To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.
But a look at our tradition will show that faith is really the opposite of certitude. Rather, it is being willing to move into darkness, into not being sure. It means taking risks, allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of, having the grace to move through chancy, uncertain waters, letting go of control and trusting that God will always be there. It means living with the mystery of things, not knowing for sure what’s going to happen or that it’ll turn out okay.
Article Eight of the rule directs all Secular Franciscans to stress the primacy of worship in their lives — the interior prayer of contemplation as well as the exterior liturgical prayer of the Church. The article also urges Secular Franciscans to have an active participation in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist, and in the Liturgy of the Hours. When this article is lived fully, each Secular Franciscan will be a true worshiper, always involved with Christ and conscious of his presence in oneself and in others.
That heart is free which is held by no love other than the love of God.
[St.] Francis was enough of a realist to know that this view from the bottom would never become fashionable. Yet his commitment to littleness led him to name his brothers “minors” so that they would never fall back again in to the worldview of the “majors” (the great, the nobility). He knew that there was power in being a somebody, but that there was truth in being a nobody. He always opted for the truth, and from the example of Jesus crucified knew that the Lord would create power out of that.
Beyond doubt, [St.] Francis not only praised God’s gracious love bestowed on Francis, but showed concern for all of God’s creatures as well. It sprang from a sense of gratitude for God’s continuing gifts to Francis and all people. Francis probably didn’t know the word “ecology.” But he showed a consistent love for creation because it is God’s creation. He knew that relationship to God included a universal relationship to all of God’s creatures. They became his brother and sister.
Our [Secular] Franciscan vision, understood and embraced, brings a particular spirit to the Church and the world. Our lives will show that spirit in all areas of human life both in our service in the Church and in our mission to the world. Our profession of the SFO Rule consecrates us. Though we are in the world we choose not to be influenced by its non-gospel values, attitudes, or policies. In that sense secular Franciscans “leave the world.”
But this craving to understand everything includes certain ambiguities and needs to be purified. The motives behind our desire to understand may not always be upright. The thirst to know the truth in order to welcome it and conform our lives to it is completely in order. But there also is a desire to understand that is a desire for power: taking over, grasping, mastering the situation. The desire may also spring from another source that is far from pure: insecurity. In this case, understanding means reassuring ourselves, seeking security in the sense that we can control the situation if we understand it. Such security is too human, fragile, deceptive—it can be wrecked from one day to the next. The only true security in this life lies in the certainty that God is faithful and can never abandon us, because his fatherly tenderness is irrevocable.
By virtue of this profession, the Rule and the General Constitutions must represent for each of you the point of reference for daily living, based on your explicit vocation and special identity (cf. Promulgation of the General Constitutions of the SFO). If you are truly driven by the Spirit to reach the perfection of charity in your secular state, “it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity” (Novo Millennio ineunte, n. 31).
Francis’ reading of the gospel is of utmost relevance today. His focus and emphasis is the same as ]esus’. His life was an enacted parable, an audio-visual aid to gospel freedom. It gives us the perspective by which to see as Jesus did: the view from the bottom. He insists by every facet of his life that we can only see rightly from a dis-established position. He wanted to be poor first of all simply because Jesus was poor. But he also knew that the biblical promises were made to the poor, that the gospel could be preached only to the poor because they alone had the freedom to hear it without distorting it for their own purposes. He wanted to have nothing to protect except the love which made all else useless. “Love is not loved! Love is not loved!” he used to sigh.