Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

A Commentary on the Principles

Principles of the Third Order


Pope Innocent III grants Francis permission to preach penance

Pope Innocent III grants Francis permission to preach penance

Day One — The Object

Jesus said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.’

I have decided to follow Christ. He leads me to the cross, the place of death and new life. What areas of my life am I being called to die to? What must I relinquish? Who is the master of my life?

Day Two — The Object (continued)

In the example of his own sacrifice, Jesus reveals the secret of bearing fruit. In surrendering himself to death, he becomes the source of new life. Lifted from the earth on the cross, he draws all people to himself. Clinging to life causes life to decay; the life that is freely given is eternal.

The fruit of life is its results. My fruit comes from dying to self which allows the Spirit to be at work within me. What is the fruit of my life? How can I bear more fruit in the church, among my neighbours, in my Third Order community?

Day Three — The Object (continued)

Jesus calls those who would serve him to follow his example and choose for themselves the same path of renunciation and sacrifice. To those who hear and obey, he promises union with God. The object of the Society of Saint Francis is to build a community of those who accept Christ as their Lord and Master, and are dedicated to him in body and spirit. They surrender their lives to him and to the service of his people.  The Third Order of the Society consists of those who, while following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to dedicate their lives under a definite discipline and vows. They may be female or male, married or single, ordained or lay.

Francis’ life provides an example of union with God. What difference has my Franciscan calling made in my life? I have vowed to keep my Rule. How do I fall short in observing the spirit of discipline and commitment?

Day Four — The Object (continued)

When Saint Francis encouraged the formation of The Third Order he recognised that many are called to serve God in the spirit of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience in everyday life (rather than in a literal acceptance of these principles as in the vows of the Brothers and Sisters of the First and Second Orders). The Rule of The Third Order is intended to enable the duties and conditions of daily living to be carried out in this spirit.

We are called to simplicity in the spirit of poverty, to chastity in or out of marriage in the spirit of celibacy, and obedience to our directors. It is a challenging calling. But I am not alone. How does meeting together with my Third Order group give me encouragement and strength?

Day Five — The First Aim of the Order

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 life of Francis drew people to the Lord. His faith was shown by his preaching and his lifestyle. Are people attracted to Christ by my life? In the Lord’s Prayer, I pray, ‘Your Kingdom come’. In what ways am I helping to fulfil this prayer?

Day Six — The First Aim (continued)

The primary aim for us as Tertiaries is therefore to make Christ known. This shapes our lives and attitudes to reflect the obedience of those whom our Lord chose to be with him and sent out as his witnesses. Like them, by word and example, we bear witness to Christ in our own immediate environment and pray and work for the fulfilment of his command to make disciples of all nations.

When those outside the church and those seeking a faith see me, how much of Jesus do they see?

Day Seven — The Second Aim

To spread the spirit of love and harmony.

The Order sets out, in the name of Christ, to break down barriers between people and to seek equality for all. We accept as our second aim the spreading of a spirit of love and harmony among all people. We are pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind.

It is often easier to associate with like-minded people. This can lead to discrimination. We are called to be bridge-builders and overcome barriers between people. Is this difficult for me? What are my personal preferences and prejudices? Which people do I find it hardest to love? Who do I exclude and reject?

Day Eight — The Second Aim (continued)

Members of The Third Order fight against all injustice in the name of Christ, in whom there can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for in him all are one. 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.

What areas of injustice and inequality and discrimination are there in society, my community or my church, and what am I doing about it?

Day Nine — The Second Aim (continued)

As Tertiaries, we are prepared not only to speak out for social justice and international peace, but to put these principles into practice in our own lives, cheerfully facing any scorn or persecution to which this may lead.

Am I willing to suffer misunderstanding and persecution in the cause of peace and justice? How do I remain at peace and unruffled in the face of unfair criticism?

Day Ten — The Third Aim

To live simply.

The first Christians surrendered completely to our Lord and recklessly gave all that they had, offering the world a new vision of a society in which a fresh attitude was taken towards material possessions. This vision was renewed by Saint Francis when he chose Lady Poverty as his bride, desiring that all barriers set up by privilege based on wealth should be overcome by love. This is the inspiration for the third aim of the Society, to live simply.

It can be difficult to decide how to live simply. What is my attitude towards those who are more wealthy, and those who are less wealthy than me? Am I able to avoid coveting the possessions of others?

