CHAPTER 1

 

 THE NEED FOR PROMOTION OF THE SFO

 

 

1.           There is good reason to be concerned about the future of the SFO, since the fraternities are small in numbers and the members are aging. They have to create their future from a position of poverty rather than of abundance.

 

2.        Age-profile statistics, resulting from a questionnaire returned by the local fraternities during 2002, show the need for them to run a promotion program and find new members. There is no substitute for serious and sustained action over the next five years, to turn the numbers around, from a five-year decrease to a five-year increase.

 

3.           Many practising Catholics feel the need of much more than Sunday Mass and prayers morning and evening. Their knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith has hardly developed since they left school. They feel inadequate when confronted with the problems of modern secular life. Their children often experience the faith-practice of their parents as repressive, negative or joyless. These practising Catholics, and many others who have given away church affiliation, need something like the Secular Franciscan Order to inspire them with renewed faith, hope, and love for God and their neighbour.

 

           Vocation promotion is all about uncovering God's initiative in people's lives and fostering their response. It's helping people to discover and develop the purpose that God has in mind for them.

 

     But how will they approach the SFO? The words of St Paul to the Romans (10:14-15) are easily accommodated to their situation. They will not approach the SFO and seek help unless they believe in it, and they will not believe in it unless they have heard of it, and they will not hear of it unless someone promotes it, and they may never meet a promoter unless one is sent to them. Many good Catholics assume that they lack whatever it takes to be a Secular Franciscan. What would make them join? It may be as simple as this: that they be asked to join. How many members have invited anyone to join their local Fraternity? What has each member done, in a personal way, to promote even one Secular Franciscan vocation?

 

4.           Many Catholics have heard of the Third Order of St Francis. Often, they will tell you that their mother or grandmother was a Tertiary and was always praying the rosary and was buried in the Franciscan habit. You get a picture of a very holy old lady.

 

     The Secular Franciscan Order is not well known. If you tell them that itís just a modern name for the Third Order, that doesnít help at all. People donít know about the transformation of the Third Order Secular of St Francis, after the Second Vatican Council, into the Secular Franciscan Order. Members need to build an awareness of the SFO.

 

     Secular Franciscans as such are almost invisible in Australia, even in the Catholic Church. Members will help remedy that situation by opening their local fraternities and sharing their faith and their lives with relatives, friends, and total strangers.

 

5.           The word "secular" is off-putting to many Catholics, especially to Tertiaries who were given a very negative understanding of the secular, diametrically opposed to the sacred, and of secular society, the enemy of the Church. Secular Franciscans need to fill out in their lives the positive meaning of the secular, which Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and the Second Vatican Council, gave to it.

 

6.           Occasionally, a Secular Franciscan will ask you, "Whatís all the fuss about promoting the SFO? Thatís the job of the Holy Spirit. If God wants it to grow, then it will." Their formation in living the gospel is sadly deficient. The Scriptures constantly convey the message that salvation is the work of God, but it is brought about on earth with the cooperation of men and women.

 

           Some will still object: "What about the action of the Holy Spirit? Isn't God the source of all Church vocations?" Appeals to the action of the Holy Spirit and citing God as the source of Church vocations has become an excuse for contributing little, if anything, to the hard work of securing new members for the SFO. God's action is a given in this area; but human efforts are equally important.

 

           Prayer and action, both are necessary for conducting a successful vocations promotion program in the local Fraternity. The Holy Spirit calls for the cooperation of the members. They need to call on the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of suitable candidates. What local Fraternity can say that it doesnít need to promote vocations? Some Fraternities must take action now, or else they will perish.

 

7.          Secular Franciscans are very privileged. They have received the gift of the secular Franciscan vocation. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is not given to all. Possibly, it came to some like a bolt of lightning out of the blue sky, but not likely. Do they remember who it was whom the Holy Spirit used as the promoter of their vocation? Would they have got anywhere without that instrumental person in the hands of the Holy Spirit?

 

8.        The secular Franciscan vocation is essentially a call to belong to a fraternity of brothers and sisters. The surest way to develop the gift of a secular Franciscan life is to share it with other people. Unless the members do share it with others, they run the risk of losing it. They need to share it first with the other members of their local Fraternity, then they need to look for others to share it with.

 

           Passive enjoyment of fraternity life, being carried along by the others, is not genuine Franciscan life. St Francis had no love for Brother Drone in the beehive. The members of some local Fraternities may have been coming together faithfully for their monthly meeting for many years and feel so comfortable with one another that the last thing they want is new members. They may have no candidates and no program for formation or for promotion. Active involvement in the fraternity and eagerness to share their gifted life with others is the only way to live their Franciscan vocation responsibly. They should take action now to gather companions for their secular Franciscan journey.

 

9.           People are looking for two things: a shared life and a vibrant spirituality. Secular Franciscans offer them fraternity. They will be attracted when they see people like themselves trying to share their lives and their Catholic faith, and by their witness to reconciliation and peace.

 

           Tell them your stories: why you came to the SFO, what makes you stay, what you enjoy about it. Invite them personally to consider your Franciscan way of life as a possibility for themselves. Be for them what we are all meant to be: Good News. Communicate to them your confidence in God's presence and guidance, and your conviction that the Secular Franciscan Order has a future.

 

10.        Evangelization is our Christian and Franciscan mission. Encourage one another to be as generous and involved as possible in the SFO's life and mission. Our life's work is to love God and to make God known and loved, as St Francis did.

 

11.      The local Fraternityís vocations promotion program needs to be conducted by Secular Franciscans for secular people. It should have the full support of the spiritual Assistant and of all the friars, but the members must not depend on the friars, or the clergy, or religious Brothers or Sisters, to do their promoting for them. Priests and religious can be members of a team, but they should not be the team leader. Not Father X. or Sister Mary Z., but the Secular Franciscans have to be the spiritual parents of those who join their Fraternity; otherwise they canít expect newcomers to be loyal to the Fraternity and to the Secular Franciscan Order.

 

12.       The SFO General Constitutions, Article 45, sum up promotion very well: "1.The promotion of vocations to the Order is a duty of all the brothers and sisters and is a sign of the vitality of the fraternities themselves. The brothers and sisters, convinced of the validity of the Franciscan way of life, should pray that God may give the grace of the Franciscan vocation to new members. 2. Although nothing can substitute for the witness of each member and of the fraternity, the councils must adopt appropriate means to promote the secular Franciscan vocation."

 

13.       The future of the SFO in Oceania is not some situation beyond the control of the members that they are inevitably heading for, such as extinction through aging. Rather, they are creating their future, for worse or for better. The paths to their future are not predestined, but they make them. The making of those paths is in their own hands. At present, they can make a path by promoting vocations. Making this path will change both the promoters, and the future of their local fraternities, and the vitality of the SFO in Oceania.

 

           What is the primary challenge that the Secular Franciscans in Oceania face today? It is to have the faith, the hope, and the passionate drive to bring to life the future that God has in mind for them and their secular Franciscan way of life. May they face their future with a firm commitment to respond to this challenge. May they forge ahead with faith and hope, and the passionate drive to find new companions for their journey.