The Simplest Devotions
You could be forgiven for thinking that in order to be Catholic, a degree in theology is necessary and a doctorate is the ideal. I see a lot of people who proudly display their academic and intellectual credentials when describing themselves online, along with various acronyms after their names which attest to their affiliation with religious orders of one sort or another. I’m delighted at their prowess, of course, and very happy they have attained something that means so much to them. But I find that they generally don’t have a great deal to say to me.
Perhaps this is mainly because I am entirely non-academic and have not the first idea about theology and similar high-brow pursuits. Now, I see that there is a need for them, of course. We need the theologians to help us to clarify what it is we believe and why we do so, and to assist us in staying on the right path all the while.
I smile wryly when I read the Gospel accounts of the Lord calling His apostles – some as they mended nets, others after a life collecting taxes, and almost always as they were doing the more mundane things of life. And yet despite this astounding ordinariness, it was through these men that the faith went out through the world. Now, the writings they left behind for us undoubtedly founded a path of theology which others would later examine and explain, helping all of us. But it’s that original kernel – “kerygma” – which is the seed from which it all germinated.
I try not to spend too much time reading posts online – it can become all-consuming and the temptation to become drawn in to all sorts of dramas and debates are more numerous than the potholes on the main roads. And yet there are a handful of people whose words I make a point of reading.
And looking a little more closely at those people, what I notice is their ordinariness, rather like those original apostles and early disciples. I can give you an example.
There is one particular lady who writes most often about the things which affect her family and the issues which touch her heart. Predominantly, she focusses on the simple acts of kindness which occur between people; and that word ‘kindness’ appears often in the posts she writes. Now, she is never in any way ‘preachy’ and she always writes with great simplicity – and this is, I think the secret of her efficacy. She writes, I read – and I learn something. She said recently that she is ‘poor’, meaning this in a material sense; and I believe that is the case. However, what she lacks in material wealth is inversely proportional to the treasures she has in other areas.
I see something similar at my local parish – and at every other parish I find myself in from time to time. I don’t hear great theological debates taking place and I learn nothing about Trinitarian theology nor about the deeper mysteries of Eschatology. But I see ordinary people performing the simplest devotions – and those people move me deeply.
Examples of these simple devotions are seen in the man who is in Church at least half an hour before Mass begins, when the church is empty. He lights three candles and then kneels at the altar where the statue of the Blessed Virgin is placed, looking at Her image and praying for Her motherly help. And I see another man who is there in Church all alone praying his Rosary every Saturday afternoon. And a lady who is there for some time after Mass has ended, lighting her candle and just gazing at the Tabernacle silently. And another lady, whose life has been touched by deep grief, whose eyes fill quietly with tears as she kneels close to the altar of the Mother of God, recognising in Her the same pain she is presently experiencing.
All these people – and many more just like them – touch me very deeply. Their example shines before me like the brightest little lights, piercing the gloom of this world. And like that good lady whose words I read, I learn something.
All of these people are passing on the faith in absolute silence, for no words are involved and none are necessary. They do so by the power of their example – and that example is so powerful. And yet despite this truth, were I ever to say anything of this to any of these people, I think they would be utterly astonished. But what I say is no less true because of that.
All I am trying to describe here explains, I think, my deep affection for Pope Francis; like these people I have referenced here, this Holy Father speaks in simplicity – a simplicity which touches the heart that is open and receptive to his words. Couple with this, the Holy Father teaches not only. in what he says and how he says it – but it is grounded in his actions. He already does all that is asking us to do; he leads by example.
It can be tempting to laugh at those who undertake small and seemingly insignificant gestures in the realm of faith – the lighting of candles, praying alone in church and so forth. And yet all these things are exceptionally powerful forms of both witness and testimony – they are the salt which flavours our experience of faith and gives it rise; and they are the light which illuminates the way ahead, especially in those darker moments of life.
And like all such lights, they illuminate not only those holding up the candles in their own hands, but cast a gentle glow of light all around them and far, far beyond.
I thank God for them.
Beautiful and words I needed to hear today. Reminds me of what I should be seeking. Thank you.