In our time discussing Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, and in reading the Franciscan rule, we have discussed the human need for external, material constraints which guide the soul toward righteousness. Habits of soul may be learned in habits of body, and the body can be used as an aid to the soul.
We know the good we ought to do, but often fail in our desire to want the good. For this reason, we set alarm clocks. For this reason, we make wedding vows. We make public proclamations of our desires and intentions so that our friends can help us be good. We will not always think rightly, and we will not always want to do good, and so we enthrone vows and oaths in our memories and invite these regal vows to rule our memories and our hearts.
Your examination on St. Francis, then:
1. First, you must consider the state of your soul. You must consider your weaknesses. Which of your weaknesses is the devil apt to exploit through regular, predictable temptations? What sins would you like Jesus Christ help you overcome? What real and innocent joys would you like God to open up to you?
Write a rule for yourself. Your rule ought to be modeled after the Franciscan rule. The Franciscan rule contains twelve requirements, but yours need only have seven.
Of the seven requirements, at least five must be externally observable. By this, I mean that at least five requirements must be open to objective evaluation. “Don’t think about bad things” is not objective, however, “Get out of bed every morning at five o’clock and read the Bible” is objective. Five of these requirements ought to be the kinds of things that a friend or parent could say of you, “Yes, he is being obedient to the rule. I know this. I have seen it.”
The spiritual value of each of the requirements must be explained. The requirements of your rule cannot merely be about “self improvement” or getting in shape.
When you write your rule, address it to “the brothers.” Think and speak as though others will also obey the rule.
2. You will present this rule to your parents, as well as to two classmates. Your parents will represent your Abbot. Your classmates will represent your fellow monks.
3. You will live according to this rule for seven days. Consider for a moment, as you write your rule, that I may require you to live by it for another week at some other point in the year. Perhaps finals week, perhaps not.
4. The rule should be difficult enough that it will be of genuine value to you. The rule should not be outlandishly difficult, though. Do not attempt to read a hundred chapters of Scripture every day, let us say.
5. You will receive one grade for the authoring of the rule. Your rule should sound like the Franciscan rule, and your rule should evidence genuine self-reflection and contemplation.
6. At the end of the week of the rule, you will give yourself a grade which reflects how well you followed the rule. I will not dispute this grade with you. If you follow the rule very closely, give yourself a perfect score. If you give up on the rule after a day or two, give yourself a zero. You will tell your Abbot about the grade you are giving yourself, and your Abbot will have to approve it.
7. At the end of the week, you will write a 1000 word essay about the value of giving yourself this rule. You will reflect on what was difficult, vexing, joyous. You will ponder following the rule for another week. You will ask yourself, “Was I happier following the rule? Was I more righteous? Did it help me resist temptation? Did it help me recover from my sin when I gave in to temptation? How could I change the rule so that it would be of more help to me?” Keep this in mind as you write your rule. In this essay, you will try to describe at least one moment wherein your rule did battle with temptation. Your rule should be powerful enough and significant enough that it will be of some value to you in fighting the devil.
I have written a rule which I will follow, as well. My wife will be my Abbot.
1. The brothers should use their days circumspectly and not stay up late into the night. When a brother’s wife goes to sleep, so should he, and he should not stay up late into the night doing frivolous things on the internet. In restricting himself to proper hours of activity, so shall brothers incline themselves toward proper activities.
2. The brothers should wake one hour before their wives. They should begin the day with some pious and active purpose, such as exercise and prayer. The brothers should not begin and end their day in frivolity, but should do all they can to redeem their time for the days are evil. In waking before their wives, the brothers will encourage their wives in usefulness and productivity and not inspire them to bitterness and envy. So will the brothers keep themselves fit and comely.
3. The brothers will not compulsively check how many “likes” their latest articles have received, for such is vanity. The brothers should concern themselves with living rightly before God, and not the approval of men. Further, brothers who compulsively check how many “likes” their articles received are living as though man alone determines excellence, and so such brothers will be inclined to secret sin— sin which others cannot see or judge. In resisting this particular vanity, the brothers will recall that God alone is sinned against, and God is present at all times and in all places.
4. The brothers should receive two or three meals every day, as is needful, but eating between meals should not be reported among them. Dining is a dignified human work and should be done with some ceremony, and not secretly, wherein immoderation and gluttony are apt to overtake the soul.
5. The brothers should attend to the Spirit, Who is a guest within the soul of every man. What profit is there in politely regarding all men to their faces, and yet speaking vulgar and profane words to God Himself as He dwells within? Therefor brothers should restrain themselves and not utter profanities or vulgarities in thought or word, even when they are beset on all sides by incompetent drivers.
6. The brothers should not make excuses in sin, and ought to keep to the prescribed fasts of the Church; the brothers will be tempted to exempt themselves from the fast in putting milk in their coffee on Wednesdays and Fridays, for it is such a little thing, but the brothers ought to prove themselves men especially in this little thing, for he who is faithful with little will be given more.
7. The brothers should take care to provide all they need for Sunday lunch at least 12 hours before worship on Sunday morning. Brothers will be tempted to waste their minds away during the Liturgy on Sunday morning in thinking of all the things they need to buy at the store on the way home from Church, and so not commit their heart, soul, mind and strength to God.