How discernment can change your life
During convalescence, Ignatius of Loyola learned to examine his life and discover the good desires that were drawing him to God; in other words, he learned “discernment.” Pope Francis has emphasized again and again the importance of discernment. One simple principle of discernment can change your life in a dramatic way.
Who am I? How can I discover my real self? How can I become the person I want to be? These are big questions and it takes a lot of chutzpah to answer them. Chutzpah is precisely what Saint Ignatius of Loyola developed as a result of … daydreaming. Yes, daydreaming! Who said daydreaming was a waste of time?!
A Tryst with Destiny
It was actually the devastating impact of a cannonball that reduced Ignatius of Loyola from dashing dreams to daydreams. At the beginning of 1521, Ignatius was a gallant knight in armour, ambitious for glory and power but in May of the same year he was hit by a cannonball that shattered his leg, and his dreams. Despite one agonizing operation after another, Ignatius still had to spend nine months in bed to regain movement and flexibility in his wounded leg. During these long and seemingly interminable months, he asked for books on chivalry to pass the time. His sister-in-law had other ideas: she gave him books on the lives of the saints and the life of Jesus.
Although he was no longer a functioning soldier, a real battle developed inside Ignatius. It was a battle between two different selves, two different “Ignatiuses,” and they were truly at loggerheads. One Ignatius was mesmerized by Jesus and the saints, by their amazing freedom from power and prestige, from public opinion and possessions. The other Ignatius stubbornly refused to give up the dream of becoming a valiant knight. Again and again Ignatius would see himself as a strong and virile hero, the knight in shining armour who would win the lady of his dreams, come what may.
It was only after some time that Ignatius began to realize that these two conflicting dreams left him in two distinct frames of mind. The prospect of being the tough man with a magnanimous soul sent a thrill rushing through his heart. Crucially, the thrill did not last. It wore off more quickly than he cared to believe. All that remained was a disheartening emptiness.
However, things were different when his inner gaze turned to Jesus and the saints. The joy and attraction he felt inside did not rush away; they stayed. Slowly it dawned on him that the desires that kindled the lasting fire of joy inside were the very desires that were drawing him toward God, while the desires that left him dissatisfied were pulling him away from everything that spoke of God.
Knowing Your ‘Self’
In our own ways, we all experience two selves inside. There is the surface self that is focused on having things (for Ignatius it was all about having power, wealth and a noble wife), accomplishing things (becoming the most valiant and successful knight ever) and getting approval from the outside (being respected and even venerated by his peers). This false self is never secure: at any moment fame, fortune and the accolade of fans can fade away. The false self is out of touch with our inner depths because it has become a master of masks and disguises, always ready to put on a face to hide its fears and neediness.
Many of us experience a constant pendulum swing from one self to another. In the course of a single day we can move from generosity (stopping to talk with a homeless man on the street and giving him spare change) to complete self-absorption (I am surfing on my phone so do not disturb me!). The false self promises much and delivers next to nothing. After the inevitable thrill, we are left dissatisfied. The true self imparts a joy that stays, a sense of being at home with ourselves and the world. The false self drags us back into the past of unhealthy habits; the true self draws us forward toward a fuller life.
Before You Leap
If you want to live in tune with who you really are, here is a vital rule to live by: Never make big decisions when you are in a bad space. When you are in a bad space, the world looks worse than it is. It is like when you are wearing sunglasses and everything appears darker than what it really is.
Here is a story to make this vital point as clear as possible (names, places and certain details have been changed but the gist of the story is true).
One morning, a Jesuit priest gave a talk to some college students about how to make decisions. He kept returning to the point I just mentioned: Do not make big decisions when you are in a bad zone. He added that it is at those trying moments when we are tempted to make major decisions because we think they are the very things that will get us out of the bad space. Often, these decisions boomerang on us and make things even worse.
Several days later one of the students, Sarah, came back to see him. She said, “Father, what you said is so true, it really works.” He asked, “What works?” “That rule you gave us about making big decisions,” Sarah replied. He was intrigued: “Tell me more.”
