PRESIDENCY OF THE OFS INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL
ONGOING FORMATION PROJECT
AUGUST 2012 – YEAR 3 – No.32
A SPECIFIC VOCATION FOR A PARTICULAR MISSION
by Benedetto Lino, OFS
Dossier prepared by the CIOFS Ongoing Formation Team
Ewald Kreuzer, OFS, Coordinator
Fr. Amando Trujillo Cano, TOR
Doug Clorey, OFS
THE SPECIFITY OF OUR VOCATION
This month’s selection from Benedetto Lino’s presentation to the 2011 OFS General Chapter deals with three aspects of the specificity of the secular Franciscans’ vocation. His reflection emphasises the singularity of St. Francis’ own vocation and that of all Franciscans in connection with that founding and lasting experience of his. Benedetto states that if there is a specific nature to our vocation as secular Franciscans, it is the call that we share to be total Christians, as Francis was. It is specific only in that it refers to an example or model, St. Francis of Assisi, who shows us how to be Christians in a radical, total and permanent way. We have been attracted by the example and life of Francis and God has used this interest to lead us to the form of life to which we have committed ourselves.
THE SPECIFITY OF OUR VOCATION DEPENDS ON SAINT FRANCIS
Our specific vocation is to be Franciscan and secular and, as such, it is directly dependent on Francis of Assisi and his vocation. His example and his life have attracted us. God used him to lead us to a specific form of life. So we must turn to and start from Francis if we are to understand our own specific vocation.
Francis did not undertake a “specific” way of life in the sense of “specialising” in a circumscribed area. Let me explain.
St John Bosco was concerned with youth; St Camillus of Lellis, St John of God were concerned with the sick; Blessed Teresa of Calcutta with the abandoned poor; holy contemplatives with their task of immolation for the life of the world, in contemplative prayer – and so on.
St Francis “specialised” in nothing. St. Francis placed himself at the disposal of all, he had become all things to all (1Cor 9, 22-23). Francis, in the first place, sought God in order to find himself.
First of all, he sought to respond to the fundamental core of his primary vocation (which is the same for everyone), namely, to establish a living relationship with God, to give a sense of completeness to his own existence. Through long periods of prayer and contemplation, he succeeded to perceive the intimate essence of God as a Father, Abba. A God who has made Himself close to us in His Son, in His Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection, through an act which was a total and perennial gift of Himself. A Son who, in turn, leads us to the Father, who gives us life and who makes us holy through His Spirit.
This brought about in him a desire to allow himself to be totally transformed by the Spirit in order to be conformed to Jesus the Son, and to respond to his fundamental vocation from God by sharing the very life of the Triune God.1
Francis wanted nothing else in life than to draw his life from Christ, to live in Christ, to live the Gospel totally. In a word, he wanted to be only and wholly Christian, and nothing else. Francis did nothing except to respond fully to what Jesus Christ has asked and always seeks from each and every one of us, without distinction.
OUR VOCATION: TO LIVE CHRIST, TO LIVE THE GOSPEL
God has raised up Francis and his three-fold family for the Church and for the world, so that both would believe that it is possible to live the Gospel sine glossa, without gloss, and that it is concretely possible to be a complete Christian, with no further specifications.2 Francis did this. And we too, his disciples, have solemnly promised it: “. . . I promise to live, in my secular state, for the whole time of my life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order.” (Profession Formula, OFS)
Our Rule is full of pressing exhortations to put Christ at the centre of our lives, to live the Gospel, which is Christ, like Francis, recognising the Fatherhood of God to which we must tend with all our strength and Whose will we must do. (Rule 4, 5, 6, 7, 10; Cost. Gen. 9, 10, 11, 12). This is the heart of our Rule.
We do not have particular or specific prescriptions but rather quite the contrary: “The spirituality of the secular Franciscan is a plan of life centred on the person and on the following of Christ, rather than a detailed programme to be put into practice. (Gen. Const. 9.1).
