Common Rules - Chapters I - VI

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Common Rules - Chapters I to VI

Chapter I The purpose and nature of the Congregation

1. We read in sacred scripture that our Lord, Jesus Christ, sent on earth for the salvation of the human race, did not begin by teaching; he began by doing. And what he did was to integrate fully into his life every type of virtue. He then went on to teach, by preaching the good news of salvation to poor people, and by passing on to his apostles and disciples what they needed to know to become guides for others. Now the little Congregation of the Mission wants, with God's grace, to imitate Christ, the Lord, in so far as that is possible in view of its limitations. It seeks to imitate his virtues as well as what he did for the salvation of others. It is only right that if the Congregation is to do the same sort of work, it should act in the same sort of way. This means that the whole purpose of the Congregation is: (1) to have a genuine commitment to grow in holiness, patterning ourselves, as far as possible, on the virtues which the great Master himself graciously taught us in what he said and did; (2) to preach the good news of salvation to poor people, especially in rural areas; (3) to help seminarians and priests to grow in knowledge and virtue, so that they can be effective in their ministry.

2. There are both clerical and lay members in the Congregation. The work of the former is to travel around through towns and villages, as Christ himself and his disciples did, breaking the bread of the divine word for the neglected, by preaching and catechizing. They also should urge people to make general confessions of their entire life and hear these confessions. Their ministry also includes settling quarrels and disputes, establishing the Confraternity of Charity, staffing seminaries which have been set up in our houses for diocesan clergy, giving retreats, and organizing meetings of priests in our houses. Their work also includes any other ministry which is supportive of those mentioned. The lay members help in these ministries like Martha in whatever way the superior wants them to. This help includes "prayers and tears" [Heb 5:7, 12:17], mortification, and good example.

3. If the Congregation, with the help of God's grace, is to achieve what it sees as its purpose, a genuine effort to put on the spirit of Christ will be needed. How to do this is learned mainly from what is taught in the Gospels: Christ's poverty, his chastity and obedience; his love for the sick; his decorum; the sort of lifestyle and behavior which he inspired in his disciples; his way of getting along with people; his daily spiritual exercises; preaching missions; and other ministries which he undertook on behalf of the people. There is something on each of these in the chapters which follow.


Chapter II Gospel teaching

1. Let each of us accept the truth of the following statement and try to make it our most fundamental principle: Christ's teaching will never let us down, while worldly wisdom always will. Christ himself said this sort of wisdom was like a house with nothing but sand as its foundation, while his own was like a building with solid rock as its foundation. And that is why the Congregation should always try to follow the teaching of Christ himself and never that of the worldly-wise. To be sure of doing this we should pay particular attention to what follows.

2. Christ said: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things which you need will be given to you as well. That is the basis for each of us having the following set of priorities: matters involving our relationship with God are more important than temporal affairs; spiritual health is more important than physical; God's glory is more important than human approval. Each one should. moreover. be determined to prefer, like St. Paul, to do without necessities, to be slandered or tortured, or even killed, rather than lose Christ's love. In practice, then, we should not worry too much about temporal affairs. We ought to have confidence in God that he will look after us since we know for certain that as long as we are grounded in that sort of love and trust we will be always under the protection of God in heaven, we will remain unaffected by evil and never lack what we need even when everything we possess seems headed for disaster.

3. A sure way for a Christian to grow rapidly in holiness is a conscientious effort to carry out God's will in all circumstances and at all times. Each one of us, then, should try to integrate into his life, as far as possible, these four principles: (1) we should conscientiously carry out what is ordered and avoid what is forbidden, when these orders or prohibitions come from God, from the Church, from our superiors, or from the Rules or Constitutions of our Congregation; (2) when there is choice open to us in matters neither ordered nor forbidden we should choose the less palatable rather than the more pleasing. This does not apply, of course, if the more pleasing things, being in some sense necessary, have to be chosen. Still, though, in such cases our motivation ought not to be that we like them, but simply that they are more pleasing to God. Finally, if when faced with a choice between things neither ordered nor forbidden there is no real element of personal preference between the options available, then any one of them may be chosen at random as coming from God's providence; (3) when something unexpected happens to us in body or mind. good or bad, we are to accept it without fuss as from God's loving hand; (4) our motive for putting the above three principles into practice is that they are God's will. It is in this way that we can imitate Christ, the Lord. Christ always lived by these principles, and for that very motive. He tells us this himself: I always do what pleases the Father.