So Sarah told him about her friend Aoife, who was at the point of dropping out of university. “It was last Friday,” she said. “I arrived at our flat and Aoife was packing her things, not just a few clothes as she usually did when she was going home for the weekend. No, this time it was a real clear-out: everything was going into suitcases and travel bags. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her. She said, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m getting out of college.’ That wasn’t like Aoife. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, she’s a star student, she’s a great athlete and she has a ton of friends.
Why was she suddenly packing it all in? It just didn’t make any sense. I said, ‘Aoife, you can’t just walk out like this; you owe me an explanation.’ She had this really sad expression on her face. She said, ‘I wanted to be a doctor, but this year of pre-med is crazy: I’m two months into it and I’ve just failed my first set of exams. This is new territory for me: I’ve never got a B grade for an exam and now I have failed! Then I texted my boyfriend to meet him for coffee. I figured he might give me some support and then two minutes later he texts me back telling me that he’s just met someone new. Can you believe it? He hasn’t even got the guts and the decency to tell me face-to-face. He calls it all off with a line of stupid text. So, there you have it. In the space of an hour I failed my exams and my boyfriend fails me. That’s why I’m going.’”
Sarah immediately thought of the rule about big decisions. She pleaded with Aoife “Please don’t do this now, not when you’re so upset.” Aoife replied, “Well, what do you want me to do: wait around until I’m even more upset?” Sarah replied, “Listen, come with me to Wexford for the weekend. We’ll book into a B & B. I’ll just meet you for breakfast and in the evenings. Otherwise, take time out, walk along the beach, look at the waves and relax. We’ll drive back to Dublin on Sunday evening. Then if you still feel the same way you do now, I’ll help you carry all those bags out of the door on Monday morning.” Aoife agreed.
Dawn of Realization
As they drove along the M11 on Sunday evening, Aoife said, “Thanks so much for the weekend. You know, it was while I was looking out to the sea this afternoon that it suddenly hit me: I don’t want to be a doctor at all. It was my mother who was pushing me to do it. She has been pushing me so much and for so long that I began to believe that I wanted it too. But you know, I don’t want it at all. It is stories and novels that have always fascinated me. I’m going to give up medicine. I’m going to switch to English literature.”
She stopped for a moment to clear her throat … “And as for that boyfriend, although my head told me that he ticked all the right boxes, my heart has been telling me for the last two months to run away from him but I never stopped long enough to listen to it. I’m better off without him.” As Sarah parked the car, Aoife gave her a big smile and said, “I’m staying at UCD.”
Sarah took the key from the ignition and put on the handbrake. Although a few drops of rain were tapping on the windshield, inside the car a sense of peace and stillness reigned. Sarah felt so happy that she held Aoife in a long embrace. The tears rolled down their faces. As Sarah finished telling this story to the Jesuit priest, she said, “That rule about not making a big decision from a bad space is so important. If Aoife had left college last Friday, her whole life would have collapsed around her.” Sarah saved Aoife from a lot of unnecessary unhappiness. Unfortunately, there are so many people who make many decisions from an unhelpful place inside themselves. They walk out of marriages because they are feeling down. They turn to someone new just to fill the gnawing dissatisfaction they feel inside. They make majorlife changes when they are full of anxiety and not in a proper state of mind to do so.
Quick Word of Advice
Please follow this basic wisdom in your life. When you feel out of tune with yourself, others and God, you will also find that you are blown this way and that by moods and feelings and they will often urge you to make a big decision. If you are feeling that uneasy with life and with yourself, it is the worst time to make that big decision. Do not get hijacked by your surface self! Wait! Be patient! In the meantime, while you are waiting and exercising your patience, share your pain with someone you trust, turn to friends for support and ask God to help you and heal you. You will be glad you did.
O God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Father Thomas Casey, SJ
Father Thomas Casey, SJ is an Irish Jesuit priest and Dean of Philosophy at the Pontifical University in Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland.
