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

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.”

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 1 - Article 3

Chapter One:

The Secular Franciscan Order

3.The present Rule, succeeding "Memoriale Propositi" (1221) and the Rules approved by the Supreme Pontiffs Nicholas IV and Leo XIII, adapts the Secular Franciscan Order to the needs and expectations of the Holy Church in the conditions of changing times. Its interpretation belongs to the Holy See and its application will be made by the General Constitutions and particular statutes.

This Rule is necessary for a couple of reasons: 1) to demonstrate that the Secular Franciscan order has continued from the very beginning by a request from St. Francis in 1221 and has continued over the years with several updates; 2) that this “new” Rule replaces all of the previous Rules and is now the guiding Rule for all Secular Franciscans.

The Rules replaced by this Rule are the original written in 1221, the Rules approved by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289 and by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.  The present Rule was approved by Pope Paul VI on June 24, 1978.

The original rule “Memoriale Propositi” was written in 1221 by Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti di Segni(Pope Gregory IX) at the request of St. Francis of Assisi.  In those times, we were called the Brothers & Sisters of Penance – later the Third Order of St. Francis.  Chapter headings are Daily Life, Abstinence, Fasting, Prayer, The Sacraments--Other Matters, Special Mass and Meeting Each Month, Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead, and Correction, Dispensation, Officers.  This Rule followed St. Francis’ Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance from 1210 – 1215 that we know as the Prologue to our Rule of today.  This Rule was promoted by Cardinal Hugolino and verbally approved by Pope Honorious III.

The second rule, the one from 1289, was approved by Nicholas IV, the first Franciscan Pope.  This Rule established some items that had been in question up until that time:  the monthly meeting needed a visitator who was from the Order of Friars Minor; the somewhat “independent” Penitentials were corralled under the supervision of the OFM; affirmed that the group is Franciscan having been formulated by St. Francis; designated the habit as gray; gave the order a more religious nature; and, allowed both the original “home church” and community life to develop.

Following a decline in Third Order participation in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Rule approved by Pope Leo in 1883 was shorter and less rigorous that the Rule of Nicholas.  Pope Leo was a “convinced, enthusiastic and tenacious supporter” of the Third Order.  He promoted participation in the Third Order.  The entire idea was to make this Rule appealing enough to involve many Catholics.  He even “…involved the entire episcopate in the propagation of the Franciscan Third Order.”  Over the years, the Third Order moved toward a more devotional approach in its mission.

Following Vatican II, an extensive multi-year project began with several iterations of the Rule being proposed, reviewed, critiqued, revised, and re-proposed.  This process even included the input of lay people (folks who would be living it). This Assisi Congress of 1969 developed 17 essential points of Franciscan spirituality.  The project being completed in 1978, was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on June 24.  The current Rule transitions the Order “from a ‘less devotional’ to a ‘more apostolic’ Order.”

So, today we have a Rule of Life that began as a simple project by St. Francis to help folks live a more Franciscan way.  Under this Rule, we are all more involved in apostolic activities.  May we spend time each day studying our Rule and finding new ways to go from Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel.

(ED NOTE: The information presented in this article is take from William Wicks, OFS excellent work “A Brief History of the Secular Franciscan Order and Its Rules.”  This can be found on the internet by browsing for the title.)

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 1 - Article 2

Chapter One:

The Secular Franciscan Order

Our General Constitutions remind us

From the beginning, the Secular Franciscan Order has had its own proper place in the Franciscan Family.  It is formed by the organic union of all the Catholic fraternities whose members, moved by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves through profession to live the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis, in their secular state, following the Rule approved by the Church.  (Article 2.3.)

What all of this tells us is that we, the Secular Franciscan Order, are a unitive part of the Franciscan order.  We belong together in a family with all of the Friars, Brothers, and Sisters.  Our branch is a world-wide organization dedicated to living "...the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis..."  To do this we have a Rule that is approved by the Church. 

Although this article of our Rule seems to be just an organizational statement, there is much more behind it than that.  For example, in our General Constitutions are cited two paragraphs from the Code of Canon Law that are relevant to this article.

Can. 303 Associations whose members share in the spirit of some religious institute while in secular life, lead an apostolic life, and strive for Christian perfection under the higher direction of the same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name.

Can. 602 The life of brothers or sisters proper to each institute, by which all the members are united together as a special family in Christ, is to be defined in such a way that it becomes a mutual support for all in fulfilling the vocation of each. Moreover, by their communion as brothers or sisters rooted and founded in charity, members are to be an example of universal reconciliation in Christ.

