Welcome to A Franciscan View

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .

26 February 2018

Justice, Peace, & Integrity of Creation - JUSTICE

Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation (JPIC).  These are important words in our Franciscan charism--important words that outline our outreach to others and the whole world.    Years ago, these areas were managed by different Apostolic Commissions—Work, Family, Justice & Peace, and Ecology.  In October 2007, these four commissions were consolidated into the Committee that we have today:  JPIC (History of the SFO and Its Rules, William Wicks, 23 MAR 2011).  The leader of the JPIC Committee at each Fraternity level is called an Animator.  Carolyn D. Townes, O.F.S. is the NAFRA JPIC Animator.  Each local Fraternity should have its own JPIC Animator.  I hold that position for St. Elizabeth of Hungary Fraternity in Quincy and for Franciscans of the Prairie Regional Fraternity in West Central Illinois.

I thought that we could learn a little more about JPIC in our Order by reflecting upon the three elements of its title.  As framework for this discussion, we should understand what the NAFRA JPIC Mission Statement is:

The mission of JPIC is to assist the Professed Secular Franciscans as they reflect on their relationship with God as manifested in the fruits of conversion in their lives. This [mission is engaged] with special regard to the daily choices [they make] in the areas of justice, peace-making and respect for all created things and people; as brothers and sisters of penance, bringing life to the Gospel and the Gospel to Life (https://sites.google.com/site/jpic4ofs/about).

Our Rule reminds us:

Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.  (Article 19)

Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives. Especially in the field of public life, they should make definite choices in harmony with their faith.  (Article 15)

First, we reflect on Justice. 

The secular world has its definition of justice:

The maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments--meting out justice--social justice (Merriam-Webster).

Generally, this means that someone who has committed a crime is tried and convicted or acquitted.  Even the concept of “social justice” in this framework leaves winners and losers, the concept being that “you may not merit” a reward because of who or what you are.

The Church has a different view on “justice.”  Here is what Pope Francis said on May 12, 2015:

“We are all equal – all of us – but this truth is not recognized, this equality is not recognized, and for this reason some people are, we can say, happier than others. But this is not a right! We all have the same rights. When we do not see this, society is unjust. It does not follow the rule of justice, and where there is no justice, there cannot be peace. I would like to repeat this with you: where there is no justice, there is no peace!”

-- Audience with children of the Peace Factory

The ultimate justice, in God’s view, is the salvation of people—returning all people to the fold, as it were, where God’s Grace and Love will have their complete and full effect—where we, everyone in the whole world, return to the original state of grace found in the Garden of Eden.

The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ by God the Father's initiative, and brought about and transmitted by the work of the Holy Spirit, is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation. It concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Part 1, Chapter 1, III.b.

Even though this ultimate condition will be realized at the end of time, we have an obligation to work toward its fulfillment in our lives today.  So, in a parlance known well in this country, not only are “all [people] created equal,” but all people should be treated equally as well.  When we Franciscans talk about justice, we incorporate the understanding that God loves us so completely that he wants us only to return to him.  Our response to this great love is

·         to seek justice in our interactions with all others;

·         to treat them as we wish to be treated;

·         to look for ways to serve them and make their lives better;

·         to follow so closely in Francis’ footsteps that we mirror Christ, just like he did. 

How do we do this?

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.  In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

1 John 4:  7-12

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:  19-21

When we reflect upon the words of St. Paul about charity (love), we realize the immensity of our obligation (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6).  For treating all people with patience, kindness, without jealousy, without being pompous & inflated, not seeking our own interests, nor being quick tempered, nor brooding over injury, nor rejoicing over wrongdoing, but rejoicing with the truth becomes a major challenge for us.  Hearkening back to the Rule, Article 15, we are not just to do these things but must “be in the forefront” of doing them.  In other words, we take the lead in promoting these qualities—we become the models--the examples--a people so imbued with these qualities that our quiet lives of service display a character quite opposed to the ways of this world and show to all peoples Jesus actively living and working today.

