Reflections on Formation Topics in the "For Up To Now" Manual

Franciscan Identity: We are a single family

This Reflection is based on material found on page 8 of 24 ff, in the "Identity of a Secular Franciscan" section of the F.U.N. Manual

"We are a single family united by our founder and our history."

"The spiritual emphasis for the First Order is minority. The spiritual emphasis for the Second Order (Poor Clares) is poverty. The spiritual emphasis for the Third Order Regular and the Secular Franciscan Order is conversion (penance)."

The Secular Franciscan Order was called the brothers and sisters of penance in earlier times. "Our identity as Franciscan Penitents begins shortly after St. Francis was given the gift of penance by the Lord and became a penitent himself. Quoting from his Testament:

The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world." Source: "The Testament" para. 1.

Our Vocation or Call is truly a gift of God because Brother Francis was converted through penance before he asked us, brothers and sisters of penance, to aspire to conversion. The spiritual life of a Secular Franciscan in the 21st Century, can only grow through inner conversion. A "Franciscan Reflection" I wrote earlier this year gives some general points that one might aspire to in this metanoia or conversion. See: Inner Peace. And for a Franciscan those points of inner peace should be basic goals.

As reflected on page 8 of 24 of referenced subject in the F.U.N. Manual, Article 13 of the General Constitutions reads, "Rule 7 Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times "the brothers and sisters of penance", propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion. Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. They should approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and participate in the communal celebration of it, whether in the fraternity, or with the whole people of God."

Let's repeat these suggestions in Rule 7:

  • listening to and celebrating the Word of God;
  • review of life;
  • spiritual retreats;
  • the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations.
  • approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and participate in the communal celebration of it, whether in the fraternity, or with the whole people of God.

The Rule was written by St. Francis, so apparently there were "penitential celebrations," in his time. We have the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a means to confess our sins, atone for them and try again to please the Lord.

Secular Franciscans, in fact, all Franciscans listen to and celebrate the Word of God by the frequent attendance at Holy Mass, and nowadays many, if not most of us, use the "Liturgy of the Hours" as a daily set of prayers in communion with the rest of the Church. For the SFO it is, of course, not mandatory to pray the Hours, but we do it anyway. In that, too, there is a penitential dimension. All Franciscans go on retreats, either personal, in-house (friary, convent) or in some other communal setting (e.g. fraternity), and with the SFO very often as "Days of Recollection." These are valuable days especially when we have the help of a Franciscan spiritual assistant in our midst. The Franciscan tradition needs to be an integral part of Franciscan life - how well this works with the participation of a spiritual assistant. In order to live this life we need more than just an intellectual knowledge of St. Francis and his teachings, we need to incorporate the life in our own spirituality.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an invaluable spiritual tool to guide the penitent through Spiritual inner conversion. Without using this wonderful Sacrament, staying close to Jesus, and under His guidance to everyone else, is much more complicated.

"We have a responsibility to show the temporal world that the Gospel and the Franciscan Charism can be lived in any age, under all conditions and in every stage of life. It follows, our identity as secular people—people in the world—is indivisible from the other components of our identity and we should "wear" our secularity with gratitude to the One who bestowed it upon us."

Peace and Good,

Fred Schaeffer, OFS
June 20, 2012