Are You Living a Minimalistic Catholic Life?

‘All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.’ (Lumen Gentium 40)

Jan Adam Kruseman, “The Wise and the Foolish Virgin,” 1848, Jan Cunen Museum, Oss, The Netherlands
Jan Adam Kruseman, “The Wise and the Foolish Virgin,” 1848, Jan Cunen Museum, Oss, The Netherlands (photo: Public Domain)

Msgr. William Blacet died at the age of 98 in 2020, having been a priest for more than 70 years in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. He baptized several of my nieces and nephews. He was known to hear anyone’s confession, spending hours in the confessional before and after every daily Mass. He never wrote down his homilies because they could be taken out of context. Monsignor refused to retire as a priest. He wanted to die while serving Christ, becoming an Alter Christus. Like Pope St. John Paul II, Monsignor poured himself out drop by drop to the very end. 

Monsignor never regarded the priesthood as a mere job. He was committed to the salvation of souls, especially promoting Divine Mercy. In fact, following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, his parish began reciting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy after every Mass, a custom that continues to this day. Monsignor would never do the bare minimum — he was always maximizing every moment for God’s glory, and he spent hours each day before the Blessed Sacrament, drawing closer to Jesus Christ.

The notion of minimalism has become increasingly popular in recent years. But to fully understand it, it is important to understand its origins and development. 

The term “minimalism” became associated with the art movement following World War II. Minimalism involved stripping everything to its essentials, which passed over to many facets of society: architecture, clothing, literature, music, cooking and so on. Minimalism was characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity. 

Long before minimalism became trendy it was The Rule of St. Benedict that helped lay the foundation:

When receiving new clothes let them always at the same time return the old to be put away in the wardrobe for the poor; for it suffices a monk to have two tunics and two cowls, two instead of one, to provide for having to wash them and for nightwear; for anything in excess of this ought to be taken away as superfluous. And similarly, shoes and anything else that is old let them give back when they receive new ones.

Before St. Benedict, it was Our Lord himself who told his apostles, “Take nothing for your journey; neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats” (Luke 9:3). And it was St. Paul who reminded us, “For we brought nothing into this world: and certainly we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7).

From a material aspect, minimalism can help souls practice detachment. Do you really need three vehicles, or will two suffice? Do you, dear bishop, really need a mansion for your rectory or would it be better to sell that palace and restore your once glorious cathedral to a house worthy of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?

At the same time, many beautiful Catholic churches have been stripped of their beauty, not necessarily in the name of minimalism (though many Trappist monasteries have been) but through the misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council.  There’s a stark contrast between the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky and its whitewashed walls, and the Notre Dame-Basilica in Montreal and its towering columns and blue ceilings. If minimalist architecture is meant to detach us from this life, then at least it could point us to Heaven. Moreover, stripping our Catholic Churches of statues and the altar rails and even her Liturgy itself is essentially reducing her to Protestantism, just like removing Christ from the Cross. 

Even worse, this minimalistic behavior has spilled over to our pursuit of holiness. The Protestant notion of “once saved, always saved” has led many Catholics to see the five precepts of the Church as the summit of perfection, rather than as the bare minimum. For many, our Faith has been reduced to these five requirements: attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and resting from service work; confessing our sins at least once a year; receiving Holy Communion during the Easter Season; observing the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence and helping to provide for the Church’s needs.

These five precepts are necessary, but they do not challenge us to become saints. It was not until recently that I realized I too was embracing a somewhat minimalistic spirituality after recalling the words of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady once told St. Francisco that he needed to pray many Rosaries to reach Heaven. Francisco was just shy of his 9th birthday when Our Lady first appeared to him, St. Jacinta, and Lúcia. Here is a boy who likely never committed a mortal sin and Our Lady is saying he must pray many Rosaries to see the Beatific Vision.

How often are we hard-pressed to say one Rosary, we who have far greater sins than St. Francisco? We struggle to pray one Rosary and then perhaps our spouse or friends ask us to say another one. But we respond, “I already said one.” Or, I went to Mass on Sunday, so why should I attend a weekday Mass?  Or the sad reality that many Catholics do not engage in daily spiritual reading. Many Catholics are more familiar with Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling than St. Augustine’s Confessions or St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises

We cannot save ourselves by subscribing to Pelagianism (a fifth-century heresy) and denying original sin, as if we could ever reach Heaven by our own efforts. We need God’s grace to develop prudence in everything, especially our spiritual life. Most lay people are not called to pray and fast like St. Francis of Assisi. 

Sister Lúcia once said, “Those who give up saying the Rosary and who do not go to daily Mass have nothing to sustain them, and so end up losing themselves in the materialism of earthly life.” If our minimalist lifestyle does not lead to a maximized spirituality, then we have been led astray. Our Lord and Our Lady call us to the heights of perfection, which is the love of God and the love of neighbor.

For many, striving for the perfection of charity involves attending daily Mass, but for everyone, it must include daily mental prayer. The saints are clear that without daily mental prayer, we cannot love as God does, nor can we overcome sin. And without ongoing conversion and penance (frequent confession), we could end up in hell.  Yes, the only real transformation is from a life of sin to a life of grace made possible by transubstantiation. 

Unlike many parishes that offer the sacrament of Penance only on Saturday afternoons for one hour (one of the worst times for a family due to yardwork, chores and sports), Monsignor Blacet made the sacrament available every day. Monsignor knew that the path to hell is wide and that a minimalistic spirituality could lead us there. On the other hand, the path to Heaven is narrow, and we won’t reach it by doing the minimum. That is why the saints and holy shepherds like Monsignor Blacet lived entirely for God through a life of daily mental prayer including the Rosary, daily spiritual reading, frequent reception of the sacraments, a life of mortification and works of charity. A true shepherd must lead his sheep to the verdant pastures of Heaven by his holy example and generous gift of time, laying his life down daily in the confessional. 

Doing more for God out of love is the key, not doing more just for the sake of doing more. Those who have the closest union with God on earth will have the closest union with him forever. In the words of Maximus in Gladiator: “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”