When taken from the larger view, this call appears to be such a gargantuan task that it must be impossible to achieve.  But we Franciscans know that the way to eat an elephant is to take one small bite at a time.  So, our approach to this challenge is to look at our own lives and determine each day how we can live and promote justice in our own sphere.  We ask ourselves questions like, “How do I treat all people I meet today with patience?” (Yes, even the guy who pulls out in front of me causing me to jam on my brakes—and then turns at the next corner without a turn signal—causing me to jam on my brakes again.!); or, “How do I treat all people I meet today with kindness?”  (Yes, even the lady with three unruly kids in the grocery store aisle!)  Well, you get the idea. 

St. Paul’s list is an excellent measuring stick for our daily reconciliation.  When we approach our daily lives like this,

·         we enable others to see what the Franciscan charism is all about;

·         we show them the justice of the church and how it is so much different that the justice of society;

·         we exemplify the good life of a Franciscan and preach with an example that speaks so loudly that no one can hear what we are saying.

Then, in our Fraternities, we join with like-minded Franciscans and branch out to the greater community performing works of service and charity to all of those in need, whether physical, social, community, or spiritual.  To make an even greater impact, our Fraternities join with others in the Region.  Like the Franciscans of the Prairie Region Mission Statement says, “…we intend to spread, like the prairie fire of old, cleansing the earth and nourishing the land with His Word.”  Then, all the Regions and National Fraternities unite in service to increase the witness to our country and to the world.

 When we follow St. Paul’s ideas at the personal level, we transform our corner of the world into a place where all people are valued and cared for!  When we profess to live this Franciscan life, we accept our Rule in its entirety so that we live out this small phrase:  "Let them individually and collectively be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives.”  As we approach each day of our lives with this challenge foremost in our minds, we do make a difference and change the world.

Reflections of the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 6

6. They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession.  Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.  Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.

As we continue to consider our Way of Life, we recognize that we are part of the Church because of our Baptism.  When we Professed to live as Franciscans, we accepted a “more intimate” relationship with the Church, that is, we committed to be more faithful to the Church and its teachings.  Part of our responsibility, then, is to more fully understand what the Church says and what it teaches about the conditions of life and what our response as faithful Christians is supposed to be.

How are we to reach this understanding?  It’s simply called ongoing formation.  Ongoing formation is not just about the old stories of St. Francis and St. Clare and adoring their wonderful examples.  Ongoing formation includes further study of the Holy Scriptures, the documents of the Church (most especially the Vatican Documents & all of the Encyclicals written since then), the teachings of our Pope, the Bishops, and our Pastors, and delving more deeply into the Franciscan Rule, General Constitutions, and various Statutes.  With our serious study and understanding of these teachings (the Magisterium), we become more knowledgeable about what the Church teaches and more capable of explaining the teachings and the reasons for them to all of those outside the Church who may be more inclined to accept the secular view of today’s world. 

As we gain knowledge, we can begin to “…go forth as witnesses and instruments of [the Church’s] mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by [our] life and words.

Article 17 of the OFS Constitutions reminds us,

1.  Rule 6 Called to work together in building up the Church as the sacrament of salvation for all and, through their baptism and profession, made "witnesses and instruments of her mission," Secular Franciscans proclaim Christ by their life and words. 

We are not just a prayer group!  We study the Magisterium of the Church and we live what we have learned so that we can bring a strong, positive witness of the true mission of Christ to the world.  We are instruments of the mission when we accept the challenge to not only live a good life, but to help the poor, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned & sick and effectively care for “…one of these least brothers of mine.”  (Matt 25:  40)   We study, and then we act!  In so doing, we provide a living witness of the mission of the Church, which is Christ’s mission.   The Church reminds us of this obligation when it states:

For lay people, "this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world." (CCC 905). 

