Category Archives: Living Simply and Intensely

An Idea for Lent: More Leisure

Lent is sneaking up on us more quickly than usual this year: Ash Wednesday is February 10th, almost the earliest it can be. In preparation for this beautiful time of the year, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to make the discipline of the next six weeks spiritually fulfilling.

The first thing to keep in mind is the fundamental reason for Lent. This season is not just about making ourselves suffer with some annoying sacrifice. The primary reason behind Lent is to draw closer to God through detachment from our sins and from whatever can distract us from Our Lord. As you decide on your Lenten commitment, it is important to keep this mind and to discern what will help you, in your particular situation, detach from whatever is distracting you from God. It may be the case that a challenging sacrifice such as fasting or giving up TV will indeed bring you closer to God, but be open to the fact that God may be asking for something else.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

In particular, I would like to suggest that you consider allowing yourself more leisure. But first, let me clarify what I mean by leisure.” I am not referring to laziness or even simply to rest but to something more. Laziness (also known as sloth) is a vice that consists in refraining from action when action is due. Rest is ceasing from action in order to recuperate energy for further action. Leisure is the opposite of laziness and much more than mere rest: it is ceasing from normal activity in order to open oneself to the contemplation of the beauty of this world, and ultimately to the contemplation of God, who is Beauty Itself.

Going back to your Lenten commitment: I can think of few better ways to detach from distractions and focus more on God than by commiting yourself to spending more time at leisure. The more you allow yourself to bathe in beauty, the more you open yourself to God. Since all beautiful things are reflections of the Beauty of God, you are learning about God whenever you take time to contemplate the beautiful. Even if your mind and imagination are not directly applied to God Himself, He is nevertheless revealing Himself to you through whatever beautiful thing is the object of your contemplation.

But to be at leisure, you must break away from the ordinary daily concerns that can distract you from God. Let’s get practical on how to do this. First, you will have to decide when you will be at leisure, and than you will have to decide how you will be at leisure.

Leisure Time

The evening is the most natural time to be at leisure, since, by then, you are physically and emotionally tired from the activity of the day. Allowing yourself an hour or so to be at leisure will enable you not only to rest but also to raise your mind to things that are greater and more beautiful than your job. You will go to bed not worrying about work but rather thinking about the beauty that you contemplated.

Ideally, all day Sunday should be dedicated to leisure. It is dies Domini – the Day of the Lord – and should be treated as such. Just as we dedicate sacred space to the contemplation worship of God, so should we dedicate sacred time for the same purpose. Going to church on Sunday is the first priority of Sunday, because it is during that time that we turn out minds and hearts directly to Our Creator. However, the rest of the day should be a prolongation of this turning towards God in the form of resting and contemplating the beauty of His creation.

Obviously, exactly when and how long to be at leisure depends on the situation of each person. Some people simply have to work on Sundays and others have to work late hours, but the point is that each should set aside a reasonable amount of time that works with his schedule.

Leisure Ideas

The ways of being at leisure are numerous, but they all share in common this imitation of God on the seventh day: cessation of work and contemplation of creation. You can be at leisure hiking in the mountains, walking in the park, or simply sitting in your backyard marveling at the beauty of nature. Leisure can take the form of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of the beloved people God has put in your life.

Leisure can be sitting down with a cup of tea and a well-written book. It can be watching or participating in an athletic event and enjoying the beauty of human athletic talent. It can be attending a musical performance and relishing the beauty of human musical creation. It can be watching a good movie or documentary, going to an art exhibit, or going to a museum. It can be the enjoyment of the finer things of life like good food or vintage wine.

Leisure can also be the development and exercise of creative talents. This Lent may be a good time to start learning that instrument that you have always wanted to play, or it may be a good time to begin that book that you have been thinking of writing. It may be a good time to take up or begin again whatever beautiful art is calling you, be it musical, visual, literary, culinary, or linguistic.

Stick to It!

Even though leisure is a very attractive thing, it is still going to take discipline to make sure that you have it. There will be times when you will be intensely tempted to forego your commitment in order to finish some pressing project or chore. In those moments, resist the temptation! Remember that life is so much more than your work or chores. Sit down, take a deep breath, and turn your mind to your novel, or your instrument, or whatever beautiful thing you have chosen for your leisure time. Before you know it, peace will settle in and you will enjoy that special spiritual dimension which is our privilege as humans and creatures of God.