4. Jesus, the Lord, expects us to have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God. Each of us, then, should take care to behave always in this spirit of simplicity, remembering that God likes to deal with the simple, and that he conceals the secrets of heaven from the wise and prudent of this world and reveals them to little ones.

5. But while Christ recommends the simplicity of a dove he tells us to have the prudence of a serpent as well. What he means is that we should speak and behave with discretion. We ought, therefore, to keep quiet about matters which should not be made known, especially if they are unsuitable or unlawful. When we are discussing things which it is good and proper to talk about we should hold back any details which would not be for God's glory, or which could harm some other person, or which would make us foolishly smug. In actual practice this virtue is about choosing the right way to do things. We should make it a sacred principle, then, admitting of no exceptions, that since we are working for God we will always choose God-related ways for carrying out our work, and see and judge things from Christ's point of view and not from a worldly-wise one; and not according to the feeble reasoning of our own mind either. That is how we can be prudent as serpents and simple as doves.

6. We should make a great effort to learn the following lesson, also taught by Christ: Learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart. We should remember that he himself said that by gentleness we inherit the earth. If we act on this we will win people over so that they will turn to the Lord. That will not happen if we treat people harshly or sharply. And we should also remember that humility is the route to heaven. A loving acceptance of it when we are humiliated usually raises us up, guiding us, as it were, step by step from one virtue to the next until we reach heaven.

7. This humility was very often recommended by Christ himself, by word and example, and the Congregation should make a great effort to master it. It involves three things: (1) to admit in all honesty that we deserve people's contempt; (2) to be glad if people notice our failings and treat us accordingly; (3) to conceal, if possible, because of our personal unworthiness, anything the Lord may achieve through us or in us. If that is not possible, though, to give the credit for it to God's mercy and to other people's merits. That is the basis of all holiness in the Gospels and a bond of the entire spiritual life. If a person has this humility everything good will come along with it. If he does not have it, he will lose any good he may have and will always be anxious and worried.

8. Christ said: Anyone who wants to come after me must deny himself and take up his cross each day; and St. Paul added, in the same vein: If you live according to your unspiritual nature you shall die, but if, by the Spirit, you mortify it, you shall live. Each one, therefore, should be most conscientious in accepting the overruling of his personal wishes and opinion, and in disciplining the gratification of each of his senses.

9. In the same spirit each one is to avoid overattachment to relatives. Christ indicated this when he refused to have as a disciple anyone who did not "hate" [Lk 14:26] his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. He promised a hundredfold in this world, and eternal life in the next. to all who left family for the sake of the gospel. All this goes to show what an obstacle to full Christian living blood relationships can be. Parents, of course, are to be loved in a spiritual way, as Christ showed.

10. Each one should show a great eagerness in that sort of openness to God's will which Christ and the saints developed so carefully. This means that we should not have a disproportionate liking for any ministry, person, or place, especially our native land, or for anything of that sort. We should even be ready and willing to leave all these gladly if our superior asks it, or even hints at it, and to put up, without complaint, with any disappointment or disruption this causes. accepting that in all this the superior has done well, in the Lord.

11. Christ, the Lord, wished to lead a communal style of life, so that he would be like other people and in that way win them over more easily to God, the Father. All of us, then, as far as possible, are to maintain uniformity in everything; we should look on this as the safeguard of good order and of the holiness which comes from being together. In the same way we should avoid anything out of the ordinary, as it can be the cause of jealousy and disagreement. All this applies not only to food, clothing, bedding, and so on, but also to methods of direction, teaching, preaching, exercising authority, and even spiritual practices. Only one thing is needed for this uniformity to be maintained constantly among us, namely, the most exact observance of our Rules and Constitutions.

12. Charitable behavior towards the neighbor should always be characteristic of us. We should try, then: (1) to behave towards others in the way we might reasonably expect to be treated by them; (2) to agree with others, and to accept everything in the Lord; (3) to put up with one another without grumbling; (4) to weep with those who weep; (5) to rejoice with those who rejoice; (6) to yield precedence to one another; (7) to be kind and helpful to one another in all sincerity; (8) finally, to be all things to all people so that we may win everyone for Christ. All of this is to be understood as in no way going against the commandments of God, or Church law, or the Rules or Constitutions of our Congregation.

