October 2023


When we simplify our lives, when we slow down, when we focus on gifts of the spirit rather than on money & things, we will become fully human, fully alive, completely full of grace.

During my last visit to Rome, I had dinner with the Curator of the Va.can Art Museum.  My brother and I had traveled to Italy on a mission to say goodbye to our surrogate grandfather Monsignor Luigi Ligui. who had recently been serving as the Pope’s representa.ve to the United Nations.  My brother and I called him Monsignor.  Walter Persega., the curator of the Vatican Art Museum, was at one time the Monsignor’s secretaries.  My brother and I called him Walter.

My brother and I met Walter and his wife for dinner at an out of the way café where we talked about the years that had passed since we last saw one another.  We were not rushed, and it was a low-key comfortable evening.  However, our time together had an edge of loss and grief. We talked about Monsignor hiring me at about the age of ten to be the letter carrier for the priests who lived in his rectory across the street from our house, and we filled him in on Pope Paul II’s visit to our farm outside of Des Moines and his message of stewardship of the land.  We laughed at how my mother would fuss when Monsignor rough housed with my brother, crashing lamps to the floor, and making living room tables teeter.  We spoke of the long history my father had with Monsignor and how they worked together to form one of the largest refugee programs in the United States, empowering immigrants to become self-sustaining land owners.

The morning following our dinner, my brother and I were escorted by Va.can security to an empty Sistine Chapel where we had a time of silence and prayer before we were taken to the room where Monsignor lay dying.  What I remember most was the starkness of it all.  Monsignor had been placed on an elevated hospital bed in an otherwise empty room.  He was quiet, comfortable, and experiencing no pain.  There were no frills and there was no need for clerical vestments, pageantry or noise.  Monsignor was completely at peace as my brother and I said our goodbyes, and as he expressed his deep gratitude for his rela.onship with our father.  It was simply simple.  Monsignor’s body was returned for burial in his beloved Iowa, and my father served as one of his pall bearers.

The legacy of my rela.onship with Monsignor has had a great influence on my own ministry.  I am not big on fanfare, .tles, clerical collars, long resumes or iden..es based on wealth or zip code.  I o.en contemplate my last visit with Monsignor and observing this great man lying in the silence of a small room, completely at peace with God and having no need to possess or impress.  Like Jesus, Monsignor had no money or possessions, yet he was one of the wealthiest people I have ever known.  He was not a performer; he was a servant.

The Bible teaches us the importance simple living, and we know it’s part of our faith journey..  Complicated living is killing us.  It is keeping us from experiencing life the way our Creator meant for us to enjoy it.  Too much of the .me we’re anxious and worried.  We’re exhausted and stressed out.  We don’t know which way to turn so we don’t do anything.  We become apathe.c and depressed when we have so much that ought to make us enthusias.c and happy.  We frown when we ought to be smiling.  We’re down when we have so much to be up about.  To live a simple life, we don’t have to retreat to a desert island and live in a hut, but we do have to shi. our focus from seeing things and money as our security to seeing God as our security.

We are su.ocated by our stu..  Our closets are crammed with clothes we don’t wear.  We rent storage units because we can’t fit all our stu. into our own homes.  We cover cars that we don’t even drive.  It has become a million dollar industry to learn how to get rid of our stu..  Marie Kondo has been elevated to sainthood as she teaches people how to wade through their unwanted, unused, un-useful stu..  Stu., stu., stu..

In the book Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul, we read the following story:  A widow and a widower met one another, and found they were a good match.  They decided to get married, and were very excited about their upcoming marriage.  As they were planning the wedding, they realized that they didn’t need any more crystal vases, blenders or toasters.  So in their wedding invita.on, they included the following informa.on:  “Because we are combining households, we already have two of everything.  So please, no gi.s.  There will be a recep.on and a garage sale immediately following the wedding.”

My family used to sing the hymn “’Tis The Gi. to Be Simple” as a table grace.  The song originated in the 19th century when a religious group was formed.  They were commonly called the Shakers, because when they worshipped, they became so full of the Spirit they literally shook.  The Shakers are almost all gone now, but they have le. us a legacy of beau.fully simple furniture, wonderful clear architecture, and music that takes us straight to the ear of God.  The words are simple and true:

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘.s the gift to be free,
‘.s the gift to come down
Where we ought to be,  
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, to turn, will be our delight
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Confucius once said, “Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”  Ain’t that the truth.  Confucius would probably urge us to spend less money on possessions and more .me and money on experiences that leave only memories and nothing in the trash can.

Ministers see people in .mes of great stress, and some.mes we see the extreme atachment people have to money and possessions.  The joke among ministers is that people will fight over every bent spoon, and some.mes those fights can be vicious.

But  isn’t it the simple things that strengthen our rela.onships with one another:  Saying thank you, being on .me, mailing a thank you note, sending a birthday card, preparing a special meal?  We must eliminate the threat of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.  We must never see our worth reflected in our possessions, our accumulated wealth or our foolish status symbols.  Our worth comes from being created in the image of God, a God who asked us to consider the lilies of the field.

If we simplify our lives, we feel less pressure to do it all, and have a stronger focus on what maters most.  We develop an awareness of who we are and what kind of life we want to live.  We make .me for gra.tude and crea.vity.  If we own less, buy less and consume less, we produce less waste and show respect for Mother Earth.  We leave more room for true spiritual happiness.
Reducing physical cluter has been proven to boost concentra.on, and focusing on one job at a .me, rather than mul.-tasking, can also boost concentra.on.  Some scien.sts speculate that mul.-tasking can decrease produc.vity levels by up to 40 percent.  Social media usage is another form of cluter that distracts and adds stress to our culture.

There are some benefits to simple living that are psychological, prac.cal and spiritual.

Living a simpler life saves money, because simple living lends itself to buying less, and less cash is spent on replacing, repairing, maintaining and insuring our stu..

Simplifying our lives can reduce decision fa.gue, because the more decisions we have to make in a day, the less e.ec.ve those decisions become.  Having a pre-ordained game plan can reduce the number of decisions we have to make in a day.

A simplified life gives us more .me to spend with our loved ones, our families and friends.  We can connect with one another without having to look at the clock or think about our next appointment or our next task.

And have we considered the amount of .me, energy and money it takes to clean a lot of stu. ????  The less stu. we have, the less we have to clean, and we can speed clean surfaces that don’t have a lot of stu. on them.  

If we own less while we are raising children, our children will learn that we don’t need to buy things to be happy.  Our children will learn from the examples we set.  When they see that we are more content with less, they will be too.

When we choose a simple life over a clutered, complicated one, we will unearth more .me in our day.  We will be free to use this .me to engage in ac.vi.es that truly inspire us.  There will be more .me for reading, crea.ng, learning, listening to music, traveling, and apprecia.ng the abundance of life.

And most importantly, living a more simple, less complicated, and less materialis.c life will free us to be more like Monsignor Luigi Ligui. who spent his en.re life in service to others, striving for human dignity and world peace.  It’ much easier to be available to others when our schedules aren’t stu.ed to the brim with trips to repair shops, shopping for new stu., or running from one appointment to another.  A simple life gives us more energy to spend on living out the Gospel and listening for the breath of God.

When we simplify our lives, when we slow down, when we focus on gi.s of the spirit rather than on money & things, we will become fully human, fully alive, completely full of grace.  We will realize that our security is in God. ‘Tis the gi. to be simple indeed.   Amen.

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