For more on the topic of leisure, please read my post Why You Need Leisure.

Advertisements

Five Steps to Peace: Step 1 – Trust Completely in God’s Providence

God-Lights

Busy-AirportOne of the longest days of my life was a 24-hour, two-layover journey from Rome to Salt Lake City. The worst part of the trip was the Paris-New York leg: thanks to the very thorough security at Charles De Gaulle Airport, I did not have time to eat breakfast, so by the time I made it to JFK Airport after a seven-hour flight, I was famished.

Letting Go of the Wheel

The food options were limited by my gate, so I ended up going to a place that I otherwise would have avoided: an overpriced grill blaring country music (nothing against country music). I did not have that much money to spare, but since I had no choice, I ordered an overpriced burger and overpriced fries and dug in, happy to relieve my hunger although worried about my wallet.

A surprise came when it was time to pay. I was informed that…

View original post 836 more words

Minimalism: Living Simply and Intensely

When Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were in their twenties, both were making six-digit salaries in high-profile corporate jobs and enjoying an indulgent lifestyle. However, despite their wealth and status, both of them they were very unhappy, in fact, they were downright depressed. No matter how many toys, vacations, or other forms of entertainment they threw at their unhappiness, they found themselves sinking more and more into a deep and overwhelming funk.

Embracing Minimalism

To make a long story short, (to read more of it, click here), both of them decided to radically simplify their lives. Joshua was the first to give it a shot, and Ryan soon followed suit. To jumpstart Ryan’s new lifestyle, they spent eight hours packing all of his belongings into boxes, and over the course of several weeks took out only the things that he needed. After this trial period, 80% of his belongings were still in boxes! He sold or donated all of these remaining items, and then moved to Montana, where he and his friend Joshua both live simpler but much more fulfilling lives.

LML_2000pxJoshua and Ryan have dedicated themselves to helping others live more simply and intensely by living minimalism, a lifestyle in which one owns the least amount of things possible, accepting only those that will truly enrich one’s life. They have written a fantastic book, The Minimalists, in which they share their story and lay out the steps to living minimally and happily. I highly recommend it.

Anyone Can be a Minimalist

Joshua and Ryan are part of a growing movement of minimalists, among whom are writers such as Colin Wright (a full-time traveler and writer) and Joshua Becker (a husband and father of two whose entire family has embraced minimalism). These and many others have realized that the life proposed by our consumeristic culture is not all that it is hyped up to be, and that happiness is actually found by living simply.

One of the things that they are quick to point out is that minimalism is lived according to each person’s situation in life and does not require living as a virtual monk. More than anything, it is a simplification of one’s own life that is done thoughtfully and calmly. A minimalist does not necessarily limit himself to the bare necessities of survival, but rather chooses to limit his possessions to those things that truly add to his quality of life.

My Christian Minimalism

imageAs  a seminarian en route to the Catholic priesthood, I have already embraced a Christian style of minimalism by committing myself to the service of others and by accepting the discipline of celibacy. Although minimalism is not connected with any particular religion, I have been highly impressed by how spiritually it actually is. It is proof that no matter one’s creed or lack thereof, the human heart still yearns for happiness that cannot be provided for with material goods.

Minimalism is highly compatible with Christianity. One need only read this paragraph from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical to see this:

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession of consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more.” A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures. – #222, Praise be to You (emphasis added)

In this paragraph, Pope Francis touches on a theme that resonates with many people of our day, both Christian and non-Christian, who long for a life free from “the obsession of consumption.”

Give it a Shot!

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the lifestyle that the Pope proposes (which is very similar to Joshua and Ryan’s minimalist lifestyle) brings nothing but peace. If you are looking for a way to slow down your life and live it more intensely, I highly suggest that you put these two items on your summer reading list: The Minimalists and Pope Francis’ encyclical Praise be to You#222 – 227.

Living as a minimalist does not necessarily mean selling your house and living in the woods. It just means asking yourself a simple question before every new purchase or commitment that you make: “Will this really enrich my life, or will it distract me more?”


For more thoughts on living simply and intensely, check out my post Five Steps to Peace.

Why You Need Leisure

Breaking from the Rat Race

Rat-raceEvery social system has its pros and cons, and meritocracy is no exception. While it allows equal opportunity, it also tends to favor overwork; it rewards power to the successful, thus encouraging the fallacy of identifying self-worth with personal success. When one identifies self-worth with success, he is inclined to work himself excessively since there will always be someone bigger and better to beat, and there will always be something newer and faster to get.

Living in an achievement-oriented society that rewards overwork can be degrading and even dehumanizing. To limit our existence to personal material achievement is to deprive ourselves of our infinite spiritual capacities. We are not animals who find their fulfillment in the repetition of daily survival; we are human beings who are capax universi – open to the infinite. We are capable of knowledge and contemplation, and it is not only good but vital that we allow ourselves time for both.

And this is the reason for leisure: it is a break from our workaday activities for the sake of contemplating and enjoying God’s creation. Leisure is not laziness, nor is it simply inactivity; it is being free from the tension of work in order to focus on higher things.

“We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” – Aristotle

meadowWe all too often subordinate our vacations and weekends to our work: that is, even if we take breaks, we take them only in function of our work, and we break from labor simply because recovery of energy is necessary to continue laboring. But this is an inhuman way of living because it is actually a subtle form of enslavement to our jobs: even when we think we are free from work, we are actually still chained to it.

Leisure is not simply resting so as to get back to work. Rest is a result of leisure, but it is not its primary reason. Leisure, like divine worship, is one of those things that is done for its own sake.

Leisure is the contemplation of the beauty of God and His creation, something that can only be done when we free ourselves from quotidian stresses and tensions. In his essay Leisure: the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper states that “leisure implies…an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being ‘busy’ but letting things happen.”

To be at leisure is to consent to and fully accept your human nature; as one who is capax universi, you are capable of knowing anything you put your mind to and for this reason are said to be in “the image and likeness of God.” Obviously, only God actually knows all things, but you, as a human being, have the capacity of knowing anything. Although that capacity will not be fully realized until you reach Heaven, you are called to begin its realization here on Earth by taking time for “God-like” activity, that is, by taking time for leisurely contemplation.

Be still, and know that I am God.     – Psalm 46:10

When you are at leisure, you imitate God:

God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good…On the seventh day God completed the work He had been doing; He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had undertaken. – Genesis 1:31; 2:2

imagesThe ways of being at leisure are numerous, but they all share in common this imitation of God on the seventh day: cessation of work and contemplation of creation. You can be at leisure hiking in the mountains, walking in the park, or simply sitting in your backyard marveling at the beauty of nature. Leisure can take the form of being with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of the beloved people God has put in your life.

Leisure can be sitting down with a cup of tea and a well-written book. It can be watching or participating in an athletic event and enjoying the beauty of human athletic talent. It can be attending a musical performance and relishing the beauty of human musical creation. It can be watching a good movie or documentary, going to an art exhibit, or going to a museum. It can be the enjoyment of the finer things of life like good food or vintage wine.

Opening Ourselves to Beauty 

Whatever form our leisure takes, the important thing is the attitude that is behind it, which should be one of humility. When we are at leisure, we acknowledge that the world does not revolve around us and that it does not depend upon our work. Leisure implies that there is Someone greater than us, Someone who deserves the sacrifice of our time to marvel at His creation.

When we are at leisure, we free ourselves from the stress of work and open ourselves to the infinite beauty of God. As Josef Pieper puts it:

…the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to the superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work. Only in genuine leisure does a  “gate to freedom” open. 

freeman3In summary, in leisure, you are free to open yourself to God and thus be fully human. This is why you need it.

Five Steps to Peace

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Johannes Vermeer
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary – Johannes Vermeer

I love this painting by the Vermeer. With his beautiful use of light, the 17th-century Dutch artist masterfully illuminates an intimate scene of encounter with Christ. The incident that he illustrates is recounted in the Gospel of Luke as follows:

He entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” – Luke 10:38-42

The Better Part

The Word of God is living and active, which means that it is directed to each of us just as much as it was to those who were the first to hear it. What Christ said to Martha was said with equal intention for our own well-being. It is written as “Martha, Martha”, but it could just as easily be “John, John” or “Jane, Jane” or whatever your name may be. God pronounced those words in the person of Jesus Christ with you in mind.

