Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

Archive for the category “Franciscan spirituality”

The Founders of the Third Order

At a Franciscan Enquiry Day [September 2, 2017], I introduced some of the colourful personalities who were the founders of the Third Order using this presentation:

Dorothy SWAYNE



Obedience, Poverty and Chastity for All?

Brother Clark Berge SSF, The Vows Book: Anglican Teaching on the Vows of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity, CreateSpace 2014, 142 pages.  (from $AUD 18.20 online)

Reviewed by Ted Witham tssf
[Published in Anglican Messenger April 2014]

The late Abbot of New Norcia Dom Placid Spearritt OSB once claimed that Franciscans invented the idea of ‘vows’: Benedictines, he said, only had ‘promises’. I don’t know enough history or canon law to evaluate Abbot Placid’s statement, but as a Franciscan, I take the point that we should treat our promises with the least complication we can. Let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. (see Mt 5:37)

Brother Clark Berge, currently Minister General of the Society of Saint Francis, explores what it means to be a vowed person. All of us are vowed persons, as promises were made in our baptisms, and The Vows Book speaks to all Christians about the discipline and constraints inherent in following Christ. ‘The vows protect in us deep down the courage and strength to live for God,’ Br Clark writes, ‘to help God create a world we want to live in, a world of love.’

Vowed persons are counter-cultural. We have promised to make the world a different place than it is now. For those called to ‘give their lives to God in a special way’ as brothers and sisters in religious orders, the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity structure their lives to have the freedom to tell out the Good News.

Obedience means listening – listening to the Scriptures, to the Founders, to each other, to one’s inner voice and to nature. It means living as a responsible adult. Poverty is a free choice to follow Christ in a sharing lifestyle clarifying one’s social vision and helping those who are poor not through choice.

For members of religious orders like SSF chastity implies celibacy, which sets brothers and sisters free to love in new ways without the ties of family. Brother Clark is brutally honest about the difficulties of celibacy and gives practical advice on what to do with ‘sexy thoughts’.

Br Clark has printed his book in long thin columns. Each line of text has three or four words only in the style of the Catholic Workers’ Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays, making his ideas accessible to all members of the Society who have a very wide range of educational levels.

Br Clark’s ideas are also profitable for Tertiaries, as we too are vowed people, promising obedience, poverty and chastity as appropriate for our life-situation. He challenges us to use our promises as a framework to follow Jesus more closely, to find more joy in our life in Christ and to find more freedom in telling the Good News. These Franciscan values are ours too, and while our life-situations are not the same as the brothers and sisters of the First Order, our call to be Christ-like is.

It is challenging to be reminded to be responsible adults in listening to the wisdom of those around us and so learning to be more mature in our obedience. When we have so much materially our vow of poverty should cause us difficulty, and Br Clark asks us to re-consider if we are serious about sharing our resources with the whole community. Do I have the purity of heart I promised in my vow of chastity and what impact does that purity have on my ability to love as Christ would have me love?

Br Clark’s teaching about the vows may have started from his life-situation as a brother, but his wisdom, simplicity and depth is for all of us.

The Vows Book has a Foreword by Archbishop Roger Herft AM, Bishop Protector General of the Society of St Francis and the cover is graced by one of Br Clark’s own paintings, a reflection inspired by the words of Ephrem the Syrian on baptism. Br Clark’s book will help us say our ‘Yes’ with greater conviction and with joy and simplicity. It will help us bring our promises to life.


Penance – both ways (presentation for the Day of Penitence 2013)

On the Day of Penitence 2013, I asked the question again, “Why did Francis of Assisi call us The Brothers and Sisters of Penance/Penitence?” In St Francis’ mind, what is penance, and how do we live up to the name? Aren’t we, as Franciscans, living a life of joy? Does penance have anything to do with joy – and humility and love?

I tried to answer these questions in the slide presentation here: Penance – both ways

St Francis’ life of penance

St Francis tells Br. Leo about the incident at Gubbio


My heart in my mouth I set off to meet Wolf.
He filled me with fear. He was Other.
I walked dark into the forest, so deeply looking
That at first I failed to see this Brother.

He appeared to be slinking around a tree.
In shadow, he looked all grey and black.
His eyes though lighted were lifeless,
And I froze, my feet bare on the mountain track.

I stared at the terrible empty eyes.
Brother Wolf still as a stone about to slide.
My eyes entered his and the space between melted.
We became one: my eyes and heart in Wolf’s inside.

He swallowed me whole. Yet I possessed him too.
Confused our hunger for love and humanity.
Crossed our praise of power in life and death.
Gubbio lay below in its simple vulnerability.

We stayed like that for time and a time,
Then slowly, gently in two came apart;
The same, yet different than before.
I burning with hunger and he humbled in heart.

I led him back like a lamb to the village.
Aflame, I rebuked him with voice and with prod.
“Share, show respect, live in harmony.”
The villagers rejoiced. I devoured God.

Ted Witham © 1996

I wrote this poem in 1996, but lately I have been thinking again about the paradoxes of redemption: wolves and food, need and encounter come to mind again in this telling of the story of the events near Gubbio.


Published in Assisi, New York, Fall 2011, Spring 2012

Arthur Boyd's tapestry of St Francis as he embraces Brother Wolf

For those about to be Professed in the Third Order


Western Australia Region, AD 2011

by Ted Witham tssf

A wonderful word in the New Testament is ‘homologia’, which means ‘profession’. In Hebrews 10:23, we are urged to ‘hold fast to the profession of our hope without wavering, because the One who promised is faithful.’ Earlier in Hebrews in 4:14, ‘Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold tightly to our profession.’

