I wanted to open a thread dedicated to learning the inside mysteries of our holy Father Francis of Assisi. Of course my interest in Francis is personal one, as I have traveled with him the journey of faith, with him as teacher and guide. But also, I find him to be one of the most intriguing and complex personalities of Catholic history and mysticism.
Given the situation in which we live today, Francis resurfaces as one of the most inspiring, complex and yet relevant models for men and women of faith living in the 21st century. Francis was a man of his time, but his spirituality and his faith in God, the Church and his fellow human being transcends Assisi and the 13th century. It is still relevant today.
We see his relevance in the birth of more than 100 new Franciscan congregations that have been born in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. His spirit of poverty, which begins with detachment from the material but leads to detachment from self importance, including detachment from our own ideas, allowing the Church and the Holy Spirit to guide the soul to divine union with God is the epitome of poverty and the perfect mirror of Christ’s own poverty on the cross.
Francis’ time and place in history is one of conflicts within the Church and among nations, not unlike the world today. It was a time of extremes, what we would refer to as traditionalists and liberals. However, our holy Father did not label either side, nor did he allow himself to be persuaded by either. His was a communion with the crucified Christ that lead him to the feet of the Holy Father, where he received confirmation of his faith and of his way of life.
It is difficult to know which was more important to Francis, confirmation of his faith or the confirmation of his rule. But in the end, they are intertwined, as his rule was an exposé of his faith in Christ and in the Church’s power to survive and to fulfill her mission on earth.
If we are looking for an approach to the Church and to our times, without conflict with either liberals and traditionalists, without conflict with either the Church and those who dissent, Francis proves to be an excellent teacher of a man who lived by faith, submissive to the authority of popes and bishops, among heterodox and orthodox and who like a winding road manages to navigate between all of them, making them his brothers, his greatest supporters and admirers, and at the same time preserving his inner peace and inner strength for the real struggle, the struggle to conquer sin in himself.
This thread is an invitation, not to debate the merits of Francis, but an invitation to learn from him how to live in these difficult times and how to preserve our inner peace and inner strength for the most important conquest of all, the conquest of self. I invite other posters to ask questions and share their Franciscan experience on this thread so that others can learn this not so simple mystical path to holiness and union with the eternal light, as hundreds of Franciscan saints have learned from our holy Father.
I really look forward to seeing how this thread develops. St. Francis did not face quite the same flavor of horrors in his time as we do in ours given that the science of his day was not nearly so advanced, but there were problems in the Church and in the world just the same that he could not possibly have been oblivious of. What would you say is a Franciscan attitude towards avoiding discouragement when we see how poorly things seem to be going in the economy and in our very deeply flawed government?
I first discovered St. Francis from a mutual Protestant friend many, many years ago when she invited me over to watch the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. I had an immediate fondness for this great saint.
While Catholicism has had many great saints, I find myself most strongly associated with Saint Francis. In fact, once I’m confirmed, I plan on seeking admittance to the Secular Franciscan Order.
I find St. Francis to be so universal in his ability to touch the lives of most people through his examples of joy and happiness by embracing simplicity, devotion to God, love of creation, humility and charity.
He was truly touched by God, and as a result, he has the unique ability to touch the lives of many others.
Before we proceed to respond to the closing question, let’s just look at the issues that were burning at the time of Francis and Clare.
Heresy: there were many movements within the Church that promoted a return to the Gospels and the simplicity of the Gospel. But they became so critical of the bishops and the popes that eventually they ceased their obedience to the hierarchy of the Church and went on their own. Eventually these movements began to promote a faith without an the need for a hierarchy. They were condemned as heretics. It was for this reason that Francis traveled to Rome to get the pope’s approval of his rule and his way of life. It was very important to him to be in communion with the pope and the bishops. It was so important that Francis demanded that his brothers and sisters would never criticize the clergy in any way, even if the clergy was in the wrong or were sinners. The communion with the Church of Christ was to protected as the most desired good and necessary for the salvation of one’s soul. Even if one said no to sin, one was never to disobey or posture against the bishops or popes.
Immorality among the clergy and abortion: many diocesan priests were very poorly educated in the spiritual life. They were also abandoned by their bishops. Not having a community to support them, many fell by the wayside. While they ran their parishes, they had mistresses or male lovers, they had children whom they never recognized and who lived in poverty, because they did not inherit anything from their biological fathers when these priests died. We have to remember that a diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty. Therefore, he can have wealth. This has never been disallowed by the Church, even today. It was the duty of these men to care for the children, but they failed to do so.
There were women who had abortions to cover up their relationship with the parish priests. Francis knew this. However, he wanted his brothers and sisters to quietly and secretly admonish and correct these priests, but they were never to make a public statement about them, because only the priest could provide the holy body and blood of Jesus and only the priest could absolve from sin. So Francis brought a very balanced perspective to dealing with priests and the sins of the priest. One thing was the sacrament of Holy Orders and the other was the sins of the ordained.
