A Sadness of the Heart

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As they were traveling on the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes an the birds of the sky have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another, “Follow me” But the man answered, “Allow me first to bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go announce the kingdom of God.” 

Luke 9: 57-60

The scripture readings today challenge us to reflect on a deep and seemingly irresolvable inner conflict that is part of every disciple’s life. The gospel from Luke reminds us of the demand of discipleship that no person and no place is to take precedence over the call of Jesus to follow him. It also honestly describes the experience of rootlessness that is a part of such a wholehearted following of Jesus. In contrast the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures describes the sadness of Nehemiah concerning the fate of Jerusalem, the ruin of his homeland. King Artaxerxes says to Nehemiah: “Why is your face so sad? You are not sick surely? This must be a sadness of the heart.” (Nehemiah 2: 3)

Human beings need, or at least have needed for most of their history, a certain sense of rootedness, among a people and in a place. Even after a long period of absence we can experience a sense of at-homeness in the place in which the earliest years of our formation took place. Even the least “traditional” among us would not pass up the opportunity to revisit the places of our childhood. Some would even argue that our lack of stability and rootedness contributes to our difficulty in feeling our responsibility for the effects of how we live on our planet. Without ongoing experience of a specific environment that nourishes us and for which we are, in return, responsible, it is easy to lose touch with the effects of our behavior on the natural world. Likewise we know that loneliness is a profound contributor to the epidemic of depression that is occurring in the developed world.

On the other hand, Jesus makes clear that discipleship is a call to break with any natural bond that would inhibit our ability to respond to the call. The disciple’s home is first and foremost in relationship to Jesus himself. Somehow one who is to announce the kingdom must know, in the depths of her or his heart and soul, the primacy above all of the love of God in Jesus. She must live out the first great commandment:  to love the Lord with all one’s heart, and soul, and strength.

In personal experience, the tension between our need to feel at home on the one hand and the call to forsake all to follow Jesus on the other remains ever present, perhaps as the real impetus to deeper discipleship and fuller humanity. For so many in our time, the experience of loneliness leads to helplessness and despair. Yet it need not. The Lord does not ask the impossible, and, to those called to forsake all else for the sake of the kingdom it is given to know that beneath the loneliness lies a sustaining love. This can only be known, however, if one gives oneself over to the experience of one’s loneliness and does not dissociate from it through all our modes of denial, from hyper-activity to addiction to utter distraction and dispersion.

Yet, in the truth of our need for others and a home, we must also move toward a deepening community of those who also are called to put God and God’s kingdom first in their lives. It is through the love and support of like-minded others that we can be sustained along the way and not be broken by our loneliness or diminished in our human capacities for love and intimacy.

To consider the “Life Form Dimension ” of the Xaverian Charism also requires reflection on the recurring and developing sense of “place” in Ryken’s life and in the life of the Xaverian Congregation. Here the word “place” is used not so much in the sense of a physical/geographical location, but as a metaphor for a mode of consciousness and a sense of relationship and belonging. Ryken’s personal conversion was described as one of “powerfully being put in my place.” This sense of place, no doubt, referred to a fresh experience of his relationship with God and from this initial and ongoing experience arose the aspirations and inspirations that gave form to his life as well as to the foundation and development of the Xaverian Congregation. This initial experience of place gradually found a home among a group of men who gathered with Ryken as a community of “like-spirited” individuals. It was Ryken’s profound concern that these men had a sense of being called to a place much larger and more mysterious than their own self-interests. While Ryken sought the financial and temporal assistance of “well-to-do” patrons, within the community, he welcomed a diverse, rather simple and lackluster band of followers. What concerned him was their ability and willingness to abandon self-interest and to relate to one another as Brothers, living in harmony at the service of the poor and needy. Gradually, their sense of living in community took on a Congregational character and their sense of place (relatedness) was colored by the shapes and practices of religious life as it was understood and lived in their day: (the forms of private and communal prayer; the experience and practice of living the evangelical counsels; the forms of communal living; the understanding of ministry and mission; the forms of government and relationship to the wider Church).

And so into our day, we Xaverian Brothers are faced with the challenge and opportunity to find our place in the world today – to re-articulate the Xaverian Charism in a manner that acknowledges the gifts and limits of our present situation, and reaffirms our commitment as Brothers in community to follow Christ wherever He leads.

Xaverian Brothers, Working Paper on Community

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