Reflections on Formation Topics in the
Vocation, Charism, and Mission - 2
This Reflection is based on material found in the Vocation, Charism, and Mission section of the F.U.N. Manual
In this FUN Reflection I'll reflect on Charism. As previously noted, I've only copied those paragraphs pertaining to this reflection and formators should use the original text of the FUN Manual, not these reflections. These reflections have only one purpose - to acquaint you what is available in the F.U.N. Manual, and to put emphasis on the use of these valuable lessons for ongoing formation, particularly for those of us who have been professed for many years.
My guess is that if you have been issued one of these F.U.N. Manuals, and you are not someone involved directly as a formator, it is possible that this 2-3 inch stack of paperwork will lie in a closet and not see the light of day until it is needed. I've read some of this stuff already and it is so good, and so much more detailed, from, let's say, my formation in 1992-1994, that I am eager to continue to study this material and share my insights at the same time.
The Charism is the core of who we are as Franciscans. It is our "specific mission or goal, the apostolic task of the members of an Institute" - in our case the Secular Franciscan Order.
Note: Sentences in quotation marks or parts of sentences are those quoted from the source material.
If we look at Article 1 of the Rule of the SFO, we read, "The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God–laity, religious, and priests–who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi."
"In various ways and forms, but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church."
"We have just read that we Franciscans, all of us, have to make present in the world of our specific time, the charism of St. Francis and to accomplish this task, it is essential, for us to understand: the nature of the Franciscan Charism."
For reference, see Paragraphs 799, 800, 802, and 2684 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (these items are quoted in the F.U.N. Manual).
So what is this Charism of Francis and of his Family? "The mission to which Francis is called has an exceptional character and, as far as we know, it has remained unique in the history of the Church.
"To an exceptional mission there must be a corresponding extraordinary Charism to accomplish it. This cannot be one or more virtues lived heroically, but a comprehensive gift that radically re-shapes a person's whole life, in all its expressions and which prepares it for a specific mission.
"St. Bonaventure writes about Francis: "Surely he was the most Christ-like of men! His only desire was to be like Christ and imitate him perfectly, and he was found worthy to be adorned with the marks of his likeness; in his life he imitated the life of Christ, and in death he imitated his death, and he wished to be like him still when he was dead." (LMj, XIV, etc., for footnotes see F.U.N. Manual)
"But what is the existential characteristic of Christ, the very essense of His life? This characteristic cannot but be that of "being Son", the Son of the Father. His personality is a "son-like" personality. This filial quality penetrates the depth of his mystery."
"We, Franciscans, understand the charism with which the Holy Spirit has endowed Francis as the experience (ability) of truly feeling to be "a son" in the hands of the heavenly Father, just like Jesus the Son."
So let us reflect on the words above. This is heavy stuff, and it desires of us a relationship with the Father, which is almost as that of a child. In fact, "filial" is defined as a relationship between a child and a parent. In order for us to understand this filial relationship, it is first important for us to realize that God loves us in a filial way. The Father's total "Self-surrender or complete self-giving [kenosis] with an unprecedented intensity, is the great and special gift Francis received. "Francis understood the essence/nature of God to pour Himself out in love for all His creatures. This is God's desire; His original intention to enter into a lover/beloved relationship with mankind.
"O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!" (LtOrd 27)
This was the gift Francis was given: to perceive, as never before, God's own humble essence, the depth of His love without reservation. His poverty, His simplicity and all the consequences that derive from all this, which then became the lived experience and practices of Francis' life.
But how do we accomplish this? Only with God's help! It has been my good fortune (I look upon it as a gift from God) to have spent a year or two with the OFM Capuchins (when I was about 20), and two years almost with the OFM's (when I was an older adult) never realizing why God wanted me to have these experiences. Well, I think I finally figured it out - it became a slow lead in to becoming a Secular Franciscan and, as is the case now, to becoming involved in the formation of Secular Franciscans (through these Reflections among other things). I mention these experiences to reflect on some wonderful Franciscans I have met in the past, people who truly emulated St. Francis, serious about how they lived their Franciscan charism. Brothers who lived an intense Eucharistic life, who really took serious their life of poverty. And who acknowledged their Minority-Humility as a complete self-giving (consequence of kenosis). Friars who lived in simplicity, obedience, and of course, Chastity. Men who were fraternity-builders within their fraternity, but also in its universal and cosmic implications, to be lived with special intensity. They did. They lived the Franciscan evangelical radicality, as a specific way Saint Francis followed the total Christ in simplicity and sine glossa (without spitting hairs on Gospel interpretation taking away, watering down or adding to it).
I've also met some Secular Franciscans who try very hard to live simply, frugally, in obedience to Rule and Franciscan spirituality.
"A true "specific" vocation requires that we understand the deep reasons for our attraction to Francis. First to desire and seek the same Jesus "found" by Saint Francis and then to ask if I am ready to develop the same kind of "relationship" with Jesus that Francis lived.
"If I find the humble God, the simple God, the servant God, the God who has emptied himself, and if I find him in the Son and if in finding him, I make him not only an object of intellectual reflection but I manage somehow to make Him the foundation of my life and practice, as Francis did, then, this is Franciscan vocation."
Francis' charism, then, starts working in me to transform me and enables me to undertake and continue his original mission, in a personal way, blending this charism into my own unique life and making it my own.
"We cannot be apathetic or hesitant about living this charism; if we are not committed, then it is not vocation."
With this gift of God, this Charism, comes a "special Grace" to live this new state of life, springing from our Profession, which is a true and life-long nuptual alliance with God. "This Grace is a gift of the Spouse: we give our life to Him, He responds and totally gives His to us."
Profession is a liturgical act: it realizes, what it signifies. For this, a special gift of grace accompanies this consecration of ourselves."
--the intercession of Saint Francis, whose spiritual children we become.
--the inclusion in the reciprocal vital communion of the whole Franciscan Family of today and of all times.
This new gift which we have received in our call, is added to all other particular gifts we have already received. "Our personal charism" makes us those unique persons that God has loved and desired from eternity.
After dealing with Charism, we move on to the Mission of St. Francis: "To Repair the Church (House).
What is this Church-House? No, it is not the building, stones and mortars. Instead, it is the "Body of Christ" - and the Body of Christ can only be repaired with Christ Himself, through His Spirit!
"As we look at Francis, we see Christ! Francis has become a sacrament of Christ ... and Christ leads us to the Father."
"Jesus Himself wants the Father to be the norm and model, the inspiration and aim of all human beings. "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Mt. 5:48; NMI 31)
"We, Secular Franciscans have to make ourselves available, like Francis, every time the Church calls, every time there is something, anything, to "repair". There are reconciliations to promote, sufferings to alleviate, solitudes to fill, despair to console, marginalization to fight, material and spiritual poverties to heal, respect for life and for nature, youth to love and to accompany, places to catechize, Liturgies to animate, and Christian Communities to support in anything they might need, etc. These are the places where Secular Franciscans need to be found! There are no limits!
As Children of Francis we must continue his mission!
Peace and Good,
Fred Schaeffer, OFS