Q: WHO ARE THE FRANCISCANS?
A: We Franciscans owe our inspiration to Francesco di Bernardone, an affluent young merchant from the Italian town of Assisi, who in 1206 renounced his wealth and social status in favor of a life dedicated to God and the least of God’s people. He was soon joined by his first followers, to whom he gave a short and simple rule of life. In 1209 he and 11 of his followers journeyed to Rome, where Francis received approval of his rule from Pope Innocent III. The vision that Francis had for his community was that the brothers would live together, pray together, support one another like a family, and work in the world among and alongside ordinary members of society.
The Franciscans have popularized several devotional practices in the Roman Catholic Church. Among the best known are the Christmas crèche, the Stations of the Cross, and the Angelus. Besides their traditional role of preaching, Franciscans have been active in the work of foreign missions. They have also made many contributions to the field of education and scholarship, and the order has contributed six popes to the church including the current pope, Pope Francis.
Q: WHO IS ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI?
A: St. Francis of Assisi, Italian San Francesco d’Assisi, baptized Giovanni, renamed Francesco, in full Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone, (born 1181/82, Assisi, duchy of Spoleto [Italy]—died October 3, 1226, Assisi; canonized July 16, 1228; feast day October 4), founder of the Franciscan orders of the Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum), the women’s Order of St. Clare (the Poor Clares), and the lay Third Order. He was also a leader of the movement of evangelical poverty in the early 13th century. His evangelical zeal, consecration to poverty, charity, and personal charisma drew thousands of followers. Francis’s devotion to the human Jesus and his desire to follow Jesus’ example reflected and reinforced important developments in medieval spirituality. The Poverello (“Poor Little Man”) is one of the most venerated religious figures in Roman Catholic history, and he and St. Catherine of Siena are the patron saints of Italy. In 1979 Pope John Paul II recognized him as the patron saint of ecology.
Q: WHO ARE/WHAT IS A SECULAR FRANCISCAN?
A: Secular Franciscans, as the name implies, live their lives in the world rather than in religious communities. They may be single or married, women or men, in all walks of life. They live the Gospel in a Franciscan manner according to their own Rule which they profess after a period of initial formation. Profession as a Secular Franciscan is a lifelong commitment. Formation and profession of the Secular Franciscan takes place within a local community called a fraternity. Life in fraternity is an essential aspect of the Secular Franciscan vocation. The fraternity is a community of love, the privileged place for the sisters and brothers to develop their sense of Church and the Franciscan call. Although a self-governing Order, each Secular Franciscan fraternity receives guidance in spiritual matters from a spiritual assistant, usually a friar from one of the other Franciscan Orders. These relationships are particularly strong between Secular Franciscans and the Franciscan friars with whom they share common roots in the Franciscan penitential tradition.
Q: WHEN AND HOW DID THE OFS BEGIN?
A: The Secular Franciscan Order was approved by The Church in 1221 while Saint Francis of Assisi was alive. Many people were attracted to his style of ministry and how he enlivened faith, there was something unique about Francis and his spirituality that drew people to him and towards God’s Holy Trinity – many of these people were husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and single men and women with jobs they couldn’t leave. These people of the Middle Ages could not ignore their family or work commitments to become monks and nuns and join monasteries or convents, yet inspired by the example of Francis, they wanted to radically live a Christ-like life for God and the betterment of all those around them. So almost 800 years ago Francis founded an order for people who lived in the every-day world, but aspired not to be of the world. This Catholic Order was then called the order of “Brothers and Sisters of Penance”, it has also been referred to as the Franciscan Third Order, the Secular Franciscan Order and today it’s know by it’s international Latin name “Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis”.
Q: HOW DO YOU LIVE GOSPEL VALUES AS A SECULAR FRANCISCAN?
A: In Chapter Two – The Way of Life – Rule 4 includes “Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.” This is what Secular Franciscan life is about. We use the Gospel to discern good thoughts and good actions in all areas and situations of our life. We aim to become little Gospel Verses or Sermons for God showing Christ-like qualities to everyone we meet. Reading and meditating on the Gospel helps us know if our attitudes are right, it teaches us to be aware of ourselves in relationship with others and from this we learn to discern and act with love and compassion.
