Are we simple enough?


#1

There is a simplicity that many of us Catholics have lost, including yours truly. I would like to share and discuss it with you my brothers and sisters. As I read through so many posts and threads on the SSPX dialogue with the Holy See and the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution on the reunification of the Traditional Anglican Communion with the Catholic Church, I notice that we tend to get stuck on details. I’m not saying that details are not important. On the contrary, if I were sewing a new habit for me, details are important. It’s the details that makes my habit look Franciscan and not Augustinian, for example.

Yet, when I read the writings of the Fathers, especially Augustine; the mystics, especially Francis, Teresa and Catherine; the doctors, especially Thomas, Bonaventure and Francis de Sales and many other holy men and women who have preceded us, as well as those who are alive among us, we can see in their lives a simplicity in how they carry themselves daily.

Augustine wrote hundreds of books and sermons. But his life was very simple. It was very much unlike his writings. He had one concern, to rest in God, to posses that which he loved and love that which he possessed. That was the sum of his life. All of his writing were for the purpose of explaining God’s presence in human history and man’s journey to God.

Aquinas was the most simple of men. History tells us that the poor man was so huge that they had to carve a semi-circle at his place in the refectory so that he could sit at the table. Why? Because he was obese. He loved food. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved his friends. He and Bonaventure spent most of their lives together at the University of Parish, teaching and writing. They were often at odds on many things, especially on the writings of Augustine. While Bonaventure saw Augustine’s great love and wrote from that point of view, Aquinas saw Augustine’s great logic and began from there. Yet, these two men who are giants in the Church’s theological life spent more time arguing and driving each other crazy than they did writing. They were great friends. They loved each other very much. When Bonaventure set out to write the biography of St. Francis Aquinas visited him at the Franciscan friary. Finding Bonaventure rapt in a state of ecstasy in deep dialogue with Francis of Assisi, who was already dead and canonized, Aquinas said to the friar who opened the door, “Leave the saint to write about his saint.” On his death bed he asked his Dominican brothers to burn his writings referring to them as “straw.” Aquinas realized that it was not the finer points of theology that had allowed him to reach the end of his journey and prepare him to enter into glory, but it was love. Thus he is able to recognize love when he sees Bonaventure in rapture.

Teresa herself travels through Spain founding reformed Carmelite houses. She spent hours writing her theology books, as did Catherine and later Therese of Liseux. But these women summarized their lives in one simple idea, to do all things with great love. When Teresa of Avila was found praying for Judas Iscariot she was criticized for it. She calmly turned around and said, “I too have betrayed him.” She understood that all of us are traitors and none of us is worthy of God’s mercy, yet God is merciful because he wants to be, not because we have earned it. Her whole life is about finding God’s mercy in quiet and in poverty. Catherine spent her life preparing for her wedding, which she called the Spiritual Nuptuals. Therese entire life was about preparing to reach heaven so that she could shower the world with her roses.

I’m left to wonder if we spend too much time on the details of daily Christian living, worrying about them, trying to fix everything, trying to make everyone tow the “orthodox” line. I’m wondering if we read what the Church teaches almost looking for flaws in the writing, while missing the central message of what the Church tries to tell us about God and man.

In this day and age, we seem to have an over abundant of self-made theologians. But do we have an equally large number of simple men and women like these heroes of the faith? These men and women did not take what they wrote and said as seriously as they took the challenges and consolations of everyday life. I for one have great admiration for poor Aquinas and his love for sweats, Teresa’s love of music, Francis de Sales great joy among children, Therese’s love of theater, Francis of Assisi’s great love for his brothers and Bonaventure’s great love for his kitchen.

How many people know that Bonaventure gave up being a Cardinal, because it interfered with his duties as the dishwasher in the friary? These are the great signs of simplicity. Imagine being a doctor of theology, the superior general of the largest religious order in the world, a cardinal of the Roman Church and worrying about the fact that you the superior of your house has assigned you to wash dishes after meals, thus giving up the cardinalship, the post as superior general, and your post as professor and writer of theology at the university, because the dishes are waiting for you.

