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Living Today Using Insights from the Life of
St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Simple Life

“Sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
(Matthew 19:21)

Fr. John W. O’Malley, S.J. writes in The First Jesuits, that St. Ignatius’ personal experience fairly early in his conversion journey persuaded him that too severe of an understanding of “actual poverty” hindered his attempts “to help souls.” Later, he and his companions in the Society saw even more clearly the impracticality of such an understanding to sell all material possessions as they began to establish their institutions. It was a different poverty than that of St. Francis of Assisi, but genuine nevertheless. The poverty of the Jesuits focused more on spiritual detachment or poverty in spirit, enabling them to found, own, fund and run institutions, such as universities.

St. Ignatius’ approach to a simple life has been helpful to us in the 21st century, as it simply invites us to “live simply.” It is a sensible simplicity; a moderate asceticism; a healthy poverty. In the second week of the Spiritual Exercises (called the “Two Standards”), St. Ignatius asks us to imagine Christ calling people to his side: to a simple life, denouncing the desire for honors and desiring a life of humility. Christ is inviting us to enjoy a life free from attachments.


While those with a vocation to live in a religious community and share all things in common are called to give up all individual ownership of material possessions, the faithful Catholic in our community is probably not called to give up everything. However, as a faithful Catholic, can you simplify your life and respond to the invitation to live with less stuff coming between you and God?

We have three steps to assist you in this effort (each step progresses with increasing difficulty), then we offer a challenge. In all these things, place your trust in God to help you along this path, because it is a path to a freedom from attachments, which God desires for you.

1) Get rid of whatever you don’t need.

It’s the obvious first step to simplifying. What should you do with all that stuff? As stated in the Gospel, the extra coat you’re not using doesn’t belong to you: it belongs to the poor. Connect with such places as Catholic Charities, or Hope Community Center or a shelter (Coalition for the Homeless) or a clothing distribution center (Christian Sharing Center or Goodwill) to offer your clothing to the poor and needy.

How do you know you don’t need it? One trick that organizers teach us is to go to your closet and hang all your clothes with the hanger in the reverse direction. (It takes extra effort to remove the clothing). When you wear the item and return it to the closet, hang it in the correct direction. Then after six months, check which items are still hanging in the reverse direction. This should be an indication to you that you haven’t needed this item and would be a candidate for the clothing distribution center.

A word of friendly advice: don’t give your junky stuff to the poor – toss it out. Ask yourself, would you wear it in its current condition? If you wouldn’t, then toss it out. The poor deserve decent clothes, just like you do. Keep in mind the biblical principal of “First Fruits”. The idea was the opposite of merely giving your left overs. It is not sacrificial to merely give what you don’t want or need. Christ gave us his very life, his substance, so that we might live as a result of his sacrifice. It is good to follow his example of how to live and love.

2) Distinguish between wants and needs.

Is it “nice to have” or “need to have?” Do you “need” a bigger television or the latest SMART phone or the newest computer? Or is it something you want because your friends just bought one or because you’ve seen it advertised? It’s difficult to resist the desire to have what your friends have and what Madison Avenue says you need, but again, turning these things down leads to freedom.

Think of it like a diet. Hard as it is, you feel better if you avoid unnecessary calories. You’ll also feel better if you avoid unnecessary purchases – lighter, healthier, freer. Go on a “buying diet.

3) Get rid of things you think you need, but can actually live without.

This goes beyond things you know you don’t need into things you believe you need, but can, in a pinch, forego. Bishop Robert Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers this valuable suggestion on giving away our personal items. “Try to give away one thing a day. If someone admires something you have, offer to give it to them.” This practice will help you to become detached to the many possessions in our life and experience the joy of giving.

4)  THE CHALLENGE:  Get to know the poor.

This may be very difficult for some of us. Find opportunities to volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (each week a different ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish volunteers to serve dinner at either the Coalition for the Homeless or Pathways to Care. Call the parish office to be connected to these ministries). Doing so on a regular basis will help you to know them not as the “poor” but as individuals with their own stories. They will have often suffered much, and it may, initially, be hard to be around them. But they can also teach you a great deal about gratitude, about perseverance and about being close to God.

Resources on St. Ignatius Loyola

Fagin, Gerald M., S.J. Putting On the Heart of Christ: How the Spiritual Exercises Invite Us to a Virtuous Life. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2010.

Martin, James, S.J. The Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything: A Spirituality of Real Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010

Morneau, Robert. “Stewardship: Mentors and Models.” Plenary session, International Catholic Stewardship Council Convention, Orlando, FL, October 24, 2011.