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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

9 Comments

  1. As far as to my knowledge and belief Thomas Merton was not a Franciscan. He was about to join but dropped back. Pl can you clarify

  2. Ruzai, great question! Yes, Merton initially desired to enter the First Order of St. Francis (the Franciscan Friars, or OFMs, like me), but that did not come to fruition. On February 19, 1941, while teaching English at St. Bonaventure University and months before he would join the Trappists, Thomas Merton was received into the Third Order of St. Francis, the Secular Franciscans (SFOs).

    Lots of people think that Merton was not a Franciscan, but he most certainly was. He was a Secular Franciscan and that spiritual influence continued to shape his prayer, life and writing until his death.

  3. Your use of the human term “dating” does not render God – nor man in his relation to God – due measure (justice). God indeed did adapt and make Himself understandable to human beings, in human terms, but only through a Father-Son relationship and in relation to the Church as a whole (only and metaphorically – comparatively) as the mystical body in union with Christ. We seek union with God as Sons and daughters in a spiritual way ONLY!

    To fall into the trap that all souls are feminine is to think illogically and to violate the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith, that all souls take the form of the body and are comprised of a spiritual substance as noted by St. Thomas Aquinas (whom the Church defers to theologically and at Vatican II, encourages all Catholics to study). The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “St. Thomas’ doctrine is briefly as follows: 1. The rational soul, which is one with the sensitive and vegetative principle, IS THE FORM OF THE BODY: This was defined as of faith by the Council of Vienne of 1311; the soul is a substance, but an incomplete substance…though connaturally related to the body, it is itself absolutely simple, ie, of an unextended and spiritual nature. It is not wholly immersed in matter…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 15, 1912, Charles Herberrman, Chief Editor, PhD. LLD). Hence, because the soul takes the form of the body and is a spiritual substance, it cannot be attributed to one human gender! Rather, it is a spiritual substance that in a unique, spiritual way ultimately chooses union with God or not!

    Keep in mind that Sacred Scripture is the starting point of all revealed truth and hence, your term also contradicts man’s relation to God as noted in Sacred Scripture:

    Feminine terms are used in Scripture (particularly in the Old Testament) by male authors to show a certain figurative relationship to the author: for example the author of Wisdom – probably Solomon – wanted to show the reader (always men during the historical time in which he lived and in Jewish history, for men alone read from the books of Scripture in the Jewish synagogue) that wisdom, as a gift, was his devout companion (wisdom is not feminine, but a spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit).

    The Apostle John notes theologically, in Chapter 21, verse 5b, our relation to God through a key event (The Resurrection Appearance in Galilee): “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” (NAB translation)
    “Children, have you any fish?” (RSV Catholic Edition)
    “Children, have you any meat?” (Douay Rheims Bible)

    Hence, we are all sons and daughters of God and do not perfectly relate physicially and emotionally to God – in our desire for union with God – as we relate to each other! The human term “dating” is inappropriate, for example, because it encompasses the complete human romantic experience, and with regard to God, DOES NOT consider our son-daughter relationship to God!

    As your Franciscan brother and a professional theologcal instructor, I pass this on to you in charity!

    F. Sage.

    1. While I welcome your remarks, I’m not sure I follow your argument nor your presenting concern. Where do you get the impression that I posit “that all souls are feminine?” Where do you get the impression that I propose any gendered understanding of God or humanity collectively? You are correct to say that Sacred Scripture is the normative source for all theological reflection — yet, where do you see this as an issue in what is presented here? As for your comments about the Symbols of Divine Immanence in the Hebrew Scriptures and the various translations of John 21:5 (which appears as a non sequitur), I can assure you that your understanding of the exegesis is significantly mistaken. I would encourage you to read some of the contemporary Scriptural and theological literature on this matter to acquaint yourself with the sensus plenior.

      As for your comment:

      Hence, we are all sons and daughters of God and do not perfectly relate physicially and emotionally to God – in our desire for union with God – as we relate to each other! The human term “dating” is inappropriate, for example, because it encompasses the complete human romantic experience, and with regard to God, DOES NOT consider our son-daughter relationship to God!

      I would encourage you to read my 2007 article in America magazine about this subject and suggest that you read my forthcoming book in Spring 2012 that explains the use of this particular metaphor. No where do I (nor anyone else that I know) suggest that humans can “perfectly relate physically and emotionally to God.” So, I am unsure why feel it necessary to comment on that. I thank you for your interest in this site and your thoughtful contribution to the discussion in the comments section. One final comment, your use of gender-exclusive language to refer to humanity (i.e., “man” and “mankind”) is something I find unnecessary and inappropriate today. In future posts on this site, please be mindful of gender-inclusive language so as to avoid being offensive. Thanks.

