Format of Meetings of the Local Fraternity and Council

1. The Assistant in the meetings

The spiritual Assistant plays an important and delicate role in the meetings of the Fraternity and of its Council. The Statutes for the Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the SFO (Art. 3.1) say that assistance "completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities (see Const. 86.2)". In other words, the Minister and his councillors will guide the meetings of the Fraternity and of its Council, with the help of the spiritual Assistant.

The specific field of action of the Assistant is spiritual: "to foster communion with the Church and with the Franciscan Family through witness and sharing of Franciscan spirituality, to cooperate in initial and ongoing formation, and to express the fraternal affection of the religious towards the SFO" (Stat.Asst. 2.3). His or her contributions to the meetings, those of the Fraternity as well as those of the Council, have to refer principally to this specific field. This requires spiritual maturity to know one's gifts and limitations and to give priority to the secular leaders in the coordination and animation of the Fraternity.

During meetings, two extremes should be avoided: First, the temptation to conduct the meetings in person, especially if the secular leaders appear weak or lack formation. Second, the temptation not even to guide, but to limit oneself strictly to the dictates of one's duty, or even to lose interest in the Fraternity.

The specific role of the spiritual Assistant will vary according to the different types of meetings in which he or she participates: meetings of the Fraternity or of the Council, meetings focussing on aspects of spirituality, formation, organization, recreation, etc. However it remains true that the spiritual Assistant should always play his/her role in the context of that life-giving union which arises from belonging to the same spiritual family, although in various ways and forms ( see Stat.Asst. 1.2).

2. Meetings of the Fraternity Council

"The spiritual Assistant is by right, with vote, a member of the council of the fraternity to which he or she gives assistance and collaborates with it in all activities. (Except that) The spiritual assistant does not exercise the right to vote in financial questions" (Const. 90.2), or in the elections of the fraternity.

The Assistant acts always with due respect for the responsibilities and the role of the seculars, giving them priority with regard to the guidance, coordination and animation of the fraternity (see Const. 86.2). His or her principal role remains that spiritual one of nourishing the Christian and Franciscan life of the fraternity.

The participation of the spiritual Assistant in the meetings and activities of the Council will vary according to the needs and specific situations of the Fraternity. He or she will play a more active role in the council meetings of a newly established or reactivated fraternity, than in one already fully established and active.

The meetings of the Council will focus on various elements of fraternity life: Franciscan and Christian life, apostolic activities and charity, initial and ongoing formation, fraternal life and contact between members. Topics to be treated will be many: preparation of fraternity meetings; planning and evaluating fraternity activities; evaluation of candidates to be admitted to the Order or to profession; preparation of the chapter or another special meeting; formation courses for leaders, actual and prospective, or for members of the fraternity.

The role of the spiritual Assistant during council meetings is normally limited to taking active part in the debate, offering suggestions out of his or her religious and Franciscan sensitivity.

It is important that the meetings of the council are prepared and have a clear agenda. The Assistant should be prepared to help the secular leaders with his or her spiritual intuition regarding the arguments to be discussed. A previous contact between the Minister of the fraternity and the Assistant will be useful to pass on information and to inspire a better participation during the council meeting.

The council meetings can be structured in different ways according to the principal arguments to be discussed. It is important to follow a basic structure with variations in particulars. Such a basic structure could be the following:

1. Opening prayer (Assistant)

2. Agenda and eventual modifications (Minister)

3. Minutes of the last meeting (Secretary)

4. Various reports (Officers)

5. Topics on the agenda (All)

6. Spiritual reflections (Assistant)

7. Conclusion (Minister)

This structure can be varied according to the situation or to the topics to be discussed. The opening prayer (n. 1), can be inspired by the prayers suggested in the Ritual for fraternity meetings (Part II, Chapter One). It can be just a very simple opening prayer; it can also be a more solemn recitation of some part of the liturgy of the hours.

The various reports (n. 4) during a meeting discussing the admission of candidates to profession, will consist of an evaluation by the person responsible for formation and by the spiritual Assistant on each candidate, followed by discussion and secret ballot (see Const. 41.1). In other cases, the various reports could be the bursar's financial report or reports by officers responsible for the apostolic activities or for the fraternity's charities.

