I wish everyone who is Irish, and all those who become Irish on this day, a happy and festive St. Patrick’s Day! On this day many of us celebrate with family and friends, enjoying parties in the company of loved ones. How wonderful and important it is for us to enjoy life through our celebrations! Celebrations seem to be embedded in our DNA as we historically note that humans have celebrated important times in their lives. We need to spend time with loved ones, getting out of our normal routines and, for a moment, forgetting about the issues in our “normal” lives. But as I reflect on celebrations in relation to the routine of our lives, I recognize how complicated our lives have become.
It seems to me, and correct me if you think I am off base on this, that in our modern culture, with all our technological advances (of which I am a fan), we live very complicated and overburdened lives. Sit for a moment and reflect on the complications in your life. Where do they come from? For each of us the answer is different, but I think for most of us we can honestly acknowledge that our lives are complicated. Have you ever looked at a bird in flight, or watched your dog or cat and thought to yourself “look how easy and simple their life is.” What makes their existence seem simpler than ours?
Earlier last month, the Catholic Pope Benedict XVI announced he was stepping down from his role of leading the Catholic Church. No pope in the past 600 or so years had done this. At the time of the announcement many in media were writing articles and editorials seeking to find the scandal which most assuredly led to this decision. Why must there be a scandal? Could it not be so simple that he merely wants to step aside? What?! In today’s day and age a person doesn’t step away from power and prestige! And if they do, there is usually a scandal, or they are seeking to make millions off of speaking engagements and book tours. By the way, where is Pope emeritus Benedict XVI going? He wishes to live out his days alone and in prayer. This, my friends, is the scandal the media seeks: a person gives up power to spend his days in private. Why would he do this? I have my ideas, but the politics of the Catholic church is not the focus of this reflection. Rather, the lived ideals of simplicity and humility are my focus. In his action, Benedict showed the world a true example of simplicity and humility.
What makes the lives of birds, cats, dogs, etc seem simpler in relation to our lives? Humility. The word itself has its roots in Latin, translated as “grounded” or “from the earth”. It addresses an intrinsic self-worth. In other words, viewing oneself as we truly are; the positive and not so positive. Our true sense of self. Humility allows us to keep our relationship to this world in perspective. A reminder that we ourselves are but creatures, animals, living in this world alongside other creatures such as birds, dogs, cats, etc. Certainly we are different from the other creatures, but we are still creatures nonetheless.
The degree to which we are able to support a sense of humility is proportional to the degree of simplicity we experience in our life. The more we understand ourselves as we truly are, not attempting to be whom we are not, our perspective on life changes such that we gain an understanding about what is and is not important. This differentiation aids in the setting of our priorities. If I can keep up focus on my priorities, my life will become simpler.
How can I do this? What does this, concretely, mean for me in my life? Just this past week the Catholic church selected it’s new pope, Pope Francis.
The cardinal selected, Jorge Bergoglio, chose the name Francis after the well-known saint Francis of Assisi. What is Francis of Assisi’s universal appeal? His simplicity and humility. He was a wealthy son of a powerful merchant father, giving up everything to live in poverty and to serve the poor in the spirit of Jesus. But it wasn’t simply his giving up everything that made him humble. It was his attitude and way of living his life. In his book “The Way of St. Francis: the Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone“, author Murray Bodo, OFM writes:
“The radicalness of St. Francis is not in his poverty, but in his response to the Gospel of Jesus. He lives it. And that is what is so astounding to the people of his time. They don’t think it can be done. Nor do we today. … Francis’ whole life is a proclamation that the love of neighbor can only be secured when the Gospel is lived sincerely…”
In other words, living our lives focused on our values, and in a true sense of a love of neighbor, will keep us grounded (humble) and focused on our priorities (simplicity). Today’s closing prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer nicely sums up what I am saying: “Change our selfishness into self-giving. Help us to embrace the world you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into life and joy.”
How can I do this?
1. Spend 10 minutes each day in quiet, focusing your thoughts on simple phrases to focus your day.
2. Spend time watching and reflecting on the nature around you. Do you see the ant, flower, bird, leaf, dog, cat, etc. What are they doing?
3. Make a list of your life’s priorities. Those items at the top of your list need your full attention. The rest, well, decide what is necessary and what is merely clutter in your life.
4. Help others. Love your neighbor.