Thursday after Ash Wednesday Reflection

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Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me…”

[Luke 9:23]

 

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his very self?” This is the question that Ignatius of Loyola asked his young friend Francis Xavier. It was this question that led Francis to return to his true home, to that place that God had created for him. He had thought his studies in Paris would lead him back to his family castle in Spain, to a life filled with privilege, a life of entitlement as a cleric and lord. However, in truly hearing the question that Ignatius posed to him, Francis turned toward God and followed Ignatius and his other companions, placing himself in service to the gospel.

It was the model of this “insatiable laborer for souls” that caught the imagination of Theodore Ryken and led him to choose Xavier as the patron for his Congregation, so that with one word they would know what was intended for those who follow the Xaverian Way. For those of us who follow the path laid out by Theodore Ryken, the path Jesus laid out for his disciples, can we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus?

As are many lines in the gospels, this notion of denial of self can be peculiar. One preferred method of denial of self is some sort of asceticism. That is, we terminate undesired action through opposing action (we diet, we do good, we work harder). This can be problematic if we see it within our power to manifest change through direct and willful action. In times like this, we are not denying the self at all; we are simply vindicating the self through our own activity (and we often wind up failing). The invitation that Jesus presents (“If anyone wishes to come after me…”) is really an invitation to return to our true place, our groundedness: a place of single-mindedness, where we are freed of the delusion that we are in control and, instead, rest in doing the will of God.

 

Recommended Exercise

Take 10-15 minutes for the following.

Recall you are in the presence of God.

Call to mind an action you’ve taken that you believe qualifies as ascetic. Have you attempted a diet recently? Have you swore off something for Lent? Are you making any particular “sacrifice” in your life?

Call to mind why it is you’ve made this ascetic choice. There may be several reasons why making this choice seems appropriate. Be honest with God. Does your ascetic choice have anything to do with God? How will it bring you closer to God? Can you perform this asceticism without God?

Write down those weaknesses or fears that relate to your desired outcome. Does God have anything to say about your desires? Does God provide any clarity or deeper understanding for you as you reveal your desires? That is, do you desire something different or deeper than what made you initiate the asceticism?

Reassess and reorient: if God was not present in your ascetic choice, seek a way to include God. Plan to reassess your ascetic choice again, in the near future, always recalling that God is a merciful companion on your journey. Foster that companionship through honesty in prayer.

 

Prayer

Good and gracious God, we are always returning, always in a movement toward our true home. We know that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  As we begin the discipline of the season of Lent, give us the grace to begin our journey back to our true home. May we travel this journey wholeheartedly, not simply ‘rending our garments’ superficially, but truly placing ourselves in the hands of your Divine Mercy and experiencing your ineffable and unconditional love. May we who follow the Xaverian Way, commit ourselves to renewing our family and being your compassionate presence in our world today. We ask this in the name of Jesus, your Son and our brother. Amen.

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CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO


John Hamilton WPWhat can “returning to our true place” do for us? For John Hamilton C.F.X., formative spirituality put him in touch with his limitations, but also the creative ground of his existence. Listen to more of what Brother John had to say: http://wp.me/p36Kiu-f7


 

2 Comments

  1. My parish priest who is an excellent homilist gave a wonderful homily during mass on Ash Wednesday. The Gospel reading yesterday had Jesus warning his disciples to not pray, fast, or give alms deliberately in the sight of others to gain earthly rewards. Jesus did not tell them not to pray, fast, or give alms, but to internally check their intentions before doing so. And I believe this fits in well with today’s reflection.

    The purpose of prayer is to find communion with God. When we pray, we need to set aside our earthly cares and find silence so that these cares do not consume us. If we do not pray daily, we can too easily become desensitized to our sin. We begin to tell ourselves, “What I do isn’t so bad, look at my brother and what he does.” Instead of evaluating ourselves by God’s standard, we use that of men.

    The purpose of fasting is to remind us of our mortality and reliance on God alone for our provision. Without God, we would not be employed, we would not have financial resources, we would not be able to grow or purchase food. Though we may earn these things by our own sweat, it is God who provides the circumstances, the intellect, the strength for us to earn the resources we use. Fasting forces us to acknowledge how our reliance on God is complete and that nothing we do can be done in His absence.

    Almsgiving provides us with an opportunity to bestow grace on others. It is a great gift from God. When we sweat and toil for the money we earn, and then give it away to the poor, downtrodden, infirm, or incapacitated, then we bestow God’s grace upon them. Maybe the people we give our resources to do not deserve it. Maybe they don’t believe in God. Maybe they won’t appreciate our alms. It doesn’t matter because by God’s grace we have received salvation and thus we bestow this same grace on the poor and marginalized of our time here on earth.

  2. Donna O'Connor says:

    Very glad to have discovered this site for Lent. Powerful reflections already. Thank you for offering this wonderful service.

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