Friday, January 13, 2012

A New Freedom

A new freedom is created with regard to this habitual foundation of life, which only appears to be capable of providing support, although this is obviously not to deny its normal meaning. This new freedom, the awareness of the new “substance” which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit.

In their case, the new “substance” has proved to be a genuine “substance”; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is “substance” that calls forth life for others. For us who contemplate these figures, their way of acting and living is de facto a “proof” that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence: he is truly the “philosopher” and the “shepherd” who shows us what life is and where it is to be found.
Spe Salvi 8
Reflection – Today’s post follows upon yesterday’s reflection on Hebrews 10:34 – the persecuted Christians who were willing to lose their ‘substance’ (property) because they had hope of another ‘substance’ (eternal life). Earlier in the encyclical the Pope had introduced the ancient image of Christ as philosopher and shepherd, guiding us on the path of wisdom that leads to life.

So we see in this part of the encyclical the value of consecrated life, of the promises or vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience being lived out by individuals and communities. Those of us called to this vocation make visible to the whole Church the simple reality that this world is not the only one there is, that the goods of this world are not the most important goods human beings are to pursue.

We are not to scramble after money and hoard it like a dog with a bone; we are not to look to human relationships and intimacy as if they will provide us with the love and communion our deepest hearts desire; we are not to stake all our value on self-determination and self-will. The practices of poverty, chastity, and obedience being lived by those of us called to that form of life are meant to have an application in the life of each baptized person. It will be very different for married people, for single people, for young people still searching for their life vocation, but all are called to hold worldly goods in low esteem, to turn to God and God alone for the love they crave, and to seek his will in all things.

Of course, if there is no God and no hope beyond this world, all of this is silly nonsense, and harmful nonsense at that, since it deprives us of the only happiness there is—a surfeit of worldly delights—for an illusory joy. That the worldly happiness on offer is fleeting at best and eludes a large percentage of humanity most of the time—well, that’s just too bad. Life sucks and then you die.

So for me, and for any of us who have been beckoned by Christ onto this beautiful road of consecrated life, there is a powerful imperative to bear witness to the goodness, the joy that these renunciations bring. And so I do that, here and now. What God has given me in Christ is so much beyond the trivialities I have given up for him (money, marriage, career!) that I have no words for it. I give him finite temporal goods; He gives me His infinite self. And joy. And peace. And hope. And love.

If anyone happens to be reading this who is troubled by a vague sense of call to some consecrated form of life—religious life, priesthood, maybe even Madonna House!—I encourage you to not be afraid, but to boldly throw everything aside and run after Christ. Even if He turns out to have another plan for you, He is not outdone in generosity, and will use your generous self-abandonment to bring you exactly where He wants you to be. And what else do we need, than to be where God wants us to be?