Frequently Asked Questions
The Secular Franciscan Order began while Saint Francis was still alive. From the very beginning of his ministry Saint Francis found people who desired to follow his way of life and spirituality while living in the world. Saint Francis’ first response to this was to write to them what is called “The First Letter to all the Faithful”. This letter could have been written as early as 1215. So many people wanted to follow Saint Francis that the Rule of the Secular Franciscans was approved in 1221. One of the earliest Secular Franciscans was Lady Jacoba de Settesoli who was present when Saint Francis died in 1226.
In Chapter two of the Secular Franciscan Rule we find the statement, “…going from Gospel to life and life to the Gospel.” This is a process whereby we use the Gospel to discern how we should act in real terms during all our life in each situation. If we develop a real relationship with the Lord through prayer and reading the Gospel then this relationship will change the way we look at the world and other people. The reading and meditation on the Gospel teaches us to change our attitudes. It teaches us to be aware, to discernand to act with love and compassion.
You need to remember that, “Contemplation and Fraternity are the wings by which a Franciscan flies up to heaven.” Only when you understand that “Prayer is the breath of love” and that we cannot say to God in prayer “I love you!” unless we give proof of that love by being compassionate to others, have you understood Franciscan spirituality – indeed Christian spirituality. So there are two things a Secular Franciscan needs to be committed to: Personal Prayer and being willing to be part of a local fraternity of Secular Franciscans.
We follow the way of life and spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi – the way of seraphic love. Saint Francis gave the Church a new Religious Order. In fact he founded three Orders, The Order of Friars Minor, Poor Clares and the Secular Franciscan Order. Each had its own Rule of Life. That is why St Francis is often shown with a book in his hand. It is not the Gospel it is his Rule of Life based on the Gospel. Beginning in 1215 the Lateran Council banned any new Religious Orders. The Franciscan Rules were approved after the Lateran Council on the grounds that they were already approved verbally by Pope Innocent III. Interestingly the Secular Franciscan Rule was the first officially approved in 1221. Then came the official Rule of the Friars Minor in 1223. It could be said that Saint Clare’s Rule of Life, the one she wanted, was not officially approved until 1253 when she was dying. Saint Francis was not the first person to begin a Third Order for lay people. There were already groups of lay people approved by the Holy See before the Secular Franciscans. Much later the Rule of the Secular Dominicans was approved in1285 and the Secular Carmelite Rule 1415. These were approved as Orders because they were seen as an extension of the Spirit and way of life of these Orders.
Essentially Secular Franciscans live and do their work as anyone else does, but with a consciousness of trying to live the Gospel values in their lives. In particular, as well as their daily lives are most usually quite involved in the parishes they belong to. They are Readers at Mass and Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers often taking Communion to the sick. They also look after the Altar as assistant sacristans looking after Altar Linen, Vestments Chalices and Flowers and cleaning the Church. Saint Francis insisted in his letters that Franciscans take very good care of everything that has to do with the Blessed Sacrament. They also assist on Parish Councils, help the St Vincent de Paul and other charities and where possible promote St Francis and his spirituality.
To be a Secular Franciscan you have to be a Catholic of good standing, single or married (your spouse agreeing). A diocesan priest can also become a Secular Franciscan, indeed a pope can be a Secular Franciscan. A normal Catholic would of course mean that you go to Mass on Sundays regularly. Being a Secular Franciscan is a deeper commitment to your Catholic faith as a single or married person to live a Gospel orientated life.
The minimum beyond what normal Catholics do by going to Mass on Sundays, would be to attend the Local Fraternity meeting once a month. Seculars are encouraged to join the Church in her liturgical prayer life. By this I mean saying the Divine Office, which is found in the prayer book called the Breviary. Most Catholics are unaware that the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests and all the Religious pray the psalms at least twice a day morning and evening. The contemplative Orders pray it seven times a day. The Divine Office prayers are as much a part of the Divine Liturgy (prayer) of the Church as are all the Sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Ordination and the Sacrament of the Sick.
No, usually Secular Franciscans live in their own home. As such the Secular Franciscan way of life is an authentic way of life founded by Saint Francis for those who did not wish to become religious brothers and sisters living in a convent or friary. The commitment to prayer and fraternity are the same in that Secular Franciscans usually meet once a month in a church hall or elsewhere. Seculars tend to live close by each other so that travelling is not such a problem.
No it is not necessary to move. However in Australia, which is the size of Europe distance is a tremendous reality. Quite a number of Seculars have had to move along way from any fraternity group meeting. We call them “Isolated Seculars” this does not stop them from living their commitment to a Secular Franciscan way of life. Today with phone and email some of the distance can be eased and with communication, isolated Seculars try to attend the yearly Regional Retreat that the members of the Secular Franciscan Order have.
One of the very basic truths about Franciscans is the matter of freedom. Love and freedom go together. You are perfectly free to leave the discernment process at any time and you are free to leave the Secular Franciscan Order at any time. Hopefully the only secret you will ever learn from the Franciscans is the enormous love people are capable of in this world despite sickness and tribulation. To love is to hope for the very best in others. To love is to set people free so that they really can love.
The Secular Franciscan Order is open to young people above the age of 18 years, and in Europe many groups of young people are involved in the activities of the Secular Franciscans, including attending World Youth days. In Australia, from time to time there has been groups of Franciscan Youth, but like most youth groups they tend to last about two years and then fade away. The tendency in Australia, for the Secular Franciscans is for more mature people to become interested in the Order. Although there are in some fraternities young families with children. It is also true to say that some younger people attracted to the Franciscan way of life have joined the friars or one of the groups of Franciscan sisters.
All the Popes, Pius IX (Papacy 1846-1878); Leo XIII (1978-1903); Pius X (1903-1914); Benedict XV (1914-1922); Pius XI (1922-1939); Pius XII (1939-1958) to Saint John XXIII (1958-1963), belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order. Beginning with Pope Leo XIII the Franciscans and especially the Secular Franciscan Order was seen as the best way to contribute to the transformation of the world by teaching Saint Francis’ vision of universal brotherhood and peace. This was particularly so in a world full of conflicting ideologies bent on violence to achieve their aims. Tragically during this period we had World War I and the World War II. It is however not by accident that the so called “Peace Prayer of St Francis” was written in France during the First World War.
Yes, there certainly are. In fact there are more Secular Franciscan Saints that among the religious Franciscans combined.
After attending a local fraternity meeting for about three months, you will have some idea if a Franciscan way of life and spirituality suits you, and if you think it does, then you can ask to be admitted to the formation program. Because there is so much to learn and because there are what are called seasons of the spiritual life during this time, the Candidacy period of the Secular Franciscans lasts at least one year and usually two years. Only after that period is completed do you make a life time commitment to the Franciscan way of life. There are essentially two elements or questions to a Secular Franciscan vocation: 1. Do I desire it? 2. Am I capable of living it?
Yes, indeed. This is the best way to learn about the Secular Franciscans. Please check this webpage for a Phone Number or Email Address so we can put you in touch with the closest Secular Franciscan Fraternity near to where you live.
The very first thing you need to do is speak of someone who is a Secular Franciscan and they will be able to talk with your and guide you. Since the key to being a Secular Franciscan is to attend a local fraternity meeting that is the invitation you are looking for.
No only Religious in the Church take the vows the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Secular Franciscans make a public profession, usually during a Mass. This profession is a lifetime commitment.