A Franciscan Vocation is a vocation to follow Christ after the manner
of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A.D.), the founder of the Order of
St. Francis, who in the words of Pope Pius XI, "was sent by
Divine Providence for the reformation not only of the turbulent age in
which he lived but of Christian society of all times"
(Rite Expiatis: April 13, 1926 A.D.), is
one of the greatest saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Let us listen to
His Holiness, Pope Piux XI, speak of the Saint in the same encyclical
2. If some dare to compare, one with another, the heavenly heroes of
sanctity destined by the Holy Ghost each to his own special mission
among men—these comparisons, the fruit for the most part of party
passions, are valueless and are at the same time an insult to God, the
author of sanctity—it seems necessary for Us to affirm that there has
never been anyone in whom the image of Jesus Christ and the evangelical
manner of life shone forth more lifelike and strikingly than in St.
Francis. He who called himself the "Herald of the Great King" was also
rightly spoken of as "another Jesus Christ," appearing to his
contemporaries and to future generations almost as if he were the Risen
Christ. He has always lived as such in the eyes of men and so will
continue to live for all future time. Nor is it marvelous that his early
biographers, contemporaries of the Saint, in their accounts of his life
and works, judged him to be of a nobility almost superior to human
nature itself. Our Predecessors who dealt personally with Francis did
not hesitate to recognize in him a providential help sent by God for the
welfare of Christian peoples and of the Church.
3. Notwithstanding the long time that has elapsed since the death of
the Seraphic Father, the admiration for him, not only of Catholics but
even of non-Catholics, continues amazingly to increase for the reason
that his greatness appears to the minds of men with no less splendor
today than it did long ago. We, too, most ardently pray for the strength
of his virtues which have been so powerful, even at the present hour, in
remedying the ills of society. In fact, his work of reform has permeated
so deeply Christian peoples that besides re-establishing purity of faith
and of morals it has resulted in this, that even the laws of justice and
of evangelical charity now more profoundly inspire and guide social life
But why was St. Francis so instrumental in serving Christ and His
Church? And more importantly, for us today, why is the following of St.
Francis so much needed today? To answer these questions let us review what
Pope Pius XI says, further on in the same Encyclical Letter, where he
gives us a short summary of the life of St. Francis:
6. The terrible conditions existing in the times when St. Francis
lived are well known to you, Venerable Brothers. It is quite true that
then the faith was more deeply rooted in the people, as is proven by the
holy enthusiasm with which not only professional soldiers but even
citizens of every class bore arms in Palestine to free the Holy
Sepulcher. However, heresies gradually arose and grew in the vineyard of
the Lord, propagated either by open heretics or by sly deceivers who,
because they professed a certain austerity of life and gave a false
appearance of virtue and piety, easily led weak and simple souls astray.
They went about, too, amid the multitudes spreading the destructive
flames of rebellion. If some of these men, in their pride, believed
themselves called by God to reform the Church to which they imputed the
faults of private persons, even going to the length of rebelling against
the teachings and authority of the Holy See, later they openly
manifested the real intention by which they were inspired. It is a
notorious fact that before long the greater part of these heretics ended
their careers in licentiousness and vice, and succeeded in embroiling
the state in difficulties and in undermining the foundations of
religion, of property, of the family, and of society. In a word, what
happened then is precisely what we see recurring so often in the course
of the centuries; rebellions leveled against the Church are followed or
accompanied by rebellions against the state, the one receiving aid and
comfort from the other.
7. Although the Catholic faith still lived in the hearts of men, in
some cases intact and in others a bit obscured, however lacking they
might have been in the spirit of the gospels, the charity of Christ had
become so weakened in human society as to appear to be almost extinct.
To say nothing of the constant warfare carried on by the partisans of
the Empire, on the one hand, and by those of the Church on the other,
the cities of Italy were torn by internecine wars because one party
desired to rule, refusing to recognize the rights of the barons to
govern, or because the strong wished to force the weak to submit to
them, or because of the struggles for supremacy between political
parties in the same city. Horrible massacres, conflagrations,
devastation and pillage, exile, confiscation of property and estates
were the bitter fruits of these struggles.