You may have heard about the great flood, which happened recently, in the small state of Kerala, in southern India. It is popularly known as God’s own country. Much anguish filled every heart at the sight of the waters drowning both the green lands and cities. Many were trapped in the attics of their own homes without drinking water, food or electricity for days. The rescue teams were unable to reach most of them, due to strong torrents of water. During this difficult time, the fishermen joined hands. They lent their boats and actively went to the dangerously water logged areas where the others failed to reach. What really struck a chord with people was the report shared by one of the rescued women. Like many others, she and her children took shelter in their apartment but nobody turned up to rescue them, as they were located far away from the city. These fishermen travelled miles to reach their premises, already submerged in more than ten feet of water. She could not thank them enough, and on reaching the rescue camp she gave them a lump sum of money. To her utter surprise they did not accept it. “We were not doing it for money… we only wanted to help” was their reply. These fishermen’s lives depended on their daily wages, and because of the rescue mission, an enormous financial strain was placed on them. Their fishing boats were also damaged in their efforts. yet, they remind us to be generous, even if it means loss or damage to your assets, or that you and your family would be without food for days. Truly their sacrifice makes them the real disciples of Jesus. How generous would you be in helping those in danger? When it is time for giving does your heart buckle up? How often have you kept an account of all those good deeds? Here we see men, not well educated or of a high standard of living, storing up treasures in heaven! “…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
My wife and I bought this wonderful DVD, “The Greatest Miracle,” an animated movie about the mass. In one scene during the offertory, beside each person attending the Holy Mass stands his/her guardian angel. When the offertory begins, some of the guardian angels are able to fly toward the altar. Others remain standing with a very sad expression on their face because their appointed one is not offering any prayers. Those angels have nothing to place on the altar with the bread and wine. How many times have I been disengaged from what is happening at mass? By doing this, I have not allowed God to find me in the most powerful setting in history, the Holy Mass. How often have I disheartened my guardian angel? The Cost Price In Samuel 2:24, we read about Araunah trying to offer his oxen to King David for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges and yokes of oxen for wood—all for free! He did not want any payment from King David. David says, “I will buy it from you at the proper price, for I cannot sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” My attitude at Holy Mass is often very different from that of David. He pleased the Lord by offering a sacrifice that cost him something; I often go to the Holy Mass and do not offer anything, thus participating in a sacrifice that costs me nothing. What should I offer that will cost me? Jesus reminds me of His sacrifice on the cross. The whole world seemed to be against Him, insulting and cursing Him, and He suffered greatly. A human temptation would be backlash toward those who persecuted Him, shouting back in anger or keeping silent and saying nothing, yet holding the anger inside the heart. Jesus resisted this temptation. Instead He prayed “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” These words pleased the Father because the Son did not participate in a sacrifice that cost Him nothing but one that cost Him everything. Jesus was innocent and He chose to forgive. This is the payment God is expecting from me during the Holy Mass—to surrender my anger, frustration and hurtful feelings on the altar. I need to offer these at Holy Mass during the offertory and my guardian angel will burst with joy. When I offer up the negative stuff, I let God find me. At mass it is more difficult to offer to Jesus my hurt than money. Offering up my refusal to forgive those who have hurt me is what is really going to cost me. To Follow Close I became convinced of this when I meditated on Acts 7:54-60, which depicts the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen. In the profession of the faith, we proclaim that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. In the account of Saint Stephen’s martyrdom, we read that as he is getting ready to be executed, he is filled with the Holy Spirit. In a vision he see the glory of God and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Saint Stephen, filled with an unconditional love for God, sees an image of heaven as he is going to die. He sees Jesus, the Son of God, standing up. Jesus is cheering him on, probably clapping his hands and urging him toward the finish line. What a wonderful picture. It is probable to assume that Jesus’ eyes are fixed on his beloved servant Stephen or that they are looking into each other’s eyes. In verse 58, a young man, Saul, enters the scene. He is the one persecuting the church. Let us hold that thought and come back to it. In verse 59 it states that as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Have we heard the words before? Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus uttered these same words on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” Jesus then breathed his last. When Stephen said, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit,” the Bible does not say he immediately took his last breath. Stephen, after seeing this great vision of Jesus standing up for him, was excited to get to heaven. Jesus was crucified, Stephen was stoned. Stephen follows the formula. He says, “Lord, receive my spirit,” yet his spirit does not leave his body; he is still alive. Why? Up Close This is when Stephen looks at the face of Jesus again and comes to a true understanding of divine mercy. As he is being stoned, Jesus is standing up and cheering him on, clapping His hands, yet the eyes of Jesus are not fixed on Stephen but on Saul. When Stephen focused on the face of Jesus, he realized that Jesus was looking at Saul with extreme compassion. There was no anger, no disappointment, only a radical love on Jesus’ face. Stephen then realized the difference between himself and Jesus. Stephen was in a hurry to get to heaven and said, “Lord, receive my spirit,” skipping over the prayer Jesus had made before He offered His spirit—Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Stephen realized he was offering a sacrifice that cost him nothing. Jesus is divine mercy. We have a Savior who looks kindly on the very people that crucified Him as He was taking His last breath. Jesus wants the people who crucified Him to be with Him forever in eternity. This is the nature of divine mercy. In today’s society, our merciful Savior looks with compassion on the perpetrators of crime and murder, in the hope of redeeming them. Does this action of Jesus bother us? Saint Stephen is not a saint today because he was stoned for his faith in Jesus. In Saint Paul’s discourse on love he says that “if you hand your body over you may boast, but have not love, you are nothing”. Ready—to Pay the Price? When Saint Stephen did not die as expected and looked at the face of divine mercy, he understood the hidden desire of the sacred heart—Jesus was excited that Stephen was coming to heaven. He would be very happy if Saul, the murderer, also made it to heaven. Divine mercy is extending an invitation to Stephen—will you pray the prayer of forgiveness as I did on the cross, for all of humanity? Will you pray the prayer of conversion for souls who are perishing? Will you intercede on behalf of those who are ending your life? It is at this point when Stephen understands the unfathomable love of divine mercy. His sincere response, “Lord, do not hold this against them,” got him over the finish line into heaven. When he forgave those who were stoning him, his sacrifice became pleasing to God because it had cost him. He paid for it by surrendering the anger he held toward those who were hurting him. This prayer is what made him a Saint. The Bible says that after he prayed this prayer he fell asleep. Let us ask ourselves again, does this action of Jesus bother us? Is he showing us less love by looking with compassion at those who are persecuting us and making us suffer? I do not believe so. I think we should interpret this attitude of divine mercy in this manner: God places much value, and regards very highly, the prayer of forgiveness, the prayer of conversion and the intercession we offer on behalf of others. He responds when these prayers come from our hearts because he loves each of us and sincerely desires all to be with Him in heaven. It is very hard to pray for those who are persecuting us. Can we pray sincerely that they might also get to heaven? God can do something with the little we offer. If we ask Him He will help us pray, with all sincerity, for the conversion of sinners. This response to divine mercy will help us get over the finish line of our lives to meet the Savior in heaven. This is what will make us Saints; this is what made Stephen a Saint. Lord Jesus, help me to allow you to find me every time I attend the Holy Mass or pray. Help me to surrender all that is negative inside of me, so that I am offering a worthy sacrifice that costs me dearly, along with Your sacrifice. Since this is pleasing to the Father, I can truly receive the graces of the Eucharist and rejoice with my guardian angel. Amen.
