FRANCISCAN LAY SPIRITUALITY
SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE SFO RULE
Norbert Pittorino, ofm
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SFO RULE
Before a Secular Franciscan is professed, it is essential that he or she has sufficient understanding of the Rule to enable him or her to know what he or she is professing. It is therefore most important that we spend time in considering the Rule as it applies to our daily lives and how we might improve our understanding of it.
The SFO Rule is a beautiful document that sums up the whole theology and way of life that St Francis had in mind when he first inspired lay people to follow his example. In 1978, the whole Third Order of St Francis agreed on a new exposition of their Rule as presented by Pope Paul VI. It was brought in line with modern demands and recent theology of the laity. To mark this change of approach, the name of the Order was changed to express its true nature. It was no longer to be called “The Third Order of St Francis” but “The Secular Franciscan Order.”
The SFO Rule, however, needed to be
explained and clarified so that Franciscan laity could understand what was
required of them. So the General Constitutions were written and finally
At the very beginning of the Rule there is a Prologue which contains Francis’ own words about the essential element that must exist in every Franciscan vocation: Conversion, that is, a change of direction, a deepening of our way of life in the genuine following of Jesus Christ. This is the first criterion which we must ask ourselves: “Have I changed my way of living since I began to follow St Francis in this Order?” There must be visible signs of change in direction in our daily lives and a deepening in our prayer life as well. It also expresses the approach we should have when we come to study the Rule.
What is the Rule and how does it
relate to the General Constitutions of the Order? It is important that we
understand the distinction between “Rule” and “Constitutions”. The Rule was
originally inspired by St Francis of
LISTENING TO FRANCIS
Let us listen and reflect on what Francis has to say which makes up the introduction to the Rule: The Text:
Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance
Concerning Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength(cf. Mk ), and love their neighbours as themselves (cf. Mt ) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.
Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because "the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them" (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make "his home and dwelling among them" (cf. Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ, we are brothers to him when we fulfil "the will of the Father who is in heaven" (Mt ).
We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor ) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give light to others by example (cf. Mt ).
Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Oh, how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and prayed to the Father saying:
"Oh holy Father, protect them with your name (cf. Jn ) whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word (cf. Jn ) that they may be holy by being one as we are (cf. Jn ). And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom" (cf. Jn 17:6-24).
What is Francis saying in this Prologue to the Rule? It seems to be that he says that those who love the Lord as they should will also love their neighbour and be willing to make sacrifices for their neighbour and for God. This simply reflects the great love that Jesus showed when he gave his body and blood for us on the cross. Sharing in the Eucharist is only an external expression of this love for God and neighbour. Francis continues “Those who truly follow Christ will be led by the Spirit and that same Spirit will come to dwell in them making his home in them. We are, therefore, spouses of the Holy Spirit and brothers and sisters to each other, and of Jesus Christ.”
Francis implores God to protect all those who follow this way of life. They are all called to holiness. They are to become images of the Saviour by their way of life in complete obedience to the Father.
Concerning Those Who Do Not Do Penance
But all those men and women who are not doing penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and the anxieties and cares of this life (cf. Jn 8:41).
These are blind, because they do not see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ; they do not have the Son of God who is the true wisdom of the Father. Concerning them, it is said "Their skill was swallowed up" (Ps 107:27) and "cursed are those who turn away from your commands" (Ps 119:21). "They see and acknowledge, they know and do bad things and knowingly destroy their own souls.
See, you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, for it is pleasant to the body to commit sin and it is bitter to make it serve God because all vices and sins come out and "proceed from the heart of man" as the Lord says in the gospel (cf. Mt 7:21). And you have nothing in this world you would possess the vanities of this world for a long time.
But you have been deceived, for the day and the hour will come to which you give no thought and which you do not know and of which you are ignorant. The body grows infirm, death approaches, and so it dies a bitter death, and no matter where or when or how man dies, in the guilt of sin, without penance or satisfaction but does not do it.
The devil snatches the soul from his body with such anguish and tribulation that no one can know it except he who endures it, and all the talents and power and "knowledge and wisdom" (2 Chr 1:17) which they thought they had will be taken away from them (cf. Lk 8:18; Mk 4:25), and they leave their goods to relatives and friends who take and divide them and say afterwards, "Curse be his soul because he could have given us more, he could have acquired more than he did." They worms eat up the body and so they have lost body and soul during this short earthly life and will go into the inferno where they will suffer torture without end.
All those into whose hands this letter shall have come we ask in the charity that is God (cf.1 Jn ) to accept kindly and with divine love the fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ quoted above. And let those who do not know how to read have them read to them.
And may they keep them in their mind and carry them out, in a holy manner of the end, because they are "spirit and life" (Jn 6:64). And those who will not do this will have to render "an account on the day of judgement" (cf. Mt ) before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom ).
However, Francis warns those who refuse to obey God and turn their backs on Jesus in the Eucharist and give in to evil ways. They have become enslaved to material things and ignored the spiritual gifts by allowing themselves to be dominated by their earthly desires and hunger for things of the flesh. These things have blinded them and made them insensitive to the voice of the Spirit and so they are cursed, having been deceived by the devil and thus have become the slaves of sin. When death comes, they will face eternal torment. All that they treasured on earth will cause grief and disputes among their family members and they themselves will be forgotten.
Therefore, those who listen to these words must heed this warning and follow the example of Christ in a life of love and self-giving, sharing all they have and finding true happiness not only here but in the world to come.
In these words, St Francis instructs his followers to be genuine lovers of Christ and his message and to bring this message to all they meet. In this way, they will become true “sons and daughters of the Father.” By their conversion, they will have their hearts turned to God and be ready to serve him all their lives.
Note that in this entire letter Francis does not question the reality of God. He accepts the divinity of Jesus Christ as true God and true man without question and in complete faith. Likewise, he accepts Jesus’ words in utter confidence that Jesus is the sure Way to the Father.
Benet Fonck ofm mentions, in his commentary on the SFO Rule, adds: “Francis helped the people of God understand the living presence of Jesus. We Franciscans must grasp it as a fundamental fact of our spiritual life. It is more than just intellectual knowledge. It is faith-knowledge. Identification with Jesus follows in its wake. Many of the practices of penance Francis puts in his rules had this goal in mind: to remove obstacles that hinder personal identification with Jesus. The openness to the Spirit of Jesus requires metanoia, or a constant change of heart, in our lives.”
This is something that is presumed in the Prologue, Francis’ Letter to all the faithful. Francis’ thoughts are expressed as well as the movements of his heart. In his writing, the whole person is involved. His intimate love for Christ is evident as well as his particular approach to the Eucharist as the expression of a life “given for us.” Francis tried to “live a Gospel life,” that is, he lived the ideals that were presented in the Gospel in a radical way. There were to be no half-measures. His was to be a total giving of self to the service of the Lord, and this is what he expected of his followers. They were to “live” the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, they were to make it a reality in their lives.
Francis invites all Franciscans to a life of penance, or in simple language, a life of striving for spiritual improvement. The model he places before us is Jesus Christ, the perfect man and yet truly God. The mystery of the Incarnation was always before his eyes. Francis refers to it frequently as the expression of God’s extraordinary love for us, that He being rich became poor and one of us. He speaks of the “poverty of God”, the overwhelming love and self-sacrifice of God for us. Our response must always be an immense gratitude for his great goodness and care for us.
These thoughts help us set our sights on how we can do this in a practical way in today’s world. It is, therefore, fitting that these words of St Francis form the Prologue to the SFO Rule. It prepares our hearts to listen to the Lord speaking through Francis and to the Holy Spirit who will work in us and through us.
If you read through the exhortation that Francis has given us, you will find a spiritual intimacy in his expressions as we see when he speaks of “those who do penance”: “they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This tells us about the close relationship that our membership in the Order accomplishes in us if we follow the Rule. They become “spouses of the Holy Spirit.” And then Francis goes about explaining how this transformation will come about: “We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor ) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give light to others by example (cf. Mt ”). The sincerity of our living out the Rule will bring about this transformation when we give ourselves totally to God in loving service even while we go about our daily tasks in family life.
The very thought of this gift that God has granted us fills Francis with admiration and so he exclaims: “Oh, how glorious it is to have so great and so holy a Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved,
humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus
Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:15).” This leads Francis on to praying in imitation of that prayer of
thanks which we find in
"Oh holy Father, protect them with your name (cf. Jn ) whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word (cf. Jn ) that they may be holy by being one as we are (cf. Jn ). And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom" (cf. Jn 17:6-24).
This can also become our prayer as we contemplate the wonderful works that the Lord has brought about in each one of us.
The second part of the Exhortation is written in a different vein. Francis speaks of those who do not do penance. In other words, he speaks of those who refuse to listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit, those who close themselves off from divine grace, those who turn their backs on God and his love for us. Francis says a rather amazing thing which we find in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “(They) do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and the anxieties and cares of this life (cf. Jn 8:41)”.
to the Dominican, Fr Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., he says that, in the thought
Francis points out that, by cutting themselves off from God, those who refuse to follow the Lord have turned to evil and especially the sins of the flesh; by this they have brought about their own condemnation. Francis then pictures the anguish of a condemned person when he is “snatched away by the devil.” The tragedy of the matter is that the person is unable to accept the gift of forgiveness because he or she is blinded by evil. Thus Francis issues a warning to those who will not open their hearts to God’s love. The Rule is the gift that is offered to us and it is up to us to receive it and live it for an eternal reward.
interesting to note that the Prologue to the Rule is similar to the Prologue to
Some Questions for Discussion
· What are some of the spiritual values that Francis points out in being members of the Third Order (Secular Franciscans)?
· What does Francis suggest we do to safeguard our vocation as Secular Franciscans?
· What does Francis say about being “genuine lovers of Jesus”? What are the characteristics of true lovers of Jesus?
· How does Francis regard those who refuse “to do penance”?
A Story for Reflection
Challenges Form Us
A Catholic missionary congregation
holds a gathering of its members coming from their respective foreign
assignments. Those working in the former
states of the
The missionaries point out that the past Communist persecution had something to with the fervour of the communities of believers in times of political repression, the faith should have died; instead it grew stronger. In the atmosphere of tolerance of a pluralistic technology-oriented society, faith should have flourished, instead it grew cold.
When challenged, people could manifest their inner quality which is favourable to faith. When left in a mediocre state, people could show their complacency which could kill the seed of faith.
THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN IDENTITY
We could consider the Secular Franciscan “identity” in different ways. From the point of view of the Church, Secular Franciscans belong to one of the spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church.
As members of that family inspired by St Francis of
This brings out the “secular” nature of the Secular Franciscan Order. From a Franciscan point of view, Secular Franciscans live in their houses and carry on the ordinary business of everyday secular life. Secular Franciscans are not “religious” like those who live a consecrated life with vows and dedicated wholly to the service of God. They are not what used to be thought “mini-religious” only that they live “in the world” unlike religious who live in convents or monasteries. However, they belong to the lay-faithful of the Church with a Rule and Constitutions to guide them.
Secular Franciscans truly live as an “Order” in the Church. The SFO General Constitutions describe the meaning of being an Order in this way: “The SFO is formed by the organic union of all the Catholic fraternities whose members, moved by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves through profession to live the Gospel in the manner of St Francis, in the secular state, following the Rule approved by the Church.”
If we express that in simpler language, we would say that the Secular
Franciscan Order if composed of Catholic fraternities throughout the world.
These fraternities are made up of men and women who have promised to follow in
the footsteps of St Francis of
It is this approved way of life under an approved Rule and Constitutions that distinguishes the Secular Franciscan from a member of a sodality or prayer group, such as the Legion of Mary or the Sacred Heart Sodality or the like. But perhaps the greatest distinguishing mark about the Secular Franciscans is fraternity. Secular Franciscans gather together in “fraternities” and are “brother” and “sister” to each other. This does not mean that they live together like sisters in a convent or monks in a monastery. They live in their own homes with their families and carry on the normal business of their lives. However, they try to gather for meetings regularly to have that support from the other sisters and brothers of the fraternity. They are bound together through the bond of spiritual brother/sisterhood which they accepted at their profession. By being brothers and sisters, they also accept the responsibility to care for each other in their needs, for example when they are sick; and rejoice with them when they can share good times, such as the birth of a baby in a family.
The spiritual family is very important to each member of the SFO. They are also brother and sisters to the other members of the Franciscan Family, the First and Second Order of St Francis, as well as the Third Order Regular of St Francis. They all share the same charism, the gift of the Holy Spirit to each one.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to enjoy
Four brothers left home for university, and they became successful doctors and lawyers and prospered. Some years later, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived far away in another city.
The first said, "I had a big house built for Mama."
The second said, "I had a hundred thousand dollar home-stereo theatre built in the house."
The third said, "I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her."
The fourth said, "You know how Mamma loved reading the Bible and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well. I met this preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire bible. It took twenty preachers 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 a year for twenty years to the church, but it was worth it. Mamma just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it." The other brothers were impressed.
After the holidays Mom sent out her
Thank You notes. She wrote: "
"Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you."
Luv Ya, Mama
MEMBERS OF THE FRANCISCAN FAMILY
The Franciscan Family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the People of God – laity, religious, and priests – who recognize they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi.”
SFO Rule I §1
Franciscans, are members of the Franciscan Family because we all share the
Franciscan charism, the gift which God has given each one of us individually by
a special vocation to follow St Francis of
Secular Franciscans have a vital role to play in the Franciscan Family. They are not isolated members but true and full members of St Francis’ Family, raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church with other members of the Franciscan Family. It is they who “make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church”. Cf. Rule I §1 “It shares and promotes a genuine Franciscan spirit and it must be regarded as necessary for the completeness of the Franciscan Charism.”
We tend to forget that this gift which we share places certain obligations and privileges upon us together with our Brothers and Sisters of the Franciscan Family. You may wonder, “What are these obligations?” These have been spelled out by St Francis himself when he wrote his Rule for the Friars Minor. He says:
“And wherever the friars find themselves, let them mutually show themselves to be among their family members. And let them without fear manifest to one another their own need, since, if a mother nourishes and loves her own son according to the flesh, how much more diligently should he love and nourish his own spiritual brother? And if any of them should fall into infirmity, the other friars should care for him, as they would want to be cared for themselves.”
It, therefore, remains an obligation that we care for each other and assist each other as true Brothers and Sisters in St Francis in the same way that Francis admonishes his friars to care for each other; so each member of the Franciscan Family must regard each other in the same way. This is an ideal that has many implications in practice which you will probably find many Franciscans will question; but it is good to hold the ideal before our eyes and try to do something towards its fulfilment insofar as it is possible for us.
Secular Franciscan Order has been described as “The Life-giving reciprocal
communion with all members of the Franciscan Family.” This
means that not only do they share the call to greater holiness by the way they
live, but they are united in a bond with all other Franciscans. We all follow
the road first mapped out for us by St Francis of
By thinking of it in this way, makes us realize what a privilege we have in belonging to such a Fraternity. There is a bond that gathers us together as one family with one spirit and a generous desire to share our talents and our services with each other. This is something relatively new to the Secular Franciscan Order, but it is a fruit of the Rule of Pope Paul VI which only some members are beginning to understand today, more than twenty-five years after it was written! We all have good reason to be grateful for this wonderful gift which we have been given by the Holy Spirit.
The Franciscan charism remains the concrete key for understanding the life of the Franciscan Family and the life of the SFO in the Church.
Questions for Discussion
· What do you see as your role in the local Church today?
· What are some implications of being members of the Franciscan Family?
· Can you suggest some ways that we may be able to put these ideas into practice?
A Story to Share
A BRAVE BOY WHO SAVED HIS FAMILY
The babies began screaming, the adults panicked, and in that moment
13-year-old Phillip Bullard began saving lives – four adults and nine children,
including himself. Phillip swam and cradled the youngest and floated the oldest
– all through the house, out a broken front window and into a boat floating
He coaxed his twin sister to let go of the side of the house, which she clung to in terror, and he took the hands of his mother and grandmother and guided them through the house, on a path made from sodden furniture. They were ready to die, unable to swim and too frightened to leave their home.
“I just didn’t want to see my family drown,” said Phillip, a seventh-grader who spent yesterday in a shelter at the junior high school he normally attends. “I was scared if I didn’t keep helping, somebody would die.”
