11/29/2013 11:31:00 AM Live simply: It's about more than just 'stuff'
Catholic News Service
Mary Ford sits on her front porch as her husband, Kevin, and their children play together at sunset in early October in St. Leo, Kan. This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: What does it mean to live simply?
Hardly a new idea. It's been around for a while: think those 1960s hippies. Even the Amish have been doing it a long time. People once lived simply because they knew of no other way. However, living simply in the overwhelmingly technical, market-driven, competition-plagued world of the 21st century is something most of us will have to work at.
The idea has received additional encouragement from that surprisingly simple yet decidedly complex man in the Vatican, Pope Francis. His frequent references to living simply have given it new impetus.
Still, it's not quite so simple, is it? As in so many other things, the devil is in the details.
That's a fitting phrase, because the aforementioned man in the Vatican has also frequently referenced the devil in his many talks. And I think there's a connection.
Remember it was Satan who carried Jesus to the top of a high mountain, spread the wealth of the world at his feet and tempted him.
Yes, if we are to live simply, the devil is surely in the details.
Living simply is usually seen as doing without. Pope Francis envisions a poor church that in its poverty is able to connect with a poor world and bring it the wealth of faith. That's the theology of St. Francis writ large.
But just "doing without" might be, well, too simple a solution for everyone.
Nevertheless, we're getting the pope's message, slowly perhaps, but loud and clear: live simply. But what does that mean? What are the details? Does it mean that we should cut down on possessions? Americans (and others) are often overburdened with lots of electronics and other labor saving "stuff." Sure, we could become like the Amish, but a horse and carriage isn't likely to work for a lot of us. If having fewer possessions is the goal, we all could be poor, right? Or not.
But perhaps living simply means not letting possessions -- and the acquiring of possessions -- be the overarching reason for life.
Digging into Pope Francis' words would seem to support that idea. And remember, the devil is in the details. The pope may strive to be a simple man facing a complex world, but he understands the paradox in the connection between the riches of the world and the riches of faith.
"Money is needed to bring about many good things," he preached during a homily Oct. 21. "But when your heart is attached (to money), it destroys you." The focus on riches, he said, destroys relationship. "All the goods we have, the Lord gives us" in order to help the world and humanity progress, and to help others, the pope said.
That's the bottom line: It's probably not possible for a church or its people to engage the modern world while actively denying it. It's also foolish to ignore some not-so-simple ways to further the message of Jesus. Using electronic media jumps to mind. Nor is it necessarily a good idea to identify with the poor while simultaneously ignoring the available resources available to help.
What about the devil in the details? At the top of the mountain, Jesus resisted the temptations and said, "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'"
The devil in the details means how can we accomplish this, a people besotted as we are with "stuff"? This is how: Simple living may not mean tossing the TV or growing your own veggies or clearing the clutter from your home. Even when surrounded by "stuff," simple living is when the "stuff" is not your master. It's when God is.
The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.