WHAT TYPE OF ASSISTANCE TO THE SFO DO WE WANT?
Irudaya Samy OFMCap, General Assistant SFO
The Constitutions of the religious Orders
The Constitutions of the Religious Orders who assist the SFO describe very well what we could expect from spiritual assistance to the SFO. They stress that Franciscan religious life is not complete without the SFO, that it shares its Franciscan charisma with the SFO, who lives the same charism in the world. All Friars are called to accept and to develop this charism, to share it in a spirit of fraternity, fully respecting the specificity of the life of the Secular Franciscans.
In this view, the Assistant is the first to give witness to the attention of the religious towards the SFO. He can suggest to his brothers a new way of being with the laity. The Assistant should have the ability to develop in the SFO the real Franciscan spirit, so that all SFO brothers and sisters can expand that spirit in the world. Hence the necessity to help the laity grow in dialogue with the world, to offer the Secular Franciscans the instruments to view the world differently, to inculturate the faith truly in a Franciscan way. The Assistant plays a pivotal role in the pastoral care entrusted by the Church to the First Order in relation to the SFO.
The service towards the SFO
The Assistant should have the capacity to see the SFO in all its potential strength, to call it back to its own identity, to its full potential for the person of our day, to live the Gospel in today's world, even if at times the actual situation of the SFO falls short of this potentiality. The Assistant should challenge the SFO to live its own life, enable it to develop its full potential and give it the solid nourishment it needs. Neither the position of the Assistant jack-of-all-trades, nor that of limiting oneself to the purely spiritual aspect, is correct. The Assistant should accompany the SFO in its journey in the world, help its relating with the world, in the light of the Gospel, to be able to go counter-current in the spirit of the Gospel, to consecrate the world day by day.
The Assistant should be convinced of his task to call the SFO out to its own Franciscan and secular vocation, to be radically Franciscan and evangelical, to cultivate this vocation in close collaboration with the secular leaders This attitude will prevent the animation of the SFO from becoming purely pragmatic, and will sustain the Council in its role of guiding their evangelizing community. The General Constitutions of the SFO speak always of spiritual assistance in terms of cooperation, of collaboration, of being together with the laity, respecting their specificity, interacting attentively and respectfully, making both grow. It is important to give witness to the correct secular-religious relationship, to call both to their particular functions, in fidelity to their own life-situation.
The service towards one's own Order
The attitude of being with the seculars, of inviting them to live their own vocation, should enter also into the formation programs of the Friars. The Assistants, at all levels, should promote the interest of the Friars for the SFO. In their relations with the religious Ministers, they should underline that the attention for the SFO is a communion determining our lives, is a must and not just an optional activity. To fail to recognize this life-giving union with one another means to risk losing our identity, not only the identity of the SFO, but also that of the First Order.
The SFO has to be seen as a task, not only of the Assistant, but of the whole Family, of all Friars. It is a question of gaining back motivations, of recovering our fundamental identity. We should insist that there be room for the SFO in the formation of the Friars, in initial formation as well as in ongoing and permanent formation. The Guidelines for the Formation of the Friars present a specific and clear point of reference.
The Assistant has to call attention to the SFO during the visits of the Ministers to their religious, to make the visit a moment where the religious Order can come into closer contact with the seculars. A letter of the General Ministers is not enough; the attitudes expressed in the documents should shape all aspects of the life of the Order. We should stress that no aspect of our life can escape from this communion with one another.
Regarding the mission of the Order, especially in the new evangelization, we should take care that the seculars are also present, seculars who can solicit questions by their way of life, because they are in the world, as the vanguard of the Franciscan Family. Secular Franciscans can introduce lay questions in Franciscan life. How could we really feel ourselves at the side of the poor without involving the laity who are present in that social reality?
Together with the seculars, we can start a real pastoral care of the family, a care which can show how to construct a real family in the culture of our times. Our Franciscan charism gives us this possibility of a real integral pastoral care. It is not a question of making the SFO enter into our pastoral activities, or in our religious mission. It is a question of fostering a common activity, of together realizing a united mission. It is not a question of talking about the SFO, but of talking with the SFO, to make the SFO speak to the Friars and with the Friars. The Assistants have the task of making this life-giving communion pass from words to facts.
The preferential field for spiritual assistance, at this moment in history, is the First Order and the TOR. The Assistants should invest their energies in getting the Friars interested, in developing among the Friars a mature, informed vision of the place of the SFO in the Franciscan Family. The Assistants of the various Orders should together animate their Friars, not separately, each for his own Order, but together, collegially, so that the specific experiences can bear fruit for the others. We should develop a style of being present and of animating our own Orders in such a way that the Assistant does, in regard to his own Order, what cannot be done by an Assistant of another Order. But also in these situations we should never cease to act collegially. On the contrary, we should together assist the SFO with the specific contribution of each religious family.