So convinced am I that Francis’ vocation, and ours, is simply and solely to be fully Christian, that I think Francis would not be very happy that we call ourselves “Franciscan”. I believe he would have far preferred that we simply call ourselves “Christians”. He chose a name for his disciples which would not draw attention away from Christ and one which, instead, served to define the distinctive traits of their following of Him: “Friars Minor” (Lesser Brothers) - brotherhood and being lesser and subject to everyone; “Brothers and Sisters of Penance”- fraternal life and permanent conversion; “Poor Sisters” – Poverty, as a concrete sign of total self-giving, pro mundi vita, for the life of the world.
Today however, it is not uncommon to meet “Franciscans” for whom “being Franciscan” is almost more important than to be Christian! I believe that if he could speak to us today, Francis would say: “My dearest brothers and sisters, in order to be my true and faithful disciples, you have to be only Christians, wholly Christians. You have to be perfectly Christian, just as the good God has granted me to be, by His grace alone.”
THE SPECIFITY OF OUR VOCATION: TO BE TOTAL CHRISTIANS; AS FRANCIS WAS
Our vocation is certainly specific, not only because we are called to live out our lives in the saeculum, in the ordinary conditions of the world, in the lay or ordained state, whether celibate or married. The vocation to this state of life is that of the great majority of believers. It is specific only because our call refers to an example, a model, a unique way of following: Francis of Assisi.
This is the true and the only specific element of our vocation that distinguishes us and unites us: to be total Christians, as Francis was.
Beyond this, there is nothing specific. Further, I would dare to say that our vocation is, on the contrary, like that of Francis, non-specific. Let me explain.
What did Francis do which was not only what the Gospel, what Jesus, asks of every believer? Francis did nothing other than attend perfectly to everything Jesus has asked of everyone. Francis is humble? Jesus asks humility of all believers. Francis is poor? Jesus said to everyone “Blessed are the poor”. Francis is chaste? Chastity is enjoined on all believers. Francis is meek? Jesus recommended it for everyone. Francis lived in fraternity? Do not monks and religious in general as well as all Christians live (or at least should live) fraternity among themselves?
We could go on in this way with everything, and we would see that what Francis did is exactly what Jesus has asked of all believers. Francis did not have a charism and a mission which were confined to a contingent narrow and specific area. His charism, his vocation and his mission are non-specific in the sense that they correspond to that of the Church at all times, the Church of Christ in its purest and integral state. They are rooted in the deepest essence of Christian life with no further specifications. His way is not reserved for a restricted number of elected people but rather for all!
The Letter to the faithful3, which is the reference text for secular Franciscanism and is placed as the Prologue to our present Rule, is the most evident proof of this. Francis writes to the “penitent faithful” (de illis qui faciunt poenitentiam4), therefore to all of us, but for him all must undertake the way of penance-conversion. Francis discovered the Absolute Good and exhorted all with passion to discover that this is the only way to achieve life, the only true life: to be converted so as to share in the communion of his and our Lord Jesus Christ, of his and our Heavenly Father. The Franciscan ideal coincides with the vocation of all Christian Faithful (and not only the lay ones).
Our specific vocation is, therefore: to be Christian, as Francis was. Our great and only specificity can be summed up in two words: as Francis. That “as” however, makes a world of difference because, if it is true that Christ has asked everyone to do what Francis did, it is also true that Francis did it to the ultimate degree. The difference does not lie only in doing specific things but in the intensity with which these things are done. This intensity characterised Francis and is the paradigm and norm of all of us Franciscans in whatever walk of life.
“The first fact about Francis’ vocational development ... is his personal experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship marked by RADICALITY, TOTALITY AND PERMANENCE.”5
This is our vocation: “to conform ourselves to Christ”, the perfect man. And our specific character consists in living this conformation with the same intensity as Francis lived, the same totality with which he gave himself to an imitation of the total Christ, the same radicalness which marked his transformation-conformity to the depths of his being, and the same permanence with which he lived these out.
Francis, “truly the most Christian of men, who strove by perfect imitation to be conformed while living to Christ living, dying to Christ dying and dead to Christ dead, and deserved to be adorned with an expressed likeness”! (LM XIV, 4). As Bonaventure has underlined, Francis is the most Christian man. This is his specificity, his specific character: to be completely and totally Christ’s, to be a most Christian man, with nothing held back and without limits.6
Francis, acclaimed as another Christ, rose up humble and high, as one who sought to identify with his Lord in all things. Welcoming unreservedly the grace and help of the Spirit, he was able to become, to an exemplary degree, a paradigm for the whole Church in all times and throughout the whole world.
