Prologue: Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance (circa 1210-1215)
Concerning Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength, and love their neighbors as themselves and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.
Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because "the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them" and he will make "his home and dwelling among them", and they are the sons of the heavenly Father, whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ, we are brothers to him when we fulfill "the will of the Father who is in heaven".
We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give light to others by example.
Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Oh, how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep and prayed to the Father saying:
"Oh holy Father, protect them with your name whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world. Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word that they may be holy by being one as we are. And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom."
As we all know, these words are from the first statement that St. Francis wrote for our part of his order, the Brothers & Sisters of Penance, what we now call the Secular Franciscan Order. Here Francis outlines the basics for belonging to this group, this fraternity of brothers & sisters:
· Love the Lord God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus gave his life so that you might have a full life and to free you from your sins--all because of His great love for you. So the first requirement, as in the Ten Commandments, is to love God without reservation and to put your whole, entire self into the mix. Don't hold back your love from God. As John says in his first letter, "7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. 8Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. 9In 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. 10In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another."
· Love your neighbor as yourself. This assumes that you, in fact, love yourself. How can you not--you are a creation of the Great, Glorious God--. . ."and he looked around and saw that everything was very good." Care for the other person, no matter who they are. Watch after them. Tend to their needs, before your own. Give yourself totally to the service of the other person. Re-read I Corinthians 13.
· Hate their bodies with their vices and sins. How enmeshed are you in today's materialistic and consumer society? Francis challenges us to put all of that behind us and look to the things of heaven, to the glorious friendship we have with Jesus. That doesn't mean that we abuse Sister Body, but we must remember that this world doesn't really "get" what's going on. Aim your sight on the heavenly rewards.
· Receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Clear your soul of tarnish through reconciliation. Faithfully participate in Mass. Honor the Real Presence in the Host and Wine. Reverently accept the Lord from the Priest. Reform your life.
· Produce worthy fruits of penance. Daily conversion is the key to success in living the Franciscan charism. Review your day. Pray about your failures. Rejoice in your successes. Ask for God's help to improve your life tomorrow. Resolve, not only to do better, but make it really happen. Increase your love for the others in your life.
After the introductory paragraph, Francis reviews the results of this life--a happiness and blessedness that comes from a persistence in living this way:
· "The spirit of the Lord will rest upon them";
· He will make "his dwelling and home among them";
· They are sons of the heavenly Father;
· They are spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Important to this section is the concept of perseverance. It's not OK just to say that we are going to live the life outlined in the first section, we have to persevere each day in remaking our lives in that mold. That's where the idea of daily conversion comes from. At the end of each day we review what we did and make amends and promises, and yes, even plans, to improve upon our performance for the next day. We try to do it better. In the business world we called this idea "continuous improvement"--we were always looking for a way to do the task better. That's what we are called to do when we persevere in the Franciscan life. And, according to St. Francis, the rewards look to be pretty great!
Francis outlines those rewards through the relationship that we have with our Lord Jesus Christ when we live this way:
· We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ
· we are brothers to him when we fulfill "the will of the Father who is in heaven".
· We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience;
· we give birth to him through a holy life which must give light to others by example.
Francis is telling us that one of the results of this way of living is to become closely attached to the Lord, like we do in our own families. We achieve these closely bonded relationships with our Lord by having a faithful soul (see perseverance above), when we act upon God's will in our lives, (love others), we carry him in our heart and body (first Commandment and purity of mind, body, and soul), give light to others by example (actually live the life we profess).
St. Francis concludes the initial section of the Prologue with sort of a hymn that praises the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this praise, St. Francis reminds us that we are the creation of the Great and Glorious God who loves us so very much that he sent His Son to us to show us how to live and ultimately "gave up his life for his sheep".
St. Francis closes this section with that most wonderful prayer from the Gospel of John in which Jesus asks God for the protection and consecration of, not only the apostles, but all of us who have followed them as a result of our believing what they have told us; and, that we "... may be holy by being one as we are". Through this important prayers, St. Francis reminds us that unity of spirit in fraternity is critical to our achievement of the life he has admonished us to pursue.