In their essentiality, the Chapters of the Regula Bullata of Saint Francis of Assisi contain an abundant wealth of indications and stimuli for the Christian life, which for 800 years has raised, oriented, and supported hosts of simple men and women, determined to follow Jesus and the Gospel: the Friars Minor — “The Franciscans”.
We are able to “read” the best commentary on this Holy Rule in the lives of our Franciscan brothers and sisters, who throughout history have distinguished themselves for virtue and holiness.
Allow me to limit myself to underlining some traits that always fascinate me for the wisdom and concreteness wherewith they are imbued, and which have the strength to restore impetus and meaning to my own vocation.
Radical adherence to the Gospel
Saint Francis cares that his brothers observe “the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of their own and in chastity” (cf. chapter i), radically, without discounts, with every fiber of their being and in perfect communion with the Church and in obedience to the Holy Father, the Pope, which was absolutely essential to Francis’ vision of renewing and building up the Kingdom of God.
Even the criterion for verifying the seriousness of intention of the new brothers is profoundly ecclesial: “The ministers must then diligently examine them regarding the Catholic faith and the sacraments of the Church. And if they believe all these things and are willing to faithfully profess them and observe them steadfastly to the end” (cf. chapter ii, 2).
There are very clear and essential requests: the path of evangelical perfection is open to all, but only those who choose it with freedom and awareness adhere to it.
Our Seraphic and much beloved Father Saint Francis has imprinted an exemplary balance in the Holy Rule: everyone is called to develop firm radicalism towards themselves, but, at the same time, to exercise great mercy towards their brothers and sisters.
The radical nature of adhering to the Gospel must be experienced as a stimulus and support for one’s conversion but must never translate into contemptuous and demeaning judgment of other men (and women) (cf. chapter ii, 14).
Freshness of the truth
Saint Francis identified for himself and proposed to his brothers a sure way to adhere to the Gospel: poverty!
“The friars do not appropriate anything, neither house, nor place, or anything else. And as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let them go for alms with confidence” (cf. chapter vi, 1-2).
In the mind of Saint Francis, poverty has the flavour of a privilege, an honour, a grace; it is certainly not a reason for shame!
The profound reason for this choice, in fact, is not primarily of an ascetic or penitential nature, but is Christological.
“Nor should they be ashamed, because the Lord became poor for us in this world” (cf. chapter vi, 3).
Everything contributes to following Jesus, to becoming conformed to Him, to sharing the same life as Him: “This is the sublimity of the highest poverty!” (cf. chapter vi, 4).
The charm of the holiness of Francis of Assisi lies entirely in his surprising resemblance to Jesus, which he developed with an authentically evangelical life.
In his rule he has traced a path for us that is safe and not subject to the wear and tear of time, because both he as a figure and his Holy Rule enjoy the freshness of the simple and wholesome truth.