Saturday, January 9, 2010

January Column from Secular Franciscan Fraternity Newsletter

Some background on this column, the Franciscan Friars of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, opened a Food Center in a section of their basement Auditorium. The Center provides a food pantry for families with young children, as well as baby diapers and other supplies. So when our Secular Franciscan fraternity meets, a Food Center client will occasionally wander in and help themselves to our potluck buffet table.

“They (Secular Franciscans) should deepen the true foundations of universal kinship and create a spirit of welcome and an atmosphere of fraternity everywhere. They should firmly commit themselves to oppose every form of exploitation, discrimination, and exclusion and against every attitude of indifference in relation to others.” (Article 18.2, General Constitutions of the SFO)

Some of you may have noticed, as I have, that since the Franciscan Food Center opened; some of their clients have wandered into our socials and have helped themselves to our refreshments table. How we react to this illustrates the tensions that exist between what I call “radical” Franciscanism, and “practical” Franciscanism.

In the last years of the life of Francis of Assisi, you could already see these tensions coming about. There were friars who felt that the Order should always follow the example of Francis in living a radical life of poverty and service to the poor. They were inspired by Francis, who was quick to give the fraternity’s only book of the Gospels to a poor woman to sell for food; or who would regularly give his own habit to a poor person. Against them were the “practical” friars, who felt that there should be realistic limits to living a life of Franciscan poverty. The Church had given them the ministry to preach; friars needed to be trained and educated in theology. That required books, classrooms, and dormitories. To care for parishes, required places for the friars to live. Scholars have called the early “radical” Franciscans, “Spirituals,” and the “practical” Franciscans, “the Community,” or the “Conventuals.”

Now the Spirituals are often credited with authoring the collection of Franciscan stories we know as “The Little Flowers of St. Francis.” One of them is the story of a band of robbers who came to a friary to beg for the food. The guardian of the fraternity was indignant at this request, considered the robbers unworthy of receiving some of the alms the friars had collected for the poor. So the guardian sent the robbers away, after giving them a tongue lashing. When Francis heard this, he chastised the guardian for being uncharitable, “You acted in a cruel way, because sinners are led back to God by holy meekness better than by cruel scolding,” (Chapter 26). Francis sent the guardian out with bread and wine, to find the robbers, to serve them and ask their forgiveness for his harsh words. For Francis, nobody should be denied Christian charity.

So what does this means for us in this fraternity? The “practical” Franciscan in me would make sure that people know that our meeting is not part of the Food Center. Should anyone find their way into the Auditorium anyway, the “radical” Franciscan in me will welcome them as a brother or sister in Christ.


  1. My wife and I have only been members of the S.F.O. since October, having finished formation and taking our vows. I'm learning that every situation is different, and that God will provide an answer through our hearts in times as these you mention. I've always been a little radical, and I think the radicalness of Francis is what brought me closer to him, and ultimatly, closer to God. I myself see no problem in feeding anyone who comes through the door. Of course I'm not at your meeting but I tried to envision someone walking in on our sharing, and what would happen... I think 70% would frown, while us other 30% would find it a great opportunity to do something concrete, to take the ball and run with it, to really practice our Franciscanism outside of our box. Like I said, I wasn't there...

  2. Thanks for this post. I find myself running into this dichotomy on an almost daily basis. I'd say it's one of the toughest aspects of the Rule.