When the first apostles were seeking Christ, His response to them was "Come and see" (John 1:39). This, also, is the basic attitude of Secular Franciscans toward those women and men seeking to follow Christ today.
The rule of life of the Secular Franciscans is this:
to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of
Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of
his life with God and people. (OFS RULE, art.# 4)
Formation in and for the Secular Franciscan way of life is understood as the realistic fostering of the growth of the individual Secular Franciscan and fraternities so that the way we live in today's world may conform more and more to the example of the Holy Gospel.
Although there are stages of formation to be traversed, it is a single process of growth, assimilation and integration of values and experiences; it is likewise an on-going conversion, so that, enlivened by the Spirit, we may conform to the image of the Son of God.
When the Secular Franciscan Fraternity talks about FORMATION it means:
- helping the member on his/her way towards the full realization of his/her own human and Christian development;
- fostering the person's maturation of faith which will bring him/her to personal union with the Father in Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit;
- facilitating his/her experience of Church within a community of faith and love, while at the same time remaining faithful to the conditions of his/her secular state in life, and of his/her mission in the world and in the Church.
Saint Francis of Assisi. with the example of his life and with his manner of teaching, enlightens our way in which the Holy Spirit is the source of strength and light. Secular Franciscan Formation must be active, communal, centered on Jesus Christ and His Gospel, ecclesial, secular, fraternal, joyful, in the spirit of simplicity and open-ended.
ACTIVE. It must be drawn from life's experiences and directed toward those experiences. We find in the Gospel: Jesus sent his apostles and disciples on mission, even before Pentecost. Upon their return, they reviewed their work together with Jesus. See Mark 6:30; Mark 6:37-39; Mark 9:33-35; Matt. 17:19-21. St. Francis also formed his followers through action. This characteristic is reinforced by the II Vatican Council Document, "The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity," 29f and 30e.
COMMUNAL. Formation must happen through small groups of members sharing their faith experiences. Life in fraternity is an effective agent of formation. Fraternity life contributes to the growth of inter-active relationships, to the formation of the Fraternity personality and character and to the development of Franciscan attitudes. CENTERED ON JESUS CHRIST AND HIS GOSPEL. Every Franciscan rule of each branch of the family begins the same way: "The rule and life... is to observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is clearly expressed in the Secular Franciscan Rule.
ECCLESIAL. Formation is meant to create a vision of the church which is dynamic and inspiring as indicated in the II Vatican Council Documents, especially "The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," "the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," "the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity." and the United States Bishops' Pastoral, "Called and Gifted: Catholic Laity 1980."
SECULAR. In the past, the Secular Franciscan Order tended to operate out of a "religious life" model. The II Vatican Council Documents exhort us to develop a proper lay-secular spirituality. "They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence."
FRANCISCAN. Formation must contain, portray and reinforce the basic value-system of a Franciscan style of gospel living. A penitential lifestyle was the distinctive characteristic of the first brothers and sisters who followed St. Francis. This meant a complete turning toward the Lord, a metanoia, or conversion in the true biblical sense. The penitents of Assisi concretely expressed their penitential lifestyle in the specific ministries of peacemaking, reconciliation, and in ministries to the sick, dying and emarginated members of society.
JOYFUL. Joy was a virtue that was most important to St. Francis, and he desired that all of his followers cultivate this virtue as well. "In my presence and in the presence of others, try always to be joyful, for it is not fitting that a servant of God appear before the friars and others with a sad and glum face" (II Celano125).
In the spirit of SIMPLICITY. Simplicity is a virtue that St. Francis stressed for the friars. It is essential for the Secular Franciscan lifestyle also.
OPEN-ENDED. Formation is meant to prepare the person to live out his/her vocation in a practical way in the real world, to look at the world situation, and to accurately read the signs of the times: to become interested and involved in the real and human concerns, and not to be indifferent to human problems. It is an attitude of evangelical charity, a way of dissolving that self-centeredness which is often found in daily living, means of critiquing the events and situations and materials which constitute the ordinary life in the world. Formation, therefore, is a process that never ends. As personal life situation changes, one must be open to the new ways in which the Spirit of God will lead and Challenge to serve.
From: Guidelines for Initial Formation in the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States. U.S.A. 1990