National Chapter

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 ( 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


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

Our Secular Franciscan Spirituality As Experienced In Prayers – Day 2

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2019 Issue 99 and the Power Point presentation can be found at Our Father Hail Mary ppt )

St. Clare — painting on glass by M. Lorin of Chartres, France, created in 1878.   



Layna and Francine led this session on Clare, and her powerful method of prayer which she shared in her letter to St. Agnes. Layna quoted: “Most Nobel Queen, gaze, consider, contemplate, desiring to imitate Your Spouse.”

Layna reminded everyone of the components of Clare’s prayer: gaze, consider, contemplate and imitate, and invited then to share their thoughts on the hallmarks of Clare’s Prayer.  Some responded: “Contemplative. Vivid. Passionate. Draws Close to Jesus. Feels His Embrace. Relational.”

They would experience it for themselves during the final session when Francine walked them through an intensely spiritual journey in prayer as they reflected on the painting of Francis embracing Christ on the Cross.

In quiet, personal solitude, she asked them to:

  • Gaze – “To gaze is not simply to see. Rather gaze is to be drawn into the object one sees. Open arms are a gesture of the body reaching for the other…I want the other to be a part of who I am and I want to be a part of the other… Reflect upon the surface of the mirror. Are you drawn into his suffering? Look into yourself. Can you unite yourself to Jesus’ suffering? His humility? See Jesus’ love for others amidst His own suffering. See His love for you. How do you respond?”
  • Consider – “Consider, which means to look at something whole to see it in its entirety, in my personal context and that of the Incarnate Word.”
  • Contemplate — “With love which cannot be put into words. Soak in this love. You are face to face with the mystery and above all, with holiness.”
  • Imitate – “We imitate because we share in the love of Christ and as Bonaventure describes it, as a fountain of love overflowing and never ending.”

The final prayer ended with Clare’s message to Agnes: “Totally love him who gave himself totally for your love.”

2020-03-03T20:54:15-05:00March 4th, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

Our Franciscan Spirituality As Experienced in Our Prayers – DAY 1

(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Winter 2019 Issue 99 and the Power Point presentation can be found at Our Father Hail Mary ppt )

St. Francis – Stained Glass in the Cathedral of Brussels created in 1866


As followers of Francis and Clare, their prayer life inspires us to a deeper relationship with God. But how did they open their hearts and souls? How did they converse with the Almighty, All powerful Lord of all?

National Formation Commission Team members — Francine Gikow, OFS, Anne Mulqueen, OFS, Layna Maher, OFS and Mary Stronach, OFS – took National Chapter attendees on a personal journey of prayer, inspired by the prayer life of Francis and Clare.



Anne began with the beloved prayer before the San Damiano Cross – the only one in which Francis prayed for his own discernment. She explained that Franciscan prayer has some “common threads:”

  • All place the Eucharistic celebration above all other forms of prayer.
  • The Divine Office holds a place of prominence in daily prayer life.
  • Prayer is Trinitarian in focus and centered on the life and teachings of Christ in the gospels.
  • Contemplative prayer is essential and leads to action.

As Francis grew and matured in his faith, his prayers also become more creative. As an example, she introduced the Office of the Passion, probably the least known of Francis’ writings. “The 15 Psalms are a composite of various verses of the Davidic psalms and other part of Scripture. Francis began his office with his original prayer inspired by the Our Father (Our Father Most Holy… Gloria …) After the Our Father, he prayed the Praises to be Said at All Hours, followed by his antiphon honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The office concludes with a refrain that Franciscans often sing: “Let us bless the Lord, the living and true God; to Him let us always render praise, glory, honor, blessing and every good. So be it. So be it. Amen.”

During the Office, we hear the Hero (Jesus Christ) addressing His father and the people. Occasionally, Francis intercedes and addresses the people. He closes with a hymn of praise for the Hero’s origin and birth, reminiscent of Greccio.

Anne Mulqueen, OFS, and Mary Stronach, OFS

Anne next discussed the Canticle of Creatures. She emphasized the last two stanzas on reconciliation, peace and death, repeating part of the prayer: “Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love, and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.”

The second part of the session, presented by Mary, continued Francis journey in prayer — prayer which “changed him,” she said, quoting St. Bonaventure, “The encounter with Christ, as other, gave Francis a new openness and freedom. Embraced by the compassionate love of God, Francis was liberated within and went out to embrace others in love.” As people of prayer, she challenged, “Does my prayer change me, liberate me? Does it make me better?”

In a prayer exercise, attendees took time to read and contemplate the words which Francis used when he would say the “Our Father.”

As a follow-up to this exercise, attendees became co-authors in another prayer, The Hail Mary. During a 10-minute session of private meditation and personal conversation with Mary, their task was to write the Hail Mary as Francis might have: to add a meaningful and personal message to each line of the prayer.

Some shared their newly written version of the Hail Mary, acknowledging that the experience had opened their hearts to a deeper relationship with Mary.


2020-03-16T08:44:48-04:00March 2nd, 2020|Categories: From the Newsletter, National Chapter|0 Comments

Take a Mindful Franciscan Pause to Thwart Bias

Carolyn Townes, OFS, national animator for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Matthew (13:54-58) recounts how, when Jesus came to his hometown and began to teach in the synagogue, people were as- tounded, and even took offense. They knew him as the carpenter’s son; not this new Jesus.

“This image of him in the synagogue did not fit the Jesus they had in their heads,” Carolyn Townes, OFS, told National Chapter attendees. They couldn’t reconcile the image of the Je- sus they knew with the one standing before them, said Townes, national animator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and a member of the International Commission for JPIC.

It reminded her of a quote by George Bernard Shaw: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

A person in the latter case preserves an image as a way of keeping his thoughts in harmony. The harm in this selective perception is that it becomes the basis of bias; that is, a preference for or against a group or individual, Townes said.

“It can be positive or negative. Conscious or unconscious. Assumptions and stereotypes. It can be based what we iden- tify as labels — skin color, ability, age or gender preference.

“Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and is often incompatible with one’s conscious val- ues,” she noted. This makes bias in oneself harder to identify, especially when working under time pressure or in a per- ceived threatening situation, Townsend said. In those cases, we react automatically with what we already know. As a result, we use shortcuts based on prior knowledge to process the 11 million pieces of information coming at us at any one time.

For example, Townes used some sentence starters that members of the audience automatically answered:

“An eye for an…”
“What goes around…”
“Fight fire with…”
“Better late than…”
“An apple a day…”
“Birds of a feather…”
“Let sleeping dogs…”
Responses to these are part of the millions of bits of information that are stored in our subconscious mind.
“We have heard them so many times, we don’t even need to think about the answer,” Townes said.

This type of thinking can lead to snap judgments while making important decisions.

“This leads to hiring someone based on our personalpreference and not on the candidate’s skill. It also causes us to cross the street when we see someone  as threatening.”

Our minds formulate shortcuts to make it easier and faster to make decisions. If these are based on biases, preferences against groups or individuals, they need to be changed.

“Two things I want you to know about biases. Number one, everyone has them. Number two, they can be disrupted or changed,” Townes said.

How do we reverse our biases?

“Ask yourself: Why am I so dead set on maligning this person? What if I took an opposite view?”

First, pause. “As Franciscans, we are called to pray for right judgment and right decision. Before you make a judg- ment based on that subconscious judgment in your head, take a Franciscan pause. We form our impression of a person in that first millisecond. Remind yourself that you are aware of your first impression.”

“Second, when you know you already have an image in your mind, make yourself come up with two pieces of opposite information about that image.”

“Third, define your inner focus. Once you become aware of your bias, do your counter activity until it becomes habitual. Do it mindfully, with prudence, caution and right judgment.”

“Fourth, be curious and cultivate conversations. Conversations help us find what we have in common,” Townes said.

Townes cited Article 19 of the Rule as a way of changing our bias. She calls it “taking a Franciscan pause.”

“Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon…”

2020-02-28T19:40:42-05:00February 28th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter, JPIC, National Chapter, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Service Project Aids 1,000 Immigrants

(This article originally appeared in Winter 2019 Issue #99 of TAU-USA)


Up to 18 boxes at a time were delivered for days to the home of Patsy Cueva Philipps, OFS,in Corpus Christi.OFS members assemble backpacks for distribution to immigrants in El Paso and other border cities.

The spending spree on Amazon was fueled by a response to a call to help refugees being released from detention centers in Laredo, McAllen and San Antonio, TX. Philipps, regional minister of the Los Tres Companeros Region, had spent more than a year dreaming of a way to help people who were crossing the border to seek asylum.

She was inspired to organize a Secular Franciscan service project to aid 1,000 men and women with drawstring backpacks filled with hygiene items and other supplies. Those packs were put together by some 80 Secular Franciscan leaders attending their annual chapter at Pax Christi Liturgical Retreat Center in Corpus Christi.

It all started when Philipps discovered that on her way to work she was passing a detention center in Corpus Christi that housed 120 teenagers. When Philipps called to find out if the Secular Franciscans could help the residents with anything, she was told the government takes care of food and daily living items.

What they could use, she was told, was art supplies, books and games. Working with a wish list that included crayons, coloring books, and prayer cards, the local Secular Franciscan fraternity worked in cooperation with the diocese.

They also hosted a Christmas party. Bishop Michael Mulvey celebrated a Mass at the detention center and directed his homily toward the teenagers.

“He talked about the hard journey they had taken,” Phillips said. “He told them they brought a special gift to us in the same way Jesus and his parents did when they had to leave their country. He told them that they had to deal with more in their short lives than others face in their lifetime.”

After a presentation by an immigration attorney in July that highlighted the severity and urgency of the need to help the immigrants, she felt the call to action. In July, she consulted regional Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) coordinator Valerie Laubacher.

Both Franciscans knew it was the right time to launch the project. “I knew that the Holy Spirit planted this idea in Patsy’s heart,” Laubacher said. “The Holy Spirit was blessing this.”

Together they brainstormed with members of their region on items that would be helpful for the released immigrants who were legally crossing the border, awaiting a court hearing and traveling to their U.S. destination. Laubacher consulted with her niece on how to start an “Amazon Wish List.”

The women were texting each other at 11 p.m. with ideas. They ordered such items as socks, water bottles, hair brushes, combs, lotion, tissues, toothbrushes, notebooks, pencils, notebooks and wipes.

Another vendor was required to purchase shoelaces because they were not available for bulk purchase from Amazon. Shoelaces are important to immigrants departing from detention centers because they are required to remove them as a safety precaution when they enter, and the items are never returned to them.

Enough health and beauty care items were entered on an Amazon Wish List to fill 1,000 drawstring bags. An appeal for donations was sent out to Secular Franciscans through regional ministers throughout the U.S.

Within two days, most of the items on the initial list were purchased. Philipps added more items. Within a week, 50 fraternity and individual donors from the United States and Guam had purchased all $20,000 worth of items. Another $5,000 was spent on food and household items, such as corn and flour tortilla mix, rice, beans, wipes, laundry soap and floor cleaner.

These grocery items were sent to Catholic Charities to directly distribute to immigrants.

National Minister Jan Parker, OFS, described the effort this way: “Pope Francis says, ‘Love isn’t words, but works and service; a humble service performed in silence without seeking acclaim.’ Our outreach here is simple, handson, Franciscan love in action. With God’s grace these bags of blessings will not only bless those in need, but help open hearts of others to hear the cry of the poor. Our Secular Franciscan Rule challenges us to be instruments of joy, hope and healing, but to also take courageous action in the field of public life. Our bishops explain it this way – we are to walk with both feet of love: the foot of charitable works, which we are doing here, but also the foot of social justice, addressing systemic, root causes of problems that affect many people.”

2020-02-26T20:52:48-05:00February 26th, 2020|Categories: National Chapter|1 Comment
Load More Posts
Go to Top