Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

For those about to be Professed in the Third Order


SERMON FOR PROFESSIONS, NOVICING AND RENEWAL,

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.

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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

 

Remembering Brother Douglas


Brother Douglas

BROTHER DOUGLAS DOWNES (“Apostle to the Wayfarers”/First Minister of the Society of St Francis)

1878-1957

September 7

Brother Douglas was a priest and an Oxford economics don. Moved by the plight of homeless men living ‘on the road’ in the depression, he helped set up the community at Hilfield Farm to minister to the wayfarers.

Sentence

Happy are those who consider the poor and helpless;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)

Collect

God of the poor, you called Brother Douglas to care for the poor and helpless: give us grace to see our brother and sister in every person we meet and to deal generously with those in need following the example of our Brother and Lord, your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readings

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 68:4-8

2 Corinthians 4:5-15

Matthew 5:1-14

Sentence

All who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:44)

Source: Third Order, Society of St Francis, Australian Province, Manual. Brother Francis’ memoir of Douglas can be found here.


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?




Medium term help for Haiti’s vulnerable


Joint statement on behalf of Caritas Internationalis, International Catholic Child Bureau, Dominicans for Justice and Peace [Order of Preachers], Franciscans International, Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice, VIDES International, Teresian Association, and OIDEL[1]

At Thirteenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council: Special Session “The Support of the Human Rights Council to the Recovery Process in Haiti after the Earthquake of January 12, 2010: A Human Rights Approach”

As Catholic Church-inspired organizations deeply engaged in humanitarian assistance, development, and defence of human rights programmes in Haiti long before the most recent catastrophe, we express our gratitude to this august Council for its wise attention to the human rights implications of the current emergency. The impact of this disaster is felt most directly by the victims themselves. It also has resulted in an exponential deterioration of structures necessary to deliver effective and efficient aid and to assure enjoyment of human rights by the Haitian people who have suffered injustice, want, and marginalisation for too long a period of time. In this regard, we appeal to this Council to call for a balance between emergency action and a long-term development perspective in response to the crying needs of the Haitian people.

The immediate dimensions of this crisis already have been communicated widely within the international community and to the general public, even if total consequences are yet uncalculated. Thus, we will focus on the human rights concerns that our organizations have seen firsthand in the course of our immediate and widespread emergency relief efforts. These efforts continue to suffer from severe lack of resources and of coordination.[2] These initiatives are supplementary to the efforts of local persons, many of whom are motivated by faith-related values of solidarity, concern for the most vulnerable, and commitment to the common good to share what little food, water, and shelter they have with those less fortunate than themselves. Thus we acknowledge that most effective humanitarian response, that also is respectful of basic human rights, must be located in families and local communities.

We wish to raise a special appeal to prioritize the immediate survival and protection needs of women and children. Both the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have called attention to the striking vulnerability of these populations even before the present disaster occurred. Thus we call on the Human Rights Council to urge development, by the international community, of special action plans to ensure adequate access to and provision of nutrition, water, shelter, health care and protection against violence for both women and children. We also appeal for attention to emotional as well as physical needs of children in order to promote their future development and resilience. In this regard, education must be included among the first lines of response, especially for children who are separated from their families, so that they can regain a sense of “normalcy” and thus benefit from safe and secure spaces where they can interact positively with caregivers and with each other.

A particular challenge to delivery of immediate aid has been the lack of coordination evident in many sectors of humanitarian response. In a country with little infrastructure or rule of law, the international community must take measures to guarantee basic protection, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Our organizations insist that self-serving actions by countries and organizations engaged in relief efforts must be prevented.[3]

As organizations that will remain on the ground in Haiti long after other international organizations have left, we also wish to raise deep concerns about the possibility of envisioning and implementing long-term development strategies and action in this long-suffering country. As was pointed out by Caritas Internationalis President, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, “We have long warned that the lack of development in Haiti, its dire poverty, and its decaying infrastructure leaves it vulnerable to disasters.[4]” We believe that the time has come for the international community, with strong urging from this distinguished Council, to mobilise “lasting solutions and commitment to alleviate the misery of Haitians and the infrastructural poverty of this beleaguered nation.[5]” In accord with the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity, we believe that such solutions cannot be developed without the direct participation and leadership of the Haitian people.

Key to such a long-term development strategy will be strengthening of health, education, agricultural, and overall economic infrastructure in the country. Caution must be taken against aid approaches that will cause further dependency among the Haitian people. For example, Haiti can produce its own rice, beans, and corn that can save the lives of its own children! Equally crucial is the development of a truly democratic system that allows free expression of opinion and the rule of justice and law based on the common good for all Haitian people. A careful balance between assistance and development efforts concentrated in the capital and those undertaken in other parts of the country could facilitate a solution to situations of over-crowding in Port-au-Prince as well as further development of trade and industry on a more equitable basis throughout this nation.

