Self-forgetfulness and Abnegation
Presence of God – O Lord, You who give Yourself to us even to becoming our food, teach me to give myself to souls even unto total forgetfulness of myself.
Another condition necessary for making our activity holy is “generous forgetfulness and abnegation of self” (Pius XII); what is more, without forgetfulness of self, it would be impossible to have rectitude of intention. Many secondary intentions steal into our actions precisely because we are so wrapt up in ourselves, so occupied and preoccupied with our ego, our interests, our conveniences, so anxious to be admired and to win applause and esteem. “We must go forth from ourselves and from creatures,” says St. John of the Cross, go forth especially from this creature whom we love more than every other, ourself. If the Saint indicates to us the way of “the nothing” with a view to the contemplative ideal of union with God, we may assert that the apostolic life does not require less; it too exacts total abnegation of self which can only be brought about by constantly reminding ourselves: nothing, nothing, nothing.
To realize his vocation, the missionary must leave his homeland, his parents, his friends; he must give up the language, habits, and customs of his country in order to conform to those of his adopted land; likewise, due proportion being made, every apostle must renounce many things, even when working in home surroundings, his place of employment, or among his neighbors. Tastes, habits, personal demands of culture, education, sensibility must be generously put aside, that the apostle may adapt himself to the mentality and to the demands of others; quiet, rest, relaxation, must yield their place to the service of souls. The apostle should not go about seeking interesting conversations, consoling friendships, pleasant occupations, satisfying results. Occasionally it may happen that he will meet these things on his way, but even then, he may not stop to enjoy them selfishly, but must use them as means for the apostolate; in any case, they may never and must never rule his activity. The apostle is sent to “give” and not to “receive,” to sow and not to reap; therefore, he ought to know how to give his time, his work, his energies, and his very self, even in situations which offer nothing consoling, and even to those souls from whom he receives neither satisfaction nor gratitude.
“O Lord, help me to understand well that my work has eternal value only in proportion to the love with which I do it, and not to the success or failure it may or may not have. Even if I do not see the fruits, what does it matter as long as You see them? You want me to work in the spirit of faith, without seeking personal satisfaction.
“I feel that I am a mother of souls, and I must sacrifice myself for them with the greatest generosity because the salvation of many souls may depend on my correspondence to grace. I am a poor little nothing, Lord, but I offer You all. Father, I offer You Your divine Son. Take me and dispose of me for Your greatest glory.
“O Lord, with insistence You are constantly urging me to an ever more generous and total sacrifice. I feel the need to give myself to You, no longer to reserve anything for myself. I wish, then, to renew my offering to You in order that You may take me wholly, that You may transform me, that You may use me for Your glory, for the salvation of souls, and that You may complete in me what is lacking to Your Passion for Your Body which is the Church. I am happy to find so many practical occasions in the course of my day to realize this offering” (Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit, O.C.D.).
“O Jesus, my whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice: these are my invincible weapons, and experience has taught me that the heart is won by them rather than by words” (Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 11).
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Art: The Sower, Winslow Homer, wood engraving appearing in Scribner’s Monthly Volume XVI, 1878, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.