Can We Have Some Simplicity for God’s Sake! (Part 1 of 2)

maxresdefaultA recent blog post quoted Chesterton on the topic of ‘fitting in.’ His unconquerable wisdom showed us how, oddly enough, each generation is converted by the saints who contradict it the most.

An interesting question follows: in what ways does our generation and its attendant culture need to be contradicted the most (i.e. what would the life of a ‘saint’ life look like today?) Yes, there are quite a few answers to that question. But let’s propose just one here today.

It doesn’t take long – in the more reflective moments of reading about ages past or asking old family members things like, ‘What’s changed the most since you were a kid?’ or just pondering one’s weekly schedule – to realize a fact that is so darn obvious that we often fail to see it: our times are characterized by overwhelming, nearly dictatorial, complexity.

This takes next to no convincing at all. Consider the mountain of legal, economic, electric and mechanized structures that have to be established and maintained for you to simply drive to work in the morning. And this daily activity is just one example. The things that make up the fabric of our lives are like a thick forest. Man has indeed invented many things to make life easier and more comfortable, but if we raise our heads just a little and take in the sum total of that criss-crossing web of systems and stuff, it nearly blots out the sun. It is a many-tentacled juggernaut that creates an awful lot of mental, physical and spiritual noise in our everyday lives.

(An aside: If anyone doubts this, I challenge you to spend a week in the mountains with nothing but necessities and see if you don’t experience a preliminarily distressing withdrawal that gives birth to an emancipating levity.)

Unprecedented worldly complexity is surely a sign of our times. But, can it drag us away from God? Can it affect us interiorly? Well, why not give the floor to Jesus and see what He has to say on the matter (it’s usually pretty good.)

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. (Luke 10:41)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Jesus’ words themselves are not complex, nor do they counsel complexity. Yet, they are a deep ocean of refreshing riches. Let’s dive in.

What is purity of heart? It is emphatically not to be conflated with chastity. It is much more than what we often refer to as ‘purity.’ Purity of heart means a singleness of purpose (like a heartbeat), a decontaminated desire that sets its sights on “the one thing necessary” and Him alone. It means to will only one thing. In this sense, purity means oneness and wholeness. Just as pure water has nothing in it except water, so the pure in heart have no dust particles clouding their line of vision to God. Thus, a pure heart is a simple heart.

Again the objection could arise: this is internal, spiritual simplicity – what does external, material simplicity have do with that?

One of the great sages of our time, Peter Kreeft, in one of his lesser known books on the moral life has an obscure chapter entitled “Simplicity” that asks this very question. He responds like so:

Because external simplicity is very closely related to internal simplicity, to the “purity of heart” Jesus calls for. A simple lifestyle is a powerful aid to a simple heart. It aids simplicity of heart for the same reason bodily kneeling aids humility of spirit in prayer. Our spirit learns from our body…In other words, here is the fundamental argument: If you have simplicity of life, you will probably have simplicity of spirit. If you have simplicity of spirit, you will be a better person. Therefore if you have simplicity of life, you will probably be a better person. (Pg. 148, Making Choices)

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For this reason, Kreeft argues against living in the grasp of the “tentacles” of the “octopus [that] is our modern society”, which is full of “dark ink” and “strangling” tendencies. How? Through simplicity:

I do not counsel flight but fight; not running away from the complex octopus of modern society but using the tentacles of the octopus without being used by them, swimming in and out freely. Simplicity is the oil that greases our backs and prevents the octopus from grabbing hold of us. (Pg. 149, Making Choices)

So, if this complexity is the texture of our world today, and if that complexity can, as Kreeft posits, pull us away from the Lord, what are we (keeping Chesterton in mind) as disciples of Christ to do?

As always, the apparent truth is at once convicting and vivifying: Perhaps we need to simplify our lives.

