Let us continue on the theme of living the Gospel rather than just talking/writing about it. As many of you know, I am a history teacher. I am going to be leading my students through a study of the Middle Ages in the history classes I teach. As a result, I have just read an elementary level biography of St. Francis. In the course of my reading I came across the “Earlier Rule” of St. Francis (1221 A.D.).
- Francis and the leper
In his rule, Francis equates preaching with the practical shape and character of his life among those to whom he preaches. In essence, the practice of what one preaches is the best preaching. The following quote from the Earlier Rule makes this point crystal clear. Here is what St. Francis says about the life of one who preaches the Good News of Christ Jesus in the world.
“All the brothers, however, should preach by their deeds. And no minister or preacher should appropriate to himself the ministry of the brothers or the office of preaching, but he should set it aside without any protest whenever he is told.
Therefore, in the love which is God (cf. 1 John 4.16), I beg all my brothers – those who preach, pray, work, whether cleric or lay strive to humble themselves in all things [and] not to take pride in themselves or to delight in themselves or be puffed up interiorly about their good works and deeds—in fact, about any good thing that God does or says or sometimes works in them and through them. [This is] in keeping with what the Lord says: Yet do not rejoice in this: that the spirits are subject to you (Luke 10.20). And we should be firmly convinced that nothing belongs to us except [our] vices and sins. Rather we must rejoice when we would fall into various trials (James 1.2) and endure every sort of anguish of soul and body or ordeals in this world for the sake of eternal life.
Therefore, all of us, brothers, must beware of all pride and vainglory. And let us keep ourselves from the wisdom of this world and the prudence of the flesh. For the spirit of the flesh desires and is most eager to have words, but cares little to carry them out. And it does not seek a religion and holiness in the interior spirit, but it wishes and desires to have a religion and holiness outwardly apparent to people. And these are the ones of whom the Lord says: Truly I say to you: They have received their reward (Matthew 6.2). But the Spirit of the Lord wishes the flesh to be mortified and despised, worthless and rejected. And it strives for humility and patience, and the pure and simple and true peace of the spiritual person. And above all things it always longs for the divine fear and the divine wisdom and the divine love of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And let us refer all good to the most high and supreme lord God, and acknowledge that every good is His, and thank Him for everything, He from Whom all good things come. And may He, the Highest and Supreme, Who alone is true God, have and be given and receive every honor and reverence, every praise and blessing, every thanks and glory, for every good is His, He Who alone is good.” St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), “The Earlier Rule,” Chapter 17, sections 3-18
Does this mean that we say/write nothing until we are perfect in the matter of which we speak/write? No, of course not. But, it does mean that we are conscientiously seeking and striving to have that area (and others) conformed to Christ Jesus and a witness of His character, actions, and offices. If not, then we are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Above all, let us forgive as we have been forgiven. Perhaps this is the deepest qualification for speaking/writing. Let us run with perseverance the race that has been set before us with all diligence and patience. Not with presumption, thinking we are better than anyone else (an expert or master) or thinking of ourselves as “God’s answer to ________.” Let us press on seeking nothing but an increase of true humility (the good soil). Let us seek not eloquence but humility. The eloquence will take care of itself. We must rely completely upon and with all diligence cooperate with the grace of God to be our good and strength in this matter.