COMMENTARY ON THE OFS RULE OF 1978
Official Commentary prepared by the USA National Spiritual Assistants' Commission.
Benet A. Fonck O.F.M., Coordinator.
The new Rule is prefaced by a word from St. Francis himself. This text, a new version of the "Letter to All the Faithful," is both a summary of Franciscan gospel living and an immediate contact with the model and inspiration for observing the gospel - Francis himself.
Francis' letter touches two points: the life of a person who does "penance" (i.e., a person turned toward God), and the life of a person who refuses this grace.
First of all, a person turned toward God follows the "teaching and footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ by responding to the inviting grace of God and living in union with Jesus: constant spiritual renewal, awareness of God's power and presence, and a promise of eternal happiness. Most appropriate are the quotes from Jesus' high priestly prayer that make the intense union between Jesus and his disciples and their union among themselves the model for our own union with Christ and with others. Francis bids us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ by loving the Lord our God and serving our neighbour, by participating in the holy Eucharist and thereby building a lived experience of togetherness, by rejecting sin and turning in a new direction, and by leading a life in which we mirror Christ. This leads to a new kind of happiness, for we share the Lord's life and mission and we give him birth again and again in our world This summary of gospel living in the prologue prefigures the second chapter of the rule.
Secondly, the person who refuses this grace lacks wisdom and light, loses one's perspective on striving for perfect joy, and finds oneself enslaved and smothered by the demonic influences of life. Hence, no happiness in this world or the next. Francis' words are stark, straight‑forward and uncompromising, but the core message is valid and ever‑true.
Secular Franciscan Order
1. This first chapter details the place of the Secular Franciscan Order in the Church, in the Franciscan Family, and in the history of the Order itself The first paragraph shows how the Franciscan Family, as one of the many spiritual families in the Church, is united with all the people of God by the call of the Holy Spirit and the following of Jesus Christ. Still, in addition to this, the way of Francis gives the Franciscan Family, with its common charism but varied expressions, a distinctive cast, as it strives for holiness and binds together the laity, religious and clergy in the life and mission of the Church.
2. This second paragraph identifies the Secular Franciscan as a vital part of the whole family of Francis and points out its special secular character. It also stresses that all the necessary prerequisites are present to make it an official Order within the Catholic Church.
3. The continuity with past rules, its influence in today's world and its approval by the Church are discussed in this third paragraph. This rule is the fourth expression in eight centuries. It makes the unchanging principles of Franciscan gospel living accountable and relevant today. The leaders of the Church constantly guide this movement from gospel to life.
Way of Life
4. The second chapter of the rule is a thorough and detailed description of the Secular Franciscan way of life. The first part (#4‑#6) gives the meaning of gospel living in the Franciscan tradition. Then conversion and worship are explained as the necessary preconditions for achieving this gospel life (#7‑#8). Finally, paragraphs #9‑#19 describe the manner of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ by how the Secular Franciscans live (#10‑#14) and what they do (#15‑#19). In the light of scripture and the teachings of Vatican II, this chapter is envisioned as a program for evangelization: how we ourselves are evangelized after the manner of Francis and secondly how we evangelize others.
Paragraph #4 summarizes
the heart of the rule: the very core of gospel life is intimate union with
Christ, or in the words of
5. As this process develops, then the Secular Franciscan seeks out the living and active person of Christ in all spheres of life: liturgical activity (especially the Eucharist), Scripture, Church, one another (#5). Since the sacrificial union with Christ in the Eucharist is the most intense and comprehensive experience of his real presence, this celebration becomes the key encounter, as patterned by Francis himself.
6. Sharing Christ's mission through life in the Church is the third point developed on the meaning of gospel living (#6). By word and example the Secular Franciscans bring to those around them the living Christ they have experienced. As it were, they become a living gospel for all to read. This evangelization is based on obedience to the Holy Spirit who inspires and forms the Church, the body of Christ. So, the Secular Franciscans foster an openness to the Spirit and creatively exercise their mission. Furthermore, they hear the call of the Spirit through loyalty, frank dialogue, and cooperation with the legitimate Church authority. This obedience makes ministry authentic without stifling their creativity
7. The next section of the rule (#7 and #8) explains the personal disposition or preconditions (viz., conversion and worship) necessary for achieving the union with Jesus Christ and with one's neighbour described above.
