WHAT IS A RULE OF LIFE?
A Rule of Life is a collection of goals which members promise to try to reach in their lives. The purpose of having a Rule of Life is not to make God, love us, because He already loves us, but to help us to train ourselves so that we are better able to live the kind of life He wants us to. It serves as a minimum level of behaviour which can be built on as each member is able to. We decide for ourselves on a Rule of Life which helps us to grow, but is not so hard that we give up on it. Being faithful to a rule helps to free us from the power of forces that could interfere with our living a holy life, and because that freedom makes it possible to be more like Jesus and Francis, it gives us pleasure and joy.
In the Tertiary Order of St. Francis, the rules are grouped under the categories: Holy Eucharist, Penitence, Personal Prayer, Self Denial, Retreat, Study, Simplicity, Obedience and Work and Service. These are based on the rules of St. Francis’s original Order. Under each category, members decide on a standard of behaviour which they promise God and the community to achieve. In addition, members promise to attend the meetings of their group, read a portion of the Society’s principles every day and have a Spiritual Director, to whom ideally they make a personal confession three times a year.
WHAT DO THESE EIGHT CATEGORIES MEAN?
1) Holy Eucharist. We believe that going to the Eucharist is central to our lives and each of us makes a rule to attend as often as we can. Weekly or more than weekly attendance is ideal, but that is not possible for all members.
2) Penitence. We make arrangements for confession, in private or together in public on a regular basis. This serves to force us to regularly compare what we do with what God wants us to do, and to receive the assurance that God forgives us for our mistakes and failures.
3) Personal Prayer. We decide on a weekly schedule of personal prayer suited to our lives, promising to pray for a certain time at least once a day.
4) Self-denial. We think it is important to be in control of any desires that might prevent our complete dedication and obedience to God. To help us to do that, we choose for ourselves desires that threaten our control and promise to refuse to give in to them. Such desires might be for food or drink, rest, sex, condemnation of others, sleep, various entertainments and so on. These things are bad only when our desire for them overcomes our desire to live a godly life, so the only purpose of refusing to do them is only to free us from their control over us. For instance a strong desire to spend time alone is not bad unless it begins to prevent us from sharing our lives with friends or attending worship.
5) Retreat. We believe that we all need to step outside our daily lives from time to time to think about things and about God, and to permit Him to strengthen us spiritually. Each section of the society has a weekend retreat yearly and members are encouraged to make at least one other retreat each year as well.
6) Study. We believe that all Christians should continually increase their knowledge about their faith and the world they live in. Each member sets up ways to make this possible. Knowledge of the Bible is considered essential, so that members who do not find it easy to read it must find other ways of learning what it says. Today, for many members, reading is the primary source of knowledge, but anything that increases knowledge, e.g. Listening to the radio or sermons, tapes etc., watching television, studying natural things or meditation are equally useful. Most of Francis’ followers could not read. Any study that helps us to know God better, science, for instance, is useful.
7) Simplicity. We believe that all people should live as simply as they can, spending as little and having as few possessions as possible. We bear in mind that St. Francis loved total poverty and owned nothing at all but are not required to follow him fully in that. Even poor members of the Society need to find some non-necessity in their lives to give up in honour of the goal of simplicity. The purpose of this is to give us control over our possessions, which constantly threaten to interfere with our dedication to God. For instance, a desire to own a bicycle may prevent a member from giving away enough to others.
8) Obedience: All members are expected to be obedient to the rules of the society and to their own Rule of Life. To remind ourselves what the rules are, we are expected to read a portion of The Daily Obedience every day.
9) Work and Service. We believe that every Christian should try to be of use in the world and to be a servant of others. All of us are encouraged to find ways to help in the community using our talents and abilities. This may be within the church, but may also be outside it.
Following a rule of life is the main thing that makes us different from people who do not belong to a religious order.