Aug 8, 2017
During this past week I was scheduled to present a retreat in Pennsylvania to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Because of an unexpected death in their community, they had to cancel the retreat. The theme I had planned for this retreat was “Gospel Simplicity.” Two prominent points I was going to communicate were: 1) “simple” does not mean “easy,” as in “painless,” or “without suffering,” but 2) “simple” does mean “uncomplicated,” as in “not difficult to understand.” I will try to explain briefly these two messages.
First, Gospel life is not painless; in fact, as we hear, it is the “way of the cross.” To live the Gospel is to be a true disciple of Jesus, and as we know, Jesus chose to embrace the crosses of human life—rejection, humiliation, false accusation, loneliness, scourging, and crucifixion—on His life journey. So must we as members of the human family and as members of the Body of Christ. Such is life on earth. We do not and cannot expect to live without suffering in body and in spirit. There is no life, no love that does not entail pain and loss; consequently, there is no life or love that does not demand our surrender. As Jesus would say “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38) Surrender is the basis of life and love, growth and peace, and it does not happen without suffering. Life and love are privileges from God, and every privilege entails responsibility. There is no privilege without pain, no love without self-giving, that is surrender.
Second, the Gospel message is quite clear and not difficult to understand. However, it is quite difficult to LIVE. The simplicity of the Gospel (Good News) message can be summed up briefly: God is good and God is always with us and for us. We are good, made in the image of God, and God wants the best for us, that is, God loves us. Everything we are and all that we have is God’s gift to us. We did not merit or earn it. It is God who provides and saves us! We all are asked to make our will conform to the will of God, to listen to Him not for His sake but for our own sake, that is, our happiness, peace, and security. We are asked to embrace life, its goodness, beauty and truth, along with its many surrenders and sufferings, and in this way we LET God who is forever-forgiving save us. Our self-surrendering leads us to intimate, life-giving relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters; our sufferings lead us to fullness of life beyond this present world of sorrows and joys.
Simplicity can be described in the phrase “Let go and let God.” It is the “letting go” that causes us so much distress and suffering, because “letting go” is exactly what “take up your cross and follow me” means. Our wear and wounded human nature want to HOLD ON tightly to whatever power we have in order to protect, defend (save), or promote ourselves. Thus, “letting go” demands a lot of trust and tremendous courage. See Luke 9:23 for the Biblical expression of this concept. Life can be simple if we are willing to embrace the reality of life. Life can be simple, easy to understand if we accept the basic premise of the Gospel, the Good News, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) This verse and the following verses (17-21) provide us with an inspiring reflection.