The Principles of the Order
Jesus the Master speaks, I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves their life loses it; anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
The Master sets before us in the example of his own sacrifice the secret of fruit-bearing. He surrenders himself to death, and lo! he becomes the source of new life to myriads. Lifted up from the earth in sacrifice, he draws unto him all those multitudes of which the Greeks, whose coming kindled his vision, are the foretaste and prophecy. The life that is cherished perishes; the life that is renounced is eternal.
This law of renunciation and sacrifice, which is the law of the Master’s own life and fruit-bearing, he lays also upon his servants, bidding us follow him in the same path. To those who thus follow he promises the ineffable reward of union with himself and acceptance by the Father.
The object, therefore, of the First Order, is to build up a body which, accepting Christ as Lord and Master, will seek to follow him in the way of renunciation and sacrifice as an act of witness and for the loving service of his brothers and sisters in the world.
God has at all times called certain of his children to embrace a state of celibacy for the kingdom of of heaven’s sake, that they may be free to give themselves without distraction to his service. Recognizing this, we set before ourselves the aim of building up a Community which shall be completely dedicated to God alone both in body and spirit. We, in response to God’s call, after a sufficient period of probation, voluntarily dedicate ourselves to a life of devotion to our Lord under the conditions of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Three Conditions of Life
It is not without reason that the three conditions of poverty, chastity and obedience have ever been embraced by those desiring to live the life of religious detachment; for they stand for the ideal of perfect renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil, which are the three great enemies of the spiritual life.
Therefore, we seek to be poor in spirit. We desire to escape from the love of the world and the things that are in the world and rather, like our patron Saint Francis, to be in love with poverty. We covet only the unsearchable riches of Christ. We recognize, indeed, that while some of our members may be called to a literal following of Saint Francis in a life of actual penury and extreme simplicity, for most of us so high an ideal will not be possible.
We desire to possess nothing which cannot be shared by those around us and such things as will help to satisfy our needs. We receive no pay and own no personal possessions. We live as a family having all things in common. We receive for our use the simple necessities of life. Yet what we receive we regard not as our own but rather as lent to us for a season. Nor must we, while excluding the snare of the world from our individual lives, allow it to return in the corporate Community, where it may work a wider and more fatal destruction. It would be small gain were we to surrender our personal possessions only to live in luxury through the abundance of the common stock. Therefore the Community must turn away from excess. The buildings we erect and the style and manner of life which we permit must be the simplest that are consistent with good health and efficient work. If there is money beyond what such simple needs require, let it be spent in works of mercy and service, or else be used for the house of God, which it is right and seemly with proper moderation to adorn, or for the purchase of books which are necessary to the work of study.
In all things let us exhibit the simplicity of true Franciscans, who, caring little for the world, where we are but strangers and pilgrims, have our hearts set on that spiritual home where our treasure lies.
Furthermore, that we may wait upon the Lord without distraction and give ourselves wholly to his work, being wedded only to Christ, our true spouse, we embrace of our own will the vocation of celibacy. We do this not because we believe that the unmarried state is in itself higher than the married, but because we believe that for us the unmarried state is that in which God wishes us to serve him. Therefore we look to God with confidence to give us the grace needed for this life which, if we should undertake it contrary to his will, would be to us a state of greater rather than less distraction than that of marriage.
We are bound, like all Christians, to resist and by God’s grace to conquer the temptations of the flesh, and to live lives of purity and self-control. We must ever strive through faithful self-discipline and prayer to be chaste both in mind and body.
In thus accepting the state of chastity, we must ever be on our guard against the temptation to self-centeredness, coldness or a lack of sympathy with the interests of others. Our espousal to Christ must not weaken or mar our human affections. Rather must our union with him enable us to love more richly with his love all with whom we are brought in contact.
The Master, who, coming into the world not to do his own will but the will of the one that sent him, in obedience accepted even death, death on a cross, says to those who follow him, Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. We desire, therefore, to surrender our wills to the will of God in the spirit of perfect obedience, that being delivered from self-will and pride we may find true freedom and peace, and be ready instruments which God can use for God’s purpose.
