Dear Ministers and Formators,

At the Spiritual Assistants' Meeting, prior to the 1995 National Chapter of the Secular Franciscan Order, one of the issues raised was that of Formation. It was suggested that we should provide an immediate assistance to formators, apart from the longer courses available. I have asked other National Assistants to write on this topic; perhaps we can putting together a Formators' Shorter Guide. The International Committee has already put out a comprehensive "Guidelines on Formation".

There is, of course, no such thing as "Instant Formation". As St. Francis said "The Holy Spirit is the formator of the whole Order " which takes the load off the shoulders of individual formators. Further lessening the load, your Rule and Constitutions remind you that the whole fraternity at every level, is responsible for formation.

So what is your task? To co-operate with the Holy Spirit much as St. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but the Holy Spirit gave the increase" (1 Cor 5:6-7); it is a spiritual co-operative.

Nor are the formators superiors or overseers; rather as fellow novices. For as St. Francis de Sales reminds us, we are all novices, all our life, in the spiritual life. Now that is minority and dependence on the Holy Spirit and on each other.

Take a practical example, at a fraternity "chapter" ("chapter" rather than "meeting" expresses the life-style of the S.F.O's) the Minister presides (in charity) and with the formator, sets the readings for the next chapter. Both minister and formator then act as facilitators, not lecturers, at the subsequent chapter, encouraging (not demanding) the members to share their insights into the readings. Perhaps as some fraternities do, two S.F.O's and the Spiritual Assistant might be asked to prepare their brief insights, as starters for the whole fraternity. This way the whole fraternity takes part in formation.

With this in mind, the National Executive prepared its "Franciscan Formation Programme" (the white book) five years ago. Around a particular theme, scriptural and Franciscan readings were integrated for discussion, reflection and prayer. How you share is one of your personal "activities" but sharing must always be free and optional. This process ought highlight the Rule and Constitutions (not all the Constitutions are relevant at the local level).

Scripture --> Franciscan reading --> Reflection --> Rule and Constitutions; the basis of chapters at every level of fraternity.

So the first task of ministers and formators is one of charity and minority: trying not to get between the Holy Spirit and the members of the fraternity; the Spirit breathes where and how it will, "The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose" (1 Cor 12:4-7)

Individual Formator(s) might then be assigned the three levels of formation.

(1) Enquirers

Course for Enquirers which is available through the National Office

(2) Initial Formation

Fully Mature in the Fullness of Christ: Benet Fonck OFM The new edition is currently on order.

(3) Initial &/or Ongoing Formation

a) Third Order Vocation: Foley & Weigel (Blue Book)

b) Catch Me a Rainbow: Lester Back OFM CAP.

(4) On-Going Formation

a) Franciscan Formation Programme; published in 1992 by S.F.O. (White Book)

b) Franciscan Readings: Marion Habig OFM (USA)

c) Praying with Francis of Assisi: Stoutzenberger & Bohrer (USA)

d) Sacrum Commercium; translated by Campion Murray OFM

The above resources should supply fraternities with material for meetings at every level for years, reducing the haphazard picking of texts. All can be accommodated to the pattern suggested by the Franciscan Formation Programme published in 1992.

(5) For Formators and Leaders

    1. Guidelines for Formation: International Secretariat SFO, 1995 new supplement, 1992
    2. The Handbook for Secular Franciscan Leaders: USA National Formation Commission
    3. Guidelines for Initial Formation SFO USA 1985
    4. Franciscan Development Programme: Correspondence course for individual study; enquiries National Executive Office
    5. The Franciscan Missionary Charism Course.

Each fraternity may exercise its own discretion as to which book or combination of books is most suitable. Of course, central to all formation (including ongoing) is the Rule and Commentary, just as central to the Rule is the Gospel.

If "chapters" are seen as places of spiritual refreshment, places of scriptural-Franciscan-reflection, enthusiasm and renewal will be re-ignited. "For the vision still has time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it. It will surely come". (Habakkuk 1:2-3.)

This is, as St. Francis said, "To have the spirit of the Lord and his holy way of acting". How well St. John the Baptist understood this "He must increase; I must decrease " this is the poverty of minority on non-egoism.

For your meditation, may I suggest, "What is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted Apollos watered but God gave them growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters each have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God's servants, working together, you are God's field, God's building." (1 Cor 3:5-9).

Fr. Alban Mitchell OFM

Tapes of Fr. Benet Fonck OFM speaking on the new Constitutions are also available through the N.S.W Regional Minister - 2 tapes at a total of $40.00.