THE DUTY OF THE SPIRITUAL ASSISTANTS TO THE SFOValentin Redondo OFMConv., General Assistant SFO
[Translated by: Chito Rañoa, OFM]
The Spiritual Assistant must have a capacity for service and discipline. His spiritual assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) is like being in a watchtower to oversee better his spiritual service and to observe its inherent capacities for the good of the people of today, living the Gospel of fraternity, of poverty, of penance in his own family, in his own world, in his civic and social activities. From this watchtower of service and of responsibility, the Spiritual Assistant must invite the SFO to live their secular Franciscan charism, to collaborate in its full development and offer the members solid nourishment. The position of the Assistant does not make him do everything as before or limit itself only to what is spiritual. The Assistant is a co-journeyer of the SFO in their pilgrimage in this word, which shares in the same Franciscan charism, although in diverse ways and forms, helps them to situate themselves in the world in the light of the Gospel and Franciscan spirituality, in order to walk against the current, consecrating the world of today. This demands a continual and uninterrupted relationship.
The Assistant must be fully convinced in motivating the SFO in their Franciscan and secular vocation and in Franciscan gospel rootedness. This will have to be cultivated in the context of their close contact with secular responsibilities. This act of the Assistant saves animation from pure pragmatism. He collaborates with the Council in his role as animator and leader of the Fraternity at all its levels. The General Constitution of the SFO, as well as the Statutes for Spiritual Assistance, talk of assistance in terms of cooperation, of collaboration, of being at the side of the secular Franciscans in their uniqueness, in an alert and respectful attention which helps both Secular Franciscans and Spiritual Assistants grow.
Towards Communion – From Authority to Corresponsibility
Leo XIII in his Rule for the Third Order, promulgated in his Apostolic Constitution Misericors Dei Filius (May 30, 1883), has left us two articles about the Visitors, and asks that they be chosen from the friars of the First Order and of the TOR: "Let the Curator, who is called the Visitator, diligently inquire, whether the laws have been sufficiently kept. Therefore it pertains to him to go about in his official capacity to the places of the sodalities each year, and so far more frequently, if the matter requests it, and to hold a meeting at which the Prefect and all the members have been commanded to be present. If the Visitator recalls anyone to his duty by warning and/or commanding, or if he has decreed anything against anyone, let the latter accept this modestly, and let the same not refuse to pay the penalty." And also, "let Visitators be picked from the First Order of the Franciscans or from the Third Order Regular, whom the Custodes or Guardians, if they have been asked, will designate. The duty of Visitator shall be forbidden to lay men."
The same Pope, in an audience given to the four Ministers General of the Franciscan Family, says that it pertains to them to foster "this Order of Penance through the priests of your Order and through the Visitors."
Pius X, in 1909, reminds the friars of the four Franciscan Orders, in his Apostolic Letter Septimo iam pleno, of the same rights and duties for the SFO.
The Rule of Paul VI lets the last article talk about spiritual assistance on the part of the friars of the First Order and of the TOR, as a sign of communion and corresponsibility, in order to favour the fidelity to the charism and as a help in fraternal life.
"As a concrete sign of communion and co-responsibility, the councils on various levels, in keeping with the constitutions, shall ask for suitable and well prepared religious for spiritual assistance. They should make this request to the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries.
"To promote fidelity to the charism as well as observance of the rule and to receive greater support in the life of the fraternity, the minister or president, with the consent of the council, should take care to ask for a regular pastoral visit by the competent religious superiors as well as for a fraternal visit from those of the higher fraternities, according to the norm of the constitutions." 
It is interesting to see how the Visitor in the first Rules had rights and duties of dispensing and of correcting and also of seeing if the Rule is observed, while the Rule of Paul VI talks about communion and corresponsibility, favouring the charism and helping in the life of the fraternity.
