Franciscanism for non-Franciscans

After a brief foray into using the Book of Common Prayer as a basis for my daily prayer, I’m now back on Celebrating Daily Prayer (CDP) – a reworking of Celebrating Common Prayer (CCP) using texts from the Church of England’s Common Worship: Daily Prayer (CW:DP). (See these previous posts: Office gossip; My old addiction.)

CCP, CW:DP and CDP all have their roots in the Daily Office of the Society of Saint Francis, an Anglican religious order. In addition to those who take full vows as friars and sisters, there is a “Third Order” for those, “married or single, ordained or lay”, who feel called to a way of life in accordance with Franciscan principles but without taking the full vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, it seems to me that the Principles of the Third Order present an attractive vision of the Christian life more generally.

The Principles set out three “aims”, three “ways of service” and three “notes” of the Order. These are as follows:

The three aims of the Order:

  • To make our Lord known and loved everywhere.
  • To spread the spirit of love and harmony.
  • To live simply.

The three ways of service:

  • Prayer.
  • Study.
  • Service.

The three notes of the Order:

  • Humility.
  • Love.
  • Joy.

A couple of thoughts on the “three aims”.

The first, to make our Lord known and loved everywhere.

The Order is founded on the conviction that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God; that true life has been made available to us through his Incarnation and Ministry; by his Cross and Resurrection; and by the sending of his Holy Spirit.

Our Order believes that it is the commission of the church to make the gospel known to all, and therefore accepts the duty of bringing others to know Christ, and of praying and working for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The primary aim for us … is therefore to make Christ known.

What I find attractive about this is the emphasis on making Christ known. Our task isn’t to convert people: that is the work of the Holy Spirit, and to turn it into our job can lead to manipulation and a failure to demonstrate the love that “allows others to be other”.

Rather, our task is simply to make Christ known through our word and example. The effects of that we then leave to the Holy Spirit, “who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession, V).

The second, to spread the spirit of love and harmony. Now that could sound a bit hippyish and wishy-washy, but this is tempered by the recognition that truly working for justice and peace in this world will result in “scorn and persecution”. But what I found particularly interesting was the identification of working for justice with the virtue of chastity:

Our chief object is to reflect that openness to all which was characteristic of Jesus. This can only be achieved in a spirit of chastity, which sees others as belonging to God and not as a means of self-fulfilment.

The essence of unchastity is not lust, but treating people as objects, as “means of self-fulfilment”. It’s perfectly possible to do that to people you don’t “fancy” in the slightest…

Finally, to live simply. This is the bit that I find most difficult and challenging. To quote Bill Bailey (when he was explaining why he is a “materialistic hippy”): I like stuff. Going, selling all I have and giving to the poor is not exactly my style. To be forced to choose between my iPod and my iPod Touch would be painful enough.

The Principles describe this aim in terms of simplicity and generosity rather than a requirement to live in absolute poverty:

Although we possess property and earn money to support ourselves and our families, we show ourselves true followers of Christ and of Saint Francis by our readiness to live simply and to share with others. … Personal spending is limited to what is necessary for our health and well-being and that of our dependants.  We aim to stay free from all attachment to wealth, keeping ourselves constantly aware of the poverty in the world and its claim on us.

This isn’t based on a romanticising of poverty or an ascetic hatred of material things, however:

We are concerned more for the generosity that gives all, rather than for the value of poverty in itself. In this way we reflect in spirit the acceptance of Jesus’ challenge to sell all, give to the poor, and follow him.

So: make the Lord known through our words and works; be peacemakers; live in simplicity and generosity; and do all those things through prayer, study and service, and in a spirit of humility, love and joy (not least, it has to be said, the joy of knowing we attempt all this as forgiven people with nothing to earn and nothing to prove). Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

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2 Responses to Franciscanism for non-Franciscans

  1. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Office developments

  2. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Book review: The Daily Office SSF

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