God works in mysterious ways! On May 1, I had the opportunity to speak on how we as Secular Franciscans are called to be light for the world as part of the Regional Candidates’ Retreat. As I reflected on the topic and did some research, especially in reading recent messages from Pope John Paul II to our Order and to all the faithful, I discovered that I was coming to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a Secular Franciscan - and why it’s often difficult to explain! It’s hard to differentiate our call from a higher standard of practicing our Catholic faith…because that IS our call. Our Holy Father’s message to the church and all people of good will at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000 (for the start of the third millennium) reads like our Rule in many ways! (More details on that next month…)
So, why be a Secular Franciscan if we are "just" to be better Catholics? If being a better Catholic was easy, everyone would do it! What we have to offer is very simple and absolutely essential: we offer COMMUNITY. What is impossible for each of us as individuals starts becoming at least conceivable when we support each other. The importance of our life in fraternity is highlighted in the Holy Father’s message to the tenth General Chapter of our Order in 2002 ( http://www.ciofs.org/per/2003/lca3en02.htm) (bold text mine):
The Church expects from the Secular Franciscan Order, one and only, a great service in the cause of the Kingdom of God in the world of today. The Church desires that your Order should be a model of organic, structural and charismatic unity on all levels, so as to present itself to the world as a "community of love" (Regola OFS 26). The church expects from you, Secular Franciscans, a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realisation of the Kingdom of God.
Once you finish with the idea that we are called to be a community of love, carefully read the other two sentences. We are expected provide "a great service in the cause of the Kingdom of God in the world of today" and give "courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life." Wow! How do we do that? By our lives in the world, that’s how (again, bold text is mine):
You Secular Franciscans, by vocation, live belonging to the Church and to society as inseparable realities. Therefore, you are asked, above all else, to bear personal witness before all in the environment in which you live: "in your family life; in your work; in your joys and sufferings; in your associations with all men and women, brothers and sisters of the same Father; in your presence and participation in the life of society; in your fraternal relationships with all creatures." (General Constitution SFO 12.1).
Those of you who attended our Regional Retreat in 2002 given by Fr. Benet may remember that he talked about our contributions in ecclesial (church) ministries, but he emphasized that our unique contribution to the Church and the Franciscan Family is in the world. We are the only part of the Franciscan Family that is everywhere and present in every human activity. We have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make decisions in our everyday lives in accordance with our faith and the Rule we profess. As Franciscans, we are well aware that one way of doing things does not fit everyone; we cannot simply imitate someone else, no matter how worthy of emulation, but we each need to discern what our situation and our gifts require of us, and to support our brothers and sisters in fraternal life as they struggle with their own decisions.
It probably isn’t surprising that I see the SFO as a community of like-minded believers who are trying to live their faith according to a higher standard, since that’s exactly what I was looking for when I became Catholic. (The Holy Spirit did a good job!) Again from the Pope, "If you are truly spurred on by the Spirit to achieve the perfection of charity in your secular state, ‘it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.’" What we have to offer other seekers is…ourselves, along with a Rule that guides us in what it means to follow Christ more closely in the spirit of St. Francis, and Constitutions that give concrete suggestions on how to live the Rule.
Peace and good……Vickie