Koinonia: The OFS Rule as a response in times of great changes

The only act by which a human being can correspond to the God who reveals himself, is the act of unlimited readiness. It is the unity of faith, hope, and love.”[1]

The explosion of COVID-19 has taken the world unawares and is predictably going to cause unpredictable changes in the world. In 2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American scholar, statistician, and former option trader and risk analyst published a book titled “The Black Swan the impact of the highly improbable[2]. According to the author, greatest changes in the lives of individuals and collectivities always begin from highly improbable and unpredictable events. This is what is termed a Black Swan. The encounter of Saint Francis with the leper, for example, was a Black Swan. COVID-19 is a Black Swan with global impact. Such phenomena do not have space for stereotype responses, because they were not predictable. We can neither reverse the situation nor change it, people have died, people are dying and the contagion continues to spread.  However, we can change, in fact, entire cities and nations are under lock-down for the past 2-4 weeks. This is change. But the change to which this situation obliges us is deeper, it is a conversion.

How can the OFS Rule be of help to Secular Franciscans in such a situation? We are called to perfection of charity, love of God above all else and love of neighbour as Christ has loved us. We should never lose focus of this, because the Rule itself is a path to this and not an end. Conversion keeps us on the right path. Changing times come and go but the call to holiness remains and the Rule will always be of help in every. Now, for example, is the favourable time to renew our personal and fraternal lives in conformity to the Rule we have professed as brothers and sisters of penance. The Rule states: “Let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls conversion. Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily”[3]. Saint Paul says “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1Cor 13:3). Charity is always creative.

In these times that community celebrations are not even possible for many, our love of God and neighbour should even be more creative in our forms of prayer, communication and activity. The OFS General Constitutions offer some guidelines to this effect: “Some means to cultivate this characteristic of the Franciscan vocation, individually and in fraternity, are: listening to and celebrating the Word of God; review of life; spiritual retreats; the help of a spiritual adviser, and penitential celebrations. … The fruits of conversion, which is a response to the love of God, are the works of charity in the interactions with the brothers and sisters[4]. The present experience of lock-down is new to many. The uncertainty continues to loom over all as the pandemic continues its course across the globe. One thing is certain, God is with us, even as he descended in the furnace with Daniel and his companions. Spiritual assistants are and will continue to be of great help to the brothers and sisters of the OFS especially in such times.

Conclusion

Hans Urs von Balthasar is known to have held strongly that “life is a vocation because reality is a provocation”. Such situations as these certainly provoke us either to seek God for refuge, assistance or for a solution. Like St. Francis, we may want to ask: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”. These times call for discernment in fraternity and openness to the Spirit. “Those who seek the Lord will not be disappointed” (Ps 9:11). In such a situation, God’s will for us might be heard only through the very cry of those suffering. COVID-19 opens our eyes to the fact that humanity is more united than many are tempted to think. If one person is infected, we are all in danger. It provokes us to sincere prayer, penance and to concrete acts of charity towards all affected brothers and sisters. By doing good to others, you do it to yourself. We should join hands to ensure that even if we cannot come together for meetings or celebrations, no brother or sister is left alone, alive or dead.  “When I was in sin, writes St. Francis, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body[5].  God may be waiting for us exactly where we do not want to go. When love of neighbour obliges us to leave our false securities to go to help others, there we will meet Christ, and it will be sweetness of soul and body. The OFS Rule is a gift for Secular Franciscans to live these difficult times of COVID-19 with joy and hope and to bring solace to many.

 

This is an extract from an article written by Br. Francis Bongajum Dor, OFMCap. Download and read the full text:

Koinonia 2020-1“The OFS Rule as a Response in Times of Great Changes”

N. 105

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[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Communio 37 (Spring 2010). © 2010 by Communio: International Catholic Review, https://www.communio-icr.com/files/BalthasarVocationFormat2.pdf (2/04/2019).
[2] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan the impact of the improbable, Random House, New York, 2007.
[3] OFS Rule n° 7.
[4] OFS General Constitutions, Art. 13.1-2.
[5]Testament, 2-3.