THE CALL TO CHRISTIAN POVERTY AND SIMPLICITY
"You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves." Ex. 20: 3-4
I like stuff. I admit it, I do. I wasn’t a boy scout for long, but the whole “Be Prepared” thing stuck with me. There are lots of things that make me feel more prepared. I have my emergency radio and first aid kit in the car, a pocket umbrella for the (very) occasional Southern California rain, and other such emergency items. In the house, we are now up to our knees in toddler toys and gear, as well as many things we moved to our house that we kept “just in case” we needed them.
Having stuff is often how the desire to be prepared gets directed, at least for me. The things we’ve gathered give us some real security, but just how much? In December, wildfires devastated southern California, particularly Ventura County, eventually becoming the largest wildfire in California history. The fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the main burn area. While those fires burned to the West, visible but at a safe distance, the LA fires burned to the East of us. Thankfully, our city never burned, but we were on watch. It was odd packing emergency supplies to go in the car just in case and asking myself, “what could I be ok with having destroyed?” Suddenly, the things that made us secure were themselves in danger.
I’ve been reflecting on this since, particularly as I prepared for Lent to start and considered what to “do” for Lent this year. This experience is motivating my fasting and abstinence this year. This Sunday’s readings challenge us with the Commandment, first of all, to place our trust and our hope in God alone. In our rich tradition of icons and sacramentals, these helps are windows that point us not at themselves, but beyond themselves to something greater. But even these can be temptations, like St. Augustine experienced, to be so caught up in the beauty of things or to feel secure in them, that they distract us instead and become a “stumbling block” to us.
Jesus’ cross is foolishness to Gentiles, who don’t get why an eternal God would submit to humanity and accept a body, even an eternal one. Jesus’ cross is a stumbling block to the Jews, who were promised a new king on David’s throne. Jesus confuses His hearers in Jerusalem when he speaks of the Temple being destroyed, and raised again. But it’s the resurrection that makes sense of it all. It reminds me to stake my security on something that can’t be taken by fire or flood or earthquake (or anything else that happens in California). The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience are lived in a particular way by vowed religious, but are a call to all disciples, in ways appropriate to our state in life. This Sunday’s readings prompt me to reexamine how I live the call to Christian poverty and simplicity of life by measuring the good of what I have by what I need, what might be better used by others, and by how much I let them distract me from God.
Pray with “The First Principle and Foundation.”
Find two translations of this prayer from St. Ignatius here.
- In what ways am I “out of balance” in my (over-, under-, mis-)use of “goods” in my life?
- If I lost all of my things today, what would I miss? Why? What would I be glad to be rid of? Why?