Popular wisdom encourages us to enjoy the “simple things in life.” By experience we know these are the most satisfying.
They bring rest to the soul. Yet, knowing we should seek happiness in a simpler life does not make it easy. Ironically, it is easier to acquire things than to get rid of them. It is easier to possess than to dispossess. If this wisdom is so simple, why is it so complicated? The Gospel give us guidance.
Detachment may be a requirement for the good life, but it is also a requirement of discipleship. In this Sunday’s gospel (Lk 14:25-33) Jesus is unambiguous: “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” This goes not only for material possessions but also for “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.” It is a tall order. These are the greatest goods of life. Indeed, these are the “simple things” of conventional wisdom. Doesn’t our happiness depend upon them? Yes and no.
Jesus’ teaching on detachment is the flipside of the Old Testament command to “love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6:5). God has always required our total love. Jesus only spells it out. But we have to make sure we understand him.
Jesus is not calling us all to be hermits. It is not that we shouldn’t possess things, but that we shouldn’t be possessed by things. It is counterintuitive, but only by renouncing things do we truly own them. For example, only by renouncing greed and breaking its bonds are we then free to use our money appropriately (for the honor of God and service of neighbor). The same is true even in our relationships. Only when God is our first love, only when his is the love we cannot live without, are we then free to love, to seek what is good for the other. We see this in every saint. Attached to the One Love, they abound in love for all.
Still, detachment is hard. Popular wisdom can tell us to simplify, but it cannot tell us how. This requires divine Wisdom. And this is Wisdom’s solution: “carry your cross and come after me.” The cross strips us of every disordered attachment. Embracing the cross, the wise direct all of their heart, all of their soul, and all of their strength, to God. There is room for nothing else.
Theologians will tell you that God is simple. He lacks every complication. If happiness is in the simple things, then it is immanent in God. To reach him, we need to simplify. To reach him, we need the Cross.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.