Fr. Felice Cangelosi OFM Cap continues his discussion on profession in the Secular Franciscan Order.
The second element that distinguishes Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order is its necessary reference to St Francis. What is promised is to live the gospel after the manner of St Francis, following in his footsteps and according to his example and the instructions given by him, which today are gathered together in the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order.
The constant concern to underline the fact that Secular Franciscans intend to live the gospel after the manner of St Francis and by means of this Rule authenticated by the Church (Rule 2; Const 1,3; 8,1), is by no means fortuitous.
Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order therefore has this essential structure: the life of Secular Franciscans depends on the gospel, mediated by the inspiration and experience of Francis of Assisi, who from the beginning of his conversion took it as his rule of life and action.
However, we still need to make the point that Francis’ intention was simply to return to the Gospel of Jesus. Every Franciscan vocation is therefore an evangelical-Franciscan vocation, not because Francis’ experience is intended as a substitute for the gospel, but because the gospel is rendered transparent through the mediation of Francis. So, for Franciscans it is a question of learning from Francis and, like him, of knowing no other rule or life except that of the gospel of Jesus. This mediation by Francis lies at the origin of our vocation.
The Franciscan mediation of the gospel extends to the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, to “this Rule” (and to no other), as “authenticated by the Church”. Through its approval at the highest level, the Church takes “ownership” of the SFO Rule (the Rule belongs to the Church) and by its authority proposes it to the Secular Franciscans. In this way the Church simply transmits to Secular Franciscans the gospel message of salvation, which is spirit and life for all believers.
Therefore, for those who make profession in the Secular Franciscan Order in order to “attain the perfection of charity in their secular state” (Rule 2), the reference to Francis, the Rule and the Constitutions is not an optional matter: it sets the standard, it is the norm. Obviously everything depends on how one understands and lives the Franciscan vocation. A true vocation is one that takes hold of a person’s whole being, becomes the very substance of one’s being as a person, to such an extent that the individual is unable to think of or define himself except as one who is called to the evangelical-Franciscan life. Rule and Constitutions, are not extrinsic realities to the life of a Secular Franciscan, but are themselves his/her life, on the basis of the gospel. In fact, we ought to speak of a” life” rather than a Rule, thus accepting all the fullness of St Francis’ concept. For him, life was to observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He never intended to issue rules for his companions or followers, whether religious or secular; he simply put forward a style of life, one that flowed from the gospel.. Consequently, in his writings, Francis speaks more of “life” than of a Rule (“This is the life of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Brother Francis asked the Lord Pope Innocent to grant and confirm for him”: Rnb) and when he says Rule, he sometimes puts Rule and life together (cfr Rb). For Francis the Rule is only the gospel, to be lived and observed literally and in its entirety. The saying of the SFO Rule derives from this: “The Rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, following the example of Francis of Assisi» (Rule 4).
In conclusion, Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order, as a promise to live the gospel in the manner of St Francis, aims to put before us the radical, light-filled and joyful style in which Francis listens to the gospel and commits himself to live it.