St Francis? Wasn’t he the one who preached to the birds, tamed a wolf, gave his robe to a leper and also gave away a fortune he would have inherited from his wealthy father? In other words, someone whose life experience is almost totally unrelated to ours in the UK in the 21st century, even more so since he lived in Italy back in the 1200s. Life was so much simpler then; people in those days believed those far-fetched stories about Francis and the animals, and they willingly provided Francis and his followers with food in their begging bowls. It’s very different now. We take these stories with a spoonful of salt and think twice before giving anything to those who beg or even before buying The Big Issue, if we buy it at all.
So what am I doing, writing this article about following Francis in this day and age? I’m doing it because I’m challenged by the radical discipleship of Francis who took seriously much of Jesus’ teaching which we find in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospels. About three years ago I became a member of the Franciscan Third Order. A brief summary of Anglican Franciscan orders:
1. The First Order consists of men and women who take vows and live in their own communities but are out and about in the world ‘doing good’!
2. The Second Order consists of women who are enclosed and live a life of prayer (mainly).
3. The Third Order, also known as Tertiaries, consists of men and women, married and single, ordained and not, who live our everyday lives according to the Principles of the Order but with flexibility.
What does this mean in practice? We follow a personal rule or pattern of life which is probably much the same as that of many of you who are reading this. We pray, read the Bible, join others in worship, support those in need, give financially to support the ministry and outreach of the church, get involved in the life of our local community, and so on. The Principles include following the example of Jesus as stated in John 12:24-26; Three Aims; Three Ways of Service; Three Notes of the Order.
1. The Three Aims: to make our Lord known and loved everywhere; to spread the spirit of love and harmony; to live simply.
2. The Three Ways of Service: Prayer; Study; Work.
3. The Three Notes: Humility; Love; Joy.
What drew me to join this Order? I felt the need to be accountable to a group who build bridges, not walls, with those whose experiences and views may differ from my own. (While on this topic, I should mention that Francis lived at the time of the Crusades which he strongly opposed. Instead, he had courteous dialogue with Muslim leaders and those on both sides respected the other, although they agreed to differ.) Issues of justice and reconciliation are important and we try to work for fairness in our society. Franciscans aim to live simply, resisting as far as possible the materialistic pressures of our consumer society to have the latest/biggest items, but also making the most of modern technology to share ideas.
The Three Notes are a particular challenge. Humility, love and joy are fruit of the Holy Spirit and are no easier for Franciscans to cultivate than for anyone else. We can be proud and grumpy too! Yet Francis was known for these positive qualities and we have much for which to be humbly and joyfully thankful.
I’ve run out of space but do talk to me if you’d like to learn more.
Mary SalterTags: Magazine