If you’ve ever attended a Blessing of the Animals chances are it was hosted by your local Secular Franciscan fraternity. If you’re not exactly sure what a Secular Franciscan is you’re not alone.
If you ask five Secular Franciscans what it means to be a Secular Franciscan you are likely to get five different answers, along with a good-natured laugh. There are two things they do seem to agree on. The first is that you never really finish becoming a Secular!
When you profess, you are committing to a life long journey of learning about and learning to live the Gospel of Christ by slipping on the Franciscan sandals and following in the footsteps of St. Francis – The Little Poor Man. The second agreement is this— while the call to and journey within the Franciscan life is often deeply personal, the living of the way of St. Francis simply can not be done alone.
This is where fraternity in a literal and structural sense comes into play. Francis understood the need for brothers and sisters – for comfort, support and quite possibly sanity! If a ‘Christ filled world’ is the destination and St. Francis the ship traveled upon, then fraternity might possibly be the wind in the sails or on a more modern note – the gas in the engine.
If determining what being a Secular Franciscan means seems to be a bit fluid, determining their origins is not. And this, it turns out, helps define who they are, at least in a broad sense. Sometime around 1221, St. Francis founded The Brothers and Sisters of Penance or Third Order of St. Francis in response to the lay men and women who felt called to follow his ministry of penance and conversion.
Eventually two branches within the Third Order formed: Third Order Regulars, comprised of men and women who live in community and Third Order Seculars, comprised of men and women who live ordinary lives not in community but out in the world. In the late 1970’s the Third Order Seculars name was officially changed to the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO).
So what does a Secular Franciscan do? They live their lives guided by the promises they make and the Rule they follow. Like all Franciscans there are certain activities they are called to such as service to the poor and the dispossessed, the Seculars are called to be the Gospel in an everyday world that rarely supports their efforts or their world – view.
“Being a (Secular) Franciscan isn’t about doing, it’s about becoming…[in] relationship with Jesus and relationship with other people,” said Mary Ellen Humphrey.
Mary Ellen has been a Secular Franciscan for many years and is a founding member of the Fraternity of St. Clare in Winston-Salem.
“You have to allow yourself to be open and to be surprised by change and willing to accept it,” she added.
As with any Order, becoming a Secular Franciscan is a process, which involves guided study and regular formation classes. The first phase, Orientation, is a time for discernment to determine if you are being called to the Secular Franciscan vocation. The second phase, Inquiry, is a continuation of discernment but allows for a deeper study of the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare and an exploration of Franciscan spirituality. The third phase is Candidacy. In this final phase, preparation for permanent commitment and greater participation in fraternity life is the main focus.
Betti Longinotti is an artist and a teacher, and currently serves as the Minister for the Fraternity of St. Clare in Winston – Salem. For her, Francis’s love for and in Christ, his interrelation with and devotion to all of God’s creation and his abandonment to that love has always resonated with her. Finding ways to express that resonance through her art has been greatly informed by her commitment as a Secular Franciscan. For her, being a Secular Franciscan and living in the world means connection.
“The Lord said in John, I am the Vine, you are the branches… I think Francis is a main branch of the Lord’s Vine. And I feel that as Francis is our Seraphic Father we are connected into that Vine,” Longinotti said. “And fraternity means community – being bonded to Christ through Francis and being bonded to each other – and not just our lay Order but being connected to the whole Franciscan family of Religious and Lay Orders.”
To find out more about the Secular Franciscans or to find a community in your area, go to the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order – USA web site and click on the NAFRA Database.
Explore the Franciscan possibilities in Winston-Salem! Contact Frank O’Neil at 336-765-8775 for more information or check out the Fraternity of St. Clare web site.