We know that St. Francis read and meditated upon the Word of God until it was integrated into his very being. In body and soul, St. Francis was altered by the Gospel. His identity changed as he became conformed to the likeness of Christ. St. Francis went beyond imitation. He became one with the beloved. Francis proved that the Gospel could be lived. It was a process for him. It continues to be a process for us. It is what our Rule calls ongoing conversion. If we wish to be changed in the process, we must become one with the Lord.
Until and unless Christ is someone happening between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until he is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on at all.
In modern-day, consumer-driven America, we continually feel the need for the accumulation of goods and security. We have ignored what God has put in our hearts to do: love one another. Instead we are being consumed by consuming, reaching the point where there is no way out. We have deceived ourselves into thinking we can follow Christ without becoming one with the poor, that we can know and love God without loving others, and not just friends and family and those that love us back! Jesus says that’s easy, even pagans do that. Christ calls us to a different, deeper kind of love: a love for the unlovable, for those who cannot give back, even for our enemies. Christ said that at the end of our lives that is the litmus test we all will face.
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).
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.
Francis was grounded in Christ. Francis identified with Christ. Francis put on the mind of Christ. Nothing and no one could diminish Francis’ ability to recognize his beloved Jesus in robbers and sinful friars and men and women who were dominated by desires contrary to God’s love. From his heart of compassion and love, Francis saw their deep need of God. He reached out with God’s love, which dwelt within his own heart, to touch the unknown yearning in the heart of the other.
The Lord gives us the grace to fulfill any task he puts before us. If he has called us to be Franciscans for the Church and the world by observing the gospel, we are certain that he provides the means to accomplish this vocation. One of the primary ways that his grace is manifested to us is through his own presence which is always present in various forms for us to encounter and respond to. Through such interaction with the living and active person of Christ, our relationship with him becomes more intense, our commitment to the gospel is deepened, and our three-fold task of change of heart, community-building, and evangelization become more firmly our way of life.
This new rule is only the third revision in eight centuries. The extraordinary continuity that Secular Franciscans have kept through the turbulent centuries and the ever-new quality of making a spiritual and social impact on the contemporary scene, plus the never-ending blessing and approval of the official Church for this Secular Franciscan spirituality and mission, all point to the success and influence of this special vocation within the very heart of the Church.
~ Benet A. Fonck, OFM, Called to Follow Christ
Christ was never much concerned with the successful: the successful don’t need him. He was concerned with the poor in spirit, the clueless, the broken, the ones who can’t fit in no matter how hard we try. No one knew better than Christ that deep in the human heart is the tremulous, desperate hope that we have not been forgotten. When we have been stripped down to nothing, deep in our souls is the urge to head toward the innocent man who was nailed to the Cross because maybe he, at least, can understand.
The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people’s hearts so that they can believe in Christ and “confess him” cf. 1 Cor 12:3; of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” Jn 6:44.
From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from “life according to the flesh” to “life according to the Spirit” cf. Rom 8:3-13. Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.