Fr. Gary Caster insists on simplicity over and over again as being the key to Christian spiritual life. If prayer, as Saint Teresa of Avila wrote, is the door to the inner castle, simplicity is then the key to that door, Fr. Caster would probably add. In fact, Caster’s own definition of prayer (“love God freely and enjoy his company”) is not that different from that of the great Carmelite reformer, who claimed prayer was “being in terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us.”
A priest of the Diocese of Peoria (IL), who served 27 years in the education apostolate, Fr. Caster has so far written six books. One of his most recent ones, called “Prayer Everywhere, the Spiritual Life Made Simple,” brings simplicity to the fore by reminding the reader God is infinitely simple, infinitely uncomplicated. And if God is love, then love is also simple, and needs to be experienced in and through simplicity.
However, such a simple message is not always easy to communicate, and surely not so easy to understand. There are plenty of reasons for that to be the case, which Fr. Caster explains in this interview. With his new book, “The Way of Simple Love” (a collection of sayings from the writings of that other great Discalced Carmelite saint, Therese of Lisieux), Caster encourages the reader to see that leading a spiritual life, having a relationship with God, is definitely not as complicated as people commonly think might be.
1.- “The Way of Simple Love” is not the same as “The Simple Way of Love.” There is a radical difference there, it seems. How can love be “simple?”
God is love. God is one and simple, uncomplicated. God is always who/what God is. There is no “was” in God. We were created in His image and likeness, so we were created in and for love, to be uncomplicated and simple. While it is true Original Sin and its residue (concupiscence) have created disorders in our understanding of God, self, others and creation, and thus our conception of love and loving, Love hasn’t changed. It is what grounds our being and lies at the source of our identity. In order to be free from our selfish, controlling complications and experience the simple nature of love, we have to accept it from God. Believe it or not, most Christians don’t. They accept the love of God conceptually or abstractly, but not as they would if someone professed love. God has professed love; it’s called the Cross of Christ. Only in accepting that act as being undertaken solely for me can I be free to experience love’s simplicity. Only then does love become an act of the will (not the result of attraction or sentiment. Love is an act of the will in God, so it is in us as well. I am loved by God. That simplifies everything. Through the gifts of the Spirit, love need never be complicated or burdensome or tiring or even demanding. I, you, we can be as God created us to be, even as limited, weak, fragile and sinful as we are. In fact, as St. Paul reminds us, God uses these to manifest love.
2.- Therese of Lisieux is surely a popular saint. There is virtually no church or chapel in which one cannot find an image of her. But not that many people are acquainted with her writings, even when she wrote in such an approachable, readable, “simple” way. Why do you think that’s the case?
Most people complicate the saints. They have turned them into abstractions and thus robbed them of their humanity. The writings of Therese gush with humanity and I think people find that unsettling. “Saints” are supposed to be other-worldly, ethereal. St. Therese is just herself, a young Carmelite from a large family writing her story to her sister. There is no presumption, no ego, no self-importance. Her writings are beautifully unencumbered and thoroughly honest.
3.- Can you single out one of these many sayings from Therese of Lisieux you included in your book, that you think speaks more directly to our day and age?
“When the Lord commanded His people to love their neighbor as themselves, He had not as yet come upon the earth. Knowing the extent to which each one loved himself, He was not able to ask of His creatures a greater love than this for one’s neighbor. But when Jesus gave His Apostles a new commandment, HIS OWN COMMANDMENT, as He calls it later on, it is no longer a question of loving one’s neighbor as oneself but of loving him as, He, Jesus, has loved him, and will love him to the consummation of the ages.”
4.- A book on “simple love” somehow seems disruptive, if we consider the sheer amount of information currently being published on love: relationships, parenting, family, dating, spirituality. Most of these publications seem to assume loving is not an easy, simple business, and that one needs to be “coached” into it. What is it that you think your book touches on, that some of these publications might be missing?
They are mostly written from the perspective of the “injured” self, thus from the perspective of controlling or manipulating or managing relationships. Once I have accepted God’s love for me, I should never approach the other from the perspective of the self first. God has me, so like Our Lady I can look at what is before me, with respect to spouse, child, boss, the check-out person at the grocery store. I believe everything concerning human freedom is rooted in the acceptance of God’s love. That alone purifies our vision, transforms our hearts, and enables us to act selflessly. It is sad that we treat “love”/relationships like commodities, projects, programs. While it is true that we will not be drawn naturally, emotionally, physically to every human being, those criteria no longer become conditions or impediments. Of course, we can learn much from others about the difficulties and nuances and frustrations of human relationships, and that’s a good. However, our grounding must always be that “rock” which is Jesus, the expression of the Father’s love.
5.- You recently wrote another book, “Prayer Everywhere, the Spiritual Life Made Simple.” You insist on simplicity. What is it about simplicity in general that you think is so important?
God is not complicated! God wants me, Gary, to be within the communion of His life and Love for all eternity with those that share that communion with Him. I want what God wants. I can’t make that happen or achieve it on my own. That is both foolish and impossible. But I can will for me what God wills for me. God made me for Himself, so it is simple and easy to have recourse to him. God is not just another component of my “busy” day. Someone I have to fit in or make time for. Wherever I am, God is, so I always can “waste” time on Him. Just love Him freely and enjoy being in his company. This is prayer, and prayer is easy. God told St. Marie of the Trinity, “It is easy for me to find laborers, but almost impossible to find people to play.” I play with God every day. He finds me adorable.