Today some of our number come to make Profession, and others of us will renew our Profession. We note that it is Profession of hope, and that Jesus, the Son of God, empowers us to make this Profession.

In the three centuries following the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was an extraordinary process for new believers who wanted to make the great Profession that they had been filled with the resurrection faith. They underwent a two or three year preparation called the catechumenate, which involved learning about the faith, attending the Eucharist up until the Offertory, and being mentored by another Christian into works of charity. When Easter came after two or three years, the catechumens made their great Profession, their ‘homologia’ during their baptism by immersion in a great ceremony. They went down into the font naked (or dressed in a loin cloth) and were robed in white when they came up out of the waters.

I promise you that the Profession you make does not involve immersion baptism or even near nudity. And of course you have made your great Profession in your baptism and confirmation. Profession as a Tertiary does not replace baptism, but in it you effectively renew your baptismal promises. Listen to the words you will say:

I, N., give myself to our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve him for the rest of my life in company with my brothers and sisters in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis, seeking to spread the knowledge and love of Christ, to promote the spirit of love and harmony as the family of God and to live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service after the example of Saint Francis.

A big Profession indeed; a public statement of an earnest and passionate response to a call from God.
Don’t under-estimate the power of this renewal. A friend of ours years ago had a charismatic experience, and he asked his fairly conservative parish priest if he could be baptised again. The priest answered, correctly, ‘No.’ And our friend kept asking. The priest could not give any other answer. Then the parish had its first Easter Vigil including the renewal of baptismal vows. Our friend was ecstatic, “It’s happened, it’s happened!” he shouted excitedly, “I’ve been baptised again.”
I hope that your great Profession this morning captures some of that same excitement.
The preparation for your Profession has been similar to the catechumenate. You have met for two or three years with a mentor. The Novice Counsellor has helped you reflect on this Franciscan way. She or he invited you to find ways of expressing Franciscan spirituality in prayer and action.
The catechumenate has a number of other characteristics worth mentioning. One was that if catechumens were martyred before they were baptised, they were considered to have been baptised in their blood. It is my personal belief (not in the statutes at all!) that Novices who die should be considered full Tertiaries, but in any case, the comparison expresses something that your Profession says about the claim that Christ is making on your life and death and beyond.
Catechumens were also kept from the mysteries of the Eucharist, until the night of their baptism, when they received their First Communion. Then in the months after Easter they continued their learning about the Christian faith. Now it was no longer called the catechumenate, but the mystagogy – the teaching about the mysteries.
You who will be make your great Profession in a few moments will also continue to meet with your Novice Counsellor for another 12 months to reflect more deeply on what it is to be a Franciscan Christian. This will be your mystagogy – although I doubt anyone will actually call it that. There are no secrets to learn, as there were for the catechumens in the Early Church – sorry about that – but it is a reminder that the Franciscan Way is not something to be learned in a few months or a couple of short years. You will continue to discover depths in it as you walk in it.
Rae and I were professed 28 years ago. We were seeking an expression of community in our Christian way, and we began as Franciscans by seeking out people. But our mystagogy has included falling in love with Francis and Clare and many other Franciscan saints. For me in particular, as one who enjoys theology, it has been a joy to discover the Franciscan intellectual tradition from Bonaventure to Duns Scotus to Ilia Delio.
But you will discover different things than I have, maybe new depths in social activism; maybe new courage for evangelism; maybe new springs for community – they are all there to discover following the great Profession.
So remember how the writer encouraged the Hebrews:
• Firstly, to make the great Profession in hope, in Christian hope, in the great hope that there always lies before us more joy, more love, more delight in trusting than we have experienced so far; and

• Secondly, that Jesus, the Son of God, our great High Priest is both the energy and the destination of our Christian life.

Your great Profession is that Jesus will always empower you as you seek to serve him in love, humility and joy.

Francis and the Leper

Francis and the Leper

A Reflection by Brother William SSF

Dear God, What did I do?
What strange desire
What grim disorder of my youthful mind;
What shameful and unnatural inclination;
What evil demon, seeking wayward souls
have I encountered –
Jesus am I mad?
Or did I really see your countenance
disturbingly revealed in this poor beggar?
Perhaps it was not such a blasphemy
to see such beauty in that loathsome thing;
to think that I saw my Heart’s Love in that face …

I think I hear a voice speak to my heart
strong and serene, tender and full of love;
Blessed are you, the poor, despised, neglected;
Blessed are you, the outcast and the scorned,
Blssed are you whose lives are fraught with sorrow;
You are the deepest treasures of my heart.

From Poverello: St Francis of Assisi, A saint for our times.


Inspired Artisans - Milwaukee USA


Do Franciscans Bless Animals?

Before I start criticising the practice of blessing animals, let me confess that I have blessed animals, and would do so again.  In fact for a couple of years, Tom Sutton of Subiaco Parish in Perth invited me, along with other Franciscans and other priests to a great outdoor animal blessing.

Bless me, St Bernard!

There is a picture of me blessing a great St Bernard, and it was a delight to make friends with this gentle creature.

This jamboree was stopped only because a certain dog food manufacturer was a sponsor and took advantage of this event.  It took it over by emblazoning its name on every object and dog parade and snail race in sight.

Fr Tom rightly believed that such rampant capitalism was at odds with the spirit of animal blessing.

But as a Franciscan I do feel ambivalent about blessing animals. Not that I have any theological problem with asking for God’s blessing on either pets or wild animals. Our blessing simply confirms the reality is that God has already blessed creation. See Genesis 1.