Even our own General Constitutions 2000 discuss our secular status as we form together in association with each other.

Their secularity, with respect to vocation and to apostolic life, expresses itself according to the respective state, that is:

 — for the laity, contributing to building up the Kingdom of God by their presence in their life-situations and in their temporal activities;

— for the secular clergy, by offering to the people of God the service which is properly theirs, in communion with the bishop and the presbytery.

Both are inspired by the gospel options of Saint Francis of Assisi, committing themselves to continue his mission with the other components of the Franciscan Family.

So, you see that our second article is much more than just a statement of existence--it goes to the very heart of who we are as Secular Franciscans.  This kind of statement in the business world is called an executive summary.  Contained therein is the essence of what the entire document is all about.  So we see that Chapter Two covers the details of "[living] the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis" and Chapter Three covers a broad view of what fraternity is all about.

Let's take a brief look at the important points of these passages:

·         "...a special place in this family circle":  The Secular Franciscan Order originally was begun as the Brothers & Sisters of Penance in 1221 by St. Francis; over the years, and especially, since this "new" Rule was promulgated in 1978 by Pope Paul VI, the Secular Franciscan Order has become a unified association of secular people (not religious priests, friars, brothers, or sisters) who meet together as fraternities to learn how to live in the manner of St. Francis;  as one of the "orders" begun by St. Francis, the Secular Franciscan Order is a full partner with the religious orders in the Franciscan family; our "special place" is due to our witness in the everyday world of work and society;

·         "...organic union of all Catholic fraternities":  The Secular Franciscan Order is a world-wide association of mostly lay Catholics who subscribe to this Rule and meet together as fraternities in around 66 countries totaling 400,000 members;  according to CIOFS from a couple of years ago, we also have around 26 emerging national fraternities and four additional nations exploring forming a national fraternity;

·         "...led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity, in their own secular state":  Individually, we are led by the Spirit to a moment of conversion that, through our special personal relationship with Jesus, we determine that we should follow in St. Francis footsteps to be able to follow Jesus more closely; through our understanding and following this Rule we continually strive to live a life of perfect charity - a life that fully respects all others as a child of God, our brother or sister, even Jesus Himself; and, we do all of this while living our regular day to day lives in our families, at work, at play, at church, at school, and with everyone we meet;

·         "By their profession...": We pledge on our honor to live by the tenets of this Rule; this is a perpetual profession, which means it's forever - every day of our lives while we are on this earth;

·          "...pledge themselves to live the Gospel...": Our profession takes on the special character of adding the Gospel message to our lives in a particular way so that through our living we demonstrate what the Gospel message is all about.  We become faithful witnesses to Jesus' simple message of loving God and loving others;

·         "...in the manner of St. Francis...":  As we live this Rule, our promise to live this Gospel life, endeavors to follow St. Francis of Assisi and his particular charism of simplicity, love of all creatures, care for the poor, and obedience to the Church;

·         "...rule approved by the Church.":  This Rule of Life is sanctioned by the Church having been promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1978; this tells us that the Church supports and approves our efforts to follow this Rule of St. Francis for the Secular Franciscan Order because it conforms to the theology and characteristics of what we have been taught in the Magisterium, the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism.  The earlier quotations from the Code of Canon Law give support to this concept.  Consequently, the statements of the Pope and his Bishops are an important part of our order.

So, you can readily see that this simple paragraph at the beginning of our Rule is just chocked full of important information about who we are and what we do.  One could surmise that this paragraph by itself would be enough to live by, but we know that the details that we will discuss in future months will really help clarify our standard of Franciscan life.

Reflections on the Rule - Chapter 1 - Article 1

Chapter One:

The Secular Franciscan Order

1.      The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God -- laity, religious, and priests - who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi.

In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.

The Code of Canon Law says, "All the Christian faithful must make an effort, in accord with their own condition, to live a holy life and to promote the growth of the Church and its continual sanctification." (210) "The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church, and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church." (214) 

Lumen Gentium teaches us, "It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society." (40)

Our own General Constitutions explain, "All the faithful are called to holiness and have a right to follow their own spiritual way in communion with the Church. (1)  "There are many spiritual families in the Church with different charisms.  Among these families, the Franciscan Family, which in its various branches recognizes St. Francis of Assisi as its father, inspiration, and mode., must be included." (2)

From the outset, we see clearly that the Church asks all of its members to seek holiness.    We see that each Christian is called to follow their own "form of spiritual life" to reach this goal.  We see that those who do follow the prescript of love will convert all of human society.  We see that our order, the Franciscan Family, is rightfully a legitimate part of the Church.  Then, our Rule further illuminates these concepts with more detail:

·         We are "raised up by the Holy Spirit".  This is not just some human idea for a party.  No, this order, this Family, is created by the Holy Spirit for the purpose reaching toward this goal of holiness and leading others to do the same.

