemplation he found out that Our Lord really meant for him to rebuild the whole Church. Toward that goal, Francis was entirely succesful, and in his honor and by his example, all Franciscans are still doing that today. Like St. Francis, Franciscans of today still have great devotion and love for Our Mother, Mary.
Referring again to the Secular Franciscan Rule, we have Article 6, for example, in which the second paragraph tells our members, "Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity."
Of course, I am including these articles from the Rule more for non-Franciscan readers of these reflections because Franciscans know all this from their original formation in the Order. That little chapel (Portiuncula) is now encased in a Basilica by the name of "Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli," or, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, located in Assisi, consecrated in 1679. It was in the "Portiuncula", that tiny chapel now in this huge Basilica, where St. Francis died on 3 October 1226.
"Mater Ecclesiae" is also the name of a monastery, located at the Vatican, in the Vatican Gardens, and it is the place where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has resided since May 2nd. 2013. How fitting that the Pope Emeritus lives under the protection of the Mother of the Church, as we really all do.
Let us often spend time with God and listen to His voice as He speaks to us in our hearts!
Peace and Good,
Fred S. Schaeffer, OFS
09/13/2013 rev. 09/10/2015
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