13. If divine providence ever allows a house or member of the Congregation, or the Congregation itself, to be subjected to, and tested by, slander or persecution, we are to be extra careful to avoid any retaliation, verbal abuse, or complaint against the persecutors or slanderers. We should even praise and bless God, and joyfully thank him for it as an opportunity for great good, coming down from the Father of lights. We should even pray sincerely to God for those who harm us and, if the opportunity and possibility present themselves, should willingly help them remembering that Christ commanded us, and all the faithful, to do this: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for persecutors and slanderers. And to get us to do this more willingly and more easily he said that we would be blessed in doing so and that we should be joyful and glad about it since our reward is great in heaven. And, more importantly, he was gracious enough to be the first to act in this way towards others so as to be a model for us. Afterwards the apostles, disciples, and numberless Christians followed his example.

14. We should follow, as far as possible, all the gospel teaching already mentioned, since it is so holy and very practical. But some of it, in fact, has more application to us, particularly when it emphasizes simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal for souls. The Congregation should pay special attention to developing and living up to these five virtues so that they may be, as it were, the faculties of the soul of the whole Congregation, and that everything each one of us does may always be inspired by them.

15. Satan is always trying to divert us from living up to this teaching by suggesting his own, which is the exact opposite. Each one of us, then, should be fully aware of this, and completely ready to oppose and overcome all those things. This applies especially to those values which conflict more obviously with our Congregation, such as: (1) mere human prudence; (2) the desire for publicity; (3) always wanting everyone to give in to us and see things our way; (4) the pursuit of self-gratification in everything; (5) attaching no great importance to either God's honor or the salvation of others.

16. The evil spirit often disguises himself as an angel of light, and now and then tricks us by his illusions. All of us must be ever alert for these tricks and should pay particular attention to learning how to recognize and overcome them. Experience has shown that the most effective and surest remedy in such cases is to discuss them as soon as possible with those appointed by God for this. So, if anyone feels himself troubled by ideas which seem to be in some way misleading, or upset by acute anxiety or temptation, he should tell his superior, or a director appointed for this, as soon as possible so that the matter can be competently dealt with. And he should accept with approval, as coming from God's hand, whatever solution is suggested, and put it into practice with confidence and respect. Above all, he should take care not to discuss it in any way with anyone else, whether a member of the Congregation or not. Experience has shown that this worsens the problem, causes similar trouble for others, and can, in the long run, even do serious damage in the whole Congregation.

17. God has told everyone to help others as members of the same mystical body. We, then, in the Congregation should help one another. So, if anyone is aware of someone else being greatly troubled by temptation, or of having been guilty of a serious fault, it will be his responsibility, promptly and in the best way possible, to see that effective remedies be suitably applied at the right time by the superior. He must, of course, act from love and in the most practical way. Each one should accept it gratefully, as a means of spiritual progress, if his defects are pointed out to the superior in a spirit of love by someone who has noticed them outside of confession.

18. Our Lord came into the world to reestablish the reign of his Father in all persons. He won them back from the devil who had led them astray by the cunning deceit of a greedy desire for wealth, honor, and pleasure. Our loving Savior thought it right to fight his enemy with the opposite weapons, poverty, chastity, and obedience, which he continued to do right up to his death. The little Congregation of the Mission came into existence in the Church to work for the salvation of people, especially the rural poor. This is why it has judged that no weapons would be more powerful or more suitable than those which Eternal Wisdom so tellingly and effectively used. Every confrere, therefore, should keep to such poverty, chastity, and obedience faithfully and persistently, as understood in our Congregation. And in order that each one might persevere until death in observing these virtues more certainly, easily, and meritoriously, he should try to the best of his ability to carry out what is prescribed about them in the following chapters.


Chapter III. Poverty

1. Christ himself, the Lord of all, lived in poverty to such an extent that he had nowhere to lay his head. He formed his apostles and disciples, his co-workers in his mission, to live in the same sort of way so that individually they did not own anything. In that way they were freer to combat greed for wealth in a better and more practical way, a greed which is ruining almost the whole world. That is why each confrere must try, weak as he is, to imitate Christ in developing this virtue of poverty. We must all realize that it is the unbreachable rampart by which the Congregation, with the help of God's grace, will be defended.

2. Our ministry on missions could hardly be carried on if we lived in total poverty, since missions are to be given without charge. Nevertheless, we should try, in the Lord, to maintain poverty as an ideal and, as far as we can, in practice as well, especially as regards what is set out here.

