Friday, June 11, 2010

Retreat Report

Today we moved into the heart itself: what do we have "at heart"? And it's a good day for a reflection like that, being the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart! The theme was "The Penitent Heart is Poor in Spirit." In other words,  "non-negotiables and the one thing necessary." What's a non-negotiable? What are our non-negotiables? Sometimes we can determine these priorities for ourselves, or maybe it starts when we establish much-needed personal boundaries... that then take over more and more territory in our hearts, until we are practically identified with them. 
Obviously, that can become a huge impediment to living with others and working in a shared ministry. There's even the risk that we assume that these good things (they usually are good) are "the" good thing our life is meant for. Merton wrote, Idolatry is the basic sin. Therefore that which is deepest in us...most likely to deceive us under the appearance of true worship, or integrity, or honesty, or loyalty, or idealism. Even Christianity is often idolatrous without realizing it. The sin of craving the God who is other than he who cannot be made an idol—i.e., an object.”

People set on the one thing necessary are free: Bonhoeffer commented, “They do not set their hearts on their possessions, but are inwardly free. That is why they are able to make use of the world without withdrawing from it all together (1 Cor. 5:13). And that is also why they can leave the world when it becomes an impediment to discipleship” (p. 301). First things first: the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. The onje thing necessary: to cling with all our heart to “glory to God, peace to humanity,” and to take things very lightly if they are not, really, “Glory to God, peace to humanity.”
It's so easy for us to convince ourselves that we are seeking one or the other of these exalted goods when we are really directly compromising some genuine good. I have found that I am most likely to do this when the good I am compromising relates to my neighbor, I have even learned that the higher the motivations I claim for myself in the case, the more I ought to suspect myself of pulling the wool over my own eyes, hiding from myself what is really at stake. No one else is fooled, of course. In situations like this, our intransigence is a dead giveaway that love of God and neighbor is not really what I am seeking or protecting.  
Rather than ask what our personal “non-negotiables” are, it might be better to name the value or wound we are trying to protect with them, because I suspect that quite often our non-negotiables are really strategies for self-preservation. It's important to separate the strategy from the need: we can name, affirm and uphold the value without insisting on the strategy we have in mind—which may or may not even be helpful: after all, we can be mistaken in our strategizing! We are fixing our gaze on this life, in its most limited expression!
Christian psychologist Robert Roberts reminds us: “For the mature Christian the kingdom hoped for is the focusing goal of life, to which everything else is subsidiary. In the [negative] attitude I have just described the kingdom is not the pearl of great price, the crown of life, the one thing needful, but a sort of consolation prize for those who do poorly in the race. The person I have described does not have the joy and peace of Christian hope; rather, he combines a comically mild form of resignation with a false conception of the kingdom” (Roberts, p. 151). 
Here's a final observation from Ven. Solanus Casey: “What I'd like to stress is the very insanity of trying to reckon on anything material these days as amounting to anything of importance aside from its use in promoting the glory of God in charity toward lifting humanity—and the necessarily very short time such material things hold their value.” 

Books referenced in this talk:

1 comment:

Margie said...

Many thanks for sharing the contents of your lectures during your Retreat in Boston. It's very good to point out or clarify from time-to-time that our ultimate goal of our work is to give glory to God. Hence, we could easily discern our situation day-to-day to re-direct our focus, intentions and offerings to God. The gifts of the Presence and of the present are so great which are sometimes more than we can handle. May God bless you and the Daughters of St. Paul particularly on the Feast Day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In Christ's peace,