I. THE SFO RULE, CHAPTER TWO
Carl Schafer OFM, National Assistant SFO-Oceania
I. LEARN, LOVE, LIVE THE RULE
According to the SFO General Constitutions, "The principal task of the assistant is to communicate Franciscan spirituality and to cooperate in the initial and continuing formation of the brothers and sisters" (GC 90.1). In order to be able to cooperate in the formation of the members, the Spiritual Assistant needs to have a sound knowledge of the SFO Rule and General Constitutions, especially Chapter Two of the Rule and its corresponding commentary in Chapter II of the General Constitutions.
Before a Secular Franciscan is professed, it is essential that he or she have an understanding of the Rule sufficient to enable him to know what he is professing. The local Fraternity Council has to make this judgment of each candidate before voting on their suitability for profession. The Spiritual Assistant, as a member of the Fraternity Council, has a voice in making the judgment and a vote on the candidateís suitability.
Of course, there is more to suitability for profession than knowing the Rule. The candidateís ability to live the Rule by positive integration into the local Fraternity has to be proven during the period of initial formation. Information about the Rule engages the head, and contributes to the formation of the heart. Formation is meant to lead to transformation of the person: "Learn, love and live the Rule".
In particular, Chapter Two of the Rule, "The Way of Life", needs to be fully explained during the year of initial formation. The corresponding Chapter II of the General Constitutions, "The Form of Life", Articles 8 to 27, should be used to explain the corresponding Articles 4 to 19 of the Rule. This chapter gives a programme for evangelization. It describes how the Secular Franciscans are evangelized after the manner of St Francis, and how they evangelize others.
The General Constitutions are the official commentary on the Rule and, like the Rule, they have universal application. Other commentaries on the Rule, and also on the General Constitutions, have been written by Franciscan authors. They should augment, but not displace, direct reading and study of the texts of the Rule and General Constitutions.
II. WAY OF LIFE
Way of Life: Art. 4-14:
Gospel living: Art. 4-6
Conversion and worship: Art. 7-9
Form of Life: Art. 8-16
Gospel living: Art. 8-12
Conversion and worship: Art 13-16
a. Gospel Living
The second chapter of the Rule and of the General Constitutions describes the Secular Franciscan way of life. Living the gospel in the Franciscan way is explained (R 4-6, GC 8-12).
The core of gospel life is intimate union with Jesus Christ. Secular Franciscans, alive with the spirit of Francis, experience the Lord Jesus intensely and bind themselves to the person of Christ (R 4). They are open to the challenges that come from society and from the Churchís situation, "going from gospel to life and from life to the gospel" (GC 8). They should study the Scriptures, especially the Gospel, personally and as a fraternity (GC 9).
Secular Franciscans seek out the active person of Christ in all spheres of life: in the Church, in Scripture, in others, and in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist (R 5). Their spirituality is a plan of life centred on the person and the following of Christ. It cannot be reduced to a set of rules and practices that can be dutifully carried out (GC 9). And it cannot be reduced to the daily recitation of set prayers, such as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Franciscan Crown rosary.
They share Christís mission through life in the Church. They bring Christ to those around them by word and example (R 6). Through their baptism and profession, they are made "witnesses and instruments of (the Churchís) mission" (GC 17). Their profession intensifies their Christian mission that they entered upon at baptism.
b. Conversion and Worship
Conversion and worship are explained as the necessary conditions for living the gospel life (R 7-9, GC 13-16).
The first condition is an ongoing change of heart, a continual spiritual renewal, by modelling their thoughts and actions on those of Jesus Christ. Practical help for conversion is to be found in the sacrament of reconciliation (R 7), and in ongoing formation (GC 8). Continual conversion is cultivated, individually and in fraternity, by listening to and celebrating the Word of God, in a periodical review of life, in an annual spiritual retreat and occasional recollection days, and with the help of a spiritual adviser (GC 13), who could well be the local Fraternityís spiritual Assistant.
The second condition is to make worship of the Father central through the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, contemplation and prayer (R 8). They should seek to discover the presence of the Father in their own heart, in nature, and in the history of humanity, especially in the history of salvation, so that they can collaborate in Godís loving plan of salvation (GC 12).
