Can I Get Some Simplicity for God’s Sake! (Part 2 of 2)

buachaille_etive_morWhile Part 1 of these tandem posts focused on simplicity of life, it ended with a whisper of something more. Without this ‘something more,’ this practical simplicity of life is incomplete, akin to dry ritualism, “drudgery for the sake of it and an insult to all men of good will” (A Christmas Carol.)

We don’t empty ourselves as an act meaningful in and of itself. It is in service of a deeper kind of simplicity. Let us boldly assert what is, in truth, a rather queer fact: we empty ourselves to be filled! Our situation matches what we find in reality: we are in need of filling and (alleluia!) there is something that waits to fill us.

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But with what do we need to be filled?

In 1995, a year after writing his prophetic, profound and highly praised book, The Catholic Church at The End of An Age: What is the Spirit Saying?, Ralph Martin traveled with Sr. Ann Shields to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II. At their meeting, Ralph presented to him his new book. The Holy Father rhapsodically whisked the book out of Ralph’s hand, blindly reached back to hand it to his secretary, and said, “Ralph, I have already read your book!” Placing his outstretched hands on Ralph’s shoulders, his face grew fiery, his eyes locked and his voice lowered as he said, “Tell me, Ralph – what is the Spirit saying…?” Sr. Ann Shields recounts how, as both men looked into each other’s eyes, Ralph simply answered, “Jesus.” And the two men – two disciples, two children of God, two pilgrims longing for home – repeated back and forth to each other, “Jesus… Jesus… Jesus…” as their voices tailed off.

When we simplify our lives and empty ourselves of the clutter, we open ourselves to being filled more with the Holy Spirit – “The Lord, the Giver of Life”: God Himself. And when the Spirit fills our hearts, like a silent bolt of lightning suddenly illuminating the darkened sky, it points and bears witness to one, simple thing: Jesus.

WhoAmIOh how badly we need (and desire!) this deeper kind of simplicity. We run around and chase so many causes (pro-life/pro-choice), philosophies (expanded/limited government), worldviews (“just love people, dude”) and lifestyles (“P90X and a gluten-free diet changed my life!”), when all we need is more of Him. Please don’t misunderstand – causes, philosophies, worldviews and lifestyles are all legitimate parts of life. But, they are secondary. Jesus is primary. We must come to grips with this, because we are forever in discord until we put first things first and second things second (as pointed out with customary brilliance by Lewis in God in the Dock).

To be human means to look for meaning and purpose in your life as a whole and in your everyday activities. We are all on this search. And as we journey, we accumulate so many things that serve as our guiding lights, giving us meaning and purpose. But are they not all doomed to disappoint us, these dressed-up finitudes to which our hearts aren’t built to belong? We are called to a radical simplicity, to a singleness of purpose.

This simplicity, this singleness of purpose always breeds excellence (see Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly), whether be in secular tasks or on the spiritual journey.

We see clear-cut evidence of this in Pope John Paul II. He was a man of tremendous gifts – a philosopher, mystic, sportsman, intellectual, dramatist, statesman and leader, but who can best be understood in a “simplicity that lies on the far side of complexity” as a “radical, Christian…disciple” (Witness to Hope, George Weigel). Though life is complicated and our participation “in the world” produces myriad currents of interest, involvement and activity in our lives, at the bottom of that ocean – at the bedrock foundation that lies on the “far side” of all that complexity – what sits on the throne of our heart? Does Jesus sit there? Do we live for a singular purpose?

peter_preachingConsider the Apostles:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil 3:7-8)

At the end of the day, after being filled with the Spirit, they had this deep simplicity. Their meaning and purpose didn’t come from their jobs, their bank accounts, their houses, their projects, their vacations, their ‘experiences’ or even their web of relationships. Life was about one thing and one thing only: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

This kind of simplicity is radical and deeply counter-cultural. Our (now, global) culture is a culture of stuff. You have an itch (boredom)? The culture has a thing for that (TV, Netflix or another form of entertainment). Now a different itch (nope, boredom again)? Well, it has something else for that, too (big ‘experiences’). We take a little bit from here and little bit from there, accumulating these void remedies until eventually we end up bloated on a bunch of solutions that just create more problems, less peace and don’t satisfy anything. We resolve ourselves to living these fragmented lives when “only one thing is needful.” Why?!

Do we really believe that Jesus is all we need; that we need nothing else; that the kind of life He would give us is the life we actually would quit everything to have? Every saint answered ‘yes’ to those questions – and then lived a ‘simple’ life that confessed only one thing: Jesus.

All of us can feel convicted by this. What this really boils down to is a lack of conversion. We simply need to have more deeply converted hearts. Let’s put ourselves in God’s hands, in prayer, and ask Him for that. He’ll answer.

