By Sheila Read
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” ~ Luke 16:13
Nelson Rockefeller, heir to the family fortune, reportedly was once asked, “How much is enough?” Rockefeller paused, smiled, and said, “Just a little bit more.”
The desire for more is the trap of our culture and times. No matter how much we work, no matter how much money we make, it seems never to satisfy. We achieve what we think is our goal, and then set another goal, which when achieved feels equally empty. My husband counsels a couple who earns more than $300,000 per year but never seems to have enough money. For a few years in my 20s, I liked to wear trendy clothes. Instead of being satisfied with the new clothes, I always wanted more. I would decide I “needed” new shoes to go with the new outfit.
Jesus tells us, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:21). If I treasure material possessions, I will be focused on them, not on God. I will love my possessions, not my neighbor.
During Lent, we are called to a conversion of heart. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we renew our practice of the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Practicing Christian simplicity is all about love.
Simplicity is a core Christian virtue because it is a way of living that is focused on God, on serving others, and recognizing the interconnectedness of all living beings.
St. Francis was known for his simple life and for his embrace of poverty and relying on God’s providence. “Francis rejected power, ownership and authority for himself,” say Ilia Delio, Keith Warner and Pamela Wood in Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality for the Earth. He wanted to be humble, to live in solidarity with creation just as Christ did through the Incarnation. “
Arthur Simon, founder of Bread for the World and author of How Much Is Enough? describes three reasons for simple living:
1. Simple living is better for us. If we reduce our needs to what is essential, we have less stress, less hurry, less distractions, and more time for what is truly important.
2. Simple living is kinder to God’s creation, the Earth which sustains us and all living creatures. For example, consuming fewer products saves resources, energy, and results in less pollution of air and water from manufacturing.
3. Simple living helps others live. Simplicity means not only buying less and being more thoughtful about what we do buy, but being generous in giving to people in need.
“Give to everyone who asks of you,” Jesus says (Luke 6:30). When we give to the poor money that we would have spent on nonessential purchases, we are transformed in Christ. We are ministering to the Christ in others and acting as living witnesses of our faith. We are building the kingdom of God on Earth.
For many years, my husband and I have been talking about how to live more simply, in a way that reflects our desire to focus our lives on the gospel values of loving God and neighbor. We finally decided to sell our house. We hope to move to a smaller home and get out from under a mortgage. It was a difficult decision – we like our house very much, and I have spent years creating a peaceful garden filled with native plants. But the decision to simplify is freeing. It will be a relief not to have to make a certain amount of money per month to maintain a house that is bigger than the two of us need. Ultimately, the decision allowed me to accept the job offer to work for the Justice and Peace Office at St. Francis.
We made this big step to simplify after many years of taking smaller steps. The Lent 4.5 program developed by the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center offers some tips for personal action to cultivate simplicity as part of your Lenten practice.
To develop inner simplicity:
- “Abstain from over-scheduling your life.”
- Forgo TV and/or social networking sites at least one day during the week.
- “Read Psalm 104. Sit quietly in gratitude for the gift of life.
- “Consciously connect with God’s natural world at least once during the week.”
To cultivate outer simplicity:
- “Try forgoing some ‘must-have’ items. It’s a matter of training the mind to get along with less.
- “Consider impulsive buying habits. When you want something, wait a couple of days to make sure it is not an impulse buy.”
For more information on Christian simplicity, visit the Lent 4.5 Website.