Maryís faith, prayer and self-giving are the primary example of gospel living (R 9). Secular Franciscans should manifest their devotion to her with expressions of genuine faith, in forms accepted by the Church. They should seek to live the experience of Francis, who made the Virgin the guide of his activity (GC 16). "Forms accepted by the Church" are always based on public revelation in the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament, especially the gospels. Private revelations should be judged on that basis.
III. APOSTOLIC ACTIVITY
Apostolic Activity: Art. 10 to 19:
How they live: Art. 10-14
What they do: Art. 15-19
Active Presence: Art. 17-27
How they live: Art. 17-20
What they do: Art. 21-27
a. How they live
The way of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is described by how the Secular Franciscans live (R 10-14, GC 17-20).
Those who go "from gospel to life" have simple living (R 10-12), an experience of togetherness in fraternity (R 13), and selfless service (R 14), as qualities of everyday living.
Simple living involves willingness to share with Christ the burdens of hardship and pain within oneself and from outside sources (R 10). Secular Franciscans should seek to know and do the will of the Father, with Jesus, obedient even to death. They should take the risk of making courageous choices in their life in society with decisiveness and serenity (GC 12).
Secular Franciscans are not religious, like the friars or the Poor Clares or the Franciscan Sisters. They do not make a vow of poverty, or of chastity or of obedience. Gospel poverty for Secular Franciscans consists in acquiring possessions justly, keeping their needs to a minimum, and using what they have for the benefit of others (R 11). They should take a firm position against consumerism and against ideologies and practices that prefer riches over human and religious values and that permit the exploitation of the human person (GC 15).
The result of simple living in gospel poverty is love of God and neighbour (R 12).
Secular Franciscans come to realize that in Christ, all are equally brothers and sisters, including especially the poor and disadvantaged (R 13). They should oppose exploitation, discrimination, exclusion, and indifference in relation to others, and work with movements that promote the building of fraternity among people (GC 18). Their contribution to building their own SFO local Fraternity is vital. It gives them realistic practice in building a wider fraternity as well.
The result of simple living in a fraternity is selfless service of others, bringing them an experience of God in Christ (R 14). Secular Franciscans should build a more just and fraternal world by fulfilling the duties proper to their occupation and by undergoing professional training (GC 20). They should aim to be fully qualified to do the work by which they make a living.
b. What they do
The way of sharing the Gospel is described further by what the Secular Franciscans do, in specific forms of ministry or apostolic activity (R 15-19, GC 21-27). The Rule draws attention to some traditional forms of apostolic activity that Franciscan Tertiaries engaged in from the beginning, and that have been inherited by todayís Secular Franciscans. These traditional apostolates do not exhaust the possibilities for apostolic engagement open to the Secular Franciscans.
They are to act justly themselves and motivate others to act justly, in private life and publicly in politics, in business, and in economics. (R 15). They should be in the forefront in the field of public life, and collaborate as much as possible for the passage of just laws. Their local fraternities should advance social justice. They should take a stand when human dignity is attacked by any form of oppression or indifference (GC 22).
Through their work, they share in Godís creation and in Christís salvation of themselves and others (R 16). They should promote the possibility of work for all and humane working conditions. They should also maintain a balance between work and rest, and use leisure time positively (GC 21). They need to be selective in choosing entertainment, but not become stunted in their thinking and feeling.
Through their family life, they educate their children to experience Christ and they witness to others that God is present in the family (R 17). They should respect all human life in every situation, from conception till death. Spouses should witness to their own family, to the Church and to the world through the way they love and remain faithful to each other (GC 24).
Through their respect for creatures, both animate and inanimate, they counteract abuse, waste and exploitation of creation, and raise a positive conscience in the civil community (R 18). They should have much to contribute to ecological debate and to projects that care for the earth, plants and animals, and especially for human beings. They bring a Christian perspective that is often lacking in ecological circles.
Through their peace making, they counteract violence and cultivate joy and hope (R 19). The renunciation of violence does not mean the renunciation of action. Their interventions should always be inspired by Christian love (GC 22). They should create conditions suitable for dialogue between generations (GC 24), especially in their own family. In the fraternities, they should promote mutual understanding and ensure a welcoming atmosphere in their meetings (GC 26).