·         We are joined together as a family with all the folks who have chosen St. Francis of Assisi - laity, religious, and priests - as their model.  We are equally working together to bring Francis' charism into the world.

·         We are a spiritual family.  We are joined together by the Holy Spirit in a common purpose.  We are no less family than the one we were born into, but we rise above that human familial relationship to one of higher and greater purpose.

·         We all come from different backgrounds and associate with each other in different ways:  Friars, Poor Clares, Third Order Religious, and Seculars; but nonetheless, we join together as a unified Institute of the Church that seeks to provide the life-giving charisms exemplified by St. Francis.

·         As we join together we intend to permeate the life and the mission of the Church with St. Francis' charism.

·         All of this together is our way of following more closely our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is the most important part of our reason for being!

So, as we look at the first paragraph of our Rule, we find a lot to consider as we try to walk this path of "becoming Franciscan."  We see that this road is a definite journey that will lead to a very satisfying ending, but the challenges will be great, because we are following Francis to better follow Jesus.  By following Francis we recognize that we are sinners and have a long way to go.  But we know that the trip will be worth it.

Reflections on the Rule - Prologue, part 2

Prologue:           Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers

                           and Sisters of Penance (circa 1210-1215)

 Concerning Those Who Do Not Do Penance

But all those men and women who are not doing penance and do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and the anxieties and cares of this life.
These are blind, because they do not see the true light, our Lord Jesus Christ; they do not have spiritual wisdom because they do not have the Son of God who is the true wisdom of the Father. Concerning them, it is said, "Their skill was swallowed up" and "cursed are those who turn away from your commands". They see and acknowledge, they know and do bad things and knowingly destroy their own souls.
See, you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, for it is pleasant to the body to commit sin and it is bitter to make it serve God because all vices and sins come out and "proceed from the heart of man" as the Lord says in the Gospel. And you have nothing in this world and in the next, and you thought you would possess the vanities of this world for a long time.
But you have been deceived, for the day and the hour will come to which you give no thought and which you do not know and of which you are ignorant. The body grows infirm, death approaches, and so it dies a bitter death, and no matter where or when or how man dies, in the guilt of sin, without penance or satisfaction, though he can make satisfaction but does not do it.
The devil snatches the soul from his body with such anguish and tribulation that no one can know it except he who endures it, and all the talents and power and "knowledge and wisdom" which they thought they had will be taken away from them, and they leave their goods to relatives and friends who take and divide them and say afterwards, "Cursed be his soul because he could have given us more, he could have acquired more than he did." The worms eat up the body and so they have lost body and soul during this short earthly life and will go into the inferno where they will suffer torture without end.
All those into whose hands this letter shall have come we ask in the charity that is God to accept kindly and with divine love the fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ quoted above. And let those who do not know how to read have them read to them.
And may they keep them in their mind and carry them out, in a holy manner to the end, because they are "spirit and life".
And those who will not do this will have to render "an account on the day of judgment" before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, St. Francis really lowers the boom in this second half of the Prologue to our modern Rule.  The first section, Concerning Those Who Do Penance,"  explained a really pleasant, wonderful existence for those who followed Jesus words as Francis has prescribed.  But the contrast in this second half is really stark, a kind of a Twelfth Century "fire and brimstone" elocution.
For Francis it is not just avoiding penance nor receiving Holy Communion that is the problem, but it is falling into a secular lifestyle that basically says, "Whatever feels good, do it."   Francis is fairly explicit about his definitions of this profligate life as well:  
"...and live in vices and sin and yield to evil concupiscence and to the wicked desires of the flesh, and do not observe what they have promised to the Lord, and are slaves to the world, in their bodies, by carnal desires and the anxieties and cares of this life."
This description pretty clearly outlines a dissolute life, one that is far from the Gospel message of self giving sacrifice for others.  But, it's not just these fleshly desires that are the heart of the problem.  Francis excoriates them for being slaves to the "anxieties and cares of this life" as well.  You see, Francis clearly supports the view that we must give over everything to God and trust Him completely as we go through our lives.  Recall the passages in Matthew about the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air.  Francis expects those who "do Penance" to fully and completely trust God in everything they do, to hold nothing back in reserve, and to give themselves over to service of God.  In today's society, that is just the antithesis of everything that we see happening. 
Placing God first over everything else is so uncommon today that it seems counter-cultural.   Well, it is!  And that is the point that Francis is making here.  We must turn against the world and rely on God for everything.  We must witness the total goodness, grace, and mercy of the Creator through our own self sacrifice and gift to others.
Those who are completely wrapped up in themselves and their own gratification are "blind" according to Francis.  They do not, even cannot, see the true light which is Jesus Christ.  Because of this blindness, they are not able to receive the true wisdom that only Jesus brings.  They have only the wisdom of the world, and, as we see from Francis' point of view, that's not the best way to go.  But it is even worse than that, because these people "see and acknowledge" but go ahead and make the decision to live the dissolute lifestyle anyway.  These unfortunate souls effectively know what to do, but choose to do otherwise.  These choices effectively "destroy their souls" and bring them ultimately to a sad ending.
Francis lists the causes of this deceptive thinking: your enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil.  So, instead of listening to the Word, they adhere to all of these others sources of input and are led on the wide path instead of the narrow.  As we have already seen, they make these choices themselves and create the conditions for their own demise. 
But, Francis shows that there is a better way when he explains the purging effect of properly making the body serve God.  It can be a hard and bitter way to live, but ultimately, it is much better that sending your soul to hell.  He even reminds us that to not follow the way of Penance is much like the farmer who had the bumper harvest and thought that he would live a long life and get to enjoy it all.  Francis' admonition reminds us that upon death all of that worldly accumulation stays behind and one's soul goes to the reward of its making; and, because one spends their entire life accumulating things and wonderful feelings, they have nothing in the next world either.  So, the life of Penance that helps us focus on the Good of God and helps us purge the attractions of this world doesn't really look so bad after all.
Despite this wonderful accumulation of goods, experiences, and good feelings, the eventual time comes when God calls us home.  No one escapes this final event of earthly life. It is then that the deception of the world comes home to roost.  The person who has not practiced Penance has missed the many opportunities to rectify their situation, in fact they have deliberately chosen to not take advantage of this important sacrament.  Then, comes the "brimstone" part:  "The devil snatches the soul from [their] body with such anguish and tribulation" and they end up without anything at all, no goods and no soul, and get to enjoy the "fires of hell."
The stark contrast between the two sections of this Rule of Penance from 1215 is enough to scare you to death.  Well, maybe not that, but Francis clearly explains the dramatic difference between living a life of Penance and choosing to live the way of the world.  We may not think in this way much anymore, but Francis point should still be well taken.  The Gospel of Life is just that: Good News that leads to eternal Life.  If we choose "... to accept kindly and with divine love the fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ ...," we can expect an eternal reward commensurate with the kind of life that we have lived.  So, with this in mind, we can examine the precepts of our 1978 Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order with a view of learning how to live the life that St. Francis recommends and to avoid the consequences of making really bad choices.  God give us the grace and wisdom to choose wisely!