How? Kreeft has life-changing suggestions (that I won’t explain, you should seriously read this chapter – it’s marvelous):

–       Taking back time by doing timeless things

–       Sleeping closer to the sun’s schedules

–       Living a poorer (which is, paradoxically, richer) life with less ‘stuff’

–       Taking more time for silence (and the things silence produces)

–       Instead of buying so many things, make them yourself

–       And many more…

In this short post, we need not fuddle with how we should simplify our lives. Obviously the method and expression of this simplicity will be different in each person’s life.

But, one thing is clear: we need to get real with ourselves. We all (especially living in this country) can think of two (probably ten) things that we fundamentally do not need, yet we rely on as ‘innocent’ little titillations and diversions. Kreeft, again, has exacting words:

Whether you take the particular pieces of advice in this chapter or not – e.g., whether or not you put the TV set in the attic – you should be able to do so. If you simply can’t, then the octopus has captured your heart and you are an addict. In that case you probably need to “go cold turkey” and free yourself by taking an axe to your slave master, destroying your drug.

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And isn’t that the very chord this sort of tune comes down to: freedom. Taken further, freedom to see God. Amidst all of the clutter of our world are we free to gaze upon and really know He who is everything we love? (Aside: this earthly, infant version of the beatific vision is what St. Thomas Aquinas called the foundation of happiness.) Are we free to know (be united to) He whom we love? Or do thick, noisy clouds of dust muddy our vision? If so, as a statement of fact, these clouds are our enemies and we ought to set them aflame. No doubt such simplicity, such radicalness, such purity of heart would revolutionize Christian culture and the world.

Perhaps it is for these reasons the Catechism encourages us to…

Remain simple and innocent, and you will be like little children who do not know the evil that destroys man’s life. (CCC 2517)

… and why Mother Teresa confessed:

My secret is very simple: I pray. (No Greater Love, Mother Teresa)

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Brief Lenten Introduction: Read Psalm 51

CoalWhat is the point of Lent?

I’ve heard Fr. Barron give a great response to that question: “Lent is the time when we remove all that is not God from the center of our lives so that He alone may sit there.” It is a time of purging and detaching, so that only the King may sit on the throne of our hearts. So we abandon ourselves to Him, to let Him put His life within us.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, / and put a new and right spirit within me. / Cast me not away from your presence, / and take not your holy Spirit from me. / Restore to me the joy of your salvation, / and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

Therefore (oddly enough) it is a time to be made whole, to be made happier, to receive life more abundantly. BUT! It is not just a time for interior, self-focused navel gazing! We are never made holy (i.e. ‘set apart’) to then just sit content, rest on our laurels and wait for death. We are ‘set apart’ so we can be sent (paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI)! And so the very next verses of this penitential psalm read thus:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, / and sinners will return to you. / Deliver me from bloodguilt [death], O God, / O God of my salvation, / and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. (Psalm 51:13-14)

As we are cleanse and cleaned, renewed and converted, we abide more radically in the will of our Father, who “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (CCC 2822, 1 Tim 2:3-4).

What is the point of Lent? Conversion and mission. With conversion, comes mission – always. They are the two strands of a double helix that is the foundational building block for Lent, for the way of a disciple and for life itself.

Evangelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel”

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Pope Francis has just released an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which means “The Joy of the Gospel.”  Over the next few weeks, we will examine the document to pull out the key points and see how they relate particularly to young adults.   In the meantime, we highly encourage everyone to read it since the Holy Father has continued the focus of his predecessors on the New Evangelization.  Here click here to read Evangelii Gaudium in its entirety.

Here are some links for initial commentary.