Phillip lives with his mother and grandmother on the east side of town, in a collection of older homes in a mostly poor area. “I saw all the water and it was coming from everywhere – I swear it came through the floor,” said Phillip’s mother, Vanessa Posey, 44. Phillip yesterday nursed a foot cut by tin, which his mother fears will become infected. “I just thank God and the courage of my son.”
BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN ST FRANCIS
“In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.”
I mentioned in the previous chapter that one of the essential ingredients of being “Franciscan” was to be “brothers and sisters” to each other. What does this mean in practice? The way I think of it is firstly that we all belong to three families in the Church: The Family of the Church (The People of God); the Franciscan Family (First, Second and Third Orders); and finally, the Family of the Secular Franciscan Order. If we examine each one of these more closely I hope we will see how the Franciscan charism can be built up and the bond among us can be strengthened. Love of neighbour means love of family first and foremost.
Our first family is the Family of
the Church. Through our baptism, we were made children of God and members
of the Church. We share in the mission of the Church and we participate in the
graces of the Church. Our baptism gained us entrance into the Church and
enabled us to share in the Church’s role as “priest, prophet and king.” That is
to say, we are able to pray and praise God in union with the Church and the
High Priest who is Jesus Christ and we make up the Body of Christ.
As “prophets” we share in the teaching role of the Church and should be able to give some form of leadership to others. Like the prophets of old, we should stand up for Christian values and encourage others to do the same. By our witness we can save the world from sin and destruction. We support movements which strengthen justice, peace and the integrity of creation and speak out when these are challenged. We take on the role proclaiming human rights and non-violence in a world that is often in conflict and without a shepherd. This also involves our role as “king” in leadership and giving good example to others.
Our second family is the
Franciscan Family. If we all share the same charism that binds us together,
then we should show that link by our attitudes and regard for each other. This
close bond was not respected as it should have been in past years. If we look
back to the time of St Francis, you will see how closely he held all members of
the three Orders. His love for his own Order, his reverence and high regard for
the Second Order, the Poor Clares, stands out as a characteristic of his
vocation. Many stories that abound that speak about his close spiritual
relationship with St Clare and the Poor Clares even to the extent of
sentimentality by some writers. And it was Francis who inspired the lay
movements to follow him forming the Brothers and Sisters of Penance firstly
around the region of
The question remains: how should we build up this bond among the three Orders of St Francis? It is a challenge that must be faced by all of us. It has been suggested that we become more involved in each others celebrations and show that we are members of the one family. We must examine this in the international fraternity as well as in the area where we live. Find out which members of the Franciscan Family live in our area, both Catholic and Anglican. How can we meet together? What should be done to improve our relationships? These are some of the questions that challenge us today and that must be faced to be true to our vocation.
Thirdly, we must examine our own Secular Franciscan Family. The Rule itself stresses this element and is centred on this important aspect of Secular Franciscan living. It points out firstly that Secular Franciscans must centre their lives on Christ: “(Francis) made Christ the inspiration and the centre of his life with God and people.” And again: “Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.”
These two articles centre on Christ as our Model to live by. The next part of this article indicates one way we can come to know Christ: “Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the Gospel, and going from Gospel to life and life to the Gospel.” By coming to know Jesus as a real Person who we can love and obey as true Man and true God in a living faith can only come about over time and a great deal of personal reflection. Once we come to know him, we can come to recognize him in our brothers and sisters. The Rule describes in this way: “Secular Franciscans…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.”
If we seek to carry out this directive we shall come to consider our spiritual brothers and sisters as gift. Just as Francis saw all creation as God’s gift to us, so he also saw in his brothers and sisters God’s gracious blessing. When he wrote his last Testament he said “The Lord gave me brothers…” so he did not find it difficult to reverence and show them respect as he saw them as gift. A gift is offered by one person to another but to be “gift” it must be accepted by the one to whom it is offered. In the same way, Secular Franciscans must accept each other in order to see each other as “gift” given to them by God.
We are reminded of this in the Rule: “As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit, accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.”
Secular Franciscans have responded to a call from God. They have accepted the invitation God has offered them. By their profession, they also accept each other as God’s gift to them not passively but as “life-giving union with each other.” In other words, we not only accept each other but we assist and encourage each other to be better disciples of Christ and followers of our Seraphic Father, St Francis. This means that we actively support each other to live our Franciscan ideals. That is what we mean when we speak of “making present the charism of our holy Father St Francis.”
Questions for Discussion
A Story to think about
THE MASTER CRAFTSMAN
“You took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Ps 30:12
violinist, Peter Cropper, was invited to
the concert, a nightmare happened: Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The
violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew home to
A master craftsman, Charles Beare, spent endless hours piecing the violin together. Then came the moment of truth. What would the violin sound like? Peter’s heart began to pound as he picked up the bow to begin to play. Those present couldn’t believe their ears. The violin’s sound was better than before!
The story of the violin is the story of each one of us. Sin nearly destroyed us, but the master Craftsman, God, put us back together again. Our “sound” is now more beautiful than it was before. Mark Link, SJ Challenge, p. 129
FRANCISCAN READING OF THE SCRIPTURES
“The Rule and life of the Secular
Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by
following the example of St Francis of
SFO Rule Chapter 2§4
St Francis loved the Sacred
Scriptures but especially the Gospels; and among the Gospels his choice was
How does Francis teach us about reading the Scriptures?
Francis had a great reverence for the Scripture. He even put it on the same level as the Eucharist not only because of what they contain but what they offer us as the Word of God where God speaks to us. Therefore, even the paper on which they are written must be shown great reverence. Francis tells us “Wherever I find our Lord’s most holy names and written words in unbecoming places, I want to gather them up and I beg that they be gathered up and placed in a becoming place. And we must honour all theologians and those who minister the most holy divine words and respect them as those who minister to us spirit and life.”
These writings should become the basis of our meditation and prayer life. With God’s help, we must learn to apply what we read and hear in the Scriptures. Therefore, we should seek out and learn as much as we can about the Scriptures, listening to sermons, reading articles and books which help us understand them. In this way we can learn from the insights of others what the Holy Spirit can teach us to lead better lives.
Our reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels, should lead us to prayer and then to action. The desire to discover what the Spirit has to reveal to us in Scripture is the key to holiness. Francis insisted that all temporal things must be subservient to the spirit of prayer and devotion: “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”(Jn 7:63)
An Exercise (suitable for a day of recollection)
Discovering the Senses of Scripture
Here let us examine a passage of Scripture from St Mark’s Gospel in order to read it and discover different levels of meaning in it.
They came to
Jesus stopped and said, :Call him.” So they called the blind man saying, “Take heart. Get up, he is calling you.” He immediately threw aside his cloak, jumped up and went to Jesus.
Then Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Master, let me see again!” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he could see, and he followed Jesus along the road.” Mk 11:46 – 52
Step One: Read the Passage
Let us take Mk 10:46 – 52 as our passage for reflection. Take a few minutes now to read it and reflect on it. You may read it several times if you feel that helpful. Take your time. There is no rush and we need time to listen to the Holy Spirit in our heart.
(5 – 10 minutes to pause over the passage and reflection)
Step Two: Look at the Situation
a) See the passage in its context The story of Bartimaeus concludes the teaching of Jesus about service of others ( – 52). Jesus serves this blind man, begging beside the roadway, by freeing him from his blindness. This episode also concludes the fifth part of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus has been forming his disciples in his ‘way’ (). With the earlier healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (8:22 – 26), the healing of Bartimaeus forms a ‘frame’ for the whole of this part, where Jesus tries, unsuccessfully, to enlighten the blindness of the disciples.
b) Try to see other levels of meaning
We can read Scripture in different ways which we call “Senses of the Scripture”. We need to understand these senses or understandings of the Gospel in order to know the meaning that the writer had in mind. We are reading an ancient text and, like any old, antique writings, we need to investigate how to interpret them.
There is a lot of argument today when some Protestant groups quote Scripture. Most Protestant groups stress the fundamentalist approach to Scripture. We need to make a distinction between a literal sense and a fundamentalist sense of interpreting Scripture.
When we understand a passage in a literal sense, we look for the meaning intended by the sacred author. Let me explain this by an example. Take, for instance, Deut 6:8 “Tie these words on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder.” By following the letter of this prescription, the Pharisees interpreted it in a fundamentalist sense. The literal meaning of the text, however, the meaning intended by the sacred author, was that one should never forget to love God. The literal meaning is far more demanding than the fundamentalist one.
Now, let us go back to our reading on Bartimaeus. The story is a simple one that can make us think we understand all about it. But when we examine it more closely and think about it, we discover some other things hidden behind the text. For example, let us consider what did Bartimaeus actually do? What was driving him on? (Get some responses for this)
Look at the story again. It tells us that Bartimaeus resisted all kinds of obstacles to reach Jesus. “The people tried to stop him calling out to Jesus...” What was the common opinion of blind people? We see it clearly stated in John’s Gospel when a blind man was cured cf. Jn 9. Jesus is asked “Who sinned because this man was born blind?” In other words, blindness was regarded as a curse by God for sin, an accusation Jesus rejects. The blind man was also regarded as a man of no importance. He is told not to bother Jesus.
Notice another thing: When Jesus calls the blind man to him, the blind Bartimaeus “he immediately threw away his cloak.” Why was this detail included in the story? What is it really telling us? The blind man’s cloak is his entire possession. It is the only thing to keep him warm, to protect him from the cold. This action has a symbolic meaning. It meant that Bartimaeus had a change of heart and went to follow Jesus. His strong faith had brought him to Jesus and Jesus rewarded that faith by curing him and inviting him to be his disciple. Like the apostles, “he left everything to follow him.”
So we can see here another sense or interpretation of Scripture which is called a spiritual sense of Scripture. We look for symbols hidden behind the words but this may require some background study to appreciate more. The Old Testament is built on by the New Testament. In other words, the Old Testament helps us to understand the New Testament. Remember Jesus was brought up in a Jewish community and the Old Testament was his “daily bread” which he came to fulfil.
There is another sense of Scripture that comes up in the life of St Francis when he read the Bible to decide his future. The custom he followed is called the “sortes apostolorum” in Latin. I suppose we could translate that as the “apostles’ guess” where Francis opens the Bible three times and decides that is the will of God. You could compare this with the Fundamentalist sense. Both senses have in common that they attribute a meaning to scripture which was not in the mind of the original author. Francis’ interpretation is what is called accommodated sense of Scripture where there is a free association of thought applied to Scripture. In the time of St Francis, it was thought that by opening the Bible three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they would have an infallible answer to their problem. Some preachers use this kind of understanding Scripture but it was never intended by the sacred author. Some Protestant groups force the meaning on a text in this way which is something we must be careful of in our understanding of a passage.
If we come back now to Bartimaeus, we could understand what is written as a simple story of one of Jesus’ miracles. We could take a fundamentalist view and miss out on the deeper meaning of the passage. But, as we saw, there are symbolic actions in the passage which speak about discipleship.
c) Place Yourself in the situation. Imagine yourself there in the place of Bartimaeus. Are there any situations in your life that are similar to his? Have you ever been called on to be a witness to Christ? Have you had people influence you to take you away from a good resolution to something easier? Have you allowed temptation to draw you to other values? Have you faced the challenge of conversion?
Let us see how St Francis faced up to the challenges of conversion, how he was challenged by Gospel values.
In the 13th century,
seeking after glory was common. We can see it in the Crusades that the West was
waging against the
The day before
the vision occurred, the promise of great glory and nobility was so strong in
him that he gave away all his expensive knight’s clothing to another poor
knight. He set out for
Francis had to face the challenge and see the meaning of the vision. Notice how it was presented to him in the old Medieval feudal system and brings out the change in values which God brought about in Francis; so that, after this, he no longer sought glory but a life of humility, minority, poverty and right relationship with God. This leads us into Step Three
Step Three: The Challenges that face us.
We need to ask ourselves what are the challenges that face us? How are we to deal with them? What reaction do we have when we are placed in a situation where we have to witness to Christ? What are our spiritual values? Have we changed from a worldly point of view to a more spiritual stance?
The Fourth Step: Give God thanks and Praise
When we look into our lives, examine what we have done and see God’s loving hand at work. Give God thanks and praise for his goodness. You could follow this exercise with some discussion of the process and clear up any difficulties.
You might like to take another
passage of Scripture to practice this method of discovering the senses of
Scripture, for example, from
Prayer of St Francis
The Praises of God
1 You are holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.
2 You are strong. You are great. You are the most high.
You are the almighty king. You holy Father,
King of heaven and earth.
3 You are three and one, the Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.
4 You are love, charity; You are wisdom, You are humility.
You are patience, You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are security, You are rest,
You are gladness and joy, You are our hope, You are justice,
You are moderation, You are all our riches to sufficiency.
5 You are beauty, You are meekness,
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender,
You are strength, You are refreshment. 6 You are our hope,
You are our faith, You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Saviour.
To discover Christ in the Scriptures and to have an experience of faith in him is essential for Franciscan life. To find Jesus, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” must come first in our lives just as it did in the life of St Francis. The following of Christ is a constant theme in the life of both St Francis and St Clare. We are told that one of the greatest challenges today for all Christians is that of conforming our lives to Christ, the source of our hope, our dignity and who points out the direction of our lives. It was in Jesus that Francis and Clare received their strength and the direction of their lives.
The symbol of this dedication was –
and still is – the Tau. Francis used this symbol frequently: he signed himself
with the Tau in his letters; he painted it in places where he stayed, even on
the walls of his room and those of his brothers. He probably began this
practice after hearing a sermon given by Pope Innocent III at the opening of
the Fourth Lateran Council on
The Pope was giving his commentary on a passage from the prophet Ezekiel which stated “Sign the men on the forehead the sign of the Tau.” And then he added, “The Tau is the last letter of the Hebrews alphabet and it has the shape of a cross such that the cross was presented first so that it would be placed as a signpost to Pilate. One carries the sign of the Tau on one’s forehead to express that in all one’s conduct one carries the splendour of the cross; one carried the Tau if one crucifies one’s flesh with its vices and sins; one bears the Tau if one affirms: “I want nothing else than to glory in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ… Whoever carries the cross (Tau) will find mercy, a sign of a penitent life, renewed in Christ. Therefore, be champions of the Tau and of the Cross!”
“This concept of the Tau cross corresponded with the fervent cry of Francis and it profoundly influenced his spirituality. This was an appeal for a general movement of Christians for a Crusade of conversion and penance. Therefore, Francis wanted to obey the Pope and signed himself with the Tau of penance; he wished, by signing his brothers with the Tau, to remind his friars of their vocation, their life of penance. They were also to sign all Christians with this sign of penance. This became a favourite theme of Francis’ preaching and made it a constant theme of the Rule of 1221, and of his Letter to all the Faithful.”
This is a clear example where Scripture led to action in the life of St Francis. Faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel is the basic, life-giving principle of Franciscan spirituality. Christ stands as the Model of all virtues. Francis’ total attachment to Christ strengthened his practice of the virtues of faith, hope and love. This led Francis to his ultimate love of the Blessed Trinity which plays such a large role in his whole spirituality. While his spirituality is Christ-centred, it is also Trinitarian. The two aspects cannot be separated. We can see this especially in the prayers he composed in praising God.
All spiritualities are centred on Christ but the one aspect that is characteristic of Franciscan spirituality is Francis’ emphasis on the self-emptying of Christ especially in his poverty and humility. What stands out in Francis’ life and writings is this aspect of “self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) of Christ. It was in this kenosis of Christ that Francis saw God’s infinite love for us especially by his death on the cross.
From Francis’ Office of the Passion we can see that for Francis the Passion of Christ was not everything, but it was the only way, the only means for him to glory. This is what Jesus tells us in the Gospels. It is particularly this aspect of “self-emptying” which marks us off as followers of Francis of Assisi.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to Ponder over
The Grain of Wheat
Some time ago there was a program on television with an old man telling the story how he had nursed his sick wife for twenty years. His wife was incurably ill; in a slow process she became totally handicapped, even demented. He cared for her as best as he could, as long as she could be looked after at home. But then came the moment this was no longer possible. She had to be taken to a nursing home. For two and a half years the man drove his motor bike every day to the nursing home to visit his wife and to help a little in attending to her. He was lending a helping hand to the nurses. But then she died. The man kept going to the same nursing home two or three times a week, now to visit other patients and to help them a little.
The old man said of himself, “The years together with my wife had been so enriching for me that I’d wanted to pass on these riches to other sick people.” It even happened that male and female nurses asked him to help them a bit. It was common for them to ask him to teach them how to deal with the sick and how best to care for them. What a rich man, a happy man who became a treasure to others.
