This is the second part to our mini series on the Secular Franciscans. Every so often we will publish articles from people in or about to join a Third Order. These ar Lay people who feel called to live a Rule of community out in the world.
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 Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the centre of his life with God and people. (OFS Rule4)
People are called to become members of the Secular Order of Franciscans in various ways. It is a vocation and one is truly called. My own journey began in the mid-1990s. I had just completed a Maryvale Institute Diploma course in Catechetical studies through the Olgivie centre. Our parish priest at the time encouraged some of us, involved with the religious education of the children in our parish, to undertake this course. My studies helped me considerably in my teaching duties but once it was completed I missed the discipline and nourishment it had provided in my spiritual life.
As I was leaving our church one evening, a fellow parishioner mentioned she was going to her Franciscan meeting. My ears pricked up at that and I asked her if she would tell me more about it later. I’d visited The Marian village of Medjugorge several times, the parish there is a Franciscan one. While there, listening to the preaching of the Friars, I became very attracted to the Franciscan approach to spirituality. Once she had told me about the Secular Franciscan Order, which I had not known about, I felt very drawn to it. I started to attend monthly fraternity meetings as a visitor and my desire to be a member of the order grew. I then completed a period of enquiry, then candidature and I was eventually professed as a member in 1999. Incidentally I later found out that my maternal grandmother, after whom I’m named and who died long before I was born, had also been a member of the order (in those days known as The Third Order of St. Francis). She was buried in her habit, which is no longer a part of the Secular Franciscan life ….or death!
In the thirteenth century the preaching of St. Francis, as well as his example, exercised such a powerful influence on people that many wanted to join the First or the Second Order. Because being married was incompatible with the order, Francis found a middle way for lay people and gave them a rule animated by the Franciscan spirit. This was the birth of “The Order of Penance” (as the Secular Franciscan Order was originally called).
St. Francis and his Friars formed the First Order ,St. Clare and her Sisters the Second Order and lay people and members of the diocesan clergy the Third Order. The Franciscan spirit permeates all three Orders. We call that the Franciscan charism. The Rule6 of the Secular Franciscans puts it this way:
“Called like St. 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 dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity” (article 6).
I belong to the San Damiano Fraternity based at St. Columba’s Church, Culloden. Normally we hold monthly meetings but at the moment are meeting via Zoom. We have lunch together followed by the formal meeting. This takes the form of an opening prayer followed by any business to be discussed and then the main part of our meeting which is concerned with our ongoing formation. We close with prayer. Formation is vital to OFS members.
“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.” (Rule7)
There are many, many members of the Secular Franciscan Order (the third order) among the canonised saints, popes, kings, martyrs, artists, poets, peasants…. …the list goes on! I’m sure there are many more that have not been canonised. As I write this, on 21st August, it is the Feast Day of Pope Pius X who himself was a secular Franciscan. Recent canonisations include Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St Theresa, the Little Flower. Scotland has two more Franciscan saints on the road to canonisation, Blessed Duns Scotus (Order of the Friars Minor, the first order) and Venerable Margaret Sinclair (Order of the Poor Clares, the second order).
Our Inverness fraternity really is my other family. We pray, praise, learn and grow together. We support each other and we laugh a lot. Humour and joy are major contributors to our charism. I will always thank God for leading me to the Secular Franciscan Family.
If anyone is interested to find out more about the Secular Franciscans and discern if they have a vocation to it go to: www.ofsgb.org