Assistance is a Service
In order to talk of the role of the Spiritual Assistant to the SFO, it is right and interesting to begin with Franciscan spirituality and the role played in this sense by Francis of Assisi and his companions in the accompaniment and spiritual assistance given to the laity, to the first penitents who approached the Friars Minor.
Franciscan spirituality traces its root to Jesus poor and crucified. Before the eyes of Francis, there always appears the kenosis (emptying) of God who makes himself poor, who divests himself, who makes himself a minor, who becomes obedient... – here the verbs are always in the active form, because it is always something creative in Jesus and in us. Francis, with the charism of minority, wants for himself and his companions "the dispositions of Jesus Christ": a sense of minority, a sense of service, a sense of availability... Francis wants that his relationships with the brothers be fraternal, in the service of forgiveness, of welcome. 
All of these are values which must also be shown to the rest of men and women, in the Church and in the society.
Contrary to these dispositions is power. Service and power cannot live together. Service helps in the growth of all senses, while power dominates subjects and enslaves. Jesus who knows very well human nature makes service one of the fundamental principles of his life and says to his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:25-28). 
Francis is not afraid of social power, nor of the political, nor of the ecclesiastical, nor of the religious, nor of the economic..., when this is placed at the service of men, of society, of the Church, but is afraid of the power of these spheres, because they make it difficult for people to be free and to grow as individuals and as a group.
The Franciscan friars today must maintain the same gospel dispositions of service and of availability in order to fulfil this ministry of spiritual and pastoral assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order, in such a way that this power be a help to the secular Franciscan, "the Christian person," as a help to go along the road of conversion, a help to become a missionary and a witness of the gospel in the various fields of family and society, of church and political life.
Recognizing these spiritual promptings in Francis and his companions who guided and accompanied the penitents at the beginning of the thirteenth century, we can accomplish them today also, in order to help the Secular Franciscans at the beginning of the third millennium to reach maturity and autonomy. With this, we show the maturity of the laity in the Church and of the secular Franciscans in the Franciscan Family.
We made a big step from the Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order of 1957 to the present legislation of the SFO, be it on the role of the Assistant or on the part of the laity. First, on the part of the Assistant. He is asked to be a servant,  to give way from being Director to Assistant, from doing everything and being the least responsible, to being a co-journeyer and a responsible team worker. Secondly, the secular Franciscan is asked to grow in maturity and autonomy – which is not independence or separation – and to give way from passive responsibility to an active and creative action, from a univocal direction to a collegial direction. Always having in mind that spiritual and pastoral assistance "completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities at the various levels." 
Formation and Suitability
What is very important in the Assistant is his suitability. He is suitable when he is capable and open: capable of collaboration and openness to the Spirit, willingness to return to the sources of his charism. Assistance is also an apostolate. Assistance will be suitable if the Assistant is open to formation: to know the SFO and to collaborate with it.
The major Superiors – the Ministers and the Custodes – are the ones ultimately responsible for Assistance. These ministers should also be open to a dialogue with the Council and the Minister of the SFO, in the appointment of the Assistants and in knowing the direction of the assistance in the fraternities of the Secular Franciscan Order at whatever levels that concern him as major Superior. 
The approved Constitutions have introduced some interesting issues in reference to spiritual assistance and, in concrete, offer a wide fan of possible candidates for assistance, always taking into consideration that this broadness of possibilities should not lose sight of the suitability and good formation of the Assistant at whatever level of SFO fraternity. 
The Spiritual Assistant
The General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order define in a broad yet complete manner the picture of the Assistant: "The Spiritual Assistant is the person designated by the competent major superior to carry out this service for a specific fraternity of the SFO."  And the Rule adds that they be "suitable and well-prepared friars." 
In the definition it is not specified if he is a priest, because his specific responsibility is not sacramental assistance, but spiritual assistance. This opening up of assistance permits the First Order and the TOR, who are fraternities which have priests and non-priests friars, to have a friar whether priest or not, but suitable and well-prepared, to assist the Secular Franciscan fraternity. On the other hand, experience tells us that there are many local fraternities which lack "a Spiritual Assistant." This allows the major Superiors to entrust this responsibility to other Franciscan brothers and sisters, suitable and competent, recommended and asked for by the respective fraternity. 
Ultimately, those responsible for the appointment of Spiritual Assistants are the major Superiors of the First Order and the TOR,  "including the appointment of the Assistant which needs the previous permission from a religious Superior or the local ordinary."  They can exercise this office personally or through a Delegate. 
We can deduce the function or service of the spiritual assistance in the following manner:
- The Spiritual Assistant is delegated  and appointed by the competent major Superior for the discharge of this service in a determined fraternity of the SFO and of the Youfra; 
- The Spiritual Assistant is a witness of Franciscan spirituality, of fraternal affection of the friars toward the secular Franciscans, and a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO; 
- The Spiritual Assistant is preferably a Franciscan friar, belonging to the First Order or to the TOR; 
- The Spiritual Assistant is a member by law, with voting power, of the Council and of the Chapter of the fraternity which he serves and collaborates with them in all the activities. He does not have a voting right in financial matters nor in the election at the various levels. 
The Duties of the Assistant
The duty of the Spiritual Assistant is "the spiritual assistance to the fraternities at the different levels" (GG.CC.86. 1): transmitting "Franciscan spirituality" and cooperating in formation (GG.CC.90.l); while the animation and leadership in the fraternity, at whatever level, is the duty of the Council, of which the Spiritual Assistant is a member, and for this I remind you once again, that "this service completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities at the various levels" (Statutes, 3.1; cf. GG.CC.86.2).
Another gesture and sign of the maturity of spiritual assistance to the SFO is that, being the Council with his Minister as animator and leader 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. The Spiritual Assistant does not exercise the right to vote in financial questions," (GG.CC.90.2) nor in the elections (Cf. GG.CC.77), "Only in economic matters and in elections at any level does he or she not enjoy the right to vote" (Statutes 12.3).
Thus, we summarize the duties of the Spiritual Assistant:
- to foster a deeper insight into Franciscan spirituality and to cooperate in the initial and continuing formation of the Secular Franciscans (Cf. GG.CC.90.1; Statutes, 12.1).
- be respectful, in the Council of the fraternity and in elective and ordinary Chapters, of the responsibilities and role of the Secular Franciscans, giving them priority with regard to the guidance, coordination, and animation of the fraternity (cf. Statutes, 13.2).
- to participate actively and vote in the discussions and decisions taken by the Council or by the Chapter (cf. Statutes, 13.3)
- to be specifically responsible for the animation of liturgical celebrations and spiritual reflections during the meetings of the Council or of the Chapter (cf. Statutes, 13.3).
Responsibility of the Spiritual Assistant
Aside from the abovementioned duties, I would like to underline some areas of responsibility on the part of the Spiritual Assistant to the SFO.
Corresponsibility and communion
Corresponsibility in the governance of the Secular Franciscan Order. The Spiritual Assistant is a member by right of the Council and of the Chapter (GG.CC 90.2; Statutes 12.3). The General Constitutions of the SFO affirms that the two-fold service of the major Superiors: altius moderamen and the spiritual assistance which "completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities at the various levels" (Statutes, 3.1; cf. GG.CC.86.2). The corresponsibility is born not because of the incapacity nor the lack of governance or animation on the part of the Secular Franciscans, but out of the proper charism which must manifest itself in the various riches which the Spirit has scattered in the Franciscan Family through Francis, a man of profound ecclesial vision. This ecclesiology is one which unites the life of the Friars Minor and the religious men and women of the TOR, with the contemplative life of the Poor Clares, and the family and social life of the Secular Franciscans.
Along with the assistance of the friars, two adjectives appear: suitable and well-prepared. These contain the qualities which will properly help the Spiritual Assistants in fulfilling their prioritized duties: animation and formation. Suitability refers to the quality of the friar, adequate and appropriate to render this service to the fraternities of the SFO. The preparation points to an adequate formation, which allows them availability and service in favour of the SFO.