The grain of wheat falls into the ground and yields a rich harvest. In the gospel this image is made to contrast with another image of a grain of wheat: the grain that refuses to fall into the earth, the grain so preoccupied with its own life that it holds on to its life out of fear of losing it. It is so afraid of losing its life that it remains all alone, without any fruit.
WITNESSING TO THE GOSPEL
“Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.” (SFO Rule chapter 2 §4)
We know that reading of Scripture reflectively must lead to action in our lives. In this chapter, let us concentrate on how to pray the Scriptures so as to bear more fruit. Of course, this is the work of the Holy Spirit working in us; but how do we come to that “tranquillity of heart so as to be open to the Spirit, thus leading us into some activity in our lives?
I would like to suggest, firstly, that we contemplate the Lord’s words to his disciples when they came to him asking him to show them how to pray. His reply was what we have come to call “the Lord’s Prayer”. But on another occasion Jesus described our private prayer in the following way:
“When you pray, do not use a lot of words, as the pagans do, for they hold that the more they say, the more chance they have of being heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, even before you ask him.
When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen…go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret, and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.” Mt 6:6 – 7
Note that Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that when you pray it is not the number of words that you use or making a great show that will have your prayer heard by God; it is the humble prayer of one who expresses his need for God and his blessings who will have his prayer answered.
One writer explains what it means to “go into your room”. The word used for “room” in Greek is “tameion” which means “a private room or storeroom where provisions were kept, or a treasury where the money of the state was guarded. Some French versions translate it as “go into yourself” or “enter your heart” – an idea which can be understood in a biblical way. Then it would mean “go into the centre of your being, your personality, yourself”. It is there you will find true peace where God can speak to you.
Do you remember when St Francis, at the beginning of his conversion, entered a cave and remained there to pray to God. This encounter completely transformed him. He came out, as Celano says, “another man.” His actions after that were completely inspired by the Holy Spirit and his whole attitude towards everything around him changed.
The Rule tells us to “go from the Gospel to life, and life to the Gospel.” That means that we should start by reading the Scriptures; then go out under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to carry out what we know God wants of us. Then, later go back and check out what you have done with the teaching of the Gospel. Do our actions conform to the Gospel message or not? By doing this, we learn to correct our faults and come closer to the ideal presented to us in the Scriptures.
us take an example from daily life. We read in the letter of
At work, we have a particularly trying day. Everything seems to be going wrong, and we begin to complain that the boss could have arranged things better, or that so-and-so did not do his job properly. We look into ourselves and think of how much suffering we have had to endure because of the laziness of other people…. And so the day goes on, until we realize that we have forgotten the good advice we reflected on earlier. What must we do? Clearly, we must go back again to that Scripture text and work out how we can carry it out with more success. In this way, we have gone from the written word to action; then back again to the written word to judge ourselves. Over a period of time, the desired result will come with the help of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to do God’s will.
Here is an exercise that you might like to try. Take the second part of that passage which you will find in the Breviary: Week 1, Morning Prayer, Scripture Reading Eph 4:29 – 32. The passage goes on to say: “And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults. No more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
These are beautiful words and an ideal to follow. Test yourself and ask how have you followed them in the past?
Questions for Discussion
A Story to think about:
Taught by Experience
The mother mouse knew that sooner or later she’d have to introduce her little mice to the real world, so the day came when she said, “Children, come with me. We’re venturing outside.” So they all gathered around Mamma Mouse, and they poked their heads through the mouse hole and walked outside. Right there was a big, black, sleeping cat. Mamma Mouse’s heart was throbbing, but she decided these kids had to learn about life sooner or later, so she tiptoed with her brood around the sleeping cat, which suddenly opened one eye, and raised his paw. Mamma Mouse arched her back, let out two heavy barks, and the cat went scampering out of the room. She turned to her children and said, “Children, I want you to know that when you get into a tight spot, it always helps to have a second language.”
Well, that refers to what I’m saying here: people feel that prayer is a second language for the knowledgeable, the clever and the elite who have studied that second language. But my contention is that prayer is not an exceptional experience for the clever; prayer is an ordinary experience for the likes of you and me, and – as for those mice – it’s an essential part of life and maturing. William Bausch, Seven things prayer is not in Telling More Compelling Stories
When St Francis considered the concept of “sin,” he always related it to God. We are so used to thinking about sin in a negative way as “breaking a commandment” or something like that. There certainly is a negative side to sin, but there is also a positive view which deals with relationships.
Francis always expressed our relationship with God in his writings. The basic relationship we have with God is “obedience”. He talked about his friars as “living in obedience” or, in other words, living in subjection to God as Lord. He emphasized that we are governed and directed by God. That is why he could say, “Everything is God’s gift,” or “grace.” He often said that obedience is a basic relationship, the foundation of all relationships between God and us, God and his creation. In whatever area we go in the spiritual life, there is this basic relationship of obedience. To reject this is to sin, to turn your back on God who is Lord.
That is why Francis could say, “God’s will gives us the only valid and true direction for our actions and omissions. Through the free decision of an obedient person, God is acknowledged as Lord. In this obedient acknowledgement of the divine will lies the core of all glorification of God by humans.”
Francis spoke of this a number of times in his Admonitions. For example, in Admonition 5, he says: “Consider, O human being, in what great excellence the Lord God has placed you, for He created and formed you to the image of his beloved Son according to the body and to His likeness according to the Spirit. And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you….” Obedience, then, is basic to our nature. If we go against God by breaking this relationship, we sin.
This idea is beautifully expressed in the well-know story of the Prodigal Son and in a number of other places in the Gospels. Once we have the concept of relationship, it is easy to see where the idea of “forgiveness” fits in. We turn back to God and ask God to restore that relationship and that bond which ties us to Him and our brothers and sisters.
has that other aspect which is often forgotten: If we sin, we sin against God,
and we sin against the community. The Mystical Body is injured by our sin as
Our frail human nature is revealed by the times we fail in our relationship with God. We ask God to “bend down to us,” as St Bonaventure puts it, and heal us. But we must also ask the community for forgiveness. That is why we must confess our serious falls to a priest. That is called the “ecclesial nature” of the Sacrament. But we admit our human frailty at every Mass when we begin by asking God for forgiveness at the beginning of the Liturgy.
We know when Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive his brother? Jesus replied “Seventy times seven.” In other words, we must not only ask God for forgiveness, but we, too, must be ready to forgive others who have offended us as many times as this is needed. If we do this, we can then pray the “Our Father” with great confidence “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us…”
Questions for Discussion
A Story to think about
Austrian woman held for more than eight years in a dingey
cell now feels sorry for her tormentor and calls him a “poor soul”. Natacha Kampusch made headlines a
year ago when she ran to freedom from the tiny dungeon where Wolfgang Priklopil held her captive in a quiet
was 10 when she was kidnapped on her way to school in March 1998. She spent the
next 8 ½ years at the mercy of Priklopil – who
committed suicide within hours of her dramatic escape on
I can say is that, bit by bit, I feel more sorry for him,” Ms Kampusch, now 19, said in a documentary aired on Austrian
television yesterday to mark her first year of freedom…Ms Kampusch
also acknowledged she said goodbye to Priklopil as he
lay in a coffin after throwing himself in front of a commuter train….She said
that she felt some sorrow and pity for Priklopil.
Report from The Courier Mail,
Carefully backing into a parking lot space, the driver of a big heavy, old Rolls Royce was angered when a teenager in a cool sports car zipped in and stole his place. Getting out of the car, the youth grinned and said, “You got to be young and quick to be able to do that, Pops.” The older gent grinned too, and continued to back up his Rolls, crunching the tiny sports car into a total wreck. “And you have to be old and rich to do that, Son,” he said. William Bausch, Telling More Telling Stories
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE
United by their vocation as “brothers and sisters of penance,” and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls “conversion.” Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. (Rule, ch. 2 §8)
early Third Order of St Francis was known as the “Brothers and Sisters of
Penance” because they taken up the role of Penitents in
He interpreted this as future success in battle, so he determined to go to war again. But God intervened and asked him directly, “Who can do more good for you – the lord or the servant?” Of course, he answered, “the Lord.” “Then,” replied the voice, “why are you abandoning the Lord for the servant?” “What do you want me to do?” Francis responded. “Go back to your land and you will be told what to do,” came the answer. Thus began a whole series of events which brought about Francis’ gradual conversion. It was an on-going process. It was not until later that he decided to follow the way of the Penitents as the Lord commanded him. Brother Celano, Francis’ first biographer, writes: “…then one day at Mass, he heard these things which Christ tells the disciples who were sent out to preach, instructing them to carry no gold or silver, a wallet or a purse, bread, walking stick or shoes, or two tunics. Francis did not fully understand what the text meant, so after Mass he went to see the priest to have him explain it to him. After hearing the explanation, he was filled with indescribable joy. “This,” he said, “is what I want to do with all my strength
So, after committing to memory everything he had heard, he joyfully fulfilled them, removing his second garment without delay, and from then on he never used a walking stick, shoes, purse, or wallet. He made a very cheap and plain tunic for himself, and, throwing the belt away, he girded himself with a cord.”
Francis describes this experience in his Testament:
The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world. (FAED I, p.124)
What does “I began to do penance” mean? One author describes it this way: “To do penance” means to begin to consciously distance oneself from and reject all those attitudes, values, behaviours and actions that further fragment the human fraternity of creatures, setting oneself over and against another. This is authentic conversion; this is the root of a penitential spirituality; to do this, daily and for the rest of one’s life, is to “produce fruits worthy of penance.”
I understand this to mean that it is not enough to change what one is doing, but that this change must produce something worthwhile that will improve the situation in our relationship with God and our neighbour (= “worthy fruits of penance”). This is what “conversion” must mean for the Secular Franciscan: to not only see and judge a situation, but to act on it for the better.
What does “Penitential life” mean for Secular Franciscans? I understand it as “on-going conversion” just like St Francis had to go through a process, so must all Franciscans. It demands the virtue of humility or “minority” which means that we accept every aspect of our lives and grow in self-knowledge. This requires a willingness to face the reality of sin and weakness in a positive, straight-forward manner and to accept and develop personal gifts and talents.
We must understand humility not in a negative way but as “an invitation to accept the totality of who one is before God. It requires that the sisters and brothers recognize and accept those areas in life which are sinful, broken or deformed and to ask that God help them deal with those areas. However, humility also means that the good and graced aspects of life be accepted and affirmed as well. Our faith teaches us that people are made in the image and likeness of God, that Jesus died so that they may have everlasting life; and that the Holy Spirit is graciously poured out so that men and women might have life in abundance.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to Ponder
Saved from Death
Dostoyevsky, the great writer and great Christian, was implicated in a plot to
assassinate the Tsar of Russia. He was not one of the plotters but he was on
the fringes of a group that wanted to overthrow the established order. The plot
was uncovered and he was arrested and tried, found guilty and sentenced to
death. He put in an appeal even though the chances of getting a reprieve were
In the meantime he was sent to a prison camp in
Dostoyevsky experienced a resurrection. He was a dead man; the book he wrote about his prison life is called 'Scenes from the House of the Dead', and the title literally sums up his experiences. He was dead; he regarded himself dead, because just waiting for death like that can be considered even worse than being dead. And then he was alive. And although he had to endure very harsh conditions he was alive, and he saw everything in a new way. He was able to live life to the full.
Dostoyevsky experienced life because he experienced death and this is what made him a truly great writer. A writer who has been able to get inside our souls and in his writing has explored some of our deepest feelings and emotions. Fr Alex McAllister SDS
CONVERSION: A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
“To be converted” is one of the most crucial decisions one has to make in one’s life. A conversion from brain to the heart, that is, the theoretical knowledge I have that God loves me must travel from my head to my heart. My life must respond to the love I experience with greater intensity. “His love for me has to become more and more the only motive for all my prayer, work and action. Then my life will begin to be a response to that incomprehensible love for me.”
To illustrate this, Fr John Fuellenbach SVD, gives us this story: “When I was just ordained, I met a Sister who had been working for forty years in a leper colony. She was known to be a very joyful and lively person, and so I asked her, ‘How is it that you are such a joyful and inspiring person in spite of all the hard and often frustrating work you have to do continuously?’ She answered, ‘Well, Father, it took twenty-five years of religious life before I suddenly realized that God truly loved me. That experience changed my whole life. From that day on I became a different person. And only if you had known me before could you appreciate what a difference I have become.’”
This may appear to be something very threatening to us because we are afraid of God and want to avoid the risk of getting “too close” to God. Perhaps some can look back at their own experiences and see where God has extended an invitation to follow him more closely, but had hesitated because they feared the consequences. They were afraid of the unknown and did not have enough trust in god to “let go” and let God lead them. Fr John Fuellenbach comments on the unexpected consequences of such a decision: “If I let this God image into my life to determine my actions and behaviour, joy should become the basic mood of my being. The double-parable of the Treasure in the Field and the Costly Pearl (Mt – 46) is regarded by many Scripture scholars as the key to unlock all the other parables.” In fact, joy is essential to the spiritual life. It is the experience of knowing that God loves us unconditionally and nothing can take that love away from us.
Fr John adds, “It is important to be aware that at every moment of our life we have an opportunity to choose joy and we can learn to develop our capacity to do so. If I spend a few moments at the end of the day and decide to remember this day as a day to be grateful for – whatever may have happened – I increase my heart’s capacity to choose joy. And as our hearts become more joyful, we will become, without any special effort, a source of joy for others. Just as sadness begets sadness, so does joy beget joy.” So, ultimately, it is a matter of attitude.
Attitude has an enormous impact on life. Attitude is more important than facts. “It is more important than the past, or education, or money, or circumstances, or failure, or successes or what other people think.... “The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...or the inevitable, but we can play on the one string we have: our attitude. We are in charge of our attitudes. It is true that conversion is a matter of God’s grace, but it is also something in which we have a role to play. God gives us the invitation, the opportunity, but it is we who are asked to respond to it.
was well known for his joyful spirit. He often sang in French, rejoiced in the
whole of creation. He is often remembered for his joyful songs of praise, so
that he is known as “God’s Troubadour.” This was a natural gift that Francis
enjoyed even before his “conversion” experiences that made him so popular in
joyful spirit of St Francis of
Questions for Discussion
A Story to Reflect on
Rabbi Schmelke and his brother came to the maggid to ask for advice: “Our sages once said something that does not give us any peace, because we do not understand its true meaning. He proposes that a person should thank and praise God for all the misfortunes that have befallen him in the same way as he would thank God for all the good things that happened in his life and which fill him with deep happiness. Please tell us how we should understand this message.”
maggid replied, “Go to the
PRAYING THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS
“As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.” Rule Chapter 2 §8
It was St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, who was a member of the Third Order of St Francis (Secular Franciscan) who is attributed with saying that it was the power of the Church lay in the gathering of people to pray together: “A single person praying,” he used to say, “is like a single match. It provides light in a dark room, and that is good. But a church full of people praying is like a bonfire; the whole area is lit up.” We could say the same when we gather together as a fraternity to pray. A single voice in prayer is good; but a fraternity praying is far more effective because they pray with the voice of the whole Church.
One of the first activities that Francis and Clare undertook in following Christ was the recitation of the Divine Office. There is frequent mention of the gathering of the community in prayer in the Early Writings of the Franciscan Order. The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours was one of the practices that brought the community together to share their praises of God. It was time to celebrate the wonderful gifts God had given them and to appreciate each other in this unique way. It was time when they joined with the whole Church in prayer in response to Jesus command to “always pray.”
Some have speculated that it was probably from the practice of praying the Divine Office that both Francis and Clare came to their conversion to the Gospel life. By steeping themselves into the Word of God and reflection, they learnt the meaning of following Christ in all its richness. They came to understand the great love that God had for us all and the sacrifice Jesus made to bring us back to God. Therefore, we could consider this gathering together to pray the psalms as an important element in developing Franciscan fraternity. It makes us conscious of God throughout the day and aware of his loving presence.
It is important that we learn more about the psalms and the Divine Office because it will help us appreciate more deeply how God prefigured the saving activities of Jesus Christ through his inspired writers in the Old Testament. Many of the psalms speak of Jesus himself and of the promises of the Kingdom. They reflect every emotion in our lives and give us fresh insights into God’s care for us through Salvation History. The psalms are always a rich source for our reflections and a guide to better Christian living.
