The Life of the Capuchin Friars Minor
ARTICLE I: OUR LIFE ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL
The holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is, in every age, the source of the entire life of the Church and the message of salvation for the whole world. For, through it, the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, comes to know Christ and accepts in faith His deeds and words which are spirit and life to those who believe. Saint Francis, the founder of our Fraternity, accepted the Gospel as the principle of his life and activity from the very beginning of his conversion. In the beginning and end of the Rule, therefore, he expressly commanded its observance and, in the Testament, declared that it was revealed to him to live according to the pattern of the holy Gospel. Since we are his sons, therefore, let us always take care to make progress in our understanding of the Gospel. In all circumstances of our life, let us follow the Gospel as the supreme law, assiduously read the words of salvation, and, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, carry them in our heart. Thus, as the Gospel increasingly fashions our life, we may grow in Christ in all things.
Saint Francis, a true disciple of Christ and an outstanding example of Christian life, taught his own brothers to follow the foot prints of the poor and humble Jesus Christ joyfully that, through Him, they would be led in the Holy Spirit to the Father. Burning with love of Christ, let us contemplate Him in the self-emptying of His Incarnation and Cross that we might be ever more conformed to Him. As together we joyfully celebrate the Eucharist, let us take part in the Paschal Mystery, enjoying a foretaste of His Resurrection until He comes. Let us courageously observe the gospel counsels, especially those we have promised: chastity dedicated to God, poverty that is a special way of salvation for us, and loving obedience.
After he heard the words of the sending forth of the disciples, Saint Francis founded the Fratemity of the Order of Minors which would bear witness to the Kingdom of God by a sharing of life and by preaching penance and peace through example and word. That we might learn the pattern of a true disciple of Jesus Christ, which was so wonderfully evident in Francis, let us strive to imitate him, to cultivate his spiritual inheritance diligently in our life and work, and to communicate it with all peoples of whatever age. To this end we should frequently read the life and writings of Saint Francis himself, those of his sons [and daughters], especially of Capuchins reknowned for their holiness, apostolic zeal and knowledge, and other books by which his spirit is made known.
As Capuchin Friars Minor we should renew our knowledge of the genius and ideals of our Fraternity so that, correctly adapted to the times, our life may be inspired by the wholesome tradition of our brothers. It is especially appropriate to imitate our first brothers by a return to [their] original inspiration, that is, to the life and Rule of our Father Francis. In this way our Order may always be renewed through a conversion of spirit. Following their footprints, let us strive to give priority to a life of prayer, especially contemplative prayer, to cultivate, together with a spirit of minority, radical poverty, both personal and communal; and, out of love of the Lord’s cross, to manifest a life of austerity and joyful penance, taking care as well that even new forms of leading this life of ours, approved by legitimate superiors, are discerned in light of the signs of the times. While exercising among ourselves the freedom of brothers, let us joyfully live among the poor, the powerless and the weak, sharing their life, and let us maintain our special approach to people. In many ways, above all in the work of evangelization, let us promote an apostolic dynamism that is carried out in a spirit of service.
Flowing from the Gospel, the Rule of Saint Francis impels us to an evangelical life. Let us zealously commit ourselves to a spiritual understanding [of that Rule]. Following the admonition of the Founder himself expressed in his Testament, as well as the spirit, gospel ideals and examples of holiness of our first Capuchin brothers, let us observe it simply and purely with [the Spirit’s] holy activity. Superiors, together with the fraternities, should keep the promotion of knowledge, love and observance of the Rule close to their heart. Major superiors should take care to seek more appropriate, even pluriform, expressions of the brothers’ life and apostolate, so that the Rule and intentions of our Father, who gave us a law, may be faithfully observed throughout the world according to different regions and cultures and the needs of times and places. The true authentic expression of pluriformity, however, while always preserving the unity of the same genuine spirit, is based on fraternal communion and obedience to superiors. In this way it offers a gospel freedom of action, especially in whatever concerns the renewal of our life, so that we do not extinguish the spirit.
Our Seraphic Father dictated the Testament when, near death, adorned with the sacred stigmata and full of the Holy Spirit, he eagerly longed for our salvation. In it he expresses his last will and passes on to us the precious inheritance of his spirit. It was given to us that, day by day, we might more perfectly observe the Rule that we have professed according to the mind of the Church. Therefore, according to the tradition of our Order, we accept the Testament as the principal spiritual explanation of the Rule and the preeminent inspiration of our life.
