Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Isn't So Simple
Mohandas Gandhi, the great and wise leader, once said,
"Live simply that others can simply live." He did it himself, but
it didn—t really spark an international trend. It sounds like something
Jesus would agree with, but what does it mean to live simply now—in
the 21st century?
This Youth Update focuses on the meaning and the struggle
built into this very important concept in our Catholic heritage.
You may be thinking: What does this have to do with me? Does
living simply mean that I can—t dream about and eventually buy a
car? Does it mean that I can—t enjoy the mall? If it gets into all
these parts of my life, then I may not be ready to consider it.
After all, what—s the appeal?
Is this the effort that living simply conjures up in your mind?
Are you drawn to it or repelled by it? Take a moment before reading
the rest of this Youth Update to consider your first impressions
of Gandhi—s challenge: Live simply that others can simply live.
Let me talk on a personal level. I have struggled
with simplicity for as long as I can remember. Yes, even though
I am a woman who has devoted her life to the gospel, I still want
what I want. For me, one big thing is a little thing—coffee.
I think of myself as a coffee snob. I turn up my nose at that
instant or cheap stuff. I like the real thing that costs real money.
Now you may think that this is a rather lame example when it comes
to simplicity. But is it?
Isn—t it really the little things that capture our attention—and
our money? At times I—m driving along, craving a good cup of coffee,
and I see my favorite place. Can I afford it? Do I have the money
on me? Yes. Or—I can always use a credit card.
Then the statement flashes into my mind—very unwelcome, mind
you: Live simply that others can simply live. Ah, now the decision
rests with me. Most of the time I compromise—buying straight coffee
instead of a fancier beverage on the menu. Simplicity? Not really,
but a move in that direction.
Simplicity is not easy. Even though I have volunteered at Habitat
for Humanity, soup kitchens and in areas of Central and South America
and have seen the struggles of other people to "simply live," I
still wrestle with what the challenge to live simply means in my
Early on, I equated it with poverty. Jumping to this notion is
way too easy. I don—t want to be poor. Who does?
The reality is that I will probably never be really poor. I have
an education. I understand finances. Those two assets alone put
me ahead of the game. I—m grateful, because poverty is nothing to
aspire to and it is not a synonym for simplicity.
Second, I thought that simplicity meant that I had to give up
things that I wanted. Simplicity may not be poverty but does it
really mean that I have to deny myself what I want? That doesn—t
sound like fun. Why would I want to do that? Yet, something intrigued
me and kept drawing me to the idea and gave me the courage to try
figuring it out for myself.
Do you ever struggle with living simply? Have you
helped at a soup kitchen or seen one of those TV clips about starving
children? Have you ever thought about just how much you have and
just how much others don—t have? What do you do with that?
Some people don—t like such thinking because it makes
them feel guilty. They choose to ignore such information and experiences.
That is one way to respond, but not the only choice.
Simplicity—s best definition, in my opinion, is this:
"to know when I have enough." Personally, being with the poor helps
me take this abstract idea of enough and live my way into
When I walk through the mall or check things out
online, I am drawn into a life force that is hard to describe. Even
though it isn—t tangible, it feels real because I can and do get
caught up in it so readily.
I see something that subtly says, "You need me; you
want me." The message definitely gets into my mind and plays around
in there until I buy the thing. This drives me crazy!
Have you ever gone out and just mindlessly bought
something—almost without conscious thought? Look around your room
today. Ask yourself if your understanding of enough and the
contents of your bedroom match.
See With New Eyes
When I am with the poor, as I—ve said, I keep my
priorities straight. That may sound pious but it—s true.
Some young people and I volunteer together at the
Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen. The Catholic Worker movement was founded
by Dorothy Day, who served the poor, lived simply and fought for
justice. Her life exemplifies simplicity.
Children regularly come to the Catholic Worker for
a hot meal. One Halloween, a family with three children arrived.
As they sat eating their meal, they were given a little bag of candy
that the ninth-graders at the school had put together.
