You may have heard me refer to being a “life-professed Anglican Franciscan with the Third Order of the Society of St Francis (TSSF)” and wondered what exactly that means. Well, for starters, it obviously doesn’t mean I am a monk or friar, given that I am married with children. And I’m not a priest. (Yet? But that’s another conversation) A good generic summary of what the TSSF is can be found in the ‘Principles’ of the Order:
The object of the Society of Saint Francis is to build a community of those who accept Christ as their Lord and Master and are dedicated to him in body and spirit. They surrender their lives to him and to the service of his people. The Third Order of the Society consists of those who, while following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to dedicate their lives under a definite discipline and vows. They may be female or male, married or single, ordained or lay.
Basically, a third order of a religious community is a branch of that community for “everyday folks” who commit to a religious life but in a secular context. Every spiritual tradition tends to have its own unique theological leanings, with Franciscans generally being social-justice and creation-care focused.
Theology aside, though, one of the more tangible impacts on my life from being a Franciscan ‘tertiary’ is living by a Rule of Life. While we do not make strict vows of poverty or celibacy like a monk/friar or nun, we do commit to living by a specific Rule that includes elements of prayer, community, and lifestyle.
What exactly a Rule of Life looks like can depend on the tradition it comes from (ie. Benedictine vs. Franciscan) as well as how strict it is. In the TSSF, each member develops their own specific Rule appropriate to their life and situation, but focusing on some main components: Eucharist, penitence, personal prayer, self-denial, retreat, study, simplicity of living, work, and obedience.
Early on in the formation process, it is tempting to get caught up in the details of your personal Rule of Life, and stress when you don’t always live up to it. You do it because it is expected of you and you are accountable to a formation counsellor. But gradually, the Rule becomes a part of you and you don’t do it out of obligation but for love of the firm foundation it provides, the anchor it becomes in difficult times, and how it keeps your focus on God.
There have been difficult times in my life when having a well-developed habit of prayer has helped me push through – sometimes the moment you need to pray the most is when you want to the least. The challenge is take care that our religious customs do not become hard-hearted rules and requirements, or simply a routine checklist to tick off.
If you’d like to know anything more about my life as a third order Franciscan or explore the concept of a Rule of Life (non-Religious people are certainly free to form their own simple Rule), I’d be happy to talk with you about it. I’m always just a phone call or email away.