From The Liber Ordinarius, the rule, constitution, statutes of the Third Order of the Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion
Our Blesssed Lord said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the father will honor.” John 12:24-26.
By the example of his own sacrifice, Jesus reveals the secret of bearing fruit; in surrendering himself to death, he becomes the source of new life. Risen from death on the cross, he draws all people to himself. Clinging to life causes life to decay; the life that is freely given is eternal.
Jesus calls those who would serve him to follow his example of surrender and sacrifice. To those who hear and obey, he promises union with God.
The object of the Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion 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 consists of those who, while following the ordinary professions of life, feel called to dedicate their own lives under a definite discipline and promises.. They may be female or male, married or single, lay or ordained.
Our Tertiaries are men and women who have dedicated themselves to God in a special way, as a result of an inward drawing which is believed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit; but partly, at least, they have found inspiration in the life and good works of St. Francis of Assisi. He was a man who learned to love God passionately, and therefore tried to follow the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ with the abandonment of a complete human generosity. In the words of the prayer, “may almighty God grant that we who walk in the way of our Blessed Father Francis may receive his blessing and ever strive to maintain his spirit and godly example, so as never to fall from his favor or paternal blessing.”
Of Three Promises of the Third Order:
At the time of novicing, the Tertiary makes three promises to God to serve Him in a par ticular calling. The promises are Simplicity, Purity, and Fidelity. At the same time, a pledge is made to the Order to keep the Rule of Life, which give effect to the promises.
In the Third Order, the promises are made with a lifelong intention, whereas the pledge is made and renewed monthly during the novitiate and annually after profession. The effect of this is three-fold.
First, it allows the Order to respect the lifelong intention, and to permit the promises, but to give it effect only for a specified period of time, so that it is possible for a Tertiary to take on and fulfill a lifelong dedication, provided he or she renews regularly.
Second, after a professed Tertiary or Oblate has made his or her annual renewal of promises/vow for at least five years, he or she may be permitted to renew promises/vow every four years, during the year in which General Chapter holds its quadrennial meeting. If possible, the renewal should take place at the meeting of General Chapter.
Third, if anyone fails to renew, or if the Order thinks it right not to accept the renewal for any reason, though the Tertiary would thereby cease to be a member of the Order, he or she would not be burdened by the lifelong obligation of the promises/vow. Since under this arrangement it requires the repeated action of two parties to maintain the promises/vow, if one is missing, the promises/vow lapse. The purpose of lifelong vows is thus secured, but both the Third Order and the individual Tertiary are protected. However, there is a moral duty for a Tertiary under promises/vow made with lifelong intention to renew the pledge when required, unless he or she is convinced that it is against God’s will to do so.
The promise of Simplicity
The first Christians surrendered completely to our Lord and recklessly gave all that they had, offering the world a new vision of a society in which a fresh attitude was taken toward material possessions. This vision was renewed by St. Francis when he chose Lady Poverty as his bride, desiring that all barriers set up by privilege based upon wealth should be destroyed by love. This is the inspiration for the promise of Simplicity.
Tertiaries, though they possess property and earn money to support themselves and their families, show themselves true followers of Christ and of St. Francis by their readiness to live simply and to share with others. They recognize that some of their members may be called to a literal following of St. Francis in a life of extreme simplicity. All, however, accept that they avoid luxury and waste, and regard their possessions as being held in trust for God.
Personal spending is limited to what is necessary for the health and well being of themselves and of their dependents. They aim to stay free from all attachment to wealth, keeping themselves constantly aware of the poverty in the world and its claim on them. Tertiaries are concerned more for the generosity that gives all, rather than for the value of property in itself. In this way they reflect in spirit the acceptance of Jesus’ challenge to sell all, give to the poor, and follow him.
The promise of Purity
The promise of Purity seeks to respect the integrity and worth of all people. The chief object of the promise of Purity is to emphasize the truth that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and [that] we were bought with a price. This can only be achieved by a spirit of chastity which sees others as belonging to God and not as a means of self-fulfillment.
The promise of Fidelity
The promise of Fidelity is found in the conviction that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God; that true life has been made available to us through his Incarnation and Ministry, by his Cross and Resurrection, and by the sending of his Holy Spirit. The Order believes that it is the commission of the Church to make the Gospel known to all and therefore seeks fidelity to the duty of bringing others to know Christ, and of praying and working for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The primary aim of the promise of Fidelity therefore is to make Christ known. This shapes our lives and attitudes to reflect the obedience of those whom our Lord chose to be with him and sent out as his witnesses. Like them, Tertiaries, by work and example, by fidelity to their rule and the Holy Catholic Faith as detailed in the Order’s Credenda, by obedience to lawful authority in the Order, and by being faithful to their promises and commitments bear witness to Christ in their own immediate environment. They will also be faithful in prayer, work, and financial support of their Order for the fulfillment of his command to make disciples of all nations.
