Local Fraternity is the Heart of the Order

(This article original appeared in the Winter 2021 TAU-USA Issue 102)


 Calling the local fraternity the “heartbeat of the order,” National Formation Commission Chair Diane Menditto, OFS, pointed to the commitment Secular Franciscans make at profession “to accompany and take care of one another on our journey to the Father.”

 In her presentation titled “Fraternity:  Our Way of Life,” Menditto elaborated on five key elements to living in communion with one another — collaboration, community, communication, commitment, and conversion.

 While explaining the art of Franciscan collaboration, she cited a report by former Minister General Emanuela DeNunzio, OFS, that represents the identity of Secular Franciscans in a triple dimension:  Personal (inner life); Fraternal (co-responsibility); and Universal (the mission).

 “The mission itself needs to be reflected not only in Gospel values, but in order to work for the fraternity, it also needs to be based on the gifts of its members,” Menditto said.

 By championing the lives of our brothers and sisters in fraternity, we strengthen each other, she said, citing the General Constitutions, Article 30.2 on how fraternity should be lived.

 “The sense of co-responsibility of the members requires personal presence, witness, prayer and active collaboration in accordance with each one’s situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity,” Menditto said.

 The challenge of the community element means the “acceptance of and empathy for our brothers and sisters,” she said.

 “We can go out and support others because we know we are loved and supported,” she said.

 “We are not looking for others to serve us, but we are looking for ways to serve one another. We want to give everything we have until we have given everything, until we are poor enough to be generous.”

 The communication element means listening with patience and humility, even when one doesn’t agree. Menditto encouraged regional ministers and councilors to communicate directly with the local fraternities they represent.

 “This is one of the ways the local fraternities will know that we are listening to them,” she said.  Listening as a method of communication applies to every level of fraternity.

 “If we truly want to serve one another and others in fraternity, listening to the needs of others should, no must, be the basis for whatever we do for one another,” Menditto said.

 The fourth challenge of a Secular Franciscan is commitment to what one promised at profession.

    “By profession we are committed to God, to one another and to all creation. This is called universal kinship.”

 Living the Gospel life as a Secular Franciscan is a full-time experience, she said.

 Finally, the biggest challenge of all is daily conversion.

 “It is the only way we will accomplish the rest,” Menditto said, citing Article 7 of the Rule:  “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.”

 Daily conversion helps us to strengthen our mission outlined in the Gospel.

 “This requires constant self-examination to be sure we reach out to others because we are not attached to ourselves.”  

 Using extensive quotes from “Belonging to the SFO” by Emanuela DeNunzio, OFS, (General Chapter 2008), Menditto recommended that fraternities:

  • create a School of sanctity — “Fraternity can promote in its members full development of the interior life: an intense liturgical life, sacramental and charitable life through practices such as fraternity prayer, Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, retreats and days of recollection.”
  • create a School of formation — “The spirit of belonging is nurtured when the Rule becomes the life of the brothers and sisters. It will assure a kind of assimilation of the spirit of the Rule in the life and in the history of each person. Those who are assiduous readers of the writings of Francis and of Clare and of the ancient biographies will be strengthened in their Franciscan identity. Therefore, Secular Franciscans should regularly read spiritual readings from the sources. We are agents of our own formation. We form ourselves so that we can form others.”
  • be a Witness of ecclesial communion — “It is essential that everyone make the decision to make himself/herself present in the lives of the brothers and sisters: rejoicing with those who participate, being mindful of those that do not come, trying to find the reasons for which someone has lost the motivation. In order to promote the desire to gather in fraternity, the Council should plan meetings that are pleasant, productive and enriching.”
  • participate in the apostolic purpose of the Church — “The Rule recommends being creative in our apostolic activity — examine our ministries. Society has changed, and the Church has renewed itself and is renewing itself again. The Gospel is always the same, but new approaches and new encounters with the Gospel and history are necessary.”
  • be a Presence in society — “In light of the social doctrine of the church, every fraternity should question its priorities in its own missionary commitment.”
  • ••


“The Secular Franciscan Order for an

Evangelizing Mission Together with all the Franciscan Family.” (Benedetto Lino, OFS, at the First International Congress for Missions and Evangelization-OFM-2014)

 “How Should An Order Like the OFS Be

Managed at All Its Levels?” (Benedetto Lino,

OFS, XIV General Chapter, November 2014)

“Belonging to the SFO” (Emanuela DeNunzio, OFS, General Chapter 2008)

2021-04-24T11:18:56-04:00April 26th, 2021|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

National Spiritual Assistants Focus on Impact of Pandemic

(This article originally from TAU-USA Issue 102 Winter 2021)

By Mary Stronach, OFS

Fr. Jerome Wolbert, OFM, CNSA President

Not surprisingly, the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants, understanding the impact that the pandemic has had on the brothers and sisters, took the opportunity to address the issues of this new reality.

