VIII. THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE SFO
Carl Schafer OFM, presented in Port Moresby
1. What is spirituality?
When we speak about "spirituality", what exactly do we mean? The Concise Oxford dictionary defines spirituality as "a quality of the soul, especially as it is acted on by God".
Spirituality is a way of life resulting from the particular stand we take on principles that people live by. Our personal spirituality is our particular way of picturing God to our self, of speaking to him, of approaching him, of dealing with him, and of dealing with everyone and everything in relation to God. It is our attitude to God and to everything else in relation to Him.
The habitual idea that we form of God is the key to our inner life, because it rules our conduct towards him and towards everything in our life.
Our spirituality is rooted in our ordinary life. Spirituality is seeded, germinates, sprouts and blossoms in the mundane, the secular. It is found and nurtured in the smallest of our daily activities.
Spirituality is not therefore concerned only with our favourite prayers and pious practices, although these contribute to our spirituality and are conditioned by it. Spirituality is concerned with our whole outlook on life. All our relationships to things and persons are conditioned and coloured by our spirituality. Our spirituality has an effect on everything and everyone that we experience.
2. Christian spirituality
Christian spirituality is the quality of the person who is acted on by God the Father of Jesus Christ through the Risen Lord himself, in their Holy Spirit. The person is a Christian to the extent that Jesus Christ is the inspiration of his thoughts, words, actions, joys and sufferings, his relations to everyone and everything. In a word, Jesus is the inspiration of his entire life.
The Christian accepts Christianity as his way of life. Christianity is not just a system of beliefs and teachings, religious practices, laws and morals, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This can be lived in a variety of ways.
"Christian" includes broadly Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic. Each has its own peculiar emphases. Orthodox spirituality emphasises God's transcendence and the divinity of Jesus, and the patristic tradition. Protestant spirituality emphasises God's immanence and the humanity of Jesus, and the Scriptures. Catholic spirituality emphasises the Church, in which the various Christian emphases are harmonised, sometimes more successfully, sometimes less.
So far, we seem to have been speaking about spirituality as though it were the product of human initiative. But, as the dictionary so accurately defines it, spirituality is "a quality of the soul, especially as it is acted on by God". God, the eternal source and creator of life, is the initiator of spirituality. Human beings respond to God's initiative in creating them and endowing them in particular ways. God calls each person into physical and spiritual life; God endows each person uniquely, both for his personal benefit and for the benefit of others. Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ. To follow Christ does not mean to ape him, to dress as he did, to grow your hair and your beard his way, or even to be literally crucified and to carry the stigmata.
When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life literally like Christ's but to live your unique life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a person can be a Christian. So, there are many Christian spiritualities.
1. Franciscan spirituality
How is Franciscan spirituality different from Catholic Christianity?
The spirituality of any saint is conditioned by his particular time and place, and the way in which God called him into life and endowed him. As a response to God's initiatives, the spirituality of the saint is his particular way of picturing God to himself, of speaking to him, of approaching him, of dealing with him. Every saint sees the attributes of God in the light of what he ponders most, of what he penetrates most deeply, of what attracts him most and what wins his heart (cf. Pius XII. Nel darvi 2. Address to Tertiaries, 1956).
What is particular about Franciscan spirituality is that the Franciscan is "called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi" (Rule 1. Cf. Nel darvi 1).
Many theologians and spiritual writers have attempted to identify the essential elements of Franciscan spirituality. Their analyses and their constructs vary, depending no doubt on their own personal spirituality. The result of studies based solely on the authentic words of St Francis preserved in his writings may appear at first to be disappointing but, on further reflection, it is most rewarding.
The way that Francis of Assisi followed and that he proposed to everyone was simply to go to the heavenly Father, by means of the beloved Son, in the light of the Holy Spirit (cf. Norberto Nguyen Van Khanh, Gesù, p.327).
Franciscan spirituality is therefore first and foremost trinitarian. Francis had a deep awareness of the transcendence of God - infinite, almighty, all holy - eternal source of life and of love, one God in three divine Persons, inter-related as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For Francis, this was not merely theological language. This was his lived experience.
In fact, the experience of God in relationships lived out with the three divine Persons is an essential element of Francis's spiritual life. It defines spirituality for all of us who are called by God and gifted as Franciscans. God invites us to follow Francis into the heart of the Gospel, where we will meet the three divine Persons who speak to us in Jesus Christ.