It is timely to remember that it is communion which leads us to the unity of the various vocations present in the Franciscan charism. Unity and communion are based on our common belonging to Christ, in the one vocation to follow him, and in the participation of the gift of the same Spirit. The primacy of our charism in all the Franciscan Family is found in the following of Jesus, in the call and in the free decision to share in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Urs Von Balthasar brings up the originality of Francis’ giving to the laity a project of life in their own secular status, similar to what was given to the friars in their religious state of life. The disciples are called by Jesus to continue his itinerant mission, while the crowd of listeners and of the sick who come to Jesus, but now transformed into new persons, are left where they are to become the leaven of transformation in their surroundings.
The Franciscan Order is capable of actualizing and renewing the charism of Francis, by living the charism in the Family, and in the life and mission of the Church. From this point of view, spiritual assistance, in as much as it is animation, embraces the life of mission, of presence and of opening new roads of collaboration, as a sign of communion. Also in this aspect, collaboration among the friars and the laity will improve in the Family with a better formation of all, both lay and religious.
At the same time, the life of communion which is born out of the charism and the theology of communion in the Church, helps us to overcome the uniformity into which the life of the Church, both lay and religious, often falls. The same communion in the womb of the Franciscan Family points to us the richness of the charism in the diversity of expression in which it is manifested and which is born out of the creative power of the Spirit which has found in Francis a welcoming abode. Thomas of Celano speaks of him: "He was an excellent craftsman; and, according to his plan, rule, and teaching, proclaimed before all, the Church is being renewed in both sexes, and the threefold army of those to be served is triumphing. To all he gave a norm of life, and he showed in truth the way of salvation in every walk of life" (1Cel 37).
The Spiritual Assistant must consider spiritual assistance to the SFO as "a fundamental element of communion" (GG.CC.SFO, 89.1). The local Assistant must promote communion within the SFO fraternity as it is done between the SFO and the First Order and the TOR, and the active presence and sincere communion of the Fraternity with the local Church and the society (Cf. Statutes, 23.2). At the regional and national levels, if there is more than one Assistant, "they are to form a Conference and render their service collegially" (GG.CC.SFO 90.3; Statutes 16.1). In the electives chapters, the Assistant of the higher level is present "as a witness of the communion with the First Order and the TOR" (GG.CC.SFO 76.2). At the pastoral visits, the Visitor Assistant "will meet the pastors (bishop or parish priest) when this is opportune for fostering communion and service for building up the Church. The visitor will promote collaboration and a sense of co-responsibility among the secular leaders and the Spiritual Assistants" (GG.CC.SFO 95:2-3). All of this means that the Assistant must be a person of dialogue, of listening, willing to give way to the lay leaders in the coordination and in the animation of the Fraternity. His duty is to create and foster communion, to be the point of encounter for those who desire to live the gospel as Francis and his friars did.
Reciprocal Communion of Life
Assistance is also geared toward reciprocal communion of life. This does not exclude the differences, which, on the better side, demands or completes them. The reciprocity between the First Order and the TOR and the Secular Franciscan Order, between Franciscan religious and laity, is charismatic, meant to overcome the existing fractures or the inequalities at the different levels, in the pursuit of the specific form of living the charism. Christifideles laici (CFL) recalls, using the words of Paul VI, that "the Church has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in different forms through her members" (CFL n.15). And Canon Law ratifies: "By its regeneration in Christ, all the faithful are given true equality in dignity and action, by the power of Christ." (c.208). This reciprocity among the Franciscans reaches its project of life, lived in a specific form as religious or laity.
Reciprocity indicates a reciprocal recognition, which is attained, thanks to sincere relationships. Reciprocity suggests the recognition of the ways of reflective, meditated and active sharing in mission, which looks for authenticity of reciprocity without forgetting the differences, which in themselves are precious, because they constitute at the same time the limit and the condition of possibilities.