We watched as the little boy—s eyes grew bigger when
he discovered he had a big KitKat bar. He poked his sister and showed
it to her—with a huge smile.
About a week later, one of the teenagers told me
that she looks at KitKat bars differently now when she goes to the
store. Because they remind her of the little boy, she looks at her
purchases and sorts through things she may not really need. She
is making different choices, and all because of one candy bar.
Another teen—Sam, who lives in the suburbs—is also
making different choices. For him, it wasn—t a candy bar but a closet!
Sam volunteered at Habitat for Humanity. Together
with other parish teens, he was building a bedroom closet for an
urban home. When the team finished, the standard closet door wouldn—t
fit! The construction manager told them to start over.
At day—s end, the youth and I gathered for prayer
and sharing. Sam explained that he was mad at first, because they
had to do the work a second time. Then he simply felt frustrated.
Eventually he began to realize that the house was someone—s home
and just by taking his time he could make things right for the family
that would live there.
The future homeowner, who was working with them,
thanked Sam and the other teens for hanging in there with the project.
Later that night, Sam said, he was at home in his bedroom. He glanced
at his closet, which wouldn—t close either! Of course, his problem
was that all his stuff was piled into it and some was actually falling
out of it.
Sam got off his bed and went through all his stuff.
He put together three bags of things he could—and would—give to
poor people. He wasn—t quite sure what was driving him, but it "felt
like the right thing to do."
Venezuela was my home for four months. There, I got
to know a little boy named Victor. He lived in an orphanage even
though he had relatives somewhere.
Water was available for only an hour a day. Meals
were beans and rice, or rice and beans. Electricity was sporadic.
This was beyond simplicity. It was primitive.
One day I asked young Victor how old he was. I thought
it was an innocent-enough question. He went running out of the room.
A little while later he came back and said, "I—m
eight, I think." I later learned that he had run to one of the directors
who told him he was eight. The director made this up because there
were no records, no birth certificate and never a birthday party,
cake or present. Victor just looked like he was eight, so
that would do for an answer.
Whenever I visited the orphanage, Victor came running
and never left my side. Victor was hungry for love and attention.
Just like the teen who thought of KitKat bars and the young person
who thought of open closets, I often found myself thinking of Victor.
He would pop into my mind and heart when I went to
the nearest town, where there was a shopping mall. While walking
around, I often wondered if Victor would like this place. What would
he buy? Would he feel comfortable here? Would he even be welcomed?
I think that the food court would have overwhelmed him: all the
choices, all the food!
The two worlds I lived in barely connected with one
another. On the one hand, I was very comfortable in the mall and
in the Venezuelan suburbs. On the other hand, when I was in the
village and living in primitive conditions, I was challenged, satisfied
and very happy.
Young people from the United States with whom I traveled
to El Salvador reacted much as I did. We lived for a week in a small
village where we have a sister-school relationship.
The young people of both countries had a great time.
Even though language and culture separated them, they communicated
and shared themselves.
Every evening the people with whom I came to El Salvador
gathered to reflect on our day. During this time we talked about
how simply the people lived. They didn—t have showers or electricity.
Their homes were made out of mud. Their school had no books.
They seemed to see—as I did—how rich the people were
in ways that really mattered. They didn—t have as much stuff. They
didn—t seem to need as much stuff. They seemed happier and less
stressed than we were.
When the young people and I came back to the U.S.,
they had changed. They told me that they were trying to hold onto
something that they found to be true: They didn—t need to keep up
with everybody else. Happiness came from inside, not from possessions.
Recently, a friend of one of the girls who went to
El Salvador mentioned how her friend had changed since the trip.
"She eats differently. She doesn—t waste food and gets really upset
when we do. She just seems more focused—like she knows what is important
Building relationships with people outside your circle,
like Victor or youth your own age in a foreign nation, will make
an impact on you. This can be good.
