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CH 1: Obedience, Detachment, and Chastity
(commentary on the Regula Bullata, The Latter Rule of St Francsis of Assisi)
As a believer in exile. The first chapter of the Regula bullata is the hardest for me to read. The Seraphic Father swears his loyalty, and all of his successors' loyalty to the Pope and his successors. As a catholic, this used to be an easy chapter, but after the election of the current Pope, I thought this chapter was impossible to follow.
I do not take this stance lightly. I do not want to look at the rule and say these chapters I will follow, but these I will not. If we are going to apply this line item veto to the rule, then we might as well not even have one. I think our modern circumstances are different, and our embrace of this monastic model for the rebuilding of the church through the new reformation means that we have to read this chapter carefully.
The Seraphic Father swears his and his successors' loyalty to the Pope and his canonically elected successors. That last phrase is the problem: Who is the canonically elected successor to the Pope. Prior to the reformation, this was an easy question to answer (if we set aside the anti-popes for a moment), but after the reformation, the answer is muddy.
The Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, congregationalist, and Quakers have all answered this question differently and the same. In one way or another, they have all sworn their allegiance to the Holy Spirit and each has crafted their own method to try to discern the will of the Spirit, but if you believe that any or all of these groups are guided by the Holy Spirit, then the charism of the Apostles has been passed to them. So I too swear loyalty to the guidance of the Spirit of Truth and seek to find the best method for discerning the will of the spirit.
The vow to live the Gospel by living in obedience, without anything of our own, and in chastity means something altogether different to a lay movement than they would to a Friar.
For a Seraphic Christian to live in obedience is not a matter of bowing the knee to an earthly authority. Humans are always prone to mistakes, no matter how well intentioned they may be. To follow any person or institution blindly is dangerous and likely to cause pain and suffering.
I vow my obedience to Jesus Christ, our heavenly High Priest who stands before the mercy seat of God. All any Christian can be asked to do is to like in good conscience with their own understanding of the will of God, and to collectively try to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit in the same fashion as the Religious Society of Friends.
This is the problem I have with the Obedience and reverence to the Pope, who ever that might be at the time. I would say, if you are a Roman Catholic, then you have already made this pledge. I know I did when my heart remained within the Roman Church, but as the gulf between my spiritual home in Creation Spirituality and Rome widened, it became increasingly more difficult to do this.
The hardest thing I have ever done was leave the Roman Church. My faith was stretched to the breaking point to do so, but it was as necessary as the split during the Renaissance. The institution had overshadowed the spirit of the church. As with most denominations, political factions have replaced spiritual yearning and the desire to hear the voice of the Spirit.
The church has never been and should not be a democracy, but it should seek consensus of the faithful through prayer and study to discern the will of God. The Spirit's voice has been heard to free the scriptures from the control of the clergy so everyone can read them. She has freed the slaves from the ecclesiastical blessing of slavery. She has revealed the injustice of racism, sexism, and colonialism. These were not easy words for the church to hear when the Word came to us, but eventually the clergy discerned the will of God on these issues.
The work of the church is to live the Gospel, not to enforce a set of particular beliefs that have evolved and changed over time and which will continue to do so. I hope that the time will come when the I can return home, but while I walk through this wasteland, I will pitch the tent of the Lord where I am.
It is obviously unrealistic to ask a lay believer to live without anything of their own as the rule says, but it is imperative that all believers learn to live in a state of detachment from the the things in their life to help them cultivate an enlightened mind and a heart of compassion.
My possessions are not my own. They come and go as time passes. The same is true about my beliefs. Every time I read the scriptures, I see something that I didn't see the last time through. I do not allow myself to become so attached to my preconceived notions that I cannot hear the Spirit speak in Lectio Divina. I can read the same passage three times and see it three different ways. That is the power and the glory of faith.
When have to remember the Four Noble Truths of Practice:
1. All life is unsatisfying. (we always want more)
2. The cause of this is attachment and aversion.
3. There is freedom from this unsatisfactory nature of all thins.
4. The cause of enlightenment is the Noble Eightfold Path.
This is the heart of the second vow, the vow of detachment.
I am not a Shaker, and do not expect believers to live a life of celibacy. Chastity is a state of living morally pure. Do not use others.