Simplicity – getting our priorities right

We often say that Francis lived a “simple” life. It was simple in terms of material things, houses and clothing, but there was also an interior quality of simplicity that Francis saw as a virtue, a virtue which “being content with its God, considers everything else as of little value … It seeks not the bark but the pith, not the shell but the kernel.” (2 Celano 189)

As people got to know Francis, that very simple man, how did they see him and what did they expect?

They expected his life to match his preaching. There could be no inconsistency between the message he proclaimed and the values he lived.

They expected Francis to be down to earth, in touch with reality, at home with God, with himself, with those around him. They didn’t want pretence, they wanted sincerity and truth. And they wanted him to be dependable and approachable, not giving himself airs of importance.

They expected Francis to see life in right perspective, and not to exaggerate less important things above more important things. Francis had his priorities right! And he had the wisdom to go to the heart of things.

These qualities are all part of what we recognise as simplicity. Perhaps this is what Francis meant when he called his followers to

“strive as best they can to serve, love, honour and adore the Lord God with single heartedness and purity of intention.”
(Francis’ First Rule; also Admonition XVI)

Like most virtues, simplicity can be seen as a state of balance, sometimes of tension, between two extremes. The extremes to be avoided here are an unthinking naivety on the one hand, and on the other, the sophisticated intellectualism which closes the heart.

In his “Praises of the Virtues” Francis referred to simplicity as the “sister of wisdom”. As we seek the simplicity that belongs to our Franciscan way of life, we pray that true wisdom will be ours also.