Conversion has two elements for its completion. First, we need to rid ourselves of the things that hinder gospel living. That includes not only “stuff” but also habits, attitudes, mindsets, lifestyles etc. that hinder hearing and living the Gospel. Secondly, conversion calls us to commit our lives to Jesus and his gospel call. It calls for practicing charity, having hope, learning how to love all people. If we only clean out our lives, we create a vacuum into which all sorts of things can enter (cf. Luke 11:24-26). Our inner housecleaning ordinarily should open a path for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
Without diminishing our beliefs, we approach others with love rather than domination. We approach others with a desire to share what is important to us rather than make them feel insignificant or stupid. We approach others with a readiness to understand them rather than presuming that they should think like us. We approach others with respect, even reverence, creating an atmosphere of friendship rather than jumping into an argument we must win. We approach others, if need be, with a forgiving spirit rather than imposing feelings of guilt. We approach them with joy and hope rather than fear and suspicion.
As we proclaim the good news, remember that it is “good” news and not a set of condemnations and prohibitions. The gospel message is a call to intimacy, to love, to forgive, to embrace, to include, to bring joy, to offer hope, to develop relationships, to offer a path to a meaningful life, to challenge practices that may demean people.
The Rule requires Secular Franciscans to approach people with gentleness, care, and compassion – recognizing in them the image of God. We recognize our personal need for radical conversion and seek it with a willing spirit. By our lives we show how it looks to live a kingdom/gospel life. It must be attractive rather than boring; inviting rather than separating; welcoming instead of excluding; forgiving rather than vengeful; prayerful rather than domineering; with a passion for justice rather than allowing injustice to grow; seeking ways of peace rather than planning for war and violence; developing a spirit of community rather than individualism; recognizing a need for God rather than arrogant independence; finding hope and guidance in the Bible rather than dependence merely on human knowledge.
Living the spirit spelled out in the Rule and Constitutions is the criterion that proves the legitimacy of our calling. Our vocation expects us to give flesh, in daily life, to the words of our Franciscan profession. Love of people, conversion, reconciliation, forgiveness, contemplation, love for all of creation, prayerfulness, etc. become normal for us.
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.”
Reverence and respect for nature is a Franciscan perspective that is part of our lives, As good stewards, we choose to find ways to protect nature’s resources so they are available to all people – and to the children of future generations. Wherever we work and live we promote healthy responsibility and concern for earth’s resources. To do otherwise would make us poor stewards. This perspective may not always be popular, but it is part of our identity as Franciscans. Once again we look to things that concern the common good and not exploitation for personal gain.
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 Franciscan spirit touches the whole of life. The Secular Franciscan Order is not a devotional society that lets you do what you want as long as you pray. Rather, it expects that your grasp of the Franciscan spirit will find expression in the actions of your daily life.