Alarming SFO Experience

I recently attended my first Secular Franciscan (SFO) meeting.

As I understand it, there is an itinerary to SFO meetings that must be followed, which includes:

  • opening prayers which must be taken from the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order,
  • the reading of the Liturgical Hours,
  • appropriate formation,
  • and closing prayers taken from the aforementioned Ritual of the SFO.

At this meeting, there were several problems which distressed me greatly. I actually went home and cried. I was just crushed. The most notable:

  • The opening prayer CONSISTED OF THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE (!!) for which everyone had to stand, facing an American flag! It was followed by a prayer that did NOT belong to the Ritual of SFO – a prayer for the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, complete with clip-art pictures of soldiers with guns. The prayer that actually was from the R.SFO was very quick and did not command the attention of the opening prayer time.

  • The Liturgical Hours were not read, nor even mentioned; in place was a quick reading from a Medjugorje devotional (obviously not approved by the Church!).

  • There was no following Franciscan formation. In place we read a few passages written about Lenten practices.

  • There was nothing mentioned about future actions or ANYTHING whatsoever having to do with charity projects or even work in the Church!

I was shocked and, honestly, outraged. This had absolutely nothing to do with a Franciscan meeting. It was more like a heterodox prayer group.

So is this even acceptable to the regional fraternity or to the national fraternity? To me, when the Franciscan Order holds at highest regard obedience to the Church, it was an outrage that a meeting of the order should be held with a “Let’s just do whatever we feel like doing, whether it’s approved or not” attitude.

I am not going to remark on other things that I thought out of keeping with the Franciscan vocation (like excessive gold jewelry or such), because I know at that point I may be speaking and judging subjectively. But on the question of the order’s practices, I can be sure that I am not upset over nothing, correct?

I think your feelings are valid. I’m a Lay Carmelite and we, too, have a set itinerary for our meetings. We follow them faithfully. If I were you I’d definitely take this to the Lord in prayer if you haven’t already. You should invoke the help of the Franciscan Saints and your Guardian Angel in this matter. Then try to be at peace. The Lord will guide you to a good faithful group- although it may not be Franciscan if the Lord wants you somewhere else. :thumbsup:

When I started reading your post, I was skeptical that anything you would say could make your reaction sound reasonable.

I was wrong. I would have wept, also. Then I would have figured out who to report it to and started writing letters. A LOT of letters to anyone I thought would listen. I don’t know who is at the top, but I’d go straight there.

I’m so sorry, I know you were expecting something that was very important to you.

Many years ago, I went to two lay Carmelite meetings and was alarmed also. They did not know what “charism” meant, nor what was the Carmelite charism. Nor did they have a formal process for formation either in the early years of membership nor on an ongoing basis. Both meetings unfolded more like a cup of coffee and chat between friends and did take up the bulk of the meeting time. Membership had been of many years standing.
I am hopeful things may have really changed dramatically for the better over an interim period of at least 10 years and am considering, on and off, going to a meeting again.

I think it is all probably more a reflection on the lay group itself rather than an overall picture of the lay branch as a whole and the religious order to which they are attached. Although one would hope that there would be some form of ‘overseeing’ by the religious order itself.

:tiphat: Hi there! I began attending my Lay Carmelite group in August of 2006. Our meeting format has been determined by our Statutes and are faithfully adhered to. There has been only minor tweaking occasionally as needed to be in better conformity with our Statutes. We begin with Morning Prayer of LOTH and Lectio Divina. Then we have our business meeting and homework from the Order- reading from Carmel’s Call, which is our Rule. Then we have our Phase formation studies. I’m in Phase III, and we’re soon to start the Study Edition of Story of a Soul- we’re all so excited! Then we pray the Angelus and have lunch together. Then we close our meeting. I just love my group amd feel so blessed to be part of it.:smiley:

I am certainly hoping that if I do decide to attend the Lay Carmelite group not all that far from me once again, that things will have changed. From what I have read on various discussions sites re various Lay Carmelite groups and their members, the one I attended would have been by far in a minority I would think, not at all common.
What you describe in your post is more like what I anticipated and will anticipate if I do attend again. Just now I am fairly committed.

While some of the things you saw were unusual not all of it was. First off your understanding of what is required at the meetings is a little off. The only firm requirements for every meeting is that they have four parts, prayer, social time, business meeting and ongoing formation. The opening and closing prayer for the business part of the meeting should come from the ritual, but that doesn’t, mean it has to start the entire meeting. It can but it doesn’t have to. My fraternity meeting usually starts with Mass, obviously we do not say the SFO opening prayer before it. As for the LOH, there is no requirement for it to be said at every meeting. Other forms of approved liturgical approved prayer are allowed. LOH is supposed to be given a priority but it is not required. My fraternity varies its prayers, sometimes it is LOH, other times it may be Stations of the Cross, other times the rosary, other times the Franciscan Crown rosary. All allowed.

Other things you list are unusual, the only possibility I can think of is that meeting may have been focusing on patriotism or something like that. Saying the pledge is unusual but not prohibited. charitable out reaches may not come up at every meeting. If it never comes up that is a problem. Use of unapproved prayer is a pretty big concern. Just remember there are lots of fraternities, if you live in an area with several fraternities check out other local ones. If no other fraternities check out another meeting and see if the issues may have been just a fluke.

When I saw SFO in the heading, I thought the post might be about an airport. It sounds like you should look into some other groups, as another poster has suggested. Surely, there is one out there which is more compatible.

So is this even acceptable to the regional fraternity or to the national fraternity?

Absolutely not. This is typical of satan instigating a future change. It presents an innocent procedure. It risks marginalizing individuals on his principles. It is a “present your credentials” policy. You recall the same errors were made in Catholic schools and look what it got us now. A little reneging here, some there,etc. Look what almost happened to Notre Dame.

I too took issue with the singing of the national anthem at my fraternity. I feigned going to the washroom. Not every citizen in a nation is being treated constitutionally, and sometimes deservedly, loyalty to it wains.

Consider. If it is true that the Church is Mother of Nations(ency: Mater et Magistra) then a truant and obstinate nation has it’s own problems which it needs to deal with, and it too needs to win over it’s members. Like an ulcered stomach, it passes on to the body indicators of bad habits. A fallible entity needs disciplinary acts as well, even if it is deserved non cooperation.

I figure that if an entity wishes my loyalty, it needs to mend it’s severed friendship with God first. The Church allows you conscientious objection if you so wish which overrides any Fraternity’s rules. The Fraternity should back you in this, and should show no bias toward you. If it gives you a problem, take it to the Conference of Bishops, then in need be, the Vatican nuncio in charge of fraternities. Autonomous fraternities have their limits as well.

A second and more important reason is that Franciscanism is an inner vocation expressed outwardly through love by the emulation of Christ. It does not have it’s root principles based in the empirical. In fact if a fraternity were centered as in a pie surrounded by segments(pieces) representing nations, the fraternity would welcome all of them regardless of the diplomatic relations between them.

Liturgical Hours were not read

This is OK. Some fraternities obligate the members to do this privately. But sure, it would be beautiful at the Fraternity in communal prayer. The thing is, time. Fraternities need to cover a lot in two hours. (In fact it has more effect.“Where two or more are gathered…”)

  • a prayer for the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan,*

This is in the final prayers when everyone is allowed communal prayers said for a cause or individual living or dead. I’m not particularly keen on the “police the world” thing that the pentagon has everyone believing for the testing of new weapons, but nonetheless, the soldiers are deserving prayers for their safety and safe return to their families.

on the question of the order’s practices, I can be sure that I am not upset over nothing, correct?


Seek another fraternity but don’t hold it against them. You can pray to help them iron out their problems…

I would advise you to have some patience.

There are many groups out there that develop bad habits, and it is up to people like yourself to help make the necessary changes. I think you should definitely continue to go to these meetings and try and find other members who might feel like you do. I can almost guarantee there are other people in this group that see the same problems, but don’t want to make waves on their own, so they just go along to get along. Make friends with these folks, and then you can help change things together. Don’t go it alone. The last thing you want to do is be the “new guy making trouble”. The older members always resent the new member stirring the pot, because they have seen the newbies come and they have seen them go. It’s far easier to make changes as a group than alone.

Just don’t give up so easily. Stick it out. God may have put you in this group to help bring them back! :slight_smile:

I have to disagree with you about having patience with this. Though I will conduct any and all charges respectfully, I do not think it is fitting to have tolerance for things that are out of keeping with my faith. I think it is our job as people of faith to make waves when we see that we need to (:

Other things you list are unusual, the only possibility I can think of is that meeting may have been focusing on patriotism or something like that. Saying the pledge is unusual but not prohibited. charitable out reaches may not come up at every meeting. If it never comes up that is a problem. Use of unapproved prayer is a pretty big concern. Just remember there are lots of fraternities, if you live in an area with several fraternities check out other local ones. If no other fraternities check out another meeting and see if the issues may have been just a fluke.

Unfortunately, the minutes were read from the previous meeting and it consisted of the exact same structure. Like the meeting I attended, there was no Franciscan formation that took place. In fact, no one even said the words “Francis” or “Franciscan” until after the meeting was over. I spoke with the minister after the meeting for further information, and she informed me that every meeting was like the one I attended.

I do not think that I will be able to attend this group again. This was a group of only ten people, and there was no one aside from me who had a problem with the formation (more appropriately, lackthereof). After spending more time in reflection, I intend to write a letter of concern to the regional fraternity to which this local fraternity is accountable.

