THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN FORMATION PROCESS Part I: The Orientation Phase
When we look at the Secular Franciscan formation process, it is important to see it as a continuum, that is, each stage flowing into the next. Aspects that are essential in the first phase, Orientation, will still be essential in the second, Inquiry, the third, Candidacy, and into the Ongoing Formation of professed members.
During Orientation, it is essential that formation resources allow for dialogue and sharing since this is the ideal time to discern a prospective member's call to a Secular Franciscan vocation. If discernment is addressed early, it can save time and avoid heartache for both the individual and the Fraternity. The materials used in Orientation should allow for comprehensive, yet non-intrusive, personal disclosure so as to discover the person's reasons for wanting to become a Secular Franciscan. We need to discern the extent to which their motivation is compatible with what we know the Order to be. In this way, potential "mismatching" can be handled early, avoiding much anguish for all concerned.
The formation resources used should encourage ample dialogue and sharing since this type of interaction is invaluable in assessing whether aspirants’ life circumstances will allow them to commit to the Secular Franciscan lifestyle. Orientation is a favorable time to observe the whole person, physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and interpersonally.
While we're "getting to know them," we expect them to "get to know us," our roots and our charism. Therefore, some form of introduction to the lives of Saints Francis and Clare are appropriate as early as possible and throughout the entire formation process. Especially useful during Orientation are resources that allow the Fraternity and the formators to gather knowledge about the individual's understanding of the Catholic faith. Remedial work takes time. If their knowledge is inadequate, perhaps involvement in the local church’s adult religious education program or RCIA process would be appropriate BEFORE continuing with Secular Franciscan Initial Formation. Please make sure that these persons are fully initiated members of the Catholic faith.
• The Orientation phase of formation is critical. This is a time to watch for specific clues that the person before you is or is not suited for SFO life. It is a time for discerning whether or not the prospective member has the basic dispositions that are essential for entering into mature committed relationships such as those which membership in the SFO requires.
• The Interview Guide for Prospective Members of the Secular Franciscan Order is especially useful during this phase.
Content for the Orientation phase:
an understanding of discernment and vocation (To Cling with All Her Heart to Him by Fonck, page 5)
brief review of Catholic doctrine and Christian morals
an explanation of Franciscan prayer life and apostolic activity
phases of Secular Franciscan formation and expectations
introduction to the life of Saint Francis (perhaps in novel form, such as Francis: The Saint of Assisi by Mueller; or Francis: The Journey and the Dream by Bodo)
introduction to the life of Saint Clare (perhaps in novel form, such as Clare: A Light in the Garden by Bodo)
branches of the Franciscan family
1978 Rule and brief history of the Secular Franciscan Order
an understanding of some of our Franciscan symbols
a Franciscan prayer experience
Time frame: at least three to four months
Rite: Ceremony of Introduction and Welcoming (see SFO Ritual, pages 9-10)
Bibliography: Bodo OFM, Murray. (1992, revised & expanded). Clare: A Light in the Garden. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press. Bodo OFM, Murray. (1988). Francis: The Journey and the Dream. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press. Fonck OFM, Benet A. (1996). To Cling with All Her Heart to Him. Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press. Mueller, Joan. (2000). Francis: The Saint of Assisi. Allen, TX: Thomas More.
Published by the National Formation Commission as Part 1 of a four-part statement on the process of Secular Franciscan formation in the United States, March 2001, revised 2005.