An ongoing change of heart or a continual spiritual renewal is the first condition (#7) for modelling one's own thoughts and deeds on those of Christ. As Francis himself points out in his letter used as the prologue, if we love the Lord with all we are, build a Eucharistic community, and remove those things that prevent such union, we become one with him, fulfil the Father’s will and project his image onto the world. Thus, our daily conversion becomes a primary means for putting on Christ and conforming ourselves to him. The sacrament of reconciliation, then, is a privileged means and practical assistance for achieving this objective
8. The other precondition is to make worship of the Father as central in our own lives as it was in Christ's. The Secular Franciscan then, communicates and unites with the Lord through the sacraments (again, especially the Eucharist), the liturgy of the hours, contemplation and any other expression of prayer.
9. The description of the way of life now moves to the manner of proclaiming the gospel every day by life‑style (#10‑#14) and ministry or apostolic activity (#15‑#19).
First of all, Mary's self‑giving and prayer are set up as the primary example of gospel living. Devotion to her has always been a hallmark of the Franciscan calling, both as a way of expressing love for her and as an important way of finding Jesus himself.
10. The first phase of evangelizing shows how the Secular Franciscans live in this world (#10‑#12). Those who go "from gospel to life" have simple living (#10‑#12), an experience of togetherness (#13), and selfless service (#14) as qualities of everyday living.
Simple living begins with the choice to unite with Christ so intensely that one is willing to share even his passion: the burdens of hardship and pain within oneself or from outside sources.
11. Simple living also takes shape (#11) by
reducing material needs, by curbing a thirst for possessions and the
domineering power that comes from ownership, and by using all God's gifts in
a spirit of generosity, justice, and moderation. Gospel poverty for Secular
Franciscans, then, consists in acquiring possessions justly, keeping needs to
a minimum, and using what they have as custodians for the generous benefit of
others. In this way they live for the
12. The result of simple living in gospel poverty is freedom to seek and share the great treasure of the kingdom: loving God and neighbour (#12).
13. Hand in hand with simple living is coming to recognize that in Christ all are equally brothers and sisters (#13). There is no room for prejudice or exclusiveness in the Franciscan way of life. In fact, the sense of community and the will toward community compel the Secular Franciscans to discover Christ in everyone, especially the lowly and poor and disadvantaged.
14. The natural consequence to simple living and a sense of community is selfless service (#14). Secular Franciscans expend themselves by using their special talents, competence and responsibility. Thus they bring to others the experience of God and the hope for achieving their full humanity.
15. The second grouping (#15‑#19) of the ways Secular Franciscans spread the gospel and witness to Jesus Christ deals with concrete action. Not only does gospel living take shape in a special life‑style, but also it expresses itself in a specific mode of apostolic activity or ministry.
The first particular aspect of the Secular Franciscans' evangelical action is social justice (#15), both on the individual level and on the level of community participation. They must show justice themselves and motivate justice in others, not just in their private lives, but also in the public forum of politics, business, economics, and the like. This mandate for advancing social justice as an organized group overturns previous prohibitions against a public common expression of rights when it is carried out as a means of demonstrating the convictions of faith.
16. Another concrete means of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ is expressed in attitudes toward work (#16). Through working the Secular Franciscans discover their workaday world as the arena of their salvation and at the same time exemplify the saving Christ to others. So, human labour is a blessing, both received and bestowed. By working, a person shares in the creative power of the Father, renews the face of the earth along with the Son, and brings the love of the Holy Spirit to the human community. Such an attitude toward work can reshape one's own and others' values and actions regarding labour and management, business and economics, living wage and welfare, proper use of one's own talents and the resources of others.
17. A third apostolic expression of gospel living concerns family life (#17). The family is the God‑given basic unit of human society and a miniature of the total world already redeemed by Christ. Hence, Franciscan‑oriented families present a renewed world of love and dignity, are an example of Christ's love for his Church, and reflect the light of Christ in affront to the darkness of today's shattered families and prevailing godless values. Husbands and wives, then, have a special ministry in the Church to the world. This ministry is exercised in two ways: by leading and educating their children to experience Christ and by witnessing to others that God is present in the family. This Christian family living is one of the most particular expressions of the laity's life and mission in the Church.
18. Ecology (the relationship of creatures with themselves, their environment, and their God) is a fourth expression of the Franciscan apostolate (#18). Francis saw all creation ‑ the sun and moon, the weather and water, fire and earth, forgiving people and death itself ‑ as symbols of the union between God and his people. Hence, all creation has a sacred quality and enjoys a oneness with people in the history of salvation. Following the example of Francis the Secular Franciscans express a profound respect for all creation and use it for its intended God‑given purpose. Furthermore, they enoble nature and technology and build a community conscience toward using natural resources. This ministry toward creation will stem the selfish tide of abuse and waste and exploitation in this world.
