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Why I want to be a Secular Franciscan: A two part series.

Every so often we will carry articles written by lay people who have made bigger commitments to the Church. Over the next two weeks we will look at the Secular Franciscans.

Over the past few months I have had much time to reflect upon a strong attraction to the Secular Franciscans. In March of this year, after mulling things over, I approached my local fraternity (San Damiano, Inverness) and was invited to attend a fraternity meeting. Since then I have attended further meetings as a Visitor. So, here I am, happy to have made my first steps along the path of conversion in the spirit of St Francis. But why am I attracted to the OFS?

Well, I am not sure that I can provide a completely adequate response to such a question, for the workings of the Spirit are frequently a mystery to me. Thankfully, mysteries are good! St Francis came into my head (not literally!) when I was looking to be more committed to the Church and its mission. Since then I have been drawn more and more to the life of St Francis and most especially to the Secular Franciscans.

For me, St Francis stands as a beacon of light radiating the love of Christ. His love of God’s creation along with a selfless commitment to helping the poorest of the poor show a man with his feet firmly on the ground and a Christ centred spirit devoted to the Gospel. The Rule receives its inspiration and enduring strength from Francis’s love of and commitment to the Gospel of Christ and God’s Creation. The OFS Rule states that Secular Franciscans should go ‘from Gospel to Life and Life to the Gospel’. This phrase is succinct and to the point. But it is a great challenge and a huge undertaking. It asks for a deep commitment and an acceptance that conversion is the work of a lifetime. The profound implications of these words are captivating – they feel like a prayer of the heart. Certainly I feel compelled to take them on board and be guided by them.

Devotion to Francis and his Rule has been an important part of life in the Church since the start of his ministry. The populace at that time experienced many trials and tribulations and many felt the need for spiritual renewal. Francis, a man of the people, was in the right time and place to provide an alternative vision. People from all walks of life, of all shapes and sizes, rallied around Francis and committed themselves to his Rule. They saw in him a spiritual zest and fervour, and felt the love and compassion of Christ through him.

Importantly he welcomed people from and formed an order for the lay community. His inclusive spirit allowed a worldwide community of Secular Franciscans to grow and flourish. I am grateful for this gift which provides the opportunity for devoted family people like me to follow a vocation within a religious order.

I believe that Francis’s unwavering devotion to Christ and God’s creation speaks more than ever to us here and now. He was most definitely a man of his time, but his deep belief that Creation and Incarnation are bound together makes him the spiritual role model to whom I look for inspiration.

Francis had a deep love for humanity and did not hesitate to help others in need. He reached out to the poorest of the poor. No ifs or buts. He lived the Gospel message fully. His devotion was absolute and his way of life was rooted in caritas. His life and the Franciscan charism, therefore, deserve to be studied, reflected upon, understood and emulated.

The OFS Rule for me is a way of living the Gospel of Christ with greater devotion and commitment. I am attracted to it because I feel strongly that by committing myself to it I can become a more Christ centred person. and faithful witness within my fraternity, the Franciscan family as a whole and the wider community. Personally, I am a work in progress, striving to live a more Gospel centred life, more conformed to the will of Christ. Francis was an inspirational figure who realised the importance of daily conversion, or conversion within the moment. I hope that by following the OFS Rule I too might, day by day, become a more effective witness to ‘the poor and crucified Christ’ (OFS Rule 10).

The natural world is important to me, as it is for millions of other people. I have worked as an Environmental Manager monitoring habitats and species in a very scientific way. This work was very satisfying and allowed me to understand more fully the processes of the natural world. However, an empirical, evidence based approach cannot possibly tell the whole story, thankfully. Francis’s God centred relationship with the created world invites me more fully to appreciate the natural world as a place to encounter God. I love the stories of Francis’s encounters with various creatures and creation as a whole. There is a wonderful innocence to some of them, but this innocence points to an essential truth. A sentence from A Franciscan View of Creation seems to be apposite here:

Francis came to realise that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and transforms it into the sacrament of God.

I love the image of Christ at the centre of the Father’s creation; it reconnects the created world with the God the Father. One powerful message I take away from this is that I need to do more to care for and cherish the world around me. There is so much more to be said about Francis’s relationship with the natural world and it is an aspect of his spirituality which draws me in.

Without love what am I? The love of Christ is at the heart of all this. Francis ‘made Christ the inspiration and centre of his life with God and People.’ (OFS Rule 4) This commitment and devotion is rooted in the Father’s love. When I dwell on the life of Francis I see someone committed to Christ, living a life in faith, hope and love. The Franciscan way of life helps me to remember that ‘if I am without love I am nothing.’ (1 Cor 13:2)

I have felt the spiritual strength, love and solidarity within the OFS during fraternity meetings over the past few months. These periods of formation have shown me the importance of community life within the Order. The strength of vocation is palpable and uplifting. I leave these meetings feeling energised and, as a Visitor, I hope and pray that my own sense of vocation will bear fruit within the Secular Franciscan community.

Kevin Redgewell | Inverness

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