What’s it all about?
People are attracted to the Secular Franciscan Order for many reasons. Francis of Assisi may attract them by his directness and joy. They may have met Secular Franciscans who impressed them by their way of dealing with life. They may feel a lack of direction and desire to find a way a better focus in their lives. Or there may be other worthwhile reasons for coming to explore the OFS way of life. The OFS provides a period of Orientation to help you understand what belonging to the Order means. During the course of initial formation we continue to give you information and insights to help you understand our way of life.
Secular Franciscans DO THE GOSPEL! The Rule (article 4) says simply: “Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.” This is at the root of our lives. As we get to know it better we refer to it for:
Perspectives for life.
Values that guide our actions.
For our inner spirit to grow.
Attitudes on social issues and the judgments we make in daily life.
In fact, nothing in our life is outside the reach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We strive to grow both in the knowledge and practice of the Gospel. So we seek to learn and follow the Gospel – day after day after day. We commit ourselves to this process. One role of fraternity life is to nudge us to go from gospel to life – life to gospel! Franciscans are ordinary people. We recognise that living the gospel requires regular change or conversion as we stumble along in our efforts. The OFS Rule (article 7) puts it this way:
“Motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls’ conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”
This gospel-focus is the heart of our lives. We work together to achieve these ideals. We learn to share insights and failures, dreams and frustrations, excitements and disappointments, vision and action. We do not seek an escape from daily life. We don’t see ourselves as some elite group.
Belonging to the OFS affects our whole of life. We seek to develop a prayerful spirit. Equally we seek to forgive each other when we hurt one another. We have a hopeful spirit. Fraternity-community may need a new approach to life. We know for a fact that daily conversion is essential.
Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi have given direction and a way of life to people for over 800 years. We encourage you to find out more about them. Here is a brief introduction.
Francis and his brother Angelo were children of Pietro and Pica Bernadone. Pietro was a rich cloth merchant in Assisi who owned his own shop. He frequently went trading in different parts of Europe. Pica was a gentle Frenchwoman whose love helped Francis endure some tough times in his relationship with Pietro. Francis was born in 1182. He died in 1226.
Between those dates he experienced a lifetime of conversion and a way of life that still influences people. In his early years his father tried gradually to prepare him to work in the business. He enjoyed life and often spent nights at parties in homes and the Assisi Piazza. He worked in the shop and was struck by the needs of the poor who came for handouts. He had a generous
heart, sometimes running after beggars he had ignored in the shop. However he had a deep desire to become a knighthood. This was a way to achieve glory and move up the social ladder. With local wars going on among Italian cities, Francis had many opportunities to show his mettle. In the battle of Collestrada, between Perugia and Assisi, Francis was imprisoned as a prisoner of war. He grew seriously ill and continued in poor health after he finally returned home. Slowly, and with great love, Pica nursed him back to health. When he was able, he returned to the ways of the past. But something had changed. While travelling to train as a knight, he obeyed a dream that told him to go home and wait for further instructions.
Life was changing. Prison and illness had made a difference. He lost interest in partying; wandered in and around Assisi as he sought a meaning for his life; until one day he was praying in the Church of San Damiano when he was told to “repair my Church” by a voice from the crucifix. True to the request, he began to beg for stones to rebuild little chapels around Assisi. His father was absolutely appalled by his son’s behaviour. It finally culminated in having Francis brought before the Bishop of Assisi and demanding that Francis return whatever he had of his father’s. Then, in a symbolic gesture, (one of many, that
became common to him from now on), he stripped himself, laid the clothes at his father’s feet and declared that now God was his Father and Pietro Bernadone was no longer his father. It was a decision that prompted a total commitment to Jesus and the Gospel. It began a journey of nearly twenty years in his effort to give flesh to the Gospel in his life. The stories surrounding his life give witness to a continuing search to be faithful to what he had chosen in the presence of his father and the Bishop of Assisi.
