God is simple, and, frankly, we are not
Father Michael Ackerman Comments Off on Simplicity
Even though most parishes now livestream Masses, our diocese for years has produced a Mass on local cable television for the faithful who are homebound or shut-in. The Mass is very well done, but since it is allotted a specific time, it must be completed in 28 minutes and 30 seconds. This is especially difficult on major solemnities and holy days. One year, I was asked to film an Easter Sunday Mass in that time frame, and I was terrified. I was given two minutes for the homily and asked the director how all this was possible.
“Well, it has to be,” I remember him saying. “You have no room for fluff, just tell them what is really important.”
Although I felt as though I would have to talk as fast as the people who read the side effects of medications in commercials, that was not the case. The homily was certainly not one of the finest orations ever given (the cut signal came quickly!), but it was brief, simple and probably forced me to do what was necessary.
St. Vincent de Paul, a saint I have long admired, once wrote in his conferences that “simplicity is the virtue I love the most … it consists of saying things as they are.” Perhaps at times we become too verbose and overwhelmed with details, and we miss what God is saying to us. God is simple, and, frankly, we are not.
A spiritual director who taught us at the seminary once asked us why we need spiritual direction. Although there were many theological answers given, his explanation was the best. “You need direction because you are all screwed up,” he said. “You need to get out of the way and let God simply speak to you in your heart.”
A youth-minister friend of mine had the following experience once trying to get volunteers. She made flyers and TikTok videos, posted on Instagram and Twitter and even wrote a song that she put on iTunes to try and get kids to come to a summer camp. In spite of all that, only a handful of kids came forward to volunteer. She was beside herself. However, two of the students consoled her and promised that they would help. More than 50 kids signed up within a day of her young helpers getting involved.
When she asked them how they did it, their answer was stunning. “You were working too hard,” they said. “It was too much information out there, and too complex. We just called kids and invited them to sign-up and they did.” It is not how hard we work, but how simply we trust in God that matters.
A friend of mine from high school used to call me to complain about his priest. “He’s so long-winded,” my friend would tell me. The priest was a theologian and an academic, and as such he tried to impart all the knowledge he had into each sermon. However, each sermon seemed to bleed into another sermon, such that no one could remember anything by the end. My friend even told me that the deacon fell asleep once during the homily and fell out of the chair, much to the amusement of the altar servers. As entertaining as that sight would have been, it does not sound spiritually enriching or edifying.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux perhaps best understood the modern mind and how to align ourselves with God. She wrote in the “Story of a Soul,” “The way of simple love and confidence is really made for you.”
Certainly, there are many things to concern ourselves with every day, and I do not mean to suggest that life and priesthood are without challenges. We will encounter our share of hardships, difficulties and struggles, and there will be many days of wondering how we can minister to others, develop a spiritual life, bring others to holiness and keep the lights on all at the same time. However, Jesus did not shy away from reminding us that the kingdom of heaven belonged to the childlike and the simple. I would not advise always having two-minute homilies (although the people might love it), but it does force you to keep it simple, and perhaps in that God can quickly be found.
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.