“I grew up in India in the Episcopal Church. My mother read to us from the big Marathi Bible and my earliest memories are of me in love with Jesus. I would sit only on one half of the chair, reserving the other half for Jesus, owing to which I often fell off of my chair. When I started schooling at Saint Joseph’s Convent school, I wanted to become a nun.” Best Friend Turned Stranger But as I grew older, and became aware of the suffering around me, I could not understand how a loving God could permit such pain. “Do something,” I would pray. But my prayers went unanswered. By the time I was twelve, I stopped making space for Jesus in my chair, and in my heart. I quit talking to him. I decided he did not care enough. And I cried and cried because I had lost my best Friend. A couple of years later, when I was fourteen, we moved to the U.S. We joined the Episcopal community. I went to church, but only to please my mother and to sing in the choir. My mother died shortly after I had turned twenty two and I no longer had the desire to go. I did not want to pretend to love Jesus when I felt so lonely. I had to take care of myself, become independent and self-sufficient, because I had no one to rely on anymore. I filled my heart with my studies and work, friends and lovers, music and dance, without realizing how hard- hearted I was becoming. I called myself an atheist. For many years I was a research scientist. I got married to my college sweetheart, Michael. Together we had two children, Max and Dagny. I quit working to stay at home and raise them. I still stepped into a church once in a while—for weddings and funerals. I craved for some sign that Jesus cared. But nothing special ever happened. Life went on as usual. The children started growing and once they started school, Michael and I wondered how to counteract the permissive culture, short of homeschooling them. We had parental authority, but nothing higher than that. Had we made a grave mistake in not introducing them to God? What right did we have to deny them this fundamental knowledge? It is one thing to know of God and reject Him as I did. That is free will. But what about not even having the opportunity? I would not forgive myself if that emptiness got filled with other things—evil things. It is real and present. I wanted to arm my children with something real and tangible to fight evil, the true cause of suffering. Return to First Love I wanted my children to have what I had as a child—love in Christ. Even if He was just a fairytale, I could not deny the power He had had over me and the effects—complete trust that all will be well, a security that was completely irrational given the state of the world, and a certain resilience that was also unearthly. I did not know that what I had possessed was a peace that passed all understanding. Softening of Heart In 2006 as a Christmas gift for my kids, I purchased a children’s Bible with beautiful pictures and historical references. Michael, who had not been raised in a religious environment, offered to read. He spent almost a year reading Bible stories to the children and was amazed and delighted with them. Yet we felt like hypocrites because as much as we wanted our children to have religious instruction, we did not believe. So the conversation turned to going to church. But to which one would we go? The number of denominations seemed to have mushroomed since I was a child. There was a gathering of non-denominational Christians that met in the school cafeteria but it seemed so casual. I knew that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is present, but we wanted a sense of the sacred, something transcendent. When I looked to the Episcopal Church, it was nothing like the one in India or even the Episcopal Church we had attended when we first moved to the U.S. When I looked at other churches, I realized that they had some sort of doctrinal dispute with the Catholic Church. The answer was quite obvious—we needed the Church that Christ established. The following October we stepped into Saint Jude Catholic Church. I wept all through liturgy. My children worried for me. I whispered to them I was happy to be finally home. After the Holy Mass, I tried to enroll the kids in Sunday school, but the lady in charge asked about their ages (7 and 9 years old) and if they had been baptized. When I said, “Never,” she told me I needed to speak to the deacon about RCIA—Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Although I was annoyed by what I thought were hoops we had to jump through, I quickly realized that RCIA is designed so that one may make an informed decision. We began the long process of studying and questioning. Sunday mornings, Michael and I would be dismissed after the homily to ponder the Gospel while the children sat with our sponsors for the Canon of the Mass. After the Mass, we would have our instruction in the faith with our sponsors. I will always be grateful to the Knights of Columbus for watching over our children. After a few hours at home, we would return for evening Mass and the children’s religious instruction. Perhaps our family needed a double dose of the Word to take root. But I will always