By voluntarily accepting the Rule as binding upon us, we pledge ourselves to abide by this Rule and to obey the decisions of the Chapter, by which the common mind of the Community is expressed and interpreted. It is the work of the Ministers to administer the Rule, and to see that the decisions of the Chapter are observed. Their directions, therefore, unless they order something contrary to the Rule or in itself sinful, must be promptly and cheerfully carried out. In their absence obedience is due to their Assistants. Those put in charge of a department of work are also to be obeyed in that department. But none of us may, on any authority, act contrary to the guiding of our own consciences. The Ministers are, like the other members, under obedience to the Rule and Chapter, and are bound to exercise their authority, not in a spirit of partiality or pride or selfishness, but with equal consideration and love and with humble prayer for the divine wisdom.
The obligation of particular obedience within the Community we gladly accept, not as something different from the obedience which we owe to God, but rather as part of that obedience. We are confident that if God has called us to a life under Rule we will, in fulfilling the obligations of that life, be most truly obeying him and that, whatever limitations or humiliations our obedience may involve, will, if cheerfully accepted, be a means by which pride is vanquished and a more perfect consecration achieved. When working away from the Community, we should put ourselves under the discipline of the parish or society in which we are staying.
We seek to serve our Master by the life of devotion, by sacred study and by works. In the life of the Community as a whole all these three ways must find full and balanced expression. It is not, indeed to be expected that we will all devote ourselves equally to each of these three tasks. It is right that our several employments should vary according to the particular ability which God has given us, as that some of us should, with the approval of the Minister, give ourselves in large measure to prayer and contemplation, others of us to the pursuit of learning and the writing of books and others of us mainly to the ministry of active service. Yet must room be found in the lives of us all for at least some measure of each of these three employments.
The Three Ways of Service
Praise and prayer constitute the atmosphere in which we must strive to live. We must endeavor to maintain a constant recollection of the presence of God and of the unseen world. An ever-deepening devotion to Christ is the hidden source of all our strength and joy. He is for us the One all-lovely and adorable, God incarnate, crucified and risen, whose love is the inspiration of service and the reward of sacrifice.
That our union with our Lord and Master may be ever renewed and strengthened, we unite in offering daily before God the memorial of his death and passion, and feeding often upon his sacrificial life. The holy Eucharist is the center around which our life revolves. It is above all the heart of our prayer life. The time of Morning Prayer is the preparation of mind and spirit for entrance within the sanctuary. The meditation is the opportunity for quiet tryst with him who, through the sacrament, is present inwardly, and for feeding on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. Services of intercession and thanksgiving are times when we who have been thus joined with God in communion and meditation may plead with God in sure reliance on his promise: if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask whatever you will will and you shall receive it, and also thank him for continuous experience of its fulfillment. Evening Prayer is the renewed offering of praise and prayer to the same Lord at the end of the day’s work. Night Prayer is the Master’s blessing of protection and peace and, in its closing silence, the hearts of us all are together steeped afresh in the peace of that inward uncreated light which, as the shadows of life deepen, abides unchanged.
We must strive ever to remember how essential is the work of prayer to every department of our lives. Without the constant renewal of divine grace the spirit flags, the will is weakened, the conscience grows dull, the mind loses its freshness and even the bodily vigor is impaired. We must, therefore, always be on our guard against the constant temptation to let other work encroach upon the hours of prayer, remembering that if we seek in this way to increase the bulk of our activity it can only be at the cost of its true quality and value. We must be regular and punctual in our attendance at corporate prayer. We must also bear in mind that it is of little value to be present at the common devotions in a formal or careless spirit. We must seek to make of each office an offering of true devotion from the heart. The reverent, ordered and earnest offering of the corporate worship is the very heart of our Community life.
So too we must guard with jealous watchfulness the times of private prayer. We must remember that corporate worship is not a substitute for the quiet communion of the individual soul with God, and we must strive to go forward to ever fuller enjoyment of such communion until we are living in so constant a remembrance of God’s presence that we do indeed pray continually.