We believe that Mme. Claudette Werleigh, former Prime Minister of Haiti, and present Secretary General of Pax Christi International has aptly described this goal as follows: “Haiti and its institutions must be strong enough to be prepared for the next tragedy that may hit the country. It is not every time that we can rely on international help.”[6]

In conclusion, we recommend that the Human Rights Council request all relevant mandate holders and Special Rapporteurs (the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur on the right to heath, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children,  the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Independent Expert on access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti) to urgently carry out a joint mission to investigate the violations of human rights in Haiti and to submit  their report to the 14th session of  Human Rights Council in June 2010.


[1] The Fondazione Marista per la Solidarietà Internazionale and Centro Poveda align themselves to this statement.

[2] A most recent report on the situation from the Caritas Internationalis team on site in Haiti, with participation from local Caritas Haiti workers as well as specialists from 16 additional countries indicated: “Food assistance does not meet the demand in the neighbourhoods and camps. There is high demand for medical care, but a limited number of specialists and medicines, and minimal facilities for operations. There is a need for more water and for removal of rubble and waste, and roofing and shelter are in short supply.” (“Caritas official: Agencies must gear up to help Haitians in long term, by Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service, 25 January 2010.)

[3] Military contingents mandated through unilateral decisions taken by individual countries may not represent the most balanced or efficient responses to such crisis situations. A more vigorous response by the international community, through joint action taken in the context of the United Nations system, should be considered. Another important contribution to emergency response planning and action may be sought from regional structure of CARICOM and the Caribbean countries that constitute themselves as geographical neighbours to Haiti.

[4] http://blog.caritas.org/2010/01/14/caritas-president-calls-for-international-support-to-haiti/

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The only way to help is to have the Haitian people themselves involved in the rescue operation,” The Tablet, 23 January 2010.

Hard-pressed but firm in the faith


Reflections on the catastrophic earthquake of 12 January.

Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin

Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal church of Haiti.

“Hard pressed but firm in the faith.”

This cry arises from the heart of Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Haiti after the evidence of this devastating catastrophe of this Tuesday 12 January in the afternoon; a date which will be engraved for ever in the memory of Haitians and the inhabitants of the whole world.  12 January, about 4:53 in the afternoon, is the beginning of another page in the history of this republic called the “First Black Republic in the world.”

The humanitarian assistance which has been announced for this catastrophe is also historic. The quake has been a hard blow in a country of more than 10 million souls.  Residents have lost everything, their house, and their former lives.  The capital has been transformed into a huge refugee camp.  They desperately need water, food and medication.

“I was almost buried under the roofing of Bishop’s House,” Monsignor Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Haiti, told us. “I was two seconds away from the entry door, and I was just able, thanks to the help of the Most High, to escape with my life.  My wife who was inside the house is still in the ZANMI Health Centre, with injuries to her legs which were crushed in the debris of the house. We had just time to drag her from the rubble. Two of my children miraculously got out of the collapsed house. Holy Trinity Cathedral succumbed to this earthquake, magnitude 7.3 on the Richter scale, which has devastated our country: the roof of Saint Cecilia Hall, the only stadium in Haiti, has practically come down on the stage where concerts are held regularly… most of our churches are destroyed; a number of our schools are piles of rock.

St Peter’s College, where I have set up a makeshift tent with my family among about 3000 refugees during the day and many more at night, is fragile, because there is no water or food. Hygiene conditions are precarious with so many young children, nearly 200 children, and the presence of handicapped children from St Vincent school, which sustained irreparable damage, has complicated the life they had developed in an appropriate environment on Paul 6 Street.  A large part of the capital has been completely destroyed.  The National Palace has partly collapsed.  Several Ministry buildings, Parliament, churches, hospitals, hotels, schools and several universities have been destroyed, the University of the Episcopal Church of Haiti among them.  The scene before our eyes is truly sad.

The shock has severely disrupted communications in the country.  The wounded are conveyed to the hospital centres that are still standing.  Holy Cross Hospital is sorting itself out to help the wounded from Leogane.

“I hold out the arms of the diocese to the thousands without shelter, and I offer my prayers,” says the Bishop of the Diocese of Haiti.  “Haiti already had serious difficulties before the earthquake with an extremely poor population, so after the earthquake it will be difficult for us to pull through alone.

“International media are speaking of between 150,000 and 200,000 dead.  There would be 250,000 wounded and a million without shelter, over half of whom are in Port-au-Prince, the capital.  We have all being surprised during the 48 seconds of this deadly tremor.  The UN itself recognizes that this earthquake as a catastrophe without precedent.

“The course of THE HISTORY OF HAITI has changed.