At the same time as Francis adored the transcendent God, he had a deep awareness of the immanence of God, that is, the presence of the Blessed Trinity in God's own creation. God is the creator of everything that exists, the provider for every creature, and the necessary sustainer of all life. God the Father is the original father and mother of every creature. God the Son is the original brother and sister of every creature. God the Holy Spirit is the most intimate friend of every creature and the original spouse of every person. Our parents, our brothers and sisters, our friends, especially spouses in the case of Secular Franciscans, are the instruments whom God has created and chosen to effect his own fatherhood, sonship and loving intimacy in relation to each of us.
The spirituality of Francis is characterized by his particular attention to Jesus Christ, transcendent God the Son, made immanent as the earthly son of God the Father. Francis fell madly in love with Jesus, the Son of God and of Mary the Virgin, who made himself our Way, our Good Shepherd, our brother interceding for us (cf. op. cit, p.325).
Cardinal Danneels of Belgium, who makes no secret of his Franciscan spirituality, was asked in an interview to identify whatever it is that was fundamental to the spirituality of St Francis. He replied, "It is a mad love for Christ. That's all. An irresistible desire to imitate Christ to the letter, absolutely refusing to rewrite the Gospel, or to write between the lines or in the margin anything that would soften its radical character. Hence his famous expression: "The Gospel without any gloss". If Christ says, "Go right, go left", don't add, "Yes, but." Live the text in its nakedness and you will see. That's St Francis of Assisi" (L'humanité de Dieu, p. 204).
"Saint Francis was gifted to rediscover Christ just as he is, in extraordinary depth and with an unheard of freshness. That inspiration that delivered the total Christ to him made him rediscover everything at one go: the simplicity of the Gospel, the love of the poor, his passion for the Good News, fraternity life, everything. He put his finger on the heart of Christ, and everything opened up to him" (ibid., p. 203).
2. Rule of life
You can expect to find insights into secular Franciscan spirituality in their Rule of 1978, so that you can draw from it the essential points for their spiritual life. The Rule treats of real situations of life - family, work, society, issues of peace and justice - and helps them to develop concrete attitudes for everyday living. Franciscan spirituality appears spontaneously in the Rule from the attitudes indicated in the articles.
Three essential elements are emphasised in the SFO Rule:
- trinitarian life as sons of God the Father, brothers of Jesus Christ, united by fraternal love in the Holy Spirit;
- the gospel spirituality of love, evident from the opening phrase of the Prologue;
- penance and conversion.
Other attitudes are derived from the essentials:
- relying on the Providence of God in trust; in the practice of poverty and surrender, in order to enter freely and with love into the will of the Father and into his loving plans for the world, and in dedicated action to bring about his Kingdom.
- loving Jesus Christ, which is expressed also in fraternal charity towards all, into selfless service of others and into an apostolate of evangelization.
- loving awareness of the Holy Spirit, who is the spouse of their person, whose temple they are. Being attentive to his power to transform their courageous initiatives, their activities carried out in a spirit of joy, and their generous service in society and in the Church.
3. General Constitutions
The SFO General Constitutions, especially Chapter Two, are even more helpful than the Rule in developing Franciscan spirituality concretely.
Secular Franciscan spirituality is in complete accord with the concepts promoted by Vatican II, which emphasised certain ideas of great pastoral importance that were less apparent in the Church's practice in recent times. We find these emphases in the SFO Rule and General Constitutions, for example:
* everything that exists is a creature of God and a member of the universal family (Art. 18);
* each individual human being has a personal dignity, rights and freedom. In this, we are all equal (Art. 13, 16, 18, 19);
* every person is called to holiness (not only priests, or religious, or Catholics, or Christians) (Art. 1, 7, 10);
* every baptized Christian, not only the priest, shares in the person and functions of Jesus Christ, the prophet, king, and priest (Art. 1, 6);
* not only the priest but all the faithful are to take part in public worship, fully, actively and as befits a community (Art. 5, 8);
* open dialogue is to be encouraged at all levels: among the bishops, among priests, among the laity, between bishops and priests, between priests and laity (Art. 1, 6, 19, 23);
* authority should be exercised according to procedures more widely representative than formerly. E.g., persons in authority are required to consider the ideas and initiatives of their people (Art. 21, 23, 26);
* the laity as well as priests and religious are called by God to share in the Church's apostolic mission (Art 6, 15, 22);
* all Christians have a duty to work also towards a better world here and now. However, the fullness of human life is still not attainable in this world or even in the Church on earth, no matter how much better we make it. (Art. 11, 12, 14, 16, 19).
1. Secular Dimension
For a long time, the SFO has functioned as a pious association of persons devoted to Saint Francis, in the widespread conviction that the spiritual life is distinct and separate from the needs and experiences of everyday life. Nowadays, after the Second Vatican Council and in force of the new Rule, which has restored to the Order its secular nature, the SFO has changed its past orientations and is more conscious of its secular dimension.
