FRANCIS-TIDE: MESSAGE FROM MINISTER PROVINCIAL
Franciscan brothers and sisters; greetings in the name of our Lord and saviour Jesus and his peace be upon you.
Franciscan family throughout the world celebrates yearly on October 4, the solemnity of Holy Father Francis’s Transitus: embracing sister death. The patron saint of animals and the environment transition from this life to the afterlife is commemorated for his generosity to the poor and his willingness to minister to the lepers, his love for animals and nature - a life that was a paradigm of simplicity, humanity, and love. In today's consumerist society (i.e., one in which people devote a great deal of time, energy, resources and thought to “consuming”), St Francis practices have enormous appeal to all who are willing to live in simplicity and self-sufficiency. It seems that if ever there was a time when the virtue of simplicity and humility was desperately needed, it is in the current fast-paced, consumer-oriented, digital economy. St Francis had good reasons for believing his own day needed a big dose of simple and humble living.
Living during a time when money was rapidly replacing barter as the primary medium of exchange, Francis saw huge socioeconomic barriers between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' The carnality of his age overwhelmed everything, including the church. Though Francis spent the first twenty-four years of his life in luxury and indulgence, he spent the next twenty-one years in severe, self-imposed poverty. This resulted in a life changing encounter with the risen Christ and his commitment to follow the example of Jesus, whose earthly life was a model of simple living, from His birth in a manger to his crucifixion on a common criminal cross and among criminals.
As Francis reflected on the life and words of Jesus, he was confronted time and time again with Christ's simple lifestyle, His warning about the dangers of money, and His commandments to His followers to sell all they owned and give the profits to the poor. In Francis' day as in our own, this radical Jesus wasn't the subject of many Sunday sermons. But as he studied the teachings of Jesus, Francis was inspired by many lessons on simplicity, including the Sermon on the Mount.
Francis and his followers didn't view simplicity and humility as a specialized discipline for monks or other unusual individuals seeking advanced degrees in enlightenment. Instead, they saw it as the garden from which all other spiritual virtues grow, and a prerequisite to our being both full human and fully spiritual. Like the branches of an unpruned tree, our attachment to possessions and wealth often chokes our lives, enslaves our souls, and hinders both human community and union with God. Francis prescribed simplicity and humility as an antidote to our often unquenchable greed which created this world of consumerism.
Are our lives so hectic that we feel anxious, out of control, or depressed? Are we so busy working to make money to buy time-saving devices that we don't have any time to use them? Do we spend more time taking care of our possessions than we do enjoying our relationships with others and God? Do we have some possessions that complicate our lives but don't really bring us any enjoyment? What are the things that do bring us enjoyment but may not be worth the cost in time, money, and concern? Do we buy things that we don't need, won't use, or can't afford? What do we really need and what do we merely want? Are we consuming more than our fair share of the world's limited resources? What are we doing to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves? Are there some of our surplus that could benefit others with less?
May we all pray to God to give us new eyes to see our lives as He sees it and give us a new heart to sense the difference between our wants and needs; may the Almighty God give us compassion for the suffering of the world, and a willingness to help those who are hurting.
Indeed the practice of simplicity and humility isn’t necessarily simple or easy – fruits of the Holy Spirit which by daily living the word and promises of God and NOT its memorization. Like the pruning of a tree, the practice of simplicity and humility require that things in our lives must be cut away, sometimes with pain. But in the long run, this is a practice that enables us to live life with more joy, peace, and happiness.
Simplicity is God's grand antidote to a culture of money and madness. Properly understood and lived out, simplicity and humility are God’s pruning shears, which cut back the tangled branches of our lives, enabling us to begin living freely, sharing generously, and loving deeply.
In conclusion, if we can trust God and be willing to give and share we will not be living simply and humbly like Jesus and St Francis, but also becoming part of the advocacy that could disempower the forces that promote and profit from limiting our social and economic horizons. Indeed, simplicity and humility are not easy without God’s anointing, but it will enable us to begin living freely, sharing generously, and loving deeply. This is God’s way of life and God’s way of maintaining his creation [Matt 6:19]. Indeed some of the essential treasures of life on earth and life eternal are simplicity and humility.
Pace e Bene; Vrede en Welwillendheid; Ukuthula Noxolo
Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Twum-Darko