“I want to say THANK YOU to all who have extended a helping hand to us.  What is more, I would like to think that we are at the beginning of a long partnership.  I invite you to accompany us in helping our Haitian brothers and sisters.

Hard pressed, but firm in the faith.”

[From the website of the Diocese of Haiti:

Translation Ted Witham tssf 23 Jan. 10]

Smooth a Highway


The Scriptures of Advent invite us to repair, straighten, restore a way for Christ to come again into our world. The images are powerful.  It is in our hands to smooth the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace.  It is left to us to prepare a way for God’s people to move beyond whatever holds them captive or oppressed to reach a place of peace and plenty.   Advent calls us into the mystery of our deeper lives in Christ.  It reminds us that Christ comes into our world today through us: we are the hands, the eyes, the  compassion of Christ reaching out to touch our world.   We are the healers, the liberators, the presence and action of God here among us.

There is a saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, weather patterns in the Atlantic Ocean are affected.   The saying has many variations and I am not sure whether it is true or not.  What I do know is that today, more than ever before, we are discovering the mystery of our interrelatedness with all humanity, our earth and the whole of the cosmos.  Our horizons are forced wider and wider, as is the embrace of our compassion, and the scope of our vision.

Today we are more aware of the way our actions affect other persons, other species and the fragile environment.  We are more aware of the shadows that encircle our world.  Millions of men, women and children walk the rough and twisted pathways of deprivation, exploitation, suffering, powerlessness, and violence.  Placed on a road and stretched single file their number would surely wrap around our globe many times.  Today we recognize that the problems of the world, like its peoples, are interrelated.  We understand that where there is extreme poverty, or chronic conflict, the rights of the most vulnerable are most often violated, and their suffering further amplified.

Extreme poverty [having less than $US 1.00  a day for all ones needs]  is the primary catalyst for conflict,  the spread of diseases like TB and HIVAIDS, and the forced migration of tens of millions in search of a better life.  It is the driving force behind the trafficking of 3 million women and children annually.  It is poverty that propels the majority of these victims into the commercial sex trade.  Poverty is the seed that produces the bad fruit of contemporary slavery.

Extreme poverty holds an estimated 1 billion people captive in hunger, exploitation, sickness, fear and violence. One prediction adds an additional 89 million people to this number by 2010.  One third of deaths, nearly 18 million a year,  are due to poverty-related causes.  Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases: over 30,000 per day.  Since 1990, 270 million people have died, mostly women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US. (Bread for the World / UNICEF].

Caught on a Highway to Hell

Joalo is seven.  He was born in Cambodia.  After his parents were killed in political conflict he was sold by his uncle for just three hundred US dollars. The money was needed to buy food.  He was handed over to a young woman and smuggled over the border into Thailand where he was forced into the sex tourism industry.  Young boys are popular.

Since there is no monitoring of his working conditions, his “employers” are able to leave him locked in a windowless room for most of the day, with water but little food.  It is very likely that he will not reach his tenth birthday as the HIVAIDS virus is a constant risk.

Thousands of boys like Joalo work in the sex trade in cities throughout the Asia Pacific, including Australia.   Women and girls too are trafficked globally for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation.  They are usually from impoverished and therefore vulnerable situations.  One of the fastest growing sex trade ‘hubs’ is in the Asia Pacific region embracing all the countries surrounding the Mekong River, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and southern China.  The many marginalised people of the region are at risk because of lack of access to education, poverty, lack of appropriate information in indigenous languages, cultural and social degeneration within traditional communities, non-traditional drug use, and increasing involvement in the sex trade which leads to high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and transmission,  and  increased vulnerability to this disease.

Many of the trafficked persons are physically abducted, or lured with half truths or hopes of employment, marriage and the promise of a better life.  Once enslaved,  sex-trafficked victims are subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse from traffickers, pimps and customers.  Many discover that they have incurred a debt which they are bonded to pay off in sexual labour. These debts can last a lifetime, enduring even after a person is repatriated.

The trafficking of persons is a hidden crime, and therefore hard to quantify.  Frighteningly, one United Nations Agency suggests that 2.44 million persons are trafficked annually:  43% for sexual exploitation, 32% for labour exploitation; and 25% a mixture of both.  It is believed that 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, and that the majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade.  It is known that the trade is growing.  There is no doubt that sex trafficking is a lucrative, and therefore booming business. Because the sex trade is normally secretive, locating sex traffickers and sex tourists to justice is immensely difficult.

Franciscans across the Asia Pacific and beyond reach out and rescue the most vulnerable.

They provide programs of immediate aid and empowerment, providing pathways to a better life.  The numbers  of the afflicted are great and their needs many.   Something more is needed to bring about lasting change.  Franciscans International participates actively in United Nations efforts to eradicate the conditions of extreme poverty that leave children and women open to sexual exploitation and enslavement.

