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.
Today, St. Joseph's Hill and Price Memorial are nursing facilities owned and operated by the Franciscan Missionary Brothers. They are modern, well-equipped and fully prepared to care for the special needs of long-term and chronically ill residents of all faiths.
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 in the healthcare field. Through their nursing homes, they attend to the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of many elderly and sick men and women.
Within the area of the apostolate, there are many fields that contribute to the total care provided by the Brothers. Training may be in nursing or related fields. Physical or occupational therapy, nursing home administration, housekeeping, social services -- or trades such as electrician, mechanic, maintenance management -- any of the many occupations that contribute to the smooth operation of the Brothers' facilities.
It is important and rewarding work. To us, as Franciscans, it is doubly important because it brings us directly into contact with those in the world who need us most -- doubly rewarding because it brings us closer to St. Francis, to ourselves and to peace. And, bringing a Franciscan approach to healthcare is important and rewarding to society.
Laughter. Joy. Love. Peace. Our apostolate provides us with every opportunity to give and receive it all.
Franciscan means community. It means equality, sharing, commitment and love. It means brotherhood.
To us, community is not a set of rules and regulations, nor a substitute for family and personal relationships. Community is an atmosphere where there is freedom for individuals to grow and develop, where special talents and personalities are appreciated and nurtured. Community simply means the best of companions -- living, working and praying together.
The Franciscan Missionary Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an active, modern American congregation. There exist no outdated customs and practices that are no longer compatible with the temperament of the times or that would stifle the individual and impede the works of the apostolate. There is no room for the stuffy, the self-righteous, the egotistical.
Franciscan Missionary Brothers are not put into a mold and turned out to exactly the same pattern. Variety is essential to the health and happiness of any community. We do not invite you to join us so that you may become one of us, but rather so that you may become the man you really are.
The first goal of any Franciscan is to serve God through his own spiritual advancement. We offer that opportunity to strive to be like Christ, with other men who share that goal, each working to reach his potential in harmony and joy.
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.
Religious formation is an important and vital phase, introducing the candidate to a more intense life in Christ and the meaning of the membership in the Franciscan Missionary Brothers.
A candidate spends his first year as a Postulant, under the guidance and direction of the Postulant Director. During this time, the Postulant acquaints himself with the community and its lifestyle, as well as the apostolic service of caring for the sick and the infirm. He receives instructions in various aspects of the Religious and Spiritual Life, the Liturgy, and is required to complete a certain number of college credits each semester. After the period of Postulancy, he is admitted to the Novitiate.
The year of the Novitiate begins with the reception of the Franciscan habit. The purpose of the Novitiate is to deepen one's spiritual life and commitment to Christ and to experience community in a more intense and complete way by the study of the Rule of St. Francis, the Constitutions of the community, the Sacred Scriptures, the theology of the spiritual life, and a special emphasis on the Vows, under the guidance of the Director of Novices.
At the conclusion of a satisfactory Novitiate, the Novice professes temporary Vows of Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience. These vows are renewed annually for the next four years. During the time of Profession of Temporary Vows, each Brother is given the opportunity to pursue professional training in a variety of skills.
Following five years of Temporary Profession, the candidate makes Simple Perpetual Vows, giving himself forever to the service of God in the Congregation. Until this time, the candidate is free to leave the Congregation if he decides religious life is not his vocation.
The Gift, the Call, and You
The Call to religious life is not a sudden, dramatic realization of your direction in life. Rather, it is a slow, sometimes painful process that may take months or years to become apparent. It is a period of doubt, of questioning, of prayer and introspection. If Christ is calling you to His service, you will know. You will feel it.
Those who have answered the Call to religious life know they have not made a choice, but have been chosen. For them, for us, and perhaps for you, answering the Call is the only way to true peace and happiness. God is selective -- He chooses you because you are the right person to do His work.
If you realize that the laughter, the joy, the love and peace are there -- in you -- waiting to be given to the world; if you see in a life of simplicity and community a home; if you feel a special kinship with St. Francis, you may be on the road to peace already.
The Franciscan Missionary Brothers invite you to find out more about your vocation, more about us, and more about yourself. Contact us. Come visit. You may have many questions or you may just want to talk.
We invite you -- and the man you want to be -- to find what you're looking for.
Life is a gift. The gift is yours -- to give and to receive.