Liturgy receives a special place of importance in the Franciscan Family just as it did for Francis and Clare. How can we translate this into our own personal attitudes? The danger is that by frequent recitation of the psalms, they could become routine, just a habit with no depth of meaning. How can we solve this? We must make our liturgical prayer more personal, more meaningful and “prayerful”. Jesus himself warns us about this. Prayer must not be allowed to become just a recital of a formula, meaningless ritual. One way to do this is to seek variety in the way we celebrate the Divine Office. There are many alternative ways suggested in the Introduction to the Breviary. It suggests having those celebrating taking a greater role in its presentation and the use of music to “bring the mere words to life.”
Many SFO fraternities include the recitation or celebration of the Divine Office as part of their monthly or more frequent meetings. It is good if this could be prepared beforehand so that it does not just become a “chore” to be done, instead of an expression of our praise of God and thanksgiving for his gifts of each other.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to enjoy
SLIDING INTO PRAYER
I had been asked to give a retreat in a minor seminary. I knew the young rector who had previously been my student. When I finished the retreat he told me with tears in his eyes that he was not able to pay even for my travel expenses. On top of this, he said, the bishop had gone away leaving him with no money, and there was not even enough rice in the kitchen to feed the 80 boys for that day. Shopkeepers had stopped giving him credit because he was so far behind with his payments. Trying to console him, I suggested that we go to the chapel and pray.
I don’t know what we prayed or how long, but when I came out of the church, a car drove up and a woman stepped out and asked me whether this was the seminary. I said that it was, and asked her if she wanted to speak with the rector. No, that wasn’t necessary, she said. Then she went on to explain. “My husband and I were travelling on the highway over there. We are on a holiday trip. Suddenly I remembered that we had made a promise some time ago to show our gratitude for a miraculous recovery of our grandson from a serious illness. I said to my husband, “Here we are going on vacation again, without having fulfilled our promise.” At that moment, I saw a sign indicating a seminary and I insisted that we call in. Please, take this gift and use it for your needs in this house.”
She did not even give me time to call the rector. When I found him, the couple had left and we stood there, richer by 1000 Pesos. We prayed once more. There were tears in the eyes of the rector, but this time, they were tears of gratitude. John Fuellenbach, Proclaiming the Kingdom
THE SACRAMENTAL LIFE OF THE CHURCH
“Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, re-living the mysteries of the life of Christ.” Rule ch. 2 §8
In this chapter, we shall consider the involvement of the Secular Franciscan in the sacramental life of the Church. We shall deal more specifically with the Eucharist in the next chapter.
Before any candidate can be accepted as a member of the SFO, he/she must show that he/she is a baptized, and an active member of the Catholic Church. There must also be a desire to deepen one’s relationship with Christ and an attraction to the Franciscan way of life. In fact, there must be sure signs of “conversion” or a change in one’s attitude and spiritual appreciation of a life of prayer and contemplation. In other words, there must be visibly noticeable signs of a person’s change for the better in the way a person leads his/her life.
We know that through our Baptism, we share in the life and mission of the Church. That means that we share in the role of the People of God as “priest, prophet and king,” as we saw earlier. But how do we do this? It is through our participating in the life of the parish. We take on the role of serving the parish in the life of prayer, and/or teaching or in some other way that will forward the work of the parish.
The Sacrament of Confirmation supplements our Baptism. It not only gives us the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us, but it makes us witnesses to the truth. That is the meaning of the word “confirm”: “to strengthen”. In today’s world, this is the sacrament we need very much. It even “goes against the tide” of popular opinion and worldly values. Again Jesus speaks to us as he spoke to Francis in the Gospel reading from St Matthew: “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.” These same words were chosen by Francis to one of the basic texts in his Rule for his friars to observe. It also remains a challenge to all Franciscan s.
Again we share in the sacramental life of the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament is more than a “wiping away of sin” as many used to think of it. It was popularly called “Confession” which emphasized a minor part of the sacrament. The healing love of Christ is far more important for it not only frees us from sin, but brings us strength to overcome temptation. Our encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation also deepens our relationship with him through the healing power of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament is very much under-valued which has led to fewer people taking advantage of this gift from God which is held out to us for as often as we want it. Reconciliation also brings about an interior peace which only God can give. It is that “peace” which Jesus spoke about after his Resurrection when he appeared to his disciples. He said, “Peace be with you; I give you my peace. Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not be troubled; do not be afraid….” The “peace” Jesus speaks of in Hebrew is “Shalom” or “well-being” which is not an absence of trouble but a tranquillity of heart which only God can give. It is this peace of heart that the Peace Prayer of St Francis reveals speaks to us about sharing with others:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: O divine Master,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; grant that I may not so much seek
where there is injury, pardon; to be consoled as to console;
where there is doubt, faith; to be understood, as to understand;
where there is despair, hope; to be loved as to love;
where there is darkness, light for it is in giving that we receive,
and where there is sadness, joy. it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
This beautiful prayer has become one of the characteristic prayers of all Franciscans as it expresses that role we all share as peace-makers.
We also share in the Sacramental life of the Church in Marriage or Holy Orders and finally, with the Anointing of the Sick – but we shall reflect on these later.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to think about
CHRIST, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Let us turn to a very famous picture
that you’ve probably seen reproduced many times: the picture of Jesus standing
outside a door overgrown with ivy. There’s no knocker, no handle on the
outside. The idea is that Jesus stands there and knocks but there’s no way for
him to enter unless someone on the other side of the door decides to open it
and let him in. It’s called the “Light of the World,” and it’s in
Those of you who have been to
The artist had known about Jesus and he had painted him on the other side of the door. He just regretted that he took so long to decide to answer and open up to him. Again, it’s the same gospel message: It’s time for radical decision. What decision? It’s time to open the door to Jesus once and for all. And, like it or not, we must decide not just to open one door but three: the door to the past; the door to the present; and the door to the future.
First, to open the door to the past is to face the reality that “what is done is done.” That’s it. What we did, you and I, the hurtful things, the heart-breaking things, the arrogant things, the unjust things – they’re done and we can’t undo them. The only way we can deal with past hurts and sins that haunt us is to open the door to Jesus. The name that tradition has for this opening is forgiveness.
Bausch, W. More compelling stories, n. 1
PRAYING THE LITURGY: THE EUCHARIST
are many people who, when they hear the word “Eucharist,” immediately think of
Holy Communion. Yet the word “Eucharist” is an action word. It means “giving
thanks” or “to be grateful” from the Greek word “eucharistein”, so that when we speak of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we are
speaking principally about the action performed in the
must not think of the Eucharist in a passive sense. It is something Christ does
for us out of love for us; it is something we do in union with Christ out of
love for him. Even when I receive Holy Communion, I am joining myself to the
sacrifice of Christ on the altar. I am actively engaged with Christ and “making
up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” so that
our troubles and worries are paths that help us become like Jesus in his
suffering. That is why there are two consecrations of the bread and the wine.
They are to mark the separation of body and blood which occurred to Christ on
Perhaps what has been stated above may help us understand why it is so important that we share the Mass together in active participation in the Liturgy. It also binds us together so that this supreme prayer of Christ will bring about a true conversion not only in ourselves but in all who participate in this divine action. That is also why the Mass is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians and as Franciscans. Jesus called it a new “Covenant” or “agreement” with God where we bind ourselves more closely with God – even more than the Israelite people did with Yahweh. We are not only united in spirit but we are physically united with Christ when we receive him in the Eucharist. We have good reason, then, to give God thanks for this sacred moment!
While we realize the great blessing we receive, we must also approach the Table of the Lord’s Supper with humility and trusting in God’s infinite mercy. We come to him because he has invited us to share his life.
The more often we gather together to offer this Sacrifice to God, the greater the bond we have with each other, just as those who go through a tragedy together are bonded together by suffering, so we also strengthen this bond with each other as Franciscans when we share this time of prayer together. It is a time for great celebration, and it is also a time when we can intercede for those who are in great need of God’s help. This is a great apostolic work that everyone can promote by one’s example.
Some Questions for Discussion
A Story about Life
THE LAST SUPPER
is a moving story that has survived the centuries. It’s about Pietro Bandinelli, an attractive,
young man who used to sing in the
later, Leonardo still had not completed the painting. One day, however, the
spirit moved him, and he went out into the slums of
Later, while the man was posing, Leonardo paused and asked him, “Have we met before?” There was a long silence. Then the man replied, saying, “Yes, I was your Jesus model years ago, but much has happened in my life since then.” Mark Link, SJ Challenge, p. 100
Notice outside a church:
ADORING THE LORD IN HUMILITY
It has been the custom to divide the consideration of the Eucharist under the heading of “Eucharist as a Sacrifice” and “Eucharist as a Sacrament”. This kind of division has led to a rather passive view of the Eucharist reserved in our tabernacles. But Francis considered the Eucharist as an organic and unified whole just as the Early Father of the Church had done. This is also in line with the thinking at the Second Vatican Council and which we shall follow here.
In Francis’ time, the celebration of the Eucharist was in great decadence. The people did not understand it or participate in it even in the reception of Communion which was becoming rarer every day. But, at the same time, there was a devotion developing towards the Body of Christ taken especially in its mystical meaning. The theology of the Eucharist had not yet been formulated so that many people were very confused. There were many conflicting ideas about the Eucharist circulating among the people from heretical movements of the time. Some said a Mass celebrated by an unworthy priest was not valid; others said it was. Such thinking led the Church to clarify and develop its language in Eucharistic theology.
strongly accepted the doctrine of the Church as he understood it as it was
expressed in the Liturgy. In the theology of the time, there was a strong
emphasis on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacramental elements of bread and
wine to such an extent that it overshadowed other important aspects of the
Eucharist, such as the historical-salvific and ecclesial aspects. The Real
Presence was considered for itself rather than the purpose it had. In other
words, there was a Eucharistic cult developing which ignored its connection
with the sacrificial elements of the
The image that Francis and his sons would have had of the Eucharist we can reconstruct from his behaviour and his writings contain signs of the times in which he lived with the emphasis on the Real Presence. Yet Francis displays certain insights which were well ahead of his times. He reveals a unified vision with attention to the true and valid aspects of the Eucharist. Francis did not recognize a division between Eucharistic celebration and the cult towards the Sacrament. The unity for Francis consisted in the person of Christ, considered in the bosom of the Father, in the Incarnation and in his sacrificial offering, in the minister at the altar and in the reality of his Eucharistic body. The Eucharist places the Christian before Christ in his divine and human nature and he invites him/her to meet him in the Sacrament.
At the start of the 13th century, the practice of elevating the host at Mass was established and it spread to counter abuses at the time. It became a popular movement in the Church but it became out of hand. The desire to see the host gave rise to excessive and superstitious practices, such as, “Communion of the eyes,” which even came to substituting for Sacramental Communion. Some theologians of the time gave greater importance to “seeing” than “receiving” the host! Francis never referred explicitly to the ritual of elevation. He speaks of “seeing” the Body of the Lord where he called to mind our vision of faith. Francis transcends the current practices of the time.
In our reception of the Eucharist, we must keep in mind Francis passionate devotion towards the Lord and his fervent reverence for the Blessed Sacrament as we find expressed in his writings:
Let everyone be struck with fear;
Let the whole world tremble
and let the heavens exult
when Christ the Son of the living God
is present on the altar in the hands of a priest.
O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility! O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles himself
that, for our salvation,
He hides himself
under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers, look at the humility of God,
and pour out your hearts before Him!
that you may be exalted by Him.
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that he who gives himself totally to you,
may receive you totally.
The deep faith in Francis is revealed in the sentiments expressed in this prayer. We find similar ideas running through all his writings. This showed that Francis did not seem to have the passive kind of adoration which separates the Eucharistic Sacrifice from the Eucharist, the “fruit” of the offering.
Questions for Discussion
A Prayer to Reflect on
All Franciscans have this prayer that Francis composed and that we can say:
We adore You, most holy Lord Jesus Christ,
here and in all your churches throughout the whole world,
and we bless You because, by your holy Cross,
You have redeemed the world.
EUCHARIST: THE SOURCE OF LIFE OF THE FRATERNITY
The opening paragraph of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia begins in this way: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth…recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise: ‘Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age’ (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist…she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.”
We could say the same applies to our fraternities. We must place the Eucharist at the centre of our personal and fraternal living because it is the source and end of our communion and unity. All our activities and mission flow from the Eucharist, so it is most important that we are open to the presence of the Lord and that we understand what he wants of us and then to wholeheartedly accept it. Only by stressing this can we become genuine apostles of the Gospel in our families and in the service entrusted to us.
The story of the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus in Lk 24:13 – 35 brings this out clearly. The encounter with the Risen Lord takes place for us every day on our journey through life: when we read or listen to his Word in Scripture and when we meet him in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist. This most extraordinary event takes place so often that we tend to take it for granted so we need to remind ourselves of the mystery of our faith.
The Eucharist must become a meeting and starting point for us and become just as real as it was for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. This is the source of our communion and our mission. It has the power to change us and give us a new impulse to proclaim the wonders of the Lord. We must become assured: we are not alone, for the Lord walks with us.
When we gather as a fraternity, we know the Lord is present with us and he unites us more strongly to each other. This is outlined in the SFO General Constitutions: “The Eucharist is the centre of the life of the Church. Christ unites us to himself and to one another as a single body in it. Therefore, the Eucharist should be the centre of the life of the fraternity. The brothers and sisters should participate in the Eucharist as frequently as possible, being mindful of the respect and love shown by Francis, who, in the Eucharist, lived all the mysteries of the life of Christ.”
This presupposes that we approach the Eucharist with deep faith just as Francis did. His first Admonition expresses it in this way:
“The Father lives in inaccessible light, and God is spirit, and no one has ever seen God. Therefore He cannot be seen except in the Spirit because it is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh has nothing to offer. But because He is equal to the Father, the Son is not seen by anyone other than the Father or other than the Holy Spirit. All those who saw the Lord Jesus according to the humanity, therefore, and did not see and believe according to the Spirit and the Divinity that He is the true Son of God were condemned. Now in the same way, all those who see the sacrament sanctified by the words of the Lord upon the altar at the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine, and who do not see and believe according to the Spirit and the Divinity, that it is truly the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, are condemned…”.
This very beautiful text gives us a lot to meditate on and contains Francis’ deep faith in the Eucharist and his love of the Sacrament.
The Eucharist also stands as a source of unity for us. Br Irudaya Samy, OFM Cap explains: “The fraternity is…realised around the Eucharist, poured out and worked by the Son in the miracle of His giving of self to men who respond with a free yes, but, at the same time, it is a manifestation of that profound unity which has its being in the Trinity itself. ‘With me in you and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me’ (Jn 17:23). The Eucharist drags us and introduces us into the life of the Trinity, into relationships of love and perfect unity with the life of God.”
Our deep faith in the Eucharist will form a bond with the Lord and a bond also with one another that can never be broken unless we want to break it ourselves. Jesus will never abandon us even if we abandon him.
Questions for Discussion
EUCHARISTIC MIRACLE OF GONA BEACH PNG 1942
Before the assault on
Padre Cunningham selected a site for the Mass nearby where the battalion was stationed and about 120-150 soldiers followed him to the Mass site. He preceded the Mass with a general absolution, and began the Mass setting aside the approximate number of hosts for the men who followed him.
At Communion time, because those days Communion was received only under the form of bread, he purified the chalice and used it as the ciborium to contain the hosts. In those days, the priest celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. He tried to give the absolution before Communion and noticed all too late that the numbers of soldiers assembled seemed to have grown considerably. He said to himself, “Well, they probably won’t all want to receive Communion. He began to distribute the consecrated Hosts, but all the line of men coming to Communion seemed endless. He thought he had better start breaking the hosts, but he did this only a few times before realizing that he still would not have enough hosts, and, strangely, the supply of hosts had not seemed to lessen, so he continued to give every man who approached the full host.”
The men continued coming. Not just Catholics, but members of other denominations and maybe none at all. The hosts continued to multiply. He avowed later on that he would have distributed Communion to more than 450 men.
When the line of men came to an end, he found that he still had three hosts in the chalice. What was the significance of these? He looked around and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw three men, overcoming their diffidence, making their way from the perimeter of the crowd. They were the last and received the last three hosts. He finished the Mass with great emotion, for clearly God had intervened to give each of these men the consolation of his presence in the Eucharist. They felt their need of him and he would not deny them.
