In my foolishness, sometimes I am more inspired by trends than by the Gospel.
Minimalism is a trend that has been around for a few years. Whether it involves paring your wardrobe down to a few essential items or selling everything to live in a van, the belief that less is more appears to be appealing to people today. The reality that minimalism is a trend in a world overrun by material possessions seems to indicate that the Gospel applies to the human person, not simply to the Christian.
There are books that speak about keeping only your cherished items, blog posts galore about capsule wardrobes, and podcasts about how to fully embrace a lifestyle of few possessions. People speak of how there is freedom that is found in ridding themselves of excess and instead focusing on what is needed.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel was read at Mass last Friday for the martyrdom of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. After watching a short video clip where a young woman experimented with minimalism, I was struck by how many things in our culture are simply the Gospel repackaged and devoid of Christ. I don’t believe these trends are a bad thing, but I find it interesting that lifestyles that would ordinarily be considered burdensome gain traction when shown to be an alternative lifestyle.
Another example is fasting or intermittent fasting. Research done by some scientists indicates that fasting can actually be good for your health. The different studies and programs encourage people to fast for several hours and increase up to full day fasting. Interestingly, fasting can now be considered a healthy, trendy choice. In the Church, fast days are often viewed by the faithful as begrudging days of denial. For me, mandatory days of fasting are strangely always more difficult than voluntary (or accidental) days of fasting.
Finally, abstaining from meat is also being proposed as something to do for the sake of your health. Secular advertising suggests that we should embrace “meatless Mondays” so as to help the environment and our bodies. Some think the Church is irrational for asking adherents to abstain from meat on Fridays, definitely during Lent but encouraged year round. My students can’t imagine what it would be like to never eat meat on Friday and many profess to forget several times during Lent. Something seen merely as a duty can be viewed as burdensome, but when it is undertaken for personal health it is manageable.
Abstaining from meat, fasting, and voluntary poverty (or at least living simply) are all elements built into the life of a Christian. As a culture, we no longer embrace the tenets of Christianity and yet some still propose elements of them for personal well-being. This is what I find most interesting. People who follow each of these secular habits generally profess that doing so adds something to their life. They feel a greater freedom, they experience more energy, or they are doing something that is supposed to improve their overall health.
Perhaps God knew what He was doing when He gave us instructions for how we were to live. It almost is as though He knows what will satisfy the human heart. The secular world is embracing bits and pieces of Christianity but is failing to espouse itself to the most central aspect: the person of Jesus Christ. They are living these habits with a goal to pursue personal wellness. Yet how much more should we as Christians embrace fully the Christian life, not out of duty or self-serving desires, but out of love.