May Nothing Distract Me

As I spend some time today doing final preparation for a retreat I’m giving for Marquette University Faculty and Staff next weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, I thought I’d share a prayer written by Sr. Marie Schwann CSJ, who was associated for many years with that retreat house and who died last year. The prayer beautifully conveys the essence of the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius (one of the subjects on which I will speak next weekend).

Lord, my God, when Your love spilled over into creation,
You thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my hearts, O God, always recognize, cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all of creation.
Direct all that is me to your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
Lord God, may nothing ever distract me from your love…
neither health nor sickness
wealth nor poverty
honor nor dishonor
long life nor short life.
May I never seek nor choose to be other than you intend me to be.
Amen.

John the Baptist: A Detached Spirit

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, one of my great heroes and a saint about whom I have written before.

There are many reasons I think John the Baptist is a worthy model for us to emulate. This morning I read a description of John by St. Francis de Sales that resonated particularly strongly with me. Francis talked about John as having

a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do his will and serve him, to leave God for God, and not to love God in order to love him better.

Detachment is a funny word. I think some people make the mistake of thinking that it means indifference in a negative sense – as in not caring about anything.

However, deSales uses the term in the way St. Ignatius might speak of active indifference (or in the way a Buddhist might speak of absense of attachment or of clinging). That is, his statement describes John as so singleminded in his focus on God as to be unconcerned with his own comfort. So focused on doing the will of God that the cost mattered not to him. He was detached from family, friends, and whatever were his own ideas about what a comfortable life would be. Detachment in this sense does not mean a lack of love or concern for his family and friends, but merely that God came first.

So John models the detachmentwe all should strive for. A devotion to God so great that doing God’s will is the goal of our existence, even when it hurts. Even when it requires us to leave God for God.

What Must I Let Go?

Continuing the theme of my post of yesterday, one of the things that gets delivered to my e-mailbox every morning is Daily Meditations from Richard Rohr. They don’t always speak to me, but many times they do.

One that was delivered this week asked a question that is a good one to put to ourselves on this first day of the new year (and new decade): “What must I let go in order to be open to growth in 2010?”

We all have things we hold on to. Fears that paralyze us from action. Prejudices that color how we perceive people and things. Ideas we are afraid to see challenged. And, perhaps most inhibiting of growth, delusions or false images about ourselves, pieces of the mask that has formed around us as we have faced various injuries and challenges along the way.

As a follow-up to my suggestions yesterday for reflecting on New Year’s resolutions (and maybe just a different way of getting at the same thing), today is a day to reflect back over the last year, trying to see where things I’ve held onto have prevented me from growing. And, more challenging, to ask, what can I let go of as I begin this new decade? What must I let go of to be more open to growth in this new year? And how do I need God to be with me so that I am able to let go.

What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account of the rich young man.   He has faithfully observed all of the commandments as he understands them and wants to know what more he must do.  Jesus tells him, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  At this, the young man sadly walks away, “for he had many possessions.”

I don’t read this passage as saying that we can’t call ourselves followers of Jesus if we have nice things in our houses or money in the bank.  The problem is not having things, or even enjoying the things we have.  The problem arises when we are attached to things and when that attachment that distracts us from our work as Jesus’ disciples. 

So I read this passage as an invitation to explore what is it that we are attached to.  For some it may be money, but it need not be that.  Each of us is invited to ask: What do I need to be detached from to more fully follow Jesus?  What is it that keeps me from wholehearted discipleship?

I’m always sad when I get to the part about the rich young man walking away.  I want to call out, “Don’t go.  Come back.”  But I also always imagine that his encounter with Jesus is not his last and that he at some point manages to detach himself from his possessions.  For some of us, it takes longer than for others to give up our attachments.  But Jesus generously and lovingly invites us over and over.  And so if we are not quite ready to let go of our attachments, we do the best we can and keep asking God for the grace to follow him ever more closely.