The Five Lents of Francis

The Five Lents of Francis

The early sources about the life of Francis mention five “Lents”.

A Lent to prepare for Easter and one for Christmas

For 40 days before Easter, Francis observed the “Great Lent”, what we know as Lent today. Francis observed a similar period of 40 days of fasting and prayer in preparation for Christmas, beginning after the Feast of All Saints on 1 November. It was at the end of a Lent preparing for Christmas that Francis arranged for the display of the Nativity scene at Greccio. Both Lents were observed by his brothers as well (Later Rule, Chapter 3).

A fast like Jesus’ in the desert

Francis also recommended a fast of 40 days after the Epiphany, 6 January. On this day in Francis’ time, the Church celebrated the Baptism of the Lord (as well as the visit of the Three Kings), so Francis reasoned that Jesus began his fasting of 40 days in the desert on 7 January.

A Lent in summer

In some years, Francis observed a Lent in summer, from the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of the Church of Rome, on 29 June until the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (whom Francis called “the virgin made church”) on 15 August.

A Lent to honour Saint Michael

Finally, Francis observed out of personal devotion a Lent in honour of Saint Michael after the Assumption until 29 September. It was during such a “Lent of Saint Michael”, in 1224, that Francis received the vision of the Seraph on the mountain of La Verna, followed by the appearance of the stigmata on his body.

We have indications from the early sources about how Francis observed these Lents: in fasting, solitude, and prayer.

If these Lents are indicative of his usual practice each year, Francis would spend probably three to five periods of about 40 days each in relative seclusion, dedicating himself to prayer and fasting in solitude, sometimes with one of the brothers, sometimes by himself. This would amount to about four to seven months a year in a secluded, contemplative way of life, frequently spent in the hermitages, a characteristic feature of early Franciscan spiritual practice.

Basically, Francis was creating the space and time to step apart and reflect on how God was asking him to deepen his commitment in terms of the ever-changing situation of his life. “When blessed Francis stayed constantly in a place to pray . . . he was always anxious to know the will of the Lord, about how he could please him better” (Assisi Compilation, 118)

From a post by Friar William J Short OFM in the Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual-Spiritual Tradition website.

Learning from Blessed Gabriele Allegra

Learning from Blessed Gabriele Allegra

On the day of our Custody’s autonomy, 25 April 2023, OFM Minister General Friar Massimo Fusarelli presented me with a relic of Blessed Gabriele Allegra, who was named as the copatron of our Custody, together with St Anthony of Padua. It was such a precious gift. This Blessed stepped on our humble shores and actually lived intermittently at St Anthony Friary from 1960 to 1963.

The Franciscan Friars in Singapore owe our existence to him as it was he who saw that Singapore was the ideal location for a sociological centre to offer the Church’s Social Teaching as an alternative to the Communist ideas then gaining popularity in the Far East.

His biblical spirituality is well-known, having established the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (Franciscan Biblical Centre). Bl Allegra responded “yes” to God’s personal call to him to translate the bible into the Chinese language, despite not knowing Chinese and not being a specialist in Sacred Scripture. He set his heart and mind completely on God’s work, and he was known to have said that “the most enviable fate for a Franciscan who does not obtain the grace of martyrdom is to die while he is working!”

Bl Allegra was also respected in theological circles. He participated in international theological congresses, and championed the Franciscan vision of Christology and Mariology, after the likes of other Franciscan theologians such as St Bonaventure, Bl John Duns Scotus and St Bernardine of Siena. Bl Allegra paid special attention to the subject of the Primacy of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to whom he had a special devotion.

Less known is his love of the poor and the attention he paid to them. Whilst living in Hong Kong, he often visited the leper colony in Macau during Easter and Christmas, deliberately choosing to celebrate these special days with lepers. His deep love for the Franciscan Order is evident in his desire to renew the Order especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) when the Church herself was being renewed. He connected this renewal with his theological insights about Christ (Christology) and about Mary (Mariology). This is the genius of this man: knowing how to use his intellect and making real his insights into practical liveable values.

On his feast day, 26 January, especially, we remember this wonderful holy man and friar. There is so much more to learn about him, and so much we can learn from his radical following of Christ in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi.

Plenary Indulgence on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the “Nativity scene at Greccio”

Plenary Indulgence on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the “Nativity scene at Greccio”

From the 8th December 2023 till the 2nd February 2024 in every Franciscan church

On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the “Nativity scene of Greccio”, the Apostolic Penitentiary granted a plenary indulgence to all the faithful who, from 8 December 2023 (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary) to 2 February 2024 ( Feast of the Presentation in the Temple of Our Lord Jesus Christ) will visit a Nativity scene in a church entrusted to the Franciscan friars all over the world.

The Franciscan Family had forwarded this request to the Holy Father on the 17th  April 2023, “in order to promote the spiritual renewal of the faithful and increase the life of grace,” as reads the petition sent to the Apostolic Penitentiary. “By stopping in prayer in front of  the nativity scenes”, the faithful may obtain the Plenary Indulgence under the usual conditions. “Likewise, those who are sick or unable to participate physically can equally benefit from the gift of the plenary indulgence, offering their sufferings to the Lord or carrying out practices of piety”. 