The purpose of the Constitutions is to offer us assistance in observing the Rule more perfectly in the changing circumstances of our life. We find in them a secure support for our spiritual renewal in Christ and an authentic assistance for carrying out the consecration of our life through which each brother gives himself totally to God. Let us observe [the Constitutions] to which we are bound by virtue of our profession, not as slaves but as sons desiring to love God above all else, listening to the Holy Spirit instructing us, and concentrating on the glory of God and the salvation of our neighbour. All the brothers are strongly urged to apply themselves to a personal study of the Rule, Testament and Constitutions and to be intimately imbued with their spirit.
ARTICLE II: OUR LIFE IN THE CHURCH
The Church, the instrument of salvation and of union with God and among people, appears as a pilgrim people of God in the world. Established by Christ in a cornmunion of life, charity and truth, it is enriched by the Holy Spirit with a multitude of gifts or charisms that are useful for the renewal and the further building up of the same Church. In that Church, adorned with such a variety of charisms, Saint Francis, inspired by the Holy Spirit, raised up a religious Fraternity and gave it form. That a sign of Christ, poor, humble and especially dedicated to the poor, might shine more clearly upon her face, the Church approved it by her hierarchical authority and protected it with motherly care. The Order of Capuchin Friars Minor was also accepted by the Church by virtue of the decree Religionis zelus given by Pope Clement VII on July 3, 1528. Therefore, let us love the Church intensely, meditate upon its mystery, and actively participate in its initiatives.
After the example of Saint Francis who was a catholic and thoroughly apostolic man, let us offer faithful obedience to the Spirit of Christ living in the Church. Let us offer obedience and reverence to the Supreme Pontiff, to whom religious are also subject, by virtue of their vow of obedience, as [their] highest superior, and to the College of Bishops, which together with him, is a visible sign of the Church’s unity and its apostolicity. Wherever we are, let us contribute to the welfare of the particular Church by our fraternal and prophetic presence and by working for its growth and progress.
Under the leadership of the diocesan bishop, let us offer our apostolic service for the People of God and the entire human community, according to our charism. Let us offer due honor to priests and to all others who minister spirit and life to us and work assiduously with them.
Let us love and obey with a generous heart the general minister who, as the successor of our holy Founder, has been appointed for the service and welfare of the entire Fraternity and as the living bond uniting us with the authority of the Church and among ourselves. Let us also love and offer an active and responsible obedience to the other ministers of the Fraternity who have been given to us by the Lord as shepherds and recipients of the trust of the brothers. Thus we may be more closely and securely united in the service of the Church in a spirit of faith and love for Christ.
From his adoration of the Father of all good, Saint Francis obtained a feeling for universal brotherhood through which he perceived in every creature an image of Christ, the firstborn and the savior. As children of this Father, we should regard ourselves as brothers to all peoples without any discrimation; and as we fraternally encounter every creature, let us eagerly offer the praise of creation to the God from Whom all goodflows. United by the Holy Spirit in the same calling, let us foster a sense of brotherhood throughout the entire Order and especially in our provinces and local communities by common prayer and activity. Let us cultivate that same sense toward all our brothers and sisters, whether religious or secular, who form with us one Franciscan family. This gospel fraternity of ours, as an example and leaven of social life, invites people to foster fraternal relationships among themselves and to combine their efforts for the better development and liberation of the whole person as well as for the genuine progress of human society. [The witness of] our fraternal life has special significance and becomes more effective in the process of the sound social development and association through which God calls us to work for the realization and growth of brotherhood in justice and peace.
Accepting the form of a servant, the Son of God did not come to be ministered to but minister and to give His life for the salvation of all. Wishing to be conformed to His image, let us not presume to be greater, but let us expend ourselves as lesser ones in the service of all, especially of those who suffer want and tribulation or even of those who persecute us. Therefore let us willingly live our fraternal life among the poor, sharing their hardships and humilation in a very loving way. While relieving their material and spiritual needs, let us devote ourselves by our activity, deed and word to promoting their human and christian development. By acting in this way, we make known the spirit of our brotherhood in minority and, at the same time, become a leaven of justice, unity and peace.
That we may fulfill our gospel calling in the Church and the world fruitfully, let us faithfully strive to lead an apostolic life that embraces contemplation and activity, imitating Jesus Who spent His life unceasingly in prayer and in the work of salvation. Professing this life of the Master, the apostles, sent by the Lord into the whole world, were constant in their prayer and in the ministry of the word. Although he preferred solitary places, Saint Francis, following the footprints of the Lord and the apostles, chose a form of life that intimately united prayer and the proclamation of the message of salvation. Let us, therefore, devote ourselves to the praise of God and to meditation on His word through which we become ever more inflamed, so that we lead others joyfully to the love of God by our activity. In this way our entire life of prayer will be imbued with an apostolic spirit while all our apostolic activity will be fashioned by the spirit of prayer.