Nor do I mind the chaos that can be caused by creatures great and small in a little church with God’s people trying to celebrate the Eucharist with devotion.

My problem, I think, is twofold.  Firstly, blessing animals can become a sentimental act. “Isn’t it nice?  Isn’t it lovely?”  If an animal blessing is organised only to evoke superficial sentiments, then it is a dangerous waste of time.  If an animal blessing is organised only to delight children, then it is a diversion from reality.

Secondly, blessing animals can easily turn companion animals into possessions rather than being seen as God’s gifts to us.  The attitude that our pets are simply a convenience can easily lead to neglect and abuse, but even before it gets to that stage, this attitude diminishes us, making us, consumers of animals’ services, rather than their grateful friends. (Click HERE for an RSPCA view of pet ownership.)

What Franciscans can do is to encourage people to think carefully about our relationship with animals.  Saint Francis believed that each creature is a Word of God.  In our encounter with an animal, St Francis encourages us to allow that animal to disclose its story to us.  The animal is not there simply for our unfettered use, but is a fellow-creature put on this earth to share existence with us and to join our praise of the Most High Creator.

Our pets are our companions, not our slaves.

And do we bless the animals that give food, are food for us?  Much has been written about the distance between us urban dwellers and the milk and meat that we enjoy.  If we bless our pets, then we should equally bless the animals that nurture us.  We should be prepared to ask whether the cost of being a meat-eater is too high.  Dr Rajendra Pachauri Chair of the IPCC spoke of the positive environmental impact of eating one less meat meal each week. (Click HERE to read his comments).

Wild animals are a blessing, too, although I suspect it’s impossible to catch a blue wren or an Oenpelli python to lay hands on and pronounce a blessing over it!

So my plea is a Franciscan is, if we are to bless animals, then let’s do it with thorough thought and prayer, and not just as a liturgical stunt. But no one would do that, would they?

Fr Algy, Co-Founder of SSF



Co-founder of the First and Second Orders

November 23

Father Algy brought to the early Society of St Francis a deep knowledge of the religious life and a gift for organization.  Fr Algy is remembered as a warm and caring Father-in-God.  His eccentricities are also remembered with equal clarity as delightful and frustrating!

More information at


To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12.7)


Creator God, your presence fills us with awe and joy.  Help us, as we remember your servant Father Algy, to see your face in everyone we meet, and share with the community the joy of knowing you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.



Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 66:1-12

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Mark 9:30-37


You bring forth wine to gladden the human heart and bread to strengthen it.  (See Psalm 104.15)

Father Algy Robertson SSF

Tertiaries in Australia: Seriously Joyful

“Saint Francis provides the basis for the spirituality of contemporary Anglican Tertiaries”.

Ted Witham tssf

Minister Provincial, Third Order, Society of St Francis,

Province of Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia


There have been Anglican Tertiaries in PNG and Australia for the past 50 years.  They have been shaped by their history, firstly as the Third Order was generated by the First Order friars, and then in the struggle to become an independent, then interdependent Order.  The vast distances of the Australian landscape have created small groups and individuals isolated from one another. This isolation is evolving into both familiar similarities and regional differences.

This paper will access the voices of Tertiaries themselves, to explore their distinctive perspectives on St Francis and the spirituality produced in our unique context.

In particular, the paper will examine

* Tertiaries’ understanding of Franciscan spirituality;

* The ways in which they practise the Franciscan value of poverty;

* Their engagement with social issues as an expression of their Franciscan spirituality; and finally

* Their responses to believers in other traditions in our multi-religious society.

The Third Order and its Form of Life

Young Francis visited the Pope in 1209 seeking permission to live his way of life according to a new Rule.  Thomas of Celano tells us the story and uses two words for “Rule”: propositio and forma. Thomas seems to use these words interchangeably, and causes the reader some confusion.  Was Francis submitting a formal propositio for approval, or was he seeking permission to live out his Christian faith in a new way: a forma vitae (a shape of life)?

Innocent III was familiar with the Benedictine Rule: a detailed propositio setting out the minutiae of the monks’ life.  This written Rule contained within it the way of life, the forma. The monks read the Rule, and did what it said.  St Francis had a new idea: his Rule set down gospel attitudes needed to live out the faith in a new and deeper way.  It took another 12 years to persuade Francis that to protect this way of life, he needed a detailed and formal Rule – a controversial propositio for formal approval.

In St. Francis and the Third Order, Third Order Regular priest Raffaele Pazzelli argues that Francis’ prime aim in 1209 was to secure permission from the Pope to live penance, that is to live the gospel seriously, and to preach this radical Christianity. Australian Tertiary John Davis calls this being ‘seriously joyful’ in Christian living.

The tonsure and celibacy then granted to Francis were secondary consequences of placing the brothers under papal jurisdiction.

The Third Order first took its direction from the 1215 Letter addressed to All Christian People (Armstrong 1:41-44), and was more successful in maintaining the idea that a Rule should consist of principles to be absorbed and subsequently acted out, rather than direct prescriptions to be performed. (Pazzelli 1989)[1]

Anglican Franciscan Orders

There were no religious orders in England after the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1540. 300 years later, in the wake of the Oxford movement, Rome re-established its hierarchy in England in 1850 and Roman Catholic Orders were again tolerated. Various Anglicans experimented with the creation of new Orders. (Williams 1982)

Some of these new Orders were responding to urban poverty and had a Franciscan flavour. Those that survived into the 20th century included the Society of Divine Compassion and the Brotherhood of Saint Francis of Assisi.  From the 1920s in North America, and from the early 1930s in England, groups of Anglican Tertiaries began to establish themselves. Most of these groups of Brothers and Tertiaries came together in 1934 to form the Society of Saint Francis.  The new SSF looked back to St Francis and Saint Clare for its inspiration.  In particular, they wanted their communities to be filled with the spirit of primitive Franciscan life, and not to be constrained by inflexible Rules. (Dunstan 1997)

The Reverend John Copley Winslow, 1882-1974, was a missionary priest in India, searching for ways to live the gospel in community.  (Emilson 1997). He established a Christian ashram Christa Prema Seva Sangha, writing a Rule with a Franciscan flavour. (Sister Joyce CSF 2003) CPSS included both celibate and married and other single members.

This Rule was rewritten and revised to become the Rules of all three Orders of the Society of St Francis.  Back in England, Jack Winslow himself never joined SSF or any other community, but remained active all his life in promoting community as an essential part of Christian living. In later years, he encouraged the non-residential community centred on Lee Abbey. (Winslow 1954)

The Third Order Principles

The Principles now used by Tertiaries are a revised version of the Rules adopted in the 1930s. The genius of the Principles is in both their content, and also in the expectation that we will read them prayerfully over and over again.

Their content is designed to turn the way Franciscans think about Christianity into action.  We remember that Christ is the Master.  The Principles then commit us for the Master’s sake to evangelism, community and simple living.  They tell us that we must pray, study and work if we are to grow as Christians.  They encourage us to see the fruit of our Christian living manifest in humility, love and joy.

However, in repeating these Principles month after month, we learn a language which both propels us into action and also helps us interpret our actions of service and prayer.  No wonder we all speak alike; we are all speaking the same language.

In reciting these Principles prayerfully, we avoid the danger of simply parroting Franciscan language, because our prayer leads us to reflect on the implications of each section of the Principles, to explore their meanings in our life contexts, and even to be critical of them when appropriate.

A Tertiary’s Rule has a second part.  It consists of both the Principles and the Tertiary’s Personal Rule of Life.  This latter document, drawn up by the Tertiary and the Tertiary’s Regional Minister, describes explicitly the actions this particular Tertiary is taking in incarnating  the Franciscan way of living the faith. (Third Order Manual 2009)

The Personal Rule of Life individualises the Franciscan way of living. What is the daily prayer practice of this Tertiary? When, where and how often does this Tertiary receive Holy Communion? How much money does this Tertiary give away – and to whom? How are the values inscribed in the Principles taken into this Tertiary’s daily life and ministry? What will this Tertiary do to express Franciscan simplicity? While the emphasis in the Personal Rule is on this Tertiary, care is taken not to isolate the individual Tertiary from the community.

The gift of the Principles is a language which gives shape to our ministry. Meet Tertiaries from any part of the world, and you will hear this common language spoken. The question for this paper is: Is there a distinctive Australian accent?

Australian Tertiaries’ Lives Reflect their Rule

Earlier in 2009, I invited fellow Tertiaries around Australia to respond to a questionnaire which sought to identify the involvement of Tertiaries in social justice and interfaith activities.  I asked them whether they believed there was a distinctive Australian quality to their ministry as Franciscans.

Out of a possible 200 Tertiaries, 32 questionnaires were returned.  It is likely that these respondents were highly motivated Tertiaries, possibly longer professed than others, and almost certainly involved in leadership in the Third Order.[2]

These 15% who responded to the questionnaire present a picture of Tertiaries highly engaged in active ministry in the community.  One, for example, teaches health to Indigenous students. Others are prolific writers of letters to editors.  Several are involved in formal ministry to the marginalised through the Mission to Seafarers, prison and hospital chaplaincies.  Others are heavily involved in activism on behalf of the environment, signing petitions, writing letters to politicians and attending rallies.  Many are involved in their local parishes as teachers, encouragers, and leaders in prayer.

One respondent reported that she or he incorporated Franciscan spirituality in everyday life by:

“Involvement in and work for organisations concerned with social justice, the environment and peacemaking: Oxfam, Amnesty International, Asylum Seeker Support Network, Australian Conservation Foundation and Pax Christi; living in the present moment, trusting ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’; beginning each day with a time of prayer.”

The lifestyle of these Tertiaries reflects their Franciscan calling.  Most choose simplicity in their clothing, buying only what is necessary and buying where possible from charity shops.  Many have been reducing, reusing and recycling everyday supplies, long before this became popular in the community.  These Tertiaries are careful in their use of money.  They recognise the danger in the affluent Australian community of buying their way into consumerist attitudes.

One Tertiary wrote:

“I have frequent cupboard cleanouts, and pass on to op shops all that I no longer need.  For me the discipline is not to buy the things I do not need. … I own only a few clothes and shoes, many of which I have bought at op shops. … As I do not have a car, I walk or use government transport; or travel with a friend. ”

Many of these Tertiaries direct gifts of money to carefully chosen agencies in the developing world and those who work with Indigenous Australians.

Tertiaries with natural contact with members of other faiths have become deeply involved in interfaith work.  Some are members of formal committees; others are involved in caring for Muslim or Hindu refugees.  This ministry tended to relate to context: in places where there were no newcomers, Tertiaries had not met people of other faiths, nor sought them out to be involved in interfaith ministry.

This activism is grounded in an understanding of Franciscan spirituality as being “seriously joyful” in living the Christian Gospel. They speak of passionate love for Christ, of care for people and creation, of simplicity and humility.