It is to assist such an attitude and practice of recollection that the rules of silence have been laid down, and we will welcome and use such silence, regarding it not as the imposition of an artificial restraint, nor merely as an external rule to be observed by refraining from speech, but as an opportunity for growing in the sense of the divine presence. We will welcome in a like spirit the retreats and days of quiet which the Community’s Rule provides as times when, in withdrawal from all external distractions, the life of the spirit may be renewed and deepened.
In these and suchlike ways, we will seek to keep ever fresh and living our devotion to Christ our Lord; and when, through human frailty, we fail in our high endeavor we will yet return again to Christ with humble contrition and earnest purpose of amendment; and we will hold in special esteem that sacrament of penance and absolution whereby we are cleansed from sin and renewed in the life of grace.
The true knowledge is the knowledge of God. The highest wisdom is that holy wisdom whereby the soul is made one with God. The first place, therefore, in our work of study will always be given to the study and practice of the way of the soul’s ascent to God and the devotional study of the scriptures as one of the chief aids to that end. We will study also the teaching of the Christian saints concerning the spiritual life. It is the hope of the Community that some of its houses may be not only homes of prayer but also homes of learning. It is out of this recognition of the value and importance of study that some of the hours each day are set apart for this purpose under the Rule; and it is mainly for the uninterrupted securing of these hours that the rule of the lesser silence is laid down whenever possible.
Jesus the Master took on himself the form of a servant. He did not come to be served but to serve. He went about doing good, healing the sick, preaching good tidings to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted. Those of us who would claim to be his servants and follow him must be diligent in ministry to others. The active works by which we seek to serve our Master begin within the house and garden. The sweeping, dusting and other menial offices, as well as certain forms of manual work, are apportioned among us so that we all may contribute our share to the work of the household and the cost of our own living. All of us must be capable of engaging in some form of manual work. All of us must consider the interests of the Community in its work for God and study strict economy. We will do our own work as far as possible. Saint Francis said that the idle member has no place in the Community.
Outside the special works of service to the Community, there are many opportunities of ministry, particularly to the uncared-for, the sick, the suffering and the needy. The Community sets before it, as the special program of service which it would like to be able to carry out, those acts of mercy the doing of which even to the humblest the Master declares that he will accept as done unto himself. By helping in the relief of poverty we may give Christ food and drink. By hospitality to the stranger we may take him in. By relieving the homeless and naked we may clothe him. By caring for the sick we may relieve him. By visiting the prisoner we may cheer him. We do not, indeed, expect ever to have at our disposal many funds for the administration of charitable relief, but we will gladly lend ourselves in the work of such relief and co-operate with others who are doing it. In all such work, we will seek to serve all irrespective of creed, offering our services not as a bribe but as a reflection of the love of Christ himself.
The chiefest of all forms of service that we can offer must ever be the effort to show others in his beauty and power the Christ who is the inspiration and joy of our lives. We will seek to do this, not in a spirit of aggression, nor with contempt for the beliefs of others, but rather because, knowing in our own experience the power of Christ to save from sin and to give newness of life, we must needs seek to share our own supreme treasure. Out of the fullness, therefore, of devoted love we would seek to give our beloved Master to all.
We must remember that, in this task of showing Christ to others, the witness of life is more eloquent than that of words. Therefore, we must seek rather to be living lives through which Christ can manifest himself than to preach much in public. Nevertheless, there will be some amongst us called more particularly to the ministry of the Word, and all of us must be ready at all times to give an answer for the faith that is in us, and particularly to guide all who are sincerely seeking after truth. We must also be ready by instruction and prayer and spiritual direction to strengthen the faith of Christians and lead them forward in the spiritual life.
We must be glad at all times to relieve those who come to us for help or counsel. We must never give the impression that we have no time for such ministry. Rather must we be ready to lay aside all other work, including even the work of prayer, where such service is immediately required, confident that such a negligence will surely be well-pleasing to the Servant of all.
The Three Notes of the Order
Humility is the recognition of the truth about God and ourselves, the recognition of our own insufficiency and dependence, seeing that we have nothing which we have not received. It is the mother of all Christian virtues. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has said, no spiritual house can stand for a moment save on the foundation of humility. It is the first condition of a happy life within the family. Thus we must remember that those of us who are always confident that we are right and eager to impose our opinion on others will be unhappy as chafing under the discipline of subordination and correction, and will also make the life of the family unhappy by marring that distinctive atmosphere of harmony and order which depends on each of us doing our allotted task with cheerfulness. The glad acceptance of the rule of obedience, and the loyal fulfillment of orders that are distasteful or difficult, will be one sure means of growing in this grace.