For me, the text of the Constitutions which talk about the mission of the Spiritual Assistant is very important and excellent. "To be a witness of Franciscan spirituality and of the fraternal affection of the religious towards the Secular Franciscans, and to be a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO, the Spiritual Assistant should be a Franciscan religious, member of the First Order or the TOR." (GG.CC.SFO 89.3).
The Assistant is the witness of the charism which permeates the life of all the Franciscan Family through spirituality, fraternal affection and the bond of communion. The Assistant is seen as a bridge for the Secular Franciscans to the Franciscan friars and for these to the Secular Franciscans. This fraternizing completes the assistance with the duty "to be family," to be part of the First Order and of the TOR, to cultivate and help nourish the Franciscan charism in the SFO Fraternity at all levels. But we must not forget that the same SFO Fraternity helps in the growth of the Franciscan charism in the Fraternities of the friars. These fraternal and familial aspects are complemented by communion and mission.
The other aspect of the mission of the Assistant is being animator. He collaborates in the animation of the secular leaders in the Fraternity and in its Council. The duty of the Assistant is to enlighten without imposing, because he does not have the last word, which belongs to the Council and the Minister. The animation occupies a wide space in the life of the fraternity: formation, reflection, prayer, apostolate in their various expressions, as much in the fraternity as in the members of the Fraternity, invited and animated and supported by the same Fraternity, which must be responsible for the activities of the members.
It is also the duty of the friars of the First Order and of the TOR, in the first place, to know how to accept these structural changes. If this asks of us to be at the side of the laity, of our Secular Franciscans, who – as Vatican II says – have grown mature and responsible in the Church, then what is asked of the priests is to "trust the laity, by entrusting to them chores of service in the Church, giving them liberty and space of action, including inviting them to undertake activities on their own initiative." (Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis 9). And, paraphrasing a text of Christifideles Laici, let us help the Secular Franciscans to have an ever clearer conscience, not only of their belonging to an Order, the Secular Franciscan Order, but that they are the Order (The Secular Franciscans must have the sense of belonging to the Secular Franciscan Order and the sense of identity with the SFO. Cf. GG.CC.SFO 1 .3,5;2-3), in communion of charism with the friars of the First Order and of the TOR. They are the Secular Franciscan Order. "They, especially, must understand that not only do they belong to the Church, but that they are in the Church... They are the Church" ( CFL) 9.
In knowing the age majority of the Secular Franciscans and our responsibility of altius moderamen and spiritual assistance, we friars must know how to transfer the administration which at times we exercise in the fraternities of the SFO at the different levels, to accompaniment and to spiritual assistance, being, at the same time, animators of unity, because, even with consideration, it is not easy to do so. This must be one of the characteristics of our Franciscan maturity and minority. In this sense, it is right for me to cite some passages from the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (VC): "The Church entrusts to communities of consecrated life the particular task of spreading the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries (VC 51, cf. also numbers 41, 45, 46, 47). Later on, John Paul II asks, in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: "Make the Church the house and the school of communion" (NMI 43). We Franciscans are called to be "gentle, peaceful, and unassuming, courteous and humble," (RB 3,11), promoters of peace, reconciliation and harmony in all situations and circumstances. Must we perhaps not be so in a particular manner, along with the secular brothers and sisters who share with us the Franciscan charism and spirituality?
Assistance in formation comes from the common charism which helps the members of the SFO to have a better knowledge of the Franciscan tradition and spirituality, which help them grow in their lay Franciscan vocation.
The cooperation of the Assistant in formation permits the growth of solidarity with the Secular Franciscans and, at the same time, the Assistant learns from them. The Assistant is like a container that communicates the talents and capabilities of the Franciscan friars to the laity and of these lay people to them. Thus the charism blooms fully and is enriched in the members of both Orders, be it in the way of living it, as in its expression through mission.