8. Sad indeed was the fate of the common people, while between lords
and vassals, between the greater and the lesser, as they were called,
between the owners of land and the peasants existed relations in every
sense of the world foreign to the spirit of humanity. Peace-loving
people were harassed and oppressed with impunity by the powerful. Those
who did not belong to that most unfortunate class of human beings, the
proletariat, allowed themselves to be overcome by egotism and greed for
possessions and were driven by an insatiable desire for riches. These
men, regardless of the laws which had been promulgated in many places
against vice, ostentatiously paraded their riches in a wild orgy of
clothes, banquets, and feasts of every kind. They looked on poverty and
the poor as something vile. They abhorred from the depths of their souls
the lepers—leprosy was then very widespread—and neglected these outcasts
completely in their segregation from society. What is worse, this greed
for wealth and pleasure was not even absent, though many of the clergy
are to be commended for the austerity of their lives, from those who
should have most scrupulously guarded themselves from such sin. The
custom, too, was prevalent of monopolizing wealth and piling up large
fortunes. These fortunes were often acquired in divers and sinful
manners, sometimes by the violent extortion of money and other times by
usury. Many increased and swelled their patrimony by an illicit trade in
public office and emoluments, in the administration of justice, and even
by the procuring of immunity from punishment for persons convicted of
9. The Church was not silent under these circumstances; neither did
it spare its edicts of punishment; but of what use was all this when
even the Emperors drew down on themselves the anathemas of the Holy See,
and, to the great scandal of all, contumaciously despised these decrees?
Even the monastic life, which had brought so many spiritual fruits to
maturity, tarnished now by the dirt of this world, possessed no longer
the strength to resist and to defend itself. If the founding of new
religious orders brought some small help and strength to the maintenance
of ecclesiastical discipline, certainly a much stronger flame of light
and love was necessary to reform human society which had been so
10. To bring light to the people of this world which We have
described, and to lead them back to the pure ideals of the wisdom of the
Gospels, there appeared, in the Providence of God, St. Francis of Assisi
who, as Dante sang, "shone as the sun" (Paradiso,
Canto XI), or as Thomas of Celano had already written of a
similar figure, "he shone forth as a resplendent star on a dark night,
like the morning which spreads itself over the darkness."
(Legenda I, No. 37)
11. As a youth, St. Francis was expansive and highstrung, a lover of
luxurious dress. He was accustomed to invite to magnificent banquets the
friends he had chosen from among the fashionable and pleasure-loving
young men of the town. He walked through the streets with them, singing
gaily. But even at that time in his life he became known for the
integrity of his moral life, his correctness in conversation, and his
utter disdain of wealth. After his imprisonment in Perugia, which was
followed by a long illness, he felt himself, not without a certain sense
of astonishment, completely transformed. However, as if he desired to
flee from the hands of God, he went to Puglia on a military mission. On
this journey he felt himself commanded by God in unmistakable terms to
return to Assisi and learn there what he must do. After much wavering
and many doubts, through divine inspiration and through having heard at
solemn Mass that passage from the Gospels which speaks of the apostolic
life, he understood at last that he, too, must live and serve Christ
"according to the very words of the Holy Gospels." From that time on he
undertook to unite himself to Christ alone and to make himself like unto
Him in all things. In "all his efforts, public as well as private, he
turned to the Cross of Our Lord, and from the moment he began to live as
a soldier of Christ, the divers mysteries of the Cross shone round about
him." (Thomas of Celano, Treatise on Miracles, No. 2)
Truly he was a brave soldier and knight of Christ because of the
nobility and generosity of his heart; wherefore to prove that neither he
nor his disciples were ever to be separated from Our Lord, he always had
recourse to the Gospels as to an oracle whenever he had to make a
decision on any matter. The rules of the Orders founded by him were made
to agree most scrupulously with the Gospels, and the religious life of
his followers with the life of the Apostles. For this reason at the very
beginning of his Rule, he wrote: "This is the life and rule of the
Friars Minor, to observe the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
(Beginning of Rule of the Friars Minor)
St. Francis was so prolific a founder that he founded three religious
Orders, one for men (priests & brothers), one for nuns, an a third for lay
people. The Order of Friars Minor was the first of these.
