Rules, they say, are meant to be broken. Rules are a necessary evil, though they can also stifle spontaneity and creativity. It isn’t too often that people gather to celebrate rules.
But that is what is happening on 26th November next! Members of the Franciscan family; friars, Poor Clare Sisters, Third Order brothers and sisters, will gather in Maynooth to celebrate and give thanks for the Rule which St. Francis of Assisi wrote and bequeathed to his followers eight centuries ago.
It is a testament to vitality of this Rule that it continues to inspire us so many centuries later. Of course, parts of the Rule of 1223 are of their time. When St. Francis prohibited friars from becoming godfathers or from riding on horseback he was challenging practices which, back then, were seriously impeding the friars from living a Gospel way of life.
In each age the friars have to discern how to live this Rule in a manner that corresponds with the customs and realities of a contemporary world. As St. Pope John XXIII (himself a Third Order Franciscan) reminded us, in the Church we are cultivating a garden, not keeping a museum!
The Rule of St. Francis is something worth celebrating. We can think of the thousands of men and women, in this country alone, who have taken up the example of St. Francis, following in the footsteps of the poor Christ. What a difference this has made! In the early thirteenth century Europe witnessed the rise of many movements committed to reform of the Church. The desire for a return to Gospel simplicity was in the air.
Some of these movements were, like the friars minor, determined to live the Gospel simply and without depending on material wealth. There were movements, like the Franciscans, committed to itinerant preaching, fraternity, mendicancy, etc.
Many of these movements, sadly, disappeared. In many cases these movements became embroiled in wasteful controversaries and conflicts. It was, in part, the Rule of 1223 which ensured that the Franciscan friars would continue their witness and ministry within the Church.
Not all rules are made to be broken! Certainly, the Rule of St. Francis is a demanding blueprint for life. But it is no more demanding than the Gospel, indeed, in the Franciscan tradition it is called the ‘marrow of the Gospel’.
If you haven’t read the Rule of St. Francis you can find it on this website, writings of St Francis.
Friar Liam Kelly OFM
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