In a meeting planning the activities of the fraternity, the various reports could be skipped to give more space to the work of programming and planning activities, indicated in the agenda of the day.

Spiritual reflections (n. 6) could take various forms. They can be very brief, nothing more than a moment of silence followed by a concluding prayer. They can be more prolonged, taking the form of in-depth reflections on some aspect of Franciscan spirituality or on a religious text. The spiritual reflections can be guided by the Assistant alone, by way of a conference or a reading followed by meditation. They can also take the form of reflections following the pattern of "SJA" (See, Judge, Act; see below, n. 4). with the active participation of all those present.

The conclusion (n. 7), can be a simple formal conclusion by the Minister, or a time for taking formal decisions, or listing the decisions taken, or deciding the day and place of the next council meeting. The whole meeting can be concluded as suggested in the Ritual (Part II, Chapter One).

Well-functioning council meetings need on the one hand a fixed way of addressing things, and on the other hand a creative flexibility in its application. This fixed order facilitates the regularity and the consistency of the meetings. The creative flexibility in its application gives the possibility to consider the problems in various ways and to explore new solutions to routine problems.

3. Meetings of the local Fraternity

a. Contents

Fraternity meetings are family meetings, of brothers and sisters, of people who want to live the Gospel in the manner of Saint Francis of Assist. They consist normally of four elements: prayer, formation, activities and fraternization (see Rule 5; Ritual Part II, Preface 4).

Common prayer unites the brothers and sisters in praising God, our Father in heaven. It can be a eucharistic celebration, with a homily and hymns, or a celebration of the liturgy of the Hours, or another form of common prayer.

Formation allows the members to develop their spirituality, their human, Christian, evangelical and Franciscan life. It can consist of a conference by the spiritual Assistant, a reading of some formative text, or a shared reflection on a spiritual topic.

The apostolic activities and charities of the brothers and sisters are treated in common so that they may be activities of the fraternity and not just of isolated individuals. The fraternity meetings give the possibility to all members to become aware of the activities of the others and to involve themselves actively in the commitments taken by the fraternity. This part of the meeting can be sharing the work of other members, a collective planning effort, an evaluation of the work done so far, a division of work, an endorsement of the commitments already taken, a proposal of initiatives to be undertaken.

Fraternization presents an opportunity to all members to become really brothers and sisters, to live that fraternity life desired by Saint Francis. It can simply be a moment of being together, to compare notes, to better know one another, to meet one another. It can be accompanied by a snack, by some sweets and drinks, or even by a meal consisting of dishes prepared at home.

The meetings of the fraternity are meetings of brothers and sisters. Every meeting therefore should be characterized by these four elements: prayer, formation, activity and fraternization. There is no need to give always the same importance to each of these elements. During spiritual retreats or recollections, the element of prayer will be the most important. In meetings of formation, the formative element will take the first place. A meeting of the fraternity to evaluate the work done or to plan the apostolic activities and charity, will be centred on activities. And when the fraternity goes for an outing or organizes a pilgrimage, the element of recreation will predominate.

One should however remember that all four elements are essential for the life of the fraternity and should be present in one or other form in any fraternity meeting. It is also important that the contents of the single elements show a dynamic continuity that can be felt by the members of the fraternity. The continuity preserves the connection with the past, with the habits and traditions of the fraternity. The dynamism tends toward the future, enters the "road to renewal" (Rule 7), sustains the "open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity" (Rule 6) and helps the brothers and sisters to be "witnessing to the good yet to come" (Rule 12).

The dynamic continuity of contents means concretely that the interventions of the Assistant should be connected one to the other. They should be based on knowledge and convictions already present, while being fully open to the impulse of the Holy Spirit who inspires the brothers and sisters to "strive for perfect charity in their own secular state" (Rule 2).

One should strive for an equilibrium between tradition and innovation, between continuity and creativity, between fidelity and openness to the Holy Spirit. An Assistant fearing "dangerous novelties" can bind the fraternity to the past, and render it incapable of understanding the signs of the times. In the same way an Assistant in love with "liberating innovation" can unleash an unbridled curiosity in the fraternity, which impedes it from bearing fruits of patience and perseverance.

b. Structure

The meetings of the fraternity can be structured in various ways, keeping in mind here too, the need for dynamic continuity. The meetings of the same fraternity can be structured differently according to the various moments, alternating weeks, e.g. in the first week a eucharistic celebration, in the second week a formation meeting, in the third week programming the work, in the fourth week a spiritual recollection.

The fraternity can also form, "sections or groups which gather members sharing particular needs ... under the guidance of the one council" (Const. 34). The meetings for each of these groups evidently can be structured differently according to the various needs, keeping a specific structure for the meetings of the whole fraternity. It will be useful to describe various types of fraternity meetings:

With a special eucharistic celebration:

1. Opening prayer (Minister)

2. Formation (Assistant)

3. Eucharist (Assistant)

4. Evaluation and planning of activities (Officers)

5. Fraternizing (All)

With the parish eucharistic celebration:

1. Opening prayer (Minister)

2. Formation (Assistant)

3. Evaluation and planning of activities (Officers)

4. Eucharist with the parish community (All)

5. Short socializing (All)


1. Eucharist with the parish community (All)

2. Formative moment (Assistant)

3. Evaluation and planning of activities (Officers)

4. Fraternizing (All)

5. Concluding prayer (Minister)

Without a eucharistic celebration:

1. Liturgy of the Word or of the Hours (Minister)

2. Formation (Formator and Assistant)

3. Evaluation and planning of activities (Officers)

4. Fraternizing (All)

5. Concluding prayer (Minister)

Each element can vary according to circumstances. The eucharistic celebration can be simple, without songs, or solemn, with a short homily or a longer sermon. The formative moment or session can consist in a reading or a conference given by the Assistant, or of a sharing of experiences lived by the members. It can also be an in-depth reflection on a text by all members together, facilitated by the Assistant.

The evaluation and planning of activities can be a simple communication of things to be done together, or a common evaluation of the work done in view of future activities. The fraternization can be a short meeting just to say good-bye or a longer get-together. The concluding prayer can be a spontaneous or a written prayer said by the Minister, or a simple blessing by the Assistant.

4. The "SJA" method

The "SJA" method presents a simple and flexible outline for formation meetings or meetings to study a topic together. When the topic is scriptural, this is a method of lectio divina.

This method is used in courses of rural awareness or conscientization in Latin America, but also for managerial training in Europe and in the United States, and in sessions of group dynamics. The method gives its best results with small groups, of not more than fifteen members. A bigger group can be divided into smaller ones. Another possibility is to limit active participation to a restricted number of persons, a"panel" to whom the others listen. Normally, there is no need to prepare specific questions to be answered. Specific questions are used only if one wants to direct the discussion toward a certain goal.

The meeting starts by reading a selected text or by listening to a relevant story. The reading or listening is followed by a short period of silence for personal reflection on the topic.

After the reading or the listening, followed by silence, come the three steps "SJA" (See, Judge, Act)

a. See: What are we shown?

We try to look at, to understand, the contents of the topic. Each participant tries to express what he or she has seen, has understood, of what the text or the story tells us. It is an analysis done together on the objective significance of the text or of the story. One tries to understand the topic in the most complete way possible. In this stage, the ideas of a qualified person or an expert can help the participants to understand the topic better.

Normally each participant is given the opportunity to express what he or she has understood of the topic. The order of the contributions can be left free, or can follow a fixed pattern. This stage can be summarized by the question: What does the text or the story show us?

b. Judge: What are we invited to do?

After deepening the understanding of the topic, one starts to evaluate the meaning of the topic for the life of the participants. Each participant asks how his or her life relates to the topic, how he or she feels affected by the topic, what impact the topic has to his or her private and social life. The topic is evaluated in relation to one's life, but one's life is also evaluated in the light of the topic. The SFO Rule indicates this process as going from the gospel to life and from life to the gospel. This phase can be summarized by the question: What does this text or this story invite us to do?

c. Act: What we will do

In the third phase one tries to pass into practice, to reach practical conclusions for one's life.

Each participant asks what he or she can or should do to answer the topic's invitation, what has to change in his or her life to follow the appeal of the topic. One can also reach common conclusions, take decisions needed to act upon the ideas or the proposals identified in the preceding phase. It is the moment of passing on to the facts. One can summarise this phase by the question: What should we do to act on this text or story?

The meeting ends by remembering briefly the process gone through. A few words summarize the significance of the topic, the invitation it presents and the actions to be taken.