This past week our missioner candidates and domestic volunteers took a day retreat to reflect on the theme of Simplicity and Authenticity.  Domestic Volunteer Anna Robinson shares her take on the group discussions and the “Discipline of Simplicity.”

Assisi’s town square – by Peter Gutierrez

When you think of St. Francis, what is the first thing that pops into your head? An encounter with a wolf? A brown-hooded robe? A crazy naked man denouncing his family in the town square? While these events and facts may pass through your mind, my guess is that most people who know of St. Francis would think of the simple, even impoverished, lifestyle he led. From begging, to giving away what he received in begging, it’s easy to say St. Francis didn’t have much in his possession.

How different that is from today’s expectations. Do you know of anyone who lives that way? Could you possibly live that way now?

This was the theme for our retreat this past Monday. The four full-time volunteers and two missioner candidates congregated at Holy Name College to discuss one of the most examined and practiced values in Franciscan Spirituality. Much of this discussion focused around an article written by Richard J. Foster titled, “The Discipline of Simplicity.”

I personally was very excited and uplifted to read this article. This piece of writing spoke to everything I had come to learn and love about simplicity. From differentiating between extreme asceticism and voluntary simplicity, to giving practical reasons and suggestions for living simply, to identifying simplicity as a spiritual practice, Foster captures a positive spirit that has been lost to modern society.

But that was why we were there: to reflect, read, educate, share, and bring the spirit alive within our own little community. The retreat discussion circled around our own actions and examples. How do we practice simplicity in our home? In the workplace? In our churches? In public? That was a big question: How do we publicly set an example of simplicity when the pressure to consume is so overwhelming?

This is where I look for comfort through the example of St. Francis and St. Clare. This is where prayer and guidance from God is essential. Because to live out this “radical” lifestyle, to follow the footsteps of St. Francis, of Jesus Christ in this fashion, would I too be seen as the village fool in the center square?

We discussed humility and humiliation as much as simplicity that day. Foster writes, “The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.”

Perhaps I would be the village fool. Perhaps I would be seen as a threat to the comfortable familiarity of society. But just as St. Francis inspired onlookers to reexamine their inward existence, perhaps we too could inspire others to outwardly dawn some brown robes and create a community that follows the lifestyle of St. Francis – the lifestyle of the Son of God himself!

I would encourage you all to read Foster’s full article. There is so much packed into those three-and-a-half pages that put the issue of simplicity in simple, practical terms. “Simplicity is freedom,” and I guarantee that after the read you will experience relief, hope, and a new purpose.

Anna Robinson recently joined our FMS staff and the communications team as a full-time volunteer. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2011 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Music Composition.  This is her second year participating in a volunteer program.