Of Three Characteristics of the Order
Humility, love, and joy are the three notes which mark the lives of Tertiaries. When these characteristics are evident throughout the Order, its work will be fruitful. Without them, all that it attempts will be in vain.
Tertiaries always keep before them the example of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and who, on the last night of his life, humbly washed his disciples’ feet. They likewise seek to serve one another with humility.
Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God. It is the basis of all Christian virtues. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “No spiritual house can stand for a moment except on the foundation of humility.” It is the first condition of a joyful life within a community.
The faults Tertiaries see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism. They take care to cast out the beam from their own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable, they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness. They should be ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Tertiaries try to show the humility of Christ, welcoming any opportunity for humble service that may come their way, and not looking for any recognition or praise.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.
Love is the distinguishing feature of all true Disciples of Christ who wish to dedicate themselves to him as his servants.
Therefore, Tertiaries seek to love all those to whom they are bound by ties of family or friendship. Their love for them increases, as their love for Christ grows deeper. They have a special love and affection for members of the Third Order, praying for each other individually and seeking to grow in that love. They are on their guard against anything which might injure this love, and they seek reconciliation with those from whom they are estranged. They seek the same love for those with whom they have little natural affinity, for this kind of love is not a welling up of emotion, but is a bond founded in their common union with Christ.
The Third Order is a Christian Community (Religious Order) whose members, though varied in race, education, and character, are bound into a living whole through the love they share in Christ. This unity of all who believe in him will become, as our Lord intended, a witness to the world of his divine mission. As such the personal problems or situations of a member are not discussed with anyone outside the Order, and are not the subject of gossip among ourselves.
It is our Franciscan life of prayer, study, and work that is of interest to those outside our Order. In their relationship with those outside the Order Tertiaries will show the same Christ-like love, and gladly give of themselves, remembering that love is measured by sacrifice.
Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in their lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. They remember that they follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking, who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little children, who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, and who sat at the tables of both the rich and the poor. Tertiaries delight in fun and laughter, rejoicing in God’s world, its beauty, and its living creatures, calling nothing common or unclean. They mix freely with all people, ready to bind up the brokenhearted, and to bring joy into the lives of others. They carry within them an inner peace and happiness which others may perceive, even if they do not know its source.
This joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardship, and persecutions for Christ’s sake; for when they are weak, then they are strong.
The humility, love, and joy, which mark the lives of Tertiaries, are all God given graces. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of Christ is to work miracles through people who are willing to be emptied of self and to surrender to him. They then become channels of grace through which his mighty work is done.
Of Three Ways of Service:
Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom they serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service varies according to his or her abilities and circumstances, yet the Tertiary’s personal rule of life includes each of the three ways.
Tertiaries seek to live in an atmosphere of praise, prayer, and meditation. They aim to be constantly aware of God’s presence, so that they may indeed pray without ceasing. Their ever-deepening devotion to the indwelling Christ is a source of strength and joy. It is Christ’s love that inspires them to service, and strengthens them for sacrifice.
The heart of their prayer is the Eucharist, in which they share with other Christians the renewal of their union with their Lord and Savior in his sacrifice, remembering his death and receiving his spiritual food. In their watch for the Holy Eucharist, they will join with the Church in her round of prayers in the Daily Office. And let them not neglect devotion to the Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament or the honor due his Holy Mother, our Lady.
Tertiaries recognize the power of intercessory prayer for furthering the purposes of God’s kingdom, and therefore seek a deepening communion with God in personal devotion, and constantly intercede for the needs of his church and his world. Those who have much time in their disposal give prayer a large part in their daily life. Those with less time must not fail to see the importance of prayer and to guard the time they have allotted to it from interruption. Lastly, Tertiaries are encouraged to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which the burden of past sin and failure is lifted, and peace and hope restored.
“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
True knowledge is knowledge of God. Tertiaries therefore give priority to devotional study of Scripture as one of the chief means of attaining that knowledge of God, which leads to eternal life.
In addition to this, all recognize their Christian responsibility to pursue other branches of study, both sacred and secular. In particular there are members of the Third Order who accept the duty of contributing through their research and writings, to a better understanding of the Church’s mission in the world: the application of Christian principles to the use and distribution of wealth; questions concerning justice and peace, and of all other questions concerning the life of faith. Jesus took upon himself the form of a servant. He came not to be served, but to serve.
Tertiaries will therefore endeavor to serve others by active work directed toward the Principles of the Order. They will try to secure that in their own lives each of the three vows (Simplicity, Purity, and Fidelity) finds concrete expression, and they will also, as far as time and circumstances allow, render active help to those doing similar work. Their service will not, however, be limited to these special spheres, but their lives will be marked throughout by a reflection of One who came among us as a servant of all. The chief form of service which Tertiaries have to offer is indeed to reflect the love of Christ, who, in his beauty and power, is the inspiration and joy of their own lives.
Jesus the Master took upon himself the form of a servant. He came not to be ministered unto, but to be a minister. He went about doing good, healing the sick, preaching good tidings to the poor, binding up the broken-hearted. We, too, must go and do likewise.