19. A particularly Franciscan ministry is peace‑making (# 19). Peace grows out of the search for personal integrity and harmony with others and the discovery of God's presence everywhere. It is built up by affirming oneself, seeing others as revealers of God's love, taking a positive approach to solutions and communicating constantly with the Lord. It is putting aside all thought of violence and embracing a largeness of heart. The result of peace is joy and hope. A special application of this ministry of peace‑making is preparation for death, at which time a person arrives at that ultimate encounter with God and an eternal peace in his presence that fulfil the earthly quest for peace.
Life in Fraternity
20. Ordinarily, the gospel life of Secular Franciscans outlined in the second chapter is developed and sustained within the framework of an organized community, called a fraternity, in each locality. Hence, "fraternity" is the topic of chapter three (#20#26). These fraternities are living and active communities. They serve as expressions of loving and trusting relationships between members and as a legal unit of government. They exist on various levels and have their own special character (#20). They are given life and direction by their lay leadership and particular characteristics by their local needs (#21). They exist with the approval of the Church (#22) and are nurtured by new members who have been prepared for commitment (#23). Their meetings and contributions express their will to, and sense of, community (#24‑#25). Their spiritual growth is developed through the assistance of clergy and religious (#26).
The chapter begins with outlining fraternity as the characteristic of all Secular Franciscan groupings, whether local, regional, national, or international (#20). A new dimension given to Secular Franciscan life because of this paragraph is an awareness of (and, hence, a mandate to achieve) a fraternity spirit and style operating on levels beyond that of the local fraternity. Regional, national, or international groupings are not just a federation of independent, semi‑autonomous fraternities or a forum for exchange, but actually a fully operating community with its own character, interactivity and authority as defined by the statutes.
21. This fraternity is bound together with the leadership of a president and a council who are ready and willing to serve, and it is expressed in diversified ways according to the needs of the area (#21). Two implications ensue from the first part of this paragraph: the importance of choosing available and competent and willing leaders and, secondly, the responsibility of Secular Franciscans themselves to exercise complete control in administrative and temporal matters. The stress on diversified fraternity styles implies that the structure of the community must be tailored to the needs of those who form it.
22. The local fraternity is the basic living organism of the whole Secular Franciscan Order and a visible sign of the whole Church in miniature (#22). Hence, its beginning and development is guided by Church authority, for it is the centre for spiritual growth, apostolic outreach, and loving union among members. This paragraph calls the members to relate with one another more personally and intensely and stresses the ties with the local bishop.
23. Paragraph #23 points out the importance of the initial orientation, with elements of both instruction and experience directed toward a life‑time commitment in the Order It also stresses the role of the council in the development of community, especially for new members and for errant members. A number of important implications develop from this paragraph: It is the responsibility primarily of the council (not just the president or the spiritual assistant) to lead new members to commitment and exercise charity in particular difficulties. The life of the whole fraternity contributes to the growth of the new members and consolidates it. Furthermore, profession is highlighted "as a mature and enduring decision to participate as fully as possible in the Church's life and mission according to the manner of Francis.
24. Paragraph #24 discusses the means to express a strong and lasting fraternity spirit. The regular and frequent meeting (ordinarily once a month) is the way to build fraternity with prayer, education, apostolic activity, dialogue and leisure. Continuing education in Franciscanism and Church life is also stressed as a means of spiritual growth and community building. Again, it is emphasized that the fraternity derives much of its life from a vigorous council; hence, the council should meet regularly to take care of ordinary business, foster gospel living, and show concern for the growth of all its members.
25. Paragraph #25 points out that the voluntary contributions of the members finance the fraternity's spiritual and temporal needs and activities. The fraternity, according to its means and agreed‑upon arrangements, also contributes to the support of the regional, national, and international fraternities. This paragraph is a contemporary application of the traditional Secular Franciscan values outlined in the very first rule that the members are responsible for taking care of their own in whatever way is necessary.
26. Finally, the rule speaks of the spiritual assistance of the clergy; it also refers to the need of the friars to share fellowship and their Franciscan vocation with the Secular Franciscans (#26). Three important implications are drawn from this paragraph. First of all, since the Secular Franciscan Order is basically a lay order, the laity themselves are primarily responsible for their own spiritual growth and have the duty to get the proper assistance to achieve this end. Secondly, spiritual assistants should have a good background in Franciscanism and Vatican Council II (especially the role of the laity) and a willingness to share their own vocation with the Secular Franciscan community.
Thirdly, the official visit to the fraternity is given a dual role: Spiritual growth is ensured through pastoral visitation by a Franciscan friar. Organizational development is provided by the fraternal visitation of a higher lay leader.