THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE SFO
I speak to you today as one who professes to live the Third Order Rule. In that respect although we are members of the same Franciscan family, my focus or emphasis is different from that of the First Order Rule, or that of the Second Order, the Poor Clares, or yours. I have a kinship with the Secular Franciscans therefore that is unique. So in talking about the spirituality of the SFO, I , of necessity, do that from the perspective of our common Third Order background.
A new (old) world view
I recently listened to a tape by the theologian Elizabeth Johnston in which
she quotes the Astronaut, Rusty Sweighart. When on the moon he said, "From the
moon the earth is so small and fragile, such a precious little spot in the
universe that you can blot it out with your thumb. Then you realize that on that
spot, that beautiful warm, blue and white circle, is everything that means
anything to you in this life - all of history, of music, of poetry and art, of
birth and death, of tears and joy, of prayer and dancing. All takes place in
that little spot you can cover with your thumb. Once you realize this you are
We can call this a religious experience. We see Earth as the place of encounter with God. We are co-creators with the Creator whose loving Spirit renews the face of the earth. God is not a dominating power over us but a loving God empowering us from within. Elizabeth Johnson writes, "We are a flourishing humanity on a thriving earth in an evolving universe - all together filled with the glory of God."
This is the language of the new cosmology, a new world view transformed by scientific breakthroughs. DNA, quantum physics, ecology, the removal of the barrier between science and religion. God graced Francis with this same view centuries ago when he realized a profound change took place within him, and he said. "The Lord led me to do penance." This world view he later expressed in the universal kinship of the Canticle of Creatures.
When Francis went to the priest at San Damiano and asked to become a Penitent it was because he had caught a glimpse of a world vision which he never let go. Francis' world view of life stemmed from realizing that he was in constant relationship with a Trinitarian God who loved him and every brother and sister in the entire created universe. As he began to live from this new perspective, a perspective in which he was totally turned around, his preaching of peace and penance became contagious and the whole world wanted to see as he did.
Br. Masseo asked Francis. "After you, why after you, why is the whole world
running after you.?" All were following Francis, married, single, merchants,
soldiers, lepers - all wanting to "do penance" in imitation of him. It was in
this situation that the birth of what is now the SFO came into being and the
Franciscan movement began a transforming effect on the entire medieval society,
indeed on ages and ages to come.
I. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF TRUE PENANCE?
The word "penance| was never one of my favourite words. When I first entered
the novitiate and received a copy of the Third Order Regular Rule more than
forty years ago, I never relished being called a "Sister of Penance", and in
fact it was not really emphasized. Not until the 1970's, when I myself was in
formation work, did a revolution take place in my thinking. It was the
post-Vatican time of renewal and returning to Sources. The Franciscan
Federations throughout the world began publishing resource material on the Order
of Penitents as groups of Third Order Secular and Regular, worldwide began
looking at themselves and their roots.
Names such as Atonement Friar, Thaddeus Morgan, TOR Minister General Roland Faley, TOR, scholars Raffaele Pazzelli and Lino Temperini. Capuchin Regis Armstrong, Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF and Cajetan Esser OFM did extensive research. As an MFIC community we too entered totally into a grassroots process involving every local community. This was a process which, simultaneously with the SFO, ended in the revision of both Rules.
I believe we cannot truly understand the Third Order spirituality, indeed the
spirituality of the entire Franciscan family, unless we look deeply into the
meaning of penance or metanoia or conversion. Cajetan Esser notes that
all of Franciscan spiritually comes from the idea of penance. Francis grasped
the meaning of penance by the grace of God and it was this that touched the
hearts of his first followers.
In the OT Israel knows and understands itself primarily in relationship to
God: they are the chosen ones. "If you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant
you shall be my special possession dearer to me than all other people." (Ex.
