Honesty, humble sorrow, and deep gratitude are graces we desire for this week. What concrete means can we use to open ourselves to receive these graces from our Lord, who deeply desires to give them to us?
First of all, it may be important to review last week’s help, regarding some important cautions about doing these exercises without a director.
Penetrating focus is the key. Here are a few examples.
If one of the sins that I have remembered is that I had an affair a number of years ago, this is the week during which I can uncover all the grace that is being offered me. (Any serious sin offers the same opportunity.) The temptation here is to say that it is something I did in the past, it is over, I confessed it, I was forgiven, and I shouldn’t dwell on it because it will never happen again. Why dredge up an old sorrow? This is a possible time for several new graces. I can beg to understand the pattern or patterns beneath the sin. I can ask to understand the underlying dishonesty and recklessness, even to explore the neediness and selfishness that was there. If I keep going, in the confident trust that God’s love and mercy will show me a grace that reveals the depth of that love, God’s grace will be given. Perhaps I will discover that the heart of this sin was not sex, for example, but an escape from myself, from the loneliness or pain I was feeling. Perhaps I will be given a grace to see, in this trusting exploration, that my deepest sin was that I failed to turn to the Lord in my need; I didn’t rely on or even listen to what grace might have been offered me there. When I’m in trouble, I do something to fill the void, escape the pain, hide the mistake, compromise here and there. Perhaps I will see a pattern in my unwillingness to accept the cross in my life — dying to myself — because I haven’t accepted the depth of the freedom offered to me in the Lord’s dying on the cross for me. And what can draw me into this depth is the attraction to know the profound embrace of love that is offered me there, when everything is opened in the light of God’s love.
If one of the areas I’m examining as a pattern this week is my failure to love in a variety of ways, this can be a powerful week to understand a complex rut I may be stuck in and to experience the graced desire to surrender my heart in grateful response to the love offered me. So, what lies beneath the limits I place on relationships? How about the way my friends and I securely judge, even attack, those others who we believe are sinners? What is the unlove that characterizes the traits that people see in me? What has been the basis of my coolness to becoming involved in service for the poor? It is in the answers to these questions that I will discover the graces being offered me. Here is where I will discover the need for deep healing of parts of me that seem deep rooted. Because I don’t see myself as a big sinner, I can too often avoid looking at the patterns that prevent me from becoming an effective disciple of Jesus with all of my heart. Here is where I discover the Lord’s desire for the rest of my heart. And, of course, it is here that I discover the depth of Augustine’s prayer: “Oh, Lord, our God, you have created us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” — and, we might add, to rest in a wondrous love beyond what we can ask for or imagine.
Throughout this week, with whatever I discover, it will be important to keep drawing it together into an image of myself, loved by God. From time to time, if I penetrate the patterns deeply, I will discover an image of myself that is complicated, often inconsistent, very messy, quite unattractive to myself. I will be overwhelmed with the mystery of how God could possibly love someone who has been such an unreliable servant, someone who has had such a divided heart. Here is where God reveals himself. It is right here that we discover who we are and here that we discover our need for a savior.
A final image might help throughout this week, as we look at the photo of ourselves, deep in prayer. We can imagine our lives like a house. Our lives, like a house, often have nice front yards. We might even invest lots of money in presenting an impressive image when driving by. Just inside our house, there is an entryway and living room, where we greet and entertain most of the people who get into our lives. People who are more intimately involved in our lives get invited farther in as dinner guests, next door neighbors or lifelong friends. And, of course, there are the intimate places in our house — the bathrooms and bedroom — where only the most intimate parts of our life happen. But in every house — in every life — there is a basement (or attic or garage) where the less than presentable stuff is kept. This week, we can imagine going down into that basement, even if there has been a lock on that door and I haven’t visited it in a long time. I need not be afraid, because I’m going to go down there, accompanied by Jesus, who will show me all the stuff that is there. There’s old stuff there I wouldn’t want to show anybody else. There’s embarrassing stuff there, in hiding. As I walk around it all, I can imagine Jesus telling me he loves me here, in this place. I can hear him tell me he loves all of me — the whole me.Don’t avoid this week for fear that it will be negative. That would avoid a tremendous grace. A check we can use throughout the week is to ask whether I am growing in a sense of God’s love, in a sense of gratitude for that love, in a sense of myself as a loved sinner. Then the focus won’t be on ourselves, but on the one who desires to fill our restless hearts.