The OFS Rule

We need to Be More Welcoming to Build Our Church & Our Fraternities!

Good Sunday afternoon, beloved National Family,

May the Lord give us Peace!

Please forgive me for letting a week pass to share some (and at the end all) of what our Holy Father Pope Francis said last Sunday, July 12, 2015. It will help if you remember last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13) when the Lord sends, with instructions, the Twelve out on mission, just as the Holy Father himself was on mission in his native Latin America.

As he considered the Lord’s instructions, Pope Francis observed, “It strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed.  It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: ‘welcome.’  Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality.  He says to them: ‘Where you enter a house, stay there.’  He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.  We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

“Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.

“These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

“How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

“The Church is a mother with an open heart (as I pray are our individual fraternities).  She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.  The Church is the home of hospitality.  How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome!  How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!  Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic.  Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.  Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed.  Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed.  Welcoming sinners.”

To me, Pope Francis is not only speaking to evangelization for the whole Church, but he also speaks to outreach for our local fraternities so that both Church and fraternity, both “communities of love” (see Secular Franciscan Rule #22), might better accomplish the mission the Lord has given to us all.

Pope Francis continues: “God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity.  So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving.  He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation.  He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

“And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelize, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people.  ‘We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).

“One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

“The Church is a mother, like Mary.  In her, we have a model.  We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.

“We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.”

What a beautiful message for all of us! Permit me to repeat the one paragraph that I pray always to carry with me:

“One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life. How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, (fraternities) wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.”

Peace and love to all,

Here is the entire homily:

“The Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase”.  These are the words of the Psalm.  We are invited to celebrate this mysterious communion between God and his People, between God and us.  The rain is a sign of his presence, in the earth tilled by our hands.  It reminds us that our communion with God always brings forth fruit, always gives life.  This confidence is born of faith, from knowing that we depend on grace, which will always transform and nourish our land.

It is a confidence which is learned, which is taught.  A confidence nurtured within a community, in the life of a family.  A confidence which radiates from the faces of all those people who encourage us to follow Jesus, to be disciples of the One who can never deceive.  A disciple knows that he or she is called to have this confidence; we feel Jesus’s invitation to be his friend, to share his lot, his very life.  “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”.  The disciples are those who learn how to dwell in the confidence born of friendship.

The Gospel speaks to us of this kind of discipleship.  It shows us the identity card of the Christian.  Our calling card, our credentials.

Jesus calls his disciples and sends them out, giving them clear and precise instructions.  He challenges them to take on a whole range of attitudes and ways of acting.  Sometimes these can strike us as exaggerated or even absurd.  It would be easier to interpret these attitudes symbolically or “spiritually”.  But Jesus is quite precise, very clear.  He doesn’t tell them simply to do whatever they think they can.

Let us think about some of these attitudes: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money…”  “When you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place”.  All this might seem quite unrealistic.

We could concentrate on the words, “bread”, “money”, “bag”, “staff”, “sandals” and “tunic”.  And this would be fine.  But it strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed.  It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: “welcome”.  Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality.  He says to them: “Where you enter a house, stay there”.  He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.  We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.

These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

The Church is a mother with an open heart.  She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.  The Church is the home of hospitality.  How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome!  How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!  Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic.  Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.  Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed.  Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed.  Welcoming sinners.

So often we forget that there is an evil underlying our sins.  There is a bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives.  There is an evil which, bit by bit, finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life: it is isolation.  Isolation which can have many roots, many causes.  How much it destroys our life and how much harm it does us.  It makes us turn our back on others, God, the community.  It makes us closed in on ourselves.  That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others.  A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father, for “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

In this way, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking.  He opens before us a horizon brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfillment.

God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children.  God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity.  So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving.  He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation.  He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelize, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people.  “We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters” (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).

One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

The Church is a mother, like Mary.  In her, we have a model.  We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.

We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.

That is how we want to be Christians, that is how we want to live the faith on this Paraguayan soil, like Mary, accepting and welcoming God’s life in our brothers and sisters, in confidence and with the certainty that “the Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase” (http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/07/12/pope_francis_celebrates_final_mass_of_his_visit_to_paraguay/1157949)

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is one word that Pope Francis feels people might overlook in our Lord’s instructions to the Apostles as He sends them out in Mark’s Gospel?
  2. According to Pope Francis, to those on mission, what is the goal of the Christian journey?
  3. Again according to Pope Francis, in the mentality of the Gospel, how do we convince people to our way of life?
  4. Whenever he speaks or writes, Pope Francis can often come up with wonderful images. One of my favorites here is when he describes the Church as a . . .
  5. By speaking what language can all of us do so much more good?
  6. As God is never outdone in generosity, what is the greatest help that God sends those on mission?
  7. On the one hand, we cannot force anyone to receive us or welcome us, but on the other hand what is one thing no one can force us not to do?

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.

2020-06-02T14:31:58-04:00June 3rd, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Primary and the Four Marks of a Vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity

 Beloved Brothers and Sisters of Penance,

In my last article, I listed and elaborated the four marks of a Franciscan Gathering: “Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”(TAU-USA Winter 2011 Issue 69). In this article, please permit me to go back to the primary focus and expand forward to the four marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity at the local, Regional, National or International Level.