The three notes which must ever in special degree mark our lives are humility, love and joy. If these prevail within us the object of the Community will be fulfilled and its work fruitful. If they are lacking, it will be unprofitable and barren.
We will strive to keep ever before us the example of Christ who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and who, on the last night of his life, humbly in the guise of a slave washed his disciples’ feet. We will ever seek after his pattern to clothe ourselves with humility towards one another.
We must refrain from all contemptuous thoughts one of another and, not seeking for pre-eminence, must esteem others better than ourselves. The faults that we see in others must be subjects for prayer rather than criticism, and we must be more diligent to cast out the beam from our own eye than the speck from another’s. We must be ready, not only gladly to accept the lowest place when bidden but rather, of our own accord, take it. Nevertheless, if entrusted with a work of which we feel incapable or unworthy, we must not shrink from accepting it on the plea of humility but attempt it confidently through the power that is made perfect in weakness.
In our relations also with those outside, we must strive to show our Master’s humility. We must welcome gladly all opportunities of humble service that come to us and never desire pre-eminence or praise. In particular, we must resist the temptation to consider ourselves superior to others because dedicated to a life of religion, realizing how much greater often are the sacrifices and difficulties of those engaged in the ordinary professions of life and how much more nobly they face them.Love
This love we must show towards all to whom we are united by natural ties of relationship or friendship. We will love them not less but more as our love for Christ grows deeper.
The Master says, By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples. Love is thus the distinguishing feature of all true disciples of Christ. It must be specially an outstanding note in our lives, as we seek to be specially consecrated to Christ as his servants. God is love and, for those whose lives are hidden with Christ in God, love will be the very atmosphere which surrounds all that they do.
We will love with a special affection those to whom we are united within the family of the Community, praying for each individually and seeking to grow in love for each. We must be on our guard against all that injures this love: the bitter thought, the hasty retort, the angry gesture; and never fail to ask forgiveness of any against whom we have sinned. We must seek to love equally with others those with whom we have least natural affinity. For this love of one another is not simply the welling up of natural affection but a supernatural love which God gives us through our common union with Christ. As such it bears testimony to its divine origin. Our Lord intended the unity of those who believe in him to be a special witness to the world of his divine mission. The Community must show the spectacle of a Christian family whose members, even though of varied race and education and character, are bound into a living fellowship by this supernatural love.
Lastly, in all our relationships with those, whether Christians or not, with whom our work brings us in contact we will seek to show forth this same supernatural Christ-like love; and, remembering that love is measured by sacrifice, we will seek gladly to spend whatever gifts we may possess of body, mind and spirit in the service of those to whom God calls us to minister.Joy
This joy, likewise, is a divine gift and comes only from union with God in Christ. As such it can abide even in days of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment and an inward serenity and confidence in sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can be content, for Christ’s sake, with weakness, contempt, persecution, hardship and frustration; for when they are weak, then they are strong.
Rejoicing in the Lord always, we must show forth in our lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. We must remember that we follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking, who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little children, who was the friend of publicans and sinners, who sat at the tables alike of the rich and the poor. We will, therefore, put aside all gloom and moroseness, all undue aloofness from the common interests of people and delight in laughter and good fellowship. We will rejoice in God’s world and all its beauty and its living creatures, calling nothing common or unclean. We will mingle freely with all kinds of people, seeking to banish sorrow and to bring good cheer into other lives. We will carry with us an inner secret of happiness and peace which all will feel, if they may not know its source.
These three notes of humility, love and joy, which should mark our lives are all supernatural graces which can be won only from the divine bounty. They can never be attained through our own unaided exertions. They are miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. But it is the purpose of Christ our Master to work miracles through his servants and, if we will but be emptied of self and utterly surrendered to him, we will become chosen vessels of his Spirit and effective instruments of his mighty working, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or conceive.