"He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick–no food, no sack, no money in their belts".
Simplicity, like many of the other virtues we priests and seminarians are invited to live, is both an external act and an internal disposition.
It embarrasses me to admit it to this day, but as a seminarian, one of my biggest ‘formation issues’ was being a ‘show off’—for some reason, it would always make its way into my evaluations. In class, for instance, my essays were always flowery and grand, my responses to questions in class were mile-long, even the questions I asked were carefully calculated to do one thing and one thing only, show everyone how better I was than everyone else in the room.
My literature professor, a kind old lady who was a well-known journalist, once took me aside and offered some advice. “You’re good. I know that”, she said. Why do you seem to have this need to prove yourself all the time? There’s no need to show off. Write, think and speak to express yourself, to express who you truly are; never to impress others.”
It’s an advice I took to heart: “Do things always to express; never to impress”.
Why was Jesus so effective? Why did his words and actions penetrate deep into the minds, hearts, and souls of those he met, those whom he taught? Not because he was impressive. His stories and parables were simple. Even his healings and actions, while remarkable in their effects, on closer inspection were quite bland, even gross: mixing spit with mud, writing on sand, using water, using bread, wine, using common things, speaking in common words, using common analogies—unimpressive to the scholar and intellectual, too common and pedestrian for the elite.
And yet Jesus connected in the most profound way. He struck a chord, not only in the minds, but in the hearts of all, the lowly and mighty alike. It’s because he spoke with confident simplicity. Everything he did on the outside was the result of a solid confidence on the inside—the exousia—the ‘power emanating from his being’ of which the New Testament speaks. He spoke—as my literature teacher said—to express who he truly was.
Simplicity of life begins with an internal disposition that says, I need not worry about looking like somebody, because with God I already am. I am loved. I am cared for. I am his child. And I therefore need not worry about anything, not a walking stick, not food, sack, or money in my belt. My Father, my God, and my Savior will always provide. Therefore I can live a life of simplicity, of trust, of tranquility and peace.
“Do things always to express; never to impress”. It’s good advice for those of us who have set out to live the powerful and confident simplicity we find in Jesus himself.
And it’s a sign of our unshakeable confidence and trust in God who clothes the lilies of the field, feeds the birds of the air, knows us by name, and has it written in the palm of his hands.