“Franciscan spirituality is a creation-centred, reflective spirituality that embraces the Divine Love of God; and its beauty is in its simplicity.  Franciscans show their love for God through their affinity with and care of all of creation: nature, animal kingdom, humanity, and all that is animate and inanimate.”

In the words of another, Franciscan spirituality is:

“The wholeness and balance of living both in the desert and the marketplace.”

One Tertiary summed up her Franciscan life in these words:

“May I grow in His Love
To love others
May I serve Him in all Humility
To lovingly wash other’s feet
May I seek His Heavenly gifts
To give to the needy in love
May I follow Him in the Way of the Cross
To show others that Way of love
May I do all things in His strength
To help strengthen the weak
My God and my All.”

Reading about the courage and energy Tertiaries are investing in ministry, especially in social justice and environmental activism was awe-inspiring.

The Language of their Rule permeates the Lives of Tertiaries

The second impressive thing about the Tertiaries who responded is their consistency of language.  All are committed, for example, to “speak out for … international peace.”  (Day 9, The Principles).

For some Tertiaries speaking out for international peace means a commitment to non-violence.  These Tertiaries wish to resist evil even if the resistance itself provokes more violence.  Other Tertiaries are pacifists eschewing all violence, even in resolving conflict.  A number of Tertiaries are members of the military, equally committed to international peace, but seeing a positive role for the armed forces in maintaining peace.

The common desire to speak out for international peace surely arises from the Christian commitment of these Tertiaries.  However, the commonality of language appears to come from the Principles themselves.

Again and again in the questionnaire responses and in talking to Tertiaries, the language of the Principles is heard clearly.  Tertiaries wish to “make our Lord known and loved everywhere.” (Day 5 – the First Aim of the Order).  Tertiaries see that “the heart of their prayer life is the Eucharist.” (Day 15) The fruit of Christian living is joy (Day 28).

This commonality of language appears from four factors.

  1. Firstly, it arises from the obligation of Tertiaries to use daily the Community Obedience.  This includes reading the Principles on a monthly cycle.
  2. Secondly, all Tertiaries are required to wear their profession cross “as a habit”.  One significance of wearing the cross is that it bestows a sense of belonging to a distinctive community in which the values embedded in the Principles are encouraged.
  3. Thirdly, all Tertiaries have at some time been a novice.  Novices are exposed to twelve sets of reading from the Franciscan tradition, and invited to reflect on these readings.  Novice Counsellors encourage novices to dwell in the readings and make them their own.  When all twelve Novice Notes have been read and reflected on, the newly professed Tertiary can look back and see in these Notes where in the Franciscan tradition of the Principles they have been derived.
  4. Fourthly, each Tertiary must renew their promises annually.  This keeps them in active contact with the community with its Franciscan charism, and makes them accountable for their use of the Daily Obedience, and hence of their reading of the Principles.

The Rule and the Distances between Australian Tertiaries

A challenge unique to the Australian Third Order community is the sheer difficulty of meeting.  Australian Tertiaries who live in urban settings tend to live on the outskirts of the metropolitan capitals. To get together in the cities often requires quite difficult journeys of several hours. In rural areas, this problem is magnified.  (Woodbridge 2009)

The “tyranny of distance” forces the Australian Tertiary to take greater individual responsibility for his growth as a Christian and as a member of the Third Order community.  This throws a greater emphasis on the Franciscan activities done alone, that is, in particular, the reading of the Principles.

This enforced isolation appears to achieve two things: it means that Australian Tertiaries when they can meet value those meetings highly. (Woodbridge 2009, 69-90). It also throws them back onto the regular reading of the Principles as their ongoing formation.

The movement from absorbing the Principles and learning their language, to reflective action in the real world is vital for Tertiaries. The Principles inspire them to action, and give them a language to describe, analyse and refine those actions.

In this distinctive way, Australian Tertiaries try to live out their Rule in the spirit of St Francis.  It becomes a language to inspire and frame “seriously joyful” living of the gospel in the real world.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Regis J. Armstrong (ed.) Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol.1, The Saint, New City Press, 2002

Maurice Carmody, The Franciscan Story, London: Athena, 2008

Petà Dunstan, This Poor Sort, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd (1997).

William W. Emilson, “The Legacy of John Copley Winslow 1882-1974”, in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 01 Jan. 1997

Sister Joyce CSF (ed.), From the Rule of Christa Prema Seva Sangha, 1922-1934, in Walking in the Footsteps of Christ: the Historical documents of the Society of Saint Francis, published in 2003 by the Society of Saint Francis, Dorset, UK

Jacques le Goff, Saint Francis of Assisi, London : Routledge, 2004

Denise Mumford tssf, Report on the results of a Questionnaire to Tertiaries of the European Province 2009 ( Accessed 13 November 2009

Raffaele Pazzelli, St. Francis and the Third Order: the Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential movement, Chicago, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989.

Third Order, Society of St Francis, Province of Australia, Papua and New Guinea, The Manual, 2009 Revision.

Barrie Williams, The Franciscan Revival in the Anglican Communion, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982

John Copley Winslow, The Eyelids of the Dawn; Memories, Reflections and Hopes, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1954

Denis Woodbridge tssf, Franciscan Gold : a history of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis in the province of Australia, Papua New Guinea and East Asia, Riverton WA: Third Order, Society of St Francis, Australian Province, 2009

[1] Jacques le Goff makes a similar point about Thomas of Celano’s usage of the words forma and regula. (le Goff, 2004, 31-32)


[2] In March 2009, English Tertiary Denise Mumford asked Tertiaries in the European Province to respond to a questionnaire similar to mine. Mumford obtained demographic information which showed that leaders in the Order were over-represented in the sample returned. (Mumford 2009)

Acting on a Franciscan Moment in Time

Sally Buckley tssf

Assistant Provincial Minister, Australian Province


A Franciscan moment in time … the words have haunted me since I heard Sr Ilia Delio utter them at Mercedes College, on that Monday night of her visit to Perth.

