I’ve been thinking lately about the music of the Broadway production, Godspell, specifically the hit song, Day by Day, which features this repeating line, “Three things I pray; To see thee more clearly; Love thee more dearly; Follow thee more nearly; Day by day.” I have a story about those lyrics that might surprise you. But first, we have to go back in time to the 12th and 13th centuries in England.
In those days, clergy were awarded positions at parish churches for political connections not for skill, calling, or ability. Some did not even live in the district (parish), liked to wear fancy clothes and go to the best parties, and sub-contracted with others to do all the work for them, including Sunday services.
A man, Richard, was born in those days of wealthy parents. He and his brother were orphaned and an incompetent guardian blew their inheritance. Richard worked hard to restore the family property and then handed it over to his brother, and enrolled in Oxford. Although he was so poor that he had to borrow a robe to keep him warm in the winter, he did quite well in his studies. He received a doctorate in canon law and became Chancellor of Oxford in 1235. Richard’s mentor, Edmund Rich, became the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked Richard to become his Chancellor there, during the reign of King Henry the III.
King Henry did a horrible job managing the Church of England. When bishops retired, Henry would delay filling the bishopric because during the vacancy, diocesan revenues went to the Crown. Archbishop Edmund rebuked King Henry for this practice so the King forced Edmund into exile in France. Richard went with him and cared for him until Edmond’s death in 1240. Richard then studied at the Dominican house in Orleans and was ordained a priest in 1243.
A year later, Richard was elected Bishop of Chichester. Henry did not recognize the election, locked him out of the bishop’s residence, and pocketed the revenues. But the tenacity Richard gleaned as a youth had prepared him for his new ministry. He resided with a village priest and spent two years walking barefoot through his diocese, preaching to fishermen and farmers. In addition, he cleaned up the diocese and her clergy. He legislated the sacraments be administered without payment, that clergy live in their parishes, wear clerical dress, carry out their duties in person, and celebrate the liturgy with reverence and order. Richard also instituted that lay persons know by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed. Two years later, King Henry was pressured to recognize Richard as bishop, but he continued to live simply.
On April 3, the Church calendar recognizes Richard on the day of his death from 1253.
Pope Francis recently celebrated a year in office. I am reminded of the clean-up work that Richard did in what Francis is doing in the Roman church – living a simple life that is quite different from the luxuries of past Popes, and removing people from power who live and flaunt lavish lifestyles.
Nevertheless, if you are wondering what this has to do with the song, Day by Day, I will leave you with one of Richard’s most famous prayers.
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
- Fr. Marshall