Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 11
Monday after 2nd 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 Third Aim:
To live simply
The first Christians surrendered completely to our Lord and recklessly gave all that they had, offering the world a new vision of a society in which a fresh attitude was taken towards material possessions. This vision was renewed by Saint Francis when he chose Lady Poverty as his bride, desiring that all barriers set up by privilege based on wealth should be overcome by love. This is the inspiration for the third aim of the Society, to live simply.
From St Francis:
Choosing Holy Poverty
Never am I so ashamed than when I find someone more miserably poor than I, for I’ve chosen Holy Poverty for my lady, my delight, my spiritual and material treasure. (Mirror of Perfection, 17)
In September 2011 I spent a week with other colleagues at Sarum College in Salisbury learning how to transform conflict in churches with the good people of Bridge Builders. It was a week that brought many changes to my life and many mood swings during the week – some expected, some surprising.
The most surprising were the tears which came to me at the end of an exercise called The Privilege Walk. During it each person was asked to take a varying number of steps (from a common starting line) depending on their race or gender, wealth or title, education or age. By the end we were no longer in a straight line and were seen to be not as homogeneous a group as we had first thought. I was quite comforted to find that I was towards the back of the line (I have an incredible aversion to the ‘class system’) but then was humbled when we were asked to turn around, face our starting point, and think about all those who helped us travel the distance we had come.[i]
My tears were for my father, the youngest son of a crofter in the Scottish Highlands, who left school at 14, joined the Royal Navy at 17, never completed any formal education yet ended up one of the premier members of the Submarine Service. He saw all four of his children into tertiary education and independence before dying at an early age due to radiation induced cancer. ‘Thank you’ were words too small for me to say at that moment.
There is no shame in status or class or privilege; after all we cannot help but be anything other than the children of our parents. Members of the Third Order are often amused when reminded that the renewal of the Franciscan charism in the Church of England was brought to birth in the cigar-smoke wreathed, leather arm-chaired comfort of a gentleman’s club in London!
Status privilege and wealth are, of themselves, neutral. Francis, and Jesus, had many wealthy people amongst his followers who used the goods of this world to help save the souls of many. It is only when privilege and wealth are used to create barriers rather than demolish them that we drift away from our true love, ‘Lady Poverty’. When this happens we find ourselves leading complex and confusing lives instead of simple ones where our mission is clear and our motives are pure.
In some respects, though it may be a physically harder life, living in poverty without any possessions at all is an easier vocation to follow. In our community there have been members who have, on occasion, tested our love and patience by giving everything away…. and then depended on the rest of the family to support them! Choosing absolute poverty can build as many barriers as excessive wealth.
In our world there will always be inequalities of wealth, it is how that wealth is used which will prove whether we really love God AND our brothers and sisters. In the United States, led by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, the super wealthy are being encouraged to learn again the lessons of philanthropism of their forebears. Would that all those who had more than they need would learn this lesson?
….. To be honest though, all of us who have the wherewithal to be able to read these words already have more than we need…….
Make us worthy, Lord,
to serve our fellow human beings throughout the world
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands this day their daily bread,
and, by our understanding love,
give peace and joy.
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta – adapted)
What would I need to change to ‘Live simply so that others may simply live’?
Which barriers can I break down using the gift of my possessions?
99 Words to Breathe:
Above all try to be kind.
I have no doubt kindness is the greatest virtue.
You can find a million reasons in any one day to dislike people, to feel resentment or even loathing. But to be kind is to protect yourself from the worst parts of your own nature. You may fear that to face people with an open heart leaves you vulnerable, open to abuse.
I rather doubt it.
The way of the hard face is much harder.
Be kind to others, especially the more difficult people you encounter,
and that kindness will come back to you.
Journalist, writer, broadcaster
‘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
[i] The Privilege Walk is a great exercise to begin Unconscious Bias Training but does require briefing and de-briefing as it raises many emotions. If you want to use it please follow the instructions carefully and, most important, do the exercise yourself before asking anyone else to be a part of it.