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Joe Hoover, S.J.May 23, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

“Peter began to say to Jesus, ‘We have given up everything and followed you.’” (Mk 10:28)

To give up everything and follow Jesus, to leave behind homes and lands and fathers and mothers and children, the disciples first had to be spiritually free.

Being spiritually free, becoming “indifferent,” embracing a Christian version of what Buddhists call “non-clinging” (we cling only to Christ), is the beating heart of St. Ignatius’ approach to Christian life. It arises from the First Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises: All things being equal, says Ignatius, we should prefer neither health nor sickness, wealth nor poverty, a good reputation nor bad, preferring only that which best serves God.

We do not predetermine what condition of life will best glorify God. We cannot put a timeline on our glorifying:”When I finally beat this chronic illness.” “When I leave this suffocating relationship.” “When I am at last financially stable, then I’ll be ‘freed up’ to serve God and my fellow man.” Rather we are called to give our lives to God in whatever state we find ourselves.

And so Peter and John and James and Thomas and Matthew were free, unattached to their lives, their work, their fishing nets and tax tables. They put aside preferences about how their life should be and embraced the future Christ was offering them.

(I cannot help but think these men were not necessarily so “spiritually free” before meeting Jesus. It probably took the compelling gaze of Christ—and sometimes his emptying a sea of its fish—to draw out that spiritual flexibility. Nevertheless, no one forced them: they chose to follow Jesus.)

In the fall of 1997, I went to a friend’s wedding upon which it rained, and I mean really rained. The reception was held at Happy Hollow Country Club and upon that hollow that was happy, it poured.

It was as if some dark angel had sent buckets of water to test her, to see if she would crumple in misery and gloom at this downpour. My friend? She was not one bit perturbed. (You could tell she was not just “putting on a brave face.” Regardless of the weather, she was filled with joy.)

She was free to neither cling to a sunny wedding nor a drenched one, preferring to embrace only that which God moved her to embrace. She put aside her preference for the skies on the day of her nuptials and accepted how the skies actually were.

Is this a bit trivial? Comparing a young bride in the late ‘90s “giving up” expectations for wedding weather, with first-century disciples giving up their entire lives to follow the Messiah, Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God? Perhaps.

But the fact is, I still remember her radiant face as she walked from the reception hall into the downpour. It has stayed with me all these years: A woman who truly did not care that it rained and poured on her wedding day—a free person, unattached to material circumstances and simply accepting the reality of the moment.

And it would not be a trivial thing, not in the least, if any one of us could embrace one-tenth of that attitude, that posture toward the embrace of God, that unflappability.

If we grew even a fraction of an inch closer to giving up everything to the God of irrepressible joy like my friend did (and still does), who knows what energies it might unleash? Who knows how far and wide that would radiate into the world? Who knows what seeds might bloom from witnessing one highly charged moment of pure spiritual freedom, sparking countless others to live the same way?

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