The Franciscans“And let all the brothers strive to follow the humility and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ; and let them remember that we should have nothing else in the whole world except, as the Apostle says, ‘having food and sufficient clothing, with these we are content.’ [1 Timothy 6:8] And let them rejoice when they find themselves among those of vile and despised condition, among the poor, the weak, the sick and lepers and those who beg by the wayside.”
They comprise the largest spiritual family (or charism) in the Roman Catholic Church. (A charism is a personal gift of the Spirit for the good of the Church.) There are three Orders within the Franciscan Family, each with its own distinct expression of St. Francis of Assisi’s evangelical way of life. The First Order comprises the Friars Minor, the Friars Minor Conventual and the Friars Minor Capuchins. These are all male consecrated religious—as in religious life. (“Religious life” is the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.) The Second Order comprises the Poor Clares—contemplative (cloistered to varying degrees) women religious. The Third Order comprises Third Order Religious—having the largest number constituting the Franciscan Family—and Secular Franciscans who are mostly laity but can also include secular (diocesan) priests who wish to follow the Franciscan way of life. (A “lifestyle” is the particular external manifestation of a form of Christ’s life chosen by an individual or religious institute.)
Franciscans at “the Shrine”
(St. Joseph Chapel & the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) operate in the same spirit of spiritual custodianship of a holy place for the wider church. The Pontiac shrine already was a holy place but had fallen in some disrepair. God brought “Terra Sancta to this terra sancta” so that it could be restored serve the faithful as a place for renewal. We continue building with living stones, just as when, speaking from the San Damiano Cross in 1205, Jesus Christ told St. Francis, “Go Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin!”
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is considered the official founder of the three Orders. For a history of the Franciscan Friars, recommend is the following: Dominic V. Monti, OFM, Francis & His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars (St. Anthony Messenger Press: Cincinnati: 2009) (the publisher is now Franciscan Media). For a more general treatment of the Franciscan Family, see William J. Short, OFM, The Franciscans (Michael Glazier, Inc., 1989). Such was St. Francis’s conformity to Christ, that as a type of seal of approval, God granted him the stigmata—the five wounds of Jesus Christ crucified. Francis was the first person known to have received this mystical gift.
St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253)
St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), who has her own claim to great holiness, was a most remarkable medieval woman that has often, unjustly and incorrectly, been in Francis’s shadow. Her rule, papally approved on her deathbed, was the first approved Rule written by a woman.
The Friars Minor
The Friars Minor charism is one of an evangelical brotherhood—one that follows Jesus Christ in joyful poverty, humble living and mission. All brothers were equal, be they peasant or nobility, clergy or lay brothers. Initially, manual labor and being socially located among the poor (especially among the socially outcast lepers) provided the “formation” of those entering the Order. An itinerant and mendicant lifestyle in imitation of Jesus (Matthew 8:20; Luke 8:1-3) characterized this new form of religious life. St. Francis’s particular insight into the Gospel, among others, was that the Church could no longer remain confined on monastic premises but, with the rise of the new profit economy and the literate laity, had to go to the people who were yearning for a deep Gospel spirituality.
The Spirit of St. Francis
The spirit of St. Francis and his magnetic personality quickly rubbed off on many and led to the corporate renewal of Christ’s presence in the Church (“rebuilding it” with living stones).
The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary is credited by St. Francis as helping form and grow the Franciscan Order. St. Bonaventure writes of St. Francis, “He embraced the Mother or our Lord Jesus Christ with indescribable love, because she had made the Lord of Majesty our brother and had obtained mercy for us. After Christ it was Mary in whom he placed his trust and whom he chose as advocate, both for himself and his brothers. (Major Life, 9:3) The Order began at the little chapel called the Porziuncula (“little portion”), otherwise known as Our Lady of the Angels of the Porziuncula (i.e., Mary’s “little portion”). It is here that St. Clare was received, friars were sent out on mission and where St. Francis died. Mary, not just Jesus, inspired Francis to live a life of radical evangelical poverty (Second Letter to the Faithful, n.5; General Constitutions, 8.2)
Christian Realism and an Incarnational Spirituality
Christian realism and an incarnational spirituality are more readily assured by an authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary—the Mother of Jesus (the Mother of God). Integration of the biblical Marian dimensions of Catholic spirituality is a help to fostering our personal relationship with Jesus because the Incarnation is the pillar of all Catholic and Franciscan spirituality.
The Holy Land and the Franciscans
The Holy Land and the Franciscans developed out of St. Francis’s devotion to the humanity of Christ. Francis traveled to the Middle East (Egypt) in 1219. We don’t have any documentary evidence that he actually set foot in the Holy Land, but it is not unreasonable to suppose he did. In 1223, with papal permission, he celebrated Christmas Mass in Grecchio with live animals. It was a liturgical re-enactment of the first Christmas and a radical reminder of the divine humility of the Son of God’s incarnation—born in the poverty of a Bethlehem cave.
Franciscan Friars Present In The Holy Land
As early as 1215 Franciscan Friars were present in the Holy Land. By 1217 a province was established there. Friars were known to be ministering in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by 1322. On November 21, 1342, Pope Clement VI entrusted Catholic custody of the Holy Land to the Order of Friars Minor. This marks their being the official “Custodians of the Holy Places” for the Catholic Church. (Of course, some Holy Places are run by other religious orders.) Since then, for 500 years, the Franciscan Friars were virtually the only Catholic presence in the Holy Land. Their continuous presence made possible the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate (diocese) of Jerusalem in 1847. St. Pope Paul VI rightly observed, “It was not without providential design that the historic events of the 13th century took the Franciscan Order to the Holy Land.”
5 Main Duties of the Franciscans
Today, the 5 main duties of the Franciscans in the Holy Land are the following:
1) maintaining the holy places and fostering divine worship in them,
2) nurturing the devotion of pilgrims,
3) carrying on the ministry of evangelization,
4) exercising pastoral ministry according to the spirituality of the Order and
5) establishing and managing apostolic works.
The Custody of the Holy Land engages in original biblical and archeological research and publishing to help the wider Church and world understand the Holy Land’s role in Salvation History.
Franciscans at “The Shrine”
Franciscans at “the Shrine” (St. Joseph Chapel & the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) operate in the same spirit of spiritual custodianship of a holy place for the wider church. The Pontiac shrine already was a holy place but had fallen in some disrepair. God brought “Terra Sancta to this terra sancta” so that it could be restored serve the faithful as a place for renewal. We continue building with living stones, just as when, speaking from the San Damiano Cross in 1205, Jesus Christ told St. Francis, “Go Francis, and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin!”