Poverty? Chastity? Obedience?
The first and second Orders (Order of Friars Minor and Poor Clares) and many other consecrated religious communities take vows or make promises of poverty, chastity and obedience. This is both commonly known and commonly misunderstood.
As far as the Secular Franciscan Order is concerned, remember, we are secular people with jobs, homes and families. A vow of poverty is not practical for someone who has to pay a mortgage or support a family. A permanent vow of chastity for a single person precludes the possibility of ever marrying. Our obedience is to our fraternal minister and, most importantly, to the will of God and the teachings of the Church.
Jim Gafney, OFS, Minister of St. Joseph’s Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, addresses poverty among seculars like this: “It’s not that we can’t have nice things,” he explains. “We simply must keep those things in their appropriate places in our lives.”
It’s about perspective. As Secular Franciscans, we do not work toward material goals, we do not place acquisition of things before growing our relationship with God. We strive to understand the role these things play in our lives as we strive to get closer to God and serve His people. We also exercise poverty of spirit, humility.
All Christians are called to humble ourselves before God and before all His people. We are servants. For Secular Franciscans, our profession to the Order does not place us above anyone. It is the result of years of work and education that prepare us to serve as the least among the most.
So, while the three knots on the Franciscan Cord, be it in the form of a rope cincture or a neck cord bearing the tau cross, stand for poverty, chastity and obedience for the first and second orders, for us they mean different, but similar things. The knots represent the Most Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They also represent the virtues of holiness, humility and charity, which are at the center of all we do as Secular Franciscans.