In the beginning, Luchesio Modestini was entirely concerned with material success. So much so, that he had a bit of a reputation of being an avaricious man. His wife Buonadonna was of a similar disposition. As time went on they had no children. One day the grace of God touched Luchesio and changed his way of thinking. He realised how foolish it was to strive only after worldly goods, when he could take nothing with him to eternity. He began to practice works of mercy and to perform his religious obligations with fidelity and he succeeded in winning his wife over to a similar outlook on life.
Since they had no one to care for but themselves, and Luchesio feared that in conducting his business he might lapse into covetousness, so he decided to give up his business entirely. He and his wife divided everything among the poor and retained for themselves only as much land as would suffice for their own support. Luchesio tilled and worked this property with his own hands.
About this time Saint Francis came into the region of Tuscany where they lived. After his sermon on penance, a great many people were inspired and desired to leave everything and enter the friary. But the saint asked them to remain calm and to persevere in their secular vocation, for he was going to give them a special Rule of Life according to which they could serve God quite perfectly even in the world.
Then St Francis visited Luchesio, with whom he had become acquainted through former business transactions. St Francis greatly rejoiced, praising God’s grace, to find this avaricious young man so altered. Luchesio in response asked St Francis for special instructions for himself and his wife so that they might lead a life in the world that would be pleasing to God. St Francis happily explained to them his plan to establish a Secular Franciscan Order with its own Rule of Life for lay people and Luchesio and Buonadonna asked to be received into it at once.
Thus according to tradition, they became the first members of the Order of Penance, which was popularly called the Third Order of St Francis. Today it is known as: The Secular Franciscan Order.
After Luchesio Modistini had become a member of Franciscan family he rapidly advanced towards holiness. He practiced penitential austerities: often he fasted on bread and water, slept on the floor, and during his working in the field he nurtured a spirit of prayer and devotion to God in his heart. His generosity to the poor knew no bounds, so that one day there was not even a loaf of bread in his own house. When still another poor man came to the door looking for food, Luchesio asked his wife to go see if perhaps there was still something that they could find to help him. His wife lost her temper and scolded him severely; his mortifications she said had made him crazy and if he continued they themselves would have to go hungry. Luchesio asked her gently to please go look in the pantry. She abruptly left to do as he had asked. When she opened the door of the pantry she was completely shocked for it was filled with all the best sorts of bread. From that time on his wife tried to outdo her husband in doing good to others who needed care.
When a plague raged in the town of Poggibonzi and the surrounding places, Luchesio went out with his donkey ladened with necessities for the sick. When he did not have enough to supply all, he began to beg for more on behalf of the distressed. Once he carried a sick cripple, whom he had found along the road, to his home on his shoulders. On the way he met a frivolous young man who asked him mockingly: “What poor devil is that you are carrying on your back?” Luchesio replied joyfully: “I am carrying my Lord Jesus Christ!”
When at last, Luchesio himself lay very ill and near to death, his wife asked her husband to pray that she might die with him. That night she fell ill with a fever and died before him. He passed away, with a holy longing for God on April 28th 1260. He was made a Blessed by Pope Pius VI because many miracles were worked at his tomb.
Not everyone in this world can act as Blessed Luchesio did. Not everyone is free of obligations towards others who are entrusted to their temporal care; nor has everyone the grace and the vocation for such extraordinary virtues. In fact, if anyone feels that God calls them in this way, then they should seek counsel with a spiritual director.
But everyone can and should strive, while following their occupation and business, to live as best they can to live a life of virtue and especially care for the poor and sick. They can do this if they conduct their business as a special work offered to God through which they also acquire a livelihood for themselves and their family. They also may add to this treasure by endeavouring to put themselves, in some way, at the service of their fellow brothers and sisters and by promoting Christian morality as best they can by setting a good example themselves.
THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
Many men asked to join St Francis in his way of Gospel life and he founded his first Order called The Order of Friars Minor in 1209.
Then in 1212 St Clare decided to follow him and he found her the convent of San Damiano near Assisi, which many ladies joined. This second Order founded by St Francis was called The Poor Ladies. After the death of St Clare they were called The Poor Clares.
Then a group of lay people, like Luchesio Modestini and his wife, also asked St Francis to write a Rule of Life for them. Exactly when he began to think about a third way of living a Gospel life as a Secular Franciscan Order, is difficult to determine, but he could have been thinking about this before 1215 when he met and gave spiritual direction to Lady Jacoba dei Settesoli, may have written the first edition of his Letter to all the Faithful.
