A Confused Age Seeks Truth and Beauty, Simplicity and Clarity

I am not interested in the creativity of priests when they offer Mass, or the timidity of cardinals when they speak of Jesus Christ. I need the simplicity of truth and beauty.

Francisco de Zurbarán, “Saint Francis of Assisi,” 1659
Francisco de Zurbarán, “Saint Francis of Assisi,” 1659 (photo: Public Domain)

The first Maronite Catholic I have ever met was a quiet man in his fifties who put up with us young whippersnappers as we waded the strange waters of becoming Catholic in Turkey. We all went out for lunch during my first-ever Lent, and he asked for bread, olive oil and water for lunch. No one else found his order curious other than me. I did not know how austere Lenten diet was among Eastern Catholics. This man who refused to eat meat, eggs and dairy during Lent attended our weekly Scripture studies, but always kept silent. As we talked about the patterns in the Gospel of St. Matthew, he chopped tomatoes and onions in the kitchen for lunch. Not once did he miss Mass. Not once was he unkind. He yearned for a simple faith with a sturdy structure where he can pursue holiness without struggling with doubt at every turn.

Recently, I interviewed someone for my podcast who lacked simplicity and structure in his youth so much that he became Muslim just to find solid ground under his feet. Over the years, I often heard that Islam’s simplicity is so attractive that within its suffocating confines, many find rest. I did not understand this for a long time, since I enjoyed learning about lofty ideas and abstract notions. I never once complained about the complexity and the depth of Catholic theology. But that is because I had never truly learned to trust like children as St. Francis de Sales said:

True simplicity is like that of children, who think, speak, and act candidly and without craftiness. They believe whatever is told them; they have no care or thought for themselves, especially when with their parents; they cling to them, without going to seek their own satisfactions and consolations, which they take in good faith, and enjoy' with simplicity, without any curiosity about their causes and effects.

This lack of trust is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a unique problem. In fact, it started centuries ago, when thousands of Catholics were told that they could not trust the magisterium anymore. Sola Scriptura slowly evolved into a place where each Christian became his own magisterium. Consider the burden of making up your own theology as you read the Bible. Even the great Doctors of the Church did not come close exhausting the riches of the Scripture in a manner that is intended by its Divine Author. However, the main assumption of trusting one’s own interpretation of the Bible is that the Holy Spirit is not capable of upholding the faith, because sin is too powerful. God became smaller.

Then came the conclusion that faith and reason are not compatible. That was another level of trust lost. We declared that God was not capable of creating a world that could accommodate both natural science and theology. Now, the human person came to a place where he was to separate his soul and his mind, because he could not trust the desires of his soul. The Creator of the Universe became smaller.

The next stop in this runaway train was the loss of objective reality. “I think, therefore I am,” created a humanistic storm where man became the center of his own universe. The wisdom of making the sun the center of the solar system and making the Earth depend on its light for life was lost as humans relished the spotlight. The Son as the epitome of creation became smaller.

Modernity grabbed the torch with fervor as the love of self and relativism oozed into every aspect of our lives. Mistrust became our state of being by the beginning of the 20th century. Its inception into the Church’s liturgical life brought us one step closer to Gnosticism, where the connection between the visible and the invisible all but ignored. The Holy Eucharist became smaller.

Enter sexual revolution, widespread contraception and no-fault divorce, and we cannot even trust ourselves to make the right decision. Everything becomes so fleeting that we cannot even commit themselves to not having sex until marriage, let alone making the commitment of a lifetime. Marriage and religious life are simply unattainable, so we don’t even try. The man became smaller.

Instead of trying to build a Church that the faithful would trust, we are left wondering what books we should read or which podcasters we should listen to in order to find our way in the fog of modern life.

When the Church prescribed Lenten fasts or Friday abstinence from meat instead of letting every individual make up his own mind, she desired to create a community where simplicity of trust ruled. These were not intended as burdens for the faithful, but as guiding rails in a world where concupiscence wins when grace lacks. Remove the rails, the sheep scatter — and scattered we are.

It’s no wonder, then, that Islam looks attractive with its simple “do’s” and “don’ts.” In a world where there is no right or wrong, even within the Church, it is easy to get so lost that the ease of knowing when to pray, when to fast and what to eat becomes a refuge. The Quran claims the trust that has been lost. The Ummah becomes the community we ache for.

Even atheism and agnosticism seem easier to follow than the amorphous mess that is Christianity. The atheist can chase worldly happiness and pleasures without any constraints. His worldview is simple. The socialist proposes a straightforward, yet inevitably fallacious, solution to world’s problems: redistribution of wealth. The pro-abortion politician offers an uncomplicated way out of the responsibility of parenthood. We seek simplicity and guidance like a fallen leaf.

Once that loss of childlike trust reached the gates of the Church, the complexity of individualism and the cult of options made the yoke of Christ too heavy for the common man. Like my 8-year-old, I hunger for a world that makes sense. I yearn for a routine where I know what is safe and what is not. I crave a structure within which I can flourish. I am not interested in the creativity of a priest when he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or when he absolves my sins. I don’t need a Church entangled with politics, her cardinals afraid to speak the truth.

Nobody wants six different options when looking for the nearest gas station with an empty gas tank. Just show us the shortest route! Without easy directions we, the lost children of God, cannot find our footing in a culture where being a follower of Christ has become the ultimate foolishness. We look for a guiding hand in the fog as the storm rages, but no one is willing to lead and the air is full of useless soundbites about tolerance and equality. We will all equally fall off the precipice, if someone does not guide us away.

For a stronger, more faithful and more vibrant Church, we need the simplicity of truth and beauty.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is Losing ‘its Inner Compass’

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”