The value of keeping things simple in a darkened world

By EDMUND ADAMUS, Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster 

We all know that line of scripture about God choosing what is foolish in the world’s eyes to shame the wise. Well, I think in these rapidly passing days of Advent towards Christmas (especially as we’re now technically in a state of war – albeit very remotely – in Syria), we need some simple, innocent, uncomplicated joy to remind us that, whilst we take the Faith seriously, we ought not to take ourselves too seriously.

So it’s good to take time out after a busy day’s work and at the weekends to just step off the treadmill of life and be simple, less complicated and, yes, even a bit silly.

By that, I mean having some playful time with one’s children or family members; or participating in something that has nothing to do with the commercialisation of Christmas nor getting ready for Christmas, but just enjoying it for the sake of it. Less TV and internet use would certainly help. Then there’s a spontaneous act of prayer, or cultivating the habit of saying “God bless” or “God love you” to someone who serves you in a restaurant, pub or shop. Will it get you a funny look? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you’ll be treated with indifference – it doesn’t matter. But what really matters is that you will have increased the presence of the Holy Spirit of God that little bit more in our darkened world.

Take St. Nicholas the Pilgrim for example. No, not St. Nicholas the early bishop who is the real “Santa Claus” – but St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, a Greek-born shepherd and contemplative who lived from 1075-1094. He’s a good example of what I’m talking about – this need we have in our world for fools for Christ.

It is said that his parents thought him unteachable because his mind wandered too much and even the monks of Sterios gave up on him, frowning on his idiosyncratic behaviour. He had an “annoying” habit of crying out suddenly, oblivious to all social cues. Kyrie eleison ‘Lord have mercy’ being his most frequent cry. He eventually moved to southern Italy where he begged and where one priest refused him Communion thinking him possessed despite the children having great affection for him. The Archbishop of Trani questioned him, for, though distracted, he seemed devout, but even then he abruptly ended the interview to run off and find the children whom he could hear playing nearby.

He died soon afterwards but the wealth of miracles experienced by those who prayed to him led to his canonisation in just four years in 1098.

“Unless you become like little children,” said Christ, “you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

So I can’t help thinking that this humble, somewhat bizarre little saint from long ago can teach us that there is something uniquely holy about being simple, keeping things simple, personifying humble simplicity and how the deepest, most powerful and much needed message of all, mercy, can be communicated in the most uncomplicated manner and with (perhaps even a little annoying) frequency.

With the great Jubilee Year of Mercy upon us – opened on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – this short and simple invocation might be just what we need on the journey through Advent. Less is more as they say and if it helps us all have a fuss-free festive season then that’s got to be a good thing.

This post was originally published in the Diocese of Westminster’s Office of Marriage and Family Life newsletter, as part of Edmund’s Friday FAST (Family Actions, Spirituality Thoughts)