In October we welcomed Ann into the Candidacy portion of her journey to becoming a fully professed member of the OFS. This is a good occasion to lay out the guidelines established by NAFRA–The National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States. In addition, I’ll offer a few observations about my own formation.
Rule 23 of the The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order (2000) states:
- Requests for admission to the Secular Franciscan Order must be presented to the local fraternity, whose council decides upon the acceptance of new brothers and sisters.
- Admission to the Order is gradually attained through a time of initiation, a period of formation of at least one year, and profession of the rule. The entire community is engaged in the process of growth by its own manner of living. Thee age for profession and the distinctive Franciscan sign are regulated by the statutes.
- Profession by its nature is a permanent commitment.
Each national fraternity develops its own formation procedures within the guidelines of the Rule. Fraternities in the United States are guided by Article 19 of the NAFRA Statutes:
- Orientation is a time for determining a person’s interest, eligibility and disposition to enter into the initial formation process.
- The period of orientation shall consist of not less than three (3) months.
- Initial Formation
- Inquiry–The period of Inquiry, which begins with the Ceremony of Introduction and Welcoming, shall consists of not less than six (6) months.
- Candidacy–The period of Candidacy, which begins with the Rite of Admission, shall consist of not less than eighteen (18) months and not less than thirty-six (36) months.
- All persons in initial formation, in addition to attending their formation sessions, must participate in the meeting of the Local Fraternity as this is an indispensable presupposition for initiation into community prayer and into fraternity life.
- To be admitted to the SFO [now called OFS] in the United States, a person must be a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church (i.e. having received the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation/Confirmation and Holy Eucharist) in addition to being an actively practicing Catholic.
- The minimum age for perpetual profession as a Secular Franciscan in the United States is twenty-one (21) years.
- The minimum age for temporary profession Secular Franciscan in the United States is eighteen (18) years.
Instructions like these must be written, of course, in a straight-forward, spare, almost legalistic style. The subtext, however, is far richer.
My own formation began in 2006, not long after I returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. My deployment was the occasion for questioning many of the assumptions, beliefs, and even values that I had held up through that year; and upon my return I knew that my life needed to change course.
Of course I have known about the Franciscans since boyhood, and as a teenager and young adult I felt drawn to St. Francis’ beliefs about our place in God’s creation and the manner in which he lived out these beliefs in. However, my adult years led me into military service, which is not compatible with Franciscan spirituality. I was somewhat comforted by the knowledge that Francis had dreamed of heroic military service and had even participated in a short but brutal war between his Assisi and neighboring Perugia. I suppose I always had in the back of my mind that a time might come when, like Francis, I would turn away from a martial life and towards a spiritual one. (How that took place I may write about at another time.)
In the spring of 2006 I contacted the OFS region in which I live (St. Elizabeth of Hungary) and was put in touch with the local fraternity (now my fraternity), Our Lady’s. I was warmly invited to the next meeting, and even more warmly received. I spoke with the formation director and, within two months began the formation process.
My nine months of orientation and inquiry passed quickly, and I was welcomed into the Candidacy stage thereafter. For the next 2-1/2 years I met with a wonderful woman and worked through the study materials that introduced me to the Franciscan way of life. To be honest, it was so pleasant that I lost track of time and was surprised when I was asked if I felt ready for profession. I was briefly tempted to say, “not yet,” just to continue our discussions about Francis, Franciscan Spirituality, and the Franciscan way of life, but I knew that I was ready to move to the next stage.
I professed as a Secular Franciscan during the summer of 2009. I had no doubts before then that this was my calling, and I have had no doubts since. Truth be told, I’m still in formation, as are all my sisters and brothers; to be a Secular Franciscan is to be fully engaged in the secular world while also living deeply the gospel life. It is a daily learning experience, but one that leaves me filled with joy.
If you are reading this because you, too, feel stirrings towards the Franciscan life, I strongly encourage you to visit your local fraternity (see the “Links” page). You will be welcomed with open arms (we are a very welcoming order) but allowed to discern your own path in your own time. That path may lead somewhere other than or into the OFS; regardless, you will find yourself supported every step of the way.
Peace and All Good