Today, when we talk of cooperation between religious and laity, the Franciscan Family must look at their past in order to understand better this cooperation in the various fields between the SFO and the First Order and the TOR, in order to decide now for the option for and investment in a rich and complete formation of the Secular Franciscans, collaborators of the religious in much of the activities of every day life . Why not count on their collaboration in our missions and apostolic activities, or help them in theirs? A way of activating this common charism which animates us may be by making what Vatican II asks and demands from the Shepherds of the Church, that is, that "they recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity.(8*) However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city" (LG 37).
The postconciliar exhortation Vita Consecrata invites us to a re-reading of the relationship of communion between the religious and the laity, in the light of the Church. "One of the fruits of the teaching on the Church as communion has been the growing awareness that her members can and must unite their efforts, with a view to cooperation and exchange of gifts, in order to participate more effectively in the Church’s mission. This helps to give a clearer and more complete picture of the Church herself, while rendering more effective the response to the great challenges of our time, thanks to the combined contributions of the various gifts" (VC 54). This relationship between the SFO and the First Order and the TOR comes, or must come, not so much from the personal necessity, which in part is a hasty and provoked collaboration among religious and laity, but from living the same charism of both the laity and religious in favour of the Church, as well indicated by the author of the Legend of the Three Companions: "Thus through blessed Francis’ perfect devotion to the Blessed Trinity, the Church of Christ was renewed by three new Orders" (LTC 60).
The future of the SFO depends on this change of disposition (inversion) that is brought about by the formation of its members, not only on the part of the Secular Franciscan Order, but also of the First Order and of the TOR. Only through this one can live in communion and solidarity. Assistance is a sign of these values. Formation helps to increase the capacity for listening, for apprenticeship and collaboration in one’s own religious Family and also in relation with the SFO and its mission in the Church and in the world.
Promoter of a shared mission
The Pope affirms that this sharing is to the benefit of the laity who "will experience at first hand the spirit of the evangelical counsels, and will thus be encouraged to live and bear witness to the spirit of the Beatitudes, in order to transform the world according to God’s design" (VC 55; cf. Rule SFO 11). Likewise, the religious will see a shining of the richness of the charism far beyond the frontiers of their proper Order, being animated by the participation of the laity to deepen "certain aspects of the charism, leading to a more spiritual interpretation of it, and helping to draw from it directions for new activities in the apostolate" (VC 55). What can we say of sharing, of collaboration and exchange among the Secular Franciscans and the Franciscan religious, anchored and animated as we are by the same charism?
The collaboration and exchange in the mission of the Church is already present where there is a Secular Franciscan fraternity or a Secular Franciscan brother or sister. Deepening these aspects of the Exhortation Vita Consecrata will increase and serve as a stimulus to one another to study and analyse one’s vocation in the following of Christ in the way of Francis of Assisi, exposing the Franciscan religious, through the Assistant, to "be before all else expert guides in the spiritual life, and in this perspective they should cultivate ‘the most precious gift: the spirit.’ For their part, the laity should offer Religious families the invaluable contribution of their "being in the world" and their specific service" (VC 55).
In this collaboration and exchange, there will be born and will be created a spiritual atmosphere for the benefit of both groups, religious and lay, who will help in the discernment of their proper identity and in the collaboration in the mission or apostolic activities which will complete their proper features.
Optimistic of the SFO
Francis of Assisi was a penitent, not a monk nor a priest, but capable of creating a movement, a Fraternity which includes the laity. All the members of the movement: religious and lay brothers and sisters, have a common charism, though the way of living and giving witness to it may be different. They have in common: the Gospel as a way of life, the proclamation of the Good News by means of a testimony of life (mission), life in fraternity, manual work, prayer, and communion with the Church.
