If the little town of Bethlehem only knew what a priceless treasure was born within its walls on that first Christmas night, would it have reacted differently? Would a poor, humble stable really have been the place where that little town would have welcomed the King of Kings, its God? Couldn’t God himself have worked a miracle and transformed the stable of Bethlehem into a palace? Of course he could have, but he didn’t want to. The almighty, infinite God chose to come to earth as a tiny baby, born in a poor stable in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem. Why? Perhaps to teach us the value and beauty of simplicity, perhaps to teach us what is really and truly essential, perhaps to make himself accessible to everyone, great and small, rich and poor alike.
My simple heart, your Bethlehem
When you hear the word simple, what comes to mind? Uncomplicated? Unadorned? Plain? Pure? All of these words might capture one or the other aspect of simplicity, but none of them can capture its entire essence. If we really want to know what simplicity is, then we must look at God himself. For, as St. Augustine tells us,
“God is truly and absolutely simple” (De Trinitate, IV, 6, 7).
God is truly and absolutely simple, and we, made in his image and likeness, are called to strive to mirror this simplicity. What does this mean practically for us? Fr. Kentenich points out that childlikeness is the way to simplicity, for
“By nature the child is a reflection of the simplicity of God the Father” (Childlikeness Before God, 86).
Therefore, Jesus tells us,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).
And he not only speaks these words, he also gives us an example to follow, for he himself became a child, a baby in the simple stable of Bethlehem.
What characterizes a simple heart?
In the words of Fr. Kentenich,
“Perhaps you would do best to start with the term simple – in Latin, simplex or ‘one-fold’. The child’s person is truly one-fold, that is, relatively uncomplicated” (Childlikeness Before God, 86).
Isn’t this true? Pure, unspoiled children do not wear masks, what they say corresponds to what they think and what they do. They do not over-think and analyze, they trust completely, without question. They do not strive to become someone else in order to please others. They are genuine, authentic, one-fold. Therefore, if we want to embrace the simplicity of a child, we, too, must become “one-fold”. What does this mean for us in practice? In a definition of simplicity, Fr. Kentenich gives us the answer:
“What is simplicity? It has two dimensions: the concentration of all our faculties in God, and the freeing of all our faculties from all things ungodly and anti-godly. What a simple definition! Give it some serious thought and you will notice that simplicity is a high degree of sanctity. You only have to add one word to transform it into a definition of sanctity: out of love. Formally speaking, simplicity does not include love. In practice, however, simplicity cannot exist without love” (Ibid., 88).
From these words, it is clear that for us to be one-fold means that our hearts, our eyes, our thoughts, our mind, all of our strength, and all of our faculties are focused on our God. Therefore, with this definition, we have a clear path for our Advent preparations, as we strive to prepare our hearts to become his Bethlehem, to become more and more simple. We want to focus our gaze on God, growing in our love for him, and this means emptying our hearts of all of the many things which turn our gaze away from him. When we are focused on him, on loving him, on pleasing him, all of our thoughts, our words, our actions will flow from our relationship to him and thus will be consistent, authentic, genuine, simple.
The stable at Bethlehem was humble, simple, bare and poor. It could not try to become anything other than what it was, and yet, precisely in its simplicity, poverty, and littleness, God chose it as his abode. Was it precisely the simplicity of the little stable that attracted the Light of the World? What about our hearts? Are they not also simple, small and poor? So much in them is not fit for the dwelling of the King of Kings, and yet, he wants to enter our hearts, in all of their smallness, in all of their poverty. Let us strive during these final days of Advent to truly be simple, one-fold, to show our hearts to our little Savior and his Mother, as they are, trusting that, just as they transformed the stable in Bethlehem with their holy presence, they can also transform our little hearts.