Well, that is why we are called Secular Franciscans after all.  We live and work in the world—today’s secular world.  We live out the OFS Motto, “From Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel.”

Now, before you get all flustered and shout, “Well, I can’t do it all by myself!”, let’s take a quick look at the last sentence of 17.1 in the Constitutions:

Their preferred apostolate is personal witness[1] in the environment in which they live and service for building up the Kingdom of God within the situations of this world.

It becomes quite clear that each of us selects the areas of our own strength to perform these apostolates.  In other words, we simply ask the question, “What am I good at?”, and then develop ourselves in that strength and offer it up to the Church as a service and witness.  Maybe you really enjoy cooking—so, go volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you’re an expert carpenter—volunteer with the Habitat for Humanity.  Maybe you’re retired, but enjoy reading—volunteer as one of the reading helpers at the public library or schools.  This list is only exhausted by your own imagination and abilities.  The point is that we find something that we’re good at, learn about it, and then do it. 

Importantly, you are not alone in this effort.  Look at 17.2 of the General Constitutions:

2.  The preparation of the brothers and sisters for spreading the Gospel message "in the ordinary circumstances of the world"[2] and for collaborating in the catechesis within the ecclesial communities should be promoted in the fraternities.

The fraternity should be encouraging and helping you, not only determine what to do, but how to find the opportunities to accomplish your goals. 

In addition to these apostolate activities, we are always aware of opportunities to reach out to the unchurched and the “left the church” populations to explain and witness to them of the wonderful life that we can live when we follow Christ. 

Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, "that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life

This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.  (CCC 905)

When we encounter a situation with others like this, we share directly with them of the great goodness of Christ and to demonstrate the joy of living that we have as a professed Secular Franciscan.  So, our role of evangelizing is twofold: witness through service and witness through dialogue and example.

"The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God."  (CCC 2044)

The last part of Article 6 explains,

Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.

Our Perpetual Profession links us even closer to the Church and its structure.

[We] are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but 'in body' not 'in heart.'" (CCC 837)

Because of our study, we understand what the Church believes and teaches about all the great and important issues of our times.  Because of our faithfulness, we offer our loyalty to the Church, its Pope and Bishops, and have the courage to defend it against those who would tear it down.  We do not do this blindly, but with the knowledge of the Magisterium and how it relates to modern life.  We understand what Jesus taught and how St. Francis modeled that teaching.  So, we follow in Francis’ footsteps to follow more closely the Risen Lord!

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.  (CCC 771)

Our Perpetual Profession allows us, instructs us, and invites us to serve the Church in a more meaningful way beyond our Baptism.  We live out this lofty goal through our continued faithfulness to our Profession and in light of the simple phrase mentioned earlier, “From Gospel to Life; From Life to Gospel.”  In this way, we more fully become the follower of St. Francis that we want to be and that he wants us to be. 

[1]     See Rule 1221, 17,3; Legend of the Three Companions 36; Second Letter to All the Faithful 53.
[2]     Lumen Gentium 35.

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 5

As those who endeavor to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis, we, like him, actively look for an encounter with the “living and active person of Christ.”  We are familiar with the story of Francis’ first encounter with a poor beggar.  Through this incident we understand that Francis saw Christ in that poor person and that encounter changed his entire outlook about others.

Much later, when he wrote the Canticle of the Creatures he understood in his heart how we see the Christ in everything – how, when we really humble ourselves and truly love God more than anything and our neighbor more than ourselves, we do find Christ.  That is truly our challenge as we live out our days stepping into those footsteps of St. Francis – how do we see Christ in others.  That paradigm shift in our thinking makes us treat others – all others no matter who they are – even the beggars and lepers in our lives – the same way we would if they were Christ Himself.  We are reminded by St. Paul what Christ did for us when he became one of us:

Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2: 5-11

The Great and Glorious Creator God became one of us poor, humble human beings.   As Francis would say, “we are the vilest of creatures because of our sin.”   But Christ didn’t have sin, nor did he sin.  But by becoming one of us, he showed us that he is a part of everyone – an internal resident in our psyche – a blessing of God to each and every one of us created beings - in all of us no matter who we are or where we are from.  When we see Christ in everyone we meet and recognize how he humbled himself to be one of us, how can we not treat others in a much different way – with love:

Corinthians 12: 4-8

 Our entire lives become one of looking for ways to serve others and always putting our own needs in a secondary position.  Now, that doesn’t mean that we neglect our lives, or stop eating correctly, or stop doing those healthful habits that we need to do to maintain good health and physical condition.  On the contrary, we do those things as well and offer ourselves to others in complete service and devotion as though they were Christ Himself.

in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity.

The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful... to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 133)

The Church reminds us that we find Jesus in Sacred Scriptures.  Through our frequent reading of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, we find Jesus – his heart, his life, his example, his guidance – that will help us follow the journey on which St. Francis leads us.  The Scriptures tell us about the life and mission of Jesus and the Church, through its 2000-year Tradition, interprets for us how to find the “living, active person of Christ.” Indeed, we see throughout the centuries, many fine examples in all the Saints of the Church, people who have read the Scripture, listened to the Church, and lived a life recommended by Christ.  Our own St. Francis, even to the point of receiving the Stigmata, is an excellent example of this fact.  That’s why we endeavor to follow Francis in his journey to follow Christ.

"Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us," is present in many ways to his Church:  in his word, in his Church's prayer, "where two or three are gathered in my name,”  in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But "he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species." (CCC 1373)

We recognize that throughout all the Church’s liturgical activity, we find the “living, active person of Christ.”  (NOTE: review CCC 1088.)  Because we believe in the real presence in the Eucharistic, we know that He is present in our church building every time we enter – we see the light burning brightly in the Sanctuary.  Because of Francis’ example, we keep the light burning brightly in our hearts as well, so that we, too, can claim, "I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood.”  But as we accept this belief and continue our journey with Francis, we recognize that our living out this reality changes the way we approach others and makes us more caring, loving, and serving Franciscans – so that our Eucharistic life is not confined to the activities of the Mass, but goes with us into the world as we take the Gospel to Life and return Life to the Gospel. 

04 December 2017

They shall beat their swords into plowshares

What are your swords?  Do you actually have a sword?  You know, one with both sides sharpened so that you can really do some heavy damage.  Or, do you just use your money, power, tongue, sharp wit, sacarsam, or profanity to "cut" through your victim?

Whatever your sword is the challenge of Isaiah's words is to give over that sword to Him who created all and let him remold it into a source of peace, mercy, and love.  I often wonder just what the world would be like if we actually tried to use the Golden Rule, 1 Corinthians 13, and the two Great Commandments in our daily lives.  I wonder what it would be like if we really treated the other person with the same sort of dignity that we demand for ourselves - if we put their needs ahead of our own - if we really became the servant of all.

It gives me some pause when I reflect on these ideas.  Wouldn't it be just great if just a few people tried living this way during this year's Advent period.  It might even catch on and start a trend.  It might cause a revolution of kindness, caring, concern, and "nice" in today's pretty nasty climate.  

Well, I challenge you, if you actually read this, to give it a try.  All this week, try living like the Gospel says.  If you make a mistake, apologize, start over, and keep trying.  Let's begin a revolution of love.

28 June 2017

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 2 - Article 4

Chapter Two:

The Way of Life

4. The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.

After reflecting upon St. Francis’ Letter and the establishment clauses of this Rule, we move on to the important, one might even say, the “meat and potatoes’ of this guide to our lives as Franciscans.  Chapter Two instructs us how to live this way of life in sixteen seemingly simple statements on various aspects of our Franciscan life; but as we’ll see, these simple statements hold immense value and impact on the changes that we will make daily as we endeavor to follow the Franciscan path to holiness.

