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Follow Me – Five Point Plan pgs 59-63

Permit me to offer in this article the “flip side” of the article “Miserando atque Eligendo.” In that article, I focused on Christ’s “looking with mercy” (miserando) on Levi, a tax collector, on our Holy Father Pope Francis and on all of us in “choosing” (eligendo) us to follow Him. In this article, I will focus on our response to our Lord’s merciful choice or election of us to “Follow me.” (Christ is on the right side of the great Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew” above; now I will concentrate on Levi/Matthew on the left side of the painting.)

As you may recall, “Miserando atque Eligendo” is from a famous homily by St. Bede on the Call of St. Matthew in the Office of Readings for his Feast Day on September 21, and St. Bede wrote what it meant for Matthew and for us to “follow” the Lord Jesus:

“By ‘follow’ he meant not so much the movement of feet as of the heart, the carrying out of a way of life. For one who says that he lives in Christ ought himself to walk just as he walked, not to aim at earthly things, not to pursue perishable gains, but to flee base praise, to embrace willingly the contempt of all that is worldly for the sake of heavenly glory, to do good to all, to inflict injuries upon no one in bitterness, to suffer patiently those injuries that come to oneself, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who oppress, never to seek one’s own glory but always God’s, and to uphold whatever helps one love heavenly things. This is what is meant by following Christ. In this way, disregarding earthly gains, Matthew attached himself to the band of followers of One who had no riches. For the Lord himself, who outwardly called Matthew by a word, inwardly bestowed upon him the gift of an invisible impulse so that he was able to follow.”

That “gift of an invisible impulse” is the gift of sanctifying grace that Christ is ready, in His mercy, to bestow on all who, like Levi the tax collector, are ready to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Thus, the call to “follow me” is a call to conversion. This call to conversion is truly the Lenten call, clearly the Christian call, clearly our call as Secular Franciscans. Christ is calling all of us every day. Every day. All of us. Our very Secular Franciscan Rule 7 says “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 calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

The very first words that Christ utters in the historically first written gospel are uttered to all, even before the call of the first disciples: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

And as we know from The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium (LG), in its challenging Fifth Chapter, entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church,” that call to all, that universal call to “follow me,” is a call to holiness: “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition” (LG 40 1st Para.). “All are called to holiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2013). “All the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive” (LG 42 5th Para.).

Okay, well, what is holiness? CCC 2028, quoting LG 40 2nd Para., reads “All Christians . . . are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” Wow! The perfection of charity. To which a quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa, brother of St. Basil, is added: “Christian perfection has but one limit, that of having none.”

There’s a worthy goal to wrap ourselves around: the perfection of charity. Let’s say it again: the perfection of charity! Now we know where we’re headed. Now we know the way to get there. Now we surely know we can’t do it on our own: be perfect in charity? We need God’s great grace. We need the help of our brothers and sisters, the help of our great Franciscan family.

We should also now know what sin is. Quite simply, sin detracts or draws us away from that perfection of charity. We are not following God; we are following our own will, our desire for pleasure,  the will of the world or, worst of all, the will of the devil: “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life” (1 John 2:16). Thus, the three great works of conversion, the three great works of Lent: self-denial or fasting to combat sensual lust; charity or almsgiving to combat enticements for the eyes; and prayer or turning to God to combat the pretentious life. All lead to holiness, the perfection of charity.

If we are sincere about following Christ and committed to pursuing the perfection of charity, let us learn, almost by second nature, always to ask: is this thought being thought in charity? Are these words being formed in charity? Will these words be spoken in charity? Is this contemplated action being contemplated in charity? Will this action thus be done in charity? Will I receive this person approaching me, sitting near me, driving beside me, in charity?

Of course, to some extent, we cannot control certain basic impulses or what other people may think about us or say or do to us. Nonetheless, we can try to control how we respond to those inner impulses and to what we receive or perceive from outside. That’s when and where charity must kick in.

Again, Christ or Charity is the way. Christ or Charity is the goal. Christ or Charity should be the spark that fires our thoughts, words and deeds. If not, we run the risk of not following Christ. We run the risk of imperfection. We run the risk of sin.

One final note. A friendly Pastor once pulled me aside and gave in similar words the following “chiding” I offer to you:

“Tom, the Lord said, ‘Follow me.’ He didn’t say ‘Go out in front and show me how it should be done. I went into the desert to be tempted directly by the devil so that you would not have to go and seek the devil directly. I was hung on the Cross for the ransom of many so that you do not need to try single-handedly to sacrifice yourself for the ransom of many. I need to go first, not you. Okay?”

Moreover, Christ said ‘Follow me,’ not ‘Tom, walk here beside me.’ Yes, I may need to carry you from time to time, but you don’t need to be beside me pointing out how you don’t like how this or that is done or not done in My Church, by My bishops and priests. No, I’m not looking for an equal. I already have the Father and the Holy Spirit. I just need you to ‘follow me.’ Okay?”

Sisters and Brothers, let us pray for one another that we may be given the grace to follow wherever Christ chooses to lead us.

Reflection Questions

  1. With what part of our bodies should we start with when we try to obey the Lord’s call to “follow me”? Whose help do we always need to answer this call?
  2. How is the Lord’s call to “follow me” a call to conversion? What other call does the Lord make to conversion in the Gospels?
  3. What are the exact words of our Secular Franciscan Rule 7?
  4. How is the Lord’s call to “follow me” a call to holiness? What is your personal definition of holiness?
  5. And what is your personal definition of sin? How do we avoid our own personal sins?
  6. In what ways is the Lord’s call to “follow me” NOT a call to go in front?
  7. In what ways is the Lord’s call to “follow me” NOT a call to walk side by side?

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.

2020-04-13T15:22:00-04:00April 13th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

Praying The Rosary for Our Four Fraternities

Please permit me to request every Secular Franciscan in the United States to pray the Third Decade of the Rosary for our One Secular Franciscan Order and our Four Fraternities to which each of us belongs!

With the Mysteries of Joy, the Third Decade is for the Nativity, the Birth of Jesus Christ into Poverty as one of us. This decade stresses our Franciscan emphasis on Christ and His Incarnation. Nothing makes sense without Christ. Our Franciscan Spirituality focuses on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word made Flesh (see John 1:14). Since this Mystery is our beginning, so to speak, please pray this decade for our Local Fraternity where we all began our Franciscan Journey in Admission to Candidacy and then in Permanent Profession. My Local Fraternity is St. Thomas More that meets at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. My Minister is Ann Wester.

With the Mysteries of Light, the Third Decade is the Call to Conversion, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15). Hello, is there a better mystery to pray for our Order? This decade stresses our Franciscan call to daily, ongoing conversion as we turn away from sin and strive to go faithfully from Life to Gospel and Gospel to Life (see Secular Franciscan Rules 4 and 7). We pray this decade for our Regional Fraternity where all of us should gain the Light that Fraternity is more than just the Local Fraternity! My Regional Fraternity is St. Margaret of Cortona. My Minister is Patrick Martin.

With the Mysteries of Sorrow, the Third Decade is for the Crowning of Thorns. This decade stresses our Franciscan emphasis on humility and even humiliation. As someone has said, “There is no humility without humiliation.” Whatever crown we seek should only be the Crowns of Thorn because we should “never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Let this decade be prayed for our National Fraternity because our great country is so large and has such diversity that service at this level is often a Crown of Thorns! My National Fraternity is the United States of America. My Vice Minister is Elaine Hedtke.

With the Mysteries of Glory, the Third Decade is the Coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Mother and the Apostles praying together at Pentecost. This decade stresses the truth that this is not ultimately our Order, but the Holy Spirit’s with the Blessed Mother as our Advocate (see Celano, Second Life, 198) and all the saints as our Intercessors and Protectors. We offer this decade for all those holy ones we know least about, the International Fraternity covering the entire world and based in the Eternal City of Rome. My Minister is Tibor Kauser from Hungary.

Again, please pray the Third Decade of your Daily Rosary for our One Secular Franciscan Order and our Four Fraternities. Please spread the Word. Please add your own meditations as God inspires you!

Reflection Questions

  1. To how many fraternities is a permanently professed Secular Franciscan a member?
  2. What are the names and who are the ministers of those fraternities? What are your responsibilities to each of those fraternities to which you belong?
  3. When you pray the Third Decade of the Mysteries of Joy, for which fraternity might you pray and why?
  4. When you pray the Third Decade of the Mysteries of Light, for which fraternity might you pray and why?
  5. When you pray the Third Decade of the Mysteries of Sorrow, for which fraternity might you pray and why?
  6. When you pray the Third Decade of the Mysteries of Glory, for which fraternity might you pray and why?
  7. Why should Secular Franciscans be praying the Rosary anyway?

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.

 

2020-04-08T22:43:46-04:00April 8th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|2 Comments

Conversion Times Three–Five Point Plan Pages 29-33

By Dear Brothers and Sisters of Penance,

May the Lord bring us Peace! By our very definition as “Brothers and Sisters of Penance,” any day is a good day for repentance or conversion. After all, our Secular Franciscan Rule 7 states: “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 calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

How much more strongly this daily call to conversion should resonate in our hearts during the Holy Season of Lent! As our Lord Himself declares in his very first words recorded in what most scholars say is the first of the written Gospels: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

I would like to pray for me and for you a threefold conversion this Lent and throughout this Year of Faith in a similar way to the threefold evangelization I urged at our National Fraternity (NAFRA) Election Chapter in October 2012 in Denver, Colorado(See the last of twelve PowerPoint slides on page six: http://www.nafra-sfo.org/NAFRA-2012/NationalMinisterKeynoteOct2012.pdf. You may also listen to the talk: http://www.nafra-sfo.org/NAFRA-2012/NationalMinisterKeynoteOct2012.mp3.)

First must come a personal conversion. Each of us individually must turn away from those personal sins; those internal or external, seen or unseen, vices; those sinful habits, unique unto us and turn, convert, ever closer to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. “Come after me!” Christ calls to his very first disciples (Mark 1:17).

The means for that conversion are offered in the Ash Wednesday Gospel taken from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Chapter Six in St. Matthew’s Gospel: prayer, self-denial or fasting, and works or offerings of charity. This Lent, now, today, let us ask ourselves: How can I pray more or better? How can I give more? What more can I give up?

This does not mean merely giving up chocolate for the heck of it; no, this personal conversion is seriously intended to bring us closer to Christ, away from self and toward God. Even the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or serving the poor are not ends in themselves, but means to bring us closer to Christ.

Second, as we are called as Secular Franciscans into fraternity, so we must convert our fraternities. Sometimes, unsurprisingly, our fraternities can be guilty of some of the same vices that beset us individually. For example, our fraternities can become as self-centered and self-absorbed as we can sometimes be as individuals. In fraternity, we may become more engaged with enjoying individual personalities, good or bad, than we are in drawing each other closer to Christ. We may not be contributing as a fraternity as much as we could in works of penance or charity.

Just as we individually make examinations of conscience on a regular basis, perhaps our fraternities should conduct regular collective examinations of conscience. Our reference could again be the Sermon on the Mount, which is well reflected in our Secular Franciscan Rule 4 to 19, Chapter 2, The Way of Life.

For one example of how a fraternity examination of conscience based on our Secular Franciscan Rule might work, Rule 8 reads: “As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do. Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.”

How well and how often does our fraternity pray together?  When and how could we find richer opportunities to pray together in various forms of liturgical worship? When was the last time, for example, that the whole fraternity celebrated Mass together, or went as fraternity to a Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance of an Anointing of the Sick? When was the last time that our fraternity offered a Holy Hour or the Stations of the Cross?

Another example might come from Rule 13: “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. A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ.”

When was the last time that our fraternity reached out to members who no longer attend regularly because of failing health, job situations or feelings of animosity or incompatibility with one or more fraternity members? Do we as a fraternity spend time together, eat and socialize together? Do we have a phone or social media tree to stay in touch with one another, or an outreach person or infirmarian who contacts the sick?

Does our fraternity have a collective apostolate or any charitable giving on a regular basis? When was the last time the whole fraternity engaged hands-on in an act of charity or service like visiting a nursing home or cleaning up a local park or stream? Do we reach out with other groups in service to the elderly, the homeless, the ill or the imprisoned? What more could we be doing, what more could we be giving?

Third and finally, how might we better convert the world around us? Do we pray, individually or in fraternity, for the conversion of the world, the country or our social, political and economic leaders? When was the last time we invited someone from outside our Secular Franciscan world to a fraternity meeting? When was the last time that we held an Open House or an Inquiry Session for people to find out about us?

Does the greater Church, the greater Community, know anything at all about our fraternity or about our Secular Franciscan Way of Life? Why should they care? What have we done what could we do, to deserve their attention or attract their interest so that we might teach them by example and convert them closer to Christ?

St. Francis certainly went outside his comfort zone when he went out to beg, when he tried to convert the Sultan, or when he negotiated with the Wolf of Gubbio. How can we as Secular Franciscans, individually or in fraternity, reach outside our comfort zones and engage the outside world? How visible are our Tau Crosses? How noticeable is our Way of Life to those we encounter in the workplace, at Church, at home, out on the highways?

Let us pray for the grace of conversion times three. We start with ourselves; we cannot convert others to Christ if we are not converted. We then take our prayers and efforts to our fraternities, for fraternity is where we as Secular Franciscans work out our salvation. Finally, we shine the Light of Christ through our Secular Franciscan Way of Life into the world to draw all to Christ. Dear Lord, please convert us, our fraternities, our world closer to you. We pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

  1. For a professed Secular Franciscan, when is a good time for conversion or repentance?
  2. If, as the article urges, there are three necessary conversions, which one is first? Why is this conversion first? What might Sacred Scripture suggest as means to this first conversion?
  3. Whatever the means employed for this first conversion, what is the ultimate goal?
  4. What is the second necessary conversion? Why is this conversion so necessary?
  5. What might you do more or better to help accomplish this second conversion?
  6. What is the third necessary conversion? Why is this conversion so important?
  7. What might you do more or better to help accomplish this third conversion?

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. 

2020-04-08T21:52:39-04:00April 7th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Beatitudes of Penance – Five Point Plan pg 23-26

Beloved Sisters and Brothers of Penance,

Regardless of provenance, the Franciscan Peace Prayer offers a wonderful Lenten source of meditation. In the Prologue of our Secular Franciscan Rule, St. Francis addresses us as Brothers and Sisters of Penance, and Penance (Fasting or Self-Denial) is one of the three great works of Lent along with Charity (Almsgiving or Self-Giving) and Prayer. Lent should therefore be “our season.”

Just as our Lord’s Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) offer a series of contradictory contrasts (e.g., mourners will be comforted; poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven), so the Franciscan Peace Prayer offers such a similar series of contrasts that make the sacrifice involved truly “penitential,” a true turning away from self and a turning to God.

Let us take a closer look at these contrasts. (The Prayer is given in entirety at the conclusion of this meditation.) What is perhaps the greatest evil in the world? Hatred. What is the greatest good? Love. Where does our contradictory prayer start, but here, sowing love where there is hate. If it is seemingly impossible to bring love from hatred, what is most difficult to bring from injury? Pardon. Most of us might probably be tempted to respond to personal injury with revenge or a law suit. Similarly, how does one bring joy from sadness, truth from error, faith from doubt, light from darkness, hope from despair?

I would argue that all of the seven contrasts are impossible in and with our own limited powers. We need the help of God. Darkness only brings darkness; how can love come from hate, hope from despair? Only God can bring such great good from such great evil.

In a similar way, we need to turn from the devil, the flesh and the world, even turning from self and turning toward God, to be like the Lord, who came not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Only when we decrease and the Lord increases can we hope not to be consoled, but to console; seek not to be understood, but to understand; strive not to be loved, but to love. It’s that Lenten call of the Lord, seen in Isaiah to active, not passive, penance: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:5-7).

The final trinity of opposites take us completely from self toward God. We are to give if we are to receive; we are to forgive if we are to receive forgiveness; we must die if we are to gain eternal life.

Like the Lord’s Beatitudes, these Beatitudes of Penance are meant to challenge us, to make us see that without grace, none of this is possible, but with God all things are possible. God must be in the equation, or we will fail in the mystery.

Let us pray that this Holy Season of Lent 2011 be peaceful, fruitful and faith-filled for all our Franciscan family. May our Lord bless us and our family with graces sufficient to accomplish the Lord’s Holy Will in all our lives.

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Reflection Questions

  1. What document or prayer might offer us “beatitudes of penance”?
  2. Can any human being change hatred into love? If so, how? In not, why not?
  3. What does it take for one to pardon injury?
  4. How does one bring light from darkness?
  5. When do we receive?
  6. How can we find forgiveness?
  7. How are we born into eternal life?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former National Minister of the 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.”   were messages he sent out as National Minister   and   Each of them are excellent for reflection and/or ongoing formation,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. She Jan helped Tom publish these articles the 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.

2020-04-01T15:13:05-04:00April 1st, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

Brothers and Sisters of Penance – Five Point Plan pg 19-21

When St. Francis called us into an Order in the very beginning and wrote our Rule, he considered and named us, “Brothers and Sisters of Penance.” Let us spend a few moments in this Lenten Season unpacking our name.

“Brothers and Sisters” are, of course, a family, mutually interdependent, hopefully loving, certainly related by blood, in our case, the blood of the Lamb.

Beyond that, in the Prologue to our Rule, Chapter One, Concerning Those Who Do Penance, we read:

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).”

Thus, loving God and our neighbors, hating our sins, receiving the Sacred Body and Blood and producing worthy fruits of penance make us one family in Christ, just as Christ will say, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt. 12:50).

What then is penance? What are “worthy fruits of penance”?

“Penance” is our Lord’s first call to us, seen in the very first words Jesus utters in what scholars tell us is the very first written Gospel: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 NAB revised).

This is the call of Lent. This is that call in our Rule ( Article 7): “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 calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

This is indeed our Christian journey, and St. Francis in the Prologue to our Rule presents a life of penance, a life spent turning away from sin and living in Christ, as the only possible response to our all-mighty, all-holy, all-loving God.

Living in Christ, living as Christ lived, then, produces the worthy fruits of penance: prayer, praise, humility, charity. For Francis and for his followers, Jesus Christ is the focus for our penance; Jesus Christ is the way of penance. The primary struggle of penance is thus that daily need to turn away from sin and self and to turn toward Christ and the Gospel.

Since Jesus is always present, so the kingdom of God is always present if we only repent and believe the Gospel. This is that third of the marvelous Luminous Mysteries announced by our late Holy Father John Paul II: The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Penance or Repentance since we need to do it again and again day after day.

When I pray this third Mystery of Light, I try always to offer this decade of the Holy Rosary for us, the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, the Secular Franciscan Order and for all our Franciscan family here and throughout the world. Might I beg you to do the same?

Let us pray: “Heavenly Father, in Your great mercy, You have called us to imitate and grow closer to Christ, Your Son, by following in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare. Help us, please, to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel as Christ gives us the grace. Help us to go constantly from Gospel to Life and from Life to Gospel. Help us always to pray for and to support our brothers and sisters in our common call to Penance. Help us to offer ourselves as did Your Son in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Who are the “Brothers and Sisters of Penance”?
  2. In what ways are we truly “family”?
  3. What is your personal idea of “penance”?
  4. What would be some “worthy fruits of penance” that you might do?
  5. What is your personal idea of “conversion”?
  6. What are our Lord’s first words in what scholars tell us is the first written Gospel?
  7. How do we “do penance” all our lives? Why is this necessary?

This is an excerpt from a series of articles by the late Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, former National Minister of the 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.”   were messages he sent out as National Minister   and   Each of them are excellent for reflection and/or ongoing formation,” said Jan Parker, OFS, current National Minister. She Jan helped Tom publish these articles the 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.

2020-03-30T14:03:18-04:00March 30th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“Fraternity and Francis” In Following the Franciscan Way

By Deacon Tom Bello, OFS

At every step in following the Franciscan Way, from Inquiry to Ongoing Formation, in prayer, one should journey with Sacred Scriptures in one hand and the Secular Franciscan Rule and General Constitutions in the other hand, and with both eyes, as clearly as possible, focused on Christ and Francis.

The very first words of “Chapter Two: The Way of Life” of the Secular Franciscan Rule offer sufficient justification for such a stance: “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.”

Thus, in this reflection on the importance of the concept of “fraternity” to St. Francis, and to us, his secular Franciscan followers, let us begin with our own Secular Franciscan Rule and General Constitutions: “Secular Franciscans, together with all people of good will, are called to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively” (Secular Franciscan Rule 14). We work together to build a more fraternal world.

“The Secular Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels — local, regional, national, and international” (Secular Franciscan Rule 20). Our smallest unit is not the individual; no, we join fraternities to which individual members belong.

Or perhaps most succinctly, we may read in the General Constitutions: “The vocation to the Secular Franciscan Order is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion.  For this purpose, the members of the Secular Franciscan Order gather in ecclesial communities which are called fraternities” (Article 3.3).

Therefore, if at the heart of the Franciscan call is Christ, then around that heart is fraternity.

Where does this strong language for fraternity come from? Let’s start with God. By Divine Revelation, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and love is always more than self. Thus, God as God is not alone; Christ as God is not alone; the Holy Spirit as God is not alone.

God is a Fraternity of a Trinity. Three in One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the basic mystery of the Trinity reveals a unity in community that shows what fraternity should look like.

Further, Christ as man is not alone. He had a Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He called to Himself, not just one to follow Him, but Twelve, a fraternity of apostles.

When Christ raises the daughter of Jairus or is transfigured or is praying in the Garden, He is with Peter, James and John; again, not just with, say, Peter alone.

Christ will promise, “Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).

In John’s Gospel, the Lord will pray, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21).

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

Like his Lord, Francis was not intended by God to go his own way. St. Francis writes in his Testament: “When God gave me some friars, there was no one to tell me what I should do; but the Most High Himself made it clear to me that I must live the life of the Gospel” (Omnibus p.68). Please note that according to his own Testament, Francis receives his friars, his fraternity, before he understands his way of life according to the Gospel.

His Exhortation, which offers the Prologue to the current Secular Franciscan Rule, is written to “the Brothers and Sisters in Penance,” again, not just to one.

In his Rule of 1223, or the Later Rule, Francis writes, “Wherever the friars meet one another, they should show that they are members of the same family. And they should have no hesitation in making known their needs to one another. For if a mother loves and cares for her child in the flesh, a friar should certainly love and care for his spiritual brother all the more tenderly” (Chapter 6, Omnibus pp.61-62)

In his November 22, 2002 Address to the Secular Franciscan Order, Pope John Paul II said that Holy Mother Church “wants your Order to be a model of organic, structural and charismatic union at all levels, so as to present yourself to the world as a ‘community of love’ ” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22).

Our Holy Father continued, “For this reason, you are asked first of all to bear a personal witness in the place where you live:  ‘before all:  in [your] family life; in [your] work; in [your] joys and sufferings; in [your] associations with all men and women, brothers and sisters of the same Father; in [your] presence and participation in the life of society; in [your] fraternal relationship with all creatures’ ” (General Constitutions Article 12.1).

Please note: “in [our] associations with all men and women, brothers and sisters of the same Father.” Fraternity is more than the local gathering. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to all in the Church. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to Moslems and Jews. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters to sinners and lepers. St. Francis calls us to be brothers and sisters with all men and women. Fraternity is with all the human family.

Further, “in [our] fraternal relationship with all creatures,” St. Francis calls us to fraternity with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Stars, Brother Wind and Sister Water, Brother Fire and Sister Earth, even with Sister Death (The Canticle of the Creatures).

Thus, fraternity is a call to unity and harmony with all our brothers and sisters, all of whom are children of the same loving God. Fraternity is a call to unity and harmony with all of creation, plant and planet, all created by the same loving God. Fraternity is a call to build a community of love that reflects Love back to the God of Love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

  1. As professed Secular Franciscans, what should we keep in one hand and what in the other hand and upon whom should both of our eyes be focused?
  2. According to our General Constitutions, what specifically is our vocation as Secular Franciscans?
  3. Who or what is the heart of our Franciscan call, and who or what is around that heart?
  4. What is the meaning to you of the sentence: “God is a Fraternity of a Trinity.”?
  5. In what ways was Jesus Christ not alone?
  6. How was St. Francis called by God not to be alone?
  7. As professed Secular Franciscans, where does our call to fraternity stop?

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.

 

2020-03-30T10:00:57-04:00March 27th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

For All The Saints: St. Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation

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.

By Deacon Tom Bello, OFS

As I have said many times, we are wasting each other’s time in fraternity if we are not, as good Secular Franciscans, trying to bring each other to salvation. Please permit me to do my part and share with you Saint Francis’s Five-Point Plan for Salvation, found in the very first words of the Prologue in our Secular Franciscan Rule:

“All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.

Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because ‘the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them’ (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make ‘his home and dwelling among them’ (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).”

Point One: “Love the Lord with (our) whole heart, with (our) whole soul and mind, with all (our) strength” (cf. Mk 12:30).

Our Lord in St. Mark’s Gospel (12:30) quotes the great “Shema” or “Call” from Deuteronomy. Scholars have argued that this great “Shema” is the heart of the whole Jewish Torah, and the heart of this “Shema” is love: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As Sister Ilia Delia shared with us at the Q, St. Francis’s prayer before the Crucifix at San Damiano begins, “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.” Sister Ilia went on to explain that the heart is the key to St. Francis, not the mind; and love is the highest good. To St. Francis, love is the deepest form of knowledge, for love offers the knowledge and power of God, Who is love (1 John 4:8, 16), a relational love in the Blessed Trinity, an outward-moving love toward all Creation.

Thus, Point Two: “Love (our) neighbors as (our) selves (cf. Mt 22:39).”

We know we cannot love the divine God we cannot see if we do not love our sisters and brothers whom we do see. That self-giving love must start with the love God has already given us in creating and sustaining us, and with that divine spark in our spirits, minds and hearts, we must try to reflect, in our feeble, human way, God’s love for all of Creation by our love for one another.

Nothing can be more important than Love, Which comes from God, Which is God, Which reaches out to our sisters and brothers, and Which returns to God, Love without end, Love without sin.

Thus, Point Three: “Hate (our) bodies with their vices and sins” does not mean that we hate ourselves. Rather, we hate anything within us that might separate us from God since nothing outside us can ever separate us from the Love of God. As Saint Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

We all know we have three great enemies: the devil, the world and the flesh, and perhaps the most tempting of these enemies is within us, in our fallen natures. Again, as St. Paul confessed, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want . . . taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Romans 7:19, 23). We must actively hate, or fight against, anything in us that would push out the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and turn us toward the devil and sin. St. Paul knew it was not easy struggling against him: “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).

Thus, Point Four: “Receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Since Christ Himself proclaimed in all truth, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and as St. Francis wrote in his Testament, “in this world I cannot see the most high Son of God with my own eyes, except for his most holy Body and Blood,” then we must cling to Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

As the Testament continues:  “Above everything else, I want this most holy Sacrament to be honored and venerated.” Christ is our only hope against the devil, a fallen angel far superior to us, yet vastly inferior to God. Christ is our sure defense against the world with its “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes and a pretentious life” (1 John 2:16). Christ alone is the one way out from self and sin as He urges us to a daily, ongoing conversion: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What else is there to do?

Well, Point Five: “Produce worthy fruits of penance.”

For the rest of our lives, as Brothers and Sisters in Penance, anything that turns us closer to God and away from sin is a worthy fruit of penance. Certainly, the great fruits of the Holy Spirit offer focus here: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Again, we start with love. We are called to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). As good Franciscans, we must be instruments of the Lord’s peace; and to do so, we need unending patience and kindness. Our hearts must be like the Lord’s: generous, faithful and gentle. We must exhibit self-control.

As St. Paul said, “Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

Interestingly, St. Paul goes on to say, “Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25), leading us to conclude where we began: with the Prologue.

Through the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit at our Baptisms, as children of God and “spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we love God first, and with God’s love, love one another as we love ourselves. We consciously fight to turn away from sin with the direct help of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We produce worthy, lifelong fruits of penance.

Of course, the three chapters and twenty-six paragraphs of our Secular Franciscan Rule that follow these initial words will detail the living out of this Five-Point Plan of Salvation. The focus is Christ. The end is salvation. The way is love.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where can one find St. Francis’s Five Point Plan for Salvation?
  2. What is the First Point? Explain it in your own words.
  3. What is the Second Point? Explain it in your own words.
  4. What is the Third Point? Explain it in your own words.
  5. What is the Fourth Point? Explain it in your own words.
  6. What is the Fifth Point? Explain it in your own words.
  7. Which one point (choose only one) is most important or most vital to you at this point in your Franciscan journey closer to God through Christ? Why?
2020-03-30T12:00:19-04:00March 25th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

New Web Site Page: Sources for Secular Franciscan Books and Supplies

A new page was added to the Secular Franciscan USA web site today. It gathers together information about sources for many of the books and supplies Secular Franciscans and OFS fraternities often need. This includes the “Little Red Rule Book” as well as the FUN Manual. A link to the page  has been added to the Resources menu at the top of every page on the site. You can also follow this link:

Sources for Secular Franciscan Books and Supplies

2019-08-12T21:04:35-04:00September 8th, 2018|Categories: New Resource, Website Housekeeping|1 Comment

Read our General Minister’s Letter Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Our Rule

Dear National OFS Family,

Greetings from the Sisters and Brothers of the National Executive Council!  Peace and all good!

We begin this Jubilee year with a wonderful gift from our General Minister and brother Tibor – a letter addressed to all OFS and YouFra, all over the world!  We share his letter (en español) with great joy, and agree with Mary Stronach, who translated it into Spanish: “Every word, every thought touched me and helped me strengthen my vocation.”  Let us receive this gift as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of our OFS Rule.  May it be a springboard for us as we launch into this Jubilee with both joy and devotion!

2018-06-24T13:10:56-04:00June 23rd, 2018|Categories: CIOFS, New Resource|0 Comments

Celebrate the Rule with this new CIOFS video

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the OFS of the United States,

CIOFS, our international fraternity, has prepared a special gift for us to help us celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Rule. It is a 12-minute video, entitled, “Forty years of the ‘New’ Rule. A Treasure for the OFS.”  It provides an historical perspective on the Rule of 1978 and a beautiful summary.

Click video to the right to watch the English version right now, right on this page. The links below will take you to each of the four language versions on YouTube. Please send a link to all of your fraternities and members. View the video and celebrate the rule together. Take some time to discuss and contemplate its message. Celebrate this great treasure in your hearts and carry it with you throughout the day.

This video is available in the four official languages:

The code below can be used to embed the videos in a webpage or social media post:

  • English:
    Copy to Clipboard
  • Spanish:
    Copy to Clipboard
  • Italian:
    Copy to Clipboard
  • French:
    Copy to Clipboard
2018-06-14T20:19:42-04:00June 14th, 2018|Categories: Announcements, CIOFS, New Resource|9 Comments
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