‘Regula Bullata’: Franciscans celebrate 800 years of evangelical creativity

‘Regula Bullata’: Franciscans celebrate 800 years of evangelical creativity

As the Franciscan family celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Rule of St. Francis on 29 November, Fr. Luke Gregory of the Custody of the Holy Land reflects on the evangelical creativity and freshness that the ‘Regula Bullata’ represents for the entire Church.

In their essentiality, the Chapters of the Regula Bullata of Saint Francis of Assisi contain an abundant wealth of indications and stimuli for the Christian life, which for 800 years has raised, oriented, and supported hosts of simple men and women, determined to follow Jesus and the Gospel: the Friars Minor — “The Franciscans”.

We are able to “read” the best commentary on this Holy Rule in the lives of our Franciscan brothers and sisters, who throughout history have distinguished themselves for virtue and holiness.

Allow me to limit myself to underlining some traits that always fascinate me for the wisdom and concreteness wherewith they are imbued, and which have the strength to restore impetus and meaning to my own vocation.

Radical adherence to the Gospel

Saint Francis cares that his brothers observe “the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of their own and in chastity” (cf. chapter i), radically, without discounts, with every fiber of their being and in perfect communion with the Church and in obedience to the Holy Father, the Pope, which was absolutely essential to Francis’ vision of renewing and building up the Kingdom of God.

Even the criterion for verifying the seriousness of intention of the new brothers is profoundly ecclesial: “The ministers must then diligently examine them regarding the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the Church. And if they believe all these things and are willing to faithfully profess them and observe them steadfastly to the end” (cf. chapter ii, 2).

There are very clear and essential requests: the path of evangelical perfection is open to all, but only those who choose it with freedom and awareness adhere to it.

Our Seraphic and much beloved Father Saint Francis has imprinted an exemplary balance in the Holy Rule: everyone is called to develop firm radicalism towards themselves, but, at the same time, to exercise great mercy towards their brothers and sisters.

The radical nature of adhering to the Gospel must be experienced as a stimulus and support for one’s conversion but must never translate into contemptuous and demeaning judgment of other men (and women) (cf. chapter ii, 14).

Freshness of the truth

Saint Francis identified for himself and proposed to his brothers a sure way to adhere to the Gospel: poverty!

“The friars do not appropriate anything, neither house, nor place, or anything else. And as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let them go for alms with confidence” (cf. chapter vi, 1-2).

In the mind of Saint Francis, poverty has the flavour of a privilege, an honour, a grace; it is certainly not a reason for shame!

The profound reason for this choice, in fact, is not primarily of an ascetic or penitential nature, but is Christological.

“Nor should they be ashamed, because the Lord became poor for us in this world” (cf. chapter vi, 3).

Everything contributes to following Jesus, to becoming conformed to Him, to sharing the same life as Him: “This is the sublimity of the highest poverty!” (cf. chapter vi, 4).

The charm of the holiness of Francis of Assisi lies entirely in his surprising resemblance to Jesus, which he developed with an authentically evangelical life.

In his rule he has traced a path for us that is safe and not subject to the wear and tear of time, because both he as a figure and his Holy Rule enjoy the freshness of the simple and wholesome truth.

Source: Vatican News

Pope encourages Franciscans to live out their charism in the world

Pope encourages Franciscans to live out their charism in the world

As the Franciscan Family marks the 8th Centenary of the confirmation of the Rule of St. Francis, on 29 November 1223, Pope Francis invites Franciscan friars and sisters to renew their vocation of bringing the Gospel of poverty and fraternity to today’s world.

Pope Francis has urged members of the Franciscan Family to hold true to the charism of fraternity, humility and poverty of their Founder by going out to the world to share the Gospel.   

The Regula Bullata of 1223

For Franciscan friars and sisters going around the world means realizing their “itinerant vocation in a style of fraternity and peaceful life” and is in line with the call on all Christians “to be an ‘outgoing Church’”, the Pope said in a letter he addressed to the Ministers General of the Order on the occasion of the 8th Centenary of the formal confirmation of the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi by Pope Honorius III.

The Rule (Regula Bullata) was formally recognized in the Bull “Solere Annuere” issued on November 29 1223, 800 years ago today.

Pope Francis’ letter was read out during a solemn liturgy presided over on Wednesday afternoon at the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese.

The celebration was attended by friars, nuns, and lay people belonging to the three Orders founded by St. Francis.

Rooted in the Gospel

In his message, the Pope noted that the centenary is “a propitious occasion” not only to remember an important historical event, but above all, “to revive the same spirit that inspired St. Francis of Assisi to strip himself of everything, and give birth to a unique and fascinating form of life rooted in the Gospel”.

