Fraternal and Pastoral Visit

National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States

October 19-24, 2004

Opening Comments

At the beginning of this Fraternal and Pastoral visit to the National Fraternity Council of the United States I would like to focus on two main areas. First, it is important that we review the relevant sections of the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order that deal with visitations. Second, I would like to share some of my own observations about the state of the Secular Franciscan Order with you.

I. The General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order

Before we read the Constitutions - which, I am sure that you all know by heart - I want to encourage you all to read the text frequently, become familiar with it, and learn to love it. As you will see as we read through the articles dealing with fraternal and pastoral visits, the articles in the Constitutions are quite beautiful and spiritual in nature. The document is not a dry list of dos and don'ts - it contains thoughtful and deep reflection on your life as secular Franciscans. With this in mind, let us turn to what the text tells us about visitations.

Articles 92 through 95 in the Constitutions present a wonderful overview of what we are trying to accomplish this week. As we read these articles I invite you to pay attention to the spirit of the text - pay attention to the verbs, the actions that we are being challenged to embrace as brothers and sisters.

Article 92

1.Rule 26 The purpose of both the pastoral and fraternal visits is to revive the evangelical Franciscan spirit, to assure fidelity to the charism and to the Rule, to offer help to fraternity life, to reinforce the bond of the unity of the Order, and to promote its most effective insertion into the Franciscan family and the Church.

This article tells us that we are "to revive our spirit," "to assure fidelity to the Rule," "to help the fraternity life," "to reinforce the bond of unity of the Order," and "to promote its most effective insertion into the Franciscan family and the Church." Again, pay attention to these most important verbs. Your Minister General and I are here to revive, to assure, to help, to reinforce, and to promote. In other words, we are here as your sister and brother to do what we can to assist you in your extremely important work with the Secular Franciscan Order in the United States.

The other articles spell this out a bit more concretely. For the sake of brevity I will not comment on each of the remaining articles - or even read them in their entirety. Rather I want to use them to set the stage for our time together. Please read through them with the spirit of Article 92:1 in mind.

Article 93

1.In the visits to the local fraternities and to the councils at the various levels, the visitor will verify the evangelical and apostolic vitality, the observance of the Rule and Constitutions, and the insertion of the fraternities into the Order and into the Church.

2.... Where required, he or she will proceed to the fraternal correction of the shortcomings possibly encountered.

The Fraternal Visit

Article 94

1.The fraternal visit is a moment of communion, an expression of the service and concrete interest of the secular leaders at the various levels, so that the fraternity may grow and be faithful to its vocation.

2.Among the various initiatives to achieve the purpose of the visit, the visitor will give special attention:

-to the validity of the formation, both initial and permanent;

-to the relations entertained with other fraternities at the different levels, with Franciscan youth, and with the entire Franciscan family.

-to the observance of the directives and of the guidelines of the International Council of the SFO and of the other councils;

-to the presence in the local Church.

The Pastoral Visit

Article 95

1.The pastoral visit is a privileged moment of communion with the First Order and the TOR. It is carried out also in the name of the Church and serves to guarantee and promote the observance of the Rule and the Constitutions and fidelity to the Franciscan charism. The visit is carried out with respect to the organization and the law proper to the SFO itself.

2.The visitor will promote collaboration and a sense of co-responsibility among the secular leaders and the spiritual assistants. The visitor is to examine the quality of the spiritual assistance given to the visited fraternity, encourage the spiritual assistants in their service and promote their continuing spiritual and pastoral formation.

4.The visitor will give special attention to programs, methods and experiences of formation, to the liturgical and prayer life, and to the apostolic activities of the fraternity.

II. Some Personal Observations

I have had the pleasure of working with the Secular Franciscan Order on the international level for the past three years. During this time there are three areas that I have come to see as being very important for the life of the Secular Franciscan Order.

A.Autonomy of the Secular Franciscan Order

The Rule of 1978, often referred to as the new rule or the Pauline Rule, and the resulting Constitutions and Statutes all testify to the reality that the Secular Franciscan Order is an Order in its own right. The Rule is very clear on this:

1.The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God - laity, religious, and priests - who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.