19:5-6) Sin was forgetfulness of this relationship and the goodness God had
done, conversion was remembrance (Deut. 6:4-9). Conversion meant a return to a
relationship which also involved a return to certain rituals, a return to an
abandoned way of life - return to where you had been before.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles, speak of a change, new pattern of behaviour, an internal change of attitude, a change of heart. Turn from hardness of heart and spiritual blindness to belief in Jesus. True conversion is a lifelong process of being deeply and forever concerned with letting the Lord turn us around to shape our lives according to his word in us (e.g., the woman potter on Tumleo Island - shaping the pot through touch, the inner surface as well as the outer, and through sound.)
This conversion is a true reconciliation or turning to the face of God. The
sacrament of reconciliation has been described as the kiss of God. Rembrandt's
famous picture of the Prodigal Son's return shows such an embrace. This intimacy
was what Francis experienced when he said, "The Lord led me to do penance." The
natural overflow of such an experience of God's love is love of others in
universal brotherhood and sisterhood. "Good morning, good people - peace and all
good (pace e bene, pax et bonum.) One cannot think of Francis the
penitent without thinking of Francis the peacemaker.
II. HISTORY OF THE PENITENTIAL MOVEMENT AND FRANCIS
It is helpful to look at the history of the Penitential Movement because it was this movement already in existence that Francis himself joined. We will trace it through the centuries:
1c. Order of Penitents was entered for a period of time by sinners to atone for post-baptismal sin. (Confession-absolution by Bishop- time in the order of Penance).
2c. As Baptism was received only once in a lifetime so was Penance - expressed by vigils, fasting, pilgrimages, tears, poor clothing, acts of charity to the needy.
3c. Voluntary penitential movement began.
4c. More rigid directives - sinners rarely entered the order except towards the end of life. Those seeking perfection became voluntary penitents.
5c. New methods of obtaining pardon - codifying penitential practices weakened the biblical understanding of metanoia. turning the HEART to God.
7-l0c. Reform of monasticism kept the penitential spirit alive.
11c. Development of the eremetical life of penitents, crusades, Gregorian reform.
12c. Intense involvement of laity, itinerant preachers, heretical movements (Waldensians).
Throughout the centuries, the emphasis on the internal and external dimensions of penance shifted. Sometimes a true spirituality which focuses one's life on God is prevalent, at other times, just the penitential practices prevail, usually fasting, with no true interior conversion.
The presence of voluntary penitents was a distinctive aspect of Christian
life during Francis' early years, so when Francis desired to live the Gospel in
its completeness, he did so according to the manner of the Penitents. Francis
asked to become a penitent at the church of San Damiano 1206. We will not treat
here the details of that time. We know that people flocked after him once he
began to preach. Once he journeyed to Rome and papal approval was given to him,
the number of followers or penitents rapidly increased. Many give 1221, the
occasion of Francis preaching to birds at Alviano, as the official beginning of
the Third Order. More progressive writers say the tertiary movement began years
before. Some trace the founding of the SFO to the piazza of Cannara. These
people from Cannara were a hard line of people, millers, sullen and unbending in
their taxation for their bread and flour. As Francis was preaching to them,
flocks of birds began to cry. He was distracted and spoke to them saying, "My
sisters, it is my turn to speak now. You have said enough already. Listen to
God's word and be quiet until the sermon is over." Immediately they stopped and
settled everywhere (first miracle). When Francis stopped preaching ALL the men
and women wanted to join him, not just some, as usually was the case (second
miracle). He said, "Don't be in a hurry and don't leave for I will arrange what
you should do for the salvation of your souls." And so he conceived the
Franciscan Third Order for the laity who continued to live in their homes and
social settings. These were the first to dedicate themselves en masse
to a new movement.
Some notable first tertiaries were Lucchesio and his wife Buonadonna, from Poggibonsi, and Lady Jacopa Settisoli, from Rome.