Not to be legalistic, but the last words of the last Canon of the Code of Canon Law offer the primary focus of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. Those last words read: “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes” (Canon 1752, Code of Canon Law http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P70.HTM).

Thus, we should first pray at every fraternity gathering because the primary focus or reason for the existence of a fraternity is “the salvation of souls,” where we are working with the great grace of God to achieve our individual salvation AND, at the same time, the salvation of our families, our fraternity, our friends, indeed, all souls.

We pray first because spirituality is the first mark of a vibrant fraternity. When I come to visit a fraternity, when I look at my own local, Regional or National fraternity, I look first at its spiritual life. If we are not about salvation, we are wasting our time. If the Spirit is not alive and well in a fraternity, then no amount of efficient bookkeeping, bubbling agendas or dynamic speakers, however important and stimulating, will bring that life back.

Formation is our second mark, both in individual meetings and in the fraternity as a whole.  Of course, the grace of God can save souls not well-formed, but a well-formed mind and heart humble and open to that grace make the Spirit’s work a lot easier! Our fraternities need to pray for, work and focus on, true Secular Franciscan formation. We need to be attracting new people, forming them, forming ourselves.

This formation is a threefold process of information to effect formation in a process of continual transformation. We take pertinent information from the Gospels, from Holy Mother Church, from the lives of Francis and Clare and all the Franciscan saints, from our own SFO Rule and General Constitutions, to structure and effect formation. With the grace of God, this formation, if effective, achieves “that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily” (Secular Franciscan Rule 7).

Formation must deepen and expand our understanding of our Catholic faith, our vocation within fraternity, our Franciscan charism and, finally, our Gospel witnessing out in the world. With the love and mercy of God, the example of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of this Trinitarian process of information, formation and transformation should yield better Catholics, Franciscans, workers, spouses, parents, citizens; in short, better people. Thus, formation must lead to the salvation of souls.

Third, we are called to fraternal sharing, to social time together, because we are called to be family, the third mark of every vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. With our Baptisms, we are already sisters and brothers of the same “Our Father.”  Our Professions summon us into fraternity, into a spiritual family.  One Secular Franciscan is never enough; there must be at least five of us to canonically establish a fraternity.  Our individual holiness must be built by service to that fraternity, service to our brothers and sisters in need, starting with “not turning your back on your own” (Isaiah, 58:7).

We cannot serve our brothers and sisters in need if we do not know what those needs are.  We cannot know those needs if we do not know who our brothers and sisters are.  We cannot know who our brothers and sisters are without true Secular Franciscan fellowship, spending time with one another, sharing with one another, breaking bread with one another, praying with one another. Salvation for all is salvation for each of us individually.

Fourth and finally, a fraternity must witness to Christ and to the Gospels. We are to be a “community of love” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22) to all in the world. As Saint John Paul II told us directly at the Xth General Chapter in 2002, “The church expects from you, Secular Franciscans, a courageous and consistent testimony of Christian and Franciscan life, leaning towards the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world for the realization of the Kingdom of God” (http://www.ciofs.org/per/2005/lca5en14.htm#b).

This witnessing may well involve some form of sacrifice or suffering because in its original meaning, a “martyr” was a “witness.” We witness to save the world and save ourselves; again, this is our fraternity’s primary “business,” but the witnessing itself may take many forms.

Some fraternities have apostolates – courageous initiatives — as the National Fraternity has taken with Catholic Relief Services.  Your Fraternity may adopt a family through the Franciscan Family Apostolate, run by a Secular Franciscan (http://www.openhearts.org/). You may adopt a missionary through the Franciscan Mission Service (http://franciscanmissionservice.org/default.aspx). If you are concerned with national issues, you might contact the Franciscan Action Network (http://www.franciscanaction.org/). If you want to work with international issues, you might contact Franciscan International (http://www.franciscansinternational.org/). You may get involved though your parish outreach or a local soup kitchen, hospital or detention center.

These and so many other apostolates are great as long as the fraternity realizes that the apostolate exists to build up the fraternity, not the fraternity to build up the apostolate.  Nor it is necessary that every fraternity have an external apostolate.  Witnessing may work best in our caring for our own – not losing anyone who can no longer attend meetings or even those who have fallen away, but still seek help, still seek conversion.

Spirituality, Formation, Family and Witnessing all for the sake of “the salvation of souls” offer us the Primary Focus and Four Marks of a vibrant Secular Franciscan Fraternity. May God give us the grace, the Living Presence of Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit when we gather to worship, to form, to share, to witness in Christ’s Name, always striving to keep our fraternities and our souls alive and focused on salvation.

We pray and live in the Peace and Love of our Risen Savior.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the last words of the last Canon of the Code of Canon Law?
  2. What is the first mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  3. What is the second mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  4. With the grace of God, what is desired result of this second mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  5. What is the third mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity?
  6. Why must this third mark absolutely not be slighted or minimalized?
  7. What is the fourth mark of a vibrant Secular Franciscan fraternity? What are ways to accomplish this mark?
2020-05-26T14:16:31-04:00May 27th, 2020|Categories: Formation, From the Newsletter, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

“Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in this order!”