3. Members of the Congregation, individually and collectively, should understand that, following the example of the first Christians, all our belongings are common property and are given out by the superior to individual members, such as food, clothes, books, furniture, and so on, according to the needs of each. We have all accepted poverty, and so, to avoid any deviation from it, no one may, without the superior's permission, dispose of any of this sort of property belonging to the Congregation, or pass it on to others.

4. No one, either, should have anything which the superior does not know about, or does not authorize, or which he is not prepared to give up at once if the superior says so, or even hints at it.

5. No one should use anything as though it were his own personal property. No one should give away or accept anything, or exchange or lend anything, or go looking elsewhere for something, without the superior's permission.

6. No one should take for himself what has been allotted to others or set aside for community use or abandoned. This goes for books as well. He should not pass on to someone else what has been assigned for his own use, without the superior's permission. Nor should he allow such things to deteriorate or get damaged through his own negligence.

7. No one should go in for useless or exotic things. Each one, too, should keep his needs within moderate limits, and curb his hankering after such things, so that his lifestyle as regards food, room, and bedding is that of a poor person. And in this connection, and with regard to everything else for that matter, he should be prepared to put up with even the worst facilities in the house, willing to feel the bite of poverty in his life.

8. And so that nothing which smacks of ownership to even the slightest degree may be seen among us, our rooms are not to be locked in such a way that they cannot be opened from the outside. And we should not have a safe in our rooms, or anything else locked with a private key, without the superior's express permission.

9. No one moving from one house to another is to take anything with him without the superior's permission. 10. The virtue of poverty can be infringed by even the undisciplined craving for personal belongings. For this reason each one should take particular care that this failing does not get a grip on him; and this includes wanting benefices, as being of spiritual value. No one, therefore, should covet any benefice or honor in the Church, under any pretext whatsoever.


Chapter IV. Chastity

1. Our Savior showed clearly how highly he rated chastity, and how anxious he was to get people to accept it, by the fact that he wanted to be born of an Immaculate Virgin through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, outside the normal course of nature. Christ allowed himself to be falsely accused of the most appalling charges, following his wish to be overwhelmed with disgrace. Yet he loathed unchastity so much that we never read of his having been in even the slightest way suspected of it, much less accused of it, even by his most determined opponents. For this reason it is very important for the Congregation to be strongly determined to possess this virtue. And we must always and everywhere uphold it in a clear and decisive way. This should be more obviously our practice since mission ministry almost all the time brings us into contact with lay men and women. Everyone, therefore, should be careful to take advantage to the best of his ability of every safeguard and precaution for keeping this chastity of body and mind intact.

2. In order to succeed in this, with the help of God, we should be very careful to control internal and external senses. We are never to speak to women in a one to one situation in unbecoming circumstances of either time or place. When speaking or writing to them we should completely avoid using any words, even spiritual terminology, which smack of affectionate feelings towards them. When hearing their confessions, or when speaking to them outside of confession, we should not go too close to them nor take our chastity for granted.

3. And since intemperance is, so to speak, the nursing mother of unchastity, each one should be moderate with regard to eating. We should, as far as possible, use ordinary food, and wine diluted with plenty of water.

4. Moreover, each of us needs to convince himself that it is not enough for missioners to have reached an above average level in this virtue. We must also try with every means available to prevent anyone having even the slightest suspicion of the opposite vice in any member of our Community. The mere suspicion of this, even though completely unfounded, would do more damage to the Congregation and its good work than the false accusation of any other wrongdoing, especially since it would result in our missions doing little or no good. Because of this we should use not merely every available ordinary means but even exceptional ones where necessary to prevent or remove this evil. For example, we should at times withdraw from some works, which in other respects are permissible and even good and holy, when in the judgment of the superior or director they seem to give reason for fearing such suspicion.

5. And since a lazy life is the enemy of virtues, especially of chastity, each of us is to avoid being idle and should always make good use of his time.


Chapter V. Obedience

1. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught us obedience by word and example. He wished to be submissive to the Most Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and other people in positions of authority, whether good or disagreeable. For this reason we should be completely obedient to every one of our superiors, seeing the Lord in them and them in the Lord. In the first place we should faithfully and sincerely reverence and obey our Holy Father, the pope. We should also humbly and consistently obey the most reverend bishops of the dioceses where the Congregation has houses. Furthermore we should not take on anything in parish churches without the approval of the parish priests.

