FORMATION OF SECULAR FRANCISCANS
I. AGENTS OF FORMATION
The Guidelines for Formation, published in 1992 by the Presidency of the International Council, treat at length the agents of formation and those responsible for formation (Chapter III, pp.26-31).
1. The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the source of the Secular Franciscan vocation, the principal agent of their formation, and the soul of their fraternal living (cf. GC 11; 37.2)
It is the Holy Spirit who brings to birth the new life which makes them sharers in the divine life, and testifies that they are children of God (Jn 3: 5-8; 2 Pet. 1: 4; Rom. 8: 14-16).
He reveals and communicates the fundamental vocation, which is the vocation to holiness (Eph. 1:4-5). He conforms them to Christ and enables them to share in the life of God's Son, which is expressed in love of the Father and of their brothers and sisters (Gal. 4: 6; 5:25).
He teaches them what is necessary for the following of Christ (Jn. 14: 26; 16: 13-14).
He strengthens their interior life, making them comprehend the greatness of the mystery of Christ and of his love, which surpasses all knowledge (cf. Eph. 3:16-19).
He enriches them with gifts and special graces which enable them to assume offices and services for the common good and for the good of their Fraternity (I Cor. 12: 4-11).
He gives them strength to bear witness to Christ, and teaches them how to behave, and what to say in emergencies (Acts 1: 8; 8: 14-17; Lk. 12: 11-12).
He consoles, counsels, assists and sustains them in the various circumstances of secular life. He helps their weakness and intercedes for them (]n. 14: 16-17, 26; Rom. 8: 26-27).
He makes them share in the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 8: 11).
2. St Francis
St Francis was full of the Holy Spirit and acted and spoke under his influence (2 Cel. 46, 52).
He always bore in mind that, like Christ, his brothers were born of a poor mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom he considered the General Minister of the Order (2 Cel. 193; LM III, 10).
He understood that to follow in the footsteps of Christ demands that we be interiorly purified, enlightened and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit (Letter to the Order VII).
He wrote that the new man, that is the man who sees with the eyes of Christ and acts in the spirit of the Gospel, is one who has "the Spirit of the Lord and his holy operation" (Regula Bullata X).
He exemplified that the Spirit brings us to the knowledge of spiritual realities even without human instruction (2 Cel. 191), unites the faithful person to Jesus Christ and makes that soul the spouse of Christ (cf. Prologue to the Rule).
3. The SFO Rule
The Rule of Paul VI describes the action of the Holy Spirit in relation to the candidate, as:
prevenient: that is, it prepares for each one the "welcoming family", the Franciscan family raised up by him in the Church (cf. Rule 1).
instigating: that is, it "moves" the candidate to enter that Family in order to follow Christ in the manner of Saint Francis (cf. Rule 2).
illuminating and strengthening: that is, it introduces the candidate into the truth, into the mystery of Christ, in the Church, in liturgical actions, especially in the Eucharist (cf. Rule 4, 5). As Saint Francis writes :"The Spirit of the Lord dwells in the faithful who receive the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord; all those who do not partake of the same Spirit and presume to receive the Lord, eat and drink their own damnation." (Admonitions I. 12).
II. FORMATION TEAM
1. Secular Formator and others
Those responsible for formation are: the candidate, the entire fraternity, the council with the minister, the formator, and the assistant as spiritual guide. All should be always attentive to collaboration with the Holy Spirit (cf. GC 37.2).
The candidate is responsible for his or her own formation and for developing the Franciscan vocation and charism and the sense of belonging to the Franciscan family (GC 37.3).
The fraternity is called to help the candidates in their formation by means of a warm welcome, prayer and example ( cf. GC 37.3).
2. Spiritual Assistant
The local spiritual Assistant is the one who inspires and promotes intellectual and spiritual life; he or she is the spiritual guide of the local Fraternity when a friar spiritual Assistant cannot regularly attend.
His or her task in the formation team is to give witness to the authenticity of the Franciscan charism and to be a safe and enlightened guide:
- by the example and witness of one who lives as a Franciscan;
- by collaborating as a member with the formation team, without imposing his own ideas, rather by forming the team itself, helping it particularly in dealing with subjects which are often unfamiliar to the seculars; by evaluating together the progress already achieved and that still remaining to be achieved;
- by offering support through what he has to say and through the preparations
a. Role in initial and ongoing formation
The Spiritual Director of the Third Order of St Francis had a lot to do with the direction and organization of the local Fraternity. The work of the Spiritual Assistant of the Secular Franciscan Order is reduced as regards direction and organization, which are the proper tasks of the Fraternity Council members. But the Assistant's work acquires greater depth in the area of spiritual accompaniment and in the formation of the secular brothers and sisters.
b. Among those in charge of formation
- "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" (Const. GC 90.1);
- the Assistant is responsible for formation as spiritual guide (cf. Const. 37.2);
- before admitting someone to profession, the Council must listen to the Formator and the Assistant (cf. Const. 41.1);
- In the pastoral visits, the Assistant "will give special attention to
programs, methods and experiences of formation" (Const. 95.4).
The Guidelines for Formation give prominence to the role of the Assistant as a brother, and as a teacher and guide (Chap. Three, II, D).
As a brother of the candidates and professed, he shares the same ideal, is gifted with the same charism, and shares in the same mission of St Francis. In this way, he lives and promotes mutual communion among all the followers of St Francis (GC 89.3).
As a teacher and guide, he reveals Christ the Saviour, especially if he is a priest. He fosters communion with the Church, and guarantees the integrity of Catholic faith and of church discipline.
The Guidelines for Formation , in Appendix III, describe the collaborative style of the Assistants, "paying the greatest attention to the personality of the candidates, encouraging them to express themselves freely, so as to be able to give an adequate support, and attain the desired end."
c. In the formation of the Fraternity
"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"(GC 90.2). His role consists in being the privileged formator of the entire Fraternity.
His objectives are: to help new members prepare themselves for their definitive commitment; to accompany the professed in persevering and entering more fully into their life-long commitment.
"The time of initiation is a phase preparatory to the true and proper time of
formation and is intended for the discernment of the vocation and for the
reciprocal acquaintance between the fraternity and the aspiring member. It
should guarantee the freedom and the seriousness of entrance into the SFO" (GC
Length of Time
"The duration of the time of initiation and the forms employed in its development are established by the national statutes" (GC 38.2). The Statutes of the National Fraternity of the SFO in Oceania are included in the Handbook for Spiritual Assistance to the SFO.
"The time of initiation should continue for a period of not less than three months" (Nat. Stats. 10.3.1). Exceptional circumstances are noted (Nat. Stats. 10.3.2).
"During the time of initiation, the inquirer shall examine, with the assistance of the fraternity, the Formator and the Spiritual Assistant, the evangelical life and commitment of a Secular Franciscan and shall look for clear signs of vocation to the Order" (Nat. Stats. 10.3.3).
"The inquirer shall attend meetings of the particular fraternity and meet any other requirements suggested by the Fraternity Council" (Nat. Stats. 10.3.3). The Council may require that the inquirers attend separate meetings also.
Role of Assistant
The local Assistant has the principal duty of:
- Counsellor: he enters into personal dialogue with the aspirants.
He helps them clarify their own vocation, purifying it and bringing it to
greater clarity. He accompanies them along the way of living the Gospel.
- Guide: he organizes the course of formation, together with the fraternity Council. Together with the Formator, he conducts the course, and guarantees the Church's teaching and fidelity to the Franciscan charism. He introduces the aspirants gradually into a deepening of the truths of faith and the knowledge of Franciscan spirituality.
Course "Come and See", Bach - Baker.
