Seeking Franciscan Perfection
A Reflection on the Franciscan Life by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Part 7 - Obedience
In this part, I would like to reflect on the evangelical virtue of Obedience. Obedience is the most important of virtues, without Obedience all other endeavor will go wrong. "St. Francis founded an Order of brothers. But he founded it on the rock of obedience for two important reasons: 1. That by absolute and unquestioning loyalty to the Church, the order might avoid the shipwreck of heresy into which other movements fell; 2. that his brothers and sisters might have, with poverty and chastity, the third great means of purifying and liberating self-denial―the giving up of one's own will under the Rule.¹"
"Lay Franciscans (SFO) do not, of course, take a vow of obedience. The Rule and Constitution do not, of themselves, bind under pain of sin. But, by their spirit of obedience, all Lay Franciscans can benefit from the counsel of obedience.¹"
As an ex-Monk, I have practiced strict obedience, and by my own choice I continue to do so, having made a private Vow of obedience and chastity. Chances are that if I had never been a monk, I never would have made these private Vows. Nevertheless, my personal opinion is that obedience and also frugality and chastity, are very important consideration in the lives of Secular Franciscans. Here are some examples where and how these counsels can be useful.
The Holy Father is really the supreme director of the SFO and of the entire Franciscan Order. For that matter, he is the supreme director of ALL Orders in the Catholic Church. We should pray for our Pope, as he is the successor of St. Peter, the first Pope, and thus the Vicar of Christ on earth. We should be obedient to him. And, we should not only support him but all the laws and teachings of the Magisterium, the bishops of our Church. (Bishops are the successors of the Apostles.) We should extend great reverence for all the clergy and work with them in every way.
In our own Order, we are governed by a Fraternity Minister and his/her Councillors, and those ministers of Regional, National and International levels. We have a Minister General, Mrs. Encarnation del Pozo, OSF (she comes from Madrid, Spain), but is frequently in Rome where the SFO maintains a business office, staffed by 3 or more people. The International Council goes by the name CIOFS -“Consilium Internationale - Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis.”(Latin).
When CIOFS sends out a directive, be it an amendment to the Constitution or Statutes, or in one of the "Circulars," there is the presumption that the directives in question will be obeyed by the Professed in the Order. That is obedience. And, of course, obedience should be in the Spirit of Saint Francis. "Obedience means simply "giving oneself to the cause." This cause being the Church's mission to live and preach[/evangelize] the Gospel. By obedience we make ourselves available to the Church for whatever she needs.¹"
Let me speak for a few moments on the "Spirit and Practice of Prayer." Thomas Celano in his Life of St. Francis tells us that "St Francis became a living prayer." Unfortunately, we get a bad example when we look to the world for the meaning of love. Too many married couples find themselves divorced before they knew what happened. And, we have taken the attitude that nothing is permanent. But Our Lord is looking to receive from us a long-lasting agreement or commitment of love. Regretfully, there are Secular Franciscans who do not uphold a permanent relationship with the Order (they drop out), and one wonders if these same people will also renege on their relationship with Our Lord. Please pray for these sisters and brothers, if you know any, for their speedy return to the fold.
Prayer is a personal conversation with God. And, generally the accepted format of prayer is "petition, intercession, adoration and contemplation" although some praise Our Lord for His Holiness, love and might, then thank Our Lord first for all He has done for us, thirdly, ask for intercession, and lastly contemplation. In any case, do not be like some people, barely thanking Him, and immediately say "Give me" - that seems improper to me. But that's just my opinion. Prayer is very personal, and it is between you and God, or rather, between God and you, for prayer is a Gift of God. Prayer is not study. And, when we ask God a question, we should listen for an answer. If you don't do this now, don't worry, it will come with time. His voice is very calm and very quiet. The more you pray, meditate or be open to contemplation, the more familiar you will become with him, until some day, you will feel completely comfortable with Him... and your relationship will take on a form of intimacy as if with a dearest friend. Satan doesn't like this, of course, and you will find that the closer you come to God, the more the devil tends to bother you. However, when the devil sees that there is nothing else to be gained from you, he will leave you alone or at least for longer periods of time. But make no mistake about it, you are always vulnerable as long as you doubt God's love and commandments.
Christ's presence will be keenly felt when you form this close bond with Him. Then I can eventually say, "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me."
In the next reflection on "Seeking Franciscan Perfection," we will discuss this in greater detail in light of the liturgy, the Eucharist and our Prayer (the Divine Office).
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #7, 11/01/2008, 2014
1. "The Third Order Vocation" Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM.1976 Published by St. John the Baptist Province of the OFM (my writing follows the subjects in this books, to guide me along a certain path in this writing).
A Gift of a New
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