Following the Gospel is the first in the Way of Life just because it is the root of our being as Franciscans.  We will see Gospel mentioned many times in both the Rule and the Constitutions, because, when we follow in St. Francis’ footsteps, we must inexorably follow the Gospel of “our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ.” 

The General Constitutions have much to inform us about living this Gospel Way of Life.  Notably, this Rule 4 is specifically covered in Articles 8 and 9 of the General Constitutions:

They seek to deepen, in the light of faith, the values and choices of the evangelical life according to the Rule of the OFS:

§  Rule 7 in a continually renewed journey of conversion and of formation;

§  Rule 4.3 open to the challenges that come from society and from the Church’s life situation, “going from Gospel to life and from life to Gospel;”

§  In the personal and communal dimensions of this journey” (GC 8.2)

Rule 4.3 The Secular Franciscan, committed to following the example and the teachings of Christ, must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture.  The fraternity and its leaders should foster love for the word of the Gospel and help the brothers and sister to know and understand it as it is proclaimed by the Church with the assistance of the Spirit.  (GC 9.2)

These are all pleasant words that sound good in a church setting.  What could possibly be wrong with wanting to follow the Gospel message.  That’s what we all do as Christians, isn’t it?  Well, as I mentioned, these simple phrases hold much deeper meaning and have a profound impact on how we live our lives.  Let’s just see how these simple words can make a momentous change in our daily lives.

In the first paragraph, we read that we are to “observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Does this just mean “look at it”?  That is the fourth definition of “observe” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  Number 1 is “to conform one's action or practice to (something, such as a law, rite, or condition):  comply with.”  “To conform” means that we must be “obedient or compliant” with the Word of God.  We must change ourselves to become “…a new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17).  Paul further tells us, “…the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  So, when we become Franciscan we profess that we will completely change our lives, turning aside from all of our old habits and ways and become a new person who desires to become just like Christ.  That’s exactly what St. Francis did with his life!  We probably should be asking ourselves at this juncture, “How have I changed my life to conform to the Gospel?” or, “How do I evaluate my daily actions, prior to making them, and then conform my life to the Gospel?”  By taking this approach to our daily lives we would always consider before acting or saying, just like Jesus did when confronted with the mob and the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1 – 11).  If we all “wrote in the dirt” before speaking and acting, we would have far fewer apologies to make, wouldn’t we?

“…by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi…” is the next phrase we consider as we reflect on what we promised to do in our profession.  Like most of us, Francesco Bernadone lived a normal life as the son of a “prosperous silk merchant” (Wikipedia) and did pretty well for himself.  He enjoyed life and was the center of the party in his younger days. Then, he joined the army and went off to war to achieve fame and glory, just as we go off to work to achieve prosperity.  But then, he met Jesus! He gave up everything to follow he Lord.  He shows us how to completely give over our lives to Jesus and make Him, the Word of God, the center of our lives.  Now, we don’t have to stand in the town square and return everything to our fathers like Francis did, but we must turn our lives completely over to Jesus and give him everything.  This action reminds me of the contemporary song whose lyrics state,

All that we have and all that we offer

Comes from a heart both frightened and free

Take what we bring now and give what we need

All done in His name. 

                                                 (All that we have, Gary Ault)

This is what happens when we turn our lives over to Jesus; when we follow St. Francis’ example.  Yes, it is scary to offer everything over to Christ, to give up complete and total control over our lives; but, that is exactly what St. Francis did.  If we pledge to do this, how can we chose any other way?   When we live this way,  we are on the way to becoming saints.

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…    (1 Cor 1:2)

There he is again, good old Paul urging us onward to the final goal.  The Church, as well, recommending Paul’s wise words in both Lumen Gentium (#11) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church(#2013) gently leads us toward saintly perfection. 