We all know from the Nicene Creed that the four marks of our Church, the Body of Christ, are that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

I write this article to remind you that from our Secular Franciscan Rule, General Constitutions and Ritual, the four marks of a good Secular Franciscan Fraternity, whether at the local, regional, national or international level, are: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business.

In the Jubilee Year 2000, our then St. Margaret of Cortona Regional Spiritual Assistant (and later National Spiritual Assistant) Friar Bart Karwacki, OFM Conventual, made a Pastoral Visitation to my local Fraternity, St. Thomas More, meeting at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Arlington, Virginia. Perhaps we were conducting more “business” than we should have, but for whatever reason, Father Bart told us to the effect that, “Business is not the primary concern of a fraternal gathering. Actually, FRATERNITY is your primary business, and I wish to remind you that the four purposes of a fraternal gathering are: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and only as much Business as is necessary, and in this order!”

Well, obviously, I’ve never forgotten the spirit and thrust of his advice, and so I write:

First is prayer. We are wasting our own time and each other’s time if we are not striving to achieve our own and one another’s salvation. Without question, the essential element of “fraternity” is the spiritual; leadership must never sacrifice the spiritual to business. We should be always helping our brothers and sisters to get to heaven, to get closer to the Lord, and, with God’s great grace, to get ourselves to heaven through, with and in our Lord Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

How can we achieve this without prayer? We cannot “earn” or “deserve” heaven. This is all God’s gift, and to help one another and ourselves, we need prayer: first, last, foremost. Fraternities must nourish a vital prayer life for all their members.

Now, there are many forms of prayer. We have our Liturgy of the Hours; we have our Ritual. If we have an available friar or priest, we have the highest form of prayer in the Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not specifying what form of prayer, nor did Father Bart, but he said to vary the forms of prayer and not become “stuck” in the same “prayer rut” (my words, his thought).

At our October National Gathering at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, we celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each day, but with a different priest in different locales, including local Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares. Each morning we opened our days with Morning Prayer, but each session was led by different people with different forms of prayer, including the Liturgy of the Hours and an original Liturgy of Creation by Ed Shirley, our National Ecumenical/Interfaith Chair. We celebrated a prayerful Rite of Remembrance for all of our individual members nationwide who had returned home in the past year. And we opened and closed our Chapter in prayer from the Ritual and blessings from our National Spiritual Assistant, Brother Bob Brady OFM.

Second is formation. If fraternity itself is our main business, then our main fraternity business, after prayer, must be formation. Good fraternities need solid formation: initial formation, ongoing formation, formation leading to transformation and conversion of heart. Many, many excellent Secular Franciscan materials are available for you. Formation is the business of the whole fraternity.

At our recent National Gathering, each day we had formation, but in different ways. The first night (Tueday, October 26), even before our Chapter had even officially opened, our 2010 NAFRA Peace Award winner, OFM Brother David Buer spoke to us about his ministry to the homeless, the migrants and the marginalized.

The first official day (Wednesday) we shared our visions and priorities; we heard from our International visitors of their expectations of our national fraternity; and we learned from Dr. Kim Smolik about her great work as Executive Director of Franciscan Mission Service before attending an excellent and dispassionate panel discussion concerning the immigration issue in Arizona particularly.

The next morning (Thursday) we were informed, formed and challenged by Fr. Larry Janezic, OFM, interim Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network (FAN); Fr. Michael Lasky, OFM Conventual, U.S. Regional Director for Franciscans International (FI); and  Alan Ouimet, SFO, Founder and President of Franciscan Family Apostolate (FFA). All of them were excellent speakers about their causes and concerns.

The entire afternoon (Thursday) was directly spent on Formation, specifically, the new Formation Manual to be presented by the National Formation Commission in May. The formation session transitioned to the day’s Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the celebrant, Father Richard Trezza, OFM, also the Spiritual Director of the Formation Commission, expanded ideas from the afternoon session in his homily.

Yes, good fraternities need solid formation, and solid formation takes time, attention, prayer and planning.

Third is fraternal sharing or the purely social aspect of our gatherings. No fraternity need ever apologize for spending time for socializing or fraternal sharing. Part II: Prayers for Fraternity Meetings Preface in the Ritual, Number 2 reads: “The goals of (fraternal) gatherings and meetings are indicated in the Rule, namely, to promote charity among the members and to foster their Franciscan and ecclesial life” (Secular Franciscan Rule 22, 24). Number 4 reads: “The following gatherings of the fraternity are required by statutes: a. a time for getting to know one another as brothers and sisters.” Note, the first listed is “a time for getting to know one another as brothers and sisters.”

Secular Franciscans should have a good time when they gather! Our recent National Chapter was celebratory as should be your Chapters! We made it our “business” to socialize and have a good time! Every night we gathered, and every meal we socialized. We even spent a day away going to local museums and the beautiful Basilica in downtown Phoenix. We took our “socializing” very seriously!

Of course, fourth, there is always business. Budgets have to be approved. Reports have to be given. Occasionally, bylaws need to be rewritten. Yes, but not first and not only! At our National Gathering, we approved a budget of over $200,000.00; we adopted a national statement on migration that received national attention; we amended our National Statues; we contributed charitably, not from the national budget, to the various organizations who had spoken to us; but most of this necessary “business” was conducted Saturday morning, October 30, the fourth and final full day of our Gathering.

