Simplicity

Latin Mass:  17th Sunday after Pentecost
‘And a doctor of the law asked him, tempting him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’
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Friends in Christ, In the Gospel we find this scholar of the law questioning Jesus. He is not really seeking an answer, rather, it is an effort at entrapment.  
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He addresses Christ as ‘didaskalos,’ which means ‘teacher.’ But this is clearly said out of contempt, because those who wish to learn do not ‘test’ their teachers.
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As Erasmo Leiva Merikakis says in his book on St. Matthew,[i] ‘this strategy of entrapment, popular with the Pharisees and Sadducees makes for a dramatic background,’ because the moment Jesus begins to give his answer, the first words out of his mouth are, ‘You shall love.’  
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‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart.’ The contrast is clear: the Pharisee’s contempt versus Jesus’ invitation to love.
Although Our Lord appears to be merely answering the question, in reality, he is reproving them for their conniving attitude.  
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‘You shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, thy whole soul and thy whole mind.’
Jesus could have quoted scripture, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’ but instead he says, ‘You shall love.’  
You shall love, rather than scheme and plot and destroy – .
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St. Francis de Sales says,[ii] we should love God ‘simply.’ There should be a simplicity of heart in our loving God. Simplicity of heart means not being over-complicated; it means not worrying about what others think; not putting on airs or nuancing our speech, or over-thinking everything out of human respect; and it certainly means not being duplicitous like the Pharisees, speaking one way, but thinking another.
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This is the virtue that Christ valued when he met Nathaniel: ‘Oh finally, he said, an Israelite without guile.’
Simplicity in our love for God, means that if we do something wrong or make a mistake, we do not waste time questioning and reviewing our every word; we leave it to Divine Providence and go forward.  
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Now some people think that simplicity of heart – acting without over-thinking everything – they think this virtue is contrary to prudence, but this is not so. Simplicity is contrary to cunning.  
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Cunning means we are speaking and acting in one way, but really, we wish to deceive or manipulate our neighbor.
Cunning desires to subtlety lead our neighbor to the point for which we are scheming.
Cunning is contrary to simplicity, because to be simple means that our interior should match our exterior.  
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Some politicians that we see, answer questions with great care, trying to say the things that will give a certain impression – thinking about votes; we can tell there is no simplicity there.
But when a person speaks right from the heart and hides not his real intentions but is sincere, we trust that person. And that person also has an inner peace. When a snake is being attacked, it will expose and sacrifice it’s whole body in order to save it’s head. We too, in living simplicity, must take the risk, and expose the truth of our heart.
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But this does not mean that our emotions and worries should be given free reign. As St. Francis says, we must discriminate between the effects of our higher soul versus our lower soul. A simple love of God requires that we sometimes restrain our feelings, mortify them and subdue them, in order to present a calm exterior, because simple love of God is in the will, not the emotions, and love of God sometimes requires us to present a calm exterior under stress.
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‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart – and thy neighbor as thyself.’
Our dealings with our neighbor should be sincere, forthright, and without deceit, but the motive for this must be a simple, love of God.
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When a child is very young, he is in a state of such simplicity that he thinks of nothing except his mother. He has only one love: his mother, just so, perfect simplicity has only one love: God.  
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The pagans knew nothing of this virtue. The great philosophers of antiquity spoke eloquently on many virtues: fortitude, prudence, perseverance, temperance – but they said nothing at all of simplicity, it is strictly a Christian virtue.  
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One time, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina in the form of a little child; she asked, ‘Lord, why do you take the form of a small child when you come to me? Jesus replied, ‘Until you learn simplicity.’ A child is never filled with anxiety or stress. The child’s world is simple: obey those whom it is your duty to obey, because you can trust them. And then keeping going. We adults, on the other hand, are too complicated. We worry; we want God’s will – but we also want our own will. We try to serve God and mammon.  
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You have heard that expression, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him all your plans.’ We say we will love God with our whole heart, that we only want his will – yet we also want this to happen, or that thing to turn out a certain way for us. But the Lord wants us to love him with our WHOLE heart, and soul, and mind. And this is simple love. Uncomplicated love. Simple love of God feels very free, it has nothing to hide.
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St. Vincent de Paul valued very much, simplicity of soul. ‘Simplicity,’ he said, leads us straight to the kingdom of God. A person who is sincere, and good, and not a schemer or a fraud – for such a person, people have great affection.
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Loving God simply, is a great virtue. It leads us to tell things candidly, just as they are in our hearts. It leads us to act simply, without hypocrisy or cunning or pretense.  The Pharisees who speak to Christ with a forked tongue in their subtle machinations, they are not people of inner peace. They do not have peace inside.
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In the past week, two different people asked me: ‘Father, what does the word serenity mean?’ Serenity is what we want, inside; the interior freedom, found in simplicity of soul, in loving God without qualification.  
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And you know, simplicity of soul is found beautifully in the Blessed Virgin. Here is what Servant of God Fr. John Hardon said: ‘Among the virtues that we should especially try to imitate in Our Lady, I would place her simplicity near the top. ‘The more you deal with souls,’ he says, the more evident it is that what we need today is simplicity. This is partly due to the complexity of modern civilization. What does it mean, he asks, to live a life modeled on the simplicity of Our Lady? It means no pretense.
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Help us Mary, to always have a pure and simple love of God, that we may find the serenity, of life in Christ.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Bernadette.]

 

[i] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis: Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, p. 578.

[ii] The Art of Loving God, p. 105-122. Ideas and quotes here are from this book.

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