One of the earliest practical actions of the Penitents which impacted medieval society was the fact that they were forbidden to take up arms of any kind, forbidden to join the militia, and forbidden to take any solemn oaths. These precepts alone bring peace and justice. They destroy war and tyranny through destruction of oaths of fealty upon which power rests, however unjustly. Sources state that in 1221 the tertiaries of Faenza refused to take up arms and the bishop referred the case to Pope honourius who upheld them. Thus peacemaking was an integral part of the lifestyle of the penitents. Penance and peacemaking were two key elements in the development of the secular Franciscan movement.
For those who profess the Third Order Rules, both Secular and Regular, the
Letter to the Faithful (the first version in particular) has significant value.
It is this letter that is generally considered by recent research to be Francis'
exhortation to the Penitents that followed him and so is presented as a Prologue
in both newly revised Rules.
First Letter - Recensio Prior - two chapters: Those who do Penance; Those who do not. (Manuscript 225. discovered by Paul Sabatier in 19th c. In Guarnacci Library, Volterra) Researched extensively by Cajetan Esser OFM."
All who love..." love God and love neighbour
who resist sinful tendencies of fallen nature
who receive sacraments especially Eucharist
who act in conformity with conversion
and produce fruits worthy of penance.
Only when a person overcomes pride and self-centeredness can the love of God and neighbour flourish, a love nourished by the Eucharist and expressed in selfless service.
"How Happy..." The result of such conduct is happiness, becoming spouses, mother, brothers of Jesus. It is this fact, that Jesus is our brother, that is what binds a fraternity together. We can be brothers and sisters to one another only because first and foremost, Jesus is a brother to each one of us. Francis adds spouses to Mat 12:50, thus indicating the depth of intimacy with God.
"How glorious..." living in this way constitutes the
person's sharing in the Trinitarian Life . This is the new world vision of life
in union with God, a universe pulsating with God's life. This is the
extraordinary, indeed glorious life that enraptured Francis, the man transformed
Second Letter to the Faithful
1.) Greeting of Francis as Brother, universal brotherhood with all creatures.
2.) Letter is a summary of Gospel - happiness only comes from love of God
3.) Love of God (Trinity) Father, Son and Spirit - Trinitarian concept is basic to Francis' spirituality.
4.) When faced with love of God, the response of the penitent is radical, total and practical in universal praise, metanoia or conversion, and sacramental life.
5.) The result is insertion into the life of the Triune God, Man's supreme happiness. Life will be a hymn of praise to the goodness of the Lord.
6.) The opposite holds for those who do not do penance.
Memoriale Propositi: gave regulations, monthly meetings, visitation etc.
Spirituality of the Letter:
-Totally Catholic. Francis's adherence to Catholicism and fidelity to the Church (does not mention Cathars or Waldensians, but his theology shows he is totally Catholic).
-Emphasis on Eucharist and sacredness of priesthood.
-New person. The state of penance is a journey to God. The life of penance is a road of ascent to God and the means of this ascent. The spirit of love continues to grow in the heart of the penitent. The journey that leads to God is our response to the love of God, a call to greatness: "be perfect". The Penitent lives in love because he has tasted and seen how good the Lord is.
To do penance means to love God and this is expressed in love of neighbour,
in performing worthy fruits of penance ( mercy, charity, humility, simplicity,
purity, servants and subjects of all, self contempt, almsgiving).
1978 Rule of Paul VI: "From gospel to Life" (see outline)
RULE OF THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
PROLOGUE: Recensio Prior - First Letter to the
Faithful "Those who do penance..."