We are standing at a Franciscan moment in time, she said … or words to that effect.

This is something which has been coming clearer into my conscience over the last few years, gaining momentum over the last few months, to the point where I knew God was trying to goad me into writing something.

Are we / am I living in a Franciscan moment?

I am so pleased I am here this year, at our annual Convocation.  Each time I miss it, I feel the isolation of living so far from my beloved community more acutely.  I feel as if part of me has been lopped off!

However, a Franciscan moment in time … I was reflecting upon this yesterday and what it might mean, when the thought of our Aims flowed through my mind.

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

Or, as we pledge as we renew our profession vows:

“… seeking to spread the knowledge and love of Christ, to promote the spirit of love and harmony as the family of God and to live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service after the example of Saint Francis” [page H3 of the Manual].

Our first Aim exhorts us to make the Lord known and loved everywhere.  What was it for you that initially attracted you to Francis and Clare?

I remember a few years ago down home, the various church leaders and pastors were asked to be involved in a Youth for Christ activity with our local State High School.  At the training session the night before, they went round the room asking everyone (as one of those ice breakers / get to know you type things) what we wanted to be remembered for.  As you can probably imagine there were a variety of answers, all very nice etc.  Well, when it came to me, I said I wanted to be remembered as a lover.  Well, you might imagine the stunned silence which followed!!  I could see the look pass over the facilitators face “silly woman!”  So I explained; “a lover of God and of God’s creation”.  Well, you could hear the breath being let out in relief!

I thought slightly indignantly, why is it such a crime, why is it such a scandal to be remembered as someone who loves?  Isn’t God the God of love?  Isn’t all that we have and all that is around us, the blessings of a God who loves abundantly, wastefully?

I know I get very passionate about this – that God loves us, beyond our comprehending, that we are precious, unique individuals, beloved in God’s sight.  This knowledge puts me on my knees in humble gratitude.  But it is not just me that God loves excessively, it is the whole of God’s created order – every other living person, every tree and ant, every dog and cat, every worm, and every star in the whole of Creation.  The blind, maimed beggar in the lowest of slums, the woman with a starving child at her dry breast, the rich man in his ivory tower, even the corrupt and cruel.  God longs for each one to find themselves into a relationship with him.

Through Francis we have an example of someone who, I believe, caught this vision and understood it.  We have many stories in our Franciscan tradition which illustrate this, which leads me into the second Aim of the Order:

To spread the spirit of love and harmony.

In 2005 I was privileged to have attended IPTOC (the Inter Provincial Third Order Chapter) in Canterbury, England.  At that time there was a very real fear (which in many ways hasn’t dissipated) that the Anglican Communion would split with the Episcopal Church of the United States being kicked out of the Communion over the gay issue.  From this meeting a letter was drafted to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Communion, pledging our support and putting the Franciscan way forward as a model for seeking reconciliation between parties.  It read:

Dear Archbishop

We, the sisters and brothers of the Society of St. Francis, write to you from our First Order and Inter-Provincial Third Order Chapters, which included the Abbess of the Second Order as an observer, meeting here in Canterbury, to send you our love and support as you lead the Anglican Communion during these times of division and difficulty.

In preparation for our Chapters, many of us studied The Windsor Report in which you and the Primates of the Anglican Communion called upon members of the Church to safeguard the unity which is ours through honest communication and fervent prayer. During our deliberations, we shared our heart-felt concerns about the life of the Church and about your personal pain as you lead us in preserving our unity. We appreciate your desire to appeal to the Anglican Communion to value diversity as a core element of that unity. As faithful members of the Church, we wish to give witness to the truth of the Gospel and to commit ourselves to live alongside our sisters and brothers who understand the Gospel differently than we do.

While this is a difficult task, we are learning to do this in our Franciscan way of life. As an international community with members in various provinces of the Anglican Communion, we recognize our common vocation as ‘lesser brothers and sisters’, united in faith and intentional living together. While bound together as one family, we struggle to cherish differences in gender, culture, theology, economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, and varied religious histories. We have learned to listen to each other, to read the scriptures together, to share our particular experiences of God, and to live in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, marginalized and to live with each other.

From this Franciscan vantage point, we offer to you, to the Primates and to the members of the Anglican Communion a model of moving forward as Church: walking in the way of Saint Francis of Assisi whose embrace of the leper and the way of non-violent love knit together a universal family of Christians, rooted in the Gospel, growing in joy and simplicity and extending a Reign of God marked by justice and peace.

We are very aware of the challenges set before you as the Archbishop of Canterbury and we support you in your continuing steadfast faith in the Gospel message of compassion and inclusion, as well as in your commitment to listening and dialogue. We pledge to you our daily prayers as together we strive to rebuild the Church in accordance with the will of God.

With our love and prayers,

And was signed by the Ministers General of the First and Third Orders and the Abbess of the Second Order sisters.

This was sent off on our behalf.

When it became clear that there was going to be some serious division at the last Lambeth Conference, it was decided, mainly by the international Third Order, to hold a prayer vigil and to have a place of peace and prayer in Canterbury, to which Bishops and others were welcome to come.  This is a very real witness to the out working of our second aim – to seek reconciliation, to be peace makers.