“In these isolating moments, where can God be found?,” asked President- in-turn Fr. Christopher Panogoplos, TOR. “What has isolation meant to you in these areas — social, spiritual, emotional and political?”

Spiritual Impact of Pandemic

Br. Alexander Escaleras, OFM Cap, pointed to our responsibility to others. “We must consider the welfare of others who surround us even if our own life is not going the way we want it.”

He shared a personal story about his brother, Deacon Steven, who died from liver disease complications in October 2019. A few days before his death, a cleaning lady shared with him, and family members present, her own suffering having just discovered that her daughter had diabetes and other problems. His brother, who had a tracheotomy and could not speak, raised his hands in the form of prayer. “Translation: ‘I’m going to pray for

you.’ Even as he lay there dying, my brother was given the grace by God to think of others in their need.”

“Be safe and healthy,” he closed, “and may God give you His grace to think of and help the other.”

Social Effects of Pandemic

Fr. Chris Shorrock, OFM Conv, noted that social distancing goes against our psyche and our human tendencies. It can “easily lead to a sense of isolation and unrest, especially if

we are in what has been described as being vulnerable due to age or any pre- existing medical conditions.”

Quoting David Couturier OFM Cap, he said, “the challenge we face in this time of pandemic is how to deal creatively, contemplatively, and constructively with distance.”

Individuals and fraternities are discovering new ways to meet virtually on plenty of online video platforms,
he said. Prayer searches on the internet have skyrocketed. We’ve been attending Eucharist on-line; virtual groups have formed, some spiritual and others strictly social.

“Religious and spiritual practices

deliver something special when they are done socially – a deep sense of community and connection with something larger than us,” he continued.

“While these technological changes have shown promise in meeting people’s more immediate spiritual concerns, months of self-isolation, rising unemployment and mounting death tolls will surely present fresh challenges.”

Fr. Chris suggested that as we go forward, these on-line communities “will likely not be enough.” And “what about our members who are not so technically minded?” he asked. “…and not being able to honor loved ones in funeral rites? The lack of these rituals, which bring people together, will surely affect the process of grieving.”

“It is difficult to replace in-person human connection when we are at our most vulnerable,” he added.

While we may someday return to our in-person celebrations and rituals, “some things will be forever changed by the crisis. And the new skills and online practices learned at this time

will impact the ways Franciscans engage with the religious and spiritual into the future,” he said.

He concluded: “Now is the time
to be physically apart but spiritually connected, appreciative of the deepest bonds we have, in touch with the integral peace we have with God, with creation, and with one another. It is time to become ever more aware that Jesus is the God of all nearness and He is the Lord of every distance and in Him we live, move, and have our being.”

Emotional Impact of Pandemic

Fr. Jerome Wolbert, OFM, who became president-in-turn at the end of the chapter, took the conversation further by noting:

“God created us with emotions, and he saw that it was very good.”

Emotions such as anger, sorrow, confusion, anxiety or distress “play a role for us,” he said. “They can help us

to develop a greater connection and to deepen our love. Conflict, in fact, can actually help us grow in love.”

Depression is a kind of anger; anxiety can lead to anger. We have to consider the blessings of anger, he said. The question is, “how do we express it?”

“Emotions are a gift. We have to learn to unwrap them,” he added.

As an example, he identified the work of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, who, in an “incredibly courageous act” found a way to address their anger in a positive pro-active way. We must search for “creative solutions.” He reminded attendees that while emotions such as anger are natural responses, sometimes our reactions need to be adjusted.

Political Impact of Pandemic

We develop a well-formed conscience through prayer, Fr. Christopher noted. “Don’t jump to

conclusions. Listen to what God wants. Test what we feel. Listen to what the Church has to say historically.” He added that we need quiet to listen to one another – to experience the beauty of dialogue.

He said: “Franciscans are called
to take seriously the demands of the Gospel, to be agents of reconciliation and peace. (We are called to) alleviate suffering; extend hope; provide for
the well-being of others. There can
be no two sides of this divide. All of us need to do better at encountering and accompanying one another on the journey of life.”