War: in the 13th century Europe was not yet unified. Feudal lords war constantly at war for power and territory. Not only did they rape, plunder and pillage, but many did so in the name of the faith. They justified themselves calling upon the Church. Church leaders were often related to political leaders; therefore, it was easy to get a blessing from a bishop or even the pope when one went on a campaign against ones neighbor. Francis countered this by founding a secular order. The Secular Franciscans were to vow to obey the rule that St. Francis wrote for them. In the rule Francis wrote that they would not take up arms for any government. He also wrote for them that their allegiance was to be to the faith, before the State. This helped bring the peace and unification of Europe, because hundreds of thousands of men and women became Secular Franciscans. Thus there were few citizens who were willing to go to war against their neighbor.
Economic recession: now we can get to the final question of the post. When Francis founded the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) not OSF, he wrote into their rule that they would be poor. They would embrace the life of Christ on the Cross. They would offer their life of self-imposed poverty as a penance for their sins and the sins of humanity. In this way, they became one with the impoverished Lord Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother. Therefore, today’s recession is not looked upon as a crisis, but as a means returning to a simple life. It is a gift in disguise, because the Lord allows us to the opportunity to accept the economic limitations in which we have to live.
Those who accept the limitations of this recession as an opportunity to practice discipline, detachment from material things and comfort, an opportunity to offer up to God our separation from the things that we have come to value, those people are more grateful when something special comes their way. They do not see it as a right, but as a gift from God. Those people are also more in contact with the poverty that the Holy Family and the first Christians had to live when Christianity was first born. Most of the early Christians were very poor people. What attracted the to the Way, as St. Paul calls it, is that Christianity guaranteed happiness in Heaven for those who accepted what they could not change on earth.
This is not the same as complacency. What Francis is talking about is voluntarily taking advantage of an opportunity to live more like Christ and his apostles. In other words, if we have to live within economic constraints, we can do so with joy because we are more similar to Jesus than when we could afford more material goods and had more material security. Our joy and our peace come from God, not from our job and our possessions. That would be the Franciscan approach to this situation.
We need more Secular Franciscans, especially those among those who really wish to follow the Gospel as Francis did. The Secular Franciscan Order is not a simple organization of people who like St. Francis or have a special devotion to him. It is a real order, just like the brothers and sisters are. It is an order of men and women who want to consecrate their lives to reaching th perfection of charity using Francis as their teacher. Don’t let Francis fool anyone. He is always portrayed as a sweet friar with very simple notions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our holy Father had a very strong personality. He was a spiritual genius. But more important, his way of following Christ is very demanding if you take him seriously and if we do not try to justify our way out of it by saying, “These are different times.” This is the most common excuse that people use to cop out of living the Gospel in the manner that Francis preached it. But Francis’ Gospel message cannot be watered down, because it is the fulness of truth. The message is pretty straightforward: God is our Creator. God loves us. God gave his son for us. We are called to live like his son. We are called to give our lives back to God, regardless of the sacrifices that we may have to make.
For many years I had asked God for His will in my life - what was it that He created me for - what was my purpose in this life. As I was driving home after a visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI, I believe I received my answer. It was this, that Jesus Christ would be able to do what ever He wanted to in my life.
After thinking about this for a while, I feel that the Secular Franciscan Order would be the best avenue to assist me in fulfilling this goal.
I lived the life of a corporate socialite by climbing up the corporate ladder and accumulating things along the way which supposedly solidified my acceptance among my peers. While there was a time when it seemed right, it inevitably came crashing down and left me in the same way I left the Lord to do what I thought to be the right thing.
I was brought up by a humble mother who taught me exactly what were the important things in life. The simple and pleasant things that are often scoffed at nowadays.
Every time I attempt to reach beyond these simple things, I find myself to be miserable. I’m tired of being miserable - I want what God wants for me. I know that no matter how difficult and hard it might be t get to that point, it will ultimately result in the fulfillment of what God created me for - the life I’ve always wanted but had previously eluded me.
If you learn nothing at all from Francesco, remember his advice to Clare. “Go and don’t look back.” Clare became the first flower in our holy Father’s garden, not because she followed Francis, but because she followed Christ in Francis’ sandals. She was looking for deeper steps to follow.
The point here is that the higher we look, the less happy we are. The closer to home that we look, the more likely we are to find what God wants for us. God does not just drop us on the world without a plan. When we come into the world, we come with a plan. But we have to allow God to guide us according to his plan. Too often we create our own plan, without God’s input. When we find ourselves in crisis, we don’t know where to turn and everything comes collapsing around us.
When Francis tells Clare to go and not look back, it is because she had already prayed over her plan. God had confirmed her plan through the Church. There was nothing else to be done, but to carry it out. For 40+ years of her life, Clare just lived according to the plan. Not only was she happy, but she was a light for many in her time and those who have come after her.
