Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 8
Thursday after 1st Sunday of Lent
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 Second Aim:
To spread the spirit of love and harmony
The Order sets out, in the name of Christ, to break down barriers between people and to seek equality for all. We accept as our second aim the spreading of a spirit of love and harmony among all people. We are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality because of distinctions of race, sex, colour, class, creed, status or education.
From St Francis:
Admonition for Peacemakers
The peace which you proclaim with words must dwell even more abundantly in your hearts. Do not provoke others to anger or give scandal. Rather, let your gentleness draw them to peace, goodness, and concord. This is our vocation: to heal wounds, to bind what is broken, to bring home those who are lost.
(Legend of the Three Companions, 58)
The Rt Revd David Russell, sometime Bishop of Grahamstown and a fierce opponent of Apartheid recounts how, when things were beginning to change in South Africa his young son asked him, ‘Daddy, when Apartheid is over will you still have a job?’
Spreading a spirit of love and harmony is about more than preaching nice words from the pulpit but it is also more than being at the front of the protest march. Having done both I know the challenges each option brings.
When I was a priest in the wrong end of Johannesburg in the years before Apartheid finally fell I faced a decision each Sunday.
Do I ask people to be sympathetic to the plight of those living on the streets and camping in caves carved out of the mine dumps of the city of Gold, or do I rant from the pulpit about the inhuman policies of a supposedly Christian government?
If I chose to talk of the hungry our food basket in church was full to overflowing and helped feed as many as 1 000 homeless people a day.
If I spoke against the government the congregation was noticeably less generous in its care for the poorest of this world.
I felt a little like Dom Helder Camara who complained, ‘When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist!’
Yes, we must protest and fight against all manner of injustice but to do this in the spirit of love and harmony is a challenge. After all Christ died for the proud, the ignorant, and the prejudiced as much as he died for those who are the objects of their hatred and venom.
Today’s Principle reminds us that our aim should not be to take sides in a debate, no matter how satisfying that may be or how righteous it may make us fee, but to break down barriers between people.
This is somewhat more difficult as it means we have to talk to both sides, be regarded with suspicion by everyone, and have no home of our own.
This is not easy but we can take comfort in the knowledge that this is a fairly Christlike place to be.
For me the key on this journey is how I cope with my personal anger at injustice. It is all too easy for me to have a rant for righteousness sake and dismiss those whom I proclaim to be proud, ignorant, and prejudiced. When I do this, in the moment when I feel I have stood for the truth, I find that instead of breaking down barriers I have burnt bridges. I have found that I need to learn every day to transform my anger into compassion. If I do not how can I ever truly know the forgiveness of the One who on the cross said, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’?
Isaiah reminds us that the suffering servant will not ‘break a bruised reed or extinguish a dimly burning wick’. This is a difficult a path to follow but it is a holy road to travel. This is the same road where valleys are raised up and hills made low and, if we can but do everything in a spirit of love and harmony, we will become road builders, people who prepare the Way of the Lord.
Holy God, whose name is not honoured
where the needy are not served,
and the powerless are treated with contempt:
may we embrace our neighbour
with the same tenderness
that we ourselves require;
so your justice may be fulfilled in love,
through Jesus Christ.
How am I countering ignorance between people?
Which things do I boast about and use to set me apart from others?
What prejudices are there within me and around me?
How have I challenged them and exposed them?
99 Words to Breathe:
And maybe ninety-nine times Love should be the simplest last expression of all of us sounding out the sole syllable of human essence and saying within it the sum of our experience, of our lifetime’s knowledge of what great or small kindness, what desire, forgiveness, understanding and acceptance we received or gave or felt, and in saying Love so know our failures and that these were loved too and forgiven too and so on one last breath tentatively venture all yearning and gratitude letting the sound travel in the hopelessly enduring hope of its somewhere being heard: Love.
novelist and playwright
‘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