“Politics is something nobler than posturing, marketing, and media
spin,” he said. These sow nothing but division, conflict, and a bleak cynicism incapable of mobilizing people to pursue a common goal…In thinking of the future, we do well to ask political leaders: ‘Why are you doing this? What is your real aim?’

2021-04-19T10:40:41-04:00April 19th, 2021|Categories: CNSA, From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

‘Where there is a need, there is a Franciscan’

Carolyn Townes, OFS, National JPIC animator, presented Monica Olivera, OFS, with the JPIC award at the virtual Chapter meeting.

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102)

By Sharon Winzeler, OFS

Monica Olivera, OFS, is the 2020 recipient of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Award.

Olivera founded First Nations Outreach that serves remote Native American communities (as far as a 24-hour drive from the home of her Brother Jacoba Fraternity in Lawrence, KS).

Carolyn Townes, OFS, National JPIC animator, presented the annual award at the National Chapter on Oct. 22. “It has been said, where there is a need, there is a Franciscan,” Townes said, calling Olivera’s service “love in action.”

Reaching the Isolated

“I always had a vision to serve the poorest of the poor… I always assumed it was going to be in my country of origin, Peru,” Olivera said. “I never imagined that my journey of faith would lead me to poor, remote communities in America.”

She said the reservations are so remote that many of them do not appear on maps. Yet the need for help is great.

“I was moved when I saw the lack of appropriate clothing in the middle of winter and the lack of accessibility to basic needs,” Olivera said.

After a visit to a Sioux community in South Dakota, she asked for donations from friends and filled a truck with toys and clothing. As First Nations continued its service, members found more isolated reservations in Arizona, Nebraska and Montana. “Our goal is to be led by the Holy Spirit to where we need to go.”

Many of the communities have no stores, restaurants or banks, no access to running water, little medical service and limited job opportunities, Olivera said. Depending on the location, 50-85 percent of adults are unemployed.

Life expectancy is low and there is a high rate of diabetes, addiction, suicide and crime.

Building Trust

“Yet they are people with undisputed strength and profound spirituality,” Olivera said. “They have survived and lived this way for centuries to protect their culture and do not welcome outsiders. It took years to earn their trust to be invited to their communities.”

She said access to the reservation was the first miracle she experienced.

“The second miracle is how, with so little money available, we have been able to bring Christmas to so many.”

What We Do, Not What We Say

“We do not talk about our faith. People understand the Gospel message through what we do rather than what we say,” Olivera said.

“We don’t just collect toys and deliver them. We ask each child what they want for Christmas. We gather them and wrap them with Christmas paper and ribbon,” she said.  “We know the gift we bring to them is the only gift they will receive for Christmas.”

Many miraculous interventions have graced the program, according to Olivera. One included fulfilling the expectations of a principal at St. Charles Mission School in Montana. “He made it clear that we could not bring gifts for just one classroom. If we were going to do it, we had to provide them for the entire school of 240 children.”

She returned to Kansas and visited the principal of a local school about sponsorship.

“I asked, ‘how many children would you be willing to sponsor?’ With a big smile on her face, she said, ‘all of them’.”

2021-04-04T23:04:15-04:00April 4th, 2021|Categories: JPIC, National Chapter|0 Comments

A Franciscan Approach to Today’s Times

Secular Franciscans held the first virtual chapter meeting via video conferencing because of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  This is one of a series of reports that appeared in TAU-USA Winter 2021 Issue 102.)

By Sharon Winzeler, OFS

Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR celebrated the masses for the virtual national chapter from his friary.

Fr. Christopher Panagoplos, TOR, helped set the tone for a pandemic-caused virtual chapter by reminding attendees to take a Franciscan approach and see opportunity.

In the opening mass streamed from St. Joseph Friary in Hollidaysburg, PA, Father Christopher noted that many were experiencing anxiety in the midst of a pandemic as well as civil unrest.

“I cannot stop all of the issues from swirling around in my mind — racial discrimination, fear and uncertainty with every breath we take, divisiveness in society, in our institutions, in our church, bigotry, lack of civility in public discourse, injustices against human dignity, preventive health and safety measures misinterpreted as restrictions on personal freedom, disinformation,” he said.

Disruptions Can Be Opportunities

Father Christopher called on chapter participants to “see the disruptions” as “an opportunity to be alone with Jesus and go deeper and deeper.”

Approach these unsettling times with a Franciscan heart, he advised, by maintaining a joyful attitude like St. Francis of Assisi while being penitent and seeking conversion.

“The call to conversion is a change of mentality,” he said. “It predisposes us to believe in the gift of the Kingdom of God proclaimed and inaugurated by Jesus. Being penitent introduces us to the extraordinary and intimate relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Fr. Christopher, who is past president-in-turn of the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants, urged Franciscans to listen to the Holy Spirit during these trying times. “Act in ways that bear witness to our vocation. This hidden treasure has not lost its value in the current conditions of the world and of the Church. To the contrary, it is even more valuable as a Gospel alternative to the lacerations that oppress and distress today’s men and women.”

Unwavering faith in the face of uncertainty helps us to accept and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared against the unexpected, he said.

Fratelli Tutti

In the chapter’s closing mass on Oct. 24, Father Christopher pointed to the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, as a way to spread harmony in these trying times.

“Pope Francis is surely right to think that a confused world urgently needs some Catholic common sense.” That is what he provides us in his latest encyclical, “universal fraternity put into dialogue with the Gospel. It points in the direction of the brotherhood and sisterhood of every human being.”

He referred to the Gospel in which Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Not just ‘love one another.’ Not simply ‘love one another as you love yourselves.’ No. ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”

A Good Model

Franciscans have a good model for this type of love, he noted. “St. Francis lived and taught this reciprocal love as Gospel living. He showed us how to love the Father by being in harmony with all creation. How to love the Son by imitating his life. And how to love the Spirit to be Advocate of the Order.”

The encyclical is an expansion of  Catholic Social Teaching, he said, and a reiteration of the essentials of the Gospel, urging us to get back to the basics.

“Pope Francis stresses the importance of meeting others, of creating a culture of encounter, to really get to know one another. Covid-19 should not diminish our desire to connect with one another. Computers and smartphones and video communications are at the ready.”

Pope Francis’s example of ordinary human goodness working for the common good is exemplified in the life of St. Francis of Assisi as noted in Fratelli Tutti: “In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theater of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading throughout the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all.” (#34)

2021-03-22T08:18:08-04:00March 22nd, 2021|Categories: Fratelli Tutti, From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

NAFRA Guidelines Concerning Secular Franciscan Prison Ministry

“I was . . . in prison and you visited me” Matthew 25:35-36.

It is good to consider how we might maintain the good things we are already doing, do some things in a different or better way, or even consider doing some new things.

One ministry that I would like to encourage in your Regions, local fraternities or even individually is greater outreach to our sisters and brothers in prison.

I have been active at the Alexandria Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia since 1987. Because of its proximity to Washington, DC and the federal court system, this facility has housed, among many others, the reputed “20th 9/11 terrorist” Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who chose to go to jail rather than reveal her sources.

I have had many blessed memories at the jail: many prisoners who have shared their stories, their prayers; one man whom we baptized and brought into the church; prison personnel who have received Holy Communion with us.

One favorite moment was the time Bishop Paul Loverde came to celebrate Christmas Mass with the prisoners, and it was my honor to assist him.

When the Bishop started his homily, he said, “I came to see Jesus. Where is Jesus?”

The prisoners looked shocked. What is he talking about?

The Bishop explained that in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, Jesus said “I was . . . in prison and you visited Me” (verse 35-36). He went on to make them feel that they were like Jesus and that they should be Jesus to one another. He gave them both greater dignity and a sense of mission.

This is exactly where the National Executive Council (NEC) began its Guidelines for Secular Franciscan Prison Ministry, which were unanimously approved by the entire National Fraternity (NAFRA) at our National Chapter on October 19, 2013, and which are included below and attached.

I believe that a careful reading of these Guidelines is self-explanatory. Permit me to stress again the value the National Fraternity sees in prison ministry for Secular Franciscans who feel so called. We do find Jesus in our prisons, but by the very reality of the situation, prisoners do not have control of their lives. They may be moved at any time; they cannot gather within the facility on a consistent basis; they cannot go outside the facility; nor is it easy for others to come in and observe or be with them.

