In the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans which he probably wrote from Corinth, Paul castigates those who have failed to recognize God in creation. They instead have gone off to worship idols and wallow in their sin. Their salvation is in the Gospel—Christ crucified like a common criminal and resurrected to new life.
People are sometimes unaware that, besides The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton published another book in 1948—The Spirit of Simplicity: Characteristic of the Cistercian Order. Scholars agree that Merton was the author. For him, in his early experience of Cistercian monasticism, simplicity was quite simple. Summing up the teaching of St. Bernard and the Little Exordium, Merton says:
[S]implicity consisted in getting rid of everything that did not help the monk arrive at union with God by the shortest possible way.
And the shortest possible way to arrive at union with God, who is Love, is by loving Him, in himself, and in our breather. (iii)
Not to simplify is to wallow in sinfulness while adoring our idols of prestige, power and possessions.
Merton has cut to the chase. Love God and love one another and love the creation which reveals the glory of God. Merton knows that the Church—as an institution—does not get the concept of simplicity. Time and time again all kinds of stuff—the idols of patriarchy—gets in the way of the essence of the Gospel. The latest stuff to get in the way is the decision by the omnipotent Diocese of Phoenix to limit the opportunity for Catholics to receive under both species—bread and wine. They abandon Vatican II renewal for Tridentine stuff. Having communion under both species puts—God forbid—too many lay people in the sanctuary distributing communion. But all this is ecclesiastical Mickey Mouse compared with the real gut issues of simplicity. These distractions can cause us to overlook the real issues in the culture of death.
John Dear, in his latest book—Lazarus, Come Forth: How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Lie of Peace—nails simplicity for the 21st century Christian. Jesus in calling Lazarus forth from the culture of death is calling us forth from death to new life. It is very simple. Jesus calls us to the simplicity of eschewing the values of empire for the values of the Kin-dom—peace, justice, mercy, compassion, and love over greed, competition, weapons making, enslavement, and domination.
It is not rocket science. Dear, like Paul before him, is calling us forth from the idols we have substituted for the worship of the one true God revealed in creation and in the scriptures. Speaking of followers of Jesus, Dear says:
Not only are we to reorder our lives to peaceableness and mindfulness, we’re summoned to go farther and challenge our culture of war [greed, armaments, nuclear stockpiles, empire, consumerism, exploitation]—this for the liberation of everyone everywhere. We too [Like Jesus going to Lazarus.] are summoned to undertake that journey of peace and nonviolence on behalf of humanity.” Dear is echoing Merton who said that “it is the duty of every Christian to work for the abolition of war.”
Like Jesus, we need not fear the culture of death. We are blessed with everlasting, resurrected life now. We have the power to love God, one another and all of creation:
. . . we’re free today to withdraw our cooperation from war-making, consumerism, scapegoating, weapons development, every pursuit and aspiration that makes our culture more deadly—what I have been calling the culture of death.
Note that Pope John Paul II, chief dismantler along with Ratzinger of Vatican II, coined the term “culture of death” which was immediately co-opted by politicians, George Bush included, to mean only abortion and euthanasia. Dear’s definition of the culture of death includes the panoply of all the life and death issues he mentions above. The power brokers don’t want to talk about war and weapons and exploitation of the resources of others.
After I posted this, I came across Michael Casey’s thoughts on simplicity. This Australian Cistercian is recognized by Brother Patrick Hart, Merton’s secretary, as the best spiritual writer of our day, after Merton of course. Casey’s writes in The Road to Eternal Life, his commentary on the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict:
Such integrity [the congruence between belief and actions] was often described in the monastic tradition by the expression taken from the Beatitudes: “purity of heart.” This means a heart that is free of interior conflicts, a will that is single, undivided and constant. In fact the whole ascetical struggle, as foreseen by St. Benedict, was concerned with growth in this interior simplicity, not so much through rigorous discipline as sustained by contact with the God of simplicity—the one God who imparts to all who come close the qualities of unity, harmony, peace (22, emphasis added).
Joining the chorus with Paul, Merton, John Dear, and Michael Casey, let us chant with Thoreau, “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” “Love God, love one another [even your enemies] and love all of creation. Ah, the sweet smell of simplicity!