The Power of Simplicity and Authenticity

Why am I a Christian today? Why am I a Catholic today? It is because of the witness of authenticity. Put very simply–I am a Christian today because of the lived witness of my parents and I am a Catholic today because of the lived witness of two remarkable women–a mother and daughter.

I am a Christian today because my father and mother lived out their Christian faith. They did so with honesty, integrity, compassion, generosity, sincerity and love. Of course they were not perfect, but they were consistent. They acted on their faith without showing off–with trust and open-ness of heart and home. I am a Catholic today because of a similar witness of a woman called June Reynolds and her daughter–a Poor Clare nun named Sister Mary Lucy. They exhibited a similar simplicity, honesty, good humor, intelligence and reality.

These four people were real and their lives of faith were real.

I see what Pope Francis wants and I want it too. He realizes that, to the outside observer, the Catholic faith has become encrusted with unintelligible ceremonies and traditions. He realizes that most people in the world are actually greatly attracted to the simple carpenter of Nazareth and the simple friar from Assisi. He realizes that the simple, authentic gospel of Jesus Christ can still take the world by storm. He realizes that the simple gospel of Jesus Christ is a Way, a Truth and a Life that still overturns the world and brings light and love and life to the darkest places. He realizes that this simple, authenticity is what wins the arguments and converts the world. This is why he is passionate about it.

This does not mean that he is opposed to beauty. It does not mean that he wishes to eliminate all the great traditions of the Catholic Church. It does not mean that he wishes to abolish the Latin Mass or persecute traditionalists. It may be that some liberals will hi-jack his  message for their cause, but this is a risk he is willing to take.

Will he be a proponent of Vatican II? Yes, but let’s consider the heart of the reasoning behind the second Vatican Council: it may have been hi jacked and of course certain abuses have swept into the church, but the main aim of the Second Vatican Council was to proclaim the gospel to the needy in a fresh way–not to change the timeless message, but to re-express it for modern man. Was there a risk involved in this proposal? Yes, a great risk, but what is the Christian faith anyway except a constant adventure of risk–a constant call on the stormy night to step out of the boat and walk on the waves.

Simply changing the curia or getting rid of corruption and disciplining bad priests will not be enough. The heart of the reform and renewal in the church will be to live out our lives in a new simplicity–to live in our lives the authentic and simple gospel in a radiant and powerful way. This is true reform, for true reform is another name for conversion, and if we were truly converted day after day, then we the whole church will be truly reformed.

Part of this will be a renewal of  liturgy–not the destruction of liturgy. Let’s be clear–a liturgy is beautiful because of the beauty of our faith. If you have Palestrina and beautifully trained servers and the most splendid high Mass but have no love it is nothing worth. It’s not even a beautiful liturgy. It’s a beautiful act. Likewise, if you have a dumbed down, honkey tonk liturgy without love it is just entertainment.

Simplicity and authenticity will bring a renewal to the liturgy from within–from the beauty of the faith and sacrifice of the priests and the people. I speak from experience. I have worshipped God with a Monteverdi Mass in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. I have worshipped with the world’s finest choir at Kings College in Cambridge. I have worshipped in monastic austerity at Mont St Michel, Quarr Abbey and many other beautiful monasteries. But I have also worshipped with simplicity and authenticity in a village church in El Salvador in the heat and sweat and smell of poverty. I have worshipped at Catholic Charismatic Conferences and at big circus tent AmChurch churches and on a little folding table at summer camp with kids in shorts and T-shirts.

In each case it was the simplicity and authenticity of love in the hearts of the faithful which made the difference. That’s what I care about, and if it can be done with mozzettas and red shoes and big miters and splendiferousness, I like that too, but I don’t mind if they’re absent as long as the simplicity, honesty and authentic love of Christ and his people is there.


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  • Arnobius of Sicca

    Good reflection Father. With all the people who are concerned about unusual things, this helps remind us to consider the Pope’s intent and not how it might be misinterpreted.

  • David Naas

    Good observations.
    In reading certain blogs on the internet, it seems that the Rads and Trads are doing their best to damn the Holy Father with faint praise. This sad modern world has become so politicized, even the Church is seen as a subordinate entity to the Great God Politics. The Church is not Left nor Right, it is not Liberal nor Conservative (Traditional). It is The Church. Were it an anarchy, everybody would run about doing their own thing, and claiming Divine sanction for their silliness. As that great atheist philosopher, Penn Jillete noted (demolishing Piers Morgan), The Church is not supposed wo be responsive to popular fads and fashions, it is supposed to set standards.
    And, if one is Catholic, one is supposed (really, supposed) to believe that God’s instructions come through the Pope. (I find it amusing to watch certain people step on their tongues, trying to criticize Pope Francis without appearing to be sedevacantists or “liberals”.) Here is a clue — the more they use the personal pronoun, the more likely they are to be wrong — the “I”s do NOT have it.
    Keep up the good work, padre.