At IPTOC, the various Provincial Ministers give extensive reports on what is happening in their provinces.  When it came to reporting on JPIC – Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, I sat squirming a bit – firstly, I had never heard of JPIC, and secondly it was almost like our Province hadn’t heard of JPIC, because we certainly had nothing to report, nor did it seem like we were doing anything about it!

It was in Canterbury that I came across Franciscans International.  One of our speakers was Fr John Quigley ofm a truly dynamic speaker and at that time the director of FI.

Franciscans International is a recognised Non Government Organisation at the United Nations.  At the time they had offices in both Geneva and New York – the main office being Geneva.

Their main work is in advocacy for the poor – giving them a voice with those who are making the decisions.

Their Charter is to work at the United Nations in the three areas of Peacemaking, Care of Creation and Care of the Poor.

At that time their current projects were mainly in the field of human rights and their strong advocacy in the care of the poor, against the trafficking of persons and with refugees.  The issues are always much bigger – trafficking of women & children has become “trafficking of persons”; the issue of migrant workers – migrant workers and their families.

They encourage the peacemaking work to begin at the grassroots level and are looking at supporting various initiatives in this area, especially by strengthening existing grassroots networks etc.   Great concern about current situation in Africa – one of their projects at that time was assistance with conflict resolution between Burundi and Rwanda.

In the Care of Creation field, they were involved in an International Conference on the Environment which was to take place the following year.

They work with World Council of Churches but they don’t do much at a UN level.  FI has representation on Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (a child of the WCC), with HIV/AIDS and Fair Trade as priorities.

He said: “we have a profound obligation to speak for the poor in forums everywhere.  The train is moving and the world doesn’t wait for us.”

It is the first time in 800 years that Franciscans are working together!

Anglicans have been in FI from the beginning and a much needed and very important witness to working together.

So that was my wake up call … but I had gone to sleep!  After my initial excitement and enthusiasm, the passion had cooled.

I was excited with the opening of an FI office in Bangkok, and pleased that some from our Province had gone to training seminars, but some things are a long way from sleepy, isolated Esperance and the rigours of serving a parish!

Then the Global Financial Crisis hit.  The greed and corruption in and of the corporate world is just staggering.  I remember a random thought going through my mind, we need to get back to a more simple way of living, may be the Franciscan way of life has something to offer.  But the thought was gone before it had time to put down roots, but it does lead conveniently into our third Aim: to live simply.

My husband, Chris, and I saw some of the fall out of the GFC first hand when we were in the UK and Ireland last year – brand new housing developments lying empty because no one could afford to buy them, banks going belly-up, or refusing to lend money.  One of my parishioners, emigrating from the UK to come to live in Esperance with his family, was caught up in the mess.  He was literally weeks too late in putting his house on the market, by the time he did, the market had crashed, mortgage companies were declaring bankruptcy left right and centre.  He will have been in Australia two years in January and the house is still unsold.  It took them 12 months to find someone to rent it.

But, by and large, Esperance, and Western Australia have been shielded from the worst of it.  The greed and unaccountability came home to me at the beginning of the year when BHP Billiton walked away from their Ravensthorpe Nickel Project; literally walking away from an investment of some 4 billion dollars.

Chris and I went over to Hopetoun soon after the announcement that the mine was closing and were shocked at the utter waste which was taking place – brand new equipment being thrown away in the boxes they had arrived in, placed into landfill dumps on site.  A lucky few (very few) voluntary organisations had managed to “be in the right place at the right time”, or rather knew someone in the right place at the right time, and managed to receive some of these discarded goods.  We went to the brand new FESA Head Quarters in Hopetoun and were shown round.  Most of the office and operations rooms had been kitted out with mine discards – desks, urns, toasters, bain maries, even computers!  All had arrived in their original packing, not having been opened.

Then there was the human cost – people who had lost their jobs.  Their own employees they kind of looked after, but it was the contractors, the businesses they had encouraged to start up, even days before the announcement was made, who were left high and dry.  Anyone who has opened up their own business will know of the incredible set up costs, which generally takes two years of hard slog to recoup, here were people who had made the move, started to set up new businesses and suddenly found that their major customer was not going to be there.

There was and has been no accountability – no one has been called to account for the waste – money which would have run a small country – just a convenient tax write off on the corporate balance sheet.

Last weekend I attended the Perth Synod and our Bible study was run by Professor Ian Harper, from Melbourne, who is a university lecturer and is on the Fair Pay Commission.  I had meant to make proper note of his credentials before I left home.  As well as the Bible Study, Archbishop Roger asked him to speak after morning tea on Saturday morning.  I found him an interesting and inspiring speaker, and a devout Christian and I think I’m right, an Anglican to boot.

He spoke of a corporate world gone mad with greed, selfishness and excess, and which had lost touch with reality.  He spoke of the absurdity of these executives going cap in hand to the US congress for hand outs, arriving in Washington in their private jets and helicopters.  Prof. Harper suggested that the GFC had awoken peoples’ moral sensibilities and the ordinary folk are no longer prepared to put up with the greed and opulent lifestyles of these corporate highflyers.

Jesus tells the parable of the man with the barns as a warning and in Matthew 6: 19-21:

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This goes just before one of the passages in the Gospels which remind me most of Francis, Matthew 6: 25-34:

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

In Archbishop Roger’s Charge to Synod he spoke of a prophetic moment missed by the Anglican Communion.  At the Lambeth Conference of 1998 there was a resolution passed unanimously which has faded into virtual oblivion and certainly overshadowed since by the great debate about human sexuality.

Does anyone remember the “Make Poverty History” campaign?!

