Who would not wish to become simple? But how can this be achieved?
You must first meditate upon this virtue, in order to understand its primary importance, its absolute necessity, and to arouse within yourself the most ardent desire to possess it at any cost.
Without this ardent desire and resolute will, all of your efforts will be in vain. Your endeavors and your inclinations will woefully fail before your egoism, vanity, selfishness, passions, and all the human motives that constantly influence you and that overthrow the edifice of your simplicity as fast as you build it up.
But once possessed of the calm and resolute will to attain simplicity, this is what you must do:
First, order your life in general, your occupations taken as a whole, and your manner of action, in such a way as to make sure that all you may do will be in accordance with the will of God.
You should choose a rule of life in the spirit of obedience and with the approval of a prudent director. It should be sufficiently broad and yielding to fit the varying demands of your condition and to lend itself to the innumerable unforeseen circumstances that will constantly arise to change your plans, yet sufficiently firm and precise to exclude capriciousness and the self-will ever so ready to escape from all order and duty. Such a rule is the first condition and the indispensable means to lead you to purity of intention and, from there, to simplicity.
Only thus can you be certain of truly seeking God’s good pleasure as the ultimate end of your actions and of your whole life.
Next, every night before you go to sleep, consider the occupations of the next day, consider what changes or additions must be made in your general plan, and prepare for all, having God’s will constantly before you as the absolute and unchanging rule of all that you do.
In the morning, on waking, offer to God all your thoughts, words, and acts of the day. Promise that you wish to do all for His sake, His glory, His service, and His love, in union with the acts that our Lord Jesus Christ and our most Blessed Lady accomplished on earth, and which the Holy Spirit ever perpetuates in this world by means of the righteous.
Already this first offering, if not retracted, will communicate to all your actions an intention that we call virtual, and which will suffice to render them supernatural. Your soul will be placed in an interior disposition of simplicity, and as long as this state continues, your acts will receive therefrom the seal of holiness, which will make them particularly pleasing to God.
Then from time to time, especially when beginning each action, and particularly in the case of the longest and most important, remember to renew your morning resolution, if only by mentally saying, “O God, I do this for Thy sake. For love of Thee, I offer this meditation, this task, this repast, this visit, this good work, this suffering, this trial.”
It is told of a pious hermit that he never began an action without pausing to direct his glance toward Heaven, and when asked the reason for this, he replied, “The better to make sure of my aim.” As the sportsman takes aim for a moment before shooting, the more surely to reach his mark, so the hermit aimed at God so that he might be more certain to reach Him. Follow his example; aim always at God before acting by means of an upright intention.
If, after this, during the act in question, a human intention steals in to tempt you, an intention less worthy, or even quite worthless, let it neither disturb nor arrest you; but simply reply, as did the venerable John of Avila to vanity — “You come too late; I’ve given all to God” — and continue to act.
If the thought that the world will see your good works distresses and frightens you, do not stop for that either. Recall to mind the words of the Gospel: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” The good that you do in the sight of the world may cause others to follow your example, and thus God will be glorified. Rejoice in this thought, and forget the praise and advantages that may fall to your share. And so your intention will remain pure.
During your actions — above all, those of a certain duration — renew your intention by raising your heart to God, repeating, “For Thy sake, my God.” Pause sometimes for an instant in the midst of a task, if it is possible without detriment to what you are doing, and say to yourself, “What is my object in this?” and therewith promptly reply, “Thou, my God, Thou alone!”
If you are disturbed in the midst of a meditation or a prayer; if, for reasons of health, you are kept from Mass or from your customary Communions, recall to mind that you must be ready “to leave God for God,” and that, in thus giving up without irritation a pious devotion dear to your heart, you unite yourself still more closely to Him, you progress in simplicity and accordingly in perfection.
Beware of eagerness, precipitation, agitation, and irritability; beware of too natural an activity, sometimes feverish, which God does not bless.
Be calm, peaceful, and quiet, if not in the imagination and senses, and those inferior faculties of the soul which the will cannot always master, at least be so in that higher self, in those superior powers of the soul, in those lofty regions where God looks to judge you, and which alone are wholly governed by your free will. “Make haste slowly.” You will find God more surely.
Make use of aspirations — that is, brief, spontaneous prayers — as often as possible. In so doing, do not hesitate to use certain means that might appear childish if the end in view did not lend them an infinite dignity. Promise yourself, for instance, that when you hear the clock strike, when you pass from one room to another, when you sit down at table or at your desk, when you seal a letter or collect your things to go out, on entering a house or on leaving it, and in hundreds of other circumstances that you will determine, to raise your heart for an instant to God. No means are petty when used for great ends.
In proportion as you make it a habit to have recourse to God, your heart will expand and your love will increase. Soon you will no longer have need of such methods and means. Your soul will so hunger and thirst for God, that you will, of yourself, unceasingly turn to Him.
The needle of a compass points north; if you turn it aside, it weighs against your finger, showing its natural tendency and, from the moment all pressure ceases, returns to its original direction. And so the person who has become truly simple turns continually to God, impelled by an instinctive need. If apparently turned aside by the duties of life, he always tends to return to Him, and as soon as he can, he does so completely.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Bp. de Gibergues’ Strength in Simplicity, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.