Francis's spirituality was simply to "observe the Gospel." Pope Pius XII stated in 1956: "There is, then, a Franciscan doctrine in accordance with which God is holy, is great, and above all, is good, indeed the supreme Good. For in this doctrine, God is love. He lives by love, creates for love, becomes flesh and redeems, that is, he saves and makes holy, for love. There is also a Franciscan way of contemplating Jesus: the meeting of uncreated Love with created love. Similarly, there is a method of loving Him and of imitating Him: in reality, it sees the Man-God and prefers to consider Him in His holy Humanity, because this reveals Him more clearly and, as it were, allows Him to be touched. From this arises a burning devotion to the Incarnation and the Passion of Jesus, because these (mysteries) allow us to see Him, not so much in His glory, in His omnipotent grandeur, or in His eternal triumph, as rather in His human love – so tender in the manger, so sorrowful on the cross."
The Franciscan emphasis, then, is on the fact that God is love. While every Christian believes this, Franciscans choose to emphasize it as Francis did. They devote themselves to living the Gospel according to the spirit of Francis, especially to careful reading of the Gospel and going from Gospel to life and life to the Gospel.
As a summary of the elements of Franciscan spirituality, a Franciscan should live:
- in communion with Christ poor and crucified,
- in the love of God,
- in brother/sisterhood with all people and all of creation,
- participating in the life and mission of the Church,
- in continual conversion,
- in a life of prayer – liturgical, personal, communal,
- as instruments of peace.
Saint Bonaventure, the seraphic doctor, is regarded as deeply penetrated and imbued with the mind of Saint Francis of Assisi. Étienne Gilson has said that in reading Saint Bonaventure, one receives the impression that it is a Saint Francis who has been raised up – or who has forgotten himself – and who is philosophizing.
Bonaventure sought to know God in Him in order to love and serve Him. Besides his popular writing, Bonaventure has written works of pure spirituality in strict dependence and vital application, because he felt that all knowledge that is not founded on Christ is vain. The work which sums up all his doctrine is the "Collationes in Hexaemeron", a synthesis of all human knowledge, including spirituality.
The second of the Franciscan masters has produced no notable or well-known treatise on spirituality, but John Duns Scotus has systematized the primacy on which Franciscan spirituality is founded. He has given many suggestions and produced many texts such that his disciples and his commentators can be guided by him, and thus came to reveal Franciscan thought and its spirituality, though he differs notably from Bonaventure.
In early education, in training, and in his days at Oxford as a student and later as master, John Duns Scotus deepened the understanding of the real and the concrete. He entered the School in time to profit from the works of Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and Roger Bacon. Thus John Duns Scotus joined his predecessor, Bonaventure on a similar interpretation of the function and mission of Jesus Christ given by Francis, that Christ is the highest grace God offers His creatures, and their response controls their attitude to God.
One of the most important consequences of the Secular Franciscan charism is that the spiritual formation of the OFS must cater for those whose vocation is, motivated by the dynamic power of the Gospel, to live in secular circumstances. Intimate union with Christ lies at the heart of the OFS vocation. Therefore, Secular Franciscans 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. They do this by studying, loving and most of all by living in an integrated way the human and evangelical aspects of their life.
Twenty-first-century Secular Franciscans live out the secular aspect of their charism by paying attention to three things. Firstly, they draw on the rich experience of Franciscan figures of the past, real men and women from the ranks of the Order, who were both contemplative and dedicated to so many activities as parents and single people, kings and craftsmen, recluses and people involved in welfare activities. Secondly, at the beginning of the third millennium, they face a test of their creativity when confronted by the new evangelization. Thirdly, they cultivate a deep knowledge of Francis the prophet, an example from the past, leading them into the future.
The Secular Franciscan charism is not given to an individual person but to a group of brothers and sisters. As times change, it has to adapt to the needs and expectations of the Holy Church. Thus from the outset, it is a group that is shaped by the Holy Church, and it is only in this context that the charism can thrive.
The fraternity of the Order finds its origin in the inspiration of Francis to whom the highest revealed the essential Gospel quality of life in fraternal communion. The vocation of the Order is, therefore, a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion. Members of the Order gather in ecclesiastical communities which are called fraternities. For one's initial formation, participation in the meetings of the local fraternity is an indispensable presupposition for initiation into the community of prayer and into fraternal life.
