Holy Simplicity

These are complex times. And we lead complex lives. We live in a hectic, fast-paced society that is filled with moral dilemmas, financial worries, ecological disasters, criminal violence, racial bigotry, corporate greed, decaying inner cities, global political unrest and economic instability, and deadly wars fueled by religious differences which pit neighbor against neighbor. We are stressed and anxious, as we breathlessly chase after more and more possessions. Our passion to possess blinds us to the reality that much of the world is enduring poverty and starvation on a scale unmatched in human history. I read somewhere that 400 people a day die of starvation. It seems unthinkable. But the sad truth is that millions of malnourished and aimless people are living on the edge of extinction.

What can I do? I think St. Francis of Assisi would recommend that I take a close look at the virtue of simplicity. By way of simplicity, Francis was able to enter into the deep silence of his heart.

Simplicity is hard. Attaining it will not eliminate the complexity of modern life and all its intricate personal and global problems. I think simplicity allowed Francis to live in harmony with the ordered complexity of his day. As his heart grew in simplicity, he was better able to understand the Lord and the world around him.

Pope John XXIII said, “The older I grow, the more clearly I perceive the dignity and winning beauty of simplicity in thought, conduct, and speech: a desire to simplify all that is complicated and to treat everything with the greatest naturalness and clarity.”

Francois Fenelon, in his book Christian Perfection, wrote: “It is a wise self-love, which wants to get out of the intoxication of outside things.” Before I can free myself from the lure of material things I have to become more sensitive to the things of the spirit, which will diminish my chances of being dazzled by the superficial, such as the latest sports car from BMW. More important will be the latest revelation from God on how I can love my neighbor while at the same time deflecting my own self-centered greed. Through simplicity we learn that self-denial paradoxically leads to true self-fulfillment. Simplicity allows us to hold the interests of others above our self-interest. Real simplicity is true freedom. The constant drumbeat of materialism is no longer deafening. We desire less, and are happy with less.

Simplicity is the best method of stripping away excess baggage that weighs us down and all nonessential adornments that surround us. As these distractions disappear, the reality of God becomes clearer. Simplicity is a much more profound concept than voluntary poverty, which is much smaller in scope, because simplicity not only reduces your material possessions it also diminishes your desire for them. Simplicity immunizes you from the plague of consumerism.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “On our crowded planet there are no longer any internal affairs.” Our future depends on more and more people leaning to live more simply. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the world has enough resources to meet everyone’s need, but not enough to match everyone’s greed. Americans make up six percent of the world’s population, yet we gobble up more than thirty percent of the globe’s resources. If the rest of the planet follows our greedy example it will spell disaster for humanity. Large segments of the world’s population are already living without hope, tottering on the brink of cruel deaths by starvation. Simplicity is not an option, it is a vital necessity. Reckless, out-of-control consumption must be curtailed before it destroys us. Unlimited growth, which fosters a throw-away culture, is a dangerous illusion. Voluntary denial is liberating. As Christians we must become advocates of the poor and the forgotten. We must become poor ourselves, living simply so others can simply live.

I’ll let St. Augustine have the last word: “All plenty which is not my God is poverty to me.” Amen.


1 Response to “Holy Simplicity”

  1. 1 defh6 February 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I am Con.
    simplicity. is about accepting me for who I am. with my disability. been gay.

    fascinated with the radical Jesus. who entered into solidarity. with people who were alienated despised.

    yes if we were to wake up all day 7 days a week, reflecting about the economic reality of the lives of people. who lost their employment. getting angry about the political financial cooruption of politicans, we would burn ourselves out. neither been good to ourselves. or to others

    Francis who embraced the person who was the leper, the person, who was of smell. embraced Christ

    we can not change the world over night, what we can do. is to acknowledege, the person who others wouldn’t want to acknowledege.
    as you put very well in your book, the sun & moon over Assisi

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