The first week of October brought with it the religious feast of St Francis of Assisi – the saint who chose the way of poverty and simplicity and in doing so, inspired generations of people of goodwill.
Eight centuries after his death, the poverello of Assisi remains relevant to the people of today. His decision to embrace simplicity has so much to teach all of us – religious and not – as we try to make our way through a hectic social context that measures everything in terms of productivity and financial gain.
Dressed in a coarse, woollen tunic with a knotted rope tied around his waist, St Francis challenges us to go beyond the cultural pressures posed on us by our consumerist society. His simplicity can truly help us handle our accelerated rhythms of life and, more importantly, fulfil our quest for joy and inner peace.
The message of this saint is all the more relevant for the followers of Christ. As Christians, we have no other option but to embrace the way of simplicity because this was – and will always remain – the way of Christ. In the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth not only instructed his disciples to travel light and adopt the attitude of little children but also showed them the way of simplicity through his choices and example. As St George Preca succinctly puts it, “Christ was born poor, lived poor and died poor”.
St Francis challenges us to go beyond the cultural pressures posed on us by our consumerist society
Besides helping us imitate Christ on a deeper level, the way of simplicity invites us to trust more in divine providence. Any decision to embrace what is plain and uncomplicated is in itself an act of faith in the heavenly Father who never fails to provide His children with their daily bread. In surrendering ourselves to a simple lifestyle, we affirm our belief that everything belongs to and comes from God, the sole creator and ruler of heaven and earth.
The way of the saint of Assisi also gives us the opportunity to come closer and be more sensitive to the tragic reality of the poor and the marginalised. Many times, those who are deprived of the bare necessities and comforts of daily life – such as the homeless, beggars and refugees – are frowned upon and looked upon with suspicion. As John Berger observes, the modern poor are not pitied but written off as trash and have become a reminder of nothing. Yet, the history of salvation reveals that the little ones have a special place in the heart of God.
Above all, the way of simplicity allows us to have a healthy relationship with material possessions; in other words, to safeguard our freedom by remaining detached from what can easily engulf our lives and turn us into slaves. If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that although high salaries and financial profits might give us the opportunity to live a cushy and pleasurable life, their positive impact on our lives is always limited since they can never fulfil our deepest longing for joy and inner peace. It is no wonder that in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis recalls: “The most beautiful and natural expressions of joy I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.”
In a society that seems to be solely managed by economic competition, Francis of Assisi is a reminder that joy is found in the way of simplicity. This is why, on October 4, the Church celebrates his feast, year in, year out: because his life and memory echo the words of He who proclaimed that the poor in spirit are blessed and possess the kingdom of heaven.
Fr Kevin Schembri is a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and a member of staff at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
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