The richness of simplicity
Over 10 years ago, I was on retreat at a flourishing Benedictine monastery near Tulsa, Okla. One of the senior monks said something that has stuck with me: “There should be a little bit of monk in each of us.” Why? A monk knows what he is about, and he has cultivated an environment that doesn’t pull him away from being what he is about.
The rhythm of the monastery’s daily life fosters what I call “the richness of simplicity.” Many Legates are rich in material terms, but are you rich in what you value most in life? Are you rich in the intangibles that money cannot buy? This sort of wealth can seem counterintuitive since it entails a simplicity where less is more.
Jesus’ simplicity is marked by integrity, unity and a singleness of purpose by which he knew what he was about. For many, however, the experience of life is just the opposite: disintegrated, divided and complicated. The lack of a unifying and universal vision, due to modern society’s rejection of a sovereign God, has led many to live conflicted lives with competing interests and loyalties.
Moreover, most of us are constantly bombarded with data, invitations to events, appeals, entertainment and media. These things often pull us away from being what we are about. Wading through the requests thrown our way can sometimes seem like a full-time job. Even if you have someone helping you filter through all the superfluous material, there always seems to be an overabundance of things to attend to.
The obvious danger with all of these distractions is that we spread ourselves too thin. Consequently, we risk never making the impact we want to in the areas most pertinent to our vocation and mission in life. This may mean never getting enough quality time with our spouse, children or aging parents. It can also mean spending too much time on media or entertainment at the cost of deepening our relationship with God through prayer. It may also mean getting lost in the minutiae of our work instead of investing in the most value-added activities as a business leader. Because of the scope of their responsibilities, business leaders must be all the more vigilant in their pursuit of simplicity.
Your personal vocation statement. It’s good to stretch ourselves, but we must stretch ourselves with the right things. To discern those right things, we must ask, “Why did God make me?” The Baltimore Catechism has the answer: to know God, to love him, and to serve him in this life, so as to be happy with him forever in the next.
That answer is valid for every human person. But why did God make you? Your vocation and specific calling in life are a big part of that. We should know the specific answer to that question. We should be able to write down what we are about. My personal vocation statement reads: “As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am a son of the Father, called to serve as his priest and a pastor of God’s people.”
What about you? Your personal vocation statement becomes crucial to knowing the richness of simplicity because it serves as the litmus test to weigh the countless options that come your way: “Does this action or option draw me closer or further from my purpose and vocation? Does it help me to become more the person God wants me to be?”
Go through purgatory! Jesus told Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42). When we feel like Martha, overwhelmed by the flood of activity and our obligations, we need to choose the better part: Jesus and that personal vocation he has given us. That means going through a time of “purgatory” — a time when we simplify and purge away anything that is not of God and his calling in our lives so that the one thing necessary doesn’t get obscured.
In other words, create an environment that doesn’t pull you away from being what you are about! This process doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of our healthy hobbies and the pastimes that we cherish. For example, I am not giving up golf! But it does mean “having a little bit of monk in you” and clearing out even the good clutter that keeps us from experiencing the richness of simplicity.
FATHER CHAS CANOY is the chaplain of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Jackson, Mich