But I am moved by the simplicity of these great men and women and how grounded they were in the blessings of every day life. It was through these simple things that they proved their great love for God and neighbor. This simplicity was their path to the perfection of charity, not their great writings or thoughts. Feel free to comment.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#2

I’ve been struck by the same thought, that we have more than our share of Pharasees in the Catholic Church and on these fora.


#3

Jesus never wrote anything–but he ate and drank all the time!

I wish people did understand that loving God isn’t about how holy you look or feel that you are. It isn’t about faith–it isn’t about orthodoxy. “Only one thing is necessary”: to love God generously, with all your heart.

I’m afraid that by the time our Catholic Pharasees recognize their mistake, that they forgot to love, it will be too late, for them and for our Church.


#4

Br. JR I think it can be safely said that humility was an important key in the life of every saint. Certainly men like St. Francis and St. John Vianney teach us it is one of the foremost qualities we must have if we are ever to understand a Christ-like love.

Words themselves may not be important in the end, but they may be important as the means to achieve that end. St. Thomas Aquinas, another who turned down ecclesiastical position over what he viewed as a simpler but equally important tasking, only got that grace to experience a piece of the beatific vision after having written so laborously AND in such a humble way that he would leave his thesis on the Eucharist at the altar overnight for God to personally inspect prior to publication. “Thomas… you have written well of me” could not have occurred had it not been preceded by his long stints of prayerful reflection and clarity of though projected onto the paper.

In that same way, it is sometimes difficult to deal with internal feelings regarding disunity among the faithful. Some can solve this turmoil in quiet reflection, but others cannot. I find it is helpful to read discussions and sometimes express my views. It doesn’t mean I’m forever locked into the thought expressed on one given day; it only means that is how I thought about it on that day, and maybe another poster can show me a side of the issue I’d not considered. I know that in the true spirit of your Founder you are not about praise, nonetheless it is the truth that the example you set in your informative posts often gives me pause to think the matter through from another angle and find more peace in what results.

Those like you in religious life have an enormous influential power that I sometimes think many of you, in striving for humility, look right past it. Allow me to illustrate with a personal example. The only Franciscan brother I’ve met in person was from a small town in which a relative lived. I met him many years ago when I was much younger and more full of “the world” than I am now. In the course of the conversation with him, he happened to mention the word “penance” so many times it stood out, and it prompted me to ask him, in a rather frivolous way I would add, “Penance? C’mon Brother, what are you guys doing behind those walls? How much trouble can you get yourselves into in there? What, do you wait for the visitors to leave and engage in some kind of wild bacchanalia or something?” Oh, worldlyness was stamped right on my forehead!

His very simple and quiet answer to me hit me like a sledgehammer. He said, “We’re not doing our penances for the people inside the walls. We’re doing them for the people outside the walls.” I wanted to look around for a pebble that I could crawl under and hide. Not long after I started coming to this forum you posted a reply to another poster expressing that same thought in nearly those words. I almost fell off my chair when I read it. As Yogi Berra would say, “It was like Deju Vu all over again.”

The point I’m trying to make is that through discussion and exchange of ideas change CAN and does happen. Personally, as it regards SSPX and groups like that, I am not pained at all that they see things from a perhaps more conservative perspective, but I am pained when I see good people legitimately trying to live a life in harmony with Christ persecuted with some of the answers they receive from those in that society, answers that leave people doubting their own faith. That, to me, is where they cross the line. It is one thing to hold a view and work to effect change; it’s another to be openly defiant. What would we think of St. Boniface today if he expressed himself by saying, “Candidates for Cardinal don’t do dishes?”


#5

Beautiful post, Br. JR. Simplicity is a surprisingly difficult goal- we all like to feel we are right, better, and important about the things that matter to us (and sometimes it is easier to let the “little things” matter than to allow the big things to do so…the little things usually have the lesser demands on us personally!) There is surely a difference between striving for perfection and allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good, and perhaps that difference is found somewhere in simplicity. Lots to think about!