09 March 2017

Peaceful coexistence

I can't help but wonder a little about how violent our language has become since the Presidential election.  It surely seems that everyone is mad about something.  As a society, we don't even seem to want to get along.  No one trust anyone.  Everyone is suspicious about the other's motives.  What can't we just set aside our prejudicial feelings and sit down with the other and have a real conversation, sharing our views, testing our theories, and then coming together for the common good.      It seems. As though each side has its own agenda and nothing in the world will prevent them from pursuing it.  

We need a good health care solution!  Can't we talk about what has worked and when're the issues are and then develop a real solution that meets everyone's needs?  Looks like the GOP is doing what they blamed the DEMs for be when the ADA was written into law.  

Does no one learn?  Why is everyone so dead set on proving their ideas are right?  Don't we understand that everyone has some wisdom and that when we work together we can actually develop some really fantastic solutions to our common problems. AND those solutions will be for the common good, bot just succumbing to someone's idea of what's right.  AND ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS ARE GOOD FOR JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING OUR LAWMAKERS ARE TRYING TO DO AT BOTH THE STATE AND NATIONAL LEVELS!!!!!  

In our state, it appears that the people have no say at all.  It appears that our political leaders are acting on the whims of certain big business cats.  

1984 - Rollerball - it all seems to be falling into place.  What was once a great experiment in collective freedom and government is quickly evolving into the same old structures that ruled in the Middle Ages.  Most of us are now the peasants who must do what the Lord of the Manor says.  I certainly hope that everyone will soon wake up and reject the course of events brewing in our capitals and stop it before it's too late!  Otherwise,  we will be burying ourselves.