S pointed out today that the cord that holds her Tau has three knots on it, three knots that are for the three points of Franciscanism: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Sounds like an ordained Friar, eh? So what does it have to do with being a Secular Franciscan?
Well, first, the definition of "secular," from Dictionary.com:
OK, that's pretty thorough--except that the SFO is a religious order. This will work, though.
sec·u·lar (sek-ye-ler) adj.1. Worldly rather than spiritual.
4. Not bound by monastic restrictions, especially not belonging to a religious order. Used of the clergy.
- A member of the secular clergy.
- A layperson.
Next, the definitions of poverty, chastity, and obedience, again from dictionary.com, truncated so that this post doesn't last a century.
Poverty, noun: "the state of having little or no money and few or no material possessions"
Chastity, noun: The condition or quality of being pure or chaste; or, virginity; or, virtuous character; or, celibacy.
Obedience, noun, second definition: A sphere of ecclesiastical authority, or, a group of people under such authority.
Put these under the proper perspective and it makes sense.
If you look at the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, it says the following under "Poverty": "Jesus Christ did not condemn the possession of worldly goods, or even of great wealth, for He himself had rich friends... [but] it is true that Christ constantly pointed out the danger of riches, which, He says, are the thorns that choke up the good seed of the word... now poverty has no intrinsic goodness, but is good only because it is useful to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of the pursuit of spiritual perfection," which of course, Franciscan spirituality pursues that perfection. Like I said in a previous post, it doesn't mean to sell everything--we're not heading into the Friary/Convent here. It's recognizing that things are just that--things--and be able to set them aside and give to those who need those things more.
To put it as The Rule on the NAFRA website puts it, "...Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God's children. "
When it comes to Chastity, if you are a truly practicing Catholic, is not an issue. But for our Cafeteria Catholic friends and those who are of different faith, it is simply, again as described above, or, again referring to New Advent: "Chastity is the virtue which excludes or moderates the indulgence of the sexual appetite." It also applies to other bacchanalian self-indulgences and delectations, such as food and drink, which of course is hard when most Franciscan meetings revolve around food! But in all seriousness, in today's world, I think it's the virtue most Catholics shrug off, especially in our sexually charged society.
So what does chastity mean to a secular religious person? Obviously, if one is married, the sex issue is not the problem. If one is single, it's a matter of self-control--which is hard when sex is thrown into one's face from billboards and TV. Chastity also means tempering behaviors, such as drinking and eating and general self-indulgence. Think of it in terms of "constraint with reference to all acts that give rise to shame" (again thank New Advent under "chastity"). The so-called old fashioned virtues of chastity, modesty, generosity, kindness, et cetera, really weren't off-base. It's a shame that our society sniggers at the thought of virtues in general--it would be a kinder place.
Back to the subject at hand:
Obedience is probably pretty much as the definition above says, especially in the Church. The Secular Franciscan Order is recognized by Rome and is subject to Her command. New Advent refers to it--correctly in my humble opinion--as being yet another virtue. "It is the recognition of the authority of God vicariously exercised through a human agent that confers upon the act of obedience its special merit." Disobedience, the other half of this particular coin, didn't buy Adam much, nor Lucifer, nor anyone else who had blown off the rules of God. Obedience as Christ was obedient to His Father, or as his Blessed Mother was obedient--it's a tough concept to wrap a brain around in this world of independent thought and action.
Together--poverty, chastity, and obedience--are pretty much the antithesis of modern mores, are the heart of Catholicism, the baseline for secular orders, and are distilled in the religious life. Separately, one or two are probably manageable for the average Catholic; together they may well be near impossible without the dedication and persistence and God's grace.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, when the world was growing cold, did renew in the flesh of the most blessed Francis the sacred stigmata of Thy Passion, in order to inflame our hearts with the fire of Thy love, graciously grant unto us, that yoked to his merits and prayers we may bear the Cross, and bring forth fruits worthy of penance: You who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.