Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When The Three Become One, She Is Yours

Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me.
Little — be always little! Be simple, poor, childlike.
Preach the Gospel with your life — without compromise! Listen to the Spirit. He will lead you.
Do little things exceedingly well for love of Me.
Love... love... love, never counting the cost.
Go into the marketplace and stay with Me. Pray, fast. Pray always, fast.
Be hidden. Be a light to your neighbour’s feet. Go without fear into the depth of men’s hearts. I shall be with you.
Pray always. I will be your rest.
The Little Mandate of Madonna House

Be simple… Our Tuesday readings of the Little Mandate have taken us to this somewhat mysterious word of simplicity, the call to be simple in the context of being little, poor, and childlike. What does it mean, simplicity?

‘Simple’ can easily be confused with its somewhat addled cousin simplistic, which is the wrong tendency to elide over, ignore, or deny real complexities in situations, genuine difficulties, the need for nuance and sensitive careful treatment of complicated and hard situations. A simplistic approach to life and especially to the problems and questions of other people is no great virtue and can do a lot of damage. All too often, what lurks behind a simplistic tendency is simple laziness or selfishness—we don’t want to bother with all the ins and outs of a situation, so instead produce some one-size-fits-all solution out of whole cloth.

The holy simplicity of the Mandate has nothing whatsoever to do with that. It is, however, the opposite of complexity nonetheless, but on the level of our own personal engagement with reality and the demands of the Gospel.

Christ calls each of us to live and die with Him. To love as He loved and to express this love in ways that are certainly not easy, but are not complicated in themselves. “I am third” – put God first, neighbor second, yourself last. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, serve and not be served, love everyone. While the specific application of the commandment of love may get into complex territory and difficult discernment at times, the core central reality is simplicity itself.

We are to die for the other, as Christ has died for us. And so often we human beings can generate a whole world of false complexity, a world of ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ and ‘well, I don’t knows’ that serve not to engage in the real work of love and its concrete application but to get us off the hook of love. False complexity and rationalization can too often be an escape, an insulation against the Cross of Jesus Christ and its presence in our life in the call daily to sacrificial love.

Catherine wrote a poem called simplicity that seems relevant both in this context and in our present liturgical context. Here it is:

You speak so easily of Her -They call Simplicity ...
But do you know the way to her?
It is too simple - like Herself!

Two beams, that make a cross... are simple, homey things -
To make of trees that grow abundantly...
Three nails ... so easily come by ... so cheap, “so simple”...
A hammer - old familiar tool - will do nicely too!
Now ... your hands and feet, simple, familiar parts of YOU!

You will find SIMPLICITY...
The way will be quite SIMPLE straight and clear ...
When -- wood, nails and YOU -- ARE ONE!
Then she is yours!

Holy simplicity looks at the demands of the Gospel and does not wish them away, think them away, spin webs of complex justifications for why that Gospel precept does not apply to this situation, why I cannot turn this particular cheek, go that particular mile, give this particular cloak to that particular person, and so on and so forth. Balderdash!

We either do it, and rejoice in God’s grace that makes it possible for us to live as Christians, or we refuse to do it, and then are called into repentance and humble contrition. No excuses! That is what holy simplicity consists of. Simple, eh?

A happy Holy Week to you!


  1. Thank you for sharing these posts on the little mandate. They draw me in, and I feel closer to Catherine. Each word is so packed, isn't it? How many years I have prayed these words...and sometimes it still feels like I am hearing them for the first time.
    I hope you do not tire of this. I hope when you are looking for something more you consider a book she has written...
    Bless you

    1. Thanks, Catherine. No, I don't think I'll get tired of writing these posts - this is my life, after all!

  2. Dear Fr. Denis
    Your reflections on the Little Mandate are "un bon mot" and I deeply appreciate them. If I may ask that when done, if you could reflect in a like manner on how this spirituality is lived out by a man and woman together as they age. John Paul II hinted at a unity of soul that happens in a marriage. I don't know how else to ask this but look forward to a conversation about it.
    Kindest regards - John Lynch.

    1. Thanks, John. I don't know if I'm especially qualified to write on the topic you raise - maybe someone living that reality should write about it (hint, hint...)! But I'll keep writing what I can write.


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