I am proud of myself that I ate one tomato from my garden this year. One tomato! I placed my statue of St. Francis in the garden and my tomato plant flourished. Still, I was only able to harvest a few of the tomatoes from the plant. This is symptom of my life, branching off in so many directions, over committing myself, jumping in the car and rushing – always rushing. So little time to enjoy the gift of the tomatoes growing on the vine. The life of St. Francis reminds me that simplicity is a calling. John Michael Talbot describes it this way in his book, The Lessons of St. Francis:
Francis and his followers didn’t view simplicity 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 as a prerequisite to our being both fully human and fully spiritual.
My lesson from St. Francis is to simplify. Grounded in the garden of simplicity, I can live fully. I am inspired by the example that St. Francis presents of letting go of all of the material abundance that weighs us down. I am constantly having to ask myself, “Is this a need or a want?” How can I live more simply?
St. Francis was dedicated to the work of peace. Yes, he was radical, but like Jesus, he chose the way of peace and reconciliation. “Lord, make me a means of your peace.” I have sung the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis hundreds of times in my life. Reflecting again on these words and the life of St. Francis, I wonder what peace can mean in the way I live my life. Everything is becoming so polarized these days. Instead of hammering home my opinion, I can start to be a means of peace by listening.
In his book, The Last Christian, Adolf Holl writes that Francis was more about transformation than information. He was not in favour of the intellectualizing of Christianity and more about living as close to the example of Jesus as possible. The life of St. Francis calls me to revisit all of the examples where Christ lives out of love in the gospels. Am I able to see beyond the intellectualizing? Can I commit to be more Christ-like in my life?
Recently, I heard someone remark that “now, even the Catholic church” is seeing the need for protecting creation. Perhaps this person does not know about St. Francis, one of the earliest environmentalists. Francis was a mystic, in tune with nature, but also an advocate for protecting creation. The Canticle of the Creatures (Canticle of the Sun) is the most beautifully written prayer and ode to the gift of creation. It is no wonder this saint is revered by Catholics and non-Catholics as a symbol of living in harmony with the natural world. I am grateful for my St. Francis statue in the garden and when I put it in the shed before the snow flies, I pray that I may live a little closer to creation, more in tune with the natural world.
The example of St. Francis points me to more reverence for Jesus. As Francis gazed on the cross in the chapel of Saint Damiano, he was inspired to live out his Christianity in a more radical way and repair God’s church. When Francis became leader of the friars, he explained that the true leader was the Holy Spirit. Faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit led this man to live simply, live as a peacemaker, live in harmony with nature and reach out to the impoverished. This is a template for Christian living. His example has resonated through the centuries.
Praise to the Lord, who gives the one tomato, gift of the earth, gift of his glorious creation. Praise be to God through everything in the humble garden of my backyard. I am so grateful to have the model of St. Francis for my own living.
Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.