Search leads to centuries-old secular order

Searching more than 35 years ago for a way to more fully live out his Catholic faith, Dr. Joseph Norman found what he was looking for in a centuries-old tradition.

In 1981, he joined the Pater Noster Fraternity of the Secular Franciscans, a group that studies and adopts the spirituality of Franciscan religious orders, said Norman, a member with his wife, Joan, of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion. What he learns from the group and how it helps his faith is immeasurable, Norman said.

"The Franciscan charism really resonates with me and has given me a Franciscan point of view," said Norman, father of four children.

"We’re called to live out the Gospel in everyday life and do so with a sense of poverty. So we live in the world, but we are detached from the things of the world. We can use things but should not be driven by them."

His prayer life has grown, Norman said, as he daily prays the Franciscan liturgical office. "It helps me keep God in focus as I carry out my day-to-day responsibilities at home and at work."

Secular Franciscans also are called to live the Gospel based on service, said Richard Beal, a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha who is on the order’s regional council for Nebraska.

"Most of our service is connected to our parishes and the archdiocese," Beal said.

"We live in the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ … in how we treat people with the ability to see Christ in everyone we meet."

Living out the call to service, Norman volunteers at the Tri-City Food Pantry in Papillion, and has helped the poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, spread the faith through adult formation programs, and served others through the Knights of Columbus.

"Putting the needs of others first is an important aspect I strive for in my relationships and how I make decisions so as to be a better servant and live out the Franciscan charism," he said.

As a Secular Franciscan, Norman also has opportunities to meet and share faith with Franciscan religious at annual gatherings of Nebraska fraternities and a national gathering every five years.

Becoming a Secular Franciscan involves a 27-month period of study and spiritual formation that culminates in a lifelong profession.

"This is why we are recognized as an order," Norman said.

"Through our profession, we commit to a prayer life, and this helps form how we interact with others," he said. "Part of the Franciscan charism is that how you live your life impacts others, so getting them to think or question by how you live helps move them along on their faith journey."

"As a Secular Franciscan, I’ve grown to have a more trusting and dependent relationship with God in all areas of my life," Norman said. "And I find a true sense of contentment I did not experience before."


Related story: Laity shares in spirituality, service of religious orders

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