At family reunions when I was in grade school, it took me a while to get the aunts, uncles and cousins straight. A few years later, there would be new members to work into the overall picture.
The Franciscan family is often spoken of as three Orders (First, Second and Third). The whole family received a seal of approval in 1209 when Pope Innocent III verbally approved a Rule of Life that Francis had drawn up. Though the friars at the Chapter of Mats were almost all from the First Order, the event that we commemorated is really the birth of the Franciscan family as a movement within the Church and at the service of the Gospel.
Three years later, Clare of Assisi left the security of her noble family to follow Francis in her own way; that ended up being a cloistered nun, but the monastery of San Damiano was unlike other nearby monasteries. Most of them allowed only the daughters of nobility to enter; San Damiano was a social mixing place previously unknown. Though she was abbess, Clare used to wash the feet of the "extern" who sometimes went out begging.
By 1221, single and married lay people had approached Francis to ask his help in living out the Good News of Jesus within their existing family and social responsibilities. Not everyone is called to be a friar or a Poor Clare. Thus the Secular Franciscan Order was born.
Years later some Secular Franciscans wanted to band together to form communities that would promote a certain ministry (education, health care, etc.). This began the Third Order Regular movement; most communities of Franciscan sisters and brothers belong to this part of the Franciscan family.
Today's numbers are roughly:
35,000 friars of the First Order (Friars Minor, Conventuals and Capuchins, plus the Third Order
60,000 members of the Second Order (various kinds of Poor Clares),
155,000 members of Franciscan congregations of brothers and sisters, and
400,000 members of the Secular Franciscan Order.
All parts of the family were not equally represented in this Chapter of Mats, but all parts were there--including the Poor Clare abbess from Foligno. During morning prayer at the basilica of St. Clare, this abbess gave us a reflection on what Francis and Clare teach us about living a life of penance.
(Basilica of St. Clare, before our morning prayer service. The abbess of the Poor Clare monastery in Foligno spoke about Francis, Clare and the life of penance.)
It's great to meet other members of the family! More tomorrow.
(This outdoor sculpture near the Portiuncula recalls a meal that Saints Clare and Francis once had there.)