Oct 5, 2017
This past Wednesday (Oct. 4) we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi who founded the Franciscan Order in the first decade of the 13th century. The first rule of this Order, a simple and short letter to the Pope, is said to have been acknowledged by the Church in the year 1209. As this brotherhood of mendicant friars continued to grow during the following decades and centuries there was ongoing development and expansion in its institutional setting. A variety of preferred lifestyles and different perceptions of the original customs and practices brought about changes among the brothers so that today the Franciscan brotherhood can be seen in at least four somewhat distinct groupings. Many people in the Detroit area are very familiar with the OFM Capuchins who minister in our diocese in a number of social outreach ministries. Besides this branch of Franciscans there are the Conventuals, the Third Order Regulars, and the OFM “root” brotherhood, the Order of Friars Minor. We friars here at Transfiguration parish belong to this latter and original grouping. Believe it or not, all four of these Franciscan groups get along very well together because we share a common history, legacy, and have a common mission that dates back to the first brotherhood of 1209. That mission is the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi (+1226), namely to live and witness the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Francis in his love of Jesus and his concern for all people and all creation was not content to bring together only brothers, but also all who longed to bring renewal to the Church through living a Gospel life. When a young woman named Clare came to Francis seeking to live a life of strict poverty and prayer in a religious community, Francis helped her organize and develop the Order of Poor Clares as we now call this second Order of Franciscans. Still, there were others, men and women, married and single, who desired to live and witness the simple life of Jesus and his disciples in their own time. And thus, the Third Order came about under the inspiration and with the cooperation of Francis. Today their official name is the Order of Franciscan Seculars (OFS). There are a number of these fraternities in our area and many such fraternities throughout the world today.
Francis’ commitment to living and preaching the Gospel in the 13th century continued to attract women and men down through the centuries until today. The number of religious sisters’ communities that embrace the Franciscan name and charism are numerous. They follow the fundamental way of life Francis saw in the sacred Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Francis’ message was simple, concise, and complete. As the Rule of 1223 states, “the rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property and in chastity.” (Chapter 1, Rule of 1223) and we Franciscans today are continually reminded of our Founder’s exhortation to live with a spirit of ongoing renewal when he told his brothers, “Brothers, let us begin again, for up until now we have done nothing!” To encourage and support us in our efforts, near the end of his life, Francis reminded us when he said, “My brothers, I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours to do.”
Peace and all good to you! (“Pax et bonum.”)