Upon learning that I would be reflecting on the Salesian virtue of simplicity on Diversity Day, I recognized an enormous irony in the timing of my talk; the topics we explore today are undoubtedly, and incomprehensibly, complex.
As I began to consider the current state of our noisy, tumultuous, and rapidly-changing 21st century world, I became increasingly discouraged in my attempt to find examples of simplicity amidst the chaos of our present society.
I do not mean to be a cynic or a pessimist when I express these concerns of mine; most days, if I look hard enough, I can identify a thousand different reminders of human courage and compassion and selflessness that exist all around me.
And yet, as I’ve grown in age and knowledge and progressed through my four years of high school, I’ve become more informed on, and therefore more unsettled about, the countless challenges we currently face on both national and global levels.
From the human rights violations brought on by by poverty, war, and the abuse of power, to both small and large forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia, each of these issues threatens the inherent human dignity that our faith tradition believes to exist within each individual.
St. Jane de Chantal reminds us that “To be faithful, we must live simply. Then being free from attachments, we are possessed by nothing.” Except, I thought to myself, easy for her to say! As I pictured her writing these words four centuries ago, I became somewhat resentful at the thought of her staring through the window of her quiet Annecy convent, holding a quill pen and gazing at a lush, green hillside dotted with sheep and colorful flowers. Surely, I thought, this cute little tidbit of wisdom was entirely inapplicable to the wild world we now live in.
However, I could not ignore how St. Jane’s reflections on simplicity kept drawing me back to my favorite Mother Teresa quote: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Within the words of each of these women, there lies an underlying theme of leaving behind doubt and prejudice and simply caring for others; of simply loving.
I am not so naive as to think that our holding hands around a bonfire and singing a few spirited rounds of Kumbaya will suddenly solve the Syrian refugee crisis or end genocide in South Sudan. As Catholics, however, we cannot overlook the fact that our religion - in its simplest form - is rooted in a culture of pure and radical love.
At my church, our pastor, Fr. Tim, often reminds us that Jesus did not tell us to “like” our neighbor, or to “tolerate” our neighbor. Instead, he told us to love our neighbor. To deeply, actually, actively care about each person we encounter.
In considering the social justice issues we explore on Diversity Day, I do not think that practicing this idea of simple love is as warm and fuzzy as it initially seems. In fact, I think it is often quite challenging, and incredibly countercultural.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly chose to spend time with those who were marginalized from the mainstream society of 1st century Israel. Preaching to the sick, the poor, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the widows and the prostitutes, his love did not discriminate based on ability level, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Instead, he freed himself from the temptation of judgement and surrendered to treating each of these highly stigmatized groups with self-giving love.
In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the actions that his followers should strive to emulate: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” He then says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Today, in light of the workshops you’ve attended, I invite you to consider how Jesus might rewrite these simple definitions of love if he was to live in the United States in 2018. Would he say, “For I was an immigrant or a refugee, fleeing a place of oppression and desolation, and you embraced me into your community; I was a victim of sexual assault or harassment, and you worked to eradicate rape culture; I was a target of senseless gun violence, and you advocated to protect innocent lives; I was bullied because of my sexual orientation or gender identity, and you were my ally and friend.”
This straightforward yet extraordinary openness to the value of each human life is the foundation upon which our faith is built. I believe that abandoning our preexisting judgements of others is what truly frees our hearts, allowing us to live simply.