He writes in part:

“… in our total obsession with the human sexuality question we have missed out on our church engaging in a prophetic way with what has turned out to be one of the most devastating periods in the economy of the world.  The lack of moral and ethical standards by financiers, international investment agencies, individuals and boards has infected the whole global market.  Anglican churches and dioceses across the world have been seriously impacted with subsequent cuts to jobs and mission initiatives. …

Offer a though for those who have lost jobs, houses and whose lives have been shattered by the financial greed of a few.  Consider that the swine flu pandemic was caused by a culture of destitution in which humans and animals live together in single dwellings eking out an existence that barely keeps body and soul together.  The effect of the financial crisis on the poor is catastrophic as charity dries up and compassion loses its charm when financial loss is sustained.  The unbridled greed that was assisted by a total lack of moral conscience has touched every aspect of life on this planet.

… [he continues:]

While the emphasis was on alleviating the debt crisis for the poorest nations, the call to transparency and accountability in the area of loan portfolios and investment was clearly articulated.  The report called upon the Anglican Communion, worldwide and in each local scene, to counter the culture of greed that was leading to bad investment and risky debt procedures.  It called upon the church leaders to engage passionately with governments, banking institutions and global investment personnel to exercise extreme caution in the lending market.

If we had engaged on this resolution with a minute part of the passion and fire we have exercised on the sexuality debate, the world’s poor would be in a different place today, and so would we.” [Archbishop’s Charge to the First Session of the Forty-Seventh Synod of the Diocese of Perth, pp. 23-24]

As I said at the beginning, I am haunted by Sr Ilia’s comment:  We are at a Franciscan moment.

One of the down sides I find about being so isolated is that when I happen to miss the annual Convocation, it hurts beyond belief.  I rarely am able to get to one of the normal meetings, but I have always tried to attend the Convocation, it is vital to my sense of who I am as a Franciscan.  I think in the 21 years I have been involved in the WA Third Order, I have missed 2, and one of them was last year.  With the lack of a regular newsletter, I have felt I had really drifted aimlessly.  Like being sent to some far off land with no contact from your family and the people you hold dear.

By April this year I was really beginning to struggle and so Sr Ilia’s visit came a just the right time and it was such a blessing to be able to attend and to make contact with many of you again.

Then, through a Facebook friend, a Tertiary from South Africa, I was put in touch with a book which I felt re connected me with my Franciscan roots.  It is a book called Chasing Francis.  The book is purely fiction, and is the story of an evangelical pastor in the US who is burnt out and has a breakdown in front of his congregation and is basically booted out by his elders who put him on stress leave.  He travels to Italy where he has a much loved uncle who had become a Catholic Franciscan Friar and is based in Assisi.  Throughout the book there weaves the fictional story of the pastor, the stories we love so much of Francis, vivid descriptions of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside and something else going on just below the surface – encounters with people who were living out the Franciscan vocations and making a real difference in their world.  Whether these stories are pure fiction or whether they are based on true stories and actual people I don’t know, but it spoke to and stirred something deep within me – a reconnection with my Franciscan vocation, and certainly prepared me spiritually for what was to come in Sydney.  [For those interested, the book is Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron and is published by NavPress, and Koorong have it in stock!]

In Sydney, as you have heard, the Province of Australia, PNG and East Asia proudly launched JPIC!  Yippee!!!!  The whole Sydney conference was around that social justice theme, as you will have seen from David Noble’s report which you have in your folder.  It is only in its infancy, but things are moving and certainly Glenys McCarrick of Queensland [Day 19 of the prayer list!] is a very enthusiastic driving force, so watch “this space” in future Provincial newsletters.

I guess this is a very long winded way of leading to the question, if we are living at a Franciscan moment in time, and we are called to live a Franciscan vocation, what can we do?

Professor Ian Harper said that part of what we must do as Christians is to build communities of hope – hope is essential to life.

St Paul writes in Romans 5: 1-5:

1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”

I believe as Franciscans we are called to be the Hope bearers at this time.  That it is through our vocations, through the aims of this society by which we aim to live that we can fulfil this calling at this Franciscan moment in time.

Ignatius and Benedict have been all the rage for years, now it is Francis’ time!

Francis is not the saint of the bird bath, or the slightly mad, before his time tree hugging hippy.  I believe ours is a holistic spirituality which embraces and encompasses the whole of creation, the whole of the human condition.  Ours is Jesus’ commission from Isaiah 61:

1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor,

So what can we do?

Who are we in all this?

What is it that attracted us to Francis in the first place?

Do we live our Franciscan charism?

How can we be more intentional / more vocal / more “out there” about living and promoting the Franciscan way?

About living out our belief in Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in our world?

How do we make the most of this Franciscan Moment in time?

At this point I was going to suggest split up into small groups to discus some questions, but much of this ground we covered yesterday in the Community meeting.  I was thrilled to see the resolve to “get out there” and up our profile with stalls at YouthCARE and the diocesan Synods.  I really believe that this is the right time for us to get our message “out there” and pray that what came out of the brain-storming session will be followed up on.

Perhaps we can discuss this further, informally over morning tea?

So, I would like to finish with the prayer that Archbishop Roger used to finish his charge:

May God bless you with discomfort

at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,

that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger

at injustice, oppression and exploitation,

that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

God bless you with tears

to shed for those who suffer pain,

rejection, starvation and war,

that you may reach out your hand to comfort them

and turn their pain to joy.

May God bless you with foolishness

to believe that you can make a difference,

that you may do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

be with you now and always.  Amen.

Revd Sally Buckley tssf

Tssf WA Convocation 2009.

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