When referring to spirituality, what we are in essence referring to is a particular way or emphasis in following Christ. Common to all Christians is a focus on love, mercy and forgiveness, community, personal and communal prayer, love of Scripture, concern for justice and peace, leading a sacramental life and more. There are many religious groups within the Church living the Christian life, with the same goals and similar ways and means, but what distinguishes various groups is the emphasis they place in following Christ.
The many spiritualities within the Church are dependent upon the personalities of their founders and the times in which the religious communities were founded. Pope Pius XII described it this way, "The spirituality of any saint is his particular way of picturing God to himself, of speaking to him, of approaching him. Every saint sees the attributes of God in the light of what he ponders most, of what penetrates him most deeply, of what attracts and conquers him. For every saint, one particular virtue of Christ is the ideal toward which he must tend. Yet all the saints, indeed the whole Church, strive to imitate the whole Christ." For St. Francis, his great concern was to observe the Gospel and this became the charism of Franciscan Spirituality, to live the Gospel life. This is the fundamental aspect of Franciscan Spirituality and for us in the Third Order, our Rule makes this point clear at Chapter Two, The Way of Life:
The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people. Christ, the gift of the Father's love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel. (4)
For Secular Franciscans, to live the gospel life according to the spirit of St. Francis entails:
- to live in communion with Christ and in the love of God
- to live in brother/sisterhood with all people and of all creation
- to participate in the life and mission of the Church
- to be in continual conversion
- to lead a life of prayer, that is liturgical, personal and communal
- to be an instrument of peace
Franciscan spirituality recognizes God in all His aspects, a merciful God, a just God, a rewarding God and more, but in particular Franciscan spirituality emphasizes God as love and goodness. To love someone is to want what is good for him or her. In loving our brothers and sisters, we try to meet the physical, emotional, spiritual and human needs. Love is something that must expand and radiate to others, sending its light and warmth in all directions. As Secular Franciscans, we are called to love as God loves us, to share God's goodness in our lives with others and in so doing share in the divine life that God gives us.
To live in communion with each other as a sincere gift of self, sharing in the Trinitarian life of love, is a goal for all Christians. For Secular Franciscans, living the Gospel life is simply a life of love, to love as Jesus loved. Life in fraternity offers Secular Franciscans a special opportunity to live the gospel life with those who are like minded, to share and be strengthened in the love we give and receive. Life in fraternity enables us to be greater witnesses to the Christ like love St. Francis had for all his brothers and sisters, to all he communicated and came into contact with.
As Secular Franciscans we live out the gospel life in our everyday lives. Strengthen by life in fraternity, we collectively and individual meet the many challenges that we face living in the world, to "preach the gospel, use words when necessary." Living this life takes on many aspects. Our presence in the world gives us a special role because we are afforded the opportunity to penetrate levels of society where the First and Second Orders can not. In so doing, we try to affect a positive change in our professional and personal lives, seeking those opportunities to spread the Gospel. The daily duties and responsibilities of our work life and the tasks and the activities of our personal lives, do not separate us from our vocation as Secular Franciscans. The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium puts a fine point on the role of the laity when it states, "...even when occupied with temporal affairs, the laity can and must be involved in the precious work of evangelizing the world...it is the duty of all lay people to cooperate in spreading and building up the kingdom of Christ. The laity, consequently, have the duty to work hard to acquire a deeper knowledge of revealed truth and earnestly to pray to God for the gift of wisdom. (LG, 35)
In addition to the charism of St. Francis, of living the gospel life, Franciscan spirituality can also be distinguished by it's four pillars: creation, scripture, the Church and fraternity.
- Creation: St. Francis saw God our Father in everything. If God is the great Creator, then everything in the created world has a little bit of God in it. As part of God’s creation, St. Francis did not view humans as above any other form of creation but rather, in partnership with the rest of creation. Saint Francis preferred to see humans as living in harmony with the rest of creation rather than trying to dominate it. With this in mind, St. Francis referred to everything in creation as Brothers and Sisters. St. Francis even accepted death, Sister Death as he put it, as something we must all embrace as everything in God’s creation must die.
- Scripture: Jesus is the life model for all Christians and it is only in Holy Scripture that we find that model for our lives exemplified in the life of Jesus Himself. St. Francis recognized the Word of God as the preeminent source for knowing and following the Will of God, oftentimes referring to the Scriptures in his decision making.
- The Church: God called St. Francis to live within the Church, for the Church and in service to the Church. God has called the entire Franciscan Order not to be an entity by itself, but at the service of the church at large. Franciscans living in poverty, chastity and obedience does not place them above the Church, but as a necessary part of the Church.
- Fraternity:Fraternity is a necessary aspect of Franciscan spirituality as it produces an environment conducive to the Franciscan journey. It is easier to live a Christian life when others are doing like wise. For St. Francis, his brothers strengthened each other and the Church as a whole. All in fraternity are called to be single minded in the goal to know, love and serve God. In fraternity, Franciscans do what Christ meant for them to do and to share the fruits he has blessed each individual with, each in his or her own way.