From the journal “Pigeon Post” in June, 2004.
“History has shown that, in certain epochs, the life of the faith is sustained by the forms and practices of piety which the faithful have often felt more deeply and actively than the liturgical celebrations. Indeed, every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body which is the Church, is a sacred action, surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy, by the same title or to the same degree.”
quote goes on to indicate the primacy of the Liturgy in the life of the Church
but, at the same time, it points to the significant role that popular devotion
or private devotional prayers and practices have played in the history of the
Church. We know, for example, that it was the popular devotion of the people
that kept the faith alive in some “
Among these practices and prayers, there are some typically Franciscan ones which we all know, such as, the Franciscan Crown Rosary, the Way of the Cross and the Angelus which St Francis himself encouraged after his return from the Holy Land because of the practices he saw the Moslems following there. There are many other devotions which the Church promotes: novenas to the Saints, the Christmas crib (started by St Francis), devotion to the Holy Spirit, etc. Of course, we know all of these are optional and must never substitute for the Liturgical prayers of the Church. They are ‘helps’ to remind us of the Lord and to unite communities on various occasions. They are also easily understood by ordinary people, and especially young children. Practices, such as the Sign of the Cross, and prayers as the “Hail Mary” or “Hail Holy Queen” can be taught to children at an early age, as well as short acts of Faith, Hope and Love. These should come naturally to all Catholics and can prove to be of great support in the time of trial.
Other forms of private devotion are the reading of the Scriptures and reflecting on them, reading spiritual books and articles in magazines, taking time to reflect on the creation around us to thank God for the gifts he has granted us; spending time before the Blessed Sacrament to “be with the Lord” in a devotional way. All these are an expression of our faith which make us aware of God’s love for us and our love for Him in return.
the story of St Francis, we read how he loved to take time to go aside to a
quiet place to pray. He did not need a book to read, but prayed from his heart.
It was when he went to pray before the Cross in the little church of San
Damiano that he heard Christ speak to him to “go and repair My Church.” It was
in a cave outside
When Jesus was asked by his disciples how to pray, he replied, “When you pray, go into your room and, closing the door, pay to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” The first question is not whether we pray best in the chapel, in our room or in the middle of the street, but whether we have ever entered into the heart, the place of prayer. The Father sees worshippers who adore him “in spirit and in truth”, that is to say, those who find him in their hearts wherever they may be.
Go into your room…
What is this room to which we go to find the gift of the Father? The Greek word used here tameion means a private room or storeroom where provisions were kept, the treasury where the money of the state is guarded, a private place where we cannot come and go freely. Some scholars translate this “room” as “yourself”, or as Scripture says, “enter into your heart”, the seat of the emotions; it is rather the centre of the personality. To see this, scan the Psalms or the Gospel and pick out the uses of the word. There we find that thoughts come forth from the heart and the mouth speaks out of its abundance. The heart understands, assimilates, decides and allows us to judge a person in truth. The heart, then, is what makes me myself – me. Above and beyond the intelligence, will and emotions, it is the centre of myself which gives its attention to things, accepts or rejects them. ‘Give me your heart’, says a proverb (Prov ). The Jerusalem Bible translates this as “Attend to me, keep your eyes fixed on my advice.” In other words, to find me and understand my teachings, give me what is most yourself.
Closing the door…
We can see where the difficulty lies in prayer. It is not in lack of time or physical conditions. It lies in this: we rarely descend to the bottom of our heart to remain there. In other words, we are seldom ourselves. This plain fact is as clear as the turn we give the key in order to shut the door. We pray badly because we are not ourselves, and we are not ourselves because we do not know how to be silent. The condition for all prayer, as for the act of freedom which it demands, is silence. We must rediscover this fundamental truth.
A Story to Share
A LESSON ON PRAYER
A man's daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the minister arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows. An empty chair sat beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. "I guess you were expecting me, he said. 'No, who are you?" said the man. The priest told him his name and then remarked, "I saw the empty chair and I figured you knew I was going to show up,"
yeah, the chair," said the bedridden man. "Would you mind closing the
Puzzled, the priest shut the door. "I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter," said the man. "But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the preacher talk about prayer, but it went right over my head." I abandoned any attempt at prayer," the old man continued, "until one day four years ago, my best friend said to me, "Johnny, prayer is just a simple
matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here is what I suggest: Sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It's not spooky because he promised, 'I will be with you always'. "Then just speak to him in the same way you're doing with me right now."
"So, I tried it and I've liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I'm careful though If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she'd either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm."
The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the church.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the minister that her daddy had died that afternoon. Did he die in peace?" he asked. Yes, when I left the house about , he called me over to his bedside, told me how much he loved me and kissed me on the cheek.
When I got back from the store an
hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange about his death.
Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on
the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?"
The priest wiped a tear from his eye and said, "I wish we could all go like that."
LIVING IN FRANCISCAN SIMPLICITY
The title to this reflection may seem strange to some people because “simplicity” is often understood in a very negative way. To say a person is “simple” often means he is “gullible, stupid, ignorant”, or the like. But we know there is a very positive meaning to the term which we need to explore because “simplicity”, the virtue, is basic to Franciscan life.
What do we mean, then, by “Franciscan simplicity”? We could consider this under various aspects which express various attitudes of a person: Firstly, a person’s attitude towards God; secondly, a person’s attitude towards life; and thirdly, a person’s attitude towards others. So, let us take each one of these in turn.
a) A Person’s Attitude towards God
At the beginning of Francis’ spiritual journey, he had to make some radical choices in his life. Under the influence of divine grace, Francis chose God as his absolute Good so that he decisively refused everything that did not lead to God. Simplicity implies a constant and exclusive seeking after God as our “All”. God must become our “highest Good” and everything else is but a vague reflection of God. Francis tells us in his Early Rule: “Therefore, let us desire nothing else, let us want nothing else, let nothing else please us and cause us delight except our Creator, Redeemer and Saviour, the only true God who is the fullness of good, all good, every good, the true and supreme good, who alone is good…” Here Francis is presenting us with an ideal to be sought after, not blindly but with the aid of divine prudence. Simplicity, therefore, implies a constant search, enlightened and dictated by love. We desire to possess God above all else.
b) Attitude to Life
The attitude of a person before God is the result of a process of simplifying which leads him/her to further development. Simplicity tends to free a person from the worries and burdens which block his/her way to God or other things which tie him to this world. In effect, his/her life becomes less complicated. The simple person has begun to enter into the life of the Trinity. Franciscan simplicity is expressed in what we might call a “spiritual childhood” as we understand it in Mt 1:3 “I assure you that unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” They imitate the behaviour of adults in a childlike way. Simplicity is the state of those who imitate Christ in an integrally unconditional way by assimilating the profoundest behaviour, keeping this before their eyes at all times, and allowing Christ to transform them totally.
There is a story told by Celano
about this childlike simplicity: Once,
when Saint Francis was passing through a village near
From this concept of simplicity we
could also consider the equivalent idea found in
Simplicity shows itself in every sphere of life. There is no conflict between interior and exterior attitudes or behaviour. There is a certain transparency that can be perceived by everyone. By realizing this we can understand certain actions and behaviour of St Francis, for example, when he insisted that fur be sewn on the outside as well as the inside of his habit when he was compelled to wear it because of his poor health. He was like a child and could not deceive or hide anything.
c) Attitude towards Others The above incidents also show us his attitude towards others. There is a strong bond between simplicity and the other virtues especially humility which is inseparable from it. Humility in behaviour implies simplicity. The Franciscan must be the least among the least, humble in behaviour and the most humble in his/her own estimation. Simplicity is the basic virtue among all the virtues and shows in our external behaviour, as we have seen in the incidents noted above. Simplicity also gives the one who possesses it a clearer insight into interpreting and understanding the Rule.
Questions for Discussion
A Simple Story
As a young priest, I was asked by a funeral director to hold a grave-side service for a homeless man, with no family or friends, who had died while travelling through the area. The funeral was to be held at a cemetery way back in the country, and this man would be the first to be laid to rest there. As I was not familiar with the backwoods area, I became lost; and being a typical man, did not stop for directions.
I finally arrived an hour late. I saw the backhoe and the crew, who was eating lunch, but the hearse was nowhere in sight. I apologized to the workers for my tardiness, and stepped to the side of the open grave, where I saw the vault lid already in place. I assured the workers I would not hold them long, but this was the proper thing to do. The workers gathered around, still eating their lunch! I poured out my heart and soul.
As I preached the workers began to say “Amen, Praise the Lord,” and “glory!” I preached and I preached, like I’d never preached before: from Genesis all the way to Revelation. I closed the lengthy service with a prayer and walked to my car. I felt I had done my duty for the dedication, in spite of my tardiness.
As I was opening the door and taking off my coat, I overheard one of the workers saying to another, “I’ve never seen anything like this before and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”
SEEKING “PURITY OF HEART”
“Witnessing to the good yet to come and obliged to acquire purity of heart because of the vocation they have embraced, they should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters.”
Rule ch.2 §12
In reflecting on this topic, let us take Francis’ idea of “purity of heart” which is a much broader concept than the one we usually associate with it. For Francis “purity of heart” refers to a unique experience of God drawn from the Gospel and lived in faith. He sees “purity of heart” as an image of the “new man” who lives in another world. (cf. 1Cel 82)
Francis expresses his idea in Admonition 16 where he repeats the Gospel Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” He then goes on to explain: “The truly pure of heart are those who look down on earthly things, seek those of heaven, and, with a pure heart and spirit, never cease adoring and seeing the Lord God living and true.”
It is clear that “pure of heart,” for Francis, does not refer to those who break the sixth commandment. It rather refers to an attitude which a person freely chooses before God and those matters in God’s creative and salvific plan. St Bonaventure adds, “The one who is pure in heart gives to God and everything else their proper place since everything is at the service and the glory of God.” When Francis says we must “despise all things,” he does not mean to cast off the work of creation which God himself has put into the hands of men and which he invited us to ardently praise the Lord.
What is “impurity” for Francis? He tells us in a number of his writings that “We should hate our body and its vices and sins, because living according to the flesh draws us away from the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life.” He explains this referring to Mt 15:19 – 20; 7:23 “indeed, it is from the heart of man that evil desires come – murder, adultery, immorality, theft, lies, slander...jealousy, greed,....” It is these negative realities that render the heart of man “impure”. “Therefore, we must be on our guard against the wiles of Satan,” continues Francis after having referred to the parable of the Sower, “because he wants to take our hearts and minds away from God.”
He goes on to explain that interior purity through a life of penance is essential and what must be presupposed for an authentic life of prayer. Francis admonishes us, “Let us, therefore, love God and adore him with purity of heart and mind because he demands this above all else, for Jesus said, ‘True adorers adore the Father in spirit and in truth.’” The true adorer is the one with a “pure heart” who, because of his purity, becomes a continual prayer.
Francis expresses this in his well-known prayer in his Letter to the Entire Order:
Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, give us miserable ones, the grace to do for You alone what we know You want us to do and always to desire what pleases You. Inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to follow in the footprints of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, by Your grace alone, may we make our way to You, Most Hight, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God almighty, forever and ever. Amen.
It is apparent that Francis understands “praying with a pure heart” as a gift from the Holy Spirit, “but this gift must be operative and must have man’s response through a radical, internal purification which overcomes more deficiencies beginning with the vices such as pride and hate, avarice for goods or fortune and knowledge which swells one up, leading to selfish love and despising others.”
If we wish to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes as true followers of St Francis, then we must be ready to listen to Francis’ advice on “purity of heart.”
Questions for Discussion
Purity of Heart and Mind
Two Buddhist monks were out walking when they came to a large sheet of water that stretched across their path. A young girl was also standing there not knowing how to cross to the other side. One of the monks picked her up in his arms and carried her across. The monks then continued their walk. Half an hour later, the second monk said to the first, “Why did you do that? You know that as monks we are not even permitted to look at a woman or touch her, let alone pick her up in our arms.” “Ah, my brother,” said the first monk, “the difference between you and me is that I left her back by the pool of water.” Indian legend, Paul J. Wharton
THE GIFT OF WORKING
Francis had a very distinctive approach in his concept of work. He lived at a time when cities were beginning to develop and economies were being based on money and power. This is in contrast to the old exchange (barter) economy which had existed for centuries before.
Work has often been looked at from a negative point of view. The description in the Book of Genesis gave foundation to such an opinion: “In the sweat of your brow you shall make your living.” (Gen 3:19) It is true that work is a fundamental fact of human existence. It is not evil as we know that, in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and look after it” (Gen 2:15) However, through sin, work was directly and deeply affected by sin, and so were we. But St Francis brings out the positive side of this: Women were to suffer at childbirth, but it was also to be a painful victory of life over death, so the daily affliction of man at work marks the exercise of his God-given power over creation.
In fact, St Francis expresses his approach to work in the Later Rule of the Friars Minor in this way:
“Let those friars, to whom the Lord gives the grace to work, work faithfully and devotedly, in such a way that, having excluded idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and devotion, which all other temporal things should serve zealously. Indeed concerning the wages of labour, let them receive for themselves and for their friars what is for the necessity of the body, except coins or money, and this (they should do) humbly, as befits the servants of God and the followers of most holy poverty”
Work, therefore, for St Francis is a ‘grace’ because men and women and all their activities are taken up, insofar as their origin is concerned, as a “gratuitous gift from God”. St Bonaventure points out that graces are contained in work: for corporal work, they have the gift of strength of body; for spiritual work, they have acquired the facility to express themselves as an artist or tradesman who has acquired skill in his work. Clareno, an early biographer, points out that grace carries skill with it: the competence and capacity for work which is the expression of a gift gratuitously received.
Work can be divided into various categories, such as, talents that one has which are not for oneself along but to be shared with others. St Francis describes his friars by their gifts in this passage from The Little Flowers of St Francis:
Francis used to say that a good Lesser Brother is one who would possess the life and qualities of the following holy brothers: namely, the faith and love of poverty which Brother Bernard most perfectly had; the simplicity and purity of Brother Leo who was truly a man of most holy purity; the courtly bearing of Brother Angelo who was the first soldier to enter the Order and was endowed with every courtesy and kindness; the friendly manner and common sense of Brother Masseo together with his attractive and gracious eloquence; the mind raised in contemplation which Brother Giles had even to the highest perfection; the virtuous and constant prayer of Brother Rufino who, whatever he was doing, even sleeping, always prayed without ceasing and whose mind was always intent on the Lord; the patience of Brother Juniper, who achieved the perfect state of patience because he always kept in mind the perfect truth of his low estate and the ardent desire to imitate Christ through the way of the cross; the bodily and spiritual strength of Brother John of Lauds, who at that time in his robust body surpassed everyone; the charity of Brother Roger whose life and conduct were spent in ardent love; the solicitude of Brother Lucidus who had the greatest care and concern and did not want to remain in any place for a month, and when he enjoyed staying some place, would immediately leave, saying, ‘We do not have a dwelling here on earth, but in heaven’ “
The purpose of work, according to St Francis, is to form an enthusiastic society awaiting the realization of spiritual, ethical and intellectual values where the gifts that are within persons constitute the only capital that cannot be manipulated. In other words, Franciscan work tends towards a community based on existence, rather than on possessions.
line with this, Rule 13 states: “They
(Secular Franciscans) should work together with movements which promote the
building of fraternity among peoples: they should be committed to ‘create
worthy conditions of life’ for all to work for the freedom of all people.” And
Rule 14 adds, “(They) should also act as a leaven in
the environment in which they live through the witness of their fraternal love
and clear Christian motivation.” In this way, they build up the
Questions for Discussion
A Story about Work
An old Italian man
lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was very
hard work as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him,
was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would dig the plot for me.
A few days later he received a letter from his son.
Not for nothing, but don't dig up that garden. That's where I buried the BODIES.
At the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
PROMOTING JUSTICE AND PEACE
“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. Mindful that anyone ‘who follows Christ, the perfect man, becomes more of a man himself,’ let them exercise their responsibilities competently in the Christian spirit of service.”
When many people hear the phrase “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation”, they immediately think of the external side of them. They probably think of cases of injustice that they know or the terrible violence in the world today or the threat to our environment. These all exist and we cannot deny that they are serious challenges to everyone.
