Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 4
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
A Lenten Journey with
the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis
These Reflections which take the Rule of the Third Order as their springboard, were originally published in Lent 2012 are being republished during Easter 2020 as a way of deepening our faith during the Covid19 pandemic which is affecting the whole world
From the Principles:
The Object (continued)
The Third Order of the Society consists of those who, while following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to dedicate their lives under a definite discipline and vows. They may be female or male, married or single, ordained or lay.
From St Francis:
Those who wish to join the Brotherhood
If anyone by divine inspiration wishes to embrace this life and comes to our brothers, let him be kindly received by them. And if he remains constant in his resolve to accept our life, the brothers are to be careful not to meddle in his temporal affairs, but they are to present him as soon as possible to their own minister. Let the minister receive him kindly and encourage him and diligently explain to him the nature of our life. After this, if he is willing and able to do it in conscience and is without legal impediment, he is to sell whatever he has and set about giving the sum to the poor. (Rule of 1221, Chapter 11)
One of the great challenges churches face is that of remaining open to everyone. Becoming ‘closed’ is a natural consequence of people joining any organisation. A group of like-minded people band together to do good in a community and prosper for a season but there often comes a moment when the desire to maintain the group, and the energy that activity consumes, sucks the life out of the mission of the group.
When we allow this to happen in the church we become a club for members instead of, in Archbishop Temple’s words, ‘A society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members’.
From the beginning one of the attractions for me of the Franciscan life is its comprehensiveness. At its best it is eminently ‘unclubbable’ and it reflects the whole spectrum of the people of God’s making – not just ‘female or male, married or single, ordained or lay’ but also implicit in this black or white, gay or straight, privileged or under-educated, divorced or celibate. The list of those who are welcome can be, and is, added to endlessly.
[It has been one of the great joys of my life, four years after writing these words, to be called to serve in the Parish of Felixstowe whose motto is ‘Open to God, Open to All.’ Our daily challenge is to live these words.]
To be as open as this will always be a challenge. There are people who own the same Rule as I do with whom I find it difficult to be in fellowship, and I am certain that, at times, I am someone who is very uncomfortable to be around! But being as open as possible is also enriching. I am a member of this loving caring community not because I am a priest, nor because I am male, nor married, nor because I have a pale complexion but because I am Andrew; someone beloved of God who values the presence and support of diverse sisters and brothers on the journey home.
The Third Order does not always get this right (it is all too easy to slip into the habit of valuing some people over others) but if each of us, Franciscan or no, can keep this comprehensiveness in the front of our mind we have begun the first steps of obeying the call of all Christians ’to make our Lord known and loved everywhere’.
Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ,
that in its flame we may love you
with all our heart,
with all our mind,
with all our soul,
and with all our strength,
and our neighbours as ourselves,
so that, keeping your commandments,
we may glorify you,
the giver of all good gifts.
(Kontakion for Love, Eastern Orthodox Church)
Imagine you are in the church were you usually worship. In your mind’s eye look at those worshipping with you and ask God to give you a deeper love for those brothers and sisters whom you value least.
When we finally arrive home God will not call us by a title or a condition of life but by name. Spend some time in quiet prayer listening to the way in which God calls your name.
99 Words to Breathe:
Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, ‘Yu, u nobuntu’; ‘Hey, he or she has Ubuntu.’ This means they are generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. They share what they have. It also means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong in a bundle of life…. It is not ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong.’ I participate, I share.
(Desmond Tutu – Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town,human rights, peace and reconciliation advocate)
‘The Principles’ are from the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis – this version amended for corporate reading by Andrew Dotchin
‘The Words of Francis’ are from ‘Through the Year with Francis of Assisi’ selected and translated by Murray Bodo – copyright © Collins Fount 1988
Prayers are from ‘The Book of a Thousand Prayers’ compiled by Angela Ashwin – copyright © Zondervan 1996
‘You have breath for no more than 99 Words. What would they be?’ were collected by Liz Gray – copyright © DLT 2011
These Reflections, ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Christ’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged