Find Your Strength in Simplicity

Why does the Gospel present to us the dove as the model and ideal of Christian simplicity, saying, “Be ye . . . sim­ple as doves”? To understand this, we must have a clear idea of what simplicity really is.

Simplicity, or purity of intention, consists in keeping before yourself, in all your thoughts, words, and acts, one and the same end, one and the same object — namely, the pleasing of God, or, more accurately, the doing of His will. Thus understood, simplicity appears to us as a virtue at once essential and far-reaching.

“Man was created for God,” says St. Ignatius at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, in that first medita­tion, which he justly calls fundamental, because it is the foundation of the whole Christian order. These admira­ble Spiritual Exercises are based entirely upon this first profound truth; they are, as it were, its commentary and development.

God is, in effect, the sole veritable end, the last end, of man. If man sees only God, seeks only God, and at­taches himself only to God; if he voluntarily directs his thoughts, his words, his acts, and his whole life toward God; if, in some sort, he passes amid creatures without pausing, if he fails to find in them his repose as in an end, but desires to rest only in God — then he is in the way of truth and order; he is righteous and holy, because he is perfectly simple. The catechism expresses the same idea in saying, “Man is created to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him, and thus to reach eternal life.”

Now, how do we refer our thoughts, words, and ac­tions to God? By our intention — that is, by the motive that determines our will to produce them freely. Our operations and our actions considered in themselves, independent of the motive that has prompted them, have, properly speaking, no moral value; they are bodies without souls. The moral value is in us, in our free will, which is the soul of all that we do and gives to our ac­tions their meaning and their worth.

Men judge us according to the exterior, according to the words that they hear and the actions that they see. This is why they are so often unjust, severe, and ill-natured. But God judges us according to what He sees within; He looks on our heart, our will, our motive, and our intention, and it is according to these that He ap­proves or blames, rewards or punishes.

Such is the meaning of these words in the Gospel: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil, thy whole body shall be dark-some.” The eye signifies the intention, for, just as the eye directs our steps, so does the intention guide the movements of our soul. The intention is the eye of our soul. If our soul looks toward God, if it freely directs toward Him our thoughts, words, and actions, then all that we do, all that we say, and all that we think be­comes by this very fact supernatural and good. The Gos­pel expresses this in saying, “Thy whole body shall be lightsome.”

Thus, the merit of human actions lies wholly in the intention. Our actions have simply the value of our intention.

Thenceforth, simplicity becomes the soul of the spiri­tual life, since it consists precisely in purity of intention. Simplicity gives to the life of the spirit all its depth and value. The simple soul is ever pleasing to God, because it ever looks toward Him, and seeks for Him always, having no ambition other than to do His will in order to procure His glory.

To be simple is to see, love, and desire God in all crea­tures and in all things; it is to unify one’s life with God.

Adapted from Bp. de Gibergues’ Strength in Simplicity.

Practice simplicity toward God

Let us now enter into detail and, in some sort, draw the portrait of simplicity covering the vast field wherein you are called to exercise it.

Simplicity is the perfection of your relation to God. “Walk before me, and be perfect,” said God to Abram. The simple soul follows this divine counsel and carries out this admirable program. He walks before God; he is conscious of His presence. He ever sees Him. He has but one desire: that of pleasing God. He understands the ex­ceptional importance of pious exercises; he clings to them for no sensible attraction — ever liable to come and go — but by the free effort of a resolute and perse­vering will. He does not seek therein his own satisfac­tion, rest, or immediate reward, as would a hireling. He seeks only God’s will and glory.

If he finds sensible consolation, sweetness, and joy, far from rejecting such favors, he receives them with grati­tude for God’s goodness; but he does not rest in them with complacency, nor count upon them. He loves God more than all His gifts, and instead of attributing these divine graces to him, he turns all to the glory of God.

The simple soul is more apt in contemplation than in meditation. Before a work of art, a marvelous picture, you forget yourself. You are absorbed by what you see; in an instant, all the faculties of your soul are ravished, and in a way suspended, until, finally, you come back to earth. The simple soul never tires of admiring the eter­nal and infinite beauty. Sometimes he sees it in God Himself, and sometimes in the humanity of Christ, as in a spotless mirror. He never argues and seldom reasons; he looks, contemplates, and escapes from self to be ab­sorbed and lost in God.

In the case of the saints, this goes to the length of transports and ecstasies. Borne away on simplicity’s pow­erful wings, they penetrate to the very heart of the Di­vinity. Thus, the prophet Daniel was seized, ravished, and overcome because, says Scripture, he was “a man of desires,” that is to say, a man wholly simple, desiring only God.

If the simple soul finds in prayer only dryness, if he is as “in a desert land, where there is no way and no water,” he is not discouraged. He sees the will of God in these grievous trials and loses nothing of his calm and peace.

If the duties of his state or unforeseen circumstances, if charity or illness — something, in a word, that is willed by God — prevents him from applying himself to his customary pious exercises and obliges him even to dis­continue his Communions, he is neither troubled nor discouraged. He recalls our Lord’s reply to Père Alverez, who, overwhelmed with occupations, complained that he had no time for prayer: “When I no longer abide with you, let it suffice that I make use of you.”

The simple soul is admirable in his faith and piety toward the Church, the Sacraments, and all things holy. His faith cannot be shaken. Save by the express will of God, who sanctifies the most holy souls by trying them, doubt is unknown to him. His faith is clear and cloud­less, pure and upright. His submission to all the teach­ings of the Church is ready, joyous, filial, and complete.

In the confessional, he sees God in the priest. He confesses his sins without agitation, confusion, or reser­vation. He says neither more nor less, neither too much nor too little; he says that which is, and as it is. He speaks to Jesus, and it is He whom he hears; he is yield­ing and ready to learn, perfectly humble and obedient. During the absolution, he sees the blood of Jesus flow­ing over him; he is filled with contrition, gratitude, and love. He emerges from this saving flood renewed with more strength to overcome himself, more devotion in the service of others.

During Mass, the simple soul is on Calvary, at the foot of the Cross. He sees Jesus raise His bleeding arms toward His Father — Jesus, who pardons, blesses, and prays, who suffers, and who dies. When he receives Communion, the whole of Heaven comes down into his heart. He is overwhelmed with joy and happiness.

He is wholly absorbed by the marvels that take place within him. It is with a mighty effort that he tears him­self from his thanksgiving after Communion. He is all inflamed, consumed by the fires of divine love.

Grace works in this soul without opposition the most wonderful transformations. The person ever ad­vances in virtue before God and man. He is “the sweet odor of Christ” to those who come near him. Seeking God alone in the Sacraments and the Church, he finds Him therein, and in superabundance.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Bp. de Gibergues’ Strength in Simplicity: The Busy Catholic’s Guide to Growing Closer to Godand is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

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Emmanuel de Gibergues was a bishop who, despite his many cares for the Church in France, was able to set forth, with a wonderfully gentle spirit, the sublime virtue of holy simplicity.

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