IV. INITIAL FORMATION
"The purpose of this period is the maturation of the vocation, the experience
of the evangelical life in fraternity, and a better knowledge of the Order." (GC
"The candidates are guided to read and meditate on Sacred Scripture, to come to know the person and writings of Francis, and Franciscan spirituality, and to study the Rule and Constitutions. They are trained in a love for the Church and acceptance of her teaching. The laity practise living their secular commitment in the world in an evangelical way" (GC 40.2).
Length of Time
"The time of initial formation lasts at least one year. The national statutes can establish a longer period" (GC 40.1). The National Statutes state: "The time of initial formation begins with admission and shall continue for a period of between one and two years. This period may be extended, when appropriate, for a further period of one year" (Nat. Stat. 10.5.1).
"The period of initial formation may be shortened only when the fraternity council agrees that impending death warrants such shortening. Should the member survive, the period of initial formation should be completed" (Nat. Stats. 10.5.2).
"This formation should be carried out with frequent meetings for study and prayer and with concrete experiences of service and of apostolate. These meetings should be held, as far as possible and opportune, in common with the candidates of other fraternities" (GC 40.1).
"Participation in the meetings of the local fraternity is an indispensable presupposition for initiation into community prayer and into fraternity life." (GC 40.3).
Role of Assistant
The document on The Role and Formation of the Leaders of the Local Fraternity, published in 1997 by the Presidency of the SFO International Council, highlights the specific role of the spiritual Assistant "in the initial and ongoing formation of the fraternity members" (n.19).
The Assistant plays a delicate and fundamental role in the initial formation of the candidates:
- through his ministerial function if he is a priest;
- through his or her spiritual discernment:
- as a guide in the journey of faith and of acquiring the criteria of Church life;
- by mediating an authentic Franciscan spirituality.
Course "Franciscan Formation Programme 1992", National Fraternity SFO-Oceania.
"Seminar for Assistants, 2002", Conference of National Assistants SFO-Oceania
V. ONGOING FORMATION
Formation of the professed members takes place in a permanent and continuous way, as an aid in their conversion, and in the fulfilment of their proper mission in the Church and in society (cf. GC 44.1).
Ongoing formation aims to assist the professed in listening to and meditating on the Word of God, in reflecting on events in the Church and in society in the light of faith and with the help of the documents of the teaching Church, and in studying the writings of St Francis, St Clare and other Franciscan authors (cf. GC 44.3).
The Guidelines for Formation of 1992 devote a section to Ongoing Formation (Chapter II, section III).
In the normal Fraternity meeting
The Fraternity has the duty to give special attention to the formation of the newly professed and of the temporarily professed, to help them become fully mature in their vocation and develop a true sense of belonging" (GC 44.2).
Course "Catch Me A Rainbow Too", Lester Bach.
"To Live As Francis Lived", Foley-Weigel-Normile.
"Fully Mature in the Fullness of Christ", Benet Fonck.
At other times
"Ongoing formation is accomplished by means of courses, gatherings, and the sharing of experience" (GC 44.3). Examples: Adult education courses; visiting lecturers, religious and secular.
Role of Assistant
In everything suggested by the General Constitutions (cf. GC 44) and in all initiatives of a formative nature taken by the local Fraternity Council, he should be present and should lend as much support as will be required of him.
VI. FORMATION OF THE FORMATORS
National and Regional Councils and Executives feel the need to conduct courses and seminars for Formators in local Fraternities, e.g., "Formation Gathering", National Fraternity SFO-Oceania, 1999.
Topics for consideration are the essential tools of formation: Communicating, Listening, Preparing Presentations, and Engaging in Dialogue. Secular Franciscan speakers prepare and present these topics. A fifth topic, presented by the Conference of National or Regional Assistants, is the role of the Spiritual Assistant in formation.
The participants gather in groups to discuss the topics. The groups appoint a moderator and a secretary. The secretary reports the results of group discussion in a plenary session, and hands in a written report to the chair person.