The Secular Franciscan Order
2. The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful. In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.
Our General Constitutions remind us
From the beginning, the Secular Franciscan Order has had its own proper place in the Franciscan Family. It 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 their secular state, following the Rule approved by the Church. (Article 2.3.)
What all of this tells us is that we, the Secular Franciscan Order, are a unitive part of the Franciscan order. We belong together in a family with all of the Friars, Brothers, and Sisters. Our branch is a world-wide organization dedicated to living "...the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis..." To do this we have a Rule that is approved by the Church.
Although this article of our Rule seems to be just an organizational statement, there is much more behind it than that. For example, in our General Constitutions are cited two paragraphs from the Code of Canon Law that are relevant to this article.
Can. 303 Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name.
Can. 602 The life of brothers or sisters proper to each institute, by which all the members are united together as a special family in Christ, is to be defined in such a way that it becomes a mutual support for all in fulfilling the vocation of each. Moreover, by their communion as brothers or sisters rooted and founded in charity, members are to be an example of universal reconciliation in Christ.
Even our own General Constitutions 2000 discuss our secular status as we form together in association with each other.
Their secularity, with respect to vocation and to apostolic life, expresses itself according to the respective state, that is:
— for the laity, contributing to building up the Kingdom of God by their presence in their life-situations and in their temporal activities;
— for the secular clergy, by offering to the people of God the service which is properly theirs, in communion with the bishop and the presbytery.
Both are inspired by the gospel options of Saint Francis of Assisi, committing themselves to continue his mission with the other components of the Franciscan Family.
So, you see that our second article is much more than just a statement of existence--it goes to the very heart of who we are as Secular Franciscans. This kind of statement in the business world is called an executive summary. Contained therein is the essence of what the entire document is all about. So we see that Chapter Two covers the details of "[living] the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis" and Chapter Three covers a broad view of what fraternity is all about.
Let's take a brief look at the important points of these passages:
· "...a special place in this family circle": The Secular Franciscan Order originally was begun as the Brothers & Sisters of Penance in 1221 by St. Francis; over the years, and especially, since this "new" Rule was promulgated in 1978 by Pope Paul VI, the Secular Franciscan Order has become a unified association of secular people (not religious priests, friars, brothers, or sisters) who meet together as fraternities to learn how to live in the manner of St. Francis; as one of the "orders" begun by St. Francis, the Secular Franciscan Order is a full partner with the religious orders in the Franciscan family; our "special place" is due to our witness in the everyday world of work and society;
· "...organic union of all Catholic fraternities": The Secular Franciscan Order is a world-wide association of mostly lay Catholics who subscribe to this Rule and meet together as fraternities in around 66 countries totaling 400,000 members; according to CIOFS from a couple of years ago, we also have around 26 emerging national fraternities and four additional nations exploring forming a national fraternity;
· "...led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity, in their own secular state": Individually, we are led by the Spirit to a moment of conversion that, through our special personal relationship with Jesus, we determine that we should follow in St. Francis footsteps to be able to follow Jesus more closely; through our understanding and following this Rule we continually strive to live a life of perfect charity - a life that fully respects all others as a child of God, our brother or sister, even Jesus Himself; and, we do all of this while living our regular day to day lives in our families, at work, at play, at church, at school, and with everyone we meet;
· "By their profession...": We pledge on our honor to live by the tenets of this Rule; this is a perpetual profession, which means it's forever - every day of our lives while we are on this earth;
· "...pledge themselves to live the Gospel...": Our profession takes on the special character of adding the Gospel message to our lives in a particular way so that through our living we demonstrate what the Gospel message is all about. We become faithful witnesses to Jesus' simple message of loving God and loving others;
· "...in the manner of St. Francis...": As we live this Rule, our promise to live this Gospel life, endeavors to follow St. Francis of Assisi and his particular charism of simplicity, love of all creatures, care for the poor, and obedience to the Church;
· "...rule approved by the Church.": This Rule of Life is sanctioned by the Church having been promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1978; this tells us that the Church supports and approves our efforts to follow this Rule of St. Francis for the Secular Franciscan Order because it conforms to the theology and characteristics of what we have been taught in the Magisterium, the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism. The earlier quotations from the Code of Canon Law give support to this concept. Consequently, the statements of the Pope and his Bishops are an important part of our order.
So, you can readily see that this simple paragraph at the beginning of our Rule is just chocked full of important information about who we are and what we do. One could surmise that this paragraph by itself would be enough to live by, but we know that the details that we will discuss in future months will really help clarify our standard of Franciscan life.