  • Iris Celeste

    I wanted to put in another blog on the Patheos Catholic portal, where someone commented, “how about the Muslims?” in reference to the Holy Father washing the feet of Muslims. “The Gospel is for everyone, including Muslims!” But I figured the individual was just not thinking enough at this time an no attempt at trying to reason was going to help…

  • JB

    Another thought re simplicity – I’m not sure if it fits exactly with what you’ve written, Father Longenecker, but I’m certain it does not disagree.

    Well, around 30 years ago, while visiting a friend’s house, I read a book (no not the only one I’ve ever read!) on his bookshelves. I don’t remember the title, but it was some kind of memoire of an American Catholic, of when he went to parochial school in the mid-2oth century.

    Anyway, just one special little part of that book has always stuck with me. The author tells how he and his classmates – around 12 years old or so – were being instructed by their Priest (perhaps for Confirmation? Or something like that) – and when the Priest mentioned how Judas betrayed Jesus, one boy said angrily and spontaneously, about Judas: “That son of a bitch!”…

    …and then the Priest said, “Thank you, for you act of faith.”

  • vox borealis

    He realizes that, to the outside observer, the Catholic faith has become encrusted with unintelligible ceremonies and traditions.

    I just don’t get it. For 50 or 60 years the Church has been shedding ceremonies and traditions left and right. Then we get one pope who brings bac a couple of old mitres and a different processional cross (ironically, one much simpler than his predecessors), an suddenly the Church is too encrusted with traditions and ceremonies. Seriously? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

    Look, to the outside world the Church will ALWAYS be accused of obscuring the “real” message of Christianity, the simplicity of the Gospels, the homey mission of the “authentic” Jesus with accretions and ceremonies and traditions. It’s been going on since the Reformation–and earlier, really—and it’s still going on. Effectively agreeing with the critics rather than re-affirming the Church in all Her glory is, I think, a poor response.

    Now, about me. I am not Catholic because of simplicity. Quite the opposite, I am Catholic because I recognized the historical claim of the Church’s authority as valid, and I am drawn to the complexity and nuance of Catholic theology, tradition, and worship.

  • vox borealis

    The Church is not supposed wo be responsive to popular fads and fashions, it is supposed to set standards.

    But wait, isn’t Fr. Longnecker essentially arguing that the Church is supposed to respond to popular fads and fashions? He wrote: “[Francis] realizes that, to the outside observer, the Catholic faith has become encrusted with unintelligible ceremonies and traditions.” So we are to interpret the Pope’s actions, according to this post, as basically a response to the fashion of the day? Maybe I have misunderstood.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    You have misunderstood. In every age the church adapts how she communicates the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ according to the needs of the age. We do not change the doctrines and teachings of the church according to the fashions, but we do emphasize certain teachings of the gospel according to society’s need. We also adapt our methods of preaching the timeless gospel for every age. A change of emphasis and a change of method does not constitute a change of message. Furthermore, the Catholic Church and Catholic worship is very different in different cultures and in different ages. It is still the Mass, but the way it is celebrated and the local customs and devotions vary enormously.

  • Ryan O’Shea

    I would add further that St. Paul’s exhortation regarding the weak of faith was a stern instruction to those strong in faith not to stand on rights or propriety, but rather to defer to the weak so as not to destroy their faith. He also became all things to all men to make more effective his witness, knowing nothing among men but Christ and him crucified. There are many who insist on stressing the importance and propriety and symoblic meaning of, well, everything. But not everyone knows. They should, but they don’t, and we are not merely encouraged, but rather commanded, to defer to them in charity. (Romans 14:1-15:6; 1Corinthians 8; 1Corinthians 9, esp. 19-23, 1Corinthians 2:2)

  • vox borealis

    OK, yes, I see what you are saying. But at the same time, the simple message of the Gospel is not so simple when applied in real life, and that is how and why doctrines develop (hence the thickness of the Catechism). So too Catholic theology is fairly complex and sophisticated. Lastly, I guess I subscribe to the old axiom of lex orandi, lex credendi—our prayer and worship should reflect our belief and vice-versa. Beautiful and intricate worship reflects, in my mind, the beauty and intricacies of the Catholic faith. To strip worship down to the bare essentials, while not strictly “wrong,” is a dangerous path because it will tend, I think, to undermine theological richness.

  • Virginia

    That’s nica, Father. Just be careful you don’t fall into my errors. I strive for a simple life, too, but then, I find myself rejecting gifts and generosity of other people. I realize I was arrogant in my simplicity and not appreciative of God’s blessings. I want a monopoly of goodness. Then, there is also my tendency of using it as a safe harbor- no one can accuse me of materialism, elitist, attention seeking, self-centeredness or power-hungry. It doesn’t even show how self-willed and self-righteous I am. Now, I am just striving for authenticity and faithfulness in whatever form.

