The decorations are still up. And the carols are still playing in the background.
It’s still Christmas, after all.
But the explosion of wrapping paper and empty boxes has been cleared away, and only a few Christmas cookies remain in the freezer, almost forgotten.
As I continue to liturgically celebrate the Christmas season, I breathe deep relief. The frenzy of the past month has slowed way down. My to-do list has returned to a normal length. And as I look upon the first month of a new calendar year, I see open and empty spaces, inviting me to keep them just as they are.
January is the month when I crave simplicity. After a marathon of holiday celebrations and family gatherings, and after a season of abundant blessings, I desire quiet, stillness, space, and less.
Of course I love celebrating the birth of Christ, but after the whirlwind, I reach a point where I long to live the simplicity of the stable instead of the abundance that comes with the modern-day Christmas celebration.
I ponder the simplicity of the Holy Family’s home in Nazareth, where “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52). And I wonder what they have to teach me about holy simplicity and how I can observe it in my own life.
What is Holy Simplicity?
While we may not know many details about the hidden life of Christ’s family, we know with certainty that they lived simplicity perfectly.
As a virtue, simplicity calls us out of ourselves and our attachments. As Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene notes, it prompts us to move “in one direction only: to God, to live for Him, to please Him, and to give glory to Him” (Divine Intimacy, 853).
Yes, if anyone can show us how to live life simply, it is the Holy Family.
Jesus refers to holy simplicity in His preaching and teaching.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, He instructs, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).
In another part of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
Mary’s words at the Annunciation prove her incomparable simplicity.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Joseph’s obedience attests to his holy simplicity too.
“When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him …” (Matthew 1:24).
With the Holy Family as our guides, now seems like the perfect time to return to a more single-minded devotion into which simplicity invites us. After a season of joy and celebration, mixed with busyness and running on too much coffee and sugar, the call to simplicity echoes in the depth of the soul. It is as if the Holy Family is inviting us into their home: “Come, let us show you how.”
More Than Minimalism
As a virtue, simplicity is more than minimalism. It is more than being organized and clutter-free. To have less for the sake of having less isn’t quite virtuous.
Simplicity is deeper than that; it is holier than that.
Our reason behind it must be more meaningful.
In her book The Little Way of Living With Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower, Laraine Bennett suggests that “without the motivation of truly inspiring goals—to strengthen the bonds of love, to serve others better, to follow Christ more perfectly, to love God with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength—it is likely that we will soon find ourselves frustrated with any decluttering, organizing, or minimizing project.”
Therefore, our desire to grow in greater simplicity is rooted in a longing to have a simplicity of heart that mirrors Christ’s. We yearn for the simplicity of the Holy Family. We crave stillness and attentiveness in our souls.
Practical Steps Toward Holy Simplicity
And yet, because we are human, we learn with our senses and understand the intangible through the tangible. Practical applications help our holy pursuit of virtue.
But practical steps are not our goals. Rather, they are a means to a more virtuous end. They are the path toward unity with God in Heaven.
Below are a handful of ways we can practice simplicity with the goal of living Christ’s invocation to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.
- Cook a batch of soup to eat throughout the week
- Renew the Catholic tradition of meatless Fridays
- Shop the perimeter of the store, focusing on whole foods
- Learn to “quiet the house,” especially after Christmas
- Create a faith-based focal point
- Decorate according to the natural and liturgical seasons
- Return to consistent, daily prayer
- Create margin in your day, week, and month
- Unplug and welcome silence regularly
These few ideas allow us to practice simplicity in our hearts and homes, while focusing on a deeper purpose: cultivating virtue, growing more recollected, and becoming more single-hearted for the Lord.
The Saints Loved Simplicity
Thankfully, we are not alone in our desire to pursue holy simplicity. In addition to the Holy Family, the Saints chose to practice this virtue, too. Here are their words to keep us inspired and encouraged:
“I recommend to you holy simplicity.” // Saint Francis de Sales
“Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world.” // Saint Francis of Assisi
“Be humble, be simple, and bring joy to others.” // Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat
“Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity.” // Saint Therese of Lisieux
“Simplicity is a virtue that makes us go straight to God and to the truth.” // Saint Vincent de Paul
To go deeper in the practice of holy simplicity, here are some helpful resources to accompany your journey:
Introduction to the Devout Life by Saint Francis de Sales
The Little Way of Living With Less by Laraine Bennett
Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life by Mary Elizabeth Sperry
Theology of Home by Carrie Gress
Does your heart desire simplicity? How do you feel called to grow in this virtue?
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