Wednesday 10 May 2023

Strength in Simplicity - Emmanuel De Gibergues - The Busy Catholic's Guide to Growing Closer to God

Strength in Simplicity: 
The Busy Catholic's Guide to Growing Closer to God
Emmanuel De Gibergues
ISBN 9781622822188

I picked this up to read as part of Father Mark Goring’s Saint Mark’s School of Reading. Sophia Institute Press had an earlier edition of this volume published in 2000 called: Keep it Simple: The Busy Catholic's Guide to Growing Closer to God, and we are informed that this is an abridged and revised version of Simplicity According to the Gospel published in 1914. The original edition has both the Nihil Obstat and the Censor Deputatus Imprimatur from June of 1914. But back to the edition at hand. The description of this volume states:

“Essential (and easy) reading for busy Catholics, Strength in Simplicity shows you how to grow closer to God in the things you already do every day, without burdening you with numerous devotions or complicated methods.

Author Emmanuel de Gibergues explores the virtue of simplicity — that is, having the single intention of pleasing God in all that you do. You'll learn what a difference simplicity can make for you — as it did for our Lord and our Lady. You'll come to recognize the signs of true simplicity and find out how to practice simplicity toward God and in your life's activities. Even better, you'll find the secrets of practicing simplicity within yourself — a deceptively difficult spiritual discipline that de Gibergues makes easy here.

As this book helps you bring the calming and transforming virtue of simplicity into every part of your life, you'll become better able to direct all things to God and learn new ways to be attentive to His presence in your life. Don't rush through life without this saving message!”

And that Strength in Simplicity reveals to you:

  • True simplicity: how it isn’t willful ignorance or simple-mindedness.
  • Your intentions: are they pure? Why this could be the most important question you’ll ever answer.
  • Two advantages of simplicity: what you’ll gain by clearing your life of complications.
  • How simplicity can make you generous, courageous, and more loving.
  • Failure: your attitude toward it may be crippling your spiritual life. Find out how.
  • The most dreaded enemy of your soul’s progress: is it keeping you from deepening your happiness and love for God?
  • Two indispensable qualities for beginners in the spiritual life: do you have them?
  • And much more to help you simplify your life and come closer to God!

I highlighted numerous passages while reading this volume, some of them are:

“God is, in effect, the sole veritable end, the last end, of man. If man sees only God, seeks only God, and attaches himself only to God; if he voluntarily directs his thoughts, his words, his acts, and his whole life toward God; if, in some sort, he passes amid creatures without pausing, if he fails to find in them his repose as in an end, but desires to rest only in God — then he is in the way of truth and order; he is righteous and holy, because he is perfectly simple. The catechism expresses the same idea in saying, “Man is created to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him, and thus to reach eternal life.””

“The eye signifies the intention, for, just as the eye directs our steps, so does the intention guide the movements of our soul. The intention is the eye of our soul. If our soul looks toward God, if it freely directs toward Him our thoughts, words, and actions, then all that we do, all that we say, and all that we think becomes by this very fact supernatural and good. The Gospel expresses this in saying, “Thy whole body shall be lightsome.””

“Simplicity asks that we exclude from our intentions all that would be contrary to the divine will and, above all, incompatible with the possession of God, who is our last end — in a word, all that theology calls sin, mortal or venial.”

“If we decide to act in all things for God, if we do not retract this first determination, if it has any influence whatsoever upon our actions, although we may not be actually conscious of it, we are on the right road; we approach our last end; we work for God; we already possess, in a certain degree at least, simplicity and purity of intention.”

“Finally, you can act directly for God. Of all intentions, this is obviously the most perfect. Moreover, this intention may be formulated in two fashions.”

“You can, in the first place, purpose to please God, and so to merit His favors and benefits. Indeed, to act thus is to already love God, to love Him greatly and above all else.”

“Thus, there are degrees in simplicity and purity of intention, as there are degrees in love. As the intention is purer and more present — that is to say, as it turns directly and vigorously toward God, freeing itself from all other motives — the love becomes purer and more perfect, and the act accomplished becomes holier and more meritorious. Perfect simplicity, perfect purity of intention, therefore, constitutes in effect the purest and most perfect love.”

“We must refer all to God and to His glory, and not to our own. If we seek our own glory and not that of God, even good becomes evil in God’s sight. St. Vincent de Paul23 expresses this in the following words: “It would be better to be cast, bound hand and foot, upon red-hot coals, than to do a good work from vanity.””

“On the contrary, by means of simplicity, all becomes clear, all is transformed, all becomes profitable and good, and all is pleasing in God’s sight.”

“Finally, the intention has of itself such a value in the eyes of God that the desire alone, if sincere and true, is accounted as the act. Suppose I have the firm intention to carry out a work of charity, but am prevented by circumstances beyond my control; if it had depended upon me, I would have accomplished it. My intention before God has the same value as the work itself. Hence the extreme importance in the spiritual life of holy desires, and the unthinkable riches to which they can lead.”

