13 June 2009


One of the things I've been thinking about a lot recently is habits. Religious habits, particularly. When Francis founded the Third Order in the 13th century, it was intended to be a way that ordinary folks could participate in the monastic way without actually being in a monastery: particularly for married people and others who weren't actually called into a fully monastic existence, unlike the monks of the First Order and the nuns of the Second Order (Poor Clares). TSSF is for married, single, male, female, lay and ordained people (so says our Rule - I would also add gay and straight, but certain parts of the Order may have difficulty with putting that so plainly!).

As far as I know, the Third Order has never had a clothing habit - except for the Catholic Third Order Regular (TOR) which is a Third Order inside a monastery (go figure). In the TSSF, our Profession Cross is our habit, which we are encouraged to wear whenever appropriate - I for one usually wear it all the time, although sometimes at work I put it under my blouse, particularly when I'm training as I don't want anything to distract my trainees from the message I'm trying to bring to them.

I also wear a plain gold ring on the third finger of my right hand as a personal statement of my Profession (the third finger of my left hand has my wedding and engagement rings on it!). The ring I have chosen to wear has a bit of a history: Dad came in from the garden one day with this ring in his hand - he had literally dug it up from our garden. We took it to the Police but they couldn't trace the original owner and returned it to us, and as the ring fitted me perfectly, Dad gave it to me. I always intended to use it for my wedding ring, but my engagement ring is shaped and so the ring wouldn't fit, so I eventually used it as part of my Franciscan commitment - a very private reminder to myself.

However, I'm beginning to feel that the Profession Cross isn't enough. Yes, it states that I am a Professed Franciscan. Yes, it is part of my commitment and an expression of the Franciscan charism and way. Yes, it is beautiful: my daughter always wants to see (and wear!) my "special cross", but part of me wants something extra. I have begun wearing a wide headband (and when I say wide, it covers almost my whole head) on high feast days as a covering and reminder to myself that I am in the presence of God, and I have chosen to dress simply with a very limited palette of colours - mostly grey, white, and black, and everything goes with everything else so I need a smaller number of clothes (older clothes are still coloured but as they wear out I'm choosing simpler things) - and no makeup (but as I'm allergic this was no sacrifice!).

I'd love it if TSSF would authorise a simple habit and/or veil for optional use by Tertiaries, particularly at church. The original Franciscan habit was shaped like the Tau cross (a T) with wide-ish sleeves in brown or darkish grey, and the monks wear a hood (capuche), nuns a veil. TSSF could have a unisex one. I know the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans (OEF) has an optional habit. I know that the brothers and sisters in Melanesia have asked our Provincial Chapter for a habit but the position worldwide is that the Profession Cross is our visible habit - along with the other habits that we establish as we live our lives under the Rule and our personal rule of life. It would have to go to the Inter-Provincial Third Order Chapter (IPTOC) - which only meets every 6 years....

Please don't get me wrong though: I don't want a habit to show the world that I'm different or special in some way. I want it as a reminder to myself that I live a life that is under vows, given to God, dedicated. I have made vows of simplicity, fidelity, and obedience, and I want to express those to myself. It would also make TSSF more visible which isn't a bad thing either, but that is strictly secondary to my way of thinking!!

Not sure what the "rules" (spoken/unspoken) are for adopting a modified habit on a personal scale. I've been trying to get an answer on this one from monk and nun friends but no dice so far. For lurkers who are Franciscans, what do you think about this one? Would love to have some discussion in the comments section!

Pachyderm tssf


Angelwings said...

Hi Pachyderm..
I have just come across your blog here and wanted to respond to your thoughts around the wearing of religious habits etc.
Although not a fully fledged Franciscan as yet (I'm in the enquiery stage with TSSF here in Aotearoa) I felt a certain sense of understanding with your words around this subject.

Angelwings said...

Although I'm still in these very early stages with the order, my own spiritual journey, has been one that has been a very deep part of my life for quite some time. I'm in my mid thirties now, but have certainly been 'a spiritual journey'er', from my very early teens. This has led me along many varying and colourful roads but
all adding the rich inner fabric to this place where I stand now in my first steps into TSSF.
When I was in my late adolescence I first felt the calling into religious life. At that time I wondered if God was calling me into becoming a Carmelite nun.
This was particularly challenging as I was not brought up overtly Christian, so to put this into some kind of context within my life was difficult. Particularly, I feel as at that time, I didn't have any spiritual mentors to help me along this formation.
From these early days I personally have held a very strong love and fondness for the religious habit or religious/spiritual attire in some form. ( I also spent time involved with the Hare Krishna movement in my mid teens, where wearing some form of identifying spiritual attire is a particularly distinctive aspect of religious and devotional life, and certainly a part of your identity as a Krishna devotee ).

Angelwings said...

I agree with you when you say, it is not about identifying yourself as different or special in some way. But I do feel wearing some kind of religious garment ( even if very simple) can deeply consolodate and become a very personal and deep reflection of the choices that one has made in our personal journey with God and that relationship we aspire to share with him. I see the wearing of distictively religious clothing etc as a daily reminder and reflection back to the self of that deep commitment. That it also embraces more radically, those deeper values of simplicity, poverty of spirit etc
It is a complex issue, and there are always two sides. I can understand why the religious that I know, after vatican 2, put the habit aside, yet I can also relate to what I have heard around the growth of religious orders today. That the orders with the habit still a part of their daily attire seem to be attracting larger numbers of younger folk into their midst. I myself feel that If I had gone down that path it would have been into an order that had retained the habit. As im feeling God leading me into more of an eremitic expression (hence being drawn to the third order with it's own rich tradition of this )first order or monastery living in a communal sense does not seem to be where my spirit and deepest spiritual self lie. I do feel embracing some aspects of those deeper values of simplicity etc through wearing simple attire can be held within this and has a place.
Personally I have also felt called
to extend this through my choice of clothing. I have two very simple brown smocks that I alternate between. A line, to my ankles, with short sleeves and square neck. I wear more muted undertops occasionally wearing something a little brighter, when I am feeling the need for a dose of colour. To anyone else it would seem like any other clothing you might see someone in (although questions do get asked when folk see you in the same clothes over a longer period of time) but to myself it is an indication and marker to where I am in my own inner journey. The values I aspire to and wish to embrace in to my life in a more full way and a daily reflection back to myself and God of my choice to embrace him in a profound depth and way of being that for me personally encompasses many aspects of letting go and embracement of the desert journey. A shifting and movement away from the values society and the (material)world hold as truths to a movement towards the truth and humbleness of spirit I feel God calls me to ebrace. The clothing is just an extension of this. Yet I have to say it also feels refreshinly liberating in its simplicty..
I just wanted to say to you that there are those who understand and those who certainly do connect with your own deep thoughts and feelings around this subject.
In deepest warmth,

Angelwings :-)

Pachyderm said...

Angelwings, thank you for your comments. You're most welcome here, and neat to hear you're discerning with TSSF.

I've been Professed for 5 years now and am sensing an invitation to go deeper, whether with TSSF or elsewhere I don't know yet. I have now started wearing a kind of "habit" - black and white, and covering my head. It's for me, not anyone else.