Ignatius of Loyola often advised the Jesuits who were doing spiritual ministry that if they want to influence another person, they must enter the door of the other and guide that person out the door. I wish to propose this as the framework for our reflection this Sunday.
The Gospel (Mark 1: 21-28) for this 4th Sunday in Ordinary time focuses on the authority of Christ’s teaching and his power to drive out demons. This ministry of Christ, plus his healing, attracted many to follow him.
In driving out demons, Christ did not simply show his authority over unclean spirits. More importantly, he showed the depth of his compassion for others, for humanity. This is the classic example of entering the door of the other and leading that person out the door.
In ancient times, it was a prevalent belief that illness is caused by evil spirits. You have remnants of this today in some traditional cultures and even in so-called contemporary, modern cultures.
Christ had a tremendous understanding of human nature and the human experience. In the Incarnation, he enters the door of humanity and leads us or shows us the way to the fullness of life in the Resurrection.
Christ becomes one with us in all things—including the experience of temptation—except sin. This is the perfect example of what Ignatius advised his fellow Jesuits: Enter their door and take them out from your door.
Pope Francis said something so simple that captured the beauty, depth and power of this mystery. He said only when Christ wept that he understood us and thus he was able to save us in a way that empowered us.
A sense of mission
I invite you to reflect on a few points to “evaluate” our ability to enter the door of others and lead them to the door of Christ.
First is the meaning of our own life, a sense of mission. In one of his books, “To Know as We Are Known, a Spirituality of Education,” Parker Palmer writes that the reason people go into teaching is not for money or fame, but because they are so passionate and “in love” with a subject matter that they want to bring others into a relationship with this subject matter.
What is your sense of passion for something or someone meaningful to you? What is the dream that started and continues to inspire your life lived with a sense of mission?
As I recently told someone who wanted to have a conversation about his career, his vocation and his mission, he should think of what it is he is willing to live for and, if necessary, die for. This is key to his mission.
Second, how much of yourself have you emptied to allow the grace and spirit of Christ to enter your life? Related to this is the basic principle of “we cannot give what we do not have.” The assumption of the emptying of self is to allow Christ to enter our life and it is Christ that we give.
Scripture is replete with examples. John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and he (Christ) must increase.”
The declaration of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles shows us this grace: “Silver or gold I have none, but what I have, I give. In the name of Christ, walk!”
Paul eloquently describes his own transformation: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
We empty ourselves out of humility, yes, and more so out of gratitude.
The truth of our lives
A word on humility before we reflect on gratitude. In our previous articles, we said that Teresa of Avila presents the best definition of humility—which is to accept the truth of who we are.
Ignatius further details this by prescribing a realistic knowledge of self, both the goodness and the evil, the blessing and the curse, the holiness and sinfulness of our life.
All these are part of the truth of our life, but in and underneath all these is the one most important truth, the God who is love present in our life and person.
This is the most authentic humility that leads us and makes us embrace the most authentic truth of our life. Now the stage is set for the emptying of self out of gratitude.
Gratitude and love
The logical and natural consequence of seeing God in our life, the events and moments of our life, is gratitude and love. Here we go back to the Ignatian prescribed prayer for grace: Lord, that I may see thee more clearly (in my life), love you more dearly (in and with my life), follow you more nearly (totally).
This is the gratitude that leads to the emptying of self. This emptying is again beautifully prayed by Ignatius: “All things I have and all that I am, you have given all to me, to you I return them… give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”
This is total self-emptying done out of gratitude. This is the gratitude that gives back in service and with great love in the same spirit as Peter: “…what I have, I give. In the name of Christ walk…” It is a service that heals and gives life “in the name of Christ.”
Third is our ability to be one with others. We do not simply enter the door of others, but we enter to be one with them in their journey and to be present to them. This has two subtle yet very important points: one, it is the other’s journey and not ours; and two, our solidarity with them is one of presence.
The great temptation of service of and accompanying others is to impose not just our will but also our own story and journey on others. The virtue of respect thus is very important; respect that it is others’ journey so we must serve to empower and enable them to make choices that will give greater freedom and bring them closer to making their dreams a reality.
So it is that one of the most powerful and effective ways to live our compassion and solidarity is to be present in the lives of others. Presence expresses our deepest communion with one another.
Pope Francis, in his homily during the Mass with the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” put it simply yet eloquently: “So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart… I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced… We are not alone.”
P.S. We especially make this prayer—“Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord… We are not alone”—with and for the families of the 44 SAF troops who died in the Maguindanao massacre.