Where Francis begins to differ from other saints/founders, is in his approach to Jesus. Where most seek to emulate one or more aspects of Jesus’ life, Francis becomes totally immersed in the reality of “all” of Jesus. Ultimately, the spiritual goal of a Franciscan is to struggle to become a total imitator of Jesus, to become “alter Christus” (another Christ) touching all of God’s creation as Jesus did. This is no small goal or challenge, but a path that will ask you to look deeply into how you set your life’s priorities, and how you live them out day to day.
Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order commits a person to study in the school of Christ, who is “the book of Wisdom, written from within the heart of the Father, since He is the art of almighty God; it was written externally, when it became flesh” (St. Bonaventure).
Hard as it is, we need to learn to forgive other people for making us suffer or disappointing us, and even to accept the problems they create for us as graces and blessings. The attitude is neither spontaneous nor natural, but it is the only one by which to achieve peace and interior freedom.
Francis had one dominant thought, one unquenchable desire, one constant intention: to become totally conformed to Christ. Discipleship in love has no other purpose except to “christify” the whole person. It is entirely geared towards transforming the lover into an image of the beloved (LM XIII, 2). Francis was “indeed always occupied with Jesus: Jesus he bore in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in the rest of his members. How often, when he sat down to eat, hearing or speaking or thinking of Jesus, he forgot bodily food” (1Cel 115).
There is no authentic Secular Franciscan ministry without union with the Church in obedience and cooperation. To live the gospel means to know the Lord, seek out his presence, and share his life and mission. To fulfill this three-fold goal, the Church is essential, for she reveals the person of Christ, his presence, and his plan of redemption.
~ Benet A. Fonck, OFM, Called to Proclaim Christ
By accepting the sufferings “offered” by life and allowed by God for our progress and purification, we spare ourselves much harder ones. We need to develop this kind of realism and, once and for all, stop dreaming of a life without suffering or conflict. That is the life of heaven, not earth. We must take up our cross and follow Christ courageously every day; the bitterness of that cross will sooner or later be transformed into sweetness.
One’s profession in the Secular Franciscan Order is a special way of intensifying the effect of baptism. Entering a secular or religious order is not another sacrament, like ordination or marriage, precisely because its intent and result is identical to baptism, but on a deeper level. For example, a person may play a simple melody on the piano all by itself; that same melody is played again with harmonics and chords to give it an even greater richness, depth, and fulfillment. So, profession directs, intensifies, and deepens the “melody” of Christian life first played at baptism.
The whole of life is a challenge to prayer. Happy events call for one kind of prayer; sad events for another. Progress and success, care and distress, illness and recovery, birth and death: everything that happens in life must find expression in prayer and determine its nature. We must become more sensitive and perhaps — if we may put it thus — more inventive. Prayer should not always be restricted to the selfsame thoughts and words while life passes by in all its diversity. We must bring everything that happens in our life before God as before a master or friend, or rather as before a father to whom everything matters which concerns us. We must show it to Him, thank Him, seek for strength and enlightenment, ask for His help, and seek repose with Him.