The confidence of Francis in the laity of his time is shown, in a special way, in proposing to them the gospel as a way of life, stressing that this is not exclusive to the monks, religious and priests. The laity need not leave their families nor the world. It is here where they must live the Gospel. On certain occasion, after preaching to the people, "all the men and women of that village in their great devotion, wanted to follow him and abandon the village. But St. Francis did not let them, saying to them: ‘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 from that time he planned to organize the Third Order of the Continent for the salvation of all people everywhere" (Little Flowers 16).
All of this agrees with what Thomas of Celano has said: "To all he gave norm of life, and he showed in truth the way of salvation in every walk of life" (1Cel 37).
In the project of life which Francis entrusted to the laity in the first edition of the Letter to the Faithful, the values which these must live are clearly indicated: the Gospel and the testimony of life in their lay state.
The history of the SFO permits us to contemplate moments of great social and church renewal, while others, including numerous writings, are reduced to formal structure and to piety.
The history of the Secular Franciscan Order has eight centuries of life which cannot be studied and understood, if not through vital encounters with the friars of the First Order and of the TOR, and the history of these, at the same time, cannot be understood totally if not seen in line with the Secular Franciscans. For this reason, recognizing that there exists gaps in the study of the various fields of Franciscanism, it is necessary that we integrate and complement all the components of the charismatic movement of Francis of Assisi, including the Secular Franciscan Order.
If the Assistant believes in the vocation of the Secular Franciscan, he will have interest in the Fraternity, he will love it and will give it life. The Assistant must be the light for the Fraternity and must animate the members but not substitute for them in their responsibilities. The Assistants recognize that the SFO has become a unifying force among the various Franciscan branches, and has established closer relationships between the Assistants and the SFO.
On the other hand, the richness of spiritual content and form of life of the new Rule of the SFO asks that the major Superiors of the friars be the first animators of their religious Fraternities. To them is given the responsibility of assistance to the SFO and furthermore, may they deeply realize that the SFO is a real part of their family, that is, of the Franciscan Family.
Very important steps have been made in spiritual assistance, and in reciprocal communion of life. But there is still a long way to go in order to understand and then share in the same charism on the part of the religious and lay Franciscans, and in the life and mission of the Church and of the society.
Called by the Church to assistance to the Secular Franciscans, we will be capable of offering a suitable and capable assistance, always if we open roads of formation in order to know the SFO, know it in order to like it, like it to serve it. Thus more communion will be born, as the General Constitutes of the Secular Franciscan Order remind us: "To be a witness of Franciscan spirituality and of the fraternal affection of the religious towards the Secular Franciscans, and to be a bond of communion between his Order and the SFO, the Spiritual Assistant should be a Franciscan religious, member of the First Order or the TOR" (89.3).
 Rule of Leo XIII, III, 2-3  Cf. Magistero dei Papi e Fraternita secolare..., p.57.  Rule SF0, 26.  Cf. IR 5,10-15.  Luke uses a play on words: dominion=government, power-benefactor: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27).  The General Statutes of the Conventual Franciscans say: "The friars must remember that those who have been appointed to the care of the Secular Franciscan Order have been called to the service of our brothers and sisters who live in the world," GG.SS. OFMConv., 54.  GG.CC. 86,2; Statutes, 3.1.  GG.CC SFO, 89.1-2.  GG.CC SFO, 89.4.  GG.CC. 89.2; Statutes, 9.2, 11.2.  Rule SFO 26; cf. GG. CC.87.3; Statutes, 5.4. cf. GG.SS. OFMConv., 55.1.  Cf. GG.CC.89.4; Statutes, 15.4.  Rule SFO, 26; GG.CC.85.2; Statutes, 5.1.  Statutes, 5.3; cf. GG.CC. 89.5.  cf. GG.CC.86.1; Statutes, 5.2.  Ibidem.  Cf. GG.CC.89.2; 91.3; 96.6; Statutes, 9.2; 11.2.  Cf. GG.CC.89.3; Statutes, 12.2.  Cf. GG.CC.89.3; Statutes, 12.2.  Cf. GG.CC.90.2; 77.1-2; Statutes, 12.3.