be grateful for how our Sundays automatically became holy days. A New Creation! We questioned so many things—the teaching on marriage and sexuality, the Eucharist, on life. I reversed every belief I held that went against the tenets of the faith. I did so willingly even when I did not understand everything because I looked to Mary as an example, who did not argue with the angel at the Annunciation, but gave her Fiat. Paradoxically, everything held together beautifully, even the Mysteries of the faith. I wonder now if it was due to the powerful prayers at the Rite of Acceptance, when our foreheads were crossed with the following words: “Receive this sign of the cross on your forehead. It is Christ Himself who strengthens you now with His love. Learn to know and follow Him.” After that, the priest said the following words as my sponsor made the sign of the cross over my ears, eyes, lips, etc. “Receive the sign of the cross on your ears, that you may hear the voice of the Lord. “Receive the sign of the cross on your eyes, that you may see the glory of God. “Receive the sign of the cross on your lips that you may respond to the word of God. “Receive the sign of the cross over your heart that Christ may dwell there by faith. “Receive the sign of the cross on your shoulders, that you may bear the gentle yoke of Christ. “Receive the sign of the cross on your hands, that Christ may be known in the work which you do. “Receive the sign of the cross on your feet that youmay walk in the way of Christ.” I wept. These words and the sensation of having my hands and yes, even my feet blessed, were overwhelming. I had fallen in love with Jesus all over again. That Christmas was meaningful when we sang “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”.During the Lent, while meditating on the sorrowful passion of Jesus, I felt unworthy. I knew I deserved death, not life. But Jesus drew me to Himself and showered all His tender mercies upon me. I wanted nothing more than to be in the shelter of His Cross, to be washed clean in His Blood. On Easter Vigil—April 11, 2009—a date as important as the ones when I got married and gave birth to my two children, I watched Michael, Max and Dagny, getting baptized. My heart was full;, I felt as if I were giving these three loves of mine to Jesus, my first love. Then together, we made a profession of faith and received the Body and Precious Blood of our dear Lord Jesus. Week by week, the God-shaped hole in my heart began to fill. I no longer fall out of chairs, but I am whole again.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going ... I n the year 2010 the movie, 127 Hours, was released starring James Franco, who portrayed an adventurous man Aron Ralston. The main character falls into a crevice while on a canyoneering venture in southeastern Utah. His right forearm gets pinned underneath a boulder, which traps him for five days and seven hours (127 hours). He lays there for several days trying to extricate himself from the rock, but to no avail. Finally, convinced that he would die of exposure, he grabs a small, dull pocketknife out of his backpack and begins to cut off his own arm. Despite the unspeakable pain, he completes the task. Ralson then ties a crude tourniquet around the stump of his arm and makes his way through the remainder of the canyon, in which he had to rappel down a sixty-five foot sheer cliff face to reach safety. He later comes to a road where he flags down a car. Some months after this terrible ordeal, he appears on the David Letterman Show, where he tells his story, to a spellbound audience. When he finishes, the normally light-hearted and sarcastic Letterman becomes unusually serious. Looking at his guest intently, he says with great admiration, “You know something about life that I don’t.” What is the point of describing this terrible, yet fascinating tale? Because Jesus speaks with incredible bluntness about cutting off ones hand, ones foot; about plucking out ones eye. If these become a block to salvation, get rid of them, he says; better to enter eternal life maimed, than going to Gehenna with all your members intact. These are hard, blunt, surprising words but, are we to take a literal, fundamentalist understanding of them? I think not. In the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas laid the foundation of modern biblical interpretation by recognizing that the Bible is packed with rich symbolic language, which communicates special meaning regarding what Jesus actually said. So, he distinguishes between the literal sense of a passage—what the words of Scripture actually says; that is, the obvious meaning of the text. Then he notes that there is a spiritual sense in a passage which goes beyond the literal sense of the words and thereby to consider the religious meaning, conveyed symbolically. So, I do not think Jesus is encouraging us to cut off our hands or feet or pluck out our eyes. At the same time, we are being challenged to look at this teaching with a certain spiritual seriousness. We should not be to blasé over the language Jesus is using. “Oh, our Lord is only exaggerating; He is just using metaphors to get our attention.” Rather, I