Rule of the Gospel

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 1

Rule of the Gospel
Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In the beginning of the Franciscan Rule, Saint Francis says, “The Rule and the life of the Friars Minor is to simply live the Gospel.” [1] In fact, the first Rule that he started writing around 1209 is simply a collection of quotes from the New Testament. When Francis sent it off to Rome, the pope looked at it and said, “This is no Rule. This is just the Gospel.” You can just hear Francis saying, “Yes . . . that is the point. It is just the Gospel. We don’t need any other Rule except the Gospel!”

To be a Franciscan is nothing other than always searching for “the marrow of the Gospel” as he called it. [2] Francis said the purpose and goal of our life is to live the marrow or core of the Gospel. Honestly, the core is so simple that it’s hard to live. It’s so clear that the mind almost insists on making it complicated. It is so nondual that the only way you can get control of it again is to descend into some little dualistic, divisive right or wrong—and that is what most individuals and groups do.

When Francis read the Beatitudes, Jesus’ inaugural discourse, he saw that the call to be poor stood right at the beginning: “How blessed are the poor in spirit!” Henceforward, Francis’ reading of the Gospel considered poverty to be “the foundation of all other virtues and their guardian.” [3] The other virtues receive the kingdom only in promise; poverty, however, is invested with heaven now, without delay. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Present tense!

As a result, Franciscan spirituality has never been an abstraction. It is grounded in Jesus’ specific instructions to his disciples, not ideology or denominational certitudes. Francis’ living of the Gospel was just that: simple lifestyle. It was the Incarnation continuing in space and time. It was the presence of the Spirit taken as if it were true. It was being Jesus more than just worshiping Jesus. At its best, Franciscan life is not words or even ethics. It is flesh—naked flesh—unable to deny its limitations, unable to cover its wounds. Francis called this inner nakedness “poverty.”

This pure vision of life attracted thousands to a new freedom in the Church and in ministry. Religious communities had become more and more entangled with stipends and rich land holdings. Members lived individually simple lives but were corporately secure and even comfortable. The begging, or mendicant, orders were born to break that dangerous marriage between ministry and money. Francis did not want his friars to preach salvation (although they did that, too) as much as he wanted them to be salvation. He wanted them to model and mirror the life of Jesus in the world, with all of the vulnerability that would entail. Today, many people use the phrase “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” to describe Francis’ desire to serve God in every moment.

Gateway to Silence:
Who are you, God? And who am I?

References:
[1] Francis of Assisi, “The Later Rule” (1223), chapter 1. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 100.
[2] Thomas of Celano, “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul,” chapter 158. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 380.
[3] From Prologue of “Sacred Exchange between St. Francis & Lady Poverty,” Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 529.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (CAC: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 111-112.

Image credit: Saint Francis of Assisi Is Wed to Lady Poverty (detail), Fresco attributed to Giotto di Bondone, c. 1330, Basilica di San Francesco (lower level, over the altar), Assisi, Italy.

The work of the Center for Action and Contemplation is possible only because of friends and supporters like you!

Learn more about making a donation to the CAC.

FacebookTwitterEmailPrint