#6

You have said some wonderful things in the above posts. I compelled to respond from my meditations this week. Every week, I select a different theme or the writings of a different author for me weekly mediations. I find it is easier than to sit there and find something to think about during our silent time. This week I’ve been reading and meditating on St. Augustine’s writings on prayer.

It is incredible how much what you say brings up what I’ve been mediating on. When his monks asked him what they should pray for, Augustine’s response was that they should pray for what they loved. It was such a simple response coming from one of the brightest minds of Christian and maybe world history. To pray for what you love. The more I think about it, the more that I see the simplicity of his words and the depth of those words. In his writings Augustine reminds us that a man who loves what is not good for him is lost and a man who does not love what is good for him is mentally ill. He proceeds to show us how the only thing that is good for us is God. Therefore, in answer to the questions, “What should we pray for?” Augustine points his monks to praying for God. It’s not that God needs our prayers, but that we need God. We should be praying for God’s presence in our lives. As God becomes present in our lives, all other things get settled, because as I have always believed, God is the great equalizer. He brings stability into our lives, as St. Benedict would say. Stability was one of Benedict’s goals for himself and for his brothers.

Now that I think back on it, I understand that Benedictine stability is Augustine’s love and it is Francis of Assisi’s poverty and Teresa’s interior castle and so forth. It all stand for God. God brings stability. He can only be found in true detachment from self, from others and from material things. He resides not outside of us, but around us, like a castle that surrounds the soul. But only the simple person can see him.

While the rest of us have our noses on our own grind, day after day, the saints are those who stop their discussions, their activities, even their praying just to allow God to speak. While it is true that it is good to engage in dialogue about the issues in the Church and the world around us, it is also bad to make those the defining forces in our lives. We cannot define ourselves by the form of the liturgy that we prefer. Nor can we define ourselves by how much or what we do about abortion. We certainly do not define ourselves by our understanding of this or that written word. We have already been defined by Christ himself as sons and daughters of the Father.

But how can we define ourselves as children of God if we’re not like God? God is simple. In his eternal existence God has one concern and one goal, to bring his sons and daughters to him. But we must begin the journey toward him. We can only begin the journey when we love him because he is good for us. As Augustine says, “Our hearts will not rest until they rest in your Oh Lord!”

True simplicity is narrowing down our life’s goal to one thing and one thing only, to rest in God who is good for us. The perfection of charity is to be at peace with God so that we can rest in him. It’s a simple formula. We live for him alone. We love for him alone. We pray for him alone.

Feel free to comment.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#7

Sometimes trying to be a good Catholic can be exhausting…I’m feeling some Catholic fatigue.

I’ll have to meditate on this idea of simplicity this week and see where I’m going wrong.


#8

I love that humility you described, JReducation. Thanks for sharing your reading from the lives of the saints! I’m so excited to seek that humility out and become that way myself! I really, really want to be humble. God help us all along that road; we so need His grace.


#9

Beautiful post Brother JR :slight_smile: I need to be more humble and simple. I don’t know how to be this way though, I dont know how to reach it. But I feel it’s important. God bless you :slight_smile:


#10

I’ve been thinking about what you folks are saying and I’m deeply moved. I just came back from one of our pregnancy centers. Theoretically, I was not supposed to be there. Another brother was, but he was unable to do so. So they called in the old man to fill the gap. This played right into my mediations this week. When I was first told about it, I was excited about going, because I enjoy working with the people who go to the pregnancy centers. My job used to be running a high school to bring in money to support our brothers who run the pregnancy centers for free. But I was laid off that job, because of my cancer. I could no longer fulfill all the duties and commute the 120 miles round trip.

But as the time got closer to get myself out the door and to the pregnancy center I began to feel kind of lazy. You know those moments in the afternoon when your body says, “I want a nap?” I had one of those. I realized that the evil one did not want me to go to the pregnancy center. After all, he wants these abortions. I dragged myself to the car, which is about to die on us and drove over to the center.