But there is a
spiritual side also to these aspects of our lives. Our first task as
Franciscans, therefore, is to be alert ourselves to alert people of what is
happening around them, then, be ready to act. A true disciple of Christ must
follow the rule often quoted by the Young Christian Worker movement: “See,
judge and act.” This was expressed differently in a recent book from
He then quotes the Parable of the Good Samaritan and comments: “The Samaritan is alert to God’s will when he acts out of compassion for the wounded Jew. The priest who sees the wounded traveller is more concerned about keeping ritually pure so he passes by. The same concern causes the Levite to pass the victim without helping him. Both the priest and the Levite had practical and legal reasons to ignore the wounded man lying by the side of the road. However, the Samaritan who comes along understood his place in creation and acted in genuine compassion for the Jew. His was an active response in love. “His response fused a union of three wills: those of the Samaritan, the beaten man and God. Frequently the action of compassion is caught up with the preoccupations of the mission or emergency and only later upon reflection do we realize that we were participating in God’s life and activity.”
The same response can be seen in the life of St Francis: observation, compassion and action. Think of the story of his vocation or his meeting with the leper when he realizes his meeting with God is in the suffering leper.
After an evening meal with his companions, Francis went away from his friends to be alone. He did not know where to go but he knew where he should not go. He had renounced money and worldly glory to the wonderment of his friends…but he needed to go further.
When he was riding his horse, he met a leper – one of those unfortunates he could not bear to see. The sight and smell of them sickened him – but, faithful to his promise, he dismounted and ran to meet the leper. The leper extended his hand for an alms. He received not only money but a kiss as well.
Thus when he comes to consider the Incarnation, God becoming man, he sees the poor Christ who became subject to all despite his divine origin. The humble God is a theme that Francis refers to frequently in his writings. Our response to God who humbled himself for us should be that of reverence and praise.
From these comments we can deduce what we must be alert to among other things: Firstly, the suffering around us especially the poor, the marginalized, the powerless and the outcast; Secondly, we must be alert to be “peace-makers” just as Francis was and seek the way of non-violence in our communities and our families; then, thirdly, we must seek to promote human rights in our society and in other countries. How we can do these things is up to each person to decide. These are the challenges that face us just as they faced St Francis and St Clare in their day.
Question to Discuss
A Story to Share
“Harlequin, Harlequin,” shouted his friends, “come on out!” Slowly Harlequin pulled on his worn grey clothes and joined his friends. They were all very excited as they walked toward the town square - all but Harlequin. “My costume is yellow,” one shouted. “Mine is velvet,” boasted another. “Wait till you see mine,” chimed in another. Harlequin said nothing. He turned and ran back home.
Slowly it dawned on his friends what was bothering Harlequin. “He hasn’t got a costume,” one of them said. They realized Harlequin had nothing special to wear to the carnival because he was too poor. So the friends decided to cut pieces of cloth from their own jackets and dresses. They took the assorted pieces of many colours to Harlequin’s house. Harlequin was amazed to see them. He was grateful, but puzzled, as they heaped the pieces of cloth into his hands.
Then Harlequin had an idea. “Mother, do you think if we sewed these scraps on to my old suit, it would make a good costume?” “I think it would be beautiful,” she answered.
Harlequin’s mother sewed all night. By morning the costume was ready. It was beautiful indeed. “It’s wonderful,” Harlequin shouted as he put it on. He ran to the town square. As people danced and frolicked, they noticed a figure in a fantastic costume. No one recognized Harlequin in his colourful coat.
Then Harlequin’s friends noticed pieces of their own costumes. “That piece of blue is mine,” said one. “And that shiny red stuff is mine,” said another. All at once the puzzle fell together. “It’s Harlequin!” they all shouted. Harlequin was the happiest of them all. He was clothed in the love of his friends.
SECULAR FRANCISCANS AS PEACE-MAKERS
was a peace-maker. His usual greeting was “The Lord give
you peace.” We realize that this greeting was used by Jesus himself when he
appeared to his disciples after his Resurrection. The “peace” he was speaking
about is Shalom in Hebrew or eirene in Greek
which actually has a much broader meaning than the one we usually think of in
English. It would be better translated as “well-being” or “harmony”. So the
task of peace-making is more than simply not having any violence or war but a
genuine environment of tranquillity. It is the “peace” that Jesus speaks about
“Peace be with you; I give you my peace. Not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not be troubled; do not be afraid….” (Jn 14:27)
Francis felt a solidarity with all people and all creation. He sought peace within the brotherhood and amongst all people. When he gave instructions to his friars going on mission, he told them to go “peacefully throughout the world, and not to be quarrelsome and to always seek peace of heart and mind. He reminded them to always be courteous and humble and to speak respectfully to everyone. Again, in his Admonitions he tells them to be peace-makers, “to preserve peace of mind and heart for the love of Jesus Christ” even if they have to suffer to do so. He urged them to love their neighbour as themselves, or at least to be good to them and not to harm them.
We are familiar with some of the stories told about St Francis about his peace-making, for example, the story of the Wolf of Gubbio which we can read in the Fioretti of St Francis; again, Francis’ efforts in the Holy Land to bring about peace with the Moslems (Saracens), his meeting with the Sultan Malek el Kamel who recognized Francis as a “man of peace.” Throughout his life we see this characteristic trait in Francis, his efforts to bring peace right up until the time of his death.
can Secular Franciscans go about bringing peace in today’s world where there is
so much violence? The answer is not a simple one. Firstly, the cause of the
problems must be examined. One cause could be that one culture imposes itself
on another culture, as we can see in the conflict between Jews and Arabs in
There are areas where all Franciscans are challenged to find solutions to problems such as the unjust attack on minority groups who are powerless to defend themselves. One way to combat these vicious violations of human rights is to bring people’s attention to our God-given human dignity which Francis upheld throughout his life. Franciscans are called to uphold justice, such as, defending defenceless women against the attacks of cruel laws or customs; to make people aware of economic violence where people are overcharged for essential goods or services; to avoid unjust discrimination which could be the result of crimes done by a certain race, etc.
Franciscans are called upon to stand up for non-violence in dealing with situations rather than violent methods of solving a problem. Let us point out the example that Jesus himself gave us when he was attacked both verbally and physically. Jesus always showed respect for life and human dignity. This has always been the vision of Franciscans. They fight against dehumanising poverty, injustice and oppression and sought for the restoration of social order.
Celebrating life and the dignity of each person has been an integral part of the Franciscan vision since the time of St Francis. Today, there is a greater awareness of human rights of the individual. This is clear from the presence of many pressure groups, non-governmental organizations and pro-life movements. However, on the other hand, our consumer society is increasingly dominated by an alternative value system, which emphasises money, beauty, success and self-gratification above all else.
Questions for Discussion
Standing up for Human Rights
said that as a young man he had been conscripted into the German army invading
“When the others came back at the end of the day,” he said, “I could not even bear to look at them. I could not even bear to eat in the same mess hall, to live with them. Because I was such an excellent skier,” he continued, “I volunteered for the dangerous northern front where I stayed until the end of the war. It was that incident that determined that I would become a doctor and devote myself to healing.” Bausch, W. Telling More Compelling Stories, n. 23
MARRIAGE: A SIGN OF COMMITMENT AND LOVE
There is an interesting historical note on marriage made by Thomas Richstatter, OFM where he notes, among other things, that some of the apostles were married and that the actual ceremony as a sacramental marriage did not take place until the 16th century. He also makes the point that “It is the bride and the groom who perform the marriage. The priest, the attendants and the congregation witness what the bride and groom do.” Yet we know that it is God who unites them into “one body” as Jesus tells us when he answered the Pharisees question on divorce: “Have you not read that in the beginning the Creator made them male and female and he said: Man has now to leave father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body; let no one separate what God has joined.”
The marriage vows do not complete a marriage just as religious profession does not complete a religious. The vows have to be lived. In other words, it is only the beginning of a process where the individuals go through a learning process: a man and a woman must learn to live together and bring up a family; the religious has to learn his or her new state in life through prayer and practice. This could take many years for this covenant to be complete. To me both imply a “total giving of oneself” either to each other (in marriage) or to God (in religious life). Christ is present in both processes in this coming to maturity.
The sacramental sign of this self-giving in marriage is the exchange of rings. It proclaims that one belongs to the other to care for and assist in growing towards holiness of life. Marriage must grow deeper and more meaningful as the years progress especially in the forming of a family of children who must be educated and nurtured. This demands a constant attention to each other and the family. Teaching the children the faith is an important aspect of this growth. It also means that the trials that come their way must become a means of strengthening the bond of marriage. The SFO Rule expresses it this way:
“Uniting themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed his will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfil the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to him even in difficulties and persecution.”
The SFO Rule also indicates the goals in educating the family: “In their family they should cultivate the Franciscan spirit of peace, fidelity, and respect for life, striving to make of it a sign of a world already renewed in Christ.”
This Covenant that married couples make is binding in fidelity until death. It also assures the married couple that they are not travelling alone but Christ walks with them on their journey. This comforting assures us that Jesus will always give us the strength to overcome whatever temptation or trial that comes along. Again, the Rule explains: “By living the grace of matrimony, husbands and wives in particular should bear witness in the world to their love of Christ for his Church. They should joyfully accompany their children on their human and spiritual journey by providing a simple and open Christian education and being attentive to the vocation of each child.”
The SFO General Constitutions expand on the Rule and advises: “Secular Franciscans should consider their own family to be the first place in which to live their Christian commitment and Franciscan vocation. They should make space within it for prayer, for the Word of God, and for the Christian catechesis. They should concern themselves with respect for all life in every situation from conception until death.”
And the same General Constitutions go on to give us much more to ponder: “Married couples find in the Rule of the SFO an effective aid in their own journey of Christian life, aware that, in the sacrament of matrimony, their love shares in the love that Christ has for his Church. The way spouses love each other and affirm the value of fidelity is a profound witness for their own family, the Church, and the world.”
Questions for Discussion
Attending a wedding for the first time, a little girl whispered to
her mother, "Why is the bride dressed in white?" "Because
white is the colour of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her
life." The child thought about this for a moment, then said,
"So why is the groom wearing black?"
Have a wish
A couple is lying in bed. The man says, "I am going to make you the happiest woman in the world." The woman replies, "I'll miss you..."
A Wish come True
A man and his wife, now in their 60's, were
celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. On their special day a good fairy
came to them and said that because they had been so good that each one of them
could have one wish.
The wife wished for a trip around the world with her husband. Whoosh! Immediately she had airline/cruise tickets in her hands.
The man wished for a female companion 30
years younger... Whoosh...immediately he turned ninety!!! You’ve got to love
RESPECT FOR ALL CREATURES
Perhaps this is one of the most famous aspect in the life of St Francis that most people, both Catholic or not, remember about St Francis. His love for all creatures has made him a favourite in many circles of society. His close bond with animals and creation is clear from his Canticle of the Creatures where he calls them his “brother” or “sister” to reflect that bond. Brother Thomas of Celano expressed this when he said, “In every work of the artist he praised the Artist; whatever he found in the things made he referred to the Maker. He rejoiced in all the works of the hands of the Lord and saw behind things pleasant to behold their life-giving reason and cause. In beautiful things he saw Beauty itself, all things were to him good.”
It is understandable why Francis did not allow his friars to cut down trees entirely and to have a border around gardens and honey and wine set out for bees in winter, and he named animals and creatures his brothers and sisters. His close relationship with animals has always been an attraction to his spirituality.
Because of climate change in recent years, we have become more aware of ecology and our need to take care of the earth and all creation. We now consider the environment in all its many relationships with human culture and society. There is now what we call an “ecological justice” which concerns us all, and we need to understand the principles that govern us from the point of view of ecological justice.
“The Franciscan vision of life is both centred on God and on the world. Every creature, whether living or non-living, is part of a subjectivity – It is not just an object and has an internal value and a mission. At the same time, it is in permanent relation to the Creator and with other beings.” Here are some principles:
For most people today, these ideas are new and need a great deal of reflection to understand their impact. Take the time to reflect on them before you discuss them.
Questions for Discussion
· What is special about the Franciscan view of creation?
· What are some of the practical consequences of this teaching on ecological justice?
· What are some ways we could teach others these principles?
A Story to Share
One day, God created the dog and said: “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.” The dog said, “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten?” So God agreed.
On the next day, God created a monkey and said: “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.” The monkey said: “Monkey tricks for twenty years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?” And God agreed.
On the next day, God created the cow and God said: “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.” The cow said: “That’s kind of a tough life. You want me to live for sixty years? How about twenty, and I’ll give back the other forty?” And God agreed again.
Then on the next day, God crated man and said: “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you twenty years.” But man said: “Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back: that makes eighty, okay?” “Okay,” said God, “You asked for it.”
So that’s why the first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Life has now been explained to you too.
FRANCISCAN DEVOTION TO
Francis always had a tender love for the Blessed Virgin Mary which is evident from the time of his conversion when he rebuilt the ruined church of “Our Lady of the Angels”. We can also deduce his devotion to her from the prayers he wrote to honour her, such as his Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
1 Hail, O Lady, Holy Queen,
Mary, holy Mother of God,
Who are the Virgin made Church,
whom he consecrated with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
3 in whom there was and is
all fullness of grace and every good.
4 Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Dwelling!
5 Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
We also see in his Early Rule for the Friars Minor how he described her role and exalted position in which he placed her: “ We thank You for as, through your Son, You created us, so through your holy love with which you loved us, You brought about his birth as true God and true man by the glorious, ever-virgin, most blessed, holy Mary and You willed to redeem us captives through his cross and blood and death.” (Rnb 23: 3)
In this text, Francis joins adoration of the human creature with the majesty of God who came down to us born of the Virgin Mary. This not only gives us reason to rejoice but also to give thanks and praise to God the Father for having sent his Son to be so close to us through Mary. Thus, we praise and honour Mary. Francis often speaks, on the one hand, of Jesus Christ as “so worthy, so holy, so glorious,” and on the other hand, “the womb of Mary from whom ‘he received the flesh of our humanity and our weakness.’ In this way, Francis speaks of the infinite richness of Christ and then the poverty that he shared with his mother.
Of all the titles we give to Mary, the title “Mother of God” was Francis’ favourite as we can see in the text of the Early Rule (quoted above). Francis’ attitude towards Jesus and Mary has nothing of the abstract and theoretical about it because he is led to it always by seeing in the concrete life of Jesus and Mary the self-revelation of God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who places on us the necessity of a fraternal life according to the Gospel, as the basis of any communion with the Father.
Francis drew his devotion towards Mary from his meditations on the Gospels and the Liturgy of the Church. It is clear that Francis recognized Mary’s intimate role in the work of salvation, intimately associated with Jesus in his work with her maternal role. Her deep faith, her power of intercession, her witness and suffering are clearly seen in the Gospels. Her maternal role towards the disciples is also clear. Francis’ devotion and piety are set afire by re-living these events in the life of Mary and her association with Christ in bringing about our salvation.
Mary is, for Francis, the Madonna of the Poor (2 Cel 83), and God chose her to be his Mother and wanted to share his poverty with her as a way to save men and lead them again to experience the fatherhood of God on the basis of a recreated human brotherhood, which consisted in genuine solidarity with the poor, because the Poverello used to say, “As for me, I consider it a royal dignity and an outstanding nobility to follow that Lord who, though he was rich, became poor for our sake,” and participate in the salvation of Jesus with whom all his followers must take a part. Therefore, by demanding poverty of the friars, he directs them to Christ who was “poor and a guest, and lived on alms, he and the Blessed Virgin Mary and his disciples. And his final wish was “Follow the life and poverty of the Most High, our Lord Jesus Christ and most holy Mother and persevere in it until the end.”
Therefore, he meditated with tears, weeping over the poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Mother. But this heart-felt weeping of Francis in the face of the past of Christ and Mary, risks not being understood unless we face it with the voluntary choice of poverty by him and which he attributed to all the poor: voluntary poverty, with the joy that accompanied it, comes from the fact that for Francis the Gospel of the Kingdom and of the mysterious presence of God in our midst have become more important that their own interests, or rather, welcoming them forgets their own self-interests “to be converted”, “to do penance”.
God who had chosen to share poverty with Mary became her Son; he is the new God who makes supreme what is the least; he is a different God who has not got our logic, who chooses poverty and the poor as his “sacrament”, his sign and symbol. Celano says this well when he explains the compassion of Francis towards the poor, how he was consumed for the poor, and how he associated himself with the poor “by a display of poverty” that made not only his heart to be lifted towards nature, but for theological reasons, to charity towards others.