2.The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful. In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of St. Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.

The process of regionalization, the increased role of the Minister General and International Presidency in the Order, and the increased competency of the laity on many levels all highlight this autonomy - and the fact that the Order is indeed capable of being autonomous.

However, as the documents of the Secular Franciscan Order point out so well - the autonomy of the Order does not mean that it is or should be isolated.


Art. 1:3.Rule 2 From the beginning, the Secular Franciscan Order has had its own proper place in the Franciscan Family. It is formed by the organic union of all the Catholic fraternities whose members, moved by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves through profession to live the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis, in their secular state, following the Rule approved by the Church.

Art. 1:4.The Holy See has entrusted the pastoral care and spiritual assistance of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO), because it belongs to the same spiritual family, to the Franciscan First Order and Third Order Regular (TOR). These are the "Institutes" who are responsible for the altius moderamen, referred to by canon 303 of the Code of Canon Law.

Personally, I think the phrase altius moderamen is un-Franciscan and I would like to see it dropped in favor of something that is more fraternal and familial in tone and in reality. I know this would be an uphill battle - but, I would at least invite us all to share life together as real brother and sisters of Christ and of Francis. At least in this way we will be able to understand what the Church is asking of us by this phrase.

B.Increased focus and reliance on collaborative ministry between the friar obediences

I am sure that all the friars in this room remember the day when competition between the branches was the reality of our relationship with one another. There is still a situation in many parts of the world where we work in isolation - many times duplicating efforts in evangelization or not sharing our resources.

The SFO is one of the only places where the collaboration of the friars is not only encouraged - it is demanded by the legislation of our orders. This collaboration is spelled out extremely well in the Statutes for Spiritual Assistants. Please excuse if I once again read to you - but, I think is essential for us to hear these articles. And, as you did with the reading of the General Constitutions, please pay attention to the underlying spirit and challenge of the text.

Title I: General Principles

Art. 1

1.The spiritual and pastoral care of the SFO, in virtue of its belonging to the same spiritual family, is entrusted by the Church to the Franciscan First Order and the TOR, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries.

2.Religious and Secular Franciscans in fact, in various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, aim to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church and of society.

Art. 2

1.The spiritual and pastoral care is provided as a two-fold service:

--the fraternal office of the altius moderamen on the part of the major Superiors;

--spiritual assistance to the fraternities and their Councils.

2.The purpose of the altius moderamen is to guarantee the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism, communion with the Church and union with the Franciscan family.

3.The purpose of spiritual assistance is to foster communion with the Church and with the Franciscan Family through witness and sharing of Franciscan spirituality, to cooperate in initial and on-going formation of secular Franciscans and to express the fraternal affection of the religious towards the SFO.

Art. 3

1.This two-fold service completes but does not substitute for the secular councils and ministers whose responsibility it is to guide, coordinate, and animate the fraternities at the various levels.

2.It is exercised according to these present Statutes, common to the four religious Orders (OFM, OFMConv, OFMCap, TOR) and must be performed collegially at all levels above the local level.

Now these are Franciscan terms and values: life-giving union with each other, aim to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church and of society - all done in a collegial way. What a great replacement for altius moderamen.

C.We have only just begun

The Secular Franciscan Order is an old Order and a new Order. It is ancient in its connection with the penitential movements that were present in the early 13th century and by its tie to St. Francis and the Franciscan movement. It is new in that its identity is being shaped and concretized in new ways since the time of the Rule of 1978. As a matter of fact, you have the third Minister General of the Order here - what a wonderful sign of the maturity and strength of the Order.

But, it is only beginning. It is in your hands and in the hands of Secular Franciscans throughout the world to cultivate it, shape it, and love it into an instrument of God's love and presence in the world.

We "religious" Franciscans of the First Order and Third Order Regular pledge that we will be with you in life-giving union as we continue to respond to the challenge that was given to Francis 800 years ago - to rebuild the house of God.

Michael J. Higgins, TOR

General Spiritual Assistant