Monday, September 19, 2011

The choice is ours: The way of penance or the way of selfishness...

In an excellent article on the way of penance in the life of Saint Francis, Father Vincenzo Cherubino Bigi, OFM explains that, "The way of penance is putting God as the center of all we value so that neither profit, nor personal success direct our lives in this world. What matters now is living in God's Presence, and allowing Christ center place in our lives. To be attentive to Christ as my Model and to try in some way to integrate Him in my life is the point of departure and the continual renewal of the true sense of penance: a continuous conversion which is profoundly internalized. It is not the mortification of the body but the conversion of one's spirit.

To live in the presence of Christ, to live in the presence of God is to assume in oneself the law of love which was expressed by Christ in His life. Beginning from this point, we will seek to discover the essential moments of the penitential life of Francis. The fundamental point already described is that of putting God at the center of our daily life, to refer to God in the continual horizon of our daily choices.

In our daily activities, we can find ourselves in a fortunate condition: we can do, good in our actions. The conversion of Francis is to be found right here: in referring the good we do back to God.

This is the interior poverty of man as against the boast of the Pharisee who attributes to himself the possibility of doing good, of saving himself by means of the observance of the law in his good works.

St. Francis always has this concern at the core: all the good that I perform by my actions is not mine, but is God's work. From here flows the centrality of God in my life. It is not my possessions, not my riches, my prosperity but everything good that I am able to do is a gift from God and so I refer it back to God in thanksgiving and in self- emptying.

The heart of one who does penance is a heart empty of self ... which recognizes that the journey of this world is a gift of God. All the good things one does in the course of daily living are not his riches, his possessions but rather come from the God Who is the Giver of every good gift and so must be referred to, and brought back to Him. Hence, the first characteristic of the penance of St. Francis is purity of spirit, of interiority, is a poverty of the heart.

Referring things back to God implies yet something else, it implies not seeking our reward in this world. "You have received your reward." Many times in life after doing something good we expect to receive the reward for this good act and, when we don't receive it, we complain to God: I chose the good and still I have this sickness, etc.. To be converted means not looking for a reward in this world. Here is the deep reality of the Spirit, namely that if I do good in order to receive a reward, it means that I wish to possess, I wish to enrich myself, I wish to have a lasting place in this world. Often St. Francis in his writings admonishes us on this very point. The gift of yourself must be free just as the gift of God is free. The reference back to God means not seeking in this world one's reward: this is what it means to be free.

When Christ multiplied the bread and when they would have made him king, He hid himself, because if He had agreed to be King then, it would have been this miracle which ruled men. Jesus would be manipulating them through persuading them by satisfying their physical needs. The reward of bread as a promise for meeting Christ would have taken away their liberty.

I am free when I am able to give, not when my conduct is influenced by selfishness. even when it is a spiritual selfishness, which always seeks to be rewarded and gratified. One who acts in this way is not yet converted.

Penance is above all this deep freedom from one's selfish demands in order to be perfectly free for God and our neighbor. It is a profound guiding concept which interiorizes the notion of changing one's mind. Generally our mind is concentrated on ourselves, our power, our benefits, our possessions, our success. We really become the center of our life. Conversion means to put God at the center and myself to the side." (See here).

Note the very important point Father Bigi makes here: "I am free when I am able to give, not when my conduct is influenced by selfishness."   Dissent from received Catholic teaching is the result of selfishness. As Pope Benedict XVI explained back in 2009: "Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence..." (Christmas homily 2009).

It is in the Sacrament of Penance that frees us from selfishness.  That teaches us to develop a receptivity to God and to place Him at the center and ourselves to the side.  Because most within the Church have lost the spirit of penance, a spirit of aggression and self-assertion has taken its place.  A spirit of selfishness and pride.  It is this spirit of selfishness which is crippling the Church.  The spirit which demands women's ordination even though the Church has said that such is not possible.  The spirit which demands that the Church change her teaching and conform herself to the "modern world."

The way of penance is the way of peace.  Which is why there is so little peace today.  And so, on the anniversary of the La Salette apparition, let us pray:

Remember, dear Lady of La Salette, true Mother of Sorrows, the tears which thou didst shed for me on Calvary; be mindful also of the unceasing care which thou dost exercise to shield me from the justice of God; and consider whether thou canst now abandon thy child, for whom thou hast done so much. Inspired by this consoling thought, I come to cast myself at thy feet, in spite of my infidelity and ingratitude. Reject not my prayer, O Virgin of reconciliation, convert me, obtain for me the grace to love Jesus Christ above all things and to console thee too by living a holy life, in order that one day I may be able to see thee in Heaven. Amen.

Related reading here.

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