Representing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedienceWhen St. Francis encouraged the formation of the Third Order he recognized that many are called to serve God in the spirit of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience in everyday life (rather than in a literal acceptance of these principles as in the vows of the Brothers and Sisters of the First and Second Orders). The Rule of The Third Order is intended to enable the duties and conditions of daily living to be carried out in this spirit.
- Living with the Principles of the Order, Day Four

Over the past two months I’ve shared a bit about my journey so far in my vocation as a Franciscan, and why I believe Francis of Assisi’s path in living the Gospel has relevance today. This month I’d like to share a bit of what this Franciscan path translates to in my daily life and practice.

There are two key things that guide me in my regular routine on this path. The first of these is a set of principles shared by the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis (TSSF). The Principles capture the three aims of the Order:

  • To make our Lord known and loved everywhere…
    affirming God’s love for and honoring the Divine image in everyone I meet.
  • To spread a spirit of peace and harmony through fellowship…
    the ongoing effort of trying to live as an instrument of God’s peace– breaking down barriers between people and seeking equality for all.
  • To live simply…
    always remembering that we are stewards of all that God blesses us with; never destroying or wasting that which is given us, and always remembering the needs of others.

Members of the Third Order seek to achieve these aims through our prayerful openness to God and others; our study of scripture, the Church’s mission, our Franciscan vocation, and God’s creation; and in our daily work and lives– serving God and working for the good of others in love, joy and peace.

To help guide us in these goals, each Franciscan lives according to a Rule of Life; an intentional pattern of practices/disciplines which provide structure and direction for spiritual growth… (Think of it as a way of documenting what you want to do and how you want to behave when you feel closest and most fulfilled in God...  And writing that down when feel positive about that,  so that it might guide you for those inevitable times when you feel less sure or more discouraged.  A kind of kinesthetic route/routine you and God collaboratively write so that you can always find your way home to God.)  For members of the TSSF, the process of formation– of becoming a member, begins by spending time (usually half a year… for me a year) discerning a personal rule of life incorporating twelve specific elements listed below. Each member vows to live their lives according to their Rule, though the specifics of how each of the elements are lived varies according to the circumstances of our lives.




The Holy Eucharist.


Since we see the Eucharist as the heart of our prayer, our personal rule would call us to frequent participation in this Sacrament.
Penitence.


Regular examination of our obedience to Christ is necessary. To be reconcilers we must first be deeply reconciled to God. We practice daily self-examination and regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Personal Prayer.

We set aside a definite time for prayer each day to spend time with God, to pray for others, to meditate and to express our thankfulness. Prayer is the root from which our lives and ministries grow and are nourished.

Self-Denial.

This is the discipline of saying “No” to oneself by putting God first. We are often aware of the places in our lives where additional self- discipline is needed, but our Spiritual Directors should be asked to help in this area. We also focus on eliminating the ways we may manipulate others to our own ends.

Retreat.

Silent retreats and quiet days provide an opportunity to rest and grow physically, mentally and spiritually. At least once a year, we participate in organized or private retreats.

Study.

We all need to learn more about God and His will for us. Study of the Scriptures and of Franciscan spirituality is important to our Christian growth.

Simplicity of Living.

Simplicity calls us to examine our giving of self as well as the material things over which we have control. Our cluttered lives, our preoccupations with “belonging”, can interfere in our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters. We are called to a life of simplicity, eliminating those aspects of ourselves and our lives which prevent our full expression of God’s love.

Work.

Service has always been an important part of the Franciscan vocation. Daily work is one way in which Tertiaries serve God and others; we are often also called to serve God and our brothers and sisters in individual ministries, ranging from prayer to social activism.

Obedience.

All Tertiaries are obedient to the decisions of Third Order Chapter. We say the Daily Offices, we support each other by prayer, attendance at Fellowship meetings and a pledge of financial support to the Third Order. We report regularly to the Order on the keeping of our Rule. We have Spiritual Directors whom we see a minimum of twice a year.

 

For me, my Rule of Life defines a pattern or order of my life that helps keep me open and aware of God’s presence in my life and helps me discern how to grow in faith. How to set aside time to nurture that Holy relationship, and how to grow in service God and to others. That includes time at the end of my day reflecting on those moments where I felt I was moving closer to, or further from God. It includes time studying scripture, monastic wisdom, and Franciscan history and theology. It includes daily observance of Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer as well as time in meditation and intercession. It calls for examining closely how I spend my time and money knowing there are others with too little of either. It calls for setting aside one day of the week free from distractions, anxiety, and commerce to concentrate on the many blessings I’ve already received from God. It calls me to focus on those things that are really important in my life which often aren’t the same things deemed important by our culture, and to live in reverence of all that surrounds me. It is the context in which I serve my parish family as a worship leader, Eucharistic minister and lay preacher. It calls me to spend time caring for my brothers and sisters, both in my work here in this parish as well as being a volunteer chaplain… and caring especially for the least of these our brothers and sisters, those forgotten, discarded, or considered of little functional value to society. It calls me to be a good steward the hills, fields and forest around me and all the abundance of life that calls those places home, both here in Vermont and across the globe. It calls me to be an active participant in God’s amazing and continuing Creation, with humility, love and joy.