We have to learn to consult our plans with God. Once we do, we won’t have to look back.
What are secular Fransicains? What do regular Fransicians do? Do they work at regular jobs but live all together in a house?
Do Fransicians emphasize that Jesus is in all people?
I believe that Jesus is in all people and we can serve Him there as Mother Teresa says, “the poor are Christ in disguise”. This seems to be unknown in Christianity today.
St. Francis of Assisi founded three religious orders. Most people don’t know this. The first order that he founded was for men. It is called the Friars Minor; but most Catholics don’t call them by their proper name. Most call them The Franciscans, the Conventuals or the Capuchins. WRONG! They are the Friars Minor or the Lesser Brothers. All of Francis’ brothers and sisters are The Franciscans.
The second order that Francis of Assisi founded is the Order of Poor Sisters. Again, Catholics can’t seem to get their names straight, LOL. Everyone calls them The Poor Clares, because the foundress and first mother superior was Clare of Assisi. If you have ever watched EWTN, Mother Angelica and her sisters belong to this order. This order is for women only and they are all enclosed nuns. Their life is dedicated to prayer and fraternity.
The third order that Francis founded was The Brothers and Sisters of Penance. This order was for men and women who could not enter the Friars Minor or the Poor Clares. Some of them are married, others are celibate, others are deacons, priests, bishops and even popes., and many are religious sisters, religious brothers or friars. For example, the Friars of the Eternal Word on EWTN are part of this order. Of course, guess what?
You got it! Catholics messed up on the name again. We keep calling them The Third Order, The Secular Franciscans, the Lay Franciscans or the Third Order of St. Francis. We went so far in our messing with their name, that in the English speaking countries there was an agreement reached in 1978 that this order would be known as the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). In the rest of the Catholic world they are known as the Order of Franciscans Secular (OFS).
Even though Catholics are very good with the faith, we have to confess that we are not so good with history, especially the history of religious life. Part of it has to do with the formation that most Catholics receive as children. Religious orders and the rules of life for religious are never really studied. Most religious educators assume that the average Catholic is not interested or will never need this information.
The fact is that the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) is a canonically established order in the Church. They are as much an order as the Friars Minor, the Benedictines, the Dominicans, the Jesuits, etc. The brothers and sisters who enter the SFO go through a formation period of no less than three years and no longer than six years. During that time they study the rule of the order, the life and teachings of St. Francis and Clare, the life and work of the patrons of the order, St. Louis King of France and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. They also study the Gospels, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the documents of Vatican II and encyclicals written about the Franciscan family.
Not only do they study the history and rules of the order, in good formation programs a great deal of time is dedicated to the study of the Liturgy of the Hours, the study of prayer and life of prayer, the sacraments and the most important part of the spiritual life for the SFO, the study of penance and on-going conversion.
At the end of their formation period the SFO brother or sister makes profession. Professioin is a public promise that is made during the mass. The superior, called the Minister, receives your promise in the name of the order. The priest who presides at the mass receives your promise in the name of the Church. Therefore, you have made a public and liturgical commitment for life with God, St. Francis, the Church and the Francisan family.
You bind yourself to live the Gospel in the manner that St. Francis lived it. This means that you are bound to a life of prayer, penance, corporal works of mercy, the development of vritue and obedience to the Church and the order. You are a member of a local fraternity. Every local fraternity is part of a region and the regions are part of an international order. The SFO is part of the greater Franciscan family. The superior general of the SFO, Minister General, is one of five superiors who govern the entire Franciscan family. They are all legitimate successors of St. Francis and are recognized by the Vatican as part of the religious life of the Church.
Some SFO brothers and sisters live in community houses, but this is not as common, since most are married. There are many who are celibate and make vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. They form cells. These cells are part of a local fraternity with other brothers and sisters that may include married, single, and clergy. Each fraternity is supposed to have its own ministry. This is going to vary, because the SFO exists in 114 countries aroiund the world. The needs are going to be different. But the spiritual life and rules are the same around the world.
Sometimes, some cells grow large enough to become autonomous. When this happens these are called Franciscan Congregations of religious men or women. I belong to such a congregation. We are the Brothers of Life of the Order of St. Francis (OSF). We are friars. Once upon a time we were Secular Franciscans. We banded together in a fraternity, living as a community in total poverty, usually sleeping where the night caught us. We ministered to men and women who are considering aboriton or have had an abortion. We also minister to healthcare professions in the abortion industry. Someone has to bring the Gospel of Life to them. We care for children who survive abortions and we find services and resources to mothers who want to have their babies, but have no one there for them. The brothers are always there.
I know this a lot. But that’s the gift of the Secular Franciscan Order to the Church. If you want to know more, check out this site.