FRANCISCAN FAMILY - III
FRANCISCAN VOCATION, CHARISM AND FAMILY
ST FRANCIS, FORMATOR OF ALL FRANCISCANS
The formator is meant to model the Franciscan way of life for those whom he or she is forming. St Francis is the "forma minorum", that is, the model of the friars, and the formator of all Franciscans.
Article 1 of the SFO Rule provides the outline of the essential points for
formation of all Franciscans: Franciscan vocation; Franciscan charism;
Franciscan Family: "The Franciscan Family... unites all members of the
people of God ...who recognise that they are called to follow Christ in
the footsteps of Saint Francis ....they intend to make present the charism
of their common Seraphic Father...."
a. Franciscan vocation
The call to the person and to the Fraternity (both religious and secular) comes from God. The seculars receive their vocation from the Holy Spirit, through St Francis and the Church, and often through the instrumentality of a Franciscan religious, but not necessarily so.
The call to Franciscans, both religious and secular, is to live the Gospel of
Jesus Christ in the manner of St Francis. With regard to the Secular Franciscan
vocation, the SFO General Constitutions state, "'Christ, poor and crucified' is
the 'book' in which the brothers and sisters, in imitation of Francis, learn the
purpose and the way of living, loving and suffering." (GC 10). This is true of
all Franciscan vocations.
However, the secular Franciscan vocation and the religious Franciscan
vocation are clearly distinguished. The SFO Rule says of the secular Franciscan
vocation: "In these fraternities, the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit,
strive for perfect charity in their own secular state" (Rule 2). The secular
state was clearly and positively outlined by Vatican II: "the secular character
is proper and peculiar to the laity ... but by reason of their special vocation,
it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal
affairs and directing them according to God's will. They live in the world,
i.e., they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in
the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which ... constitute their
very existence" (Lumen gentium 4, 31).
In the initial and ongoing formation of both religious and secular
Franciscans, a substantial Franciscan formation should be ensured. The three
volumes of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents and their Index provide
excellent Franciscan material for formation. The Omnibus is still of great value
Belonging to a Franciscan fraternity, whether religious or secular, is
essential to the Franciscan vocation. The universal Church recognizes a person's
Franciscan vocation when it is expressed in the liturgy, publicly, before the
Fraternity, through vows by religious or through a pledge or promise by seculars.
However, the authenticity of the Franciscan vocation is not guaranteed merely
by a ritual profession; it requires an adequate formation, acknowledgment by the
Fraternity, and a lifelong practical response.
b. Franciscan charism
The Franciscan charism is the sum of gifts that God gave to St Francis to
"rebuild my Church". References to the "specific charisms" of the different
Orders of friars are untheological and divisive.
With regard to the "various ways and forms" (SFO Rule, Art. l), there is a
great variety of Franciscan spiritual emphases, customs, habits, histories,
legislation, and states of life that distinguish one Franciscan Order, Institute
or association from another.
Professed Secular Franciscans are full participants in the common Franciscan
charism, as are professed friars and Poor Clares. The numerous other lay
faithful who are attracted to St Francis's way of life participate in the
Franciscan charism very much (e.g., Secular Institutes), or to some extent (
e.g., the Franciscan Youth Movement, Franciscan Children).
c. Franciscan family and fraternity
The SFO General Constitutions state, "As an integral part of the Franciscan
family and called to live the charism of Francis within the secular dimension,
the SFO has particular and close relations to the First Order" (GC 85.1).
The First, Second and Third Orders (regular and secular) are equal members of
the one Franciscan Family. The concept of the "four Franciscan families",
developed in the history of the friars, is now outdated because it divides
Franciscan religious and seculars into four separate camps and is no longer
The union of the various components, their complementarity and vital
reciprocal communion (life-giving union) does not adversely affect their
A Franciscan Family Union already exists in many nations, and is open to all
who call themselves Franciscans: priests, religious and laity. Its main concern
is to promote the Franciscan formation of its members. In Australia, we have the
Franciscan Federation of Australia, which has an annual general meeting and
organizes large functions. The members are the various Franciscan Orders,
Institutes and associations active in Australia. Individual Franciscans who
belong to these bodies in NSW meet every second month as Franciscans of New
Living a fraternal life and belonging to a local Fraternity is essential to Franciscan life. The SFO General Constitutions say: "The fraternity of the SFO finds its origin in the inspiration of Saint Francis of Assisi to whom the Most High revealed the essential gospel quality of life in fraternal communion" (GC 28.1). "The journey of formation, which should develop throughout life, begins with entrance into the fraternity" (GC 37.2), that is, the local fraternity (cf. GC 39.1).
I would like to point out some differences between the Secular Franciscan Order and the Franciscan Youth Movement.
There is a minimum age for the professed Secular Franciscan. The National Statutes of Oceania (10.6d) specify 18 years. The Secular Franciscan has made an adult decision about his or her vocation. Membership in the SFO is permanent, for life.
There is a maximum age for Franciscan Youth. The National Statutes of Oceania (11.1.2) specify 34 years. The Franciscan Youth member has not yet made any adult decision about his or her vocation. Membership in the Franciscan Youth Movement is temporary. We are not young all our life, unfortunately!
A group or Fraternity of the Franciscan Youth is not a junior Fraternity of the SFO, but a local SFO Fraternity composed of young people can be formed and established. The formation of the Franciscan Youth members is different from the formation of the Secular Franciscans, according to their different state in life and needs.