Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Secular Habits

"Even if they wore a habit, without the spirituality, the habit is just a costume."

excerpted from post #16 in this thread on the Catholic Answers Forum asking whether any "third" or lay orders wear habits:
In 1978 Pope Paul VI promulgated the new rule for the Third Order Secular Franciscans.  ...He changed the name of the order from the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, to the Secular Franciscan Order. .... ... It was decided that the Tau would replace the habit. However, those fraternities that had worn the habit for more than 100 years were allowed to keep it. ...
The problem is not the rule nor the absence of a habit. The problem are the constitutions of the SFO. ... They confuse secularity with secularism and include an excessive enphasis on secular life of the brothers and sisters and fail to say enough about fidelity to Franciscan tradition and spirituality.
If you read the consitutions of any of the branches of friars, they are very spiritual and very theological. They have very few references to what to do when to do it and why do it. They speak about the spirit of St. Francis and provide an explanation for each point. ... Things like this are missing from the constitutions of the SFO. 
Even if they wore a habit, without the spirituality, the habit is just a costume.

I thought this was a pretty insightful comment from JREducation and it occurred to me, having just read a 600 page book of Saint Francis' life,  that the SFO has a "traditional habit," which they can procure in about the same way Francis got his.   Not this Tau cross at right, which is the actual designated habit of the present-day SFO, but something that truly embraces 800 years of Franciscan spirituality:

One simply has to go to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or poke around under a few bridges until you find a homeless person about your size and gender.  Trade with them for one of your good outfits, appropriate to the weather during whatever time of year, maybe with a few bucks you might have accidentally left in a pocket.  Take whatever they are wearing, wash and wear to your next SFO meeting.  (The washing is allowed by seculars because a wide variety of "wildlife" often inhabit the clothing of persons forced to sleep outdoors.  Actual friars have their own habits or they'd be required to wear them dirty.)  

But Seriously, Folks....

This blog talks a lot about extraordinary experience.  These experiences are, most often, related to prayer, to being detached from the world and attached to God.  Or at least, longing so much for attachment to God .... naked intent, stretching to God ....  In those moments, I don't think anyone can  be attached to the world.  I couldn't.  But we don't stay there and pursuing detachment is integral to any sort of spiritual development I've encountered.  Detachment from the world and worldly goods is a primary objective in Franciscan spirituality as I've understood it.

What I described to obtain a habit would be a dandy ritual for anyone who really wants to embrace Saint Francis through the SFO.  I wasn't kidding. I also can't see the vast majority of the membership embracing the idea. 

However, how about choosing, as part of their commitment, to wear inexpensive, modest, gray/brown/tan clothing?   No prints, no patterns.  All the time. 

No array of matching shoes or pocket squares or ties or purses or anything.  Just plain, simple, fashionless clothes that do the job of covering the body and protecting it from the elements.  I'll even let the women have two purses: one for summer and one for winter because otherwise we would attract attention to ourselves.  No hair dye.  No permanents.  No make-up. You can buy a haircut at the cheapest cutting chain around.  Everyone can still shave so as not to draw attention to themselves.  No facial hair or full beard only.  Short, straight, plain hair for both sexes. 

Here's the book, BTW: The Life and Legends of Saint Francis of Assisi.  As everyone should know  by now, I am no expert in anything and certainly not in Franciscan spirituality after reading one book.  But I found out something about Francis I had not known: he was a great Mystic. Possibly the greatest ever to grace the Earth. (Jesus was God, so He doesn't count.) Padre Pio, also a true Mystic, was like a lump of concrete compared to Francis. Francis wore the clothes of the most despised class, as far as I could glean from my reading.  When his personal call became an Order, those wretched clothes became a habit. 

If he started today, where would he get his clothes? Under a bridge is my guess.  He couldn't afford a Franciscan habit. 

Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me Lord, a correct faith, a certain hope, a perfect charity, sense and knowledge, so that I may carry out Your holy and true command AMEN (Saint Francis' prayer at the Crucifix of San Damiano)


  1. Thank you this has been helpful- Bill

  2. Thank you this has been helpful- Bill

  3. I agree. Francis was a mystic and the Franciscan Spiritualty formed by him and his later brothers has remain today as the one constant in today's Church. My entire adult life has been lived in that personal hermitage that I built with the Rule, the Gospels, and Christ; to live the Gospel in the spirit of Brother Francis.