Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 39
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 Three Notes
The humility, love and joy which are to mark our lives are all God given graces. They can never be obtained by human effort. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
From St Francis:
St Francis Welcomes Sister Death
When he was dying, St Francis made clear to his brothers the uniqueness of each person’s response to Christ. He covered the wound in his side with his right hand, as if to preserve the seal of his own unique response, and he said, ‘I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours to do.’ (Celano, Second Life, 214)
If we are not careful the Principle for today can become a counsel of despair. After all if humility, love and joy are God given graces what is the use of my struggling to achieve them? Either the Holy Spirit will give them to me or not. If I am on the receiving end of these graces – bully for me but I get no credit for it. If on the other hand I am not so blessed what is the use of me struggling after them?
To think along these lines is to miss the point. The graces of humility, love and joy are not some sort of sanctified politeness, care and happiness. Anyone can attempt, and even should determine to live a life with those characteristics. They are however only the first steps on the road to humility, love and joy.
Politeness is about considering others before our selves
– humility expects us to deny ourselves completely.
Care means we cherish those who are close to us or who value us
– love challenges us to value the undervalued, to welcome the rejected,and embrace our enemies.
Happiness is dependent on the circumstances of life and the mood of others
– joy is present even when the world is clothed in gloom and darkness and has been emptied of hope.
When seen in such a light it becomes easier to understand that these three notes are gifts beyond our own abilities. No one can live in this way save they offer themselves to become an instrument of God’s grace. It is unnatural to be humble and always put ourselves at the back of the queue. It is exhausting to be forever pouring out love only to find ourselves spurned and abused by the objects of our affection. It is laughable to think that we can with joy ‘always look on the bright side of life’ whilst going through our own personal crucifixions.
But, as with the prophecy of the High Priest at the trial of Jesus, (John 19.12-14), the irony of the theme song from The Life of Brian is replaced by the grace of God when we are possessed of the divine gifts of a true humility, a deep love and an everlasting joy. If we rely on our own strength alone, politeness, care and happiness will vanish every time we are challenged by the world in which we live. We will find ourselves forever beaten down by life and never transformed into the people God intends us to become.
How then are we to receive these gifts of the Holy Spirit which will finally set our feet on the path home? As for all gifts they require space in which they may be cherished and bloom. We have learnt that we worship a generous profligate God. A God who stands open-armed on the cross in great humility, love and yes, even joy asking us to make space in our lives for Him. Why is it, I ask myself, that I ever hesitate to run into that loving embrace?
If we are ever fooled into thinking that our journey is about keeping a rule and obeying a set of instructions we will have failed to receive the full grace which Christ won for us at Calvary. We will instead settle for the second best of the ‘feel good’ behaviours of politeness, care and happiness instead of the deeply enriching and transforming charisms of Humility, Love and Joy.
Francis with his last breath calls us to go about doing that to which God has called us. The first step of that work is to empty ourselves of our selves so that we may have the space to receive all the gifts with which God wants to endow us and then, armoured with divine grace we can step out to do whatever the One who loves us best asks of us.
One day, Lord, I will be with you.
I will stand in your presence,
tired of wandering,
weary of the inconsequential.
Then I want to bathe in innocence
and experience the freedom of the children of God.
In will lay aside my failures
like old clothing.
Then I will know what holiness is:
to be chosen,
to be near you,
and to survive the fire of your purity.
Say ‘thank you’ for what you have received from God by doing at least one anonymous act of charity.
99 Words to Breathe:
These are the last words ever written under the sun, ever uttered, the last words because there is no one left to hear them, read them.
Only the dead in the darkness of the past.
Was it worth it?
Each of you tell me before the stars and the sun blacken out.
Was it worth it?
Was there enough love for all the pain?
Enough green for all the tears?
Enough you and me and the child?
Only no can we ask and wonder if we were patient enough, worthy enough, under the sun as it does of love.
Ariel Dorfman – novelist, poet, playwright, human rights activist
‘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