Welcome to A Franciscan View

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .

27 June 2018

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 8

8.  As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do. 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, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.  

Prayer, contemplation, Sacraments, especially Eucharist, and liturgical prayer—these are the elements of Article 8 of our Rule— “…the soul of all [we] are and do.”  That gets right down to our very nature, doesn’t it?  Let’s take a brief look at what this means in our daily lives as Franciscans.

We know that St. Francis spent much time secluded from his friars immersed in prayer and contemplation.  We know that in one of these sessions near the end of his life, he was blessed with the Stigmata.  We also know that St. Francis was just following the example of Jesus who also would steal away from his Disciples and go to a private place to spend time in prayer and contemplation, especially before some other major event in his life. (CCC 2599 & 2602)   The most visible example of these prayer sessions is the glimpse that we get in the garden on Holy Thursday.  So, we have excellent examples from St. Francis and Jesus of just what the results of prayer and contemplation can accomplish.

Our Constitutions enlighten us further.

Article 12, 3. Rule 8   The brothers and sisters should love meeting God as His children and they should let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do. They should seek to discover the presence of the Father in their own heart, in nature, and in the history of humanity in which His plan of salvation is fulfilled.  The contemplation of this mystery will dispose them to collaborate in this loving plan. 

Here we see that an essential aspect of our prayer and contemplation is to “discover the presence of the Father in [our] own heart...”  This kind of prayer is much deeper than a few Rosaries or Our Fathers.  We spend time in quiet solitude contemplating how God works in our lives and quiet the mind so that He can “talk” to us.  As we do this, we find the remainder of that second sentence becoming a part of our awareness of who we are.  We find ourselves not only loving God, but really, truly loving our neighbor with a deep agape and collaborating with God’s loving plan.  One follows the other.  (See Constitutions, Article 14.1 & 5)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the processes of contemplative prayer and would be well worth your time to review.   (Consult Part Four, Chapter Three, Article I, Section III, Articles 2709—2719.)  Incorporating this form of prayer into our daily routine will take us well beyond our usual repetition of formal prayers into a “state of being with God.”  As we set aside these quiet moments, we experience how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and changes us dramatically—like He did the Apostles.  In so doing, we discover how to become holy as Pope Francis is calling us to do in his recent apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et exsultate, which we are running in our Newsletter on page 3.

Article 8 of the Rule continues to encourage us to fully participate in the Sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist.  We already know how important the Eucharist is to Franciscans.  St. Francis reminds us that the Eucharist is “the bodily presence of the most high Son of God in the world.”  In our prayer addendum to the Liturgy of the Hours for Thursday we pray, “O God, Francis and Clare had great awe and reverence for the Eucharist—may our devotion to Jesus’ Body and Blood be an example to those who aspire to the Franciscan life.”  Even the document Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council tells us that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (LG 11)   

Yes, the Eucharist is important.  But our Rule does ask us to participate in the sacramental life of the church.  That means the other six sacraments are important too.  Most of us will have participated in at least six of them, a few will have been ordained Deacons as well.  What we realize is the we receive much grace through all the Sacraments and, having received that grace, need to witness our faith through a radical change in our daily lives.    (See Constitutions, Article 14, 2-3; Article 53.2)

Finally, Article 8 of our Rule adjures us to “join in the liturgical prayer of the Church.”  Most months we begin our Gatherings with the Liturgy of the Hours.  Once again, our Constitutions remind us that there are other options:
The brothers and sisters, as well as the fraternities, should adhere to the indications of the Ritual with respect to the different forms of participating in the liturgical prayer of the Church, giving priority to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.  (Article 14.4)

The Ritual lists a number of these optional prayers which include, a shortened form of the Liturgy of the Hours, The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Office of the Passion, The Office of the Twelve our Fathers, other forms of liturgical prayer approved by the Spiritual Assistant, and Spiritual Prayer Forms for the liturgical seasons, e.g., The Way of the Cross and The Crown Rosary.  (pp. 103-104.)  Utilizing these other liturgical forms of prayer help to vary our talks with God and keep our prayer life fresh.  This variety helps us “relive the mysteries of the life of Christ,” thus bringing us closer to Him and his Way of Life.  As we become closer to Christ, we imitate our Seraphic Father and become better servants of our Lord, helping others who are the less fortunate of the world, not only in physical things but in spiritual things as well. 

Pace et bene.

23 April 2018

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 7

The Way of Life
7.  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 calls "conversion."  Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.   On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father's mercy and the source of grace.
 As we continue to consider our Way of Life, we recognize that we are part of the Church because of our Baptism.  When we Professed to live as Franciscans, we accepted a “more intimate” relationship with the Church, that is, we committed to be more faithful to the Church and its teachings.  Part of our responsibility, then, is to more fully understand what the Church says and what it teaches about the conditions of life and what our response as faithful Christians is supposed to be.
Eight hundred years ago, lay people wanted to join Francis’s new order.  Our Seraphic Father created a way in his Letter to All the Faithful in which he simply wrote:
1) love God 2) love one's neighbor 3) turn away from our sinful tendencies 4) "receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" and, as a result of the above, 5) [produce] worthy fruits of penance – a renewed life characterized by charity, forgiveness and compassion toward others.
Thus, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance began their long journey in following the footsteps of St. Francis.  Today, we inherit that charism as the Secular Franciscan Order; we are a penitential order.  What does that mean to us in today’s world?
The interesting thing about penance is that is has a long history in Judaic-Christian practice.  We read about the people of Nineveh fasting and sitting in ashes to avoid the punishment that Noah preached; of David not eating and asking for forgiveness when his first born of Bathsheba was so ill; of several “40 days in the wilderness” – a retreat like experience; and the list goes on.  What this history is trying to tell us is that we do have that tendency to sin – to turn away from God and do things that are not so nice.  For some people it’s really big things like theft, murder, and other “big” sins.  For most of us it’s the irritated word or harsh comment or gossip that fills our day with activities.  But, we also have a history of returning to God in dramatic ways – of reconciling with Him who loves us so much.
What we who have perpetually professed as Franciscans is that we don’t want to be sinners– we want to be closer to God and his Church – we want to live a good life that recognizes the mercy and grace that God makes available to us every day.  We want to turn away from the error of sin and become more and more faithful in our activities with God.  Our response to this desire is the daily conversion outlined in this article of our Rule.
Our Constitutions reemphasizes the need for this daily conversion in a way hearkening back to the simplicity of St. Francis’ original thoughts:
1.         Rule 7  Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times "the brothers and sisters of penance," propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion.  Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations.  They should approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and participate in the communal celebration of it, whether in the fraternity, or with the whole people of God.[1]
2.         In this spirit of conversion, they should live out their love for the renewal of the Church, which should be accompanied by personal and communal renewal.  The fruits of conversion, which is a response to the love of God, are the works of charity in the interactions with the brothers and sisters.[2]
3.         Traditional among Franciscan penitents, penitential practices such as fasting and abstinence should be known, appreciated, and lived out according to the general guidelines of the Church.      (Constitutions, Article 13)
Between Francis’ list and the list from the Constitutions, we see several ways that we can accomplish this pledge to daily conversion.  All these ideas are supported in the Catechism in several paragraphs, notably 1431-1432, 1434-1437, 1440, 1446, 1779, and 1989. 
All of this is well and good, but what does this mean in a practical way for each of us?
Well, we recognize that we have a tendency to sin – go against the will of God in our lives.  We are sorry for those times which are frequent in our daily lives.  We want to do something about it.  So,
·         We examine our lives daily, and endeavor to make amends.  We apologize to people whom we have harmed with our actions and words, we go to sacramental reconciliation regularly, and we live with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our hearts. 
·         We are seriously committed to the Church and its teachings and learn as much as we possibly can about what they mean and how to live them – but we also defend the Church when someone attacks it. 
·         We become more faithful in our lives as Christians.  We really “walk the walk” – Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel. 
·         We are concerned about all people but recognizing that we can’t go into the whole world, we work on that part of the world in which we are living. 
·         We reach out to people in need in our communities and work to make their lives easier to live helping them to find the resources that they need to find shelter, food, work, whatever. 

In essence, we take the answer of Jesus to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” to its logical conclusion:  we love God greatly by thinking of others first and placing ourselves, in all humility, as last.  In following Francis, we make ourselves the “little poor ones” and serve others to the very best of our abilities. We become counter-cultural looking for ways of service to others and ways to inculcate peace into our community’s life.
So, let us examine our lives daily and truly, really make that conversion happen by turning our backs on materialism, snarkyness, envy, suspicion, gossip and all those other ways that we don’t love God and others.  Let us turn our faces toward God’s love and grace.  Let us take that love and grace to the world where we live and change it!

[1]     Ordo Poenitentiae.  Praenotanda 22 ff.
[2]     See Second Letter to All the Faithful 25 ff.