      1. What are your academic theological credentials, Brother Dan, and will you take a pledge of obedience to the Magisterium of the Church, when it comes to providing interpretations of Scripture?

        I possess an advanced degree in sacred theology, have written numerous articles on the subject of Sacred Scripture and have taught and continue to teach Biblical Studies both in Dioceses and privately. I assure you, my interpretation of John 21:5 shows humanity’s proper relation to God, for it keeps unity between man physically and spiritually and further recognizes, implicitly, that the soul takes the form of the body, as St. Thomas Aquinas noted (I suggest your readers look up the term soul and its relation to the body in the Catholic Encyclopedia).

        Further, the fact that you refer me to CONTEMPORARY theological and scriptural literature urges me to invite you to read some of Dr. Scott Hahn’s work, particularly “A Father Who Keeps His Promises.” I’m certain you won’t question Dr. Hahn’s interpretations. As you know, he is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of Covenantal theology and Biblical Studies.

        Finally, I urge you to ditch America Magazine, a recognized heterodox or untruthful journal (some of the the conclusions drawn in this journal have been considered unfaithful to Magisterial teaching), for recently its Jesuit editor, Fr. Thomas Reese, was asked to step down by our Holy Father, Benedict XVI. I would ask you to consider reading Catholic Biblical Quarerly or another scholarly journal.

        Your Brother in Christ who wishes you well,

        FR Sage

        Brother Dan, every approved translation of Sacred Scripture on the market, from the New American Bible to the New Revised Standard Version, utilizes gender, for human creation was not made unisex!

        I possess an advanced degree in sacred theology and have written numerous articles on sacred scripture and its relation to Sacred Tradition. With academic standing do you

        In charity, you, not me, my brother are mistaken! The scriptural interpretation I gave regarding John 21

        I possess an advanced degree in sacrd theology, have written numerous academic articles on the subject of sacred scriture

        Further, America Magazine, is heterodox pub

      2. Your comment does not really merit a response, but I will offer only this: Concerning my qualifications, you can look at just a sample of my exemplary academic qualifications by following the CV link on this site, that you haven’t yet betrays your inattentiveness to detail. I do not know who you are and therefore feel as though I cannot adequately assess your so-called qualifications to raise such ostensibly absurd critiques (here I note your comments about America magazine, among others). Whereas information about my degrees, faculty appointments, books, scholarly and popular articles, academic conference presentations, invited lectures, membership on various boards and committees are readily accessible online and in libraries across the world, I have no idea what you are about or who you are. Concerning Scott Hahn, he has done some decent work in Scriptural exegesis such as the articles of his that I have read in years past in journals such as Journal of Biblical Literature and Catholic Biblical Quarterly. But his other, more popular work remains open to serious critique.

  4. Dan, I like your article and its a great PR piece for the SFO. I have been a professed secular for 9 years now and it is and has been a great blessing in my life and is what inspired me to return to St. Bonaventure and enroll in the Educational Leadership curriculum. I’m not a theologian. I don’t get the gender thing either. I think God is both feminine and masculine. The Ruach is often portrayed as a feminine figure. I am reminded of the painting of the Ruach at Mt. Irenaeus. One of my favorites. Thanks for a good article, Don Watkins, SFO.

  5. Br. Dan I think your site is wonderful and describes the
    Order in a precise and concise manner. I don’t know who this person
    who calls himself “Fr. Sage” (probably a nom de plumb) is, but I am
    at the level of candidacy, hoping to be a professed Secular
    Franciscan in about a year. You don’t have to be defensive with
    this person. He is obviously the disparaging type. We love him, but
    don’t agree with him. I, also, don’t know where he got the idea
    that you said “all souls are feminine. Perhaps from the use of the
    word “dating” (boys date too, Mr/Fr Sage). I notice that he doesn’t
    give any particulars such as to where and when he obtained his
    degree, what articles he has actually written, or which diocese he
    does or did teach in. In his defense, I have to say I have
    misgivings about “America Magazine” myself. Also, concerning Scott
    Hahn – although I don’t connect with him as many, many others seem
    to, I keep hearing on programs such as “The Journey Home” of his
    widespread appeal, particularly to the more scholarly types. The
    body of Christ has many members, each with their own gifts and
    roles to play. I just wish Fr/Mr Sage had responded in a more
    loving manner. Perhaps then I could lend more credence to what he
    is saying.

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