Several years ago I discovered a treasure in a used book store, Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, S.J. (NY: Herder and Herder, 1965). This was not written like an ordinary book, as Father Rahner never intended it to be one. Each year, Rahner gave eight-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to young candidates to the priesthood. On two of the retreats, the seminarians wrote down his words verbatim—later becoming a mimeograph manuscript and finally a book, which Rahner did not edit or control. In the Foreward he cautions readers that his own words are not the Exercises themselves, but the passages when read give one a feeling of being in the presence of Rahner on retreat, speaking to the future hope of the church. I, like Thomas Merton in The Seven Storey Mountain, found "The Kingdom of Christ" especially captivating and Rahner's words add even more appeal:
In the "first week" the retreatant is supposed to have become mistrustful of his former life, and he is supposed to have aroused within himself the will to make a decision. He is supposed to have prayed for the courage, while being aware of his eternal destiny, to make a right choice on which will depend his salvation or damnation. Now he is supposed to ask himself if he has discovered the major problem in his life, if he is oppressed by a special difficulty that requires a fundamental decision.
St. Ignatius wants the exercitant to stir up in himself the courage to make a binding choice that will truly affect his life, even if it is only in a very small matter. This can be in something relatively small. A choice such as this naturally implies the possibility of other alternatives that are also choosable. The choice here is not between good and evil, but between different means that in themsleves could be used to attain the end. In this situation, it is not at all easy to decide what I should choose here and now.
The Lord we are dealing with remains eternally the same one Who once lived in Palestine. To be sure, He is the King of glory, the Glorified One, the one who is raised to the right hand of the Father. But still, I can only meet Him when I know by means of a real anamesis of an ecclesial-sacramental and contemplative-existential kind that He is the one who lived in Palestine in His own age. I will ask for the grace I desire. Here it will be to ask of our Lord the grace not to be deaf to His call, but prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will.
Our God is a God of consuming love. he wants to possess us completely! He gives us no rest and pursues us our whole life long. If we are priests, we will have to share Christ's fate whether we want to or not. But the important thing is that we consciously and lovingly say "Yes" to him--a "Yes" of the whole heart. In this matter, it can be decisive whether or not we have prepared ourselves in this meditation on the Kingdom of Christ as a whole-hearted gift of self.
As always, I find Karl Rahner's words inspiring and this week particularly apt for two reasons. First, he reminds us not only of the small but life-changing responses that are within our power to make; in a world at-times seemingly out-of-control and full of activities we'd like to change but can't, this is no small solace. Second, this book reminds me of the great respect and love which Father Karl Rahner had for his fellow priests. In an unfortunate era where the acts of a small number of priests bring a taint of bias to more than too many others, it is good to hear from a great encourager of the priesthood, Karl Rahner--who is very much like Barnabas was to St. Paul, a Son of Encouragement. If any priests would like a chapter from this book, let me know: [email protected].
William Van Ornum