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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.”

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