would caution you to read the passage (Mark 9:43-48) through the lens of Aron Ralston and his experience. Let us look at Ralston who found himself in mortal danger when his arm was pinned underneath a boulder. So desperate was his situation that he judged quite rightly, that he had to sacrifice an essential part of his body in order to save his life. He knew that something drastic had to be done and he was willing to pay the price, despite the pain, to do it. Does it ever occur to us that we can be in a similar kind of spiritual situation in which we are in danger— that, if we do not do something drastic, we could die spiritually? Indeed, we could be in mortal danger, pinned, as it were, under a “rock.” Jesus is warning us of spiritual dangers, of spiritual warfare, of spiritual death, and the drastic things we have got to do in order to save our spiritual lives. So what are the three things that Jesus identifies? Let us have a look at these from a spiritual standpoint. 1. Grasp the Nettle Your hand is the member by which we ‘grasp’ and ‘take’ things. In the course of our lives, we take and grasp for all sorts of things: money, pleasure, sex, power, prestige, security, and comfort. Go all the way back to the book of Genesis in which our original parents grasped for the fruit from the tree of good and evil. They grasped at godliness but without God! From the beginning our hands are a problem because they grasp what the ego wants. What are you grasping at in the course of your life?— worldly things, honor, creating benefits for yourself and pleasures. Is that grasping putting you in spiritual danger, keeping you from receiving the one glorious essential which is God’s own Life? Are you willing to cut off the attachment, right out of your life? You may be thinking now “There is no way! I can’t live without so and so.” It could be riches power, pleasures or honor. If so, perhaps your grasping has pinned you down, and is keeping you from being fully alive. 2. Pick Your Way What is the foot but the member why which we walk, by which we set ourselves on a definite path. We are meant to spiritually walk towards God, who is the goal of our life. Saint Aquinas says that if you want to find joy, walk the path that leads to God alone. What do we do with so much of our lives? We walk down errant paths; we chose paths that move us away from God—path that leads us to wealth and consumerism, status and prestige, control and dominance, and hedonistic pleasure. Very early in life we get on these paths and we walk and walk. As we get older, we may pick up the pace because we do not have too much time left; so, we accumulate more and more, thereby moving us in the wrong direction. There are many stories in the spiritual tradition that talks about path, roads, and ways of life. Think of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” which begins: “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost” (The Inferno, Dante Alighieri, Canto 1). So, if your foot is your problem, cut it off. What does that mean spiritually? If you are walking along the wrong road, you must be willing to change the direction and set off on the right path. This is “rubber hitting the road” spirituality. You may be thinking, “You mean this road that I have been walking most of my life, where I have devoted most of my energies, is the wrong one?” Yes! And, you must be willing to abandon it, to cut it off. 3. You are What You See! Finally, Jesus speaks of the eye. If it is your problem, pluck it out. Both Saint Augustine and Saint Aquinas say that the beatific vision is to “see” God face to face. The goal of the spiritual life is the knowledge of God, a love of God, of seeing very deep into the very essence of God. That means that the spiritual life is a constant seeking and seeing the things of God. Unfortunately, most of us spend our lives looking at all the wrong places—we are often looking for and seduced by the goods of the world. If your eye is your problem, pluck it out. Take that challenge with spiritual urgency. If you have been looking in the wrong places, if you have been intrigued and beguiled by the wrong things, you must be willing to eliminate that thing from your life. You must be willing to do something drastic to deal with it. In the recent years, we have lost a since of urgency with the spiritual life. Somehow, Catholic spirituality has become soft, and too easy: “God is love, God is my friend; therefore, whatever I do will be forgiven; so, it really does not matter what I do.” Yes, we will be forgiven if we seek it; but, the spiritual life is the consummate high adventure: it is demanding. In Saint Paul’s language, an athlete is willing to sacrifice all sorts of things to win a perishable crown. What are we willing to sacrifice, to cut drastically out of our lives in order to gain eternal life? That is the hard question raised by the challenging language of our Lord Jesus. O Lord, help us to make a strong resolution to follow close, the print of Thy dear footsteps and cut off all that which hinders us from Your path which is righteousness and peace. Amen.
Don’t want to skip
an update or a post?
Get the latest articles from tidings!