Normally, the brother that I was replacing works with the men. I was upset, because there were no men when I got there. There were only women. I had been told that I was to replace Br. Don for his Fraternity Class. As I sat there, behind the desk asking myself why I was there, I was suddenly reminded that I had not seen a crucifix or a Catholic symbol around. Well, lo and behold, I looked up and there was a crucifix right above my head. I went into the waiting area and there was a beautiful painting of our Lady. OK, so now I was really convinced that the evil one was up to his old tricks. How could I have missed the crucifix and the painting of Our Lady, as big as life?

To make matters more interesting, a young man walked in, whom the volunteer directed over to the room where I would meet with him for his parenting class. He took a baaaaaaaaaad attitude with her. I just stood there and watched the action. He grudgingly entered the room to which he was directed. When I sat down he tried to impress me with his attitude. It was the attitude that says, “I’m bad. I’m smart. Let’s see if you can break me.” I let him talk on and on for about 15 mind and then applauded. He had no idea why I was applauding. When I finished he asked me why I was applauding. I said, “You have just put on the best testosterone show that I have ever seen. Now that you have persuaded me that you have enough testosterone to share, let’s talk about being a man and taking responsibility.” Needless to say that we talked for an entire hour without stopping. When the time was up he complained that it had gone too quickly. I too was disappointed. But most of all, I was humbled. He was the kindest, most sincere and broken person I had met in a very long time. I was humbled, because his show of testosterone was all about fear. I know what’s it’s like to be afraid and not want to admit it or let others see it.

When he left he agreed to come back and spend another hour with me. He was smiling, polite and the kindest person I’ve met all week. I can’t wait to see him. He really moved me in a very special way. I could feel the love of God coming through from him. Under all that bravado, that rudeness, that testosterone, I discovered a new friend, a new brother a person who showed me love and kindness. The Lord ministered to me. Of course, the fellow and his girlfriend in the other room have decided to keep their baby and join our program.

But you guys are asking what is humility? How do I become humble? I learned humility from this young man. Humility is to be afraid. Humility is to be kind to another person when you’re afraid. Humility is to be there for another person when you’re hurting. D. was there for me. I listened and he talked. I could not keep myself from feeling that I wanted to cry. God was so good to me. I did not deserve that. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t even notice the crucifix and the Blessed Virgin when I entered. I went because obedience said that I had to go, because one of my brothers needed a replacement. Now, I have to go back and meet with D. I promised him that I would be there for him. But he also gave me more than I can ever give him back. He gave me love, even when he was afraid. He’s my example of humility and simplicity.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#11

This is one of the most uplifting and thought-provoking threads I’ve found on the forum.

As an admitted doubting Catholic, I’m depressed by the sheer volume of discussion that’s devoted to sin, Hell, “Will I go to Hell if…?”, “Is it a sin to…?”, and the interpretation of a vast array of complex rules that make the U.S. Tax Code look like a first-grade reader.

Assuming that God has Internet service, I imagine He must have a good laugh (or a good cry) at the certainty, self-righteousness and downright enthusiasm with which some of his creatures inform their fellow men of the eternal torment which awaits them!


#12

JR,

I can’t imagine what you are going through; however, I may be able to empathize to some extent. Obedience is a hard thing! It demands from us the very thing we are unwilling to yield or costs us the most.

How blessed are those who are called to give up everything! Who struggle through hardships, travel through barren lands, seek for an oasis only to find a mirage! They bare the mark of Our God - the lowly suffering servant who sought not his own will, but the will of the Father in a foreign, antagonistic world, and with a people that would not understand him.

Peace be to you, in Christ Our Lord.


#13

Dear Br Jr,

Reading a thread like this one has started to restore my faith in something good coming from a forum like CAF.

For me, understanding just what the Mystical Body of Christ encompasses has been such a humbling experience.
I believe Mother Theresa said it well when she told her sisters; “Jesus wants me to tell you again… how much is the love He has for each of you-beyond all what you can imagine…Not only He loves you, even more-He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy…For me it is clear-everything in MC exists only to satiate Jesus. His words on the wall of every MC chapel, they are not from the past only, but alive here and now, spoken to you. Do you believe it?..Why does Jesus say “I thirst”? What does it mean? Something so hard to explain in words-…“I thirst” is something much deeper than just Jesus saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you–you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.”