A Summary of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): Pope Francis’ First Apostolic Exhortation by Kevin Cotter

Pope Francis’ new document, Evangelii Gaudium: 9 things to know and share by Jimmy Akin

True Love – Part II

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*This is the second part of an article written by Peter Herbeck entitled True Love.  To read Part I click here*

What the Church Teaches

The teaching of the Catholic Church is presented clearly and with genuine compassion in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357-2359):

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Here the Church is teaching the truth in love. She is fulfilling the command of the Lord to “love your neighbor as yourself.” She knows that she must communicate the objective truth about human sexuality and marriage as an expression of her love for persons with homosexual attractions. Homosexual acts are described as “intrinsically disordered.” Note, it does not say persons with homosexual attractions are in themselves intrinsically disordered. They are, in the eyes of the Church, children of God, who bear the image of God, persons with inherent dignity who are called and destined to live with God forever.

It is the homosexual act that is intrinsically disordered because it violates the objective goods or the essential truth of the sexual act. The sexual act is, by nature, in its essence, the one flesh union of two persons, which is open to life. As Dr. Janet Smith puts it, “sex is for babies and bonding.” It is ordered to reproduction and union which are both made possible by “sexual complementarity.” Homosexual acts fail to recognize the essential, objective, unchanging truth about the purpose of the sexual act.

The Church recognizes that marriage is an institution that the Church did not create. Every society known to man has recognized marriage as an institution that unites children with their parents. It is the fundamental building block of human civilization. The Church has no power to change its teaching on homosexual activity or marriage. She didn’t create or design the fundamental purpose for either one; she simply recognizes the intrinsic meaning of both.

What motivates the Church’s teaching is love. There is no hate, bigotry or animus toward homosexual persons. Certainly, there are some in the church who are bigots, but that isn’t the source of the Church’s teaching. It’s the same love the Church expresses when she speaks against premarital sex, masturbation, prostitution, adultery, fornication, and pornography. Each one of these acts, in some way, suppresses the truth about the meaning, purpose and design of human sexuality.

So it is with tough love that the Church passes on to us the teaching of the Scriptures, as well as the truth revealed in the natural law. To fail to teach it, or to promote what is contrary to it, is to “rejoice in what is wrong,” and to promote a “destructive lie.”

My Truth

Finally, what makes the Church’s teaching such a challenge in these days is the cultural dominance of what Pope Benedict XVI described as the “dictatorship of relativism.” It is essentially the rejection of any standard of truth outside my own personal experience or subjective understanding. The only truth that is decisive, especially in the sexual realm, is “my truth.” The ultimate standard or measure of truth is my own personal choice, what I determine to be true for myself.

This is a game the Church cannot play. It’s a lie. It’s not only the suppression of the truth about the meaning of human sexuality; it is a form of idolatry. To live in the truth is to be rightly related to reality. It means to live in the real world, not the world I create for myself. The reason we have become so confused about things that are so obvious is that we have decided to shape reality according to our own design. We don’t want God’s design for reality; we want reality on our terms. We want to be gods.

This is the root of our confusion and current struggle. The only way out is repentance. We must turn again, wholeheartedly toward God. We must welcome reality on his terms, to humbly and gratefully receive his design for human life, and to live in His truth with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. It’s the only way to love. It is true love.

Great Commentary on Recent Pope Francis’ Interviews

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Both of Pope Francis’ recent interviews have caused significant waves through the Catholic Church and the secular media.  Nearly everyone has an opinion on his perspective, style, and content.   Below is a link to an article written by Carl E. Olson for The Catholic World Report which presents a very balanced and thoughtful look at the Holy Father’s comments.  Feel free to respond to the article in the comments section or under the original article.

Pope Francis: The Good, the Baffling, and the Unclear by Carl E. Olson

More Quotes from Lumen Fidei

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More quotes from Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei, I still highly recommend reading the entire thing.

“Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a “Thou” who calls us by name.” #8
“As Saint Augustine explains: “Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful when he grants to man what he has promised” #10
“Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a countenance which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face” #13
“Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity: the history of salvation.”#14

Pope Quote: The Charismatic Movement

“We talked about the statistics regarding Pentecostals with the bishops on Brazil in a meeting yesterday. I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.” – Pope Francis