Invitation to essentiality
In the context in which we live today, the term ‘simplicity’ can easily seem an outdated, insignificant and trivial term. Yet it is important to ‘speak as we think and feel in the utmost simplicity’. This simple speaking creates and restores interpersonal relationships. Is there anyone today who speaks as they think? Let us hope that there is because our world is becoming more and more complicated. Today there is the strategic, calculated and well-crafted speaking that complicates everything. So, to speak of ‘simplicity’ is already gospel, newness of life. The virtue of simplicity is my gospel, SV said. It is also for us today. In today’s spiritual language, it would seem that the word ‘transparency’ has replaced simplicity. These two terms, despite their similarity, convey different meanings.
WHAT IS THE VIRTUE OF SIMPLICITY
1.1) First of all, what the virtue of simplicity is not: it is not mediocrity; it is not ignorance; it is not and cannot be synonymous with superficiality or the lack of knowledge that guides and directs our actions or discourses. The Italian language is rich in its expressions: it uses the word ‘semplicione’ to portray the attitude of someone who believes the tale of the first comer without discernment. In short: simplicity is neither naivety nor lack of sense and judgement about things, people or situations. St Paul tells us that it is something quite different when he states in his letter to the Corinthians: ‘Brothers, do not behave like children in your judgments; be as children in malice, but mature men in judgments’ (14:20). Simple as children in malice, but mature and responsible in judgements! This is simplicity.
1.2) What then is the virtue of simplicity? Simplicity is not foolishness but wisdom that places us in the hands of God as our one and only good, and allows us to trust in Him alone, our only truth. The simple man is ‘the truly wise’ since he seeks God and surrenders himself to Him, he has only Him in mind in all things as the Psalmist says: the righteous man trusts in the Lord. The simple man is a person who has a very high and living sense of the glory of God: he is fully conscious of living for the glory of God.
1.3) What is meant by ‘simplicity’ on a personal level? On a personal level, simplicity is a way to avoid falsehood and hypocrisy and is to have an inner attitude willing to see the naked truth as it presents itself and to aim for the essential without a lot of trifles that are not necessary for life. The simple person continually asks himself this question: is this thing here really essential for me? Is it something that makes me conform to Christ, “the rule of my life?” In short, the simple person is the one who has the Lord Jesus, the fulfilment of his life, as it is He who makes it beautiful and simple. Simplicity is that virtue that predisposes us to seek the truth about ourselves directly, that makes us recognise God’s gifts within us, but also our limitations, faults, frailties, sins, anxieties, fears, hesitations.
The ultimate purpose of this is for no other reason than to open ourselves with confidence to God’s mercy and the working presence of the Holy Spirit who calls us to holiness of life. The virtue of simplicity, on a personal level, helps us to avoid duplicity. It is true that we are exposed to sin, concupiscence and have the inclination to evil that hinders our true happiness, fullness and completeness. Because of this sin or concupiscence in us, the ideal of our life seems too high or too far to reach, so we easily fall into discouragement, superficiality, indifference, division, complication, and we look for meagre excuses and false justifications.
With this in mind, the simple person tries to work hard to be clear and transparent. He tries to have an upright and clear conscience because he knows that the Lord loves those who have a pure and sincere heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The simple person does not struggle on the path of conversion. He does not put himself in an attitude of defence, but in the freedom of truth has nothing to hide and has no inflated ego.
Therefore, he has no difficulty in accepting his own limitations, shortcomings, mistakes and errors, and finally, he has no difficulty in accepting his sins and repenting. The simple person is also sincere. Sincere in his attitudes, in his language, in his looks, in his rash judgements, but above all he is upright and transparent. He is always willing and available without ulterior motives or self-interest.
1.4) The impact of the virtue of simplicity in human relationships in general and in the community in particular: the virtue of simplicity understood and lived as a sincere, limpid and honest existence of the subject relates with ease with everyone and builds fraternal relationships without complexes and complications with all members of the family and community. Avoiding all duplicity, ambiguity, falsehood and the malicious spirit of gossip that destroys the community spirit.
‘Any fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple,’ said a certain Pete Seeger. Precisely because naked truth is found in simplicity. The person who possesses this virtue is a light in the darkness of the mischief that surrounds us.
It is one who moves in community with respect and esteem towards all, recognising the gifts of God present and at work in others. If the words and gestures of some generate mistrust, barriers and defences because they are the fruit of self-interest and calculations made by a love bent in on itself. The simple person looks at others not as competitors to be avoided but as brothers to be esteemed and encouraged. If the ego is the disease of the proud, the simple person is not sick of the ego bent in on itself but sees and encourages others and values them positively.
In short, he sees others in a disinterested manner, precisely practising another virtue dear to Vincent: holy indifference! This disarming attitude also makes others disarmed and allows for a very fraternal, loving and evangelical communication within the community.
“The simple ones who in their candour do not use subtlety or sharp distinctions, who speak good and sincerely in such a way that what they say corresponds to what is in their hearts, they are loved by all” (SV).
If Moses was “a very humble man, more than any other on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3) and according to Mt 11:29 the most humble person in the whole history of Salvation is Jesus, the second Moses, “the humble and meek” we are called to imitate him. Both are liberators.
This is why the humble person is loved by all. The simple person is no less so, SV tells us when speaking of Margaret Naseau: “everyone loved her because everything in her was lovable” because she was a simple and transparent person. The simplicity of our doing and saying makes our life beautiful and lovable.
For Vincentian missionaries will be geniuses loved by the people and will preserve the spiritual heritage of their founder if they are able to preach in simplicity, that is, in saying the profound things of our faith in a simple and accessible way to all: educated and less educated. The ability to simplify profound concepts and ideas means knowing how to eliminate the superfluous, to expound only what is necessary.
All this requires more preparation time because ‘to complicate is simple, to simplify is difficult’. The simple person does nothing for the sake of vain glory and to be seen to know. Furthermore, the simple person works out of pure love, out of selfless love and without expecting any reward: “God loves a cheerful giver” (cf. 2 Cor 9:7).
Seeking nothing but the glory of God and the good of others, he is therefore lovable by all as SV tells us. Obviously, the virtue of simplicity understood in this way is the source and source of peace, tranquillity and inner freedom that make one’s own life and the life of the community with which we live harmonious and unified. In this sense, simple people are serene, peaceful people and they transmit these values to others in the community where they live because they have the source of their own serenity and peace in their hearts.
P. Zeracristos Yosief, C.M.
[This article is part of a reflection on the Vincentian virtues started here!]