It is the only instance in all of the Gospels where Christ addresses20140418-112210.jpg someone by repeating the person’s name. When you read “Martha, Martha”, you can almost hear the calm tone of Christ’s voice as he lovingly calls her and tries to quiet her troubled soul.  Like so many of us, Martha is “anxious and worried about many things”: she is running hither and thither, frantically trying to hold things together and meet the unrealistic personal expectations that she has set for herself.

Mary, on the other hand, has chosen the “better part”; she has chosen the benefit that comes when your life is in order and focused on Christ: peace.

Peace is one of the major fruits of the Lenten exercise of self-denial. Between now and Easter, I would like to share with you some thoughts and reflections on finding this elusive gift.

“Distracted from distraction by distraction”

Peaceful moments are hard to come by in today’s world: there is always something to distract us and disrupt our inner equilibrium. “Distracted from distraction by distraction” is how T.S. Eliot described modern man in his poem Four Quartets. Henry David Thoreau was convinced that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation” as they struggle to satisfy their longing for happiness with empty pleasures.

Although these authors wrote in the 20th and 19th centuries respectively, how well do their words describe the 4392506632_a9a05202e0state of humanity in the 21st, and probably even more so than in their  own times. We often flutter from one event to the next, desperately seeking ever-elusive satisfaction but never quite getting it.

I am product of contemporary culture just like everyone else, and I have spent too much time and energy worrying about things that really don’t matter in the long run. I make absolutely no claims to having mastered peace, so please take these personal reflections for what they are worth.

Five Elements of Peace

From my conversations with spiritual experts and from my reading on the topic, I have found that there are at least five basic elements to finding peace.

  1. Trust completely in God’s Providence: As hard as it is, we have to learn to just let go and “let God be God”. When we finally let Him take over, the peace that comes is amazing.
  2. Keep your eyes on Heaven: Re-focusing on our final destination is essential to finding happiness and peace. Putting all of our stock in fleeting worldly things will only frustrate us.
  3. Make the best of your circumstances: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” As cliché as this adage may sound, it’s still great advice! Blooming where you are planted is one of the keys to finding peace.
  4. Live the present to the full: How much time and energy we waste worrying about what may happen or what has already happened! Peace is found when we leave both the future and the past in God’s hands.
  5. Do not “grasp”: We lose peace when we cling to things that we have or grasp for things that we lack. True peace comes when we content ourselves with what we have and free ourselves from the rest.

In my next five posts, I will deal with each step in-depth, but first we must ask,

What is peace?

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “peace denotes the union ofimage appetites in one person”, or, more simply, “lack of interior conflict”.

We human beings have a problem: we are both spiritual and physical. Due to our spiritual nature, we are capable of an infinity of things, but due to our physical nature, we are limited and can only achieve one thing at a time. This means that we are often inwardly divided: while we desire many things and have the capacity to achieve them, in order to get one thing we always have to give up another.

Lack of peace occurs when we allow ourselves to be troubled by what we are not able to achieve. Peace comes when we focus all of our interior desires on the only things that can perfectly satisfy us: God and His Will for us.

I hope that you will follow the next five posts and join me on a Lenten journey towards peace.

Silence in the City: Finding Peace in a Noisy World

times-square-photo-sunsetFor the past several years, I have always lived in or near major cities. I can genuinely say that I enjoy city-life; as one who likes to write, I enjoy observing people and the environments in which they live. I also enjoy the many opportunities that our modern metropolises have to offer, from art exhibits and musical performances to architectural masterpieces and museums. Cities are like magnets for skillful people: they attract and possess huge concentrations of amazing human talent and the marvels that come with it.

The Sound of Silence

Needless to say, just as much as they are full of human ingenuity and invention, cities are saturated with noise. As a naturally introverted individual, I find that to survive city-life, I need to get out on a regular basis. As much as cities attract me, I also feel drawn to quiet and desolate places where you hear nothing but silence.

When I was working in New York, I always looked forward to visiting my family in Utah. On one occasion, after traveling from a parish near Times Square to our home near Salt Lake City, I put on my hiking boots as soon as I could and climbed nearby Lewis Peak, relishing the solitude and silence that was all the more peaceful in contrast to the noisiness of Manhattan.