“His highest aim, foremost desire and greatest intention, was to pay heed to the Holy Gospel in all things and through all things, to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and to retrace His footsteps completely with all vigilance and all zeal, all the desire of his soul and all the fervour of his heart. Francis used to meditate constantly on the words of Christ and recollect His deeds with most attentive perception. Indeed so thoroughly did the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupy his memory that he scarcely wanted to think of anything else.”7
However . . . , must it not be this way for every saint? Yes, without a doubt. All the same, it does seem that the Most High wanted Francis to incarnate this total identification with Christ, to a degree which was more all-embracing, more visible and more of a paradigm, for ever.8 He has become the Christian man par excellence. So God has entrusted to him the most special mission of being an imperishable sign for the whole Church, for all Christians, for the entire world. And Francis, although he died some 800 years ago, still continues to carry out his mission to an outstanding degree!
FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION IN FRATERNITY:
1. What was "specific" about the vocation of Francis of Assisi?
2. Why was (is) Francis acclaimed as "another Christ" or "the most Christian of men"?
3. What is “specific” about our vocation as secular Franciscans?
1 I do not need more, son; I know Christ, poor and crucified. (2Cel LXXI, 105) “The essence of the Franciscan spirituality is … Christ. Christ is the focal point of this spirituality. We can say: only Christ. … All your Franciscan literature clearly shows that Saint Francis strived to fully imitate Jesus. … “In full awareness, continuously he (Francis) wanted to live like his Master, with his Master, of his Master. His Rule, as he had conceived it, is nothing but the Gospel in action”. (Paul VI to the OFM Gen. Chapter, 22 June, 1967)
2 “Yet he [Innocent III] hesitated to do what Christ’s little poor man asked because it seemed to some of the cardinals to be something novel and difficult beyond human powers. John of Saint Paul, bishop of Sabina, then said: «If we refuse the request of this poor man as novel or too difficult, when all he asks is to be allowed to lead the Gospel life, we must be on our guard lest we commit an offense against Christ’s Gospel. For if anyone says that there is something novel or irrational or impossible to observe in this man’s desire to live according to the perfection of the Gospel, he would be guilty of blasphemy against Christ, the author of the Gospel». (LM 3, 9)”
3 I refer to both versions, the Earlier one, shorter and Prologue to the OFS Rule, and the Later one, which is an amplification and an enrichment of the first.
4 Title of the Letter to the Faithful (Earlier Redaction): “H[a]ec sunt verba vit[a]e et salutis que si quis legerit et fecerit inveniet vitam et [h]auriet salutem a domino de illis qui faciunt penitentiam. - These are the words of life and salvation concerning those who do penance. Whoever reads and follows them will find life and draw from the Lord salvation. This “whoever” is not restrictive but extensive. It is directed to all.
5 Andrés Stanovnik OFM Cap. Archbishop of Corrientes, Argentina.
6 The comparison between Saint Paul and Saint Francis, the two great converted ones, is enlightening. Both of them have lived in fullness a life in Christ, as Paul tells us and as Francis has also intensely lived: to me life is Christ; yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Phil 1, 21; Gal 2, 20).
7 1 Cel XXX, 84.
8 “Even if others, daringly, compare among themselves the heavenly heroes of holiness, who have been destined by the Holy Spirit to fulfill various missions in the midst of men — and such comparisons, which originate from partisan passions, are to the advantage of no one and are injurious before God, the Author of Holiness – nevertheless we can affirm that there has been no one in whom the image of Christ and the evangelical form of life shone as lively and resembling as in Francis. Therefore, he who called himself the «Herald of the Great King », was rightly acclaimed as « another Jesus Christ », having presented himself to the people of his time and to the centuries to come almost as Christ returned from the dead; and this is the reason why he lives now and will continue to live as such for all generations to come.” Pious XI, Encyclical Letter Rite Expiatis, 30 April 1926.