19 April 2018

Justice Peace & Integrity of Creation - PEACE

In the last article we looked at the Justice part of Justice, Peace, & Integrity of Creation (JPIC).  Here are some relevant quotes from a variety of sources over the years that will help focus our discussion of the second part of JPIC – PEACE.

Finally, it is to be hoped that, in carrying out their responsibilities in the international community, Catholics will seek to cooperate actively and constructively with other Christians, who profess the same Gospel of love, and with all men who hunger and thirst for true peace.  (Gaudium et specs, 90.)

Peace begins within each of us. It is a process of repeatedly showing mercy to ourselves, forgiving ourselves, befriending ourselves, accepting ourselves, and loving ourselves. As we learn to appreciate ourselves and accept God's gift of peace, we begin to radiate peace and love to others.  (Reverend John Dear)

Peace concerns the human person as a whole, and it involves complete commitment. It is peace with God through a life lived according to his will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbors and all creation.  (World Day of Peace – 2013; Benedict XVI.)

My peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give to you. A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.  (John 14:27.)

In his Testament, Francis tells us that “the Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say: ‘May the Lord give you peace.’” Saint Bonaventure recalls, “At the beginning and end of every sermon [Francis] announced peace; in every greeting he wished for peace.” Both Francis and Clare greeted the people of Assisi with Pace e Bene! (Peace and Good!) As Franciscans, peace must be at the center of all our comings and goings.  (Handbook for Animators of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation [JPIC].)

Many people believe that peace is just the absence of conflict—you know, no battles or disagreements.  Blessed Paul VI reminds us that “If you want Peace, work for Justice.” (Paul VI - World Day of Peace, 1972.) 

“A Peace that is not the result of true respect for man is not true Peace. And what do we call this sincere feeling for man? We call it Justice.” (Paul VI - (World Day of Peace, 1972.)

Franciscans understand that peace is much more that the absence of conflict, whether it be war between nations or disagreements between people.  The underlying nature of true peace, the kind that Jesus gives, is rooted in our understanding and acceptance of God’s love for us and our care and concern for others—how we treat them—how we interact with them—how we think about them. To paraphrase an old saying, “Peace begins at home.”

However, sometimes the appearance of peace can be deceiving.  In the person, like in nations, a seemingly quiet exterior betrays what lies underneath.  I live near the Mississippi River.  On a quiet, calm summer day, the surface of the river looks tranquil as it flows from 1.2 to 3 miles an hour; but we know that beneath that quiet surface lurks a current that is extremely strong with dangerous eddies and submerged obstacles, all of which can cause a disaster for one who has wandered too far into the stream.  Just so, the quiet calm of a person’s visage and the lack of fighting between nations betray the violent tendencies that may lie beneath the surface.  That violence in a person makes it easier to accept violence between nations as a solution to conflicts and problems.

Violence has many faces:  oppression of the poor, deprivation of basic human rights, economic exploitation, sexual exploitation and pornography, neglect or abuse of the aged and the helpless, and innumerable other acts of inhumanity.  Abortion, in particular, blunts a sense of the sacredness of human life. (The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response; USCCB, 1983; 285.)

These attitudes are not just societal or community issues; they begin in the heart of individual persons.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts--murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:  19; New International Bible.)   Consequently, we recognize that our inter-relationships can be the root of many other problems—our individual attitudes about others may create a “violence” that may even be unknown to us.  

Part of our goal, then, is to eliminate where possible, at least reduce, the “eddies and obstacles” that lie beneath the surface of our personal demeanor—attitudes that include not just the list from the Bishops but more personal ones like snarky comments, impatience, anger, pride, gossip, and so on—anything that demeans the other person.  We must address our own individual biases, prejudices, and improperly formed consciences that can lead to thoughtless actions toward others.

All of the values we are promoting in this letter rest ultimately in the disarmament of the human heart and the conversion of the human spirit to God who alone can give authentic peace.  Indeed, to have peace in our world, we must first have peace within ourselves.  As Pope John Paul II reminded us in his 1982 World Day of Peace message, world peace will always elude us until peace becomes a reality for each of us personally.  “It springs from the dynamism of free wills guided by reason towards the common good that is to be attained in truth, justice, and love.”  Interior peace becomes possible only when we have a conversion of spirit.  We cannot have peace with hate in our hearts.   (Challenge of Peace; op. cit.; 284.)