The Marian Observance of the Gospel
For St. Francis the Observance of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ
was everything, for since Christ is the One Messiah and Teacher of all
mankind, being God who cannot deceived nor be decieved, it follows that
His teachings are worthy of unlimited trust and are the most and only sure
path to eternal salvation.
This conviction of St. Francis is itself very scriptural, being none
other than that of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary Herself, who gave us
all a lesson in devotion to Jesus Christ, when She said, "Do
whatever He tells you." (The Gospel of John Chapter 2, verse 5)
St. Francis took this Marian Counsel to heart and spent his entire
religious life living according to all the teachings of Our Lord.
Specifically he did this in three ways:
1) By observing the Apostolic Life, which Our Lord taught to His
2) By living the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience
3) By his uncomprimising loyalty, devotion, and love for the Roman
Pontiff, as Vicar of Christ, and sucessor of St. Peter.
To better understand, therefore, what a Franciscan Vocation is, let us
take a closer look at these three aspects of St. Francis' life.
The Apostolic Life
For St. Francis and his contemporaries "The Apostolic Life" meant
something very specific and clear: the life lived by the Apostles of Jesus
Christ, as this is recorded in the Holy Gospels. It did not refer
principally to an apostolate of good works, as it is often used today.
The Life of the Apostles was something central to the Catholic Faith in
the Middle Ages, simply because it has always been the teaching of Holy
Mother Church that the outstanding holiness of the Apostles is an example
for all of us to imitate. The Apostles are the Twelve Foundation stones of
the New and Eternal Jerusalem, Christ's Mystical Bride, the Catholic
Church. Upon them and from them the Church is built up and receives
Christ's authentic teachings and sacraments.
To the Apostles we Catholics, therefore, owe a very great deal, for
they are our links in the chain of generations, connecting us back with
Jesus Christ and His Immaculate Mother.
What then is the Apostolic Life?
This is the form of life which Our Lord taught to His Apostles, as is
recorded in the Gospels, namely, in Matthew, Chapter 10; Mark Chapter 6,
verses 7-13; Luke Chapter 9, verses 1-27 and Chapter 10, verses 1-24.
It is important to note here that these instructions given by Our Lord
were given to the Apostles as a form of religious life, when He sent them
out to preach the Gospel. In as much as the Apostles were also our first
bishops, they were not obligated to observe all these teachings all the
time, for they would also have the duties of caring for the local churches
in all their necessities.
St. Francis, however, was inspired by God to take up this evangelical
form of religious life and to do so in a stable unchanging manner, by
promising God to observe the Gospel in this fashion for life. This is the
Franciscan Life and Vocation. It is a life focused on preaching and living
the Gospel, litterally, and with great simplicity of devotion.
For this purpose St. Francis wrote a rule, which is called the Regula
Bullata, since it was approved in its final form by the Bull of Pope
The Evangelical Counsels
"The Rule of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy
Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience without anything
of our own, and in chastity." (Solet Annuere, Chapter
In the very first chapter of St. Francis' Rule is the explanation and
summary of what it means to be a Franciscan and to follow Our Lord after
the example of St. Francis. Notice the importance in the mind of St.
Francis of the three evangelical counsels, those of obedience, poverty,
and chastity. These three vows are the foundation of all relgious life,
and especially that of St. Francis and Franciscans, the Friars Minor.
What is a vow?
A vow is a promise made to God to do something Good for the love of
God. This could be a prayer, good work or penance or a combination of
these. What makes this a vow is the promise made to God. Since God
is infinitely good and just and holy, a vow is therefore one of the most
importany acts anyone can make. Indeed religious vows are the greatest
sacrifice that a Catholic can offer to God, after that which the Priest
offers in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When a vow is fulfulled then God
is honored. And one fruit that comes from honoring God is the good example
this gives to others for their salvation.
There are a special kind of vows which are called religious vows. These
are vows to live a form of life which has been approved of by the Church.
Those who take religious vows are called religious. They live in
communities such as monasteries, friaries, convents, hermitages, etc.. The
three vows that most religious take are called the Evangelical Vows, which
are vows to live the three evangelical counsels which Our Lord taught to
His Apostles: obedience, poverty, and chastity.
These Three Evangelical Counsels are good works which Our Lord advised
all of us to practice sometime in life. They help us get to heaven. But
they are not commands: all of us need not observe them all at all times.