Day Eleven — The Third Aim (continued)

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.  We recognise that some of our members may be called to a literal following of Saint Francis in a life of extreme simplicity. All of us, however, accept that we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God.

Many people place their security in their bank balance and investments, and the drive to acquire more wealth. Where is my true security? Am I using my resources as God would have me?

Day Twelve — The Third Aim (continued)

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. 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.

When Jesus called the rich young man to follow him, the man decided to keep his wealth instead. How would I have responded? Why did Francis forbid the brothers to handle money? Do people see me as a generous person?

Day Thirteen — The Three Ways of Service

Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service will vary according to his or her abilities and circumstances, yet each individual member’s Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways.

We serve the Lord through prayer, study and work. How much of my time and energy do I devote to these ways of serving? What are my priorities? Do I need to revise them?

Day Fourteen — The First Way of Service


Tertiaries seek to live in an atmosphere of praise and prayer.  We aim to be constantly aware of God’s presence, so that we may indeed pray without ceasing.  Our ever-deepening devotion to the indwelling Christ is a source of strength and joy.  It is Christ’s love that inspires us to service, and strengthens us for sacrifice.

My love of God is expressed partly in the time I give to listening to him in prayer and meditation. How much time do I give to this conversation with God? What does my life of serving others show about my prayer life?

Day Fifteen — The First Way of Service (continued)

The heart of our prayer is the Eucharist, in which we share with other Christians the renewal of our union with our Lord and Saviour in his sacrifice, remembering his death and receiving his spiritual food.

Some people approach the Eucharist expecting an emotional ‘high’, others offering a sacrifice of thanks and praise. Which is more pleasing to God? Where do I fit in? Do I welcome the work of the Holy Spirit transforming me through the Eucharist?

Day Sixteen — The First Way of Service (continued)

Tertiaries recognise the power of intercessory prayer for furthering the purposes of God’s kingdom, and therefore seek a deepening fellowship with God in personal devotion, and constantly intercede for the needs of his church and his world. Those of us who have much time at our disposal give prayer a large part in our daily lives. Those of us with less time must not fail to see the importance of prayer and to guard the time we have allotted to it from interruption. Lastly, we are encouraged to avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through which the burden of past sin and failure is lifted and peace and hope restored.

How does God feel while surveying the people of this world, especially their sufferings? Can I sense some of God’s love and compassion? Can I respond in intercession? Do I see my need for reconciliation with God, and how do I seek it?

Day Seventeen — The Second Way of Service


‘This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ John 17.3. True knowledge is knowledge of God. Tertiaries therefore give priority to devotional study of scripture as one of the chief means of attaining that knowledge of God that leads to eternal life.

Theologians are at work uncovering secrets in the scriptures which enrich our faith. How am I benefiting from their discoveries? How am I growing in knowledge, in faith and in love?

Day Eighteen — The Second Way of Service (continued)

As well as the devotional study of Scripture, we all recognise our Christian responsibility to pursue other branches of study, both sacred and secular. In particular some of us accept the duty of contributing, through research and writing, to a better understanding of the church’s mission in the world: the application of Christian principles to the use and distribution of wealth; questions concerning justice and peace; and of all other questions concerning the life of faith.

God is continually speaking to us through scripture, through life experiences, and through other Christians. Am I listening and learning? Am I sharing what I have learnt with others? How?

Day Nineteen — The Third Way of Service


Jesus took on himself the form of a servant. He came not to be served, but to serve. He went about doing good: healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor, and binding up the broken hearted.

Francis found joy in ministry to lepers. How do I serve others? What should I do to minister in God’s world?

Day Twenty — The Third Way of Service (continued)

Tertiaries endeavour to serve others in active work. We try to find expression for each of the three aims of the Order in our lives, and whenever possible actively help others who are engaged in similar work. The chief form of service that we have to offer is to reflect the love of Christ, who, in his beauty and power, is the inspiration and joy of our lives.

Francis set an example of joyful love in everything. Does my life show forth the love of Jesus?

Day Twenty One — The Three Notes of the Order

Humility, love, and joy are the three notes that mark the lives of Tertiaries. When these characteristics are evident throughout the Order, its work will be fruitful. Without them all that it attempts will be in vain.

Imagine that you have died, and you can hear what people are saying about you at the funeral. What would they say? What are the main characteristics of your life?