To find the peace that eludes the world, we are challenged to begin within our own sphere of influence by reducing and eliminating those areas that cause bitterness, estrangement, and even violence between us and the people whom we encounter every day. 

We must believe in the sacredness of all human life!

 Especially as Franciscans, we see in the other person the image of poor Christ.  We treat the other person with great respect, love, joy, and humility.  Most certainly, we protect the most vulnerable among us—the preborn, the disabled, the elderly, the poor, the homeless, the dying.

We must pray!

A conversion of our hearts and minds make it possible for us to enter into a closer communion with our Lord.  We nourish that communion by personal and communal prayer, for it is in prayer that we encounter Jesus who is our peace and learn from him the way to peace.  (Challenge of Peace; op. cit.; 290.)

 We must make sincere and good acts of penance!

Prayer by itself in incomplete without penance.  Penance directs us toward our goal of putting on the attitudes of Jesus himself.  Because we are all capable of violence, we are never totally conformed to Christ and are always in need of conversion.  (Challenge of Peace; op. cit.; 297.)

Not only must we work on individual violence, we must find ways to deal with our community conflicts as well.  The practice of non-violence is an effective means to resolve conflicts.  This does not mean that one becomes namby-pamby in addressing injustice or conflict.  Non-violence is not the way of the weak, the cowardly, or the impatient.” (Challenge of Peace; op. cit.; 222.)  Gandhi & King are modern examples of non-violent approaches to grave injustice in their societies.  So, we participate in non-violent expressions of concern, maybe even outrage, over the injustices that our society contains.

But the same approach works in personal relationships as well. “[The] arts of diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise must be developed and fully exercised.”  (Challenge of Peace; op. cit.; 222.) For example, instead of arguing with the other person trying to prove how right we are, we listen actively to their concerns and then enter into a dialogue with them to resolve the issues between us.

Our Rule reminds us, in many ways, of our Franciscan responsibility to reach for these goals:

5. Secular Franciscans, therefore, 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. 

7.  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 calls "conversion."  Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.   On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father's mercy and the source of grace.

12.  Witnessing to the good yet to come and obligated 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.

14.  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.

15.  Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives.  Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.

19.  Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.

After meditating on these ideas, we readily understand why we Franciscans pair up the ideas of Justice and Peace; because one without the other is not possible.  As we journey in Francis’s footsteps, we realize that our individual attitudes and responses toward others can create violence at the personal level.  So, we work individually and fraternally to overcome these weaknesses in our character and behaviors.  We embrace the other person with love and joy.  We look for the lepers in our lives and find ways to help them grow, improve and become whole.  We bring them the joy, hope, and peace of Jesus! 

And in this action—this way of living—we find, for ourselves, that same peace that Jesus gives—the inner peace that allows us to confront the world with the calm joy, assurance, and resolve that Francis emulates. 

Pace e Bene!

26 February 2018

Justice, Peace, & Integrity of Creation - JUSTICE

Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation (JPIC).  These are important words in our Franciscan charism--important words that outline our outreach to others and the whole world.    Years ago, these areas were managed by different Apostolic Commissions—Work, Family, Justice & Peace, and Ecology.  In October 2007, these four commissions were consolidated into the Committee that we have today:  JPIC (History of the SFO and Its Rules, William Wicks, 23 MAR 2011).  The leader of the JPIC Committee at each Fraternity level is called an Animator.  Carolyn D. Townes, O.F.S. is the NAFRA JPIC Animator.  Each local Fraternity should have its own JPIC Animator.  I hold that position for St. Elizabeth of Hungary Fraternity in Quincy and for Franciscans of the Prairie Regional Fraternity in West Central Illinois.

I thought that we could learn a little more about JPIC in our Order by reflecting upon the three elements of its title.  As framework for this discussion, we should understand what the NAFRA JPIC Mission Statement is:

The mission of JPIC is to assist the Professed Secular Franciscans as they reflect on their relationship with God as manifested in the fruits of conversion in their lives. This [mission is engaged] with special regard to the daily choices [they make] in the areas of justice, peace-making and respect for all created things and people; as brothers and sisters of penance, bringing life to the Gospel and the Gospel to Life (https://sites.google.com/site/jpic4ofs/about).

Our Rule reminds us:

Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.  (Article 19)

Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.  (Article 15)

First, we reflect on Justice. 

The secular world has its definition of justice:

The maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments--meting out justice--social justice (Merriam-Webster).

Generally, this means that someone who has committed a crime is tried and convicted or acquitted.  Even the concept of “social justice” in this framework leaves winners and losers, the concept being that “you may not merit” a reward because of who or what you are.

The Church has a different view on “justice.”  Here is what Pope Francis said on May 12, 2015:

“We are all equal – all of us – but this truth is not recognized, this equality is not recognized, and for this reason some people are, we can say, happier than others. But this is not a right! We all have the same rights. When we do not see this, society is unjust. It does not follow the rule of justice, and where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. I would like to repeat this with you: where there is no justice, there is no peace!”

-- Audience with children of the Peace Factory

The ultimate justice, in God’s view, is the salvation of people—returning all people to the fold, as it were, where God’s Grace and Love will have their complete and full effect—where we, everyone in the whole world, return to the original state of grace found in the Garden of Eden.

The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ by God the Father's initiative, and brought about and transmitted by the work of the Holy Spirit, is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation. It concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Part 1, Chapter 1, III.b.

Even though this ultimate condition will be realized at the end of time, we have an obligation to work toward its fulfillment in our lives today.  So, in a parlance known well in this country, not only are “all [people] created equal,” but all people should be treated equally as well.  When we Franciscans talk about justice, we incorporate the understanding that God loves us so completely that he wants us only to return to him.  Our response to this great love is

·         to seek justice in our interactions with all others;

·         to treat them as we wish to be treated;

·         to look for ways to serve them and make their lives better;

·         to follow so closely in Francis’ footsteps that we mirror Christ, just like he did. 

How do we do this?

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

1 John 4:  7-12

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:  19-21

When we reflect upon the words of St. Paul about charity (love), we realize the immensity of our obligation (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6).  For treating all people with patience, kindness, without jealousy, without being pompous & inflated, not seeking our own interests, nor being quick tempered, nor brooding over injury, nor rejoicing over wrongdoing, but rejoicing with the truth becomes a major challenge for us.  Hearkening back to the Rule, Article 15, we are not just to do these things but must “be in the forefront” of doing them.  In other words, we take the lead in promoting these qualities—we become the models--the examples--a people so imbued with these qualities that our quiet lives of service display a character quite opposed to the ways of this world and show to all peoples Jesus actively living and working today.

When taken from the larger view, this call appears to be such a gargantuan task that it must be impossible to achieve.  But we Franciscans know that the way to eat an elephant is to take one small bite at a time.  So, our approach to this challenge is to look at our own lives and determine each day how we can live and promote justice in our own sphere.  We ask ourselves questions like, “How do I treat all people I meet today with patience?” (Yes, even the guy who pulls out in front of me causing me to jam on my brakes—and then turns at the next corner without a turn signal—causing me to jam on my brakes again.!); or, “How do I treat all people I meet today with kindness?”  (Yes, even the lady with three unruly kids in the grocery store aisle!)  Well, you get the idea. 

St. Paul’s list is an excellent measuring stick for our daily reconciliation.  When we approach our daily lives like this,

·         we enable others to see what the Franciscan charism is all about;

·         we show them the justice of the church and how it is so much different that the justice of society;

·         we exemplify the good life of a Franciscan and preach with an example that speaks so loudly that no one can hear what we are saying.

Then, in our Fraternities, we join with like-minded Franciscans and branch out to the greater community performing works of service and charity to all of those in need, whether physical, social, community, or spiritual.  To make an even greater impact, our Fraternities join with others in the Region.  Like the Franciscans of the Prairie Region Mission Statement says, “…we intend to spread, like the prairie fire of old, cleansing the earth and nourishing the land with His Word.”  Then, all the Regions and National Fraternities unite in service to increase the witness to our country and to the world.

 When we follow St. Paul’s ideas at the personal level, we transform our corner of the world into a place where all people are valued and cared for!  When we profess to live this Franciscan life, we accept our Rule in its entirety so that we live out this small phrase:  "Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives.”  As we approach each day of our lives with this challenge foremost in our minds, we do make a difference and change the world.

Reflections of the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 6

6. They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession.  Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.  Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.

As we continue to consider our Way of Life, we recognize that we are part of the Church because of our Baptism.  When we Professed to live as Franciscans, we accepted a “more intimate” relationship with the Church, that is, we committed to be more faithful to the Church and its teachings.  Part of our responsibility, then, is to more fully understand what the Church says and what it teaches about the conditions of life and what our response as faithful Christians is supposed to be.