It wasn’t long before Clare joined Francis on this journey to live the Gospel. Clare belonged to a noble family in Assisi. In fact, the family had to leave Assisi during some civil unrest and flee to Perugia for safety. She was a well educated and a beautiful young woman. Despite having many suitors, she did not choose any of them. Even when her family pressured her, she remained adamant. She had been inspired when she heard Francis speak. It is said she met with him in the year before she followed him. She finally made the break, left home at night and met Francis’ little group of friars. He cut her hair as a sign of her new life and initially took her stay at a Benedictine monastery. Her family was furious and tried to take her home by force, but they failed. When her sister Agnes joined her, the same scenario played out with the same results. Clare lived as a dedicated disciple of Jesus and Francis. San Damiano, on the hillside outside Assisi, became the home of Clare and her
community. She is the foundress of the Poor Clares. Throughout her life she fought to maintain the vision of poverty that she and Francis had grasped.
Francis and Clare had a lasting impact on the Church and society. Their dream of gospel life was lived in all its reality, as a healthy and joyful way to walk through life. They proved that you could live the gospel life fully. No wonder many people chose to follow Francis and Clare. Lay people, as well, saw it as an alternative to the violence and power-seeking of their society. Remaining in the world as married and single, young and old, they embraced the spirit that inspired Francis and Clare. Lay people who followed Francis became known as the Third Order of St. Francis. Francis and his Friars formed the First Order, Clare and her Sisters the Second Order and lay people and members of the diocesan clergy the Third Order. The Franciscan
spirit permeates all three Orders. We call that the Franciscan charism. The Rule of the Secular Franciscans (1978) puts it this way:
“Called like St. 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” (article 6).
SOME ELEMENTS OF SECULAR FRANCISCAN LIFE
1. Secular Franciscans live in the world.
2. Secular Franciscans draw strength from the Gospel of Jesus.
3. Secular Franciscans share in the spirit of the Franciscan Family.
4. Secular Franciscans seek to give flesh to the gospel vision.
5. Secular Franciscans serve others through social justice and ministries of charity and peacemaking.
6. Secular Franciscans commit themselves to a way of life spelled out in the OFS Rule.
7. Secular Franciscans develop a prayerful spirit.
8. Secular Franciscans attend to the demands of their inner spirit as did Francis and Clare –
a spirit of reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.
9. Secular Franciscans recognize the need for daily conversion.
10. Secular Franciscans walk through life with a Franciscan COMMUNITY – called Fraternity.
11. Secular Franciscans are people of hope and joy – God is with us.
12. Secular Franciscans know it is IMPOSSIBLE to fall out of God’s love. Our brokenness and sin can keep us from growing but we cannot stop God from loving us.
13. Secular Franciscans have a good sense of humour. Life is serious, but not so serious that we lose our sense of joy.
14. Secular Franciscans see work as a partnership with God’s creative power, active in our world.
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives a flavour of our Franciscan way of life.
We are gospel people and the Sacred Scriptures are vital to our lives. Since we desire to implement the Gospel, we have to devote time and energy to getting to know it better. We are NOT fundamentalists nor do we seek to quote chapter and verse. Instead we show the implications of the Gospel by the way we live in our ordinary life. Neither are we Lone Rangers using Scripture texts to support what we want to do anyway nor as a club to win the argument. Our goal is not to be intellectual biblical scholars but people who practise what we learn from the Bible. Our lifelong commitment is to continue the journey of learning and applying the Gospel in daily life.
A number of things are required of Secular Franciscans in relation to the Bible:
1. Our guide book is the Bible – we use it!
2. Jesus and his words have special value to us. We listen to him.
3. In fraternal gatherings we share insights and reflections for implementing the Gospel in everyday life.
4. When we are puzzled about texts, we seek competent help.
5. We avoid fundamentalist attitudes that limit the power of Scripture.
6. We work to deepen our understanding of Scripture.
7. We avoid attitudes that use Scripture to condemn others or identify them as nonsalvageable.
8. The circle of our love must never become narrow. We seek to include rather than exclude people.
9. We use Scripture for prayer as well as study, letting its power touch us and soak into our lives.
The Gospel is our guide when we assess the values and attitudes of society that are in conflict with the Gospel. We face situations where our commitment to gospel ideals will be challenged. Our awareness of personal weakness should make us less judgmental. We are called both to confront in love and to walk with people who are struggling. Following the Gospel is neither easy nor simple but fraternal life helps us to find our way and to support others.
Come and See:
see here for this brief introduction to the OFS.