CHAPTER I: SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER (Art.1- 3 Identity)
1. Franciscan Family in the Church
2. Secular Franciscan Order
3. Present Rule and continuity
CHAPTER II: WAY OF LIFE
(Art.4, 5, 6 Meaning of Gospel Living)
4. Gospel Life, union with Christ (Heart of Rule - intimate union with Christ).
5. Seek Christ in liturgy. Scripture, Church, each other.
6. Members of Church - rebuild.
(Art.7-8 Preconditions of Gospel Living)
7. conversion and reconciliation
8. Worship and prayer(Art.9-14 Lifestyle)
9. Example of Mary
10. Union with the poor Christ (simple living,
11. Detachment by simplifying one's needs plus
12. Result of Gospel poverty is freedom togetherness,
13. Each one is gift-community of equals plus
14. Life of selfless service service)
(Art.15 -19 Concrete Action in Ministry)
15. Promote Justice
16. Attitudes to work
17. Family Life (5 major areas)
18. Creature - Ecology
CHAPTER III: LIFE IN FRATERNITY
(Art.20 - 26: Structures and Formation)
20. Levels of fraternities
21. Local Needs
22. Approval of Church
23. Formation -New Members
25. Financial Contributions
26. Spiritual Assistants
BLESSING OF SAINT FRANCIS
The SFO rule takes this Third Order spirituality and places it in a secular context lived in fraternity, different from the TOR Rule, which is lived in the context of a vowed religious life. The essentials, however, remain the same. Pope John Paul II writes: From a new heart, peace is born. From a penitential heart, a heart converted or turned to God, comes right relationship, kinship, equality, true peace. Whether we talk of being messengers of peace or of choosing life by embracing non-violence, the message is the same. That, I believe, is the essence of the spirituality of the Third Order.
III. CHALLENGES TO LIVING THE SFO SPIRITUALITY IN PNG
What is the situation here at the dawn of this 21st century? The Bishops' Conference of PNG and SI recently published a Pastoral Letter entitled, "Blessed are the Peacemakers."
The World Council of Churches has declared this a Decade to Overcome Violence (Churches seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010)
In a meeting of Franciscan Peace and Justice, in the 1980's, Peter van Hees noted points in the PNG social life: injustice to women as second rate citizens;
corruption and bribery in government;
multinationals for minerals and forests;
dissatisfied, disillusioned unemployment of young;
village authority broken down;
consumerism and materialism as goals;
the church engendered a receiving mentality.
We could add to this list the drug and steam problem, the rising incidence of HIV, the rapid breakdown of the country's infrastructures.
In today's world, we see that the SFO is challenged to promote initiatives to protect creation, and to create living conditions and an environment which is not threatening to people, to live the Franciscan spirit in a family environment and to bring people together as neighbours who share difficult social and ecclesial situations (HIV, widows, divorced, etc.) These points were stated in terms of the SFO in general but what about here, in this Diocese of Aitape. I will close offering you some questions for discussion which flow out of the SFO Rule. How can we address this Rule to the signs of our times?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
Rule # 1: In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they (the Franciscan family) intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.
1.) COLLABORATION IN MINISTRY - If all members of the Franciscan family (SFO, OFM, MFIC) worked in communion and joint responsibility, what impact could it have on the Franciscan Mission in the diocese? Practically speaking what do you see as our joint mission?
Rule #15: Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.
2.) NONVIOLENCE - What would be characteristic features and desired consequences of a commitment to peace in the Franciscan spirit here in the diocese of Aitape?
Rule # 18 Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and
inanimate, which "bear the imprint of the Most High," and they should strive to
move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of
3.) NEW COSMOLOGY - The Melanesian people are people of the land and a people of the clan, the family. At a time when land disputes tear people apart, when there is exploitation by multinational companies of the countries minerals, when big money is the key attraction, what practical application to these situations could an SFO presence make?
Rule #7 ...let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls "conversion." Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.
Constitutions #23. Peace is the work of justice and the fruit of
reconciliation and of fraternal love.
4.) LIFE OF PRAYER - How can the meaning of true conversion be strengthened in the lives of those in the Franciscan Family through a new examination of conscience and a renewed understanding of the sacrament of Reconciliation?
(Definition of violence. Violence is emotional, verbal or physical behaviour which dominates, diminishes, dehumanizes or destroys persons. It crosses boundaries, without permission, disrupts authentic relationships and separates us from others.)