NEED FOR PROMOTION OF THE SFO
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.