1 PICTURE FRANCISCAN FAMILY                                                                                       


2 The First, Second and Third Orders (secular and regular) 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 The concept of the "four Franciscan families", developed in the history of the friars, is now outdated because it divided Franciscans, both religious and seculars, into four separate camps and is not constructive.                                           


3 St Francis constituted three Orders, institutionally autonomous and independent, but their spiritual vitality needs to be supported in life-giving union with one another. The union of the various components, their complementarity and vital reciprocal communion (life-giving union) should safeguard their autonomy.                                       


4          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).


5          The SFO General Constitutions state: “The vocation of the SFO is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion. For this purpose, the members of the SFO gather in ecclesial communities which are called fraternities” (Const. 3.3).


6          They also state: “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). “Insertion into a local fraternity and participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the SFO” (Const. 53.3).


7          “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). “Participation in the meetings of the local fraternity is an indispensable presupposition for initiation into the community of prayer and into fraternal life” (GC 40.3).


8          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.


9          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, Catholic and non-Catholic, active in Australia.


10        Individual Franciscans who belong to these bodies in NSW meet every second month as Franciscans of New South Wales. There is a similar arrangement in Victoria.


11 PICTURE FRANCISCAN VOCATION                                                                               


12        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 the Church and St Francis, and often through the instrumentality of a Franciscan religious, but not necessarily so.


13 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.                                                                                            


14        However, the secular Franciscan vocation and the religious Franciscan vocation are clearly distinguished.


15        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 while belonging to a fraternity.


16        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 promise by seculars.


17        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 as well.


18        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).


19 The secular and lay 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).                                                                                                                


20        Chapter Two of the Rule indicates how intimate union with Christ lies at the heart of the SFO vocation.  “Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity” (Rule 5). They do this by studying, loving and most of all by living in an integrated way the human and evangelical aspects of their life.


21 PICTURE WHAT IS A CHARISM?  Jesus endows his members with gifts to build his Body, the Church. These gifts are called “charisms”.



22        It is clear that in the letters of St. Paul the term charism has a double meaning. In the broad sense, it designates the "gift" of Christian life in general received at baptism. In the strict sense, it means a particular, specific "gift" received by an individual or by a group for the service and building up of the Christian community.


23        The Greek word charisma (from charis, grace, gift, present) had the generic sense of a free gift. In this sense it is used to denote Christian salvation which is the free gift of eternal life, as St Paul explained to the Romans, “the present given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).


24        However, it has a more precise meaning in other texts, particularly in Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Be ambitious for the higher gifts” (1 Cor 12:31). Here, charisms are special gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes to the faithful for the good of the whole community: "There are many different gifts but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity but in everybody it is the same God who works in them all." (1 Cor 12:4-6). Paul lists some of these gifts, such as prophecy, preaching, faith, healing, the power of miracles, (1 Cor 12:8-10).


25        Not all charisms had unusual or extraordinary manifestations. Some, such as that of the apostolate, teaching, assistance, and government were obviously brought about and sustained by the Spirit for the ordinary service of the Church.


26        At Corinth the abundance and variety of charisms had created a delicate situation. There the gift of “speaking in tongues” was highly esteemed and avidly sought after. From the description given by the apostle (1 Cor 14:6-25), it seems that the gift came with a kind of ecstatic rapture during which enigmatic words or sounds were uttered, which then required someone with a charism for interpreting them. Paul was wary of persons presuming to speak “in tongues.”


27        All charisms are the Spirit’s work, but there is among the Spirit’s gifts a grading of value that is to be respected, and especially so in the Christian assembly (1 Cor 14:26-39).

Prophecy is the most useful for the good of the community, and therefore one should aspire to this. Paul exhorts the community to proceed with order and harmony in whatever has to do with charisms.


28        Paul affirms that love is above all charisms. Without love, every charism is empty and love will remain when all charisms will have outlived their usefulness (1 Cor 13).


29        We speak of the charism of religious families, each of which has received from the Spirit through its founder a particular charism to realize a specific mission in the Church.


30        In the history of salvation, God has a loving design for each religious family that gives it its reason for existing, its identity and its proper mission. This does not, however, reduce it to a mere instrument, pre-determined in a divine plan.


31        The charism of religious life is not a rigid structure or programme but a spiritual energy from the Holy Spirit, a power of life to be communicated. It is a dynamic force that incorporates religious men and women into a family gifted with a "charismatic mission".


32        That is why a founder's charism can never be identified with his or her "works" that are marked by the needs of the founding period, the Thirteenth Century in the case of St Francis.


33        A charism is a living gift, a breath of the creator Spirit at the service of a dynamic history that is never a simple repetition of the past. This life power, this spiritual energy, should constantly be adapted to times and places, to diverse societies and cultures and to the needs of people everywhere. It promotes a particular response to the Gospel for building the Body of Christ, the Church.


34 PICTURE FRANCISCAN CHARISM    The Franciscan charism is the sum of gifts that God gave to St Francis to "rebuild my Church".


35 References to the "specific charisms" of the different Orders of friars are not theologically correct and are divisive. Neither is it correct to affirm that the Secular Franciscans have a specific Franciscan charism. Rather, all Franciscans enjoy the one Franciscan charism, the gift that St Francis received from God. Professed Secular Franciscans are full participants in the common Franciscan charism, as are professed friars and Poor Clares.                                             


36        Fraternity is an essential characteristic of the Franciscan vocation and charism, both religious and secular. This charism is not given to an individual person but to a group of persons and that as times change it has to adapt to “the needs and expectations of the Holy Church” (Rule 3).  The group is shaped by the Church, and it is only within the Church that the charism can thrive.


37        With regard to the "various ways and forms" (SFO Rule, Art. l), there is only the one Franciscan charism but there is a great variety of Franciscan states of life, histories, legislation, customs, habits, and spiritual emphases that distinguish one Franciscan Order, Institute or association from another.


38        The origin of the Franciscan charism lies within the Church of the time of Saint Francis.  At that time, a new way of living the gospel was needed.  Saint Francis gave birth to a new approach and had his way of life approved by the Pope.  His way of life gave birth to three Franciscan Orders, one of friars, another of contemplative nuns and another of secular people, out of which religious institutes developed.


39        Francis gave rise to groups of secular brothers and sisters of penance inspired by his living the evangelical life.  Francis associated them with his own vocation to restore the Church.


40        The Secular Franciscan Order participates in the charism of our common spiritual father, St Francis. This identity of charism has resulted in some Secular Franciscan individuals or fraternities strengthening the bonds of fraternity with the local friars, taking part in some hours of prayer, and collaborating in apostolic activities.


41        The relationship between religious and secular Franciscans is not one of seculars adopting the modalities of the Franciscan charism of their religious sisters and brothers, but one of “life-giving union” with each other. This statement implies that the Seculars have their own modalities, their own secular way of living the Franciscan charism that is not the same as the way of their religious sisters and brothers, yet it is precisely by the combined contribution of various states of life and gifts that the Franciscan Family is built and fulfils its mission.


42        The ability of the friars and the Secular Franciscans to acknowledge their specific difference, and yet to combine in practically expressing their common Franciscan charism, will be a sign of how they really love one another. The SFO General Constitutions state: “Fidelity to their own charism, Franciscan and secular, and the witness of building fraternity sincerely and openly, are their principal services to the Church, which is the community of love. They should be recognized in it by their ‘being’, from which their mission springs” (Const. 100.3).


43        Vita Consecrata follows two models when discussing fostering and implementing co-operation between religious and seculars: exchange of gifts and sharing the charism. 


44        We might look upon the exchange of gifts model as describing the situation when we contribute to another what he does not have, sharing what is different or specific.  The SFO Rule furnishes many examples of this model. For example, Rule 17 speaks about living family life. 


45        Sharing a charism according to Vita Consecrata (54) applies when the laity are invited to share more fully in the life and mission of a religious institute.


46        Being “secular” is a modality of the Franciscan charism, one of the “various ways and forms” by which the Franciscan charism is made present in the life and mission of the Church (Rule 2). Moreover, being secular is an essential part of the Secular Franciscan way of life.


47        This characteristic is the key to understanding the Franciscan charism as lived by Secular Franciscans, as distinct from the Franciscan charism as it is lived by religious.  The Rule exhorts Secular Franciscans to operate within the context of their lives, and specifically “Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively” (Rule 14).


48        One of the most important consequences of this charismatic modality of being “secular” is that the specific spiritual formation of the Secular Franciscan must cater for those whose vocation is, “motivated by the dynamic power of the Gospel”, to live in “secular” circumstances (Rule 7).


49        The General Constitutions express the “secularity” of the Secular Franciscan when they say: “The secular state characterizes the spirituality and apostolic life of those belonging to the SFO” (Const. 3.1).



50 SFO RULE Article 1 Article 1 of the SFO Rule describes all Franciscans under three aspects: Franciscan family, Franciscan vocation and Franciscan charism


51        "The Franciscan Family... unites all members of the people of God


52        ...who recognise that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis


53        ...they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father...."                  


54 SFO RULE Articles 1 and 2         The first two articles of the SFO Rule set out three characteristics of the Secular Franciscan Order. These are unity, secularity, and autonomy.


55        The Secular Franciscan Order is one is so far as “it is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world” (Rule 2).


56        The SFO is secular in so far as its members “strive for perfect charity in their own secular state” (Rule 2). 


57        It is autonomous in so far as it carries out its vocation within the Franciscan family, “in various ways and forms but in life-giving union” with the other branches of that family, under the common fatherhood of St. Francis (Rule 1).


58        Twenty-first century Secular Franciscans can live out the secular aspect of the Franciscan charism by paying attention to three things. Firstly, they should draw on the rich experience of Franciscan figures of the past, real men and women from the ranks of the Franciscan Third Order who were both contemplative and involved in welfare activities. 


59        Secondly, they face a test of their creativity when confronted by the demands of modern day evangelisation.


60 PICTURE   Thirdly, they should cultivate a deep knowledge of Francis, saint and prophet, an example from the past, leading them into the future.