Fraternity & the Rule: Thoughts, Insights, and Questions

By Jerry Stecker, OFS

At the most recent council meeting we discussed our rule. There seemed to be an agreement that we all could benefit from some discussion of our rule and constitution. It was suggested perhaps we could dedicate 10 or 15 minutes of our gathering to this each month. I thought I would get a start by discussing our rule and “fraternity” in light of our discussions both in our gathering and in the council regarding attendance and financial support. I thought I would highlight what I gleaned from my own look at our documents and share my thoughts.

Let me start with an experience I’m sure many have had. Not long ago I attended a funeral with the usual luncheon that followed. At this meal I sat next to a woman who noticed my Tau and asked about it. When I mentioned I was a Secular Franciscan she looked puzzled. I explained that we gather in fraternities each month. I didn’t quote the rule to her but I explained that our vocation calls us to this. For our purposes I will quote from our General Constitutions. Let’s start with a statement about what our vocation is.

General Constitutions, Article 3.3:  The vocation to the OFS is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion. For this purpose, the members of the OFS gather in ecclesial communities which are called fraternities.

In our gatherings we support each other in efforts to live the gospel life. We find ways to go from gospel to life and life to gospel together. We cannot do this on our own and still maintain fraternal life connections with others in our fraternity. As a former national minister told me, “One cannot be in fraternity in isolation.”

General Constitutions Article 24.2: In the fraternity:

  • the spirituality of the family and of marriage and the Christian attitude towards family problems should be a theme for dialogue and for the sharing of experiences;
  • they should share the important moments of the family life of their Franciscan brothers and sisters and they should give fraternal attention to those — single, widows, single parents, separated, divorced — who are living difficult situations;

General Constitutions Article 26.2: In the fraternity, the brothers and sisters should promote mutual understanding and they should see to it that the atmosphere of their meetings is welcoming and that it reflects joy. They should encourage one another for the good.

General Constitutions Article 27.2: Secular Franciscans should commit themselves to create in their environment and, above all, in their fraternities, a climate of faith and hope so that “Sister Death” may be regarded as a passage to the Father, and all may prepare themselves with serenity.

Ok, so now I’m imagining how the conversation at the funeral lunch might have gone if she had not started eating her pasta. The point is that this exercise is one I wanted to do to help clarify my thoughts regarding the several folks in our fraternity who have not been active members for quite some time. After all our fraternity is our members.

General Constitutions, Article 30:

  1. The brothers and sisters are co-responsible for the life of the fraternity to which they belong and for the OFS as the organic union of all fraternities throughout the world.
  2. The sense of co-responsibility of the members requires personal presence, witness, prayer, and active collaboration, in accordance with each one’s situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity.
  3. Rule 25 In a family spirit, each brother and sister should make a contribution to the fraternity fund, according to each one’s means, to provide the financial means needed for the life of the fraternity and for its religious, apostolic, and charitable works.  The brothers and sisters ought to provide the means necessary for supporting the activities and the operations of the fraternities at higher levels, both by their financial assistance and by their contributions in other areas as well.

General Constitutions, Article 53.3: Insertion into a local fraternity and participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the OFS.  Appropriate initiatives should be adopted according to the directives of the national statutes, to keep those brothers and sisters united to the fraternity who —for valid reasons of health, family, work, or distance —cannot actively participate in community life.

General Constitutions, Article 56.2: The repeated and prolonged default in the obligations of the life of the fraternity and other conduct in serious opposition to the Rule have to be discussed by the council in dialogue with the person at fault.  Only in the case of obstinacy or relapse may the council decide, with a secret vote, to suspend someone.  It communicates its decision in writing to the person concerned.

So repeated and prolonged default in these obligations in the life of the fraternity and other conduct in serious opposition to the rule have to be discussed. We are not even discussing suspension but just listing some as lapsed. Which means they are not listed on our roles but can come back to fraternal life when they decide to participate and support the fraternity financially. So the decision to be “lapsed” is really of their own choosing. We simply confirm that condition which already exists.

National Statutes, Article 18.7: The Local Fraternity is responsible for contributing to the Regional Fraternity on a fair share basis from its common fund to underwrite the costs of that fraternity [cf. General Constitutions, article #30.3]. A fair share contribution is made based on the number of active and excused brothers and sisters, but not for those who are deemed lapsed.

a) An active fraternity member is one who participates both by attending fraternity meetings and by providing financial support to the community, or whom the fraternity has excused from such obligations.

b) Those brothers and sisters who neither attend meetings, support the community financially, nor have valid reasons due to health, family, work or distance, and who, after personal invitations to return to fraternity, consciously and deliberately reject or ignore the invitation, will be termed “lapsed” and will not be carried on the fraternity membership roll nor be reported as a member to higher fraternity Councils [cf. General Constitutions, article #53.3].

I’m sure you have noticed that the council acting on behalf of the fraternity has to be aware of these conditions. We have to determine who should be lapsed especially when there are extenuating circumstances that must be considered.

National Statutes, Article 53.3:Insertion into a local fraternity and participation in fraternity life is essential for belonging to the OFS.  Appropriate initiatives should be adopted according to the directives of the national statutes, to keep those brothers and sisters united to the fraternity who — for valid reasons of health, family, work, or distance — cannot actively participate in community life.

This was our discussion at the most recent council meeting. We looked for any valid reasons to consider on behalf of each individual who has not attended our gatherings. There may be some who cannot attend our gatherings for valid reasons. If this is the case then the fraternity has an obligation to keep these members in touch with the fraternity through ongoing contact. First we need to decide if there are any who meet this Article and how we can proceed.

So to sum up my thoughts, we are Seculars not just because we do lots of wonderful good deeds but because we are called to gather in fraternity. We must participate in fraternity life. Be active members in our fraternity. We must support the fraternity through fair share and our common fund. These are essential elements to being a Secular Franciscan. Yes we can and should be good Catholics doing good works and living the gospel life. It is in following our rule and constitution though that makes us Seculars.

We realize also there are those who cannot always gather with us. If there are good reasons why someone cannot attend fraternity gatherings then we must take the fraternity to them. That is our charge. Also if someone cannot pay their fair share for the year then that needs to be brought to the attention of the council by the fraternity member so we can waive this fee. Those who do not have reasons to miss gathering as defined by our rule and constitution make themselves “lapsed”.

After going through this exercise I understand better how important my vocation is and how my life in fraternity is essential to my calling. I’m wondering what others think.

  1. How do we nourish and grow our vocations as Seculars?
  2. Do we need to improve our gatherings each month and if so how can we?
  3. Why does our rule and constitution focus on having each of us at our gatherings each month?
  4. Why is it important to bring the fraternity to those who have good reasons, according to our rule, to be excused from attendance?
  5. Is it important for all to support the fraternity financially? Why?
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