At Spiral Jetty
At Spiral Jetty

One of my favorite places in Utah is on the northern end of the Great Salt Lake, a remote place known as Promontory Point.  To get there, one has to drive miles and miles on a dirt road through treeless ranch land until you reach the saline-saturated shores of the Salt Lake. At Promontory Point, one finds Spiral Jetty, an earthwork created by artist Robert Smithson out of mud, rocks, water, and precipitated salt crystals.

Even though the location is not easy to reach, it still daily attracts at least a handful of curious people who want to see the earthwork. When I go there, I park the car near Spiral Jetty but then walk away from it along the shore until I find a lonely, out-of-sight spot where I sit and bask in the silence. There is something special about being alone in a place where there is no other sign of humanity: for me, it is a privileged time to listen to the Spirit, to forget the worries and distractions of the world, and to remember God’s personal love for me.

Whether we physically live in a city or not, we all live in a virtual city. Thanks to our gadgets, we are never far from the all that our urbanized world has to offer. With just a click of the mouse or a tap on the app, we can deluge ourselves with an infinite amount of words written about anything and everything. Having access to such a smorgasbord can be intellectually distracting, emotionally overwhelming, and spiritually paralyzing.

The Beauty of Silence

07373
Promontory Point

As spiritual beings, we are made for more: our hearts and minds tend towards Someone who made us for Himself, who has the capacity of satiating our every desire and giving us complete peace. The problem is that because He transcends us He is not immediately accessible to our reason, which is slowed down by its reliance on sensible information.

So, when given the choice either to reach out to our transcendent God or, say, to watch a movie or check Facebook, we tend to reach for the latter because it is easier to see and more immediately gratifying. However, if we take the time to discipline our senses a little and distance ourselves from the distractions of this info-saturated world that we inhabit, the experiences of God that result are indescribably so much more meaningful and beautiful.

Twitter and iPhones are great things, but sometimes it is healthy to take a break, in the way that a scientist closes himself in his laboratory or an artist retreats to his studio: to be truly creative and find personal fulfillment, we must find ways to distance ourselves from the constant hoopla and ballyhoo of the world that surrounds us. To be peaceful and happy, we must find silence in the city.

I think that Lent is all about taking this break. It is a beautiful opportunity to take a step back and focus on what is really important.

How to Find Silence and Peace This Lent

I recently read a blog post in which the author suggests somethingPraying Woman that he calls “input deprivation week”. The idea is to go a whole week without consuming unneeded information so as to focus on productivity. He challenges the reader to go seven entire days with no Facebook, no blogs, no books, no TV, no movies, no Reddit, no Twitter, and no talk radio. According to him, a week of dedicated input-deprivation is an amazing catalyst for creativity, so he advises that anyone doing it should always have a notebook handy to write down the numerous thoughts and inspirations that come.

I think that this suggestion is not only good for boosting personal productivity but also for improving one’s spiritual life. Every time we curb exterior stimuli, we create a calm and peaceful inner disposition that is conducive to listening to our Creator, to the only One who can give us total peace.

So here’s an idea for your Lent (which starts next WednesdayWoman-reading-a-book-on-sofa): deprive yourself of input! Do a personal input-deprivation week, or perhaps choose to limit your use of one or two forms of input until Easter. For example, you could give up TV and spend evenings reading instead, perhaps choosing books from among the classics of Western literature (check out Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime to get some ideas). Another idea: instead of turning on the radio every time you get into the car or popping in your earphones whenever you go out, try going around in silence. You will be amazed by how much God will take advantage of the quiet in your soul.

My Personal Commitment

imageLately, I have been feeling the Spirit moving me to simplify my life so that I can better listen to Him. This Lent, I have decided to translate this general movement of my soul into concrete action: I am going to go on input deprivation for the entire Lenten season. This may be a little ambitious, but I am going to give it a shot!

Since I am in the middle of studies, obviously I will have to keep reading the prescribed texts, but outside of that, I am going to commit myself to the following:

  • No extra-curricular books
  • No radio/no podcasts
  • No YouTube
  • No Facebook and no Instagram
  • No movies
  • No documentaries
  • No magazines or newspapers

So, what will I do with all of the extra time on my hands? I am going to leave that up to the Holy Spirit, but I am sure He has some adventures in store, as He always does. I will keep you posted!

 

Finding Peace in Your Desert

IMG_0068Four years ago, my daily life was significantly different from what it is now. Living in Westchester County, New York, I had a uniquely challenging but rewarding ministry that required me to be out and about with lots of people working in the world of non-profit development. I loved working in and around New York City, and I loved the folks I worked with. Even though I was just a seminarian, I had plenty of room to roam and everything that I needed to do my job: a laptop, a cell phone, a debit card, and a 2001 Chevy Impala.

The Party’s Over

In the summer of 2011, my assignment was changed: it was time to cross the Atlantic to finish my studies for the priesthood.  I gave the laptop and cell phone to my replacement, turned over the keys to the Impala, packed my bags, and headed to JFK Airport with a one-way ticket to endless classes and research papers. The party was over.

Living in Rome is awesome, but for a full-time student like myself,Studying-book it’s not vacation. After three years of life in the Big Apple, working everywhere from the Upper East Side to Wall Street; after regularly socializing with the successful and phenomenally talented individuals with whom New York is full; after forming some wonderful friendships with beautiful people just as excited as me about spreading the Good News; I suddenly found myself enclosed in a tiny room with a pile of philosophy books on my desk, swatting at mosquitoes and wondering why Italians don’t put screens on their windows.

Living Simply

Last week, I posted a reflection on the beauty of monastic life. I did so because at times my own life feels rather monkish, especially in comparison to the more active one that I had before coming back to studies.

In the tradition of religious life, my days are lived according to the10523323_683907181696359_2501294587655256400_o ancient monastic motto ora et labora: “pray and work”. Each day starts bright and early at 5:05 am, followed by morning offering with the community in the chapel, personal meditation, and community mass. After breakfast, we have 30 minutes of housework before going to the university for classes. We return at 12:15 for lunch followed by riposo (a 30-minute nap), which in turn is followed by an afternoon of study or work. Dinner is at 7:50 pm, after which we watch news for about 15 minutes before going to night prayers. We are usually in bed by 9:40 pm.

That’s it: simple and stable. I’ll be honest, such a spartan lifestyle can be challenging, especially coming from an exciting job in Manhattan where I regularly interacted with people and spoke in public.

During my first two years in Rome, I was so fully engrossed in the research for my master’s degree in philosophy that I would go weeks without leaving the house. Some afternoons, while praying my rosary on the roof of our four-story dormitory, I would catch myself longingly watching the planes taking off in the distance from Da Vinci Airport, wondering when I would ever be  flying back to the Land of the Free.

Living Simply for Something Better

download
Christ in the Desert – Ivan Kramskoi

Over the course my three and a half years here in my personal desert of books and research papers, I have come to realize that I can either yearn for the life I had, or I can fully embrace the one that I have now and make the best of it. I am here because I have professed a vow of obedience, and such a vow is a burden only when I make it so. It all depends on how I look at it: it can be seen either as a shackle or as a condition for greater freedom.

Before Christ began his public ministry, he too lived a simple and quiet life in Nazareth. For 30 years, he worked and prayed, silently preparing for the event that would forever change the course of history. Immediately before going public, he withdrew even more from  the world, walking into the desert for 40 days of intense fasting and prayer.

This is how I see these last few years of my training for the priesthood: it’s a final intense preparation, withdrawn from the world, for the event that will change my life forever – priestly ordination.

We All Have Our Deserts

Since in a few short years I will be preaching homilies on a regulardesert_orange_sands_w1 basis, I like to mine from my personal experiences lessons that can be shared with my future flock. From the one just recounted, I would share the following: embrace your state in life, no matter how much of a desert it may seem to be. The difficulties of your present state, no matter how grinding, are nothing more than a temporary preparation for something bigger and better.

The challenges and difficulties of my life as a student and seminarian pale in comparison to the difficulties that others go through. Some people I know are dealing with difficult marriages that leave them no respite; others face the daily struggle of living in an environment that is hostile to their faith; some are fighting chronic illnesses; others are struggling to find the right spouse or a good job.

I am light-years from being a spiritual master and I still have years before my ordination, but, drawing on the wisdom of the Church, I think that I can safely say that the trick to being happy is simply accepting where you are at in life. This does not mean resigning yourself to a life of suffering, but it means focusing on changing the things you can while leaving the rest up to God.

1638738In other words, live simply. Do not complicate your life by trying to force things that are beyond your control. Just let go, let God be God, and enjoy the amazing blessings that He has in store for you. He brings us through the desert only because on the others side there is a Promised Land that exceeds all of our wildest expectations.

Made for More

National-Geographic-Channel-Captures-Dodge-Appeal-of-Living-off-GridIn the Hoh rain forest on the Olympic peninsula of Washington State, there lives a man by the name of Mick Dodge. This Washington native, whose great-grandparents settled the terrain he now inhabits, took off his shoes twenty-five years ago, left the modern world, and walked into the wilderness. When asked how he manages to live the way he does, he gives a characteristically quirky response:

“My family has perfected the art of dodging civilizations for hundreds of years. All I have to do is follow my feet.”

Leaving Everything Behind

After watching a show about him on the National Geographic Channel, I found myself very intrigued by this forest dweller. I was fascinated by the lifestyle that he had embraced: he lives in a tree, doesn’t wear shoes, and brushes his teeth with a pine-cone. Talk about simplifying your life!

The episode I watched showed him looking for meat after going days without any protein. It was a lot of fun to watch how resourcefully he solved his problem, never losing his sense of humor nor his positive outlook despite failed fishing attempts and other setbacks. “Following his feet” (and tiding himself over with some squirmy grubs) he went to a roadside where he stashed some road kill and headed to the seashore. There, he used the dead meat as bait to catch some crabs, from which he made a hearty meal.

Learning about him, I was impressed as much by his austerity as I was by his personality.  One might think that someone with a lifestyle like his, cut off from civilization, would be somewhat of a curmudgeon – reclusive and suspicious. However, Mick is anything but that. His unbeatable optimism and idiosyncratic sense of humor make him seem like someone whom I would love to get to know.

Leaving Everything Behind for God

Mick’s hermetic lifestyle is nothing new. Although it may look like aescobar_1505800c novelty, it really is nothing more than a secular version of an ancient religious tradition. For centuries, Christians have been voluntarily renouncing the world to live in the wilderness. St. Anthony the Great (c. 251 – 356 AD – also known as the Father of Monasticism) was one of the first to leave everything and go into the desert to seek greater closeness to God. His life and intense ascetic practices became legendary, inspiring St. Athanasius to write The Life of Saint Anthony the Great, which in turn inspired a religious movement that eventually developed into great Christian monastic orders such as the Benedictines, Augustinians, and Trappists, all of which continue to this day.

Why is it that over the course of thousands of years, people have so radically changed their lives to live as hermits and monks? What is it that moves men and women to give up the comforts of human civilization? Even today, in a world that offers the possibility of instantaneous satisfaction of almost every human desire, people still leave it all behind: why?

“My heart is restless, Lord, until it rests in Thee.” – St. Augustine  

Imago DeiI think that it has something to do with human nature itself. We are such that we will never be fully satisfied by things: and this is something that makes us profoundly different from animals. My family back home has a pretty Welsh Corgi named Lucy. I have gotten to know her well and enjoy watching her antics. Lucy does not need much to be fully satisfied: with food, water, exercise, and a good belly rub, she is as happy as can be.

However, experience and history show us that it is not the same for humans: we are always striving for more, looking for something else. Material things are not enough to make us happy and satisfied: we seek and long for spiritual fulfillment. Every human heart has a deep longing, one that can only be satisfied by knowing that one is loved infinitely.

You are Made for God

Every person is capax Dei, “capable of God”: we were made for Him and have the capacity to know and love Him, even if we do not realize it.

This is why people leave the comforts of the modern world; and this is why more and more men and women are reacting against noisy and hyper-consumerist Western culture in search of a simpler and more meaningful life. That small voice that has driven men to seek the solitude of the wilderness for millennia still speaks deep down in the hearts of each one of us.

backgroundIt is voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush; it is the whisper that overwhelmed Elijah; it is the call that challenged the Apostles. It speaks to each one of us, asking us to leave the world to one degree or another. In a myriad of ways, each one as unique as the person to whom it is directed, the voice continues to say:

I AM WHO AM…Come, follow me.