Questions for Discussion
An Imaginative Story
I had a dream, Joseph. I don’t understand it. Not really. But I think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son. I think that was what it was all about. The people had been preparing for it for about six weeks. They had decorated the house and bought new clothes. They’d gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts. It was peculiar, though, because the presents were not for our Son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree. Yes, a tree, Joseph, right there in their house. They’d decorated the tree also. The branches were full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments. There was a figure on the top of the tree. It looked like an angel. Oh, it was beautiful. Everyone was laughing and happy. They were all excited about the gifts.
They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don’t think they even knew Him. They never mentioned His name. Doesn’t it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate someone’s birthday if they don’t know Him. I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration He would have been intruding. Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so happy, but it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus – not to be wanted at His own birthday party. I’m glad it was only a dream. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.
OUR FATHER, SAINT FRANCIS
do you like most about St Francis? What qualities in him do you find the most
appealing? Many would say his childlike simplicity which Jesus praised so much
in the Gospel. Jesus told his followers “whoever
does not receive the
“One time in the very beginning, that is, at the time when blessed Francis began to have brothers, he was staying with them at Rivo Torto. One night, around , when they were all asleep in their beds, one of the brothers cried out, saying: ‘I’m dying! I’m dying!’ Startled and frightened all the brothers woke up.
Getting up, blessed Francis said: ‘Brothers, get up and light a lamp.’ After the lamp was lit, blessed Francis said: ‘Who was it who said, ‘I’m dying’?
‘I’m the one,’ the brother answered.
‘What’s the matter, brother?’ blessed Francis said to him. ‘Why are you dying?’
‘I’m dying of hunger,’ he answered.
So that the brother would not be ashamed to eat alone, blessed Francis, a man of great charity and discernment, immediately had the table set and they all ate together with him. This brother, as well as the others, were newly converted to the Lord and afflicted their bodies excessively.
After the meal, blessed Francis said to the other brothers: ‘My brothers, I say that each of you must consider his own constitution, although one of you may be sustained with less food than another, I still do not want one who needs more food to try imitating him in this. Rather, considering his constitution, he should provide his body with what it needs. Just as we must beware of over-indulgence in eating, which harms body and soul, so we must beware of excessive abstinence even more, because the Lord desires mercy and not sacrifice.’
Some of the lesser-known stories about St Francis reveal another side to Francis that is good to keep in mind. They show his humanity, his compassion and also his love of the artistic and poetic aspects of life. His love of music, for example, is well-known. Here is an anecdote which shows this love of music:
Once when blessed Francis was in Rieti because of the disease of his eyes, he was staying for a few days in a room of Teobaldo Saraceno. One day he said to one of his companions, who while in the world knew how to play a lute: “Brother, the children of this world do not understand divine things. Contrary to the will of God, they use instruments such as lutes, the ten-stringed harps, and other instruments, for the sake of vanity and sin, which in times past were used by holy people to praise God and offer consolation to souls. Therefore, I would like you to obtain secretly from some upright person a lute on which you could play for me a decent song and, with it, we will say the words and praises of the Lord, especially because my body is tormented with disease and pain. So I wish by this means to change the pain of my body to joy and consolation of spirit.”
For, during his illness, blessed Francis composed some Praises of the Lord which he had his companions recite sometimes for the praise of God, the consolation of his spirit and also for the edification of his neighbour.
“Father,” the brother answered him, “I would be embarrassed to get one, especially because the people of this city know that I played the lute when I was out in the world. I fear they will suspect me of being tempted to play the lute again.”
Blessed Francis told him: “Then brother, let’s let it go.”
The following night, around , blessed Francis was keeping vigil. And behold, around the house where he was staying he heard the sound of a lute playing a melody more beautiful and delightful than he had ever heard in his life. The one playing it would go some distance away so that he could barely be heard, and then returned, but was always playing. And he did this for over an hour. Blessed Francis considering that it was the work of God and not of any human being, was overjoyed, and with an exultant heart with deep feeling he praised the Lord who was so kind as to console him with such a great consolation.
These stories reveal a great deal about Francis that we don’t hear much about but which can be an encouragement to those who suffer and sometimes feel the need of consolation just as Francis did. The Assisi Compilation has many more stories that give a new insight into the life and times of our Father, St Francis.
Questions for Discussion
A Story of Trust
After his Transfiguration, Jesus ‘came down from the mountain’ and continued on his way, a path that would lead to the cross. We too are called to walk his way of trust and selflessness, as this couple did.
When our son Robert was eight years old, we discovered that he had a serious heart condition. We were told that he would not live beyond the age of thirty without undergoing major surgery. It was a terrible shock. We had to choose: to help Robert enjoy the short life ahead of him, or to take the risk and give our consent to the doctor knowing that Robert might not survive the operation. If we refused consent, would we really be doing this out of selfishness because we wanted to have him as long as we could? We knew that we were unable to have any more children; there was only Robert.
We had to accept that gift of life had been given to him. The Giver had chosen us to care for that life and to love Robert. We decided to face this crisis, and trust his doctors. After the operation, we were told that Robert was recovering well, but suddenly we were ‘pboned late at night, and told to get to the hospital quickly. Both of us admitted later that we were praying as we had never prayed before in our lives. The surgeon was waiting for us. He told us he would have to re-operate to repair a blockage. Again we had to trust him.
All this happened a long time ago. Robert, now well beyond his thirtieth year, has gone on to live a healthy and fruitful life, bringing us much joy.
OUR MOTHER, ST CLARE OF
of Assisi (1193/4 – 1253) was an ardent disciples of St Francis. Even before
she knew about him, she was well-known for her many charitable works. For
example, she would go without food so as to feed the poor and care for the
sick. Because of her generous nature, her modesty in dress and her devotion to
prayer, she was loved by the people of
Before long, Clare had a group of Sisters who also wanted to follow her new way of life. These women were known as the “Poor Ladies of Assisi”. Francis gave them a “Form of Life”, but it was Clare who came to write their Rule, closely following the example of St Francis and his Rule. However, she framed a feminine expression of Franciscan spirituality adapted to her new way of life. This was accepted by the Church after a long struggle for her “privilege of poverty” and final acceptance of her Rule when she was on her deathbed. She indeed was “The Little Plant of St Francis” as she described herself. She had founded a new and vital branch of the Franciscan Family which is known today as the “Second Order of St Francis,” or the “Poor Clares.”
Clare’s way of life, together with her Sisters, was to be chiefly devoted to prayer and contemplation. But Clare had to suffer a great deal before she achieved her ideal. At first, her family tried to drag her and her sister, Agnes, back home but failed even by divine intervention. Clare was saved by the Church law which prevented anyone entering the monastery of nuns, and Agnes by a reported “miracle” where she was made so heavy that they could not lift her.
of the documents receiving a great deal of attention in recent years is the Process of Canonization of St Clare
where a number of witnesses were called upon to give evidence of her life and
work. The statements in the document were made under oath and the 13 witnesses
What did they say? In short, they affirmed Clare’s holiness and how she was
reverenced by all the people of
Clare spent a lot of time spinning cloth from which she made altar linen for priests who were in need. She also served them when she was healthy. She was the friend of everybody, even the Pope who came to visit her and especially when she was close to death.
These witnesses also spoke of miracles that occurred: Once when there was no oil left in the monastery, Clare called on a brother of the Friars Minor, Brother Bentavenga, who used to beg alms for them. She told him to go seeking oil. He told them to prepare the jar for him, so Clare took a jar and placed it on a wall near the entrance of the house for the brother to take. The jar was there for about an hour when Br Bentavenga came to pick it up. He was surprised to find the jar full of oil and no one knew where it came from. It remained a mystery.
Other miracles are recounted about Clare: how she cured the sick sisters with the sign of the cross; or healed those who had headaches or illness, even those who had been sick for a long time. Clare herself suffered illness for about twenty-nine years and never complained but went about doing her work as best she could.
Other witnesses spoke of Clare’s humility in serving the Sisters and how she denied herself and carried out tasks that nobody wanted to do. She washed the feet of the Sisters. One time she bent over to kiss the feet of a serving Sister, but the Sister pulled her feet away to stop her and in doing so accidentally hit Clare’s mouth. She became very much a mother to all her Sisters showing that they must command by love and not act out of fear.
Though these are small events in the life of St Clare, they reveal the character of her person and the love that she engendered among her Sisters.
Questions for Discussion
A True Story:
RESCUED FROM DANGER
me tell you about
after the war
PATRON SAINTS OF THE S.F.O. (1)
“All the faithful are called to holiness and have a right to follow their own spiritual
Way in communion with the Church.” SFO General Constitutions, art. 1
THE FIRST FRANCISCAN TERTIARIES: BL. LUCHESIO AND BL. BUONADONNA
(Both born c. 1190; both died 1260)
Blessed Buonadonna and Blessed Luchesio Modestini came from the little town of
Then when Luchesio was between the ages of thirty or forty, a great change took place in him. We are not sure just what caused this change. Legend has it that it was the result of the death of his children that caused his heart to be changed by divine grace; another legend says that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and gave him several admonitions and instructed him to perform works of mercy and to embrace a life of poverty. Whatever the reasons might have been, Luchesio began doing works of mercy and helping others. Somehow Luchesio realized how foolish it was to follow such a worldly life as he had done and he changed. His wife, however, was not so keen to change.
One day, Buonadonna (a name that means “good woman” in Italian) was complaining that Luchesio was giving everything to strangers when someone came to the door who was in need. Luchesio asked his wife to give the stranger some bread. She was not happy about it, but she went to the cupboard and, to her surprise, she found more bread there than she had ever had. This incident changed her completely. She also began to carry out works of mercy. Since they had no children to care for, they feared that they might fall back into their old ways. It ended up that Luchesio and Buonadonna sold their business and farmed enough land to provide for their needs and gave the rest to the poor.
It was about this time that Francis
Francis came to Poggibonsi and visited Luchesio. They had met before when Francis was a merchant. Francis was delighted to see how Luchesio had changed his ways. Luchesio had heard about Francis and so he asked him to instruct him and his wife so that they might lead a life in the world that would be pleasing to God. It was then that Francis explained to them his plan for lay people. Luchesio and Buonadonna asked to be received into this way of life immediately. Thus, according to tradition, Luchesio and Buonadonna became the first members of the Order of Penance which later came to be called the Third Order of St Francis and is now known as the Secular Franciscan Order.
There are many stories told about this holy couple who continued to do many more charitable works so that many people came to them and received the help they needed. After Luchesio and Buonadonna put on the grey habit of the Tertiaries, they rapidly advanced towards holiness. They practiced many austerities, spent time at prayer and gained a reputation for holiness.
The story is told of Luchesio that when a plague broke out in Poggibonsi, he went out with his donkey loaded with food to give to those who were sick. When he did not have enough to supply everyone in need he begged for more from other people on behalf of the afflicted. He once saw a sick cripple sitting at the side of the road. He lifted him up on to his own shoulders and carried him to his home. On his way, he met a young man who mocked him. He said, “What poor devil is it you are carrying on your back?” Luchesio gave him an answer saying, “I am carrying my Lord Jesus Christ.” At this the young man cried out and was struck dumb. Finding himself so punished he fell at the feet of Luchesio weeping. Luchesio took pity on him and restored his speech with a sign of the cross.
ill and he knew it was time for him to receive the reward for his good works. Buonadonna implored him to pray that she might die with him
so that they may be together. Luchesio prayed and his
wife also became ill and died before he did. He died on
Some Questions for Discussion
A Story to Ponder
PRECIOUS TO GOD
“Can a mother forget her infant?...” Is 49:15
A woman dropped a beautiful orange vase on the kitchen floor; it splintered into dozens of tiny pieces. She swept the pieces up and threw them into the waste basket.
An hour later, she discovered her little daughter had retrieved the pieces from the waste basket and had pasted them on to a piece of white cardboard. Then, using green crayon, the little girl had drawn stems and leaves on each piece, converting them into a beautiful bouquet of orange flowers.
The woman was moved to tears. Her daughter had something in the broken pieces that she had not seen. Where she had seen trash, her daughter had seen treasure. From what she considered to be something ugly, her daughter had fashioned something beautiful.
God does the same thing with people. God retrieves us from the waste basket of sin and fashions us into something beautiful.
Mark Link, SJ Challenge, p. 124
PATRON SAINTS OF THE S.F.O. (2)
SAINT ELIZABETH OF
The eighth centenary of the birth of
Saint Elizabeth of
God acts in our lives and wants us
to respond to his calling. When we examine the life of St Elizabeth and reflect
on it, we can discover how she responded in her way despite contrary
expectations by her relatives and friends. Perhaps her situation can speak to
us when we experience a somewhat similar set of circumstances that could face
us. Like many of the early Saints of the Franciscan Family, we know more about
St Elizabeth of
The court of Thuringia at this time
was renowned for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately
Elizabeth and Ludwig had three children: Hermann II (1222 – 1241) who died young at the age of 19; Sophia (1224 – 1284) who married Henry II, Duke of Brabant. She died at 60 years of age; and Gertrude (1227 – 1297) who was born only weeks after the death of her father. She later became abbess of the convent of Altenberg near Wetzlar. She is Blessed Gertrude in the Church’s calendar of Saints.
Ludwig was a great friend of the
Emperor Frederick II and was often employed by him to attend meetings, etc. on
his behalf. In 1226, floods, famine, and disease caused havoc in
A true story
His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black mulch, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved. “I want to repay you,” said the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.” “No, I can’t accept payment for what I did, “the Scottish farmer replied waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.
“I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.” And that he did. Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout he world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin. Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life? Penicillin. The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill; his son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill.
PATRON SAINTS OF THE S.F.O. (3)
Louis was born in 1214 and became King
of France at twelve years of age. His mother, Blanche of Castile, was regent
and influenced him. At his coronation, Louis made an oath to always behave as
God’s anointed and to be a true father of his people. He lived this out and
brought peace and justice to his country. He married Marguerite of Provence
(who was 12 years old) when he was 19. At the age of 30, he “took the cross”
for a Crusade and his army freed
“Louis is admired as a crusader, but perhaps he deserves greater credit for his extending justice in civil administration. He drew up regulations for his officials which became the first of a series of reform laws. He replaced trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses and encouraged the beginning of using written records in court.” These are remarkable achievements for his day.
Louis is also known for his many
charitable works: He founded a hospital for the poor, sick and blind which
originally held 300 inmates; his reign coincided with the great era of the
building of Gothic cathedrals in
One of Louis’ chief characteristics
was his ability to carry abreast his administration as national sovereign and
the performance of his duties towards Christendom. He went on two Crusades
against the Moslems to free the
Louis was always respectful of the papacy, but defended royal interests against
the popes and refused to acknowledge Innocent IV’s sentence against Emperor
Frederick II. He was the patron of St Francis of
It is true that Louis was a man of great integrity and a lover of peace, renowned for his charity, mindful of the poor. He even fed beggars at his table, and he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers and fed one hundred poor every day. He founded many hospitals and houses for reformed prostitutes.
Louis’ canonization was proclaimed in Orvieto in 1297 by Boniface VIII but few records of the occasion remain today. However, Louis stands out as one of the great Kings of France who not only served his country but served God well.
Questions for Discussion
A Story to Think About
FAITH IN PRACTICE
If you go to
But, on the other hand, if you go a
few miles outside of
Several miles away in pagan
There was a man whose lifelong
desire had been to see the famous stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral.
Late in life, he was finally able to undertake the great journey. After
traveling for many days, he at last reached the town of
The disciple of Jesus is not cocooned or inoculated from the absurdities of life; from suffering; from death and destruction. Believer and unbeliever alike look upon the same windows. But our faith gives us a way of seeing. Our lives are transformed by the belief that the Son has risen. From Fr Geoffrey Plant, “Tell me a Story” p. 183
is another story told of
St Louis, the King, meets Brother Giles of
at the door of the place of the brothers like a poor, unknown pilgrim, with few
companions, he asked urgently for Brother Giles, not telling the porter
anything about who was asking for him. So the porter went to Brother Giles and
said that there was a pilgrim at the door who was asking for him; and God
inspired him and revealed to him in spirit that it was the King of France. So
with great fervour he immediately came out of the cell and ran to the door, and
without any further questions, though they had never seen each other, they both knelt down with great devotion, embraced each other and
kissed each other with such familiarity as if they had shared a great friendship
for a long time. But during this whole time neither of them said anything to
the other but remained in silence, embracing with those signs of charitable
love. Having stayed this way for a long time without saying a word to each
other, they parted from each other, and
the King was leaving, a brother asked one of his companions who that man was,
who had been embracing Brother Giles, and he replied that it was Louis, King of
France, who had come in order to see Brother Giles. When he told this to the
other brothers they were very upset that Brother Giles had not spoken a word to
him, and they said to him bitterly: “O Brother Giles, why were you so rude?
