Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 29
Monday after 5th 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 First Note – Humility (continued)
Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God. It is the basis of all Christian virtues. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, “No spiritual house can stand for a moment except on the foundation of humility.” It is the first condition of a joyful life within any community.
From St Francis:
We Should Appropriate Nothing to Ourselves
St. Francis used to say things like this to his intimates: When you are at prayer and the Lord visits you with a new consolation, you should, before coming away from prayer, raise your eyes to heaven, join your hands and say, ‘You have sent this sweet consolation from heaven, Lord to me an unworthy sinner. I now give it back, so that you may keep it for me, for I feel like a thief of your treasure.’ And say also, ‘Lord, take your good gift from me in this world and keep it for me in the world to come.’ Thus should we speak in prayer. And when you come away from prayer, you should appear to be only a poor sinner, and not someone who has just received a new grace. For you can lose something precious for the sake of a small gratification of your vanity and easily provoke him who gave not to give again. (Celano, Second Life, 99)
Some readers may know that one of my favourite prayers, but one of the hardest for me to remember to pray, is a few short words Bishop Duncan Buchanan used to ask the clergy of Johannesburg to make into a daily mantra.
today make me humble,
and if you can’t,
Humility is perhaps the most difficult of the spiritual graces to acquire. It is one of those things which, like our reflection in a pool of water, when we reach out to grab it we find we come away with a fistful of nothing. And working at being humble (à la Uriah Heep) does not seem to help either! C.S. Lewis in his marvellous conversations between a senior demon and his apprentice in their attempts to lead a new Christian into sin perhaps expresses our condition well:
Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.
(The Screwtape Letters)
The exhortation to a Humility (which) confesses that we have nothing that we have not received shows us a way past the false humility which leads to pride and eventually humiliation. It echoes Jesus’ words to the faithful servants at the end of a hard day’s labour on behalf of their Lord and Master:
Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” (Luke 10.7-10)
The opportunity for humble service should be reward enough for those for whom Christ died…..
Compared to His sacrifice all our deeds pale into insignificance and any righteousness to which we may lay claim is indeed like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64.6). We have no possessions of our own; each of us is totally dependent upon God. Realising this Francis was set free to choose ‘Lady Poverty’ as his bride and find true joy. Lady Poverty was for him, and must become for us, the one and only thing which we can truly claim as our own!
When we see that ‘all things come from you and of your own do we give you’ and learn that any ability we have is the gift of God, then pride will flee from us. When we finally assume the mantle of worthless slave then we will realise that we are truly ‘all in this together’. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of heaven.
Learning humility we will have the freedom to rejoice for we will be living lives with, literally, no strings attached. Finally letting go of our self-sufficiency and independence, we become free to live lives overflowing with joy, our chief possession and our peculiar gift to those around us.
Christ our companion,
you came not to humiliate the sinner
but to disturb the righteous.
Welcome us when we are put to shame,
but challenge our smugness,
that we may truly turn from what is evil,
and be freed even from our virtues,
in your name.
Which area of my life do I need to hand over to God before I am humiliated?
If self-sufficiency and independence prevents humility what one thing do I need to stop doing or to give away to let joy bloom in my life?
99 Words to Breathe:
‘I was here’; from Lascaux to Banksy, from the Pyramids to Mt Rushmore the desire to leave a mark seems ubiquitous. We rail against eternity, as if time could be frozen, like Canute unable to stem the inevitable tide of process and metamorphosis.
What arrogance, what futility.
And yet; making a mark somehow verifies and makes tangible our sense of being, our singularity, our consciousness. The act of making reassures us of our very existence and in doing so heals our solitude and loneliness. To know the world and to be known by it in an almost biblical sense.
Peter Randall-Page – sculptor
‘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