February 2009 – Abundant Life II

Focus on the spirituality of St. Francis

February 2009

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

Life is nothing more than potentiality; living is the concrete reality. What does it mean to live to our full potential, to live abundantly? Practically, it means overcoming a long series of intractable obstacles related to the mind and the heart as well as the spirit. These obstacles would otherwise confine us to false or dwarfed versions of who we are.

Woundedness can lock us into destructive patterns such as co-dependency and envy. As a result, many of us lack the freedom that is necessary to abundance.

What does Christian Scripture tells us about liberation from fear and inauthenticity? Essentially, we are invited to take our cue from God. God’s will is presented as supreme. To many of us, this is a frightening proposition. Too often we have understood God’s will as being in opposition to our own. That is a false perception. God’s will is incompatible with the impulses of our false self but not of our true self. When Jesus consented to do his Father’s will during the terrifying night before he died, he was simply acknowledging that the action to follow was the only course that would be coherent with his abiding identity and steadily unfolding mission.

It is our wounded nature that causes us to resist any consideration of will other than that of our ego. Deference to God seems unsafe for reasons that we can’t quite articulate. But, in effect, we fear that God’s will would pulverize our individuality, deny our deepest desires, and ostracize us from our friends. It is as though we did not accept the basic truth that our individuality comes from God. Our deepest desires, as distinct from cravings, are also from God. Above all, God has created us precisely for meaningful and loving relationships.

Far from being something to fear, God’s will is filled with promise. Recall the words of Saint Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

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“The will of God is for everyone with life to live,” affirms Simone Pacot (“La Volonté de Dieu” in L’évangélisation des profondeurs) Pacot’s work makes an important contribution to our understanding of what it means to have a well-adjusted relationship to ourselves, to others and to the ultimate Other.

While seeking the creator’s will is indispensable to living, argues Pacot, it is not as frightful a task as we often think. If for many the search is tormenting, the torment does not come from God. May we never loose sight of God’s own solemn declaration, spoken of his chosen community: “You shall be called My Delight Is in Her.” (Is. 62:4) “My Delight” is an apt translation of God’s will. In other words, God’s desire is that we become his joy, and his joy is not achieved at the expense of ours.

God has a plan for creation in general. This has been made clear throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. To do the will of God, therefore, is to make a personal contribution to that plan, not as an isolated contractor but as a fully engaged citizen of the community of Love for which this project was designed. Its construction is more of a project than a program. We are invited to make it vibrant by living in it authentically and abundantly. Consequently, God’s will cannot exist in contradiction to our most authentic desires. Pure desire, free of distortions caused by woundedness, is the heartbeat of abundant life.

Needs are not insignificant, nor is what we learn from our woundedness. Food and healing are necessary and demand appropriate attention. But when Jesus said that “one does not live by bread alone” (Matt. 4: 4), he was acknowledging a different order of “need,” that of living authentically and for a purpose that transcends mere satisfaction.

Some would deny themselves what is vital to abundant life for fear of living without the usual trappings of security. Others would feel that they are not worthy of entertaining desires, perhaps having been ridiculed for merely “dreaming.” Still others fondle desires but put them down as quickly, as though they were games that we play to amuse or distract ourselves. Finally, some will have been hurt along the way of discerning, formulating and actualizing their deepest desires, and have recoiled.

Along the path of abundant life are a number of traps that would prevent us from proceeding. These include fear of failure and depreciation of the present moment. Many of us are afraid of failing, of losing ground, or of just being different. We hesitate, waiting for obstacles to be magically dismantled or for irrefutable proof of God’s will to be unveiled. So we follow arbitrary rules and find comfort in these. Meanwhile, diverting our attention from the present, we are unavailable to the evolving and pragmatic expressions of real desires. We distort the true nature of hope, which is vital to our well being. We, in effect, run the risk of what some would call pathological hope, indulging in idealization fantasies about the past or the future. When this occurs, it can be a sign of fear and resistance to indications of God’s will.

Essentially, living according to God’s will is to live each moment, as much as possible, in the light of the Holy Spirit. This calls for consciousness and flexibility. Consciousness is to be aware of what is going on within and around us in minute details, understanding their impact on our lives and the consequences of our choices. Flexibility is needed to avoid automatic or impulsive reactions that would be generated by our woundedness if we did not act decisively to give expression to our giftedness and sense of higher purpose.

Blindness and sight are powerful themes in Gospel accounts of Jesus’ mission. It is significant, I think, that before healing the blind Bartimaeus, he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) Jesus can see that the man is blind but defers to Bartimaeus’ own desire. Jesus honours his choice because blindness represented the most intractable obstacle to living abundantly and Bartimaeus genuinely desired “to see and follow Jesus.” In a way, the physical blindness was incidental. The real miracle was that Bartimaeus touched the core of his deepest desire: “Your faith has made you well.”

Let us become engaged in no longer living alone, dependent solely on our own abilities as orphans, but to always live in reference to the Word, guided by the Holy Spirit. (Rough translation of Simone Pacot, L’évangélisation des profondeurs)

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God’s will is to liberate us so that we can live in peace even in the most complicated and difficult situations. The operative word here is “live,” not merely survive. Our potential is never diminished by challenges and setbacks. But in such circumstances, it is in greater need of grace and of God’s reminder of the basics, who we are, how we are to be and why, as individuals endowed with a unique set of gifts and desires, and designed to bloom in a particular set of circumstances. That’s why anxiety and envy are so threatening. Anxiety causes us to doubt or underutilize our gifts and to formulate desires that are, in reality, expressions of emotional need. Envy has us prefer to use our gifts in other people’s circumstances. “If only” becomes a paralyzing refrain.

It is almost impossible to elude tendencies toward anxiety and envy. Typically, the first is rooted in childhood events involving parents and the second concerning siblings. We are all, therefore, predisposed to, but not condemned to, anxiety and envy. A tendency and an action are different things. Severing the tie between the two is precisely the conversion to which we are called emotionally; to rise from the shadow. Snares laid in our subconscious can limit our freedom but they need not determine the course of our life. The wisdom of God is to have us focus on healthy living rather than obsess about our limitations. The fullness of life was at our birth, is in our present and will always be God’s will and promise.

Anxiety is the turbulence caused by toxic memories, repressed feelings and unspecified fears. We all have them to a degree. The only way to reduce their effect is to go to their source. That requires patience and courage as well as the encouragement of a trusted companion: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Is. 43:2)

Envy gives rise to rivalry, jealousy, resentment and even violence. That is why the last of God’s key interdictions, the Ten Commandment, warn us against submitting to temptations involving envy: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Covetousness is allowing ourselves to be charmed, hypnotized. In other words, we are called to reality and warned against the insidious “what if” fantasy. Gratitude, essential to joy, is always to be found in reality, never in fantasy.

From the moment when we begin to collaborate with the Holy Sprit, we leave the path of death, inertia and self-destruction. We embark upon the path of life, movement, reconstruction and resurrection. (Pacot, L’évangélisation des profondeurs)

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May God bless you with the grace to explore your deepest desire, to find strength in his Love, wisdom in his Son, and joy in his delight in you.

Fraternally in joy and hope


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