Poverty for Francis, and for us, comes from the humility of Jesus who emptied himself to become human and suffered for the sake of undeserving humanity. (Philippians 2:5-11; TOR Rule, No.21)
Poverty is not a question of ownership, but of consecrating whatever we have, whether material, intellectual, or spiritual, to God. We are also content to live among and to serve the poor of this world: the materially, emotionally, and spiritually poor. (TOR Rule, No.21)
In our parishes, high schools, colleges, chaplaincies, and foreign missions, we try to serve the needs of the poor whom God brings to us. Sometimes these needs are material, as with the rural poor of Cambria County, Pennsylvania, or the street people who come to the doors of our Pittsburgh parish for food. Some needs are spiritual, as with the people of our foreign missions in the Amazon territory of Brazil who, because of distances and jungle isolation, may see a priest only four times a year.
Whatever and wherever the needs, we serve the Church and follow the Holy Spirit as strangers and pilgrims among God's people.
The vow of chastity is a positive vow of love -- to love God fully and completely without reservation or distraction. This does not exclude human love and companionship; rather, chastity frees us to love all God's people. This vow affirms the goodness of creation and the special, eternal dignity of each person.
The vowed religious does not have a higher or better calling than the married person, only a different calling. Chastity allows greater freedom in ministry as the religious is available for ministry in a way that is too consuming for married persons. As vowed religious, we are not tied to a specific family, but to the entire family of God. Our calling carries unique responsibilities as well as the challenge of faithfulness. Chastity frees the religious to share himself fully with his brothers and to receive support from the community for a life of fidelity and ministry.
For Francis, obedience was not a matter of power, but of humility. Those in leadership were servants of the community and responsible to their brothers. (TOR Rule, No.27) At the same time, the brothers were responsible to those in authority. (TOR Rule, No.26) So it is with us today. Decisions are not made arbitrarily but are reached after listening carefully to all concerned. At the same time, good order requires a final decision to be made in love.
As men of the Church and men of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, we go where we are sent. Admittedly, it can be difficult to leave well-established ministries and enter new, unfamiliar settings. But since we do not take a vow of stability as do monastic orders, our life is characterized by mobility and flexibility. This means that we are often uprooted from familiar situations; it means there are many opportunities for personal and communal growth.
This is the greatest benefit - and the greatest struggle - of obedience.
Our prayer life is at once active and contemplative. We are called to serve God's people actively in the world, but also to remain in a spirit of prayer. (TOR Rule, No.9) Both individually and communally, prayer is the center of our life.
In all our houses, common prayer is celebrated according to the Liturgy of the Hours. This normally consists of morning and evening prayer in common. The Eucharist is also celebrated daily.
In our colleges, high schools, and parishes, the friars celebrate Eucharist together, and often recite morning and evening prayer with students or parishioners. It is also common to celebrate communally the major feasts of the liturgical year as well as special events in the life of a school or parish.
Individual prayer can take many forms. Our spirituality is open to anything that leads us to God through Jesus Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also important to us as one who was humble and obedient to God, and who shows us the way to God through her Son.
Every local house of friars is different. Some are small and loosely organized, such as those connected with parishes; others are large and include organized responsibilities, committee meetings, and bulletin-board notices.
In these large settings, especially in our high schools and colleges, various ministries and schedules make it more difficult to gather the entire community. But through communal prayer, lively conversations over meals, and leisure activities, the spirit of fraternity binds us as brothers and friends.
This same spirit of fraternity can be felt whenever friars come together as a group or visit one another. The order is small enough that it doesn't take long to meet almost everyone and to get to know many friars well. Although our houses are different, the common rhythm of life eases the transition to a new location. What unites us is more essential than any differences we may have.
Traditionally, our ministry in the United States has been primarily in education. We serve in two universities -- Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, and Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania -- and in three high schools -- Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania; Serra Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Bishop Guilfoyle High School in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
We also embrace a long tradition of foreign mission work, which began in India in the 1930s and in Brazil in the 1960s. Today, we continue this important ministry in Brazil's Amazon Basin. Other areas of service in the US, such as our mission to Native Americans in South Dakota, include parish and pastoral work as well as retreat ministry and parish missions.
Whatever we do, whether as cooks, groundskeepers, or university presidents, we seek to serve God and God's people in humility and thanksgiving. (TOR Rule, No.31) The center of our life is not what we do, but who we are before God. All our ministry flows from this.
As Franciscans, we commit ourselves to the religious life through vows. Those who are called to priesthood also commit themselves to priestly ministry through ordination. By committing ourselves to religious life, as brothers or as priests, we promise to serve the Church wherever we are called, and we commit ourselves to serve one another.
Our service to the people of God may take us to the ends of the earth as a missionary, or as close as the front door of one of our friaries. Our service to each other may be expressed in very small ways, such as finding a book in the library for a friar, or in significant and strenuous ways, such as caring for an elderly friar in his dying days.
Service is not always easy and does not always seem rewarding at the time. Our call and commitment, however, does not promise earthly rewards, but the satisfaction of doing God's will and of touching the lives of others with His grace.