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Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

Archive for the tag “poverty”

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.

 

Heaven Times Three


Jacopone da Tode

Lauda LX – Holy Poverty and the Third Heaven

 Love of poverty, realm of peace!
Poverty, secure life with no grief, no rancour,
with no fear from robbers nor from storms!

Poverty dies in peace, makes no will,
leaves the world as clean as an arrow,
and leaves people in harmony.

It needs no judge nor notary
owes no fees to court,
laughs at the greedy man
who stands in so much anxiety.

Poverty, high wisdom, subject to nothing,
despises possessing, yet possesses
every created thing.

Those who despise possessions
possess without offense to themselves,
nothing a trap for their foot
as they face their days.

Those who are possessed by self
have sold themselves to that which they love:
if they think they have gained,
they have gained damaged goods.

So pernicious courage can enter into slavery,
the image of God, its grace, sullied by emptiness.

God does not dwell in narrow hearts,
the larger the heart
the greater the desire for God –
poverty has such a great heart
that Deity dwells there.

Poverty is hidden by heaven
from those darkened on earth;
those who have entered the third heaven
hear the mysterious deeps.

The first heaven is the sky,
stripped of every honour,
offers the great obstacle
in finding security.

To make honour die in you,
you must abandon riches,
silence learning,
and flee reputation of holiness.

Riches rob you of time,
Knowledge is blown away in the wind,
Reputation breeds hypocrisy
and sticks with every deposition.

Steady in the starry sky
are those who are stripped of all three.
Look – another heaven behind the veil,
clear and sturdy.

Four winds stir the sea
and disturb the mind –
fear and hope,
grief and joy.

These four strip away
more than riches, reputation or learning.
So I say, contradicting
those without spiritual capacity.

You need not have fear of hell
nor hope for heaven,
nothing should make you rejoice
or make you grieve for adversity.

Righteousness does not come through these,
since these hold you outside of it;
Completely cloaked righteousness holds you
and heals your failings.

If righteousness is without covering,
and vices are clothed,
mortal blows are given
and wounded on earth you will stay.

When the vices are dead,
and righteousness restored,
you will be strengthened in God’s company,
in every way protected.

The third heaven is the highest,
it has no bounds or measures,
beyond imagination,
all fantasy terminated.

All good has been stripped from you,
divested of all righteousness,
treasure the bargain
of your own shame.

This heaven is built strong,
founded on a nothing,
where purified love
lives in truth.

Since what appears to be the case to you is not,
because it is so much higher than it is,
pride in this heaven
damns itself to humility.

Between righteousness and action
many are mocked as “mad”,
as long as they think they are well served
they remain on earth separated from God.

This heaven has no name,
the tongue tries to say
where love is in prison
and light is in darkness.

All light is darkness,
and all darkness is day,
the new philosophy
has consumed the old wineskins.

There where Christ is grafted,
and the old wood is pruned,
one is transformed into the other
in wondrous unity.

Love lives without desire
and wisdom without intellect,
the will, chosen by God
to do his will.

I live and yet not I,
and my being is not my being,
this is so cross-wise,
that it cannot be circumscribed.

Poverty has nothing
and can desire nothing;
and yet possesses everything
in the spirit of liberty.

–          Translation Ted Witham 2013

 

 

 

 

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”.


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