  • LongIslandMichael

    Thank you Father for a wonderful and beautiful reflection. If I a may be honest the only word I would change in your reflection is “reform” and use the word “renewal.” I think that is a more accurate description of what needs to take place. Reform is needed is the Curia but a new spiritual renewal within the Church and the faithful is what is needed. Thanks again for this wonderful reflection.

  • David Zelenka

    Amen, Fr. L.

  • Marye

    Very well put, thank you. The dissension amongst faithful Catholics that has accompanied the election of Pope Francis has deeply troubled me–I’ve been more bothered by the conflict itself, rather than any of the specific issues–so it is good to have some perspective restored. Especially as we approach that most womderful of seasons, Easter.

  • Nathan

    To me the only reason to be Catholic is because Catholicism is true. Historical claims to authority, complex theology, traditional, and worship won’t, ultimately, cut it. Neither will simplicity. If Catholicism is true, everyone should be Catholic (salus extra ecclesia non est), if it isn’t true, no one should be.

  • David Zelenka

    Watch this video. And you’ll see why the Church needs to be reminded who she is: “Remind Me Who I Am.” (If you don’t like it, just watch the first part, then fast-forward toward the end.)

    In the eyes of the Lord, any liturgical framework is ugly when it is self-serving and love is absent. Likewise, all liturgy is beautiful when it is directed towards the Lord and we love him AND others through it.

  • Bill

    Well said Vox Borealis.

  • FW Ken

    Iris Celeste -

    I’ve put some comments out there about the washing Islam feet, but I hope you are not thinking of one of my comments. I think it was a magnificent witness to the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ for all humanity. I wish people would quit obsessing on the female feet and consider the ramifications of telling the Muslim world that Jesus loves them, too.

  • Joboww Johnson

    Thank you for this post Father, a great read on such a wonderful night!

  • Bob

    Great video. Thanks. Brought a smile and made me think. Happy Easter.

  • Paul Rodden

    The Church survived when it was twelve men, all with a price on their head.

  • kidonhayca

    Words of wisdom AND EXPERIENCE. I am a Christian, IN SPITE OF AGNOSTIC PARENTS, and like Father, I am Catholic because of 2 dear friends. During this week of great contemplation, I was reminded of the Pharisees and their demand to follow the laws. Our church has become something of a “law abider” or be damned – Do this, don’t do that. But the ones that DO are the ones that are in need of that “SOMETHING SPECIAL.” We are nothing like the church in the time of our Lord and I believe He is not pleased.

  • Lank

    Beauty does not mean turning our churches into “congregational worship halls” or places resembling “nursing homes” with their “grandmotherly” pink and muted violet pastels. The transcendental of beauty as an emanation from and an attribute of God represents the church in her full glory. Everything from the chemicals used to clean the floors, to the candles, to the statues, to the stained glass windows, all point us to the liturgy and the glory of God in the Eucharist. If you make these churches look like your grandmother’s living room with all of the kitch, and remove all of the sacred objects and sacramentals, then you will reap what you sow — a disinterested populace and several lost generations. When you introduce people to the Divine Office, Sacred Music, and Tradition, they always say the same thing: “How come I never knew about this after 10-30 years of attending church? The answer is clear — stop treating people like children and making them think the mass is all about them — and start showing them that the sacred liturgy and churches are for one purpose — glorifying God!

  • Lank

    Also, I highly recommend reading Martin Mosebach’s “The Heresy of Formlessness” as a primer to understanding the true purpose of liturgy. Mosebach left the church and returned decades later and stated he no longer recognized the church of his early adult years and explains in painstaking detail how the congregationalists have diminished and deconstructed our churches piece by piece so that all we are left with in many of our churches is a liturgy that does not speak to God’s full glory.

  • Lank

    Censorship is what is killing the New Evangelization. Reap what you sow.

  • K C Thomas

    Father, you say that Pope Francis realizes that, to the outside observer, the Catholic faith has become encrusted with unintelligible ceremonies and traditions. He realizes that most people in the world are actually greatly attracted to the simple carpenter of Nazareth and the simple friar from Assisi. He realizes that the simple, authentic gospel of Jesus Christ can still take the world by storm. He realizes that the simple gospel of Jesus Christ is a Way, a Truth and a Life that still overturns the world and brings light and love and life to the darkest places. The Holy Father has manifested how he can live a simple life and think high planning to follow Jesus in word and deed. If our hierarchies and parishes all over the world follow this ideal, the majority of the believers will understand Jesus and try to follow him. Those who have not heard of Jesus will gather to listen the word of God. Luxuries and wasteful expenses have to be curtialed; in depth study in Bible and Church teachings has to be encouraged and thus the results of the New Evangelization can be reaped. The Church and the people of the Church can glorify God meaningfully , loving God and neighbours.