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The Gift of a Simple Life

St. Francis: A Message for Our Times

The Gifts of a Simple Life
Thursday, October 8, 2020

My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of [humility], and showed me the way of simplicity. . . . The Lord told me what He wanted: He wanted me to be a new fool in the world. God did not wish to lead us by any way other than this knowledge. —Francis of Assisi

We can summarize the transformative gifts of a truly Franciscan simple life in these ways:

When we agree to live simply, we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything. This is the most radical level of freedom, but, of course, it is not easy to come by. It might be called foundational restorative justice, or primal solidarity with the mass of humanity and the earth. Francis and Clare created a life in which they had little to lose, no desire for gain, no loans or debts to pay off, and no luxuries that they needed or wanted.

When we agree to live simply, we have little to protect and no desire for acquisition, even for acquisition of any “moral capital.” When we imagine that we are better, holier, higher, more important to God than others, it is a very short step to “justified” arrogance or violence toward those others. It is almost inevitable, in fact, and we are witnessing today how it manifests itself at every level of our societies. If we could eliminate such manufactured and desired superiority, religion might finally become nonviolent in thought, word, and deed. Francis and Clare were experts at it, and so nonviolence came quite naturally to them and to the early movement they inspired.

When we agree to live simply we can understand what Francis meant when he said that “a man had not yet given up everything for God as long as he held on to the moneybag of his own opinions.” [1] Most of us find out that this purse is far more dangerous and disguised than any wallet and we seldom let go of it.

When we agree to live simply, we no longer consider immigrants, refugees, people in poverty, or anyone else on the margins of society as a threat. When we choose to relinquish our privileges, whatever they are, we have freely and consciously chosen to become “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as Francis puts it (quoting 1 Peter 2:11). A simple lifestyle is quite simply an act of solidarity with the way most people have had to live since the beginnings of humanity.

When we agree to live simply, we have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, like prayer, service, and justice work, because we have renegotiated in our minds and hearts our understanding of time and its purposes. Time is not money anymore, despite the common aphorism! Time is life itself and we want to give our lives away freely as Jesus, Francis, and Clare did.

When we agree to live simply, we have little energy to defend or protect our group, our ethnicity, our country, our money, and our religion. Our circle is no longer defined by these external and accidental qualities, because we now find the joy and beauty of the real essentials and the actual center which is God.

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, chapter 102. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 2000), 338.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 37-38, 39.

Epigraph: Francis to the first friars, The Assisi Compilation, chapter 18. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New City Press: 2000), 132–133.

Image credit: Early Autumn (detail), Qian Xuan, 13th century, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme Artisan. —Bonaventure
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