I maybe wrong or naive for saying this but I so strongly believe that when we surrender our desire to convert the world to His hands and His way we are actually helping the Mystical Body of Christ by putting our trust in Him who knows the hearts of man best. We can argue points until we are blue in the face but ultimately it is up to Him to reveal himself to us.

To me the greatest and most humbling thing is knowing that the only reason I am who I am is because of God and what He has given me. My very breath, my very life, and my very heart beat. Any knowledge or awareness of Him is truly a gift from Him and I believe that the best way to glorify Him is to give this gift back to Him in any way I can. I have found that for me one of the best ways I can give this love that God has for me is to give it to Him directly through everyone I meet in sharing with them the love He has for me. I also find it such a joy to see how He speaks to us through other’s. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in what we want to teach the world that we forget to learn from God through the world. I believe we need each other to understand God’s love more fully.

Please guide me and correct me if some of these thoughts are in error because I am new at talking about things like this and would really like to understand them more deeply.


#14

Allow me to respond in a manner that may be helpful to all of us. To become despondent is to feel a failure. To despair is to lose hope. To struggle is to take up the cross.

It is only when we take up our cross that we enter into the mystery of perfect charity. This is the mystery to which Christ invites us. It is that simple.

The cross presents itself to us through many situations. But we have to learn to keep it simple. Keeping it simple means that we have to learn that we cannot convert the world in one day. We cannot change ourselves overnight. We cannot do more than God.

Simplicity is that quality that allows us to accept the cross, by doing what we have to do in each situation, one situation at a time. The simple person realizes that Christ can transform hearts and human history, not us. This is what made people like Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa so palatable. They simplified life. You simply accept the cross as it is, meaning that you work with what you have and you leave the rest to God. God will show his face when we show simple trust in him. St. Faustina heard this from Jesus himself. He ordered her to write beneath the painting, “Jesus, I trust you.”

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#15

Dear Br Jr,

When you speak of how we need to take up and accept our crosses you reminded me that when I was younger it was never taught to me this way. All I was told to do was “offer it up.”

I never understood why I was being instructed to give my crosses back to God if God was asking me to take them in the first place. It was not until much later that I finally realized that by my accepting the crosses that I am given I am giving myself to Him and His will and letting Him use me for whatever He sees fit. Understanding that I need to accept my crosses and take responsibility for them made me realize that I am not just offering them up to Him I am offering myself with my crosses to Him. I believe that when we do this we are offering ourselves and everything God has given us to the Mystical Body of Christ. I heard in a sermon not that long ago that when any member of the Mystical Body of Christ is spiritually ill the whole Mystical Body of Christ suffers from it and when any member of the Mystical Body of Christ is spiritually well the whole Mystical Body of Christ benefits from it. I believe that is why it is so important that we do keep things simple.

My father used to tell me if you do not know the basics how can you ever comprehend the more complexed things that come after.

I truly believe that it is through our crosses that He molds us and I can understand how the saints came to love every cross that God gave them. What really humbles me is knowing that not only does He give us our crosses but He also gives us the ability to handle them and the more we love and trust Him the easier it is to handle them.

I believe He truly does completely sustain us.

I humbly hope and pray this makes sense,
Please correct or clarify anything for me to understand it better.


#16

What you say is very true. I’ll give you a simple example from my life. I have not been able to get to the doctor since I got out of the hospital or take my medications since they ran out, because our community does not have medical insurance. We depend on charity to pay for our healthcare. It’s part of our vow of poverty, to live without property, completely dependent on Divine Providence, knowing that Jeus gives us what we need.

One day this week, I can’t tell you which, I looked at the Immaculate Heart of Mary and realized how much we love each other. I know that I’m a very sinful person and I’m often ashamed of myself and my choices, but we love each other anway. As I looked at our mother I said to her, “You know that we need some income.” I really was not sure what was going to happen. I felt a tug of unbelief in my heart. I think that we all experience this. But I accepted the situation as it is. I can’t go to the doctor or take meds, because our fraternity can’t afford it.

