When most people hear the word vocation, they automatically think of priests or religious brothers and sisters. I thought the same. Many years ago, I began to feel called by God. I did not know to what I was being called, but the call was definitely there. When I tried to block it out of my mind, it would only get stronger.
One day about 13 years ago, I entered the word vocation into an internet search engine. The first link that came up was for the Divine Mercy Region of the Secular Franciscan Order. I entered the site and began to read about a religious order that was made up of, not priests, not religious brothers or sisters, but an order made up of laymen and women. There was a contact number. I picked up the phone and soon I had information about a Fraternity of Secular Franciscans near my home.
I began to attend the meetings of the local Fraternity of St. Louis the King. I was drawn to the way of life and the people in the fraternity. After several months, I entered into formation, which would culminate in making a lifetime profession to live the Rule of life of the Secular Franciscan Order. Formation consisted in learning the history of the order, studying the Rule of life that its members profess to live, a commitment to deepen my prayer life and a commitment to delve into sacred Scripture, in particular the Gospels.
What I pleasantly discovered was that everyone has a vocation. Vocation comes form the Latin word vocare, which means to call. God calls everyone to a life of holiness. “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I am holy.”” (1 Ptr 1:15-16 New American Bible ) You do not have to be ordained or live in a convent or monastery to be holy. Doing God’s will in your everyday life is what makes a person holy. To do God’s will is the vocation we are all called to.
As a Secular Franciscan, I live my vocation in the world. Seculars are not called to live in convents and monasteries, or to wear a religious habit. We are called to transform the world in which we live by how we live our lives. Franciscan tradition credits St. Francis with saying that we must preach always, and if necessary, use words. Our example will speak more than words.
Following St. Francis, our Rule is to live the Gospel life. We are to see Christ in every person. We are to live simply, not seeking positions of power and authority, we are to help those in need, we are to pray the liturgical prayers of the Church, most especially the Liturgy of the Hours, and we profess to be in full communion with our bishops. Imitating Christ, who spent much time in prayer, we are by profession of our Rule called to “let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.”(Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order # 8) It is in prayer that we discern the will of God in our lives, and thereby strive for holiness.
I have been asked why do I need to join a formal order in the Church to live these Gospel values? The simple answer is that I did not have to join the Secular Franciscan Order to do this. What I have found, however, is that the fraternity has helped me to stay committed. To be connected to a community of others who share the same values, who try to live the same way of life is a source of encouragement and inspiration. We lift each other up, we encourage each other when we find our way of life to be difficult, as it often is in our culture. To live a Gospel life is very much against the mainstream.
Another inspiration to live life as a Secular Franciscan is the rich heritage of the order. It was founded by St. Francis and the first Rule of Life was approved by Pope Innocent the III in 1209. Since then, the Rule has only been modified three times, the last by Pope Paul VI, who was also a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. Some historical figures who have been members include St. Louis, King of France, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Thomas Moore, Leonardo Da Vinci, Christopher Colombus, Dante, Popes Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI, St. Vincent De Paul, St. John Vianney and St. John Bosco to name a few.
And so each day I awake and try to undertake that daily conversion to which I am called by the Rule of life. I strive to do God’s will, and to transform the secular world in which I work and live. Recalling once again the words of St. Francis, admonishing his followers to continue to strive forward, and encouraging them when their efforts seemed to produce no results “brothers, let us begin again, for as yet we have accomplished nothing.”
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David Seitz, OFS
Divine Mercy Region
Secular Franciscan Order