The General Chapter of the SFO, held in Mexico in 1993, discussed the Order’s secular spirituality. I give you a summary of the Chapter’s conclusions.
Secular Franciscans are called to render witness that the sacred is strongly present in the world, and to introduce the Gospel of Christ into all aspects of modern life, and to live a life that sings the canticle of Saint Francis.
They are called to witness - with their faith, example and actions - to the mystery of Christ's incarnation in their own body and in their activities lived in the day to day situations of secular life.
They should remain intimately united with the other components of the Franciscan Family. They should listen to the call of the Church in its documents and to develop in their Fraternities a social, human, political, Christian and Franciscan formation, as well as living together in fraternity. They should develop and live apostolic initiatives in line with their own specific spirituality.
They should strive to work seriously to overcome the injustices denounced in the Gospel. When they explain the word of God as catechists, they should also work to eliminate illiteracy. If they are touched by the liturgical environment and glorify God in singing, they should work primarily to restore the environment and to free it from the effects of contamination which disfigure the image of God in his creatures.
2. Secularity in the family
We have all received our life in the bosom of a family. The family is a reflection of the divine love, of which we should give witness. All of us, whatever our condition, are spouses, brothers and mothers of Jesus Christ, as Saint Francis writes in his Letter to all the Faithful.
God has established a life-project for every human being. However, in many points the reality around us is not in line with this project: the family is threatened by abortion, divorce and disintegration. In this context, the family of a secular Franciscan, in virtue of its formation, can contribute to change the existing situation, and to make them return to God's original project. They have to reorganize family life, following the Creator's project, reaffirming the dignity of the human being in a fraternal way of life. Their belonging to the Franciscan Family gives them the possibility of understanding and fulfilling their being Christian, Franciscan, and Secular.
The Fraternities should promote special groups of married couples within the Fraternity, in line with Article 34 of their Constitutions.
They should systematically start specific formation programs for married couples to make them understand the beautiful help given to them by the Rule of the SFO to express their readiness to follow God's plan for the family: being consistent, true, welcoming and listening, so that their families really become domestic churches.
The fraternity should be sensitive and ready itself to help families in difficulty, to promote study-groups on the problems of the family and try to use the mass-media in this regard.
Secular Franciscans should encourage political and legislative initiatives in support of the family. They should promote and participate actively in civil and church celebrations of the family.
3. Secularity in work and social life
In line with his or her vocation, the duty of a secular (lay) Christian encompasses the redemption of all human activities: work, science, technology, culture, art, politics, in order to snatch them away from the power of sin and bring them into the transparent light of God's design.
Daily work, as a gift of God, is a process of personal realization and of satisfaction in so far it serves our brothers and sisters and spreads Christian and Franciscan values in our professional sphere.
Consequently, Secular Franciscans defend the gift of work. They commit themselves to support a legislation establishing a "code of work ethics", based on justice in the light of Saint Francis' concept of work. They take work out of its conditioning factors (consumerism, mania for efficiency) to regain a Franciscan culture of work. They commit themselves to favour initiatives in support of young people in search of their first job, those who have lost their jobs, retired people in difficult situations.
They concretely support and promote initiatives intended to create places of welcome for children, young people, unmarried mothers, the elderly, the sick, refugees, immigrants. They create new jobs, and start programs of professional training. They create social volunteer groups; all of this in support of poor and marginalised workers, who find it difficult to believe in the love of Our Father because so many Christians fail to witness to this love.
4. Fraternity with creatures
As Saint Francis saw Christ as the King of the universe and loved all creatures, human, animal, vegetable and mineral, because they "carry the signature of the Most High", we his followers should have the same love towards all created things, with a strong and courageous consistency. The consequent evangelization is, and will be, to involve the Secular Franciscans in this way of life.
Consequently, Secular Franciscans should inform and train themselves to become conscious of the crimes perpetrated in so many parts against nature. They call attention to the inconsistencies so often manifested between the outrages committed against human life, from its conception up to its natural end, and the defence of endangered animal and vegetable species. They promote and support any debate on ecological questions, taking appropriate and courageous actions, such as: writing to politicians, participating in manifestations, publicizing these issues in schools and through the mass-media. Through the example of their lives and with a sober lifestyle, they invite others to reduce their consumption and waste.
The 1993 General Chapter proposed to Secular Franciscans to participate in efforts to approach the greatest number of persons possible to make them conscious of and change their mentality on ecological questions: to avoid waste, to use more recycled materials, to refrain from using products of highly contaminating industries; to support and eventually to lead ecological groups, especially on a local level; to participate in existing organizations of the Franciscan Family at various levels: local, national and international; to favour our Franciscan presence, as Franciscans International, at the United Nations Organization.
