Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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