“…who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.”The remainder of the first paragraph of Rule 4 reminds us that St. Francis accomplished this transformation by making Christ the “inspiration and the center of his life” in everything that he did.  Not job. Not family. Not money. Not car. Not iPhone. Not iPad. Not tennis, nor golf, nor basketball, nor football, nor baseball.  JESUS!!!!!!!!  You will recall that some of St. Francis’ major decisions about how to proceed were make after consulting the Gospel.  That is why Pope Francis encourages everyone to carry a pocket version of the Gospels with them, just so that when we are confronted with any challenge, we can refer to the Gospels, just like St. Francis did, for the answer.  We ask ourselves, “How am I making Christ the center of every action, relationship, decision, and exchange that I do?”  “What is keeping me from placing Christ at the center of my life?”  “If Christ is not the center of my life, how do I change?”

The second paragraph of Rule 4 says,

These words sound strongly familiar to our ears, and, well they should, for we find them in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 6:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

The authors of our Rule have added a little extra punch, if you will, to Jesus truthful words.  Christ is the “gift of the Father’s love.”  Franciscan theology recognizes (thank you Blessed John Duns Scotus) that “God became one of his creatures” (Christian Board) because of love, not sin.  So, Christ truly is the special “gift of the Father’s love.”  Now, that may be a little redundant, but the belief behind this simple statement is critical to understanding why St. Francis followed Jesus so closely.  Francis understood that God loved us so much as his creation that he could do nothing else but come to earth to show us the full extent of his love for us.

According to Scotus, God’s first intention—from all eternity—was that human nature be glorified by being united to the divine Word. And this was to happen regardless of the first humans’ innocence or sinfulness. To say that the Incarnation of Christ was an afterthought of God, dependent on Adam’s fall, would be to base the rich Christian theology of incarnation on sin! Theologians could come up with something better than that, and Duns Scotus did.  (A Franciscan perspective on the Incarnation; Christian Board)

Having that knowledge should dramatically change our entire view of who Jesus is and why we follow him:  LOVE.  Just knowing this important truth should completely transform our lives into loving, caring, sensitive, compassionate, and grateful creatures.

Christ…is the way to [God], the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.

We find our way to God by following Christ as we pattern our lives after St. Francis.  As we imitate St. Francis more closely we draw nearer to God turning our backs on the enticements of this world.  As we do that, we find the Holy Spirit out in front of us on our journey leading us to the truth – the knowledge of the unchanging natural law that God established as he created the universe. We encounter this truth in our lives as we pattern them on St. Francis.  The ultimate reward for this persistent encounter with God and His Truth is the abundant life with Christ – “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (John 15:  8)

The third paragraph of Rule 4 reminds us,

Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.

You will remember that the General Constitutions instruct us that we “…must personally and assiduously study the Gospel and Sacred Scripture.” (9.2) How else are we to figure out how to go from “Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel?”  We need to know what the Gospels and Holy Scripture say and mean before we can live this challenging life of becoming Franciscan.   As we study the scriptures and apply their meaning to our lives, we can change our outlook and thus our interactions.   As we reflect on the message of God’s love for His creation, we can emulate St. Francis example of following Jesus and his extreme care and concern for all of creation.  As we live this life, we bring back to the Gospel our experience; then, we can evaluate what we have done and make the necessary corrections.  After this re-evaluation,  we return to life with a refreshed perspective about how much God really loves all of his creation and we can treat it all accordingly.  To put it simply, we learn about Gospel living, we try doing it, we come back to measure what we have done against what we have learned, make corrections, and then, repeat the cycle.

So, you see how these “simple words” challenge us to transform our lives completely and conform ourselves to a life of constant evaluation against the measuring stick of St. Francis, which is a measure against the life of Christ.  Rule 4 is the general overview of our Life as Franciscans.  The remaining fifteen rules delve into the details of our Franciscan life as we will see in subsequent “Reflections on the Rule.”