The Road to Brotherhood
The essence of the Franciscan way of life is peace -- peace with oneself, with God, with
one another. That peace comes from within each of us.
Christ taught us that the road to peace begins in our hearts and leads us to one another, to all people, to God. St. Francis found the
road and shows the rest of us the way: Make peace with yourself and set the Christ that is in you free. Then you cannot help but find -- and create -- peace no matter what road you travel.
Laughter. Joy. Love. Peace. It's all there. We invite you to give it, to find it. In us. In Francis of Assisi.
The First Franciscan
Francis of Assisi is one of the best-known and most beloved saints. His story has charmed and inspired the world for nearly eight centuries.
Many of us feel a special kinship with this simple, unorthodox man. He represents a potential in us -- a potential buried deep beneath the cares and concerns of a complex and confusing world.
He is a man who finally and irrevocably let go, who surrendered himself to God, who answered the Call. And, he found himself not saying goodbye to the world, but really saying hello. He was free -- free to go, free to do, free to be. With no master but Christ and no possession but his soul, he was free.
St. Francis represents a potential -- something some of us want to be, something each of us can be.
Repair My Church
Francis felt the Call to religious life long before he answered it. In the process of discerning this Call, he took solitary journeys into the countryside, stopping to pray at wayside chapels. One day, praying in a run-down church at San Damaino not far from Assisi, he saw the figure of the crucified Christ move, and heard Him speak, "Francis repair my Church."
And Francis did. At a time when the Church was worldly, disjointed and in disarray, Francis inspired thousand of men and women to follow him back to the simple truth of the Gospels. He perfected a Rule of Life, approved by Pope Innocent III in 1210. In 1212, an Order for Franciscan Sisters, the Poor Clares, was founded. So great was the desire to embrace the Franciscan spirit that a rule of life for men and women living in the world, the Third Order of Penance, was established in 1221.
For nearly 800 years, the Franciscan family has been growing. Today it encircles the earth and embraces all her people. St. Francis would be completely at home in the world today. The Franciscans are.
Francis and the Sick
One of the most disturbing facts of life in 13th Century Europe was leprosy. Lepers -- destitute and disfigured individuals -- roamed from the edge of one town to another, begging for food and shelter. They were forced to wear bells tied around their necks to warn people of their approach. The disease was epidemic. So was the fear.
One day at a crossroads, Francis came upon one of these unfortunates. Panicked, he started to recoil, but turned back. He could never face himself if he could not face the tragic figure before him. He embraced and astonished the man and pressed money into his hands. He had found his apostolate.
He sought out more lepers and found a hospital full of them. He cared for them, worked with his hands, prayed and sang. He spent his life caring for them, and willed that the brethren of his Order should serve them for the love of Christ.
Francis' love for the sick and infirm was neither blind nor sentimental. They were the brothers and sisters of Christ. He would tell his brethren that they ought to see in the bodily infirmities of others the infirmities and bruises that Christ took upon himself for our healing.
A Band of Brothers
Often, on the road with his brethren, Francis would pick up two sticks and skip along the road -- pretending he was playing the fiddle -- laughing and singing until all in his band had caught the spirit.
The men who chose to follow St. Francis came from all stations in society. Among the first of his companions were a merchant, a lawyer, a farmer, a knight and a priest. Giving up all their pride and possessions, they found joy and freedom in Francis' life of poverty and simplicity.
They also found family. Francis was not a leader, he was a brother. He had no use for regimentation and rigidity, nor for complicated and overly rigorous methods of spirituality. All he demanded of his followers was happiness. Francis believed that the only thing that should make one sad was sin, so if he saw one off his brothers with a long face or grim expression, he took it that the brother was troubled in spirit and needed to renew his faith and love in Christ.
To St. Francis, happiness was God's reward for being good. And the best companions were men who were happy with themselves. So, by creating an atmosphere of freedom, simplicity and individuality, he created a family -- a community of the best companions.
A Modern-Day Congregation
In 1927, a small group of Franciscan Missionary Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus took over a former sisters' convent near Eureka, not far from St. Louis. They had come from Poland, where the Order was founded in 1888 to provide education and housing for the poor in urban areas.
They had come with a vision of an institution where they could care for the sick and the infirm. They found a challenge. The convent had been abandoned for 15 years before their arrival and stood nearly in ruins. Years of hard work and sacrifice faced them. But through faith, courage and Franciscan will, they built their hospital.
The Franciscan Missionary Brothers form a modern American congregation, consisting of Brothers only, without priests, following the Rules of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.
Since the time of St. Francis, his followers have answered the call to apostolic action in various ways within the Church. The Franciscan Missionary Brothers -- true to the spirit of their founder -- work directly to spread knowledge about the Catholic Church, through the Black Madonna Shrine and in other endeavors.
It is important and rewarding work. To us, as Franciscans, it is doubly important because it brings us closer to St. Francis, to ourselves and to peace.
Laughter. Joy. Love. Peace. Our apostolate provides us with opportunities to give and receive.
When Francis finally answered the Call, he professed his intentions in the most dramatic way possible. Responding to Christ's request to repair His church, Francis rode home, stole his father's best merchandise, sold it and tried to give the money to the pastor of San Damaino.
Pursued and captured, he came to trial. Standing before the bishop of Assisi and the assembled townspeople, Francis threw off his clothes and tossed them at his father's feet. Standing naked before the wealth and society of Assisi, Francis -- free and unburdened, spoke.
"Until now I have called Peter Bernadone my father. But because I mean to serve the Lord alone from now on, I return all his money and clothing. From now on, my only father will be Our Father in Heaven."
Thus Did Francis Take the Vow of Poverty
By his own vow of poverty, the Franciscan Missionary Brother shares in the poverty of Christ through the way of St. Francis of Assisi, and by a life in common with his fellow brothers. His life committed to Gospel Celibacy should reflect mature openness and readiness, whereby he is free from all marital and family ties to be able to give of himself completely in the service to God, the Church, the community and his fellow man.
Through the profession of Obedience, the brother binds himself to the Rule of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, and offers to God the complete and total dedication of his will in union with the will of Christ.