Yet it is good if some of us do. Among these are religious who promise to
observe these three by their religious vows.
Obedience is a virtue. We should obey all legitimate authority, in our
family (father and mother), in our nation (president/prime minister,
leaders of the government), and most importantly in the Church (the Pope,
our bishop, our pastor etc.). Without obedience no one can get to heaven.
A promise made to God to obey an ecclesiatical superior in a religious
community is called a vow of obedience. By it one makes himself a subject
of the superior and promises to obey him in accord with the Rule of the
Chastity is a virtue. We should be chaste in our family and in public
life. Without chastity no one can get to heaven. Chastity for the laity
means celebacy before and after marriage and respect for one's spouse in
marriage. Chastity for the clergy or for religious means celebacy for
life. The vow of chastity is something religious profess. By it they
sacrifice the freedom the laity have to marry and raise children.
Poverty is a virtue. We should love God above all things and love other
thing only insofar as they help us love God. Without the virtue of
poverty, which is a detatchment from possesing things for the love of God,
no one can get to heaven. No one should be greedy or make wealth the
purpose of his life. Religious by the vow of poverty promise to live as a
family, with all goods owned by the community and each member owning
What is unique about Franciscan Vows of Obedience, Poverty, and
All religious men and women live some form of the vows of obedience,
poverty, and chastity. But what distinguishes Franciscans from other
religious is the manner and extent of the sacrifice offered by these
In obedience a Franciscan not only promises to obey his legitimate
superiors in the Order in everything that is explicity contained in the
Rule and Norms of the community, but also oblidges himself to do
whatsoever the superior might command him so long as it is something good
and licit. By this vow, the Franciscan religious obtains a childlike
purity of heart which makes him pleasing to God and offers God the
greatest of all sacrifices, that of his entire free will.
In poverty a Franciscan not only renounces the ownership of all
possessions, giving them to the poor, and promises to live a communal life
with his fellow religious, but he entrusts his life to God's providence
and accepts only the use of necessary things. As such Franciscans
traditionally own no property, either personally nor as a community, nor
do they own or use money or financial instruments or investments. They
rely entirely upon the charity of the faithful in everything, accepting
the use of things and consumables in exchange for their manual labor.
In chastity a Franciscan not only renounces the goods of marriage, but
also promises to avoid all familiarity with women, as well as every
interior and exterior act which is against virginal purity. By this vow
the Franciscan religious, while on earth, takes on the angelic life of
purity which is the life of all the saints in Heaven.
Finnaly, by promising to observe the Gospel Life of the Apostles, the
Franciscan religious promises to observe a unique and very perfect form of
Marian Consecration, living as he does each day, to strive to ever more
perfectly observe the words of Our Lady at Cana, doing whatsoever Our
Lord says in the Gospel and through His Vicar on earth, the Roman
Loyalty, Devotion, and Love for the Roman
St. Francis who was and is held in high esteem by the Sucessors of St.
Peter as a "thoroughly Catholic and Apostolic man," is an
outstanding example of loyalty, devotion, and love that all Catholics,
indeed all Christians, should have for the Roman Pontiff.
St. Francis distinguished himself in this manner by frequently having
recourse to the assitance and council of the Popes of his time, to
propagating the Catholic Faith and the Roman Rite (as it had been
celebrated in the private Chapel of the Popes from time immemorial), and
by insisting on obedience to the Roman Pontiff in all matters
ecclesiatical and civil in the Italy of the 13th Century.
For example, we read in the Twelfth Chapter of the
"Let whoever of the friars who desires by divine inspiration to go
among the saracens and other infidels seek permission from thier
minister provincial. Indeed the ministers are to grant permission to go
to none, except those whom seems to be fit to be sent. For which sake I
enjoin the ministers by obedience, to seek from the Lord Pope one of the
Cardinals of the Roman Church, who is to be the govenor, protector, and
corrector of this fraternity, so that always subject and prostrate at
the feet of this same Holy Church, stable in the Catholic Faith we may
observe, as we have firmly promised, the poverty and humility and the
Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
This then is what a Franciscan Vocation is all about: a profoundly
Marian-Apostolic vocation in the service of the Roman Pontiff for the
honor and glory of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.