The Franciscan family consists of Catholic laity, religious and priests who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi. In this family there are four orders: First Order of Friars Minor, Second Order of Poor Clare nuns, Third Order religious and the Secular Franciscan Order.
The Secular Franciscan Order is an order in the Church, but is not, properly speaking, a religious order because it does not have the public profession of the vows to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience nor a requirement to live in community. The Secular Franciscan Order is a public association of the faithful. (See Canon 298 – Canon 320, click here.)
Secular Franciscans seek to deepen the universal call to holiness by following Saint Francis of Assisi and in accord with the General Constitutions and Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. The Rule was approved and confirmed by Pope Paul VI on June 24, 1978.
St. Francis and St. Clare
SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
“Going from Gospel to Life and Life to the Gospel”
The Secular Franciscan Order has its origins in the penitential movement which existed prior to Saint Francis and then in the inspiration of Francis. Francis himself lived as a penitent after his conversion when he lived at San Damiano, and when Francis and the early brothers journeyed to Rome to see Pope Innocent III, they identified themselves as “penitents from Assisi.”
The Secular Franciscan Order is composed of Catholic men and women, married and single, old and young, who live at home, according to their Rule of Life. They were originally known as the Little Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Francis is the man of penance in the sense that he accepted the gospel as a message to live in the world.
WHAT DO FRANCISCANS DO?
Secular Franciscans live the gospel in fraternal community by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. They are both active and contemplative, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel. Their call embraces a call to evangelization.
The spirit of the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order is in Article 4:
The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.
Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.
Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.
Rooted in our secularity
The identity of the Secular Franciscan is rooted in our secularity. St. Francis brought the practice of gospel life out of the monasteries into the world of the family and society. This was, indeed, very good. Deeply spiritual and generous men and women, who could not abandon family responsibilities, now had a way to follow the Lord in the manner of St. Francis.
The Rule identifies the world as the place where the brothers and the sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity, in [our] own secular state. The world is our home and our mission field, and we are stewards of its resources and responsible for its care.
~ Anne Mulqueen, SFO, “Our Identity as a Secular Franciscan” (Chapter 8 of the FUN Manual)
BEing WITH GOD
“We are also called to follow the example of Francis, but how is this to be accomplished? In our secular state are we called to sell everything and give to the poor? Are we to go without possessions? Are we to beg for our sustenance? Are we to take the gospel that literally? No, we are called to seek an understanding of the underlying motive Francis had for following Christ. How did Francis follow Christ? Truly, what is the example Francis left us to follow? We have seen how other penitential groups of Francis’ time sought to follow Christ. They took up the apostolic life, the life of the early Apostles as recounted in Acts 2:42; they sold their property and shared all things in common; they gathered for communal prayer and teaching; they performed works of mercy. In this manner, in the manner of the early Church, they sought to follow Christ and present his teachings to their time and space. A careful reading of Francis’ life shows us that this was not the route Francis chose. He did not choose to follow Christ in the same manner as did these other men; he did not choose to take up the works of Christ; he did not chose to teach and heal and admonish as Christ did. From the outset of his conversion, Francis did not choose to DO anything Christ did. Rather he chose to imitate Christ and Christ’s relationship with the Father. He sought to BE in the same intimate relationship Christ was in, an intimate relationship of love with God. Anything and everything that he did grew out of this relational BEing with God.”
Source: To Set Themselves Free by Teresa V. Baker, OFS
“Penance is the pivotal and identifying mark
of the Secular Franciscan Order.”
“It [the Franciscan fraternity] exists
to make Christ known, to announce the Reign of God,
and to rebuild the Church.”
–Benet A. Fonck, OFM-
A LIFE OF PENANCE
Francis puts the commandment of love as the foundation for the life of penance. To do penance is to love God and one’s neighbor. As sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we must have an attitude of examining ourselves daily, repenting of all sins and resisting the sinful tendencies of our fallen nature. This process is not possible through human effort alone. A sacramental life, the source of grace, especially the Eucharist, is necessary. One must act in conformity with the conversion that has been accepted, living in the spirit of the Beatitudes. The result of such conduct will be the attainment of that happiness which man desires and will effect the person’s sharing in the Trinitarian life of God. This is the essence of the life of penance.
Love one’s neighbor
Hatred of sin. (Resist the sinful tendencies of our fallen nature.)
Participate in the sacramental life, especially the Eucharist
Act in conformity with the conversion that the person has accepted (a life which produces worthy fruits of penance).
The Secular Franciscan vocation can be properly and effectively fulfilled only through life in fraternity. It is a communal experience. The Order is divided into fraternities, canonically established, at the local, regional, national and international level. Requests for admission are presented to the local fraternity. Admission is gradually attained through a time of initiation, a period of formation, and profession of the rule. Profession is a permanent commitment.
THE TAU CROSS
The “T” or “TAU CROSS” worn by Franciscans is an ancient Christian symbol. Some trace it back to the time of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel spoke about people being marked with an “X” or “T” to indicate they belonged to God (Ezekiel 9:4-6). Others connect the TAU with the cross of Jesus and his willingness to die for us. As such it becomes a sign linking the wearer with the Lord. In the book of Revelation, the TAU signifies God the Father and is related to the name of the Lord (Revelation 7:3). In the “Didache,” an early Christian writing, the TAU means the word of God. Dedicated to the crucified Lord, Francis used the TAU to sign his name and to identify with Jesus. Throughout Franciscan history the TAU has been a sign of commitment and a reminder of the love that Jesus has for us.
GOD IS GOOD
God is good. God is humble. This is the beginning for Franciscan theology. Saint Francis entered into the mystery of God and found these two attributes. In humility God bends over to embrace the world in love, accepting us right where we are, dwelling in the brokenness of our own lives. God is all good, supreme good, totally good.
Almighty, most holy
most high and supreme God,
You Who alone are good,
may we give back to You
and all good.
So be it.
So be it.
– Saint Francis of Assisi –