THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
AND THE FRANCISCAN YOUTH MOVEMENT
Carl Schafer OFM
I would like to point out some differences between the Secular Franciscan Order and the Franciscan Youth Movement. Membership in the Secular Franciscan Order is permanent for life whereas membership in the Franciscan Youth is temporary. We are not young all our life, unfortunately! There is a maximum age for the Franciscan Youth member while there is a minimum age for the professed Secular Franciscan. The National Statutes must decide these limits. The Statutes of the National Fraternity of the SFO in Oceania state that, “Franciscan Youth shall be aged 18 to 34 years completed” (11.1.2), and that, “The requirements of profession (in the SFO) include attainment of the age of eighteen years (GC 41.1-2)” (10.6).
The Secular Franciscan has made an adult decision about his vocation whereas the Franciscan Youth member is still searching out his vocation. He or she has not yet made any adult decision about one's vocation. So a particular twenty-one-years-old can be a member of the Franciscan Youth while another of the same age can be a Secular Franciscan. The former has not yet made any adult vocational decision, the latter has already made that decision.
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, for example in a University. In the same University, a group of Franciscan Youth can be formed. Clearly, the formation of the Franciscan Youth members will be different from the formation of the Secular Franciscans, according to their different needs. Now, while we treat of secularity, we will see how these points apply to the Secular Franciscans and to Franciscan Youth.
The Holy Father wrote, in Tertio millennio adveniente: "The commitment to make the mystery of salvation sacramentally present can lead, in the course of the year, to a renewed appreciation of Baptism as the basis of Christian living" (TMA 41).
Precisely through Baptism we were all initiated into Christian life in the world. At that moment God called us "to follow Christ" (cf. Rule SFO 1) in the secular condition, in secularity.
Some young people feel "attracted by St Francis of Assisi" (GC SFO, 96.1) and "called by the Holy Spirit to share the experience of the Christian life in Fraternity, in the light of the message of St Francis of Assisi, deepening their own vocation within the context of the Secular Franciscan Order" (GC SFO, 96.2). Their vocation, as members of the Franciscan Youth, is baptismal, that is, Christian and secular, with a Franciscan emphasis.
Other people have already made the adult choice of vocation, either secular or religious, ""in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi" (Rule SFO 1). In Baptism they were "called to follow Christ", as are all Christians, but, led by the Holy Spirit, they added a Franciscan emphasis to their Christian vocation.
Those who are seculars, laity or clerics, are "led by the Spirit" to strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession, they pledge themselves "to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis" by means of the SFO Rule (cf. Rule SFO 2)
We who are Franciscan religious are no longer seculars. We pledge ourselves by religious Profession to live the Gospel in the manner of Saint Francis and by means of the Rule of our religious Order.
See how diverse are the Franciscan vocations. Together we form an enormous Franciscan Family. We make present "the charism of (our) common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church", but "in various ways and forms" (Rule SFO 1). The secular vocation is different from the religious vocation. The Secular Franciscans and Franciscan Youth should not behave as though they were religious. The friars and Sisters should not behave as though they were seculars.
All vocations that come from God are holy and lead to holiness. What matters is to recognize one's own vocation and to follow it faithfully. This is the purpose of the Franciscan Youth Movement: to help young people to discern their vocation and to guide them to do the will of God with regard to themselves (cf. The Franciscan Youth: A Franciscan Vocational Journey, 14).
We are all called in Baptism to holiness in the world, in secular conditions, in secularity. The call to holiness in the religious life comes to some later on. Now let us concentrate on secularity and the secular vocation.
The secular vocation
Pope Paul VI developed the Council's theology of secularity in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Evangelization of the People of Our Time, (Evangelii nuntiandi), in 1975.
The Holy Father wrote: "Lay people, whose particular vocation places them in the midst of the world and in charge of the most varied temporal tasks, must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelization. Their primary and immediate task is ... to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering" (EN 70).
Although the SFO Rule of Paul VI in 1978 does not refer to the Exhortation, it follows it in Articles 14 to 19: build a more fraternal world; promote justice; esteem work as a gift; cultivate the Franciscan spirit in the family; respect all creatures; bring peace, joy and hope.
The SFO General Constitutions of 2000 stress that the Secular Franciscans should be first of all evangelized through: following their secular vocation; conversion; initial and ongoing formation; spiritual assistance (cf. Letter to the Assistants, 1992 n.2, p. 13-15). Then they should evangelize others in the family, at work, in secular society and in the church community, both in the SFO local Fraternity and outside the SFO (cf. Letter to the Assistants, 1992, n.1, p.11-12).