How are we to reach this understanding?  It’s simply called ongoing formation.  Ongoing formation is not just about the old stories of St. Francis and St. Clare and adoring their wonderful examples.  Ongoing formation includes further study of the Holy Scriptures, the documents of the Church (most especially the Vatican Documents & all of the Encyclicals written since then), the teachings of our Pope, the Bishops, and our Pastors, and delving more deeply into the Franciscan Rule, General Constitutions, and various Statutes.  With our serious study and understanding of these teachings (the Magisterium), we become more knowledgeable about what the Church teaches and more capable of explaining the teachings and the reasons for them to all of those outside the Church who may be more inclined to accept the secular view of today’s world. 

As we gain knowledge, we can begin to “…go forth as witnesses and instruments of [the Church’s] mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by [our] life and words.

Article 17 of the OFS Constitutions reminds us,

1.  Rule 6 Called to work together in building up the Church as the sacrament of salvation for all and, through their baptism and profession, made "witnesses and instruments of her mission," Secular Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. 

We are not just a prayer group!  We study the Magisterium of the Church and we live what we have learned so that we can bring a strong, positive witness of the true mission of Christ to the world.  We are instruments of the mission when we accept the challenge to not only live a good life, but to help the poor, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned & sick and effectively care for “…one of these least brothers of mine.”  (Matt 25:  40)   We study, and then we act!  In so doing, we provide a living witness of the mission of the Church, which is Christ’s mission.   The Church reminds us of this obligation when it states:

For lay people, "this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world." (CCC 905). 

Well, that is why we are called Secular Franciscans after all.  We live and work in the world—today’s secular world.  We live out the OFS Motto, “From Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel.”

Now, before you get all flustered and shout, “Well, I can’t do it all by myself!”, let’s take a quick look at the last sentence of 17.1 in the Constitutions:

Their preferred apostolate is personal witness[1] in the environment in which they live and service for building up the Kingdom of God within the situations of this world.

It becomes quite clear that each of us selects the areas of our own strength to perform these apostolates.  In other words, we simply ask the question, “What am I good at?”, and then develop ourselves in that strength and offer it up to the Church as a service and witness.  Maybe you really enjoy cooking—so, go volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you’re an expert carpenter—volunteer with the Habitat for Humanity.  Maybe you’re retired, but enjoy reading—volunteer as one of the reading helpers at the public library or schools.  This list is only exhausted by your own imagination and abilities.  The point is that we find something that we’re good at, learn about it, and then do it. 

Importantly, you are not alone in this effort.  Look at 17.2 of the General Constitutions:

2.  The preparation of the brothers and sisters for spreading the Gospel message "in the ordinary circumstances of the world"[2] and for collaborating in the catechesis within the ecclesial communities should be promoted in the fraternities.

The fraternity should be encouraging and helping you, not only determine what to do, but how to find the opportunities to accomplish your goals. 

In addition to these apostolate activities, we are always aware of opportunities to reach out to the unchurched and the “left the church” populations to explain and witness to them of the wonderful life that we can live when we follow Christ. 

Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, "that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life

This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.  (CCC 905)

When we encounter a situation with others like this, we share directly with them of the great goodness of Christ and to demonstrate the joy of living that we have as a professed Secular Franciscan.  So, our role of evangelizing is twofold: witness through service and witness through dialogue and example.

"The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God."  (CCC 2044)

The last part of Article 6 explains,

Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.

Our Perpetual Profession links us even closer to the Church and its structure.

[We] are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' not 'in heart.'" (CCC 837)

Because of our study, we understand what the Church believes and teaches about all the great and important issues of our times.  Because of our faithfulness, we offer our loyalty to the Church, its Pope and Bishops, and have the courage to defend it against those who would tear it down.  We do not do this blindly, but with the knowledge of the Magisterium and how it relates to modern life.  We understand what Jesus taught and how St. Francis modeled that teaching.  So, we follow in Francis’ footsteps to follow more closely the Risen Lord!

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.  (CCC 771)

Our Perpetual Profession allows us, instructs us, and invites us to serve the Church in a more meaningful way beyond our Baptism.  We live out this lofty goal through our continued faithfulness to our Profession and in light of the simple phrase mentioned earlier, “From Gospel to Life; From Life to Gospel.”  In this way, we more fully become the follower of St. Francis that we want to be and that he wants us to be. 

[1]     See Rule 1221, 17,3; Legend of the Three Companions 36; Second Letter to All the Faithful 53.
[2]     Lumen Gentium 35.