I understand that is important to maintain respectful relations, but I do not think that this is acceptable, on multiple accounts. After I went home, I reviewed the General Constitution and the Rule, and found several rules which were broken by this meeting. (I don’t have enough space here to enumerate them; if you would like a full break-down, please send me a private message). And, ideologically, some things plainly are not fitting. For instance, the reading of a Medjugorje devotional – when Franciscans vow above all else obedience to the Church and her bishops, how can something pertaining to Medjugorje, which was denied by the Bishop’s Conference of Yugoslavia be to them acceptable to bring into a Franciscan meeting? Especially when time is not made for orthodox Franciscan formation? To put this as respectfully as I can, I honestly do not think that this group and its leadership even regard their meetings as belonging to the SFO and Franciscanism. As I said, it was at most a prayer club specializing in heterodoxy.

It might help you all to understand where I am coming from if I explain my personal reasoning for being so affected. I am a convert from atheism, and I know that it was St. Francis’ intercession in my life that brought me to Christ. I am presently discerning becoming a Franciscan sister; I know that in my life right now there are a lot of things that I need to change to become a better Catholic and follower of Francis. I am driven to give myself to that change. I have done as best as I can without any Franciscan leadership in this, but I really need a rule stick to put me into shape – and I was thinking that people who have taken this vocation upon them (always keep in mind, this is a vocation in an international order founded in the 13th century, NOT some kind of club or society) would have this in their hearts and lives, and so be able to share that with me and others. At the mass before this meeting began, we sang the prayer of St. Francis, and I could not sing it with the congregation because I had tears in my throat, just thinking of the beauty of the discipline of this order and its effect upon my life.

And then I come into a meeting of people who have promised to give their lives to this vocation, and, to be plain, I get heterodoxy.

Thank you for understanding.**

Just to be clear, professed OFS (it has been changed from SFO, thank God–got tired of answering why I signed things with San Fran airport ) are required to pray some form of the Office (morning and evening). Encouraged, but not required, at meetings.

Actually it is a common misconception that members of OFS are REQUIRED to pray the LOTH. Actually they are required to participate in the liturgy of the Church with preference given to the LOTH. There is a list of like 5 common alternatives (i.e. Office of the Passion, Little Office of the Blessed Mother, 12 Our Fathers) that are also acceptable and in conjunctions with discernment and with advice of a spiritual director other forms beyond that can be used. One of the past spiritual assistants for our fraternity was on the National Council and he said it is a very common misconception.

AssisiFollower, it does sound like you are called to follow St. Francis. Based on your impression of the meeting I would highly suggest checking out another fraternity. I would not go as far as many on here suggest. It sounds like the fraternity has a few issues and some fraternal correction is needed, but not to the degree that some are stating. You already took the first important step and addressed your concerns with the minister. The next step, if you are still interested, would be to address them with regional. Make sure your correspondence is written through discernment and with a charitable heart. Only address the real issues and not things that were allowed (i.e. LOTH isn’t required at every meeting, mentioning charitable outreaches isn’t required at every meeting, etc.)

I personally would suggest it be more written about you, then about the fraternity itself. An example would be, Dear Regional Minister, Please can you forward the contact information for another fraternity in my area? My reason for asking is that I attended the meeting at x,y,z fraternity and I saw this… It didn’t meet my expectations because…

Hopefully it will result in a fraternal visit from both the regional minister and the regional spiritual assistant to see what is going on. Just remember what you saw is only one small slice of OFS, things like what you saw can happen when a group is left without the support network they should have (i.e. spiritual assistants, routine visits from regional, etc.) Hopefully the group will get the assistance they need, but they do not need direct confrontation, they need fraternal correction.

Pax et bonum

Thanks for the clarification. I knew that, but didn’t explain it very well. :o

Actually, that is pretty much what I am saying. Where we seem to disagree is just how we should do that.

I think you should make “waves” from within the group. You should get to know these people and help them out and clarify things for them. Introduce Franciscan prayer and formation again. Show them in a gentle way, where they might be going wrong.

I did this when I joined the Knights of Columbus. My council wasn’t where I thought it should be and it wasn’t being a good representation of what the Knights are, but I didn’t give up on it. I saw good men there. So I continued going to meetings, made friends, and found a few other members that felt as I did. So we gently went about changing the things we thought were wrong, and lo and behold, things got much better and other members supported us. I eventually went on to become the Grand Knight. I feel good about my work there and I’m glad I didn’t walk away. I feel that God put me there to help turn things around.

To call the fraternity to complain about this group after only one meeting is IMHO, the wrong way to go about this, but hey, thats just my humble opinion!:slight_smile:

Maurader and others,

Thank you for your help with clarification. I can see now that my understanding was not as definitive as I had thought it to be. The format you offerred for a letter of concern is very helpful, and I will follow your advice.

I am glad also, from what was conjunctively stated, that my experience was probably contradictory to the norm. I will not lose hope and faith in this.

Pax et bonum (: (:

Jimcav, I am sorry I misunderstood your suggestion. You are right and I will try to follow your example (: That is uplifting that you were able by faith to work through this with your group! I will keep your example in my thoughts!

It does contradict the norm, however it is not completely unusual either, sadly. May the Lord bless you and keep you :slight_smile:

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