Here is a king who came from
BEING MISSIONARIES FOR CHRIST
In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other,(the members of the Franciscan Family) intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church. (Rule, ch.1 §1)
of the characteristics of Secular Franciscans is the sense of “being Church”.
This calls for all members of the SFO to identify with views coming from the
“The charism remains the concrete key for understanding the life of the Franciscan Family and of the SFO in the Church. ‘Extraordinary or simple and humble, the charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit that, directly or indirectly, have an ecclesiastical usefulness, oriented as they are to the edification of the Church, to the good of men and to the needs of the world.”
The mission of the Secular Franciscans is a duty and a right in which they feel involved like all Christians, “called together in building up the Church as the sacrament of salvation for all.” We are all called to be missionaries through our baptism and our profession. The Rule animates Secular Franciscans to be “witnesses and instruments of her mission among all peoples, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.” Pope Paul VI insisted that the specific vocation must be exercised in the midst of the world and in the greatest variety of temporal tasks and with its particular form of evangelization.” This means that we must take our profession and the Gospel seriously as a rule of life.
Being a Secular Franciscan should be a cause for joy and rejoicing because through the testimony of our life, one is a missionary. The witness of life of the Secular Franciscan “is the first and irreplaceable form of mission”, since by living their own spirituality, they carry with the ethics of the Beatitudes, the sense of God to a society fixed in religious indifference; the spirit of poverty in a consumer and hedonistic culture; the exercise of charity and peace in a violent society.”
Fraternity is an important characteristic of the SFO and it is this which is the element that animates Secular Franciscan mission. It is this which will act as a leaven in the environment in which they live. “The fraternity, therefore, must accompany its members in the new demands of the Church and society, and must feel itself ‘committed to the apostolate of each one of its members, be up-to-date and collaborate at least with prayer, advice and fraternal affection.”
The challenge of mission for a Secular Franciscan is very great. He/she is “asked to be a witness in social life: the culture, the economy, politics, peace, health; in the new cultural areas or modern areopagi, in the world of communications, in the development and liberation of peoples, in the defence of the rights of minorities, in the promotion of the woman and child.... They are asked to take on their specific capabilities to renew the temporal order and not to feel like resigned Christians but be active citizens, invited to surpass an imperfect city and construct a less imperfect one. Let them work together, then, for a ‘civilization in which the dignity of the human person, shared responsibility, and love may be living realities.”
Questions for Discussion
COMMITMENT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Paul was an enigma to people who knew him. He never did much wrong, but he never did much good either. He was what we might call a “drifter”. He managed to get through his school work, but he did not show any particular interest in it. He helped out around the house when he felt like doing so. He was a good athlete but couldn’t be bothered joining any team. Everyone said he was lazy, without any commitment. His friends told him he was wasting his life. He said himself that life was boring anyway. He spent most of his time reading adventure stories, or watching TV. He enjoyed reading about romances. In fact, his parish priest told him that Paul was an incurable romantic. Paul said that he wished he had a time-machine so he could go back in time to the century of knights and adventure.
Some time later, Paul suddenly announced that he had volunteered to go to work amongst the poor in the foreign missions. “What good would you do for them?” his mother asked. “It’s a waste of time,” his father added. His friends told him he would not last long, not even three weeks!” It seemed like everyone was advising him not to go and to forget the whole idea. His parents refused to help him and it seemed he was abandoned by every one. But Paul was determined to carry out his desire.
Somehow, he managed to get enough
money to pay for is plane-fare to make the journey. He knew that once he was at
his destination – it was a place called
What happened next? The priest
received feedback from missionaries in
In Paul’s story, we see a life of non-commitment to a life of vibrant dedication to one’s chosen vocation. The young man’s life may have been leading to quiet destruction, but when the opportunity came he seized it, and what a responsible man he became!
BEING BORN TO ETERNAL
Francis sang about his death knowing that he was soon to meet her:
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death shall find in Your most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no harm.
Francis invites us to understand our place in the drama which is our life, and so he puts us on guard against the Devil, the “Prince of Liars”, the great deceiver and the first murderer. We read in the Second Letter to all the Faithful (The Later Exhortation):
See, then, you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil; our fallen nature loves to commit sin and hates to serve God; this is because vice and sin come from the heart of man, as the Gospel says. You have no good in this world and nothing to look forward to in the next. You imagine that you will enjoy the worthless pleasures of this life indefinitely, but you are wrong. The day and the hour will come of which you have no knowledge whatever. First sickness, then death, draws near; friends and relatives come and advise the dying many, ‘Put your affairs in order.’ (2 Lf 69 – 71)
Francis uses the arguments of his time- the fear of death and final damnation - as a deterrent against falling away from faith and to avoid sin so as to gain eternal life in heaven. “Do penance,” he says, “and render fruits worthy of penance,” he repeats again in his Early Rule. Francis kept reminding his friars of the need to carry out works of penance not to escape death but be rich in virtue before God. He points out that life and death are objects of a choice that we must make rather than the consequence of an inescapable destiny. We find ourselves faced before the reality of what God had proposed in the moment that concluded the Alliance with the Chosen People: “See, I set before you on this day life and good, evil and death. I command you to love Yahweh, your God and follow his ways.... But if your heart turns away and does not listen, if you are drawn away and bow before other gods to serve them, I declare on this day that you shall perish.... I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendents may live.” (Dt 30:15, 17-19)
In effect, conversion requested by the Gospel, implies a certain form of death which leads us to a new life. We have to seek conformity to Christ with all our strength and not allow ourselves to listen to the suggestions of the enemy, such as an example given by Celano: “There is no sinner whom the Lord will not forgive if he is converted. But if anyone kills himself by hard penance, he will find no mercy for all eternity.” (2 Cel 116)
We would find it puzzling and hard to understand Francis’ attitude towards death, his joy in welcoming her, his desire for martyrdom unless we understand it as the door to eternal life, Christ. Death becomes desirable above all else because it conforms us to Christ, completing our passage from this world to the Father in love. The more we study Francis, the more he shows us that martyrdom is the perfection of charity.
Francis did not stop exhorting his friars to understand that they did not belong to themselves any more, but to the Lord, body and soul, and that for them there was nothing greater than to be able to be reunited with Him, their Master and Lord: “Let each one exhort the other with admonitions: enliven, inflame and sustain one another with joy, not only in light matters, but also the more difficult ones, even death for Christ’s sake and for the observance of the Rule.”
Questions for Discussion
DEATH LIKE A THIEF
“Behold, I am coming like a thief.”
merchant in ancient
The merchant obliged, and his servant galloped off. Meanwhile, the merchant went to the market place to buy the rest of the supplies. Lo and behold, who should he see but Death. “Why did you give my servant such a threatening look this morning?” the merchant demanded.
wasn’t a threatening look,” said Death. “It was a surprised look. I was amazed
to see your servant in
Mark Link, SJ Challenge
The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order is extremely rich in its spirituality. Like the Gospels, each time we read it, we will discover something new and something challenging. I fully believe the Holy Spirit had a hand in its composition. I have presented only some thirty reflections related to the Rule, but there are many other points of view that are open to others to explore.
other words, the Rule is a document of inspiration to live the Gospel as
Francis did without forgetting “each one is called by name in the uniqueness of
his personal history which cannot be repeated, to contribute to the coming of
The General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order spells out some spiritual and practical aspects of the Rule as Secular Franciscans seek to live out the Rule in our contemporary society. However, these are only guidelines to help the Order live up to the inspirations that the Rule gives them. All of these documents require our close study and prayer to understand the depth of that inspiration. What has been said in these reflections is not the last word but only a beginning which every Franciscan is challenged to reflect and act upon. May the Holy Spirit guide us on our spiritual journey.
Armstrong OFM Cap, R., Clare of Assisi – Early Documents, Franciscan Institute Publications, St Bonaventure University, New York, 1993
Bausch, W., Seven things prayer is not in Telling More Compelling Stories
Bertinato, Pierdamiano, in Dizionario francescano under “Lavoro”
Congregation of Divine Worship, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, St Paul’s Books & Media, Daughters of St Paul, Strathfield, Australia, 2002, pp. 22f.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Cusato, O.F.M., Michael F. “To Do Penance” in The Cord 57, 1,2007
Esser OFM, Kajetan, Die Opuscula des hl.Franziskus von Assisi. Nuova Ediz. Critica, Grottaferrata, 1976; translated by Marion A. Habig OFM
Falsini, Rinaldo Eucharistia in Dizionario Francescano
Foley, OFM, L & McCloskey OFM, Saint of the Day, St Anthony Messenger
Fonck ofm, Benet Called to Follow Christ – Commentary on the SFO Rule, Franciscan Press, 1997
Fuellenbach, SVD, John, Throw Fire, Logos (Divine Word) Publications,
Fuellenbach, SVD, J., Proclaiming
the Kingdom, LOGOS Publication,
Higgins, TOR, Michael J. “Formation and the SFO” in Koinonia, n. 38, 2003 – 2
Izzo, Leonardo, Semplicità in Dizionario francescano, ed. Messaggero Padova, 1983
JPIC Document, Instruments of Peace,
Koinonia, 2000 – 4, n. 28: Zvonimir Brusac TOR, “Participation in the life and mission of the Church”
Irudaya Samy OFM Cap, in Koinonia, n. 39, 2003 – 3
Leon-Dufour (editor) Dictionary of the Bible, “Work in the Bible”
Link, SJ, Mark, Challenge
Lopez, Sebastian, Ubbedienza in Dizionario francescano
Matic, OFM, Ivan, “The Fraternity draws its life from the Eucharist” in Koinonia 2005-1, n. 45
Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 70
Pittorino, ofm, N., Following the Footprints of Francis and Clare, Franciscan Friary, Brisbane, 2007
Plant,G., “Tell me a Story”,
Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia
Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris missio
Richstatter, OFM, Thomas, Sacrament of Marriage: Sign of Faithful Love on the internet at http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0596.asp
Rodondo, ofm, Valentin, in Koinonia, 2001-2, n.30
Samy, OFM Cap, “Eucharist, Source and manifestation of Fraternal Unity” in Koinonia 2005 – 3, n. 47
Constitutions, published in
SFO Ritual, n. 29
 Cajetan Esser OFM, Die Opuscula des hl.Franziskus von
Assisi. Nuova Ediz. Critica,
Grottaferrata, 1976; translated by Marion A. Habig OFM
 Fonck ofm, Benet Called to Follow Christ – Commentary on the SFO Rule, Franciscan Press, 1997, p. 5
 See 1Cor - 29
 I am quoting here from a lecture given by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor some years ago.
 SFO General Constitutions, art. 1§3
 This includes the Friars Minor Conventual, Observants and Capuchins
 This includes the Third Order Regular and the Secular Franciscan Order
 Cf. GGCC OFM Cap, art. 93 §1
 Cf. Rb VI §§ 7 – 9
 Cf. Fr Irudaya Samy OFM Cap, in Koinonia, n. 39, 2003 - 3
 SFO Rule, chapter 1, n. 1
 Rule, art. 4
 Ibid. We shall consider this again in the next chapter in more detail.
 Rule, art. 5
 Rule ch. 2 §14
 Testament of St Francis in Early Documents, vol. 1 Francis, the Saint, p. 125
 L3C 2 (adapted)
 Cf. Ezek 9:4
 Cf. Following the Footprints of Francis and Clare, pp. 48ff.
 Cf. Eph 4:29
 Lopez, Sebastian, Ubbedienza in Dizionario francescano, op. cit.
 Adm 5:1 – 2
 Cf. Lk – 32
 Cf. 1Cor 12:12ff.
 Cf. 1Cel 2 – 3
 Cf. Testament of St Francis
 Cf. Legend of the Three Companions, VIII, 25ff.
 Cf. Cusato, O.F.M., Michael F. “To Do Penance” in The Cord 57, 1,2007
 Cf. Higgins, TOR, Michael J. “Formation and the SFO” in Koinonia, n. 38, 2003 - 2
 Cf. Fuellenbach, SVD, John, Throw Fire, Logos (Divine Word) Publications,
 Ibid. p. 55
 Cf. Early Documents,
 Ibid. p.54
 Cf. Chapter 3, p. 9 above.
 Cf. Mt 16:24
 Cf. Jn 14:27
 This prayer is often attributed to St Francis but we know that he did not write it. However, it contains his way of thinking and has proven a favourite among all Franciscans.
 Cf. 1Cor - 26
 Cf. 1Cor
 Cf. Falsini, Rinaldo Eucharistia in Dizionario Francescano, op. cit.
 Letter to the Entire Order
 Cf. Admonition 1 which is devoted to the Eucharist.
 Cf. Testament of St Francis
 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 1 (Introduction)
 Cf. Ivan Matic, OFM “The Fraternity draws its life from the Eucharist” in Koinonia 2005-1, n. 45
 GGCC SFO art. 14 §2 Rule 8
 Adm 1:5 - 9
 Samy, OFM Cap, “Eucharist, Source and manifestation of Fraternal Unity” in Koinonia 2005 – 3, n. 47
 Cf. Congregation of Divine Worship, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy,
 Cf. Izzo, Leonardo, Semplicità in Dizionario francescano, ed. Messaggero Padova, 1983
 Rnb XXIII, 9ff.
 Cf. 2Cel 190, Early Documents, II, pp. 368ff.
 Cf. 1Cor – 28
 Cf. Mt 5:8 Note that some translations use “clean in heart” which is probably closer in meaning to what St Francis intended.
 Izzo, Leonardo, “Castità” in Dizionario francescano op. cit.
 Cf. Rnb XXII, 5
 Cf. Rnb XXII, 10 – 25
 Cf. Early Documents, Vol. 1, pp. 120 – 121
 Izzo, L. op. cit.
 Cf. Rule, art. 11
 Leon-Dufour (editor) Dictionary of the Bible, “Work in the Bible”
 Rb OFM, V 1-4
 Bertinato, Pierdamiano, in Dizionario francescano under “Lavoro”
 Cf. Rule §14
 JPIC Document, Instruments of Peace,
 Cf. Testament of St Francis where Francis speaks about this as his “conversion”.
 Cf. JPIC Document, Instruments
 Ibid. p. 81
 Cf. Richstatter, OFM, Thomas, Sacrament of Marriage: Sign of Faithful Love on the internet at http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac0596.asp
 Cf. Mt 19:4 – 6
 SFO Rule, ch. 2 §10
 SFO Rule, ch. 2 §17
 SFO General Constitutions, article 24
 2Cel 165
 Cf. Instruments of Peace
 LM 9:1
 Cf. Admonition 2
 ibid. p.71
 Francis probably stressed this because of the Cathari and Docetists who denied the true motherhood of Mary because of their dualism: They regarded all material things as evil and denied the Incarnation and the human nature of Christ.
 2 Cel 73
 Rnb 9:31
 2 Cel 200
 Cf. 2 Cel 83
 Cf. Lk 18:15
 Cf. Assisi Compilation in Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 149 no. 50
 Cf. ibid. pp. 168-9, n. 66
 For a description of this see Bargellini,
Little Flowers of St Clare, Ed. Portiuncula,
 What was actually said by each witness can be found in Regis Armstrong OFM Cap, Clare of Assisi – Early Documents, Franciscan Institute Publications, St Bonaventure University, New York, 1993, pp. 135ff.
 Cf. Foley, OFM, L & McCloskey OFM, Saint of the Day, St Anthony Messenger Press,
 Cf. Early Documents,
 Cf. Koinonia, 2000 – 4, n. 28: Zvonimir Brusai TOR, “Participation in the life and msision of the Church”
 Cf. SFO Ritual, n. 29
 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 799
 Cf. SFO General Constitutions 17 §1
 Cf. SFO Rule 6
 Cf. Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 70
 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 42
 SFO Rule, 14 - 19
 GGCC 19:1
 Letter of the Minister
General: The Vocation and
was the place where
 Valentin Rodondo, loc. Cit.
 Cf. Menard, Andrea “La Morte” in Dizionario francescano,i op. cit.
 Cf. Rnb 21:3
 Cf. Menard, Andrea op. cit.
 Rule of St Clare 2:2