For all these reasons and more, the time for formation and formal admission into our Secular Franciscan Order must come after release from prison, when both former prisoners and the local fraternity will have greater freedom to journey together in vital fraternity as permanently committed Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

Please note that these Guidelines do not address prisoners who have already been permanently professed; nor do we address permanent members of other institutions such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. These Guidelines specifically address a problem that had arisen in several Regions and are not intended at this time as a legislative norm that will cover all situations in all institutions. The NEC feels that common sense, guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit, with knowledge of the Rule, the General Constitutions and the National Statues will usually be sufficient to address other concerns. If not, recourse can always be made to the National Fraternity and its Executive Council.

Nor do we say that prison ministry is for everybody. I still get a little nervous every time those big metal prison doors clang behind me, and I have been “panhandled” by one or two “hustlers” even when vested as a deacon within the walls of the facility! Still, Pope Francis has called us to ministry at the margins by his words and example. St. Francis certainly did likewise. And prayer itself is a positive ministry. Do your fraternities, do you, regularly pray for prisoners? Has anyone in your local fraternity (including you) ever participated in prison ministry either by consistent prayer or physical presence? Is the Lord calling you and your fraternity in some way to this ministry?



Adopted October 19, 2013

  1. “I was . . . in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-6). Ministry to people in prison is a good gospel-based ministry for OFS members. We encourage such a ministry for those who are called to it. “As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ” (Secular Franciscan Rule 13).
  2. Individuals who are in prison can be encouraged to learn about the Franciscan charism. People in prison can read and learn about St. Francis and begin to live his spirit in prison. Prayer groups, Christian education and Bible study can be established to offer prisoners hope and a sense of belonging to a faith community.
  3. It benefits neither prisoners nor Secular Franciscans to invite prisoners to enter formation to become permanently professed members of the OFS while still in prison. Prisoners lack control of their own lives. They may be moved at any time and therefore lack a sense of permanence in a set place. They cannot congregate consistently to participate in a common formation program with approved spiritual assistance. Nor can they work together in fraternity performing apostolic ministries. In addition, by very definition, it is impossible for prisoners to participate directly in the life of a local fraternity outside the prison (cf. National Statutes Article 18.5a). Similarly, the local fraternity cannot witness formation and profession of a prisoner.
  4. Therefore, the time for formation and formal admission into the OFS must come after release from prison. These individuals would then be able to begin formation in a fraternity of their choice. They and the members of that local fraternity would both be free and able to discern a Secular Franciscan vocation in the same way as any applicant.

These guidelines were approved and adopted by the OFS National Fraternity Council gathered in Chapter on October 19, 2013

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the corporal work of mercy discussed in this article?
  2. Is this ministry for every Secular Franciscan? Why or why not?
  3. In the article, what did the Bishop mean when he asked, “I came to see Jesus. Where is Jesus?”
  4. What are, say, five problems with serious formation of permanently professed Secular Franciscans within a prison facility?
  5. Besides serious formation of permanently professed Secular Franciscans within a prison facility, what are, say, three other “Franciscan” activities that might be done by Secular Franciscans with prisoners?
  6. What do the NAFRA Guidelines urge as the best time for local fraternities and prisoners to think seriously about permanent formation in the Secular Franciscan Order? Why?
  7. Do the NAFRA Guidelines suggest that perhaps it might be best for Secular Franciscans to have nothing to do with prison ministry? Why or why not?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these  essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-08-10T19:12:56-04:00August 10th, 2020|Categories: National Chapter|0 Comments

Accompanying Young People: Looking Back, Looking Forward

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of the TAU-USA #100)

Kathleen Molaro, OFS National Franciscan Youth and Young Adult Commission Chair

The National Franciscan Youth and Young Adult (FY/ YA) commission was formed in 1995, and members have contributed articles to the TAU-USA since its inception in 1996. In looking back at the very first FY/YA commission article published, it is interesting to note that right from the start, the intention of the commission has been to motivate Secular Franciscans to understand our role in accompanying youth. Young people, our society, and our Church have all changed dramatically. In this 100th issue of the TAU-USA, however, the current commission points out that the responsibility to accompany young people in their journey has not changed.

The opening of the 1996 commission article, written by Mary and Anthony Mazotti, states, “Spiritually motivated and dedicated youth are not formed in a vacuum. They are lifted up by those going from Gospel to life and life to Gospel.” Our Bishops recently stressed that in this pluralistic, confusing world, walking with young people toward wholeness and holiness is essential. They state in the final document of their 2018 synod on young people, “Being present, supporting and accompanying the journey towards authentic choices is one way for the Church to exercise her maternal function… Service of this kind is simply the continuation of the way in which the God of Jesus Christ acts towards his people: through constant and heartfelt presence, dedicated and loving closeness and tenderness without limits.”

As Secular Franciscans, we are called to this same mission. Isn’t that what fraternity is all about? Neither Jesus nor Francis sent their disciples out to spread the gospel alone. We work together, and our efforts would be blessed with young people by our side.

The 1996 TAU-USA article also said, “The Church recognizes that there is a great hunger among youth for deeper meaning and purpose to their lives. There is a strong desire among many of them to make the world a better place, to save it from its seemingly bent to self-destruct.”

The current commission agrees and Commission Chair believes we all need to rise to the challenge in offering young people opportunities to discover and utilize their gifts.

Our charism leads us to incorporate social justice action. Young people realize it is imperative to be “hands-on” in working for change. They are eager to offer their time and talents and to assume responsibility. We find young people at the forefront, seeking creative ways to combat social and environmental diseases, discrimination, racism and violence that permeates our world.

Recently, Pope Francis recognized this hunger and exhorted young people to view their lives as mission. He tells them they should refrain from asking “Who am I?” They will find more meaning in life by asking “For whom am I?” Don’t we all strive to know God’s plan for us? To seek purpose in our work? Walking with a young person is an important step toward holiness, not only for the youth, but for those who serve them. Through formation, fraternity, and service, we all grow in our faith. “In a world marked by diversity of peoples and variety of cultures, ‘walking together’ is fundamental if the initiatives of solidarity, integration and promotion of justice are to be credible and effective,” whether in 1996 or 2020.


1 Wicks, William, A History of the Secular Franciscan Order, Vol. III, Smoky Valley Printing, Lindsborg, KS, 261
2 Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment: Final Document of the Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the

Synod of Bishops, 91
3 Wicks, William. [Ibid? some fuller citation?] 4 Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment, 69 5 Ibid, 126

2020-07-13T13:16:58-04:00July 13th, 2020|Categories: Formation, National Chapter|0 Comments

One Possible Answer to the Mystery of Perfect Joy

“Be the Joyful Face of Christ to All!”  NAFRA Theme for 2015

By Deacon Tom Bello, OFS

This past November found me on several different days for sometimes longer than an hour sitting in front of, praying before and meditating upon the original San Damiano Cross that once spoke to St. Francis and now hangs in the Church of St. Clare, Santa Chiara, in Assisi.

This Cross did not speak to me in so many words, but it did have much to say.

One important thing is that look on Christ’s face. I came to see it as a look of joy in spite of, or even because of, suffering.

Yes, the suffering is undeniable. Christ is truly hanging on the Cross, and blood is copiously flowing from the nail prints in His hands all the way down His forearms to His elbows, dripping on those below Him. Particularly bathed in blood, both from the nail print in His right hand and from the spear-piercing in His right side, stand Mary, His Mother, and John, the beloved Disciple.

Yet look at the face of the Lord! Study that face! Look at Mary’s and John’s faces! Nobody is crying. Nobody looks particularly sad. Jesus clearly is not dead. His eyes are wide-open, and to me He appears more joyful and triumphant than sad and defeated.

As many commentators on the San Damiano Cross have observed, this is the Christ of John’s Gospel. He looks in control, so to speak, laying down his life willingly in obedience to His Father and knowing that this action and His blood will take away all sin and open the gates of Heaven.

Thus, I think Christ on the San Damiano Cross offers one possible answer to the Mystery of Perfect Joy. It is not about Him! It is not about Death. It is not about Suffering. Perfect Joy is perfectly offering yourself for the glory of God and for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. If death and suffering are the only means to that end, then so be it. Take the suffering and death and give them to God! Let go and let God!

I believe both St. Francis and St. Clare understood this message, of course directly from Christ Himself, but perhaps indirectly through meditating on the Christ hanging on this same San Damiano Cross.

Perhaps this is what St. Francis is stressing in that famous story of “Perfect Joy” found in Chapter Eight of the Little Flowers of St. Francis (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ugolino/flowers.iii.viii.html). Take your time and read it once again, word for word in the original, remembering Christ on the San Damiano Cross:

One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”

A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.”

St Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, `We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, `What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.

And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, `Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.

And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, `These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, `What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, `I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

Again, when St. Francis is able, with and only with the grace of God, to get beyond himself, to get beyond even his own humiliation and suffering, when he realizes that it’s not really about him at all, nor about suffering, but rather about doing the Lord’s will and imitating Christ first and foremost, before every other consideration, then and only then does he realize perfect joy.

Do you see the Mystery of Perfect Joy? First, how can anything be perfect in this vale of tears? We all suffer. Second and worse, we see people we love suffer. Third and worst of all, it seems there is so little we can do to relieve the suffering in the world, in those we love, in our own lives. How can we find joy in so much suffering? Again, how can one speak of anything perfect in this life?

Well, that look on Christ’s face on the San Damiano Cross, that moral to St. Francis’s story on perfect joy, suggest to me that only when we can look beyond our own lives, our own self-importance, even our own suffering and death, and see God’s will, God’s plan, God’s complete Love and Mercy, only then can we realize that perfect joy.

Yes, there will be suffering, even death, but if we live in the Lord, suffering and even death are but steps. Suffering with the Lord is a cause for joy, not sorrow. With the Lord’s Cross, there is always the Lord’s Resurrection, and above Christ’s head on the San Damiano Cross, you can see Him rising, ascending, joyfully, confidently, into Glory.

This also seems to be the moral of St. Francis’s story. Most importantly, it’s not about St. Francis! It’s about St. Francis surrendering his will to the Lord’s will, putting even his own humiliation and suffering into the Lord’s humiliation and suffering. When he can do that, again, with and only with God’s great grace, then he can achieve Perfect Joy.

Let us pray. God, why do we get so caught up in the sin of Adam and Eve, trying to be You, trying to make our own rules and make ourselves the center of creation? Help us, Lord, to be ourselves, not You. Help us to realize that we don’t need to be and cannot be You. Help us to accept our small parts in Your plan of salvation. Help us to do what we can do, to say what we can say, to pray what we can pray for your Glory and for the salvation of our sisters and brothers AND LET YOU BE GOD. We don’t need to be Pope; we don’t need to be God. Let Pope Francis be Pope. Let You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be God, and help us do what we can.

In doing what we can, what we should, in accord with Your Will, even if it involves humiliation, suffering and death, let us realize that Mystery of Perfect Joy. We pray in Jesus’ name.

Reflection Questions

  1. After some serious study, how would you describe Christ’s face as He hangs on the San Damiano Cross?
  2. How would you describe the faces and bodily expressions of Saints Mary and John?
  3. What might be the Lord’s “perfect joy” while hanging and dying on the Cross?
  4. What are, say, three things that are not “perfect joy” as St. Francis explains it to Brother Leo?
  5. What are, say, three things that are “perfect joy” as St. Francis explains it to Brother Leo??
  6. How would you explain “perfect joy” in your own words?
  7. What was the NAFRA Theme for 2015? In your own opinion, did you do a good job in accomplishing it? Why or why not?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former Minister of the National Secular Franciscan Order – USA.  “Many of these essays were originally published in TAU-USA, our national newsletter,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. “They are excellent for reflection and ongoing formation.”  Jan helped Tom publish these essays in book form.  It is called  For All The Saints:  St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation and is available from Tau Publishing. These excerpts will appear several times a week on the Secular Franciscans website.

2020-04-23T10:45:26-04:00April 23rd, 2020|Categories: Formation, National Chapter, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Sharing the Vision – Multicultural News from the 2019 Chapter

(This article originally appeared in Winter 2019 issue the TAU-USA #99)

Reaching out to non-English speakers

Multicultural Awareness

A valuable experience at our Chapter was provided by International Councilor Willie (Awilda) Guadalupe. Willie gave her report in Spanish to a mostly English-speaking audience to help us experience what it is like to participate in a meeting where the language spoken is not your own. Those not knowing Spanish quickly realized what it is like to be “the other.” A discussion on inclusivity followed. Willie also reported on the success of conference calls with Spanish-speaking formators from across the country. She is working on how to make this service available to those who speak Korean. Please contact Willie for assistance in working with bilingual fraternities, and reaching out to non-English speakers.

Her email is awilda.guadalupe@gmail.com


2020-03-20T11:43:54-04:00March 20th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

YouFra Team Brings Youthful Exuberance

This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2019 Issue 99.


Ramcy Calleberos, YouFra team member

The afternoon began with an upbeat, music video portraying famous dancers from all generations – all dancing to the pop music, “Uptown Funk,” by Bruno Mars.

Suddenly, the hall exploded in dance which culminated in a congaline with regional ministers, national council, spiritual assistants, observers and guests.

The session, appropriately focusing on youth, maintained the upbeat tone. Br. Scott Slattum, OFM, director of Faith Formation at St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix, AZ and spiritual assistant for the recently formed YouFra fraternity at St. Mary’s, announced emphatically, “Youth and Young Adults are not aproblem to be solved, but rather an opportunity to be exposed to the gifts they bring us.”

He addressed obstacles on the “path to faith-sharing” – a neighborhood community of faith-sharing which no longer exists, a “fragmented and mobile” family structure with little or “no religious ethos,” social life that is no longer centered in the church, religious media that has gone out of business as a popular form of entertainment. And “now, CCD is left alone to do everything in at most two hours a week.”

The reality is that “the school instruc- tional model does not work,” he said. But, “the good news is that the church has given us a renewed path,” which, “integrated into a comprehensive of pastoral care,” will address the needs, developmental needs, life transitions and questions being asked.

He described it as the “Emmaus Model,” which is based on building a trusting relationship.

1. To be effective, first, join the people in their daily concerns and walk side- by-side … and listen as we walk.

2. Ask questions and listen as we walk.

3. Share the living word of God.

4. Trust the capacity of prayer and the sacraments.

5. Invite them to live and share the Good News.
Ramcy Caballeros, a YouFra member from the newly formed YouFra Group in Phoenix, emphasized the importance of listening to our youth. We need to learn who are our young adults and what are their needs.

She summarized: Our youth range in age from 12 to 18 and Young Adults from their late teens to 39. At this stage, they are focused on “developing their personal identity”, she said. They want to “develop relationships, how to accul- turate to other cultures” around them, to “develop a meaning of work …and a spiritual life.”

Brother Scott reminded the ministers and guests that YouFra “has to be done in partnership – the animator, the church, the friars and youth – walking side-by-side.”

2020-03-09T21:31:36-04:00March 9th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

New Formation Initiative in the Limelight – National Chapter 2019 Highlights

(This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 Issue #99 of the TAU-USA and was Highlights of the National Chapter 2019)

National Formation Commission Chair, Diane Menditto, OFS, announced the launching of an “exciting, new” initiative in the USA.

She began by explaining the visioning processes that occurred with formation directors and spiritual assistants from around the country. “Our two Visioning Workshops were part of the listening process and were guided by the Holy Spirit. We are now ready to go further in sharing the outcomes of our visioning.”

“Merely editing and reformatting our formation materials, principally the FUN Manual, was not enough,” she explained. “Essential topics such as prayer, Scripture, our Catholic Faith as expressed in the Creed, Franciscan sources, and chapters dedicated exclusively to the role the Rule and Constitutions play in our daily lives were not included in our current formation texts or manuals.”

While all material used in the past, including the FUN Manual, are the inspiration, resource and background for the new initiative, the new Formation Program would offer comprehensive, fresh and easy-to-read material in easily accessible and manageable bites of information, she said.

The program will consist of:

  • Two student manuals, one for the Orientation and Inquiry Stage and one for the Candidacy Stage. Individual chapters will be short, engaging and appropriate for those who are new to our Franciscan family. They will be in color and downloadable by chapter. Chapters will include reflection/discussion questions, activities and ideas for practical application, frequent references to the Rule and Constitutions, and opportunities for deepening one’s spirituality.
  • A Formator’s Guide, which will correspond to each chapter and will have tips and ideas for presenting the material and suggestions of other resources.
  • A General Guide for Formators at all levels, which will give insights on how to present material, work with adults, and help those in formation to discern their journey and deepen their spirituality.

As the Program develops, the Commission also intends to supply audio visual material to supplement the initial formation experience.

The material will be translated into the major languages spoken by fraternities in the United States.

Many of the chapters from the FUN Manual will be re-written (some by the original authors) to ensure conformity to the new rubrics. The material will be clear and concise.

“Since we are dealing with persons in initial formation, we want the material to INITIATE them into and INTRODUCE them to the Order,” she emphasized. “Rather than filling our candidates with information, our goal is to provide a resource that will assist them in the transformative process and the discernment of their vocation.”

She expects the project to be completed within the next three years.

“We know that good formation is the answer to many of our challenges and will bring strength and joy to the Order.”

(Note: The complete FUN Manual will continue to be available as one of our formation resources.)

— Mary Stronach, OFS

2020-03-05T17:26:59-05:00March 6th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|1 Comment
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