In our complicated, bloated, materially obese culture, we need a greater simplicity of life and a more radical simplicity of heart. And the Good News is that the King is ready and waiting to grow these in us! Let us come before Him so that we may…

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

In this way we will contradict our generation. But, paradoxically, it needs us to do just that.

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50 Shades of Disorientation

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(Image credit Charlie Mackesy)

Recently, on the ‘luv’-soaked occasion of Valentine’s Day, Facebook announced that they will allow users in the United States to choose a ‘custom gender option’ in which one may select from 50 genders, alternatives to the traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ options. Among the choices are ‘transgender,’ ‘cisgender,’ ‘gender fluid,’ ‘gender neutral’ and ‘neither.’ Their reasoning, you ask?

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self (from the Facebook Diversity page).

This latest cultural exhibition of gender confusion really is nothing new, it is just the next step in man’s rebellion against God along the unhinged-from-reality, Bataan Death March-like excursion into nothingness. This is a manifestation of a problem as ancient as sin. But, still, there is something big that is happening with Facebook’s decision – showing that this problem is still as fresh as a wound.

Where does all this gender confusion stem from?

As a start, it is worth considering that the only reason Facebook would offer 50 gender choices as a way of liberating people to be their “true, authentic self” is if a person’s body is not really part of their self (a concept in philosophical language referred to as body-self dualism). If that outlook is true, what follows?

Well, based on my feelings, consciousness and whatever else makes up ‘me,’ I can manipulate, use, dictate, shape and otherwise rule this machine in which ‘the real me’ is housed. This is one step, but it gets worse. Not only do I not have to ‘listen’ to the nature of my body, but, given the disappearance of God from the human horizon, then I really have no inherent nature that informs what is good or bad for me. Thus, the rampant acceptance of, as George Weigel phrases it,

…the utter plasticity of the human condition: there is nothing given in men and women, not even their gender; all is malleable; all can be changed to fulfill desires (or, as it is usually phrased, to meet the ‘needs’) of the imperial autonomous Self (pg. 44, Evangelical Catholicism).

In short, we are alone in a hostile jungle with two options – die or rule: rule over our bodies; rule over anyone who threatens my self-creation; rule over reality itself. This is the affirmation of nothingness.

Now doesn’t this picture make a lot more sense?

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Year after year, this way of thinking has been tightening its grip over our once Creation-affirming culture. But a monolith such as Facebook now trumpeting this worldview as a matter of their company’s foundational ethos is really a big blow.

Why is this an important step?

For a billion people around the world, Facebook is the hub of culture. It is where they connect with people, learn about themselves and receive a hundred cues a day about how life is lived. It is their temple. It is where they come to engage, to listen, to connect and to speak. Like monks, who, as a way of centering their life, periodically ‘check in’ with God every couple of hours, Facebook users must return multiple times daily just to ‘check in.’ It provides a near-monastic rhythm of life.

As this temple, Facebook is a remarkably and insidiously powerful teaching entity – probably the biggest in the world, when it comes right down to it. And the real shame of their recent moment of gender politik is that now every 14 and 15 year-old who makes a Facebook will be considering, “Wait, which one of these genders am I, really? Where do I actually fit on this continuum? I’m not so sure…” The mindset from the get-go is, “You are not given. You must create yourself.” The idea that my body is really me and that there is a givenness (a ‘whatness’) to who I am that informs me of what is good for me and what isn’t… that idea? Implicitly ‘un-friended.’

Why is any of this bad? Because it hurts people. It leads not to human flourishing, but to human suffering. If people stew in a culture that says their body is not part of their ‘true self,’ then they will forever be in a cracked, dissonant war within themselves. Moreover, if people stew in a culture that says, ‘There is nothing that is inherently bad or good for you,’ then eventually more and more people will live that way (I dare you, go to any college and see if that is the case), making more and more people blind to what is good for them and enslaved to poisons. So, in effect, to the classically beautiful definition of a ‘good society’ given by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day – “a ‘good society’ is one in which it is easy to be good” – people will naturally respond, “that’s threatening.” That’s chilling.

What does one say? We might as well let Pope Benedict XVI say it for us:

The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

One is also reminded of the legendary quote from Dostoyevsky, which so succinctly illuminates an unwavering truth about life and what it means to be human:

If God does not exist, everything is permitted (The Brothers Karamazov).

Nothing seems to be more and more evidently vindicated each and every day than these two statements. We are losing our bearings (our grip), because we’re walking in the dark. Once God is erased from the “human horizon,” we stumble around for want of light, direction and purpose, desperately and impossibly trying to create ourselves out of nothing and save ourselves from annihilation.

No one would say that Facebook is in voluntary cahoots with the devil, and that won’t be claimed here either. But, our Holy Father nailed it when talking about this mass gender confusion:

Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Lived-out lies lead to slavery. What are we (you and I) doing to help people not fall victim to this vacuous disorientation?