The origins of the Third Order may be found in the movement known as the Penitents, going back to the sixth century. The original Penitents were people who sought to grow in holiness through their daily lives and work. This desire for holiness assumed many forms, such as pilgrimages to holy sites; constructing, repairing and rebuilding churches; and caring for the poor and sick.
The first Franciscans were, in fact, known as "penitents of Assisi." Men and women who were attracted by Francis' way of life, but could not leave their homes and families to become wandering preachers or cloistered nuns, banded together. Thus the Third Order was born.
Early on, small groups in the Third Order formed more structured communities, publicly professing the Church's traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and often uniting around specific works of charity or common prayer. Since then, numerous congregations of lay people and religious have developed throughout the world. In each instance, the call to conversion and simplicity of life animates the members: In the Secular Franciscan Order, men and women follow the way of Francis, but are not vowed religious living in community. The Third Order Regular, on the other hand, is an international community of priests and brothers who emphasize works of mercy and on-going conversion to the Gospel.
The Third Order Regular is also known as the Franciscan Friars, TOR. This branch of the Franciscan family was originally founded in 1447 by a papal decree uniting several groups of Third Order hermits. Today, the TORs are a thriving religious community serving God's people across the world.
With Francis, the TORs have accepted the challenge to "rebuild the Church" in areas of high school and college education, parish ministry, church renewal, social justice, campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, foreign missions, and other ministries in places where the Church is needed. And, in imitation of our founder, we pray to be instruments of peace, pardon, and hope in a world yearning for the good news of Jesus Christ.
Conversion was an integral value in both Francis and Clare’s lives as they moved beyond the status quo of their times and founded two great religious communities: the Friars Minor and the Poor Ladies. Born into wealth, Francis and Clare each were compelled to divest themselves of anything that would lead them away from Christ. They did this by following in the foot prints of Jesus. This entailed a profound conversion—a complete surrender of their lives to God and God’s service!
Prayer is the fundamental value in a Franciscan’s life—prayer that flows from the depths of an inner life. For Francis and Clare all of life was rooted in prayer, ministry, community, solitude and silence, joy and pain. Embracing this value, we are called to love, honor, adore, serve, praise, bless, and glorify God in our lives.
Poverty for Francis and Clare was a mirror image of Jesus’ poverty because Jesus had “nowhere to lay his head.” Thus, we are called to live our complete dependence on God through identifying with people around us who are poor, living a simple lifestyle and sharing all things in common. Our poverty extends beyond material poverty to an “attitude of the heart.” Embracing this attitude we strive to identify with the needs of the poor ones in our world and share our gifts, talents, ideas, resources and prayer life with them.
Minority in the times of Francis and Clare referred to a socio-economic status. Although born into wealth, each of these great saints made a conscious decision to become one of the minors (the lesser ones). Each had a keen awareness of “God’s little ones”—those who are marginalized, oppressed, helpless and unwanted—and actively reached out to them in loving service. Today, we are called to no less—to search out the “lesser ones” in our midst and live our lives in solidarity with them.
The Rule of Life and the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. (1982, 1997). American-English Commentary written by Margaret Carney, OSF and Thaddeus Horgan, SA. Washington, DC: Franciscan Federation