All these activities, even when facing manifestations of self-destruction, should be carried out without ever losing the ability to see that all the things that God has made are good (cf. Gen 1.31a).
Aid to Discussion: "The SFO as a way of life":
It is vitally important, in the spirituality of the Secular Franciscans, that they understand that they are not a religious Order but a secular Order. The Code of Canon Law, in Canon 303, defines the SFO as a "third order."
"Associations whose members live in the world but share in the spirit of some religious institute, under the overall direction of the same institute, and who lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection, are known as third orders, or are called by some other suitable title."
Let us take a closer look at the elements of this definition.
1. "the members ... lead an apostolic life":
The apostolic life means, first of all, life according to the Gospel, which necessarily includes works of the active apostolate. To be Christian means to follow Christ and his Gospel, to be called into the Church. To be a Secular Franciscan means to realize this vocation according to the spirit of St Francis of Assisi. Secular Franciscans everywhere have apostolic commitments, beginning with their own families and parishes. Sometimes, and ideally, the Fraternity as such carries out a form of apostolate, often in the secular field, e.g. conducting schools and hospitals.
2. "they strive for Christian perfection":
What draws many of the laity to associate with religious is not only the possibility of sharing the apostolate with the religious but also the desire for holiness by sharing in the life and the spirituality of a religious community. Secular Franciscans are looking for a community of faith and for gospel alternatives to consumerism, materialism and hedonism.
3. "in the world":
Most Secular Franciscans are lay Christians. Their life-style, their way of loving God and of living the Gospel "should take its special quality from their status as a married person and a family person, or as one who is unmarried or widowed, from their state of health, and from their professional and social activity." Therefore they should "develop earnestly the qualities and talents" that they have received, as well as "professional skill" (cf. AA 4).
4. "they share in the spirit of some religious institute":
The specific element of the SFO lies in living the Gospel according to the Franciscan spiritual tradition. There is a Franciscan way of representing God, of speaking about him, of relating to him, just as there is a Franciscan form of contemplating Jesus, of imitating him, of relating with people and of looking at creation.
St Francis inspired groups of laity, not to make semi-religious out of them, but to offer them the same deep experience of God as is available to priests and religious. But the seculars witness to it in the midst of the world and precisely as lay people: as married persons, as professional people, as persons involved in political life.
The task of the Secular Franciscan, then, is not only to witness to Christ in the world, but to do so by "trying faithfully to adopt the special characteristics of the spiritual life which are proper" to Franciscans (cf. AA 4).
The structure of the SFO has enabled the charism of St Francis to be continued and extended through the bond with the Franciscan religious family which offers guidance and assistance. The secular Order is the secular expression of St Francis’s charism and is necessary for the full presence and realization of this charism in the Church.
The secular Order is distinct from the religious Order although complementary to it.
The friars profess the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, live in a celibate community of men, under obedience to a religious superior, and wear a religious habit. The Secular Franciscans promise to live the Gospel in the spirit of the Beatitudes. They live in their own homes but join a fraternity of men and women ministered by a lay person, and wear a Franciscan emblem, the Tau cross, on their secular clothes.
Like the religious, the seculars profess a Rule approved by a Pope. Their General Constitutions and their Ritual are approved by a Roman Congregation. They enter a period of initiation, followed by a year of initial formation, and make their profession for life.
Their formation continues after profession.
They are not called postulants but inquirers. They are not called novices but candidates.
5. "under the overall direction of the same institute":
"Institutes which have associations of Christ's faithful joined to them are to have a special care that these associations are imbued with the genuine spirit of their family" (Can.677 º2). The purpose of the spiritual assistance given by the religious to the laity entrusted to them is to promote their gospel life, to guarantee fidelity to the charism of the founder, to cooperate in carrying out the secular Order's mission in the Church and in society, and to promote the unity of the spiritual family and fidelity and communion with the Church.
There is a double service in this assistance given by the religious:
(1) the overall direction ("altius moderamen" of Can.303) given by the Major Superiors and their delegated General and Provincial Assistants, in the exercise of jurisdiction and of a commission received from the Church.
(2) The fraternal service of spiritual and apostolic animation of the fraternities and of their councils, given by Assistants at all levels.
If the religious assist the seculars, it is likewise true that the secular members give material, moral and spiritual support to the religious. Thus, the SFO, updated and revitalized since Vatican II, with generous and enthusiastic members, are a challenge to the friars and the Sisters to be faithful to the Franciscan charism and to our specific religious vocation in the Church. They expect us to offer them professional and inspiring spiritual assistance.