It is the anniversary of papal approval of the first Franciscan Rule! Happy 807th anniversary!
St Francis had his conversion and after three years, in 1209, with the urging of the local bishop, felt the need for some sort of guidelines or an informal rule for the group to follow. He, and his ensemble of eleven, travelled to Rome to present it & ask for approval from the Holy Father, Pope Innocent III.
Pope Innocent III opposed extreme poverty and worried St Francis and his followers would wander into heresy, like Catharism and Waldensianiam. Additionally, many cardinals believed current religious orders needed reforming and there was no need for new ones.
St Francis was proposing a vow of poverty for all individual followers and communities of followers, relying for support only on their own work and the charity of others. But absolute poverty was not the only distinctive trait of this new order. The friars did not limit themselves to their own sanctification; not to live only for themselves, but to assist others in their sanctification. They planned to devote themselves to the evangelization of the multitudes. His apostles did not sit in a monastery but went all over the world, preaching, employed with their hands and dependent on offerings.
Still, the Pope and Cardinals had much doubt. Yet, one Cardinal pointed out that they only wanted to be able to live out the Gospel. If they declared that impossible, they'd declare the Gospel impossible to follow. That would be an affront to Christ. Therefore, St Francis was invited to meet with the Pope again the next day.
That night, the Pope had a dream. In it, he saw the Lateran Cathedral (the Pope’s Cathedral in Rome) crumbling to the ground yet there was a poor little beggar appeared to be holding it up.
The next morning, April 16th, the Pope gave them the approval of this first Rule of St Francis and his friars.
This short Rule, or, "primitive rule," as it is often called, however, no longer exists, but it was the way of life for them until St Francis rewrote it in 1221, in addition to the example of St Francis himself.
With the Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis, here in Peoria, the Sisters observe a two-day retreat on April 14-15 in preparation for this anniversary of the approval of the First Franciscan Rule. This retreat includes silence, except for when necessary to complete our duties, and additional prayers. And then on April 16th, each of the sisters who have taken vows of obedience, chastity and poverty (a.k.a. “are professed,”) renew their vows at Mass, using the following formula: “I, Sister _______, renew with my whole heart the vows of Consecrated Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience in the Community of The Sisters of the Third Order of St Francis.”
As a postulant, I participate in the retreat portion, but, of course, I haven’t taken any vows. Yet. :-)
Thank you to Sister Agnes Joseph for help in today’s Franciscan lesson!
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