I spoke with the brothers and we thought and prayed about how to make the money for me to go to the doctor. One of our brothers decided to mention it to several people. Today he came back home and said, “Guess what! You’re going to the doctor and we’re going to buy you meds.” I looked at him and laughed. He said, “I just got a call from my dad. He wanted to know how you were doing. I told him about our situation. He’s sending a check.”

The reason that I share this with you is becaues this is what I have learned in my life. When we accept our circumstances and we try to do the best that we can with what we have, when we try to find solutions to our problems knowing that God and his mother love us, something happens. It may not be what we expect or how we expect it. But something happens. It’s that simple. God is always good. He cannot be anything else but good. He loves us.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#17

Simplicity is that quality that allows us to accept the cross, by doing what we have to do in each situation, one situation at a time. The simple person realizes that Christ can transform hearts and human history, not us. This is what made people like Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa so palatable. They simplified life. You simply accept the cross as it is, meaning that you work with what you have and you leave the rest to God. God will show his face when we show simple trust in him. St. Faustina heard this from Jesus himself. He ordered her to write beneath the painting, “Jesus, I trust you.”

THis really spoke to me… I’m going through a time full of uncertainty, and I worry about the future a lot. I just had a thought today, that I should just focus on the tasks I need to do right now…and leave the rest up to God. And just do what I need to do without panicking… I need to trust God in order to live in this way. When I look at the Saints, I see this trust in their lives… even when everything was going wrong, they were still able to be joyful and patient with others. But I get impatient and focus so much on my problems. I agree that one part of simplicity, perhaps a large part, is trust in God…not taking things in our own hands, but realizing we all need Him. God takes care of the stars, the atoms, galaxies, time, and space… surely He can take of little me :slight_smile:

I think also when we accept our crosses, we gain a lot of peace…

Another part of this might also be interior silence. A few days ago I spent 10-15 minutes just being with God and meditating on Scripture instead of talking to Him in prayer. I found that really helped me. Sometimes we talk so much… even in our minds… and that keeps us from listening to God. There’s this prayer, I think it was written by St Teresa of Avila: “Spirit of Jesus, breathe calm in my mind, peace in my heart, and silence in my soul. In the silence, let me hear Your voice, in the peace, let me see Your face, in the calm, let me know Your love.”

I think that maybe it’s in the simplicity, trust, and silence, that we are able to encounter God so He can give us graces and change us.

God bless.


#18

I love that prayer. Where did you get it? I never heard it before.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#19

The comments here on simplicity are inspiring.

But what concerns me - so much that I’m strongly considering leaving the Church - is how to reconcile the need for simplicity with the tremendous complexity of the Church’s teachings, laws, canons and rules. How can one find simplicity in a church which puts so many layers of finely nuanced man-made interpretation (Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, etc.) between God’s word and His people? Is all that “stuff” really necessary for one to become closer to God?


#20

Yes. And as our holy Father Francis would tell you, part of simplicity is to put ourselves in the hands of the Church. The simple man does not quibble with the Church. The simple man consoles himself by obeying. Our love of God inspires us to see him and hear him through the Church.

Our simple faith leads us to accept that upon this rock is his Church built. We accept that without question. Our simple charity inspires us to love the Church as Christ loves her. And most importantly, our simple humility tells us that we are not masters of ourselves, our will or our knowledge. We are only instruments in the hands of God.

We do not worry about how the church governs or how she teaches. We know that what she does, she does under the guidance and supervision of the Holy Spirit. As she goes the Holy Spirit inspires her to adjust her course like a ship sailing a stormy sea. What the Church never changes is her faith. Her faith is rooted in revealed truth. Truth is revealed three ways. First, there was tradition. Second came the Magisterium. And third came Sacred Scripture. Part of simplicity is the full assent to this reality.

Simplicity is the undivided response to the universal call to holiness. The Church is the undivided and indivisible guide to holiness. The simple soul submits to her wisdom and her guidance in all things. He does not leave the Church, because he knows that without her he has no direction, no grounding and no salvation. It’s pretty black and white.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


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