The minister of the St. Bernardine of Siena Fraternity, Jerry Stecker, OFS, offers a reflection of the Prologue to the OFS Rule. This talk was given at our general gathering in April, and can be downloaded from the Formation page of this site.
After I professed as a Secular Franciscan I thought I knew enough to continue on in my vocation. Yet as time went on I realized I had just scratched the surface in understanding my calling. What does it mean to be a secular in today’s world? How do I live my vocation each day?
These are good questions for all of us. I propose to look at our rule as it applies to my life and maybe you will be willing to take the same look. Where to start? Maybe an overview will give us a sense of the whole.
There is a Prologue or Exhortation of St. Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance. This Prologue is a summary of Franciscan gospel living as told by Francis. There are two chapters: (1) “Concerning Those Who Do Penance” and (2) “Concerning Those Who Do Not Do Penance”. Then follows three chapters of the rule: (1) “The Secular Franciscan Order”. (2) “The Way of Life” (3) “Life in Fraternity”.
If we look at the Prologue we get the first direction from Francis. The first part, Concerning Those Who Do Penance, seeks to have us turn towards God. My most important take away is how much Francis values participation in the holy Eucharist. The Word of God opens us to the mind of Christ and the Eucharist gives us the strength and dedication to live the Word and that allows us to give birth to Christ.
Francis bids us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ by loving the Lord our God and serving our neighbor. When we receive the Eucharist we build a lived experience of togetherness. We are rejecting sin and turning in a new direction and leading a life in which we mirror Christ.
Francis returns to the Eucharist in many of his writings. In fact this is the subject of his first admonition “The Body of Christ”:
The Lord Jesus says to his disciples: I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. 2 If you had known me, you would also have known my Father and from now on you will know him and have seen him.”
“The Father dwells in inaccessible light [cf. 1 Tim. 6:16], and God is spirit [Jn. 4:24] and, no one has ever seen God [Jn. 1:18]. All those who saw the Lord Jesus according to the humanity, therefore, and did not see and believe according to the Spirit and the Divinity that he is the true Son of God were condemned. Now in the same way, all those who see the sacrament sanctified by the words of the Lord upon the altar at the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine, and who do not see and believe according to the Spirit and the Divinity that it is truly the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, are condemned. . . . It is the Spirit of the Lord, therefore, who lives in Its faithful, That receives the Body and Blood of the Lord. All others who do not share in this same Spirit and who presume to receive him eat and drink judgment to themselves [cf. 1 Cor. 11:29]. Therefore, children how long will you be hard of heart? (Ps. 4:3) Why do you not know the truth and believe in the Son of God? (cf. Jn. 9:35) Behold each day He humbles Himself [cf. Phil. 2:8] as when He came from the royal throne [Wis. 18:15] into the womb of the Virgin; each day He comes to us, appearing humbly; each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father [cf. Jn. 1:18] upon the altar in the hands of the priest. And as He revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh, so He reveals Himself to us now in the sacred bread. And as they saw only His flesh by insight of their flesh, yet believed He was God as they contemplated him with their spiritual eyes, let us, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are His most holy Body and Blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with his faithful, as he himself says: Behold I am with you until to the end of the age [cf. Mt. 28:20].
In chapter two of the Prologue “Concerning Those Who Do Not Do Penance” Francis paints a bleak picture. Those who refuse this grace lack wisdom and light. They will lose perspective on striving for perfect joy, and find themselves enslaved by the demonic influences of life. They find no happiness in this world or the next.
So for me the Prologue speaks about finding our strength in the Eucharist. The words that echo in my heart are when Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life; No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In the Eucharist I am united with Him. Graces flow so daily I might live my vocation in better ways. The Eucharist leads to action. If I don’t have a strong faith in the Eucharist we can lack the courage to reject values and behaviors that are not in line with the gospel. We will be caught up in the things of the world and lose perspective on what brings true joy.
There is much more that can be said about the Prologue. For me though Francis directs us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ by loving the Lord our God and serving our neighbor, by participating in the Holy Eucharist and together rejecting sin and leading a life that mirrors Christ. This leads to a new kind of happiness, for which we share the Lord’s mission and give birth again to Him in this world through our actions.
Francis was all about action. I read a quote in Eager To Love by Richard Rohr who says he found this quote in “The Legend of Perugia” Where Francis was telling the first friars that “You only know as much as you do.” For Francis and Clare, Jesus became someone to actually imitate and not just to worship. Richard Rohr states in Eager To Love, “Francis emphasized an imitation and love of the humanity of Jesus, and not just the worshiping of His divinity.”
Richard Rohr goes on saying “Those who have analyzed the writings of Francis have noted that he uses the word doing rather than understanding at a ratio of 175 times to five. Heart is used 42 times to one use of mind. Love is used 23 times as opposed to 12 uses of truth. Mercy is used 26 times while intellect is used only one time.” So what words did he emphasis? Doing, Heart, Love, Mercy are those words. They seem to be words of action. Seem to remind me of the Beatitudes.
We seculars are to be people of action. We are to be people doing the gospel. We are to be people of love and mercy as we practice our rule and constitution. We are to have the heart of Jesus in everything we say and do. This is how we mirror Jesus as seculars. As Francis says, “You only know as much as you do.”