Mendicants

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Stephen, and, earlier, Tom at Disputations, both posted about different aspects of vocation as it pertains to being a member of one of the so-called “secular” orders. Stephen writes about being a Third Order Carmelite and Tom, a Dominican. It seems fitting to post a few notes about the Secular Franciscan.

I’ve written here that the distinctive spirituality of being a Franciscan is that there is little distinctive about it; being Franciscan means being Catholic. Being Franciscan means being loyal to the Holy Father and the Magisterium, and trying to live the Gospel. Even the Tau we wear is not unique to the order, but was designated, I think at the Council of Trent, as the universal sign of the Christian in the Church. However, there is a distinctive way in which that vocation is lived out and it comes from Francis himself.

Francis founded the first of the great “mendicant” orders. Prior to Francis, religious were exclusively cloistered. This means that they lived out their lives within a particular monastic setting and had little to do with “the world.” It was Francis’ dream to live the Gospel in the world and to carry the Gospel message to the four corners. Franciscans were meant to have no home and to have to beg even for bread. There are few Franciscan monasteries and even today it is possible to find a “friary”, that is, a house where Franciscan priests live, in a neighborhood near you. Franciscans continue to live that vocation preaching the Gospel in the world. For example, the Capuchins from Kansas came to Colorado Springs a few years back and opened shop in one of the two major malls here. The Catholic Center offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation six days a week during regular mall hours, and a priest is always on hand to chat even with those who are not Catholic. That’s taking the Gospel to the heart of secular society.

This vocation is especially significant and more difficult for the Secular Franciscan. I have known SFOs who come close to rejecting the “Secular” label, wishing they could be more like religious, even to the point of wanting to wear the habit of a friar. They forget that the Franciscan vocation, whether religious or secular, is to be in the world, not in the cloister or the friary. Like the other two third orders, the Carmelites and Dominicans, our vocation is to take the Gospel into the world, to be leaven to the world. We are to do it by showing that the Gospel life can be lived by ordinary human beings who simply desire to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. The vocation is more difficult for the SFO because there is nothing, at least on the surface, that sets us apart. Everyone knows a friar by his brown (or grey) habit, the SFO is known only by the way he or she lives the Gospel life. Francis said we should use words, if necessary, but first we try to preach by example; the words come later.

Being a member of a secular order is not a mark of distinction or a sign of special spiritual achievement. It is, I think, a vocation, or one aspect of the vocation of being a lay person in the Church. It helps us go deeper in the faith, it supports us when finding that faith is difficult, but mostly, it calls us to a greater sense of how we might take our faith into the world. It gives us, a greater sense of the true meaning of the vocation of the layman, and that is something sorely needed in the world today.


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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on April 22, 2006 8:16 AM.

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