2. Every one of the confreres should also obey the superior general promptly, without complaining, and unwaveringly in all matters not obviously sinful. This obedience is, to some extent, blind. It implies giving up our own opinion and wishes, not only with regard to what he specifically tells us but even with regard to his intention, since we believe that what he asks us to do is always for the best. We should always leave ourselves open to what he wants, like a file in the hands of a carpenter.

3. We are also to obey, in the same way, other lesser office-holders. Each one should also try to answer the call of the bell as Christ's voice, going as far as even to leave a letter unfinished as soon as the bell starts ringing.

4. The Congregation wants to develop its commitment to this virtue quickly and smoothly. It should therefore try, as best it can, to see to it that the good practice of neither asking for, nor refusing, anything is always kept up among us. Of course when someone knows that something does not agree with him, or that he needs something. he should think about it in the presence of the Lord and make up his mind whether or not to tell the superior about it, without worrying about which way his answer will go. In this frame of mind he should put the matter to the superior. He should be convinced that the superior's response indicates God's will for him, and when he receives his answer he should accept it as God's will.

5. Each week there is to be a meeting, with the day, time, and place agreed, at which all can hear the superior's arrangements for the running of the house and put to him any suggestions they may have.

6. No one is to order anyone else to do something, or to reprove anyone, unless the superior has asked him to do so or he already has the duty to do so because of his work.

7. When someone gets a refusal from one superior he must not go to another superior about the same matter without mentioning the refusal and the reason for it.

8. No one is to abandon any work he has been given, even if impeded by other business that needs to be done, without telling one of the superiors in time, so that someone else can be appointed if necessary.

9. No one is to meddle in anyone else's work or ministry. But if asked to help out, especially by someone in charge of something, no matter how minor, he should readily do so if possible. If the work, however, would take a lot of time, this is not to be done without the superior's permission.

10. No one is to go into anyone else's place of work without the superior's permission. If there is some need to do so, though, permission from the confrere in charge of the place is enough.

11. Letters can cause many problems, and not just minor ones. Because of this no one is to write, send, or open letters without the superior's permission. When a letter is written it should be submitted to the superior, and it will be up to him whether to send it or not.

12. Obedience should contribute to physical health. For this reason no one is to eat or drink outside the usual times without the superior's permission.

13. Without the general or special permission of the superior no one is to go into anyone else's room, or open the door until he has heard "Come in," and while the two of them are together the door should be left open.

14. Without the permission of the same superior no one is to bring anyone else, especially anyone not a member of the Congregation, into his room.

15. No one is to write, translate, or publish a book without the explicit approval and permission of the superior general.

16. None of our lay brothers should want to study Latin or wish to become clerics. Their role is that of Martha. If any of them feel such an inclination, they should try to get rid of it at once as something suggested by the evil spirit, who perhaps is aiming at their ruin by disguising pride as zeal. They also need the superior general's explicit permission to learn reading and writing.


Chapter VI. Matters concerning the sick

1. One of the principal things Christ did was to visit and care for the sick, especially the poor. He very often recommended this to those he was sending into his vineyard. For this reason the Congregation should have a special care for helping and visiting the sick. whether outside or inside the house. We should help them physically and spiritually, as far as is practical, especially on missions. As well as this we should pay particular attention to setting up and visiting the Confraternity of Charity.

2. Wherever we visit a sick person, inside or outside the house, we should look on this person as Christ rather than as just a human being, since Christ said that he regarded any service done to such a person as being done to himself. For this reason on such occasions we should be considerate and speak in a low voice. And what we say ought to console the sick person, put him in good humor, and help anyone else who is there.

3. Members of our own community who are sick should remind themselves that they are not kept in bed, or in the hospital, just to be nursed and brought back to health by medical help. They are also there, as if in a pulpit, to witness publicly to Christian virtues, especially patience and acceptance of the divine will, at least by their example. In this way they can make Christ present to those looking after them and to visitors. And through their sickness they themselves can grow in virtue. Obedience is one of the virtues most needed in the sick. They should be completely obedient to doctors and chaplains, as well as to the nurse and anyone else involved in their care.

4. To prevent any abuse creeping in in connection with the sick, all who feel unwell should notify the superior, the person in charge of health, or the nurse. No one is to take any medicine, call in our doctor, or consult another one without the superior's permission.

Common Rules - Chapters VI - XII

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