The friend and protector of St Francis and the friars, Cardinal Hugolino, who later was elected to the See of Peter as Pope Gregory IX, wrote the first official “Rule of Life” for the Secular Franciscan Order in 1221.
Wherever St Francis sent his friars the people wanted to share in their life and spirituality. Such was the demand among women to follow the way of life of the Poor Ladies, that St Francis sent St Clare’s own sister, St Agnes of Assisi, to establish other convents of the Poor Ladies in Northern Italy. Another Agnes, St Agnes of Prague also founded a convent of poor ladies in her own country of Bohemia now called the Czech Republic. She was an extraordinary woman of great beauty, who had been asked to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, but rather than the glamour of this world she chose to become a follower of St Clare and a bride of Christ.
In the courts, castles, cities, towns and villages lay people were inspired by the vision of St Francis. Since most of them could not join the friars or sisters, because they were married or had other binding commitments they asked to join the Secular Franciscans.
It may sound amazing, but in the Franciscan Family the saints and blessed of the Secular Franciscan Order outnumber those of the Franciscan Friars and Poor Clares combined. Among these saintly Secular Franciscans are:
St Louis - King of France
St Elizabeth of Hungary
St Elizabeth - Queen of Portugal
St Bridget of Sweden
St Catherine of Genoa
St Charles Borromeo – Cardinal
St Ferdinand III King of Castile
St Frances of Rome
St Frances Xavier Cabrini – Founder of Cabrini Sisters
St Jane of Valois – Queen of France
St Joan of Arc
St Margaret of Cortona
St John Bosco – Founder of Salesians
St John Mary Vianney – Parish Priest
St Joseph Cottolengo
St Pius X - Pope
St Roch of Montpellier
St Rose of Verterbo
St Thomas More – Chancellor of England
Blessed Luchesio of Poggibonsi
Blessed Angela of Fologino
Blessed Gregory X – Pope
Blessed Vincent Pallotti
Blessed Waldo of San Gimignano
Blessed John XXIII – Pope
Blessed Pius IX - Pope
Some other famous people who were Secular Franciscans were:
Christopher Columbus – Explorer
John Cimabue – Painter
Giotto de Bondone – Painter
Bartholomew Murillo - Painter
Charles Gounod – Musician
Johannes Joergensen – Author
Pope Leo XIII – Pope
Louis & Zilia Martin – Parents of St Therese
Philip & Virginia Pacelli – Parents of Pope Pius XII
Countess Pecci – Mother of Leo XIII
Pius XI - Pope
Pius XII – Pope
Margaret Sarto – Mother of St Pius X
Pierre Soubirous – Brother of St Bernadette
Francis Joseph Thompson – English Poet
Cardinal Herbert Vaugh
As part of the Franciscan Family, Secular Franciscans live in the world and strive in the spirit of St Francis to assist people to realise we are all brothers and sisters.
They believe that God, in love, created everything intrinsically good, and that human life created by God, in his own image, is sacred from beginning to end.
They are well aware that the human person has been damaged by sin, but they are dedicated, in compassion, to assist their brothers and sisters in every way possible. To this end over the centuries they have built Churches, Schools, Hospitals and assisted in the missionary efforts of the friars and the Church all over the world.
The spirituality of the Secular Franciscans is a spirituality of seraphic love for the Crucified Christ. This finds its focus in the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass - the Eucharist - through which we offer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the world with all its joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries to God the Father, creator of all.
Like the friars and the sisters, the seculars are part of a worldwide family that takes seriously St Francis’ vision of universal fraternity, that includes a genuine care for all God’s creatures and the environment in which they live.
This spirituality of relationship goes far beyond a simple devotion to St Francis; it has to do with following the Gospel way of St Francis as he followed in the footprints of the poor Christ and his blessed Mother.
The Secular Franciscan Order is not simply a spiritual association or devotional group. It is a way of life highly regarded and approved by the Church. It is a Gospel way of life sealed by God in the canonization of its many saints, blessed and holy people.
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IS GOD CALLING YOU INTO A DEEPER SPIRITUAL COMMITMENT AND RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM?
THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER
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- THE MERCY OF GOD AND “LAUDATO SI” IN POPE FRANCIS AND ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI (Part I) - Monthly Spiritual Message July 2020