John Francis Friendship SSF

St Francis' charism speaks to our complex world with a message of humility, reconciliation, love for Christ and worship of God (through creation).

John Francis Friendship TSSF

My early sense of calling

‘It all began when … ‘. Is it possible to say ‘when’? Or, like a river, you might trace its source but still not find the aquifers that fed it. Perhaps Shakespeare got it right when, of mercy, he said: ‘it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.’ There were moments, of course. Walking past a homeless teenager in Piccadilly Circus in my mid-twenties and wondering, ‘why him, not me? Or the Religious I had met whose lives of consecrated holiness impressed me. Or talks with the project Coordinator at the homelessness shelter where I volunteered whose life was clearly touched by Francis (and God) and was about to test his vocation to the Society. Or my first visit to Hilfield Friary for the Easter Triduum and feeling – ‘I’ve come home!’ – a feeling affirmed as I shared meals with the community of Brothers, guests and Wayfarers – a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven. Coincidences … ? God-incidences …? Spirit-nudges?

Soon after being baptised as a teenager I had felt a call to priesthood, but the way was always blocked. I suppose, for many, vocation seems about a commitment to Christian life and witness, and the service of the altar of God and of people can seem alluring. But since I first encountered Religious I’d wondered … and then I read a book on the life of St Francis. That led to me making a pilgrimage to Assisi where, walking through the countryside and praying in the basilica, I felt an immense draw to this little poor man whose life has had such a profound effect on the world.

Sharing the riches of consecrated life

A vocation has less to do with what we do than how we respond to Christ. It’s about the life we seek to live. But, listening to many, it often seems that the active life trumps the contemplative. 

The church seems to forget (ignore?) the riches offered through vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience (or the monastic vows of Obedience, Stability and Conversion of Life) which led me to write What Do You Seek? Wisdom from Religious Life for today’s world (Canterbury Press, 2021). I wanted all to realise the wealth of riches offered by the consecrated life.

Franciscan Spirituality

So, for twenty-five years, I sought to live as a First Order brother until a period of crisis emerged leading to being released from my vows. It took time to re-connect with the world and my-self but I knew I couldn’t leave Francis and, eventually, made another pilgrimage to Assisi. There, in the Upper Basilica, I found myself in floods of tears – I might have left the Franciscan’s, but Francis hadn’t left me! His charism speaks to our complex world with a message of humility, reconciliation, love for Christ and worship of God (through creation). I knew his spirituality was important because it’s ‘a passionate love of and commitment to the One who humbled Himself to be born in the lowliest of circumstances and live among us and die for us’. So it was I embarked on the process of discerning a call into the Third Order, a discernment confirmed during a retreat at Glasshampton. The Franciscan way isn’t for everyone, but Francis’ passionate pointing to Christ through the life he lived is a lesson for all.
The Society of St Francis
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