Saturday, June 12, 2010

Retreat Report

It's the next-to-last day for retreat, and the theme for the day was "The Penitent Heart is an Apostolic Heart." The penitent heart is not penitent merely for the sake of purifying ourselves of defects and sin; the most important aspect is not the negative but the positive: the heart must be penitent so it can be free to love God and neighbor; free to put aside immediate self-interest or concrete advantage for the sake of another.

Jesus in the words by our tabernacles tells us that he wants our hearts to be free: delivered from fear and filled with light. So we have the positive and negative aspects of the penitent heart. What is the fear that freedom casts out by its excess. Scripture speaks of fear as a slavish quality. “The fear of death makes us slaves our whole life long”; “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear.”

Freedom is our favorite word as Americans, our greatest shared value. And it was Paul's favorite word, too! Paul says we become free when we are obedient to the Gospel Freedom and obedience are both aspects of Paul's concept of being a servant. And yet he could say, in almost the same breath, “Am I not free? Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Pope Benedict also wrote, “I must learn... to keep myself available for whatever he, the Lord, needs of me at a given moment, even if other things seem more appealing and more important to me: it means giving life, not taking it. It is in this very way that we experience freedom: freedom from ourselves, the vastness of being. In this very way... our life becomes important and beautiful.”

In freedom, the person's gifts are released for full and expanisve expression, not as requirements, not “exacted,” but springing freely and abundantly and without interior force or effort. Even if they require immense energy and work, it is not grinding effort, but life-giving, with the fruits of the Spirit as side effects.
When Sr Helena and I met with Brother Al last November, I had a chance to ask him for some insights about the "penitent heart" based on his long years of acquaintance with our Founder. Right away he connected that exhortation, "Live with a penitent heart" to the apostolate. He said that the “be sorry for sins” wasn't merely a “be sorry for YOUR sins”; that there was a broader understanding of sin and grace involved, including the way the media play into that. So “live with a penitent heart” can mean, “have a heart!” Have a heart for what is behind the signs of the times; have a heart for what is going on in a culture produced by the use of these means; respond from the heart to the needs of that are manifested in the way peole interact in this culture; respond from the heart to the compromised glory of God and peace of humanity. Have a heart for the whole world of media, and every person affected by the misuse of these gifts of God. And that means to have a spirit also of reparation, which is the spiritual counterbalance for the harm that is spread when people use communications technologies without regard for the whole truth about the human person.
Doing penance and offering reparation is a is a sign of the clear awareness that:
  1. all is not as it should be, and
  2. we can make a difference. Even at the cost of sacrifice.
As God's love is manifested in this valley of tears as mercy, our love of God in this valley of tears is expressed in sacrifice.What is the spirit of sacrifice of the penitent heart? It is love that will not be held back or limited by discomfort or suffering or loss of personal advantage. Love speaks in terms of sacrifice: “I will climb mountains for you! I would slay dragons for you! I would throw myself in front of a train to pull you from harm! I would die for you.” The “for you” makes all the difference. Without a “for you,” there isn't a sacrifice. And there can be plenty of sacrifice in extending the word of God to others

Evelyn Underhill has such a charming expression of this self-emptying missionary sacrifice: “Redemption does not mean you and me safe and popped into heaven. It means that each soul, redeemed from self interest by the revelation of Divine Love, it taken and used again for the spread of that redeeming work.”

Referred to in this talk:

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