Secular Franciscans can be recognized by the Tau Cross they wear as a lapel pin (here) or pendant. The Secular Franciscans commit themselves to live the Gospel according to Franciscan spirituality in their secular condition. The Secular Franciscan must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture to foster the love for the word of the Gospel and help the brothers and sisters to know and understand it as it is proclaimed by the Church with the assistance of the Spirit. Secular Franciscans, called in earlier times "the brothers and sisters of penance", propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion. Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in the fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. Secular Franciscans should pledge themselves to live the spirit of the Beatitudes and, in a special way, the spirit of poverty. Evangelical poverty demonstrates confidence in the Father, affects interior freedom, and disposes them to promote a more just distribution of wealth. They must provide for their own families and serve society by means of their work and material goods, have a particular manner of living evangelical poverty. To understand and achieve it requires a strong personal commitment and the stimulation of the fraternity in prayer and dialogue, communal review of life, and attentiveness to the instructions of the Church, and the demands of society. They pledge themselves to reduce their own personal needs so as to be better able to share spiritual and material goods with their brothers and sisters, especially those most in need. They should give thanks to God for the goods they have received, using them as good stewards and not as owners. They should take a firm position against consumerism and against ideologies and practices which prefer riches over human and religious values and which permit the exploitation of the human person. They should love and practice purity of heart, the source of true fraternity.
Following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, Patron of Ecology, they collaborate with efforts to fight pollution and to conserve all that is valuable in nature. This conservation keeps in mind that the exploitation of the environment often puts disproportionate hardships on the poor, especially if they live in the affected areas.
Secular Franciscans are called to make their own contribution, inspired by the person and message of Francis, towards a civilization in which the dignity of the human person, shared responsibility, and love may be living realities. They should firmly commit themselves to oppose every form of exploitation, discrimination, and exclusion and against every attitude of indifference in relation to others. They promote the building of fraternity among peoples: they should be committed to create worthy conditions of life for all and to work for the freedom of all people. Secular Franciscans attempt to be in the forefront in the field of public life. They should collaborate as much as possible for the passage of just laws and ordinances.
Work and leisure
For Francis, work is a gift and to work is a grace. Daily work is not only the means of livelihood but the opportunity to serve God and neighbor as well as a way to develop one's own personality. In the conviction that work is a right and a duty and that every form of occupation deserves respect, the brothers and sisters should commit themselves to collaborate so that all persons may have the possibility to work and so that working conditions may always be more humane. Leisure and recreation have their own value and are necessary for personal development. Secular Franciscans should maintain a balance between work and rest and should strive to make meaningful use of their leisure time.
Secular Franciscans are called to be bearers of peace in their families and in society. The renunciation of the use of violence, characteristic of the followers of Francis, does not mean the renunciation of action. Peace is the work of justice and the fruit of reconciliation and of fraternal love. While acknowledging both the personal and national right to self-defense, they should respect the choice of those who, because of conscientious objection, refuse to bear arms. However, the brothers and sisters should take care that their interventions are always inspired by Christian love.
Secular Franciscans should consider their own family to be the first place in which to live their Christian commitment and Franciscan vocation. They should make space within it for prayer, for the Word of God, and for Christian catechesis. They should concern themselves with respect for all life in every situation from conception until death. Married couples find in the Rule of the OFS an effective aid in their own journey of Christian life, aware that in the sacrament of matrimony their love shares in the love that Christ has for his Church. The beauty and the strength of the human love of the spouses is a profound witness for their own family, the Church, and the world.
Out of the conviction of the need to educate children to take an interest in the community, "bringing them the awareness of being living, active members of the People of God" and because of the fascination which Saint Francis of Assisi can exercise on them, the formation of groups of children should be encouraged. With the help of a pedagogy and an organization suitable to their age, these children should be initiated into a knowledge and love of the Franciscan life. National statutes will give an appropriate orientation for the organization of these groups and their relationship to the fraternity and to the groups of Franciscan youth. The Franciscan Youth is formed by those young people who feel called by the Holy Spirit to share the experience of the Christian life in the fraternity, in the light of the message of Francis, deepening their own vocation within the context of the Secular Franciscan Order.
Entrance into the Order, and formation
Conditions for admission are: to profess the Catholic faith, to live in communion with the Church, to be of good moral standing, and to show clear signs of a vocation. Membership in the Order is attained through a time of initiation, a time of formation, and the Profession of the Rule. The journey of formation, which is expected to develop throughout life, begins with entrance into the fraternity. Those responsible for formation are: the candidate, the entire fraternity, the minister with the council, the master of formation, and the assistant as a spiritual guide. The profession is the solemn ecclesial act by which the candidate renews the baptismal promises and in a public profession consecrates their lives to the service of Gods kingdom and to live the Gospel in the world according to the example of Francis and following the Rule of the OFS.