St Francis of Assisi: An icon of Minimalism!

At the age of fifteen I decided to join the priesthood. During that age I had no much awareness as in what really the priesthood is or religious life, orders, congregations and so on is. Since from my younger days I had a strong desire to be priest I joined one. During the high school studies I came across the Carmelite priests whom I had promised to join. Later during my tenth standard studies I came across the Capuchin priest who enlightened me about the life of St Francis of Assisi who was a nature lover. It was then I 
randomly decided to join the Franciscan Capuchin Order. 

During my Postulancy and Novitate studies I realized the difference between being a priest and being a religious, being a member of order and being a member of a congregation, being a diocesan priest and being a religious priest. With this awareness and enlightenment I began loving the religious life that I joined. I started loving my Franciscan Capuchin Order. I started liking the person of St Francis of Assisi. I was delighted to wear the brown habit as often as possible. I read more of his life, the poverty, the simplicity, the humility and minimalism. Even to this day St Francis Assisi is my inspiration towards a life of simplicity. St Francis is the personification of minimalism. 

The present scenario that we live in is divided with two extremes. If one thinks of progress, advancement, development and encroachment the other is pushed down to experience utter poverty, hunger, insecurity and danger. The system of our society honours the rich, influential, noisy and authoritarian individuals in most of the circumstances. The poor, hungry and sick go unnoticed and are uncared in most of the cases in spite of enough and more funds, provisions and facilities. The concept of equality is still a dream for many. The imbalance is clear, the partiality is felt and the favoritism is rampant among the people hold the supreme keys of the administrations in many section of the society which includes religion and its institutions. 

St Francis of Assisi whose feast we celebrate on 4th October, brings before us the images of simplicity, equality and minimalism. The life of St Francis would teach us to be minimal and declutter ourselves from the evil, negative and unbecoming things that disturb and restrict a peaceful living. In fact in the recent times Minimalism has become a popular practice all over the world. Efforts have been made to free the mind of clutter to reduce the amount of physical clutter in life. Thus decluttering the home/room/workplace can help declutter the mind.

St Francis of Assisi was born into a wealthy family to a wealthy dad who was an Italian cloth merchant. His early years were carefree, and full of the worldly pleasures consistent with the prosperous class of which he was part. But when he started following Christ he began to share his possessions to the poor thus becoming a man of humility and simplicity. He even decided to share and exchange his clothes with the beggars. He became the friends of poor and the lepers. Though in the youth he intended to become a knight in the royal court, he decides to follow Jesus and live the life of radical poverty. He is often quoted to have said that “People lose everything they leave behind in this world; but they carry with them the rewards of charity and the alms which they gave, for which they will have a reward and a just retribution from the Lord.” He had no possessions and he preached a simple doctrine of voluntary poverty and love for all living creatures. These simple teachings of Francis had many takers. Within a year eleven young men followed him. It is said after eleven years of his founding the Order of Friars Minor his following increased up to fifty thousand men and women.

Even to this day in the Roman Catholic Church as well as in other reformative churches Franciscan family is considered to be having a largest number of individuals. Having the largest number of followers shouldn’t be a criterion to judge the quality of a religious order/ family. The sincere life of every individual who has vowed to walk in the foot prints of St Francis of Assisi add the meaning to the teachings he has laid before us in the present day context. I consider St Francis to be my role model for a minimalistic living though I fall short to his ideals. However I am forever grateful to the Lord for calling me to be the part of this Franciscan way of life. Much have I learnt. Much have I yet to learn. Joy isn’t found in hoarding up the wealth rather in sharing it freely and living with less. Here are few ideas to promote the minimalistic culture after the example of St Francis of Assisi.

Celebrate the Nature: 
There is a story told of St Francis on how he preached to the birds. Near the town of Bevagna, a four hour walk from Assisi, Francis and some of his Brothers came upon a flock of mixed birds. When he saw the birds, he left his friends on the roadside and ran toward the birds, greeting them as if they understood him. The birds perched on bushes bent their heads toward Francis when he came near and watched him, curiously. Francis spoke to the birds, saying, "My brothers, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator. He clothed you with feathers and gave you wings to fly, appointing the clear air as your home, and He looks after you without any effort on your part". As he spoke to the birds, they stretched their necks toward him, flapped their wings, and opened their beaks as if they understood his words. In his enthusiasm, Francis walked among the birds; his habit brushing against them, yet not one of the birds moved until Francis made the sign of the Cross and gave them permission to leave. Then, with Francis' blessing, the birds flew away together. 

St Francis wanted to emphasize how, even if we fail to realize it, nature is heaven shaped. The beauty of nature reveals a deeper, even more beautiful world beyond this one. Man made things aren’t always able to convey the same messages, some objects might be beautiful and lovely but other products are disposable and utilitarian. 

St Francis may have given away all his possessions, but he never gave away his appreciation for natural beauty. To be a minimalist doesn’t mean we have to only inhabit plain, ugly surroundings. In his “Canticle of the Creatures” Francis enthuses: “Brother Sun, who brings the day … is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!” The more we’re able to share this attitude and see the beauty all around us, whether that be simply noticing the sunrise, taking a walk in the park, or playing catch with your dog in the backyard, the less stuff we’ll need in our lives.

Be Generous: 
Having things isn’t bad simply because they are things. Purchasing many things and hoarding them after a single or few uses bad. It doesn’t mean we have throw them away. Someone else could greatly benefit if I were to share it. St Francis didn’t live a minimalistic lifestyle for his own selfish purposes rather he lived that way so that he could be more generous to others. St Francis traveled a lot and spent time in prayer and charity. He got rid of all material restrictions on himself so that he could give his life away in love to others. So, when the cleaning bug strikes, we too can consider how to be generous not only with the things we want, rather in giving out that things that keep us more comfortable. Generosity builds up treasure in the heart and wins a far more important possession – the love and gratitude of others. 

Be an Example: 
Francis was a trend setter. He was an example of letting go. He lived a life of extreme poverty. Many thought he was a mad man. He worked very hard to overcome the doubters and organize a religious order. In the end he was marginalized by his own followers, who were attempting to change his ideals for the community. But through it all he never lost his joy and peace of mind. It takes courage to let go, to loosen your grip on the material possessions that provide comfort. It needs courage to be on a minimal path. It takes courage not to worry about people making fun of you for being different. Francis took courage and never worried about what anybody said about him. If there’s one that St Francis can teach us through the idea of minimalism is, that life is what we make of it and if we’re brave enough to cut ourselves free from anything that holds us back, the reward is well worth the effort. 

Happy Feast of St Francis of Assisi.

About the Author:

Rev. Fr Jawahar Jerry Cutinho OFM, is a Capuchin priest belonging to the Holy Trinity Capuchin Province, Karnataka. He hails from Pakshikere and at present he serves as the Provincial Vocation Director.

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