Day Twenty Two — The First Note


We always keep before us the example of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and who, on the last night of his life, humbly washed his disciples’ feet. We likewise seek to serve one another with humility.

Why did Francis value Brother Juniper so highly? Am I willing to take the lowest place? Or do I expect others to look up to me?

Day Twenty Three — The First Note (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.

Sometimes we jump to conclusions about what others think about us, and become offended. One aspect of humility is ascribing the best of motives to other people. How do I deal with apparent feelings of prejudice or rejection towards me? Can I truly place all my dependence on God?

Day Twenty Four — The First Note (continued)

The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism. We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s. We are ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it.  Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable, we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.

I know I am not perfect. I also know that I cannot see all my own faults. Can I accept my own faults without trying to justify myself? Am I willing to undertake a lowly position, instead of insisting on my status?

Day Twenty Five — The Second Note


Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13.34-35) Love is the distinguishing feature of all true disciples of Christ who wish to dedicate themselves to him as his servants.

A description of love is given in 1 Corinthians 13.4-7. When I read it, can I put my own name there in the text, in place of the word ‘love’?

Day Twenty Six — The Second Note (continued)

Therefore, we seek to love all those to whom we are bound by ties of family or friendship. Our love for them increases, as our love for Christ grows deeper. We have a special love and affection for members of the Third Order, praying for each other individually and seeking to grow in that love. We are on our guard against anything that might injure this love, and we seek reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged. We seek the same love for those with whom we have little natural affinity, for this kind of love is not a welling-up of emotion, but is a bond founded in our common union with Christ.

The word ‘love’ has many meanings. Do I truly see this selfless love as a discipline and attitude that seeks the best for others?

Day Twenty Seven — The Second Note (continued)

The Third Order is a Christian community whose members, though varied in race, education, and character, are bound into a living whole through the love we share in Christ. This unity of all who believe in him will become, as our Lord intended, a witness to the world of his divine mission. In our relationships with those outside the Order, we show the same Christ-like love, and gladly give of ourselves, remembering that love is measured by sacrifice.

Christ’s love took him to the cross, where he made the supreme sacrifice for the world. If love is measured by sacrifice, how do I rate? What am I willing to suffer to show Christ’s love working in me?

Day Twenty Eight — The Third Note


Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in our lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. We remember that we follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking, who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little children, who was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and who sat at the tables of both the rich and the poor. We delight in fun and laughter, rejoicing in God’s world, its beauty and its living creatures, calling nothing common or unclean. We mix freely with all people, ready to bind up the broken-hearted and to bring joy into the lives of others. We carry within us an inner peace and happiness, which others may perceive, even if they do not know its source.

Joy is founded on security, a deep-seated trust in the goodness of God. Do I reflect joy? Do people see joy in my attitudes? Do I bring joy to them?

Day Twenty Nine — The Third Note (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, hardships, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when we are weak, then we are strong.

Francis gave Brother Leo the parable of perfect joy, which has been a source of inspiration to many of Francis’ followers. This parable teaches us to be content in spite of adversity, refusing to let outward events shape our inner peace. Is this true of me?

Day Thirty — The Three Notes

The humility, love, and joy, which mark the lives of Tertiaries, are all God-given graces. They can never be obtained by human effort. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Christ is to work miracles through people who are willing to be emptied of self and to surrender to him.  We then become channels of grace through whom his mighty work is done.

‘Make me a channel of your peace’ is a prayer sometimes wrongly ascribed to Francis. Yet it embodies so much of his own way of life. How much of a channel of God’s grace am I?

*This commentary was prepared by David Bertram, African Province for use by Tertiaries.


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2 thoughts on “A Commentary on the Principles

  1. Fr Roy Snyman on said:

    It is always a good thing to meditate on The Principles, and these thoughts are SO worthwhile. Thanks. I want, as Convenor of the Eastern Cape Group, South Africa, to alert our Confreres to this body of writing. It can be a kind of Christmass prezzy to them. (We did a study on each “day” in our regular meetings, and it proved valuable. Sharing prods thinking. This inspires prayer and deeper commitment, with renewed excitement. Roy tssf.

    • tedwitham on said:

      Dear Roy
      Thanks for your comment and feedback. As you know, David Bertram wrote these comments to help us all. Maybe they will inspire others too to write their own commentary and these could be circulated to promote thought, prayer and deeper commitment.

      Ted Witham tssf

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