For those who are inspired by the lived example of Gospel life modeled by Francis and Clare of Assisi, but find that their vocation is not to consecrated religious life as a friar or sister, perhaps you might consider pursuing a commitment as what is commonly referred to as the secular franciscans, or the Third Order of St. Francis (SFOs).
Given that many, and likely most, of the hundreds of people who read this blog daily are not friars or sisters (although there are some), I thought it might be good to put a little spotlight on the SFOs and, if you aren’t familiar with this way of following the Gospel life in the footprints of St. Francis, introduce you to this international community.
The first chapter of the Rule of Secular Franciscan Order explains outright the place and purpose of the SFO.
- 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 Saint 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.
- The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful. In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.
As the Rule explains, the SFO is a community of men and women who, inspired by the example of St. Francis and like the first men and women drawn to the poverello‘s holy example, make a special commitment to follow the Gospel life according to the charism of the worldwide Franciscan family.
SFOs are indeed truly Franciscans. Many people, when thinking of what a “Franciscan” looks like, think of somebody like me and my brother friars, those men who profess the Rule of life of the First Order of St. Francis and wear a religious habit. However, the Franciscan family is much broader and includes single men and women of varying ages, married couples, young adults and, of course, friars and sisters — each group living the spirit of the Saint from Assisi in their respective lives.
Secular Franciscans make promises to follow their Rule and, like the friars and sisters, have a designated period of formation during which time potential Secular Franciscans learn more about the spirituality, history and theology of the Franciscan tradition. It is also a time for communal prayer and discernment, seeking to understand the Spirit’s leadings in one’s life.
There have been some very famous Secular Franciscans including Pope Leo XIII, Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton and many others.
There is much more that can be said about the SFOs, so I would encourage you to read more and learn about this way of being-in-the-world as a committed member of the Franciscan family. You can check out the website of the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order (USA) and, if you happen to live in New York like me, you can check out the Bl. Katerie Region of the SFO website. For those interested in reading the Rule in its entirety, check out The SFO Rule.
Additionally, there are Secular Franciscans that are part of the Anglican Communion, for more information on this fraternity, check out their website: Third Order, Society of St. Francis. There is also an Ecumenical Franciscan Order that seeks to incorporate the Franciscan Charism and Spirituality into a variety of Christian communities beyond the Catholic and Anglican Churches. The Spirit of St. Francis is too big for just one group!