Can you help us to smooth the pathways of those who walk the rocky roads? Your gift to Franciscans International will help us to do this. Please add a donation to your subscription form or send your donation direct to Australian Treasurer Geoff Jordan tssf.

Waiting on a Promise


WEEK ONE:  2009

ADVENT

[Third Order, Society of St Francis, Australian Province)

A journey, a couple, a star, shepherds, a birth, and a child.   We pause to remember a story that is thousands of years old, and which echoes the hopes and longings of many peoples and places.  It is not a nostalgic reminiscence of times gone by, but a dynamic, divine challenge to enter into the mystery of God’s desire born among us.  Walter Brueggemann, Scripture scholar, calls it prophetic remembrance:  we look back to remember in such a way that we are compelled to live differently into the future.

God’s promise is revealed not only in the serenity of the child in the manger, or in the wonder of angels and stars, or shepherds and sheep, since to look only at the externals we risk missing the explosive enormity of the event.  Rather, our remembrance of the birth of the babe in a cattle stall is an invitation to reflect again on the greatness of God’s gift to us and for us.  As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we cannot forget that it is our story too!  We too are called to bring Christ’s reign of justice and compassion to birth in our own lives.

Mary and Joseph lived at a time when the Israelites were an oppressed people longing for that new world that God had promised. They waited in hope for liberation, for a world where lion would be at peace with lamb, where the lowly would be lifted, and the hungry fed. They longed for a world where the desire for power and control, wealth and possessions, self-fulfillment and pleasure would be transformed to a world where equality, inclusion, justice and peace prevailed.

They longed for more than the birth of a child. They longed to see that new creation born of God’s dream for all.  They waited on a promise.  We too wait for God, and God waits for God’s promise to be fulfilled in us, and God’s reign to embrace with peace every corner of our world.  With St Francis we come to know that we are the mothers of Christ when we bring him forth in lives that are gift for the Other. Christ is born again and again in our world, and God’s gift is enfleshed each time we participate in an act of birthing a new humanity, a new world, and a new future.

Now is the time to turn our eyes to see the oppressed; our ears to hear the cries of hundreds of millions living in extreme poverty. Now is the time to reach out our hands to draw back those excluded and marginalized.  Now is the time to proclaim the Good News not only with our lips, but in the choices and decisions of our everyday lives.

What is the promise that you wait to see fulfilled?

What is the promise that you will fulfill in your life?

India Waits for a New Tomorrow.

In the towns and villages of India God’s people are oppressed and bend low beneath the weight of grief, suffering and fear.  They long for God’s promise to come true.  They long for a new world where justice and equality, peace and inclusion are more than dreams.

The government of India has failed to protect vulnerable communities including Dalits, tribal groups, and religious minorities. Since 2008, supporters of Hindu militant groups in Orissa have attacked Christians, many of them tribal minorities or Dalits. The militants have burned churches, beat priests and nuns, and destroyed property. Several policemen were suspended for dereliction of duty after a nun alleged that she was raped. At this time at least 40 persons have died in the violence, with scores injured and thousands displaced.

Failure to secure justice for the 2002 Gujarat riots-in which more than 2,000 Muslims were killed following an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims-has fueled anger amongst Muslims who face discrimination in access to housing and jobs.  The Indian government does little to protect them.

Despite a scheme launched four years ago to provide universal education, millions of children in India still have no access to education and work long hours, many as bonded laborers. Many children continue to be trafficked for marriage, sex work, or employment. Others languish in substandard orphanages or detention centers.

Human Rights Watch Report, 2009.

Recently, in a joint statement read at the General Assembly of the UN, Franciscans International spoke out on behalf of the persecuted and suffering peoples of India, making known their story: On 1 August, seven Christians including women and children were burnt alive, several dozens injured and around 177 houses were looted and destroyed mainly by fire using special chemicals. These killings and widespread violent attacks happened on unsubstantiated allegations…..The administration repeatedly failed to protect minorities …

Franciscans International, is an NGO working with the United Nations in the name of the whole Franciscan Family.  It is a voice speaking to the powerful decision makers of the world bringing about the change we long to see in our world.  For over 25 years Franciscans International has worked to fulfill God’s dream, facilitating systemic transformation in the world on behalf of the most vulnerable and our wounded planet.  Franciscans International works for that justice without which there can be no enduring “Peace and Earth”.


Fr Algy, Co-Founder of SSF


FATHER ALGY ROBERTSON SSF

1894-1955

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 http://www.gensec-ssf.org/Free/Documents/Documents_index.htm

Sentence

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

Collect

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.

Amen.

Readings

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 66:1-12

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Mark 9:30-37

Sentence

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

ABSTRACT

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

CITED

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 (http://www.tssf.org.uk/Members/TSSF_Resources_and_Downloads.html) 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)

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