“May this jubilee be for everyone the time (…) for a renewed missionary mandate of the Church which calls us to go out to meet the world where many brothers and sisters await to be consoled, loved and cared for.”

Drawing from St. Francis’ Rule, Pope Francis, therefore, exhorted the members of the Franciscan Order first of all to “observe poverty, humility and the Gospel”, living “in obedience, without anything of their own and in chastity.”

Recalling that St. Francis put “the Gospel at the center of his existence”, the letter stressed the importance of returning “to the foundation of a Christian and baptismal commitment, capable of being inspired, in every choice, by the Word of the Lord.”

Obedience to the Church

Pope Francis then highlighted the Franciscans’ duty of obedience to the Church enshrined in St. Francis’ Rule. “In that bond of obedience and reverence to the Pope and the Church of Rome,” said the Pope, “he recognized an essential feature of the fidelity to his vocation and of receiving Christ in the Eucharist and this is why he declared, with no hesitation, his compelling belonging to the Church.”

“Be tenacious in supporting the Church, repairing it with example and testimony, even when it seems to cost more!”

Going out to the world

Finally, the letter called on the Franciscan friars and sisters “not to hesitate” to go out to the world “sharing the bliss of poverty, becoming an eloquent evangelical sign, and showing our age, marked by wars and conflicts, by selfishness of every kind and logics of exploitation of the environment and the poor, that the Gospel is truly good news for man.”

Concluding, Pope Francis said he confides in the Order’s capacity to identify the right way to courageously and faithfully respond to the charism it has received and invoked the intercession of the Virgin Mary and Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.

Source: Vatican News

Hearts Filled with Grace and Gratitude

Hearts Filled with Grace and Gratitude

Dearest Family and Friends,

I’m home! I penned this message in Assisi, and yes, I fondly call Assisi “home”. There is such a feeling of right-ness whenever I am in this sacred town where St Francis, the little poor man (Il Poverello), was born, lived and loved, and where he finally transited from this earthly life to heavenly life.

Francis’ Transitus nearly 800 years ago is being commemorated as a series of important life-episodes leading up to his passing:

1223 – Approval of the Later Rule and Nativity at Greccio
1224 – Stigmata of Mt Alvernia
1225 – Composition of the Canticle of Creatures
1226 – Transitus (the passing of St Francis)

This is a Franciscan family celebration, not just for the OFM (First Order) but also for the cloistered contemplative Poor Clares (Second Order), and the Franciscan Religious brothers and sisters and Secular Franciscans (Third Order), and indeed by all who embrace the spirit of Francis.

Our Custody of St Anthony began celebrations in April this year with the Franciscan Spiritualty Conference featuring Friar Wayne Hellmann OFM Conv. In October, the Franciscan Friars hosted the Franciscan family in Singapore in celebrating the Transitus at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, where the themes of the Later Rule and the Nativity at Greccio were weaved into the Transitus recollection. Other commemorations are planned in the years leading to 2026.

Looking back on the year, I am grateful to see friars owning the Fraternal Life Project in their own fraternities. The seven fraternities developed their own Fraternal Life Project according to their unique character and circumstances while respecting the common Franciscan life that we friars have committed to, i.e. prayer in common, times for recreation and chapters (meetings), and dedicated time for regular days of recollection. It is my hope that they will each also have a fraternity mission project to serve the poor and needy together as brothers.

What the Fraternal Life Project really needs is for a friar to dream, spearhead, and animate the process. Who better to do this than the “mother” of the house, the Guardian (i.e. the superior of the community)? This is one of the reasons we have a greater concern for formation and support for our Guardians, and why we came together for a three-day gathering recently. You can read about this in the News section.

These are some of our efforts to foster holistic care of the individual friar. In this way, our friars can journey towards greater authenticity and integrity for the service of God’s kingdom, and our mission will be totally focussed on the Lord and his people.

There is an accompanying formation journey in the areas of Mission and Evangelisation, and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).

In fact, JPIC is the focus of student friar Marvin Voo’s Franciscan Year Exposure in Indonesia. He has been there since January, and he shares his learnings with us in this issue.

As for myself, I was graced recently to spend time with refugees in Kuala Lumpur. I met students and teachers at Zotung Catholic Learning Centre, and the sharing session with the teachers, who are also refugees, was heart-wrenching but very inspirational. Such stories of courage and faith.

We also visited a clinic and a convalescent home for refugees, who often have limited access to medical treatment. The tireless efforts and passion of those involved are examples of hope for all humankind. I hope to be able to collaborate in their efforts, if possible. This is what we Franciscans have been called to do – to have a special love for the poor and disenfranchised, because Christ Crucified lives in them.

As we approach the end of the year, may we see the graces God has blessed us with, may we see the life’s lessons that we have painfully learnt, and may we see the needs of others that we have been called to alleviate.

On behalf of all of the friars, I pray that the celebrations of Advent and Christmas will bring you and your family plentiful graces, and that the joy and peace of the Christ Child will fill your hearts with grace and gratitude!