Q: WHAT DO SECULAR FRANCISCANS DO?
A: Secular Franciscans live their lives as everyone else does. We live, work, play, praise, pray, sing, hurt, cry, suffer, love and enjoy life with an intentional focus on our Seraphic Father, Saint Francis, who reminds us to keep Christ in our hearts, God in our thoughts and to know His Holy Spirit is within us – always.
Secular Franciscans are often involved in Parish life – they may be Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers and Readers at Mass, they might assist on Parish Councils or be members of Evangelical Strategy Teams and they may also be assistant sacristans, look after flowers or be involved with cleaning the church and whenever possible share the Franciscan Spirituality with others.
Q: CAN ANYONE JOIN THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER?
A: You can be a Franciscan at heart, with a calling towards Franciscan Spirituality without joining the Order. However if you wish to take the step to join the Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis you should be a practising Catholic and over 18 years of age. You can be married or single, laity or clergy – even a pope can be a Secular Franciscan [as many have been]
Q: WHAT IS EXPECTED OF ME IF I JOIN THE ORDER?
A: In addition to attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and regular confession Secular Franciscans make a deeper commitment to their Catholic faith by aiming to live a Christ-like life, a Gospel life. Members of the OFS are encouraged to join the Church in her liturgical prayer life by praying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Divine Office. They also have a commitment of a daily examination of conscience and associated penitential acts, attendance at monthly fraternity meetings, and engaging in ongoing spiritual formation.
Q: DO YOU LIVE LIKE MONKS AND NUNS IN MONASTERIES OR CONVENTS?
A: No members of the OFS live at home and meet in Fraternity usually in local Church buildings. The OFS is a secular life, it is the authentic way of living founded by Saint Francis and approved by the Holy See in 1221 for people who did not wish to become Religious Brothers or Sisters, Friars or Nuns, living in a convent or friary, priory or abbey.
Q: AM I CALLED TO BE A SECULAR FRANCISCAN?
A: After being with your local monthly fraternity meetings for about six months you will have a feel for the Franciscan secular way of life and spirituality. You will begin to understand what St Francis and St Clare of Assisi have to tell us about following in the footsteps of Christ, praising God and knowing God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us. You will begin to get a feel of Franciscan Spirituality, the care for God’s Creation and to learn to see others with Christ-like eyes.
We are each guided in our discernment process by God’s Holy Spirit as we listen to the Gospel and the Psalms, to writing of St Francis and St Clare of Assisi. We listen and feel in prayer, as we listen to the Franciscan Charism – our Rule – and as we listen in Sisterhood and Brotherhood in Fraternity – this is the lived charism of Franciscan spirituality [Rule 22]. You will also get a feel for whether this suits you and your own way of living – if it does then you can formally ask to be admitted into formation. The first stage is Orientation and lasts for about 3 months followed by Inquiry which lasts about 9 months. The final stage is Candidacy and is usually for 2 years – during Inquiry and Candidacy there are a variety of learning modules to complete and guide you on your way to Profession.
Q: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO FIND OUT ABOUT JOINING THE SECULAR FRANCISCANS?
A: Perhaps a good way to learn about the OFS is firstly travel around this website and discover who St Francis was, to know he’s more than the garden bird-bath saint. It might be helpful to read the Rule and other pages about discernment. Then if you’d like to know more visit CIOFS the International Council of the Secular Franciscan Order – the Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis. Alternatiely email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: DO MEMBERS OF THE OFS TAKE VOWS?
A: When ready candidates make a public profession during Holy Mass, our commitment and profession joins us to the whole Franciscan family and is for all our life. It is the Brothers and Sisters, Friars and Nuns, of the First and Second Orders, and the Third Order Regular, who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Franciscan Religious Orders include the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), OFM Conventual, the Friars Minor and OFM Capuchin, the Poor Clares, The members of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd orders are all Franciscans Priest, Brothers, Sisters, Religious who all take vows and Lay people who make a profession of faith.
Q: WHAT IF I REALISE I’M NOT CALLED TO BE A SECULAR FRANCISCAN?
A: Franciscans are aware of freedom of each of us deserves and you are absolutely free to leave the discernment process at any time. This is why the candidacy stage is all about discernment to help you and us discover how suited you are to the Order.