Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 38
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 Note – Joy (continued)
This joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardship, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong.
From St Francis:
Anyone who comes to the brothers, friend or enemy, thief or robber, is to be received with kindness. And wherever the brothers are and anywhere they meet other brothers, they are to greet one another wholeheartedly and lovingly, and honour one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4.9). And they are to be careful not to look outwardly sad, like gloomy hypocrites, but they are to show themselves happy in the Lord (Philippians 4.4), and cheerful and truly gracious. (Rule of 1221, Chapter VII)
Food always, clothes sometimes, money never!
This was the motto worked out by a group of clergy from a wide variety of churches in the middle of Johannesburg. It came in response to the incredible need of homeless people living on the streets of Africa’s richest city who spent their days moving from Vicarage to Manse to Presbytery forever in need of succour. For the most part it worked well, many people were helped and I still use these words as a rule of thumb for helping the indigent today. However I do admit to occasionally giving in on the money front – normally requested for mobile phone talk-time often spent on a packet of fags!
How do we, in the middle of degrading poverty and despair, bring a message of joy? Oh and while we do that be full of serenity and confidence as well!
It is not easy. Despite the victory of the Cross the world remains a place wracked by pain and unwarranted suffering. Suffering, despite the well-intentioned counsel of some, can never be God’s will. God does not choose to bring suffering. After all even those who ‘deserve’ to suffer find a special place in Paradise (Luke 23.40-42). For me the idea that somehow God has a deep anger at my misdeeds that can only be ‘satisfied’ by wreaking vengeance on the broken body of his Son on the cross is deeply repulsive, unjust, and does not truly understand the paradox of the Crucified God (cf Jürgen Moltmann).
But when suffering is offered freely, when I choose pain because I love others, when I learn that is in offering my weak broken life that I am at my strongest, then there is the possibility of redemption and joy.
The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Hebrews 12.1-3)
‘Who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame,’. Wow! Some translations of this passage use the word ‘scorn’ to describe how Jesus felt about the cross. The cross is incredibly hard and a world changing moment which we will remember with awe and thankfulness over the next few days but, in the plan of God worth so much more because it is also the regal road to joy!
Francis’ story of Perfect Joy comes back to remind me again that the only thing I have to give back to my generous god is my unwarranted suffering. Perfect Joy is mine when I finally have something of my own to give back to the One who loves me best. This is what I have to lay before my King; darkness and difficulty and disappointment, weakness, insults, hardship, and persecutions. A meagre offering perhaps – but these are the gifts He treasures most and they carry their own reward; union with God and the divine gift of joy!
pouring yourself out,
love drained to the last drop,
we adore you.
kneeling as a servant,
washing the disciples’ feet,
shocking in your humility,
we adore you.
taking bread and wine,
crystal-clear in your awareness
of the work you must complete,
we adore you.
falling on your face to pray,
uncontainable in your broken heart,
we adore you.
How do I celebrate in difficult times?
What hardship will I give to God today?
Listen to this song of failure and determination to continue by the Priest in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass
99 Words to Breathe:
Sondra Horton Fraleigh – founder and director Eastwest Somatics Institute
‘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