Nationally, for our Chapter, we had the luxury of time because we only meet once a year, but we budgeted our time according to these priorities: Prayer, Formation, Fraternal Sharing and Necessary Business, and in that order! However much time your local or regional fraternity has to gather, please strive to budget your time accordingly. After all, they are not “our” fraternities; they are God’s, and if we seek first to spread the kingdom of God, all else will follow!

Reflection Questions

  1. According to Friar Bart Karwacki, OFM Conv, what is the primary concern of every Secular Franciscan gathering?
  2. Again according to Friar Bart, what is the primary purpose of a Secular Franciscan gathering? Why?
  3. What is the second purpose? Why?
  4. What is the third purpose? Why?
  5. What is the fourth purpose? Why?
  6. What is the proper order for the four priorities? Why?
  7. After all, whose Secular Franciscan Order, whose Secular Franciscan fraternities are they? Who is in charge?

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.

2020-05-25T12:08:43-04:00May 25th, 2020|Categories: Formation, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Franciscan Command to Smile!

Our Brother Bill Short, who blessed us at the Q, (2012) has a wonderful set of tapes entitled “The Treasure of a Poor Man: St. Francis of Assisi and Franciscan Spirituality” (https://www.nowyouknowmedia.com/the-treasure-of-a-poor-man-st-francis-of-assisi-and-franciscan-spirituality.html). In this set, Brother Bill gives 12 enlightening talks about various aspects of Franciscan Spirituality. In the 9th talk, entitled “No Gloomy Hypocrites! Spiritual Joy to Frustrate the Devil,” Brother Bill relates how St. Francis in the Rule of 1221 as much as mandates the spiritual practice of showing joy to all without exception.

In the Omnibus of Sources, page 38, the Rule of 1221, Chapter 7, reads:

“And all the friars, no matter where they are or in whatever situation they find themselves, should like spiritually minded men, diligently show reverence and honor to one another without murmuring (1 Peter 4:9). They should let it be seen that they are happy in God, cheerful and courteous, as is expected of them, and be careful not to appear gloomy or depressed like hypocrites.”

“This may be the only Rule in the Catholic Church that has a positive command about being cheerful,” exclaims Brother Bill! He then makes several points about what I call this command to smile.

First, paraphrasing Brother Bill, it is not true that this command arises merely to generate the simple-minded, jovial, heavy-set friars like one may see in the comics, the movies, or on cookie jars. No. Brother Bill says that the Rule of 1221 may have come out of a time of considerable sadness and even doubt for St. Francis. The Order he had founded may have seemed to be growing away from him; he didn’t feel at times that he had a place in the Order. St. Francis may have even been tempted to leave the Order, Brother Bill suggests. Thus, this command arises out of a genuine struggle against a darkness of spirit.

Second, again paraphrasing, this command focused not merely on the individual, but on the effect the individual produced on the people the individual encountered. In other words, this command to be “happy in God, cheerful and courteous,” pointed as much outwardly as inwardly. Indeed, just one line before the command above, the Rule of 1221, Chapter 7, reads, “Everyone who comes to them, friend or foe, rogue or robber, must be made welcome” (Ibid.)

I pause to ask myself, “Do I always greet everyone, without exception, with cheer and joy? I must answer that I do not, yet St. Francis exhorts his followers that welcome and gladness must be on our faces, even before a “foe, rogue or robber.”

More than this, these Franciscans were living in fraternity, and they must not show their inner doubts and depression to those with whom they lived and worked and prayed lest the others lose their own spiritual joy. Brother Bill relates how the others around him constantly described St. Francis as “cheerful,” but when St. Francis felt that inner darkness, he would withdraw into prayer so as not to bring those he so loved down.

Again, I pause to ask myself, “Am I a cause of joy or do I bring sadness and doubt into the family circle, into the fraternity gathering?” And what about you?

Third, the deeper spiritual importance of this command to show joy was to combat the devil. Thomas of Celano writes in Chapter 88 of the Second Life in the Omnibus of Sources page 465:

“St. Francis maintained that the safest remedy against the thousand snares and wiles of the enemy is spiritual joy. For he would say, ‘The devil rejoices most when he can snatch away spiritual joy from a servant of God. He carries dust so he can throw it into even the tiniest chinks of conscience and soil the candor of mind and purity of life. But, when spiritual joy fills the heart,’ he said, ‘the serpent throws off his deadly poison in vain. The devils cannot harm the servant of Christ when they see he is filled with holy joy. When, however, the soul is wretched, desolate, and filled with sorrow, it is easily overwhelmed by its sorrow or it may turn to vain enjoyments.’

“The saint, therefore, made it a point to keep himself in joy of heart and to preserve the unction of the Spirit and the oil of gladness. He avoided with the greatest care the miserable illness of dejection, so that if he felt it creeping over his mind even a little, he would have recourse very quickly to prayer. For he would say, ‘If the servant of God, as may happen, is disturbed in any way, he should rise immediately to pray and he should remain in the presence of the heavenly Father until he restores unto him the joy of salvation. For if he remains stupefied in sadness, the Babylonian stuff will increase, so that, unless it be at length driven out by tears, it will generate an abiding rust in the heart.’”

Again, to paraphrase Brother Bill, other spiritual traditions in the Catholic Church may stress seriousness and gravitas, but the Franciscan spiritual tradition takes joy very seriously. The devil’s “dust” and “an abiding rust in the heart” must be avoided both in ourselves and in our influence on others.

Yes, my beloved sisters and brothers, there is much in the world around us to cause great dismay. We see hatred and war, violence and abuse, poverty and starvation. Yes, there may be much in our families and fraternities to cause us to worry and doubt. We see faction and discord as we pray to be instruments of God’s great peace. And yes, speaking for myself, I am a fallen creature, always beset by the devil, the world and the flesh. Sometimes I fall down. Sometimes I don’t do what I should do to help others. Sometimes I may cause others to fall.

Nonetheless, as children of the same all-loving, all-forgiving, all-powerful God, as permanently professed followers of Sts. Francis and Clare in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us heed seriously this aspect of spiritual joy so firmly grounded in the Franciscan spiritual tradition.

Let us strive to be cheerful and welcoming to all we meet, to combat that darkness in ourselves and in others.

Let us never cease praying and working for our families and fraternities to be places where true spiritual joy in the Lord resides and where we are recognized by all as people “happy in God, cheerful and courteous.”

And may the Peace of Christ and the Spiritual Joy of Sts. Francis and Clare abide always with us, we pray in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Reflection Questions

  1. Perhaps unlike other major Catholic spiritual traditions, what did St. Francis himself virtually mandate for all his followers?
  2. According to Brother Bill Short, OFM, why might this mandate be unique?
  3. Again, according to Brother Bill, how might this mandate have arisen out of a real struggle against spiritual darkness?
  4. Specifically regarding this mandate, what might be our obligations to our sisters and brothers in our Secular Franciscan fraternities?
  5. Specifically regarding this mandate, what might be our personal obligations to ourselves? Why?
  6. According to St. Francis, what is the single best remedy against the onslaughts of the devil?
  7. What specifically might we do to bring more love, peace and joy to ourselves and our Secular Franciscan fraternities?

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.

2020-05-19T18:50:56-04:00May 20th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

Prepare The Way of The Lord!

Don’t you think John the Baptist (pointing the way to the Lord in this painting by Leonardo da Vinci) would have made a great Franciscan? Or, to be more chronological, don’t you think Francis would have been a good disciple of John before the coming of the Lord?

After all, Francis would call his lay Third Order, us, his Seculars, “the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.” We are an “Order of Penance.” The entire Prologue of our SFO Rule contrasts between those “who do penance” and those “who do not do penance.” Thus Chapter Two, The Way of Life, Rule Seven reads:

“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.”

And what does John say? In what scholars say is the first written Gospel, the very first chapter, we read,

“John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit'” (Mark 1:4-8; all Biblical quotes are NAB Revised).

In Matthew’s Gospel, John will say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). I don’t see this as some moralistic browbeating to scare us into godliness. Rather, I think John is offering a realistic assessment of our human ways to God’s Way and truly wants us humans to repent and turn to God.

Finally, don’t John’s words in Luke’s Gospel below seem less like finger wagging and more like good advice within reach of people honestly seeking how to convert from their sinful ways?

“And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He answered them, ‘Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is it that we should do?’ He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages’” (Luke 3:10-14).

St. Francis and all of us can surely admire John’s great humility in face of the coming of the Lord.

“You yourselves can testify that I said (that) I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:28-30).

It’s the same thing, isn’t it? John realizes human unworthiness in face of the divine, just as he understands his own human insignificance before the coming of the Christ. Likewise, with an honest appraisal of our own human weakness and sincere need to turn away from sin to prepare the way of the Lord, let us look to our Father Francis and to the great Advent Apostle John the Baptist to see how we might decrease so that the Lord might increase in our lives.

Let us pray, “Dear Lord, in this holy Advent Season, let us prepare for the coming of the Lord by lowering the mountains of our pride and selfishness, by raising the valleys of our self-pity and despondency, by making straight the crooked ways of our self-will and sinfulness. Help us be always ready so that at the Lord’s Coming we will found watchful and awake, humble and loving. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Why might Francis of Assisi have been a good follower of John the Baptist before the Coming of the Lord?
  2. Why does John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel tell the people of his time to “repent”?
  3. Why does our Secular Franciscan Rule call professed Secular Franciscans to “conversion”? Why does the Rule say that that conversion needs to be “daily”?
  4. What was John the Baptist’s advice in Luke’s Gospel to people wanting to “repent” or “convert”?
  5. How did John the Baptist compare himself to Christ? Why?
  6. Again, how might Francis of Assisi have been like John the Baptist in comparing himself to Christ?
  7. How might all of us learn from the examples of Saints John the Baptist and Francis of Assisi in preparing ourselves for the Coming of the Lord?

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.

2020-05-05T21:10:23-04:00May 5th, 2020|Categories: Formation, The OFS Rule, Uncategorized|0 Comments

What Does It Take to Get to Heaven – Five Point Plan Pgs 97-100

[Note: This is meant for November but it applies to our situation in these times]

According to St. Padre Pio: Prayer, meditation, confession, reception and reflection

Dear Sisters and Brothers called to Penance,

November should be the one month when we feel closest to the parts of the Church that we don´t physically see day in and day out: the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. After all, we open the month with the Feast of All Saints; the following day, we celebrate the Feast of All Souls; and we of the Franciscan family celebrate on November 29 the Feast of All Saints of the Seraphic Order, those women and men, known and unknown, First, Second and Third Orders, Regular and Secular, who followed Father Frances into Heaven.

So what does it take to get to Heaven?

On Sunday, September 27, 2009, I had the honor of serving at a special yearly Mass at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, to celebrate one of the most popular of the recently canonized Franciscan saints, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. The main Celebrant was Father Jacob Smith OFM, and he offered St. Padre Pio’s advice to this question that St. Pio often gave to those under his spiritual direction: Prayer, Meditation, Confession, Reception, Reflection. St. Pio said that these five were available to all striving to be holy.

With apologies to Father Jacob, who only outlined his homily, and to St. Pio, about whom I could find no print or online reference to these five, what follows is my recollection and reflection on the five.

First, prayer. St. Pio said, “Pray, hope and don´t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” He also said, “Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.” Prayer is the breath of the Spirit; prayer is our communication with God. Like all communication, prayer involves our active listening, clearly and correctly, to God, followed by our active response, appropriately, politely and effectively. We may pray by words, silence, sighs, tears, actions. Prayer comes from God and returns to God.

Second, meditation. Most of us probably spend most of our prayer time in one of the recognized forms of verbal prayer. The greatest prayer of the Church is, of course, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We have the Liturgy of the Hours. We have the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, which all serve when we pray the Rosary. Yet meditation takes us deeper, closer to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we pray, we need to meditate on what we are praying, for whom and to Whom we are praying, and why we are praying. When we act, whatever actions we perform, we need to do the same: meditate on what we are doing, to whom and for whom we are doing what we are doing, and why are we doing what we are doing. Prayer may be noisy; meditation should usually be silent.

Third, confession. All Franciscans are called to Penance, a turning away from self and sin and a turning toward the Gospel Life. Article Seven of our Secular Franciscan Rule says it so well: “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. On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father´s mercy and the source of grace.” St. Pio spent hours and hours celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and urged frequent Confession, certainly as soon as possible after the commission of a major sin and as often as needed, at least once a month, since human memory is so short.

Fourth, reception. Our Lord Himself said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Again, our Holy Rule, Article Five, guides us: “The faith of St. Francis, who often said, ´I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,´ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.” Because of the power and efficacy of proper reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament, St. Pio urged frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion, if and only if the recipient were properly disposed.

Fifth, reflection. St. Pio urged constant, even daily, reflection on “The Four Last Things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. He urged that this reflection not be done in a fearful manner because of his quote above to pray, hope and not worry, trusting always in the love and mercy of God. Rather, the reflection on the four last things was to focus our lives. Where are we going? How are we getting there? If the basic purpose of our lives is not to know, love and serve God in this life with our whole hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, then what are we about? What is more important?

Note that St. Pio has made no comment on what exactly else we are doing with our lives. We may be Poor Clares spending our lives in cloistered contemplation, or we may be busy wives, mothers and workers out in the world. It doesn´t matter. Prayer, meditation, confession, reception and reflection can apply to all.

Reflection Questions

  1. Why is November a particularly good month for a Franciscan to pray seriously about how best to get to heaven?
  2. According to St. Padre Pio, what is one best way to get to heaven? Why?
  3. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a second best way to get to heaven? Why?
  4. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a third best way to get to heaven? Why?
  5. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a fourth best way to get to heaven? Why?
  6. According to St. Padre Pio, what is a fifth best way to get to heaven? Why?
  7. Of the five ways suggested by St. Padre Pio to get to heaven, which one do you feel you most need to work on? Why?

Note: This is meant for November but it applies to our situation in these times

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.

2020-05-01T18:21:54-04:00May 2nd, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Blessed Mother, St. Francis & All of Us (from Five Point Plan)

The Blessed Mother certainly does not need me to sing her praises! Our Father Saint Francis did a far greater job both in word and in action; in word, by his Praises and Salutations, and in action, by entrusting the whole Order to her protection.

Thomas of Celano wrote of St. Francis, “Toward the Mother of Jesus he was filled with an inexpressible love, because it was she who made the Lord of Majesty our brother. He sang special Praises to her, poured out prayers to her, offered her his affections, so many and so great that the tongue of man cannot recount them. But what delights us most, he made her the advocate of the order and placed under her wings the sons he was about to leave that she might cherish them and protect them to the end” (Second Life of St. Francis, 198).

Our SFO Rule 9 states: “The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.” (See also General Constitutions, Article 16.)

The only way that we can see the Blessed Mother directly, outside of private revelation, is through Holy Scripture; and each time she appears, she is, to me, fascinating and unpredictable. I am filled with wonder. Although this Monthly Message is not enough to share all of her moments in Sacred Scripture, permit me to speak on two of them, both in John’s Gospel, one at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry and one at the very end.

As we know, just three days into our Lord’s public ministry and call of His disciples, there is a wedding at Cana in Galilee (Chapter 2). The Blessed Mother has been invited and perhaps because of her, Jesus, and perhaps because of Jesus, His disciples. We don’t see St. Joseph because presumably he had already died. The wine runs short, perhaps because of the unexpected presence of the recently called disciples, and the Blessed Mother tells her son, “They have no wine” (vs. 3). Jesus replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not come” (vs. 4). Mary says to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (vs. 5).

Jesus promptly tells the servers to fill six twenty to thirty gallon stone water jars with water and take some to the headwaiter. The water miraculously turns to wine; the headwaiter does not know from whence it comes and cannot believe why the bridegroom would save the best for last, so high is the quality of the wine. John concludes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (vs. 11).

Well, books have been written and paintings painted about the Wedding of Cana, which now forms the Second of the great Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. My question to you and to myself is, “Who was the couple?” Why do they receive Christ’s first miracle (not to mention 180 free gallons of the best quality wine)? To me, this couple is you and I, ordinary lay people trying to live our lives in the world not quite having all that we need without some divine help. Note that Jesus does not say it is “their concern,” but says to His Mom, it is “your concern.”

Flash forward to the very end of His short life. Jesus again has saved the best for last, only this time it is not wine but Himself, hanging on the Cross pouring out His blood and His life for all of us. He is alive and around Him are exactly the people that we find in the Cross of San Damiano and see in John 19:25. And seeing his Mom and the disciple whom He loved, both present at the Wedding of Cana, Christ “pays back” His Mom. His hour has indeed come. Since she was so concerned about ordinary humanity at the very beginning of His ministry, so He will keep her concerned, “Woman, behold your son” (vs. 26). And to the disciple, “Behold your mother” (vs. 27).

Just as Jesus did not say “No” to His Mom at Cana, so Mary does not say “No” to her Son on the Cross. She has been concerned with all humanity at the beginning, so Jesus wants her concerned now. She is truly our Mother.

Let us pray: “Lord Jesus, Your Mother made her concerns Your concern, and You repaid the compliment by making Your concerns her concern. Help us to respect her role in Your plan of salvation. Help us to love and praise Mary as Your Mother and our Mother, as St. Francis showed us so well. We ask this grace in Your name, You Who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. How did St. Francis feel about the Blessed Mother?
  2. How did St. Francis evidence this feeling?
  3. How should Secular Franciscans feel about the Blessed Mother?
  4. Besides private revelation, where can most of us meet the Blessed Mother most directly?
  5. Who are the wedding couple in the Wedding at Cana?
  6. Who is concerned about them?
  7. Whose mother does Mary ultimately become at the foot of the Cross?

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.

2020-04-29T10:29:52-04:00April 29th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The Heart of Our Faith is the Person of Jesus Christ pg 72-75

Our faith begins not in a thing, nor in a doctrine, nor in a church, though things and doctrines and churches flow from where our faith begins. Our religion is founded not at a great battle, convocation nor discovery; not in assertions of great ideas of persuasive arguments; not in messages from “the heavens” nor “angels” nor “the clouds;” not in an overarching code of ethics, morals nor system of philosophy.

No, our founding stems from none of these, although many things of various natures may stem from our one foundation, who is not a what, nor a when nor a where nor even a why. The heart of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ, true God and truly human.

Article 4 of our Secular Franciscan Rule tells us: “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. Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.”

Article 5 continues: “Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of St. Francis, who often said, ‘I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,’ should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.”

The General Constitutions (9.1) follow our Rule: “The spirituality of the Secular Franciscan is a plan of life centered on the person and on the following of Christ, rather than a detailed program to be put into practice.”

Article 10 of the General Constitutions elaborates: “‘Christ, poor and crucified,’ victor over death and risen, the greatest manifestation of the love of God for humanity, is the ‘book’ in which the brothers and sisters, in imitation of Francis, learn the purpose and the way of living, loving, and suffering.”

Whatever “preaching” we may do, whether best by our lives or even by our words, that preaching must start and finish with Christ. Whatever we do, may we never forget Christ.

Let us pray, “Holy Father, through the Holy Spirit, bring us ever closer to your Holy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. He is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22:13). He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). Our faith is Christ. Our entire Franciscan Way of Life must strive to stay true to Christ, in Christ, with Christ. We pray in faith in the name of your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

  1. Does our religion begin with a what, a where, a when, a why or a who?
  2. Who did St. Francis make the inspiration and center of his life, both with God and with people?
  3. What, where, when, why, who is the inspiration and center of your life?
  4. According the Article Five of the Rule, where might Secular Franciscans FIRST encounter “the living and active person of Christ”?
  5. Where, when, how have you best met “the living and active person of Christ”?
  6. Where was the only place that St. Francis saw Christ “bodily”?
  7. According to the General Constitutions, what is the plan of life for a genuine Secular Franciscan “spirituality”?

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.

2020-04-16T17:29:08-04:00April 17th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

The (Still) Basic C’s of the Franciscan Charism 5PointPlan pg 64-70

The entire National Executive Council (NEC) was recently blessed to spend an entire day with all the current Friars on the Conference of National Spiritual Assistants (CNSA). We met together; celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together, shared three regular meals together, walked and talked and relaxed together for an entire day, the first time I have enjoyed such an entire day with all the NEC and all the CNSA meeting and sharing together.

I would encourage the next NEC and CNSA, as well as Regional Executive Councils and Regional Spiritual Assistants in each of our 30 Regions to do the same: an entire day together, just with each other, at least once every three years.

During one of our discussions, Friar Matthias Wesnofske, OFM Capuchin, the only Friar I know who has, as his responsibilities, one National Fraternity, two Regional Fraternities and, I believe, seven Local Fraternities, as well as managing correspondence instruction for Spiritual Assistant Training, well, Friar Matthias said to the effect that despite all the “new scholarship” and “new insights” into Franciscan spirituality, he still felt that what he had learned and always believed and taught was true: that the four basic aspects of the Franciscan Charism were the Crib, the Cross, the Cup and Creation.

Not blessed with a tape recorder at the time or anything approaching “total recall,” permit me to expand Friar Matthias in my own words, with apologies to him, especially if I get something wrong!

The first C is the Crib. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the Giotto fresco of St. Francis preparing the Christmas crib or, in Italian, “presepe” at Greccio, hanging above me to the right as I faced the altar at the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi as we celebrated the Installation Mass for the newly elected officers of the International Fraternity in November 2014.  This fresco painting and the work of St. Francis to prepare and celebrate the birth of Christ have influenced every subsequent nativity scene in your house or local Church.

The Franciscan Charism with the Crib is our firm foundational Franciscan faith in the Incarnation; namely, that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, humbling Himself out of love for God and for all Creation.

The second C is the Cross. Of course, Jesus’ love did not stop at the Crib. Jesus’ love for us carried all the way to the Cross, to his laying down his life for all of us. ”Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Again, in my mind’s eye, I can see above and before me the original San

Damiano Cross hanging in the Church of Santa Chiara in Assisi.

This Cross, so important to both Sts. Francis and Clare, depicts a loving, relational sacrifice shared with God’s Creation: angels, humans and even a rooster! Christ hangs bleeding on the Cross, yes, but His eyes are open, and His face shows that perfect joy of suffering accepted for the love of God and the love of all of us.

That love and sharing extend to the third C, which is the Cup.

The Cup of the Eucharist, the Blood and Body of Christ, keep us close to the Christ of the Crib, the Christ of the Incarnation, and the Christ of the Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass not only re-presents the Passion and Death of Christ, but also continues His loving, giving presence among us, Emmanuel, the God Who will never leave us.

As Saint Francis often said, “I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood” (Secular Franciscan Rule 5).

This presence of Christ in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist continues in the fourth C, which is Creation. Again, I can see in my mind’s eye, to the right, as I exit toward the front doors of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the great Giotto fresco of St. Francis preaching to the birds.

This love of Francis for all of God’s Creation is a love of God in all Creation.

Thus, in the Franciscan Charism, the 4 C’s are inter-related, not unlike the inter-relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Crib leads to Cross, which leads to Cup, which continues Christ’s Presence in all Creation, physically begun at the Incarnation.

A fifth and uniting C would be Christ Himself because all the 4 C’s focus on Christ. Christ is the center. Christ came among us poor and laid in a Crib. Christ lived among us, loving us, even to dying on the Cross for us. Christ continues to live with us both in His most bodily form in the Cup of the Holy Eucharist, and also in all of Creation, as both author and ultimate goal.

Indeed, a sixth C would be Christ’s example of Conversion. As we can read in Philippians 2:6-8: though Christ was in the form of God, Christ did not deem equality with God as something to be grasped. Rather He emptied Himself and became like us, human in appearance. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a Cross.

So each of us is called, as followers of Christ in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare, to daily, ongoing conversion, to a daily striving to model our thoughts and deeds to those of Christ (see Secular Franciscan Rule 7).

Friar Matthias said all this much better, and other Franciscan scholars have written longer and more clearly on each of these aspects, but I have tried to share the four foundational C’s of our great Franciscan Charism, reinforced so strongly for me in the great art seen so recently in Assisi and in the Celebration of the Holy Mass there by our friars and Pope Francis.

Peace and love,

Tom

Reflection Questions

  1. According to Friar Matthias Wesnofske, OFM Capuchin, what are still, despite all the new scholarship, the four basic aspects of the Franciscan charism?
  2. What would be the first basic aspect? Why might this aspect be listed first? Explain this aspect in your own words.
  3. What would be the second basic aspect? Why might this aspect be listed second? Explain this aspect in your own words.
  4. What would be the third basic aspect? Why might this aspect be listed third? Explain this aspect in your own words.
  5. What would be the fourth basic aspect? Why might this aspect be listed fourth? Explain this aspect in your own words.
  6. Who, of course, unites all these aspects?
  7. What might be a sixth aspect to guide our daily lives? Explain this aspect in your own words.

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.

2020-04-15T11:16:18-04:00April 15th, 2020|Categories: Formation, New Resource, The OFS Rule|0 Comments

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
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