In Chapter XV of the Earlier Rule, St. Francis forbids riding horseback. Why? How could this passage be relevant for us, men and women of the 21st century?

Nowadays it is difficult to imagine going from one place to another, for work, for pastoral reasons or simply to get away, without using some means of transportation, like a bicycle, a car, a bus, a train or a plane. How should we interpret this passage from the Earlier Rule?

I command all my brothers, both cleric and lay, that when they go through the world or dwell in places they in no way keep any animal either with them, in the care of another, or in any other way. Let it not be lawful for them to ride horseback unless they are compelled by sickness or a great need [1].

To answer these questions, we must remember that Chapter XV of the Earlier Rule is complementary to the previous chapter, that is, Francis is continuing to instruct the Friars Minor on “how” the brothers should go through the world[2].
The command not to ride horseback is not a simple call to material poverty, but a call to humility and peace, since the horse was a sign of power, war and wealth.
Let it not be lawful for them to ride horseback unless they are compelled [to]… It is true that as friars we will never drive a Ferrari, but it is also true that in certain situations we need to use good tools, for example: a car, a PC, or just an adequate Wi-Fi connection for the sake of the mission. When it is a matter of bringing the Good News to the men and women of today, I believe we need to follow the example of Maximilian KOLBE and use the best means, without being excessive about it[3].
We often try to save money where we should not.  Shouldn’t we invest in pastoral ministry, or in the formation of the friars? Shouldn’t we invest in our friaries as places of fraternal meeting, or are they just places where we sleep? Sometimes I get the feeling that we use the word “poverty” only when it suits us; we display it as our own “war horse.” Meanwhile, we live in a schizophrenic state, torn between worn sandals and the latest iPhone.

St. Francis of Assisi writes:

Consider, O human being, in what great excellence the Lord God has placed you, for He created and formed you to the image of His beloved Son according to the body and to His likeness according to the Spirit. And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you. And even the demons did not crucify Him, but you, together with them, have crucified Him and are still crucifying Him by delighting in vices and sins. In what, then, can you boast? Even if you were so skillful and wise that you possessed all knowledge, knew how to interpret every kind of language, and to scrutinize heavenly matters with skill: you could not boast in these things. For, even though someone may have received from the Lord a special knowledge of the highest wisdom, one demon knew about heavenly matters and now knows more about those of earth than all human beings. In the same way, even if you were more handsome and richer than everyone else, and even if you worked miracles so that you put demons to flight: all these things are contrary to you; nothing belongs to you; you can boast in none of these things. But we can boast in our weaknesses and in carrying each day the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ [4].

Until the next reflection, dear brother reader,

Friar Elio J. ROJAS

[1] Earlier Rule XV; FF 41.
[2] Cf. C. Vaiani, Storia e teologia dell’esperienza spirituale di Francesco d’Assisi, Milan 2013, 128.
[3] One day a bishop was visiting Father Kolbe’s workshops and, pointing with his finger at a powerful rotary press, he asked with mild irony: “What would St. Francis do if he saw these expensive machines?” “He would roll up the sleeves of his habit, Excellency, and go to work with us,” replied Father Kolbe. (Un día visitaba un prelado los talleres del P. Kolbe y, señalando con su dedo una potente rotativa, preguntó con suave ironía: -¿Qué haría San Francisco si viera estas costosas máquinas? -Se arremangaría el hábito, monseñor, y se pondría a trabajar con nosotros, respondió el P. Kolbe) [cf. G. Grieco; San Maximiliano M. Kolbe (1894-1941). Siguiendo las huellas de San Francisco por los caminos del siglo XX, en Selecciones de Franciscanismo, vol. XI, no. 33 (1082) 379-382].
[4] Admonitions V; FF 153-4.