“The majority of your faults come from a lack of simplicity. When you are given over to envy and jealousy, when you are agitated, tortured, sometimes by violent desires or human affections of too absorbing a nature, you are the reverse of simple, for you look only to the creature, and the simple soul sees only God.”

“You should forever exclaim with St. Bernard, “May I love Thee, Lord, for Thyself alone! Not for the happiness of loving Thee, but solely to do Thy good pleasure, and to content Thy heart!””

“That world which Jesus Christ condemns, saying that it is “altogether evil,” and for which He “could not pray,” 47 is diametrically opposed to simplicity. Every eccentricity, defect, and hypocrisy are to be found in it.”

“Yes, simplicity elevates the most material duties of life. The simple soul understands that “the Word became flesh only that the flesh might in turn become the Word.” Simplicity has the marvelous power of making dust divine.”

“Be simple, therefore, in making God your aim, tending toward Him as your last end, and making Him the object of all your activities. Be simple in leaning upon God as a means. Be simple so that you may be humble, so that you may learn to acknowledge that of yourself you can do nothing and that, left to your own resources, you would find it impossible to do any good thing, as our Lord declares, “Without me you can do nothing.””

“Simplicity ennobles all things, directs all, and makes use of all for the glory of God.”

“First, order your life in general, your occupations taken as a whole, and your manner of action, in such a way as to make sure that all you may do will be in accordance with the will of God.”

“You should choose a rule of life in the spirit of obedience and with the approval of a prudent director. It should be sufficiently broad and yielding to fit the varying demands of your condition and to lend itself to the innumerable unforeseen circumstances that will constantly arise to change your plans, yet sufficiently firm and precise to exclude capriciousness and the self-will ever so ready to escape from all order and duty. Such a rule is the first condition and the indispensable means to lead you to purity of intention and, from there, to simplicity.”

“It is told of a pious hermit that he never began an action without pausing to direct his glance toward Heaven, and when asked the reason for this, he replied, “The better to make sure of my aim.” As the sportsman takes aim for a moment before shooting, the more surely to reach his mark, so the hermit aimed at God so that he might be more certain to reach Him.”

“A last means of acquiring simplicity — and the best — is the practice of the presence of God. It is of such importance that I must lay great stress upon it. As simplicity is the foundation of perfection, so the sense of the presence of God is the foundation of simplicity. Simplicity, in fact, consists in acting for God; it is therefore plain that before all you must think of God, and this you will never do better than if you are always conscious of His presence.”

“The practice of the presence of God is thus a sovereign remedy against sin, because it makes all guilty intentions impossible. Beneath the eye of God, the heart is purified; all unworthy sentiments become unbearable; all that is contrary to simplicity is destroyed and, as one might say, “consumed by the divine fire.””

“But with God, the more you know Him, the more you will think of Him, and the more you will reflect on the remembrance of His graces and His love, His greatness and His favors; the more, also, you will be drawn toward Him by a gentle, irresistible power.”

“It is for you to make amends by quietly protesting and resisting as a Christian may. It is for you to give your heart to Jesus all the more generously as the world gives Him less, and to receive Him with all the more love in proportion as others drive Him away with a more intense hatred.”

“It is because God loves your soul that He wills to fashion it Himself. And if He wills to ennoble and beautify it, if He desires to bless it and overwhelm it with favors, He will send you vexatious disappointments and failures, opposition and mortifications, so that you may not attach yourself to creatures, but solely to Him. He will cause you to fail where you hoped to succeed, and He will use means unthought of by you to ensure final success. He will contrive to show you your own nothingness, to prove to you that in the work of your sanctification, all that is lasting will be done by Him alone.”

“In order to attain to simplicity and grow therein each day, we must let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit; we must cooperate with Him and work with Him to the same end — give ourselves up to Him, in fact, without reserve and forever.”

“The whole progress of simplicity will finally depend upon the victorious occupation of our heart by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit’s work of predilection — we may say His only work — inasmuch as it is the most important and essential, and that all the rest depends upon it.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for the wisdom contained within this small volume. This little volume was an excellent read. And reading it with Father Mark’s Saint Mark’s School of Reading was even better. Every Monday he released a video looking and 2 or three chapters. I fell a little behind because of vacation and family time. But reading the volume slowly over the better part of a month was wonderful. 

As an aside this is not the first time I have nearly been caught by a book when Sophia Institute has published it under different titles, fortunately in this case the subtitles were identical. In the past a couple of times I have bought a variant on a book thinking it were a different volume on the same topic. There is no indication who the original translator was, nor who revised and abbreviated the volume.

This was an excellent read. It is a volume I can easily recommend.  It is a volume that any Catholic would benefit from reading! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Emmanuel De Gibergues:
Keep it Simple
Holy Communion

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