Keep it Simple, by Emmanuel de Gibergues

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keep-it-simple-by-bishop-emmanuel-de-giberguesI recently finished Bishop Emmanuel de Gibergues’ book called “Keep it Simple: The busy Catholic’s guide to growing closer to God.”  This insightful and helpful book gave me some new perspectives on the daily struggle to be holy.

The entire premise of the book, as Bishop Emmanuel says, is Simplicity.  “To be simple is to see, love, and desire God in all creatures and in all things; it is to unify one’s life with God.”  At first this seemed, while true, like an over-simplification to me when it comes to helping “the busy Catholic grow closer to God.”  It didn’t seem all that practical.  And I like practical.

But upon further reading I soon came to see that this simplification is not the product of an over-simplified infantile intro to the spiritual life, but quite the opposite.  It is a profound clarification of an advanced and serious spiritual enlightenment.  This is about taking a somewhat serious spiritual understanding and sanctifying it to the point of sainthood.  In other words, this is about more than not sinning.  It’s about not sinning for the right reasons.  It truly takes the necessary mechanics of seemingly complex doctrine and boils them back down to the overall goal: Simplicity, purity of intention, holiness, oneness with God.

“Simplicity is the perfection of your relation to God.” – from Keep it Simple

He sums up the overall message with a great quote from St. John of the Cross:

“The true lover, even if he thought it possible that his good works might escape the eye of God, and pass unrewarded, would love God no less in consequence, and would do no less for Him.[…] It is the property of perfect love to be unconcerned with self, neither to desire nor reserve aught for self, and to claim nothing for self, but to give all to the beloved.” – St. John of the Cross from Keep it Simple

What an awesome statement.  We Christians often get caught up in the whole – my reward is not here on Earth…I will be rewarded in heaven.  And this is absolutely true.  But yet still our motivation, at its very core, should not be for this reward.  Our motivation should be purely for love of God, regardless of any reward we may receive in this life or the next.  Even if we were not to receive reward in heaven, do we love God anyway simply because He is God?

This is the simplicity I think this book is describing.  It can seem very abstract and ambiguous, but that’s perhaps because we haven’t yet lived it.

In one chapter Bishop Emmanuel gives 4 principles to help us recognize this virtue of simplicity.  This is a quick summary of what the book goes into in some detail.

  1. Do we have an indifference to our own success?
  2. Do we have joy in the success of others or in their spiritual progress?
  3. Do we have a complete attachment to the will of God?
  4. Do we neither desire nor court the praise and approbation of men for the good that we do?

Another great quote in this book hits on another false expectation prevalent in Christian evangelism these days.  And that’s a false hope that many preachers give of worldly blessings and success as a result of faith in Jesus Christ.  And while this infectious “health and wealth” message is very popular, it is not really all that Christian.  Real faith is a faith held despite a lack of material wealth or physical health. It’s a love that is unconditional on any reward.

“If the simple soul finds in prayer only dryness, if he is as ‘in a desert land, where there is no way and no water,’ he is not discouraged.  He sees the will of God in these grievous trials and loses nothing of his calm and peace.”  He later goes on to say “Simplicity will not keep you from suffering, but will so change your suffering that you will no longer recognize it.” – from Keep it Simple

The book contains many other helpful insights into what it means to live this life of Simplicity, and therefore, Holiness.

The only caveat I would offer to reading this book is that I think the reader should be fairly well catechized.  I feel like it starts with the presumption that the reader understands the importance of the individual doctrine of the Church.  And this adventure into simplicity is not a step back away from such doctrine, but a step more deeply into them.  It is not one that lessens or marginalizes Church doctrine, but one that brings them to their fullness of understanding.

I can see how many uncatechized Catholics could read a book like this and get the impression that their “purity of intention” is all that matters – and that would be a dangerous and false conclusion. 

It’s kind of like how a lot of nominal Catholics choose to ignore the teachings of the Church in favor of a more “simple” commandment to “just love God and love one another.”  While that may be the “greatest” commandment, it’s not the only one!  Jesus gives us this commandment to bring about a fuller understanding of all His other teachings – not to negate them. 

So it is with this teaching of Simplicity. In the end – it’s an embracing realization that this is precisely what the human person was made for.

“Consider the dove: it is marvelously equipped to rise on high, to soar, to attain with ease to the loftiest, most distant regions. And for this there is but one thing needful: that it should spread its wings and then make use of them.  You are the dove, and simplicity the all powerful wings. Why not hasten to make use of them? Oh, spread your wings speedily; with bold and rapid flight, you will traverse incredible space and attain even to God Himself.” – Bishop Emmanuel de Gibergues in Keep it Simple

3 comments Add comment

Cindy April 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Anything that comes this highly recommended deserves to be read.
Also, Fr. Paul Murray’s new book about the spiritual darkness of Bl. Mother Teresa, “I Loved Jesus In The Night,” is wow.
Thanks, Matt.

Nancekaye April 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Great article! This was the way of the Saints. He is right in saying purity of intention isn’t all that matters, but it has to be taken into consideration. Whenever I do something for someone my pray is “Lord, purify my motives” its so easy to do things with an ulterior motive. Thanks for sharing thr excepts from this interesting book,. Matt

Jill April 17, 2009 at 10:41 am

This sounds like it fits right in step with the two books I am currently reading: St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” and “Uniformity with God’s Will” by St. Alphonse Liguori. The second is a short booklet actually that has had a profound effect on me. It was only a few dollars from TAN books.

Thanks, Matt. Maybe we can do a book swap ;-)

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