(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Spring 2024 Digital Issue #111)

by Francine Gikow, OFS

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom12:2)*

This passage from St. Paul, notes three levels of adherence to God’s will: good, acceptable and perfect. Initially there is a minimum of following Christ which is solely good (not evil). Next we have acceptability which reflects a little higher adherence but still withholds total commitment and finally, there is perfection; for those who are fully committed to follow Christ and to become transformed by Him. It is a renunciation of self and desires, with a total intention of living for Christ in this world.

Secular Franciscans are called to the highest level of following Christ- of being as perfect as humanly possible. In our Rite of Profession, we acknowledge that Christ’s grace has “led these your servants to live their faith more fully in the context of the world,” and has a goal “of perfect Christian love so that the Church may be rebuilt and her mission to be fulfilled….” (Ritual, 23-24) Finally, we are called to “conform our thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls conversion.” (Rule, 7)

How can we do this? We know we are not able to do all of this on our own but rather it is through God’s grace which gives us the ability to persevere in our vocational journey toward perfection. God initiates the call and we respond. Like the disciples, Jesus calls each of us by name, personally and individually, to come and see, and to stay awhile with Him in prayer. We begin by answering His call of invitation, to dwell in prayer and encounter Him in a deepening, intimate relationship.

Jesus routinely went to the desert to stay with His Father. So too is our need for “desert time” to connect with Jesus. Our time cannot be rushed nor become routine. God wants us to encounter Him and make ourselves available to Him without the clutter of our own agenda or wishes. Do not worry about how you pray, or using a specific style of prayer. What matters most is your relationship with God:

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray

as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

And he who searches the hearts of men, know what is the mind of the Spirit,

because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27)

Our time with God is the first step toward renewal – for without God, there is nothing. The disciples were attracted to Jesus after their first encounter with Him, stayed with Him to hear His message and then, when filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, were sent to proclaim Christ to the world.

Likewise, we must first listen, then discern, and ultimately go forth on a mission to spread the good news of Jesus -who is the same Jesus we personally encounter in the fire of our prayer.

…ask for grace not instruction, desire not understanding, the groaning of prayer not diligent reading…not light but the fire that totally inflames us and carries us into God by ecstatic unctions and burning affections. This fire is God. (St. Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey Into God. 7:6)

*All Scripture citations taken from RSV-2CE.“