Opportunities like volunteering with Habitat for
Humanity help make real the notion of simplicity. The experiences,
the faces and the relationships give you the energy and courage
to stand up to the culture and say, Enough: I have enough.
Be it at a soup kitchen or with a sister parish or
school, you will find that being with people is the most important
step in your understanding of enough—which is how I define
Jesus is in the midst of all these deliberations
and experiences. The young people I work with go and place themselves
in these situations because the gospel demands it.
One young man said it well: "I am a confirmed Catholic
and have said yes to the gospel mandate to go out and to feed the
hungry, aid the sick, visit the prisoners. I did this when I said
yes to the bishop at my Confirmation."
In living out the gospel we always have to look beyond
our little worlds to those around us—just as Jesus did. There is
no compromise. We are here to bring good news to the poor (Matthew
11:5). We do this if we call ourselves Catholic.
If we take seriously this mandate of living out the
gospel message, then we must take up the challenge of living simply.
Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). What makes you happy (blesses
you)? Jesus tells us that we must share our abundance. St. Francis
of Assisi, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day offer radical examples.
But our Baptism requires us to act as well.
You have choices. Keep things in perspective. Educate
yourself on how Wall Street finances affect you and how advertisers
use all of us, especially you. You can act instead of react.
You could decide that whenever you buy something
new you give something away that you already own. For example, if
you buy a sweater, then you give away something else in your closet.
You can keep the wealth circulating.
You could also choose to shop at Goodwill or other
resale shops. Shopping at a secondhand store accomplishes a few
things. In some cases, the money goes to a good cause. Second, it
generally helps the environment because you are saving resources
and energy by recycling clothes.
This style of shopping is guaranteed to save you
money that you could use in generous ways!
Your most important move will be to take on the mind-set
of simplicity by acting, reflecting on your action and letting it
change your life!
Volunteer. Rub elbows with people. Don—t work in
silence either. Talk. Talking is where the relationship starts.
Find out the stories behind people—s circumstances. Learn names.
After you get home from a new and challenging experience,
reflect on it. Don—t discard it. Don—t dismiss it. Don—t deny it.
Pray with it. Think about what happened. Write about
it if that helps you. Put on some music, lie on your bed and review
what you saw—and
Then bring Jesus into the conversation. Sit there
and talk to him about what you just saw, heard and did. Then, ask
the question if you dare: What does this mean for me? What is
God—s will for me in this? Of course, you can ask and not listen—it—s
My challenge to you is to listen. Listen with all
your heart. Then follow where your heart leads you. It is in the
reflection that you will find your answer. You will know that which
will give you the strength and courage to live out the call to simplicity.
This is one step in a long journey toward justice and charity—so
that others can simply live.
I don't get how my living simply will help anyone else to simply live. Isn't that too simple?
That's the beauty of itit is just
that simple! Did you know there is enough food in the world
to feed everyone, but the distribution, hoarding and consumption
by some keeps others from getting what they need? Changing
our mind-set may sound easy, but it may actually be the biggest
Are Catholics commanded to live simply or is it a choice we can make?
You are invited, urged and challenged.
Jesus says the greatest commandment (and he does use that
word) is to love Godand the second is "You shall love
your neighbor as yourself." (See Matthew 22:37-40.) I suggest
that when you follow that commandment to love, you will be
led in a way that naturally leads to simplicity.
You say simplicity isn't the same as poverty, but you point to poor people as examples, not people who are free to choose. Socan they be separated or not?
In my middle-class world, I look to the
poor to give me the courage to live simply. I know people
who have chosen consciously to live simply for all sorts of reasonsenvironmental
concerns or political beliefs, to name two. For me, as a Christian,
I choose simplicity because of the poor who are my brothers
and sisters. I cannot separate the two.
Andrew Gaynor (16), Molly Gaynor (15) and Ally Grogan (16), members of Holy Family Parish in Price Hill, a Cincinnati neighborhood, reviewed this
edition and posed the questions that are answered inside.