Only thy Grace, thy love on me bestow. Possessing these, all riches I forego. (Suscipe of St. Ignatius)
The Gospel of the rich young man (MT 19:16-22) is prayed when preparing for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. A young wealthy man doing everything “right” as he was taught by his elders. Yet at some point in life, he came across Jesus. Perhaps someone invited him to hear the great Rabbi speak. Perhaps he had watched from afar and was curious. Regardless, the soul knows its creator and his, responding to the Divine in its midst, dared to approach.
In our prayer, using Ignatius’ method, we put ourselves in the young man’s place, and after reading the passage, focus on Jesus loved him. Humans can look lovingly upon one another and share love that God has first given to them. But Jesus loved him.
Try it yourself with your five senses: Jesus had “departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan” healing people, encountered the children, then “went on his way”; and the man (you) enter the scene. What do you see around you? Feel the air and sun; hear the sounds, smell the scents, etc. How do you approach Jesus? How do you feel gazing at Jesus? What is it like having Jesus gaze at you? What does Jesus’ love feel like? Then, after first allowing yourself to be loved, listen to Him in your heart…what is the one thing Jesus asks you to give up in order to follow Him?
The young man didn’t just walk away from Love itself. He walked away from salvation. The question begs, of course, how many times a day do I?
The beginning of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is a time of great purgation. We meditate on Hell and sin, coming to terms with both the pains of life that have shaped us and our choices by which we have shaped ourselves. An outcome is a profound understanding of Hell which, as separation from God, is the total loss of love. Not only is all Love lost but with it all memory of love, of loving others and of having been loved. Total depravity.
Something we really cannot imagine because, while still alive at His hand, we are never fully separated from Love.
This month in which we pray for the souls in Purgatory, we might also be more cognizant of the souls still here on earth suffering a taste of Hell by their chosen separation from the Church. The depravity, banefulness, and shallowness of such a life are certainly the foretaste of Hell just as our Eucharistic-centered life is a foretaste of Heaven.
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.” – St. Francis de Sales
The best way we can bring others to this Heaven-on-earth is to stay steady in our own walk with God. Just like the wealthy young man, I dispose myself to God by ‘doing everything right’. But as a holy priest told me over 20 years ago, when you really love someone, you do as much for them as possible not as little as required. In the small stuff of the day, we show this love by taking the better choice and rejecting the (usually easier) lesser-good choice. Now if relying upon our natural strength alone, we also rely upon our own judgement alone to decide between the two; that’s a scary thought! If instead we do these small things for our love of God, we invite Him into it and are receptive of His actual Grace and virtue of Fortitude in acting upon the choice. Of course, the examen is critical to uncovering these moments of choice.
“To aim at pleasing God in all my actions, striving to be influenced by love of God rather than by hope of reward or the fear of punishment.” (Retreat Resolution of Daniel O’Connell)
Image Credit: “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hofmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons