Secular Franciscan Order
The Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) is a community of Catholic men and women who seek to pattern their lives after Jesus Christ and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, the founder of the Order almost 800 years ago, was moved to establish the Secular Third Order because of the powerful attraction by married men and women wanting to join the First or Second Order. As St. Francis went about his preaching, coupled with his and his disciples’ own living example, many men and women were moved to join his group. So powerful was Francis’ preaching of penance and his way of life example, in town after town, that many devout lay persons who had family responsibilities asked and wanted to do more and follow Francis’ and his way of life.
The birth place of the Secular Third Order was Florence on December 16, 1221 on the authority of the Papal Bull “Regesta Pontificum”. Secular Franciscans are tertiaries, or members of the Third Order of Franciscans. They were originally known as Brothers and Sisters of Penance. The Third Order is approved and recognized by the Holy See by the official name of Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis (OFS). It is open to any Catholic not bound by any other religious vows to another Religious Order. It is made up of lay men and women and also secular clergy (deacons, priests, bishops). Secular Franciscans make a public profession, however, they are not bound by public vows as are religious orders living in community.
There are many early stories about St. Francis and why and how he started the Secular Third Order. One such story is St. Francis preaching to the birds in Saburniano, his listeners were so energized by his message that they wanted to leave the city and follow St. Francis and his friars. St. Francis told them that was not necessary and instead he established the Third Order “for the universal salvation of all people”. St. Francis was concerned about the expansion of his order at the expense of families. He refused married men from entering his order and married women from joining the Poor Clares because he did not want families to suffer.
Another such story talks about Luchesio Modestini and his wife Buonadonna, rich merchants from Poggiboni, who after meeting St. Francis were moved to dedicate their lives to prayer and serving the poor. They felt called to live out their life in the way Francis and his followers were living. St. Francis was moved to write a Rule strickly for people like these that wanted to follow in his footsteps. They were soon known as the Brothers and Sister of Penance which also became known as the Franciscan Third Order.
This way of life was soon embraced by many couples and single men and women who did not feel called to harsh poverty St. Francis’ followers were living. They did live and practiced the teachings of St. Francis concerning prayer, peacemaking, self-denial, humility, fidelity and charity especially to the poor and the lepers — those that society shunned.
St. Francis in his “Letter to All the Faithful” established The Rule by which his followers would live by, it was a call to all the faithful to a life of penance turning away from sin and moving towards God. Francis expressed the conversion process as: 1) love God, 2) love one’s neighbor, 3) turn away from our sinful tendencies, 4) “receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” and, as a result of the above, 5) producing worthy fruits of penance – a renewed life characterized by charity, forgiveness and compassion toward others. The “primitive Rule” was approved by Pope Honorius III in 1221 with the Memoriale Propositi. Pope Nicholas IV, a Franciscan, revised the Rule in 1289, with Supra monteum and so did Pope Leo XIII in 1883 with Misericors Dei Filius. “The current Rule was given by Pope Paul VI in 1978 with the Apostolic letter Seraphicus Patriarcha. It is designed to adapt the Secular Franciscan Order to the needs and expectations of the Church in the conditions of changing times.”
Francis when he established the Rule and encouraged his followers to this way of life said: “Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them since the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon them and He will make His home and dwelling among them. They are children of the heavenly Father whose works they do, and they are spouses, brothers and mothers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (source: “ ‘De Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiaum’: The rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins, Development, Interpretation, “ Robert M. Steward, OFM.)
The Spirit of the Rule found in Article 4 is as follows: “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscan Order 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. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.”
The Secular Franciscan Order is a public association in the Roman Catholic Church. It is made up of Fraternities at different levels, i.e., local, regional, national, and international. The OFS is under the universal law of the Church, as well as its own statutes: the Rule, the Constitution, the Ritual, and Franciscan Statutes. The interpretation of the Rule and of the Constitution belongs to the Holy See. The day-to-day interpretation of the Constitution and its application within the Order belongs to the General Chapter of the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS). The regional and local fraternities have their own statutes approved by the council of the higher levels. Each fraternity is guided by the an elected minister or president, a council composed of a vice-minister/president, secretary, treasurer and a formation director. The leaders of the fraternity govern according to the Franciscan Rule, the Constitution, and the applicable Statutes. The International Fraternity consists of members of all the Catholic Secular Franciscans fraternities of the world. It has its own juridical character within the Church. The International Fraternity is guided by the Minister or President with the International Council (CIOFS) that has its seat in Rome, Italy.
Secular Franciscans, once professed, commit themselves to live the Gospel according to Franciscan spirituality in their own secular state. Secular Franciscans personally and diligently study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture to encourage love for the word of the Gospel. They propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion by listening to and celebrating the Word of God, attending retreats and penitential celebrations, listening to and following the advice of their spiritual advisor, and pledging themselves to live the spirit of the Beatitudes.
Secular Franciscans, as followers of Francis embrace his love of nature, the environment, of peace and justice. St. Francis is known as the Patron of Ecology, as such, Franciscans work together with environmental groups to fight pollution and to conserve all that is valuable in nature and in our world. Social justice is also an important issue to Franciscans today as it was in Francis’ time. Secular Franciscans value the dignity of the human person, oppose discrimination of every form, do not believe in the exploitation of any living thing. They promote the building of fraternity among all people. They are dedicated to creating just conditions of life for all, and work for all people to be free.
There are two Secular Franciscan Fraternities in San Antonio. Just west of the downtown area is the St. Francis of Assisi Fraternity at 1104 Kentucky Ave, On the south side of San Antonio is the San Jose Fraternity at the San Jose Mission.
Any Catholic in good standing with the Church, wants to live in communion with the Church, and is of good moral standing can apply for membership to the fraternity of their choice. It is recommended that if you are interested in becoming a Secular Franciscan that you visit all three of the fraternities before making your choice. As a candidate, you will go through a period of formation that takes you through three stages of formation before reaching the final stage of Profession. This formation journey takes about three years. The Rite of Profession is a solemn ecclesial act by which the candidate renews the Baptismal promises and publicly affirms his/her personnel commitment to live their life in accordance to the Gospel, following the example of St. Francis and following the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order. Profession is life long commitment and formation is a continuous on-going action.