An extract from St Francis' rule for the friars who visited and/or lived in hermitages:
LET THOSE FRIARS, who wish to stay religiously in hermitages, be three or as much as four; let two of these be the mothers and let them have two sons or at least one. Those two, who are mothers, let them observe the life of Martha and let the two sons observe the life of Mary (cf. Luke 10:38-42) and let them have one cloister, in which each one has his own cell, in which to pray and sleep. And let them always say Compline of the day immediately after the setting of the sun; and let them strive to keep silence; and let them say their Hours; and let them rise for Matins and seek "first the Kingdom of God and His justice" (Matthew 6:33)... And in the cloister, where they are lingering, let them not permit any person to enter nor let them eat there. Let those friars who are mothers... guard their sons from every person, so that no one can speak with them. And let those sons not speak with any person except their mothers and with the minister and their custos, when it pleases him to visit them with the blessing of the Lord God. Indeed let the sons, whenever they assume the office of the mothers, at those times when it has seemed to them necessary to alternate, strive to observe solicitously and studiously what has been said above.
SPENT MOST of last week at a Franciscan Symposium -- shuttling between the FMM House of Prayer in Holland Road and the Cana Catholic Centre in Waterloo Street for five nights and four days continuously. By Thursday night, Fr W., a professor from USA, was giving his last lecture at the FMM House. As he recounted the above story (or rule), i felt a sense of deja vu. So familiar -- where have I heard or read this?
The days had sped by quickly. i was divided between the beauty of the writings and the strange historical-critical (aka historical-skeptical, according to an online friend A. just a day or two ago) method of interpreting the writings, especially those of St Bonaventure. Declared several times over the week that i believed that majority of the writings are literal accounts, and not merely "mystical experiences". Nope, i couldn't accept that St Bonaventure injected his own philosophy so extensively into his Major Legend of Saint Francis that the repeated theme of "purgation, illumination and union" belonged more to him than to St Francis. Afterall, didn't he state very clearly in the prologue:
"In order to have a clearer and more certain grasp of the authentic facts of his life, which I was to transmit to posterity, I visited the sites of the birth, life, and death of this holy man. I had careful interviews with his companions who were still alive, especially those who had intimate knowledge of his holiness and were his outstanding followers. Because of their acknowledged truth and proven virtue, they can be trusted beyond any doubt. In describing what God graciously accomplished through his servant, I decided that I should avoid a cultivated literary style, since the reader's devotion profits more from simple rather than ornate expression..."
Another reason was this: i actually heard a "sweet melody" from God (no other plausible cause) two years ago; so why couldn't much more fantastic stuff have happened to St Francis and his followers, as described by Bonaventure in the Major Legend? What's this "spiritualizing" of every word written -- to the extent that we are to regard almost all the happenings described as mystical and not literal, and so can choose to believe (or disbelieve) anything at will?
Told Fr W. on Thursday evening about an hour before the lecture, "The readings and the interpretations were interesting and beautiful. But I still believe that the writings are both mystical AND literal." He looked frustrated for the upmteenth time.
That night, we went through the actual writings of St Francis. Everything finally clicked into place. The saint's Early Rule and Later Rule reiterated the nobility of alms-begging described in Celano's and Bonaventure's "stories". Then as Fr W. read aloud Francis' "Letter to the Entire Order" (1225-1260), i spotted "inwardly cleansed" (purgation), "interiorly enlightened" (illumination) and "may we make our way to You, Most High, who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simply Unity" (union)!
"There's Bonaventure!" i said. "No, this is Francis' own writing," he said. "Just what i mean -- Bonaventure was writing about Francis," i replied.
When we came to Francis' "Praises of God" (1224), the words "You are humility", "You are meekness", and "You are rest" jumped out at once. Matthew 11:28-30! So, that's why this reading had been used on St Francis' feast day (Oct 4) for years and years!
This is the second time i've debated publicly with a professor from USA (from the same State!) on the presence (or absence) of absolute, objective truths -- given the complexity of truth and the limitations of human beings. Both times, the outcomes had been quite dramatic and positive at the same time. Where are you leading me, Lord?