We have just begun a new scholastic year and we are all into the mood of living out our mission in very tangible ways in all our communities with various programmes. We also begin our series of animation meetings for different groups and categories as part of our on- going formation. Let us all take special care to make the best use of these opportunities and profit from them so as to live our commitment as religious more effectively and continue to live our commitment to the people of God in more visible and tangible ways.
We are all capable of reflection. In fact the capacity for reflection can light up the way for us in our process of discernment. Such a process can alter our life; give direction for the use of our energy and a noble purpose towards which we can channel our generosity. Ability to reflect and discern is a process which is a God-given trait to humanity. It is good to have a closer look at the father in the parable of the prodigal son. The father waits for the Prodigal Son giving him sufficient space and time to realize his folly and change his mind. He did not force him to come his way. This capacity to reflect and change if effectively used can bring about a complete U-turn in one’s life. In the parable of the father and two sons (Mt 21: 28-32) too what we see is ‘change of heart resulting from reflection’ leading to a complete U-Turn in the decision of the elder son as he later decides to go and work in the vineyard as requested by his father.
Heraclitus (535 BC-475 BC) the philosopher who introduced the philosophy of change is relevant here. Being is becoming. Everything changes. “No one ever steps into the same river twice.” Persons change. What do these statements mean? We are constantly evolving. Our life is not a finished product. It is an ongoing process. In this context, it is important that our perceptions of self and others need constant re-visit. Persons are not exactly the way we see or hear about. They are much more than what we see and hear. Hence, we need to understand and accept them from a broader perspective. “Man looks at the appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7).” This is where God and human beings differ. At the same time, it does not mean that constancy and permanency is an impossible task. It does not mean that commitment to a cause for a long period of time and even for the whole of one’s life is an impossibility. In this process let us not lose sight of the fundamentals.
If we intend on change within ourselves, we need to take a journey into ourselves. Perhaps that is the toughest and most perilous journey one finds today. “The longest journey is the journey inward” (Dag Hammarskjöld, in Markings). This journey is an ongoing process. This journey within self is not undertaken by self alone. We are not alone. We have several tributaries that enhance our life as we flow along the way. They were there from the time we were born beginning with our family and friends. This is where we need to consider the role of friends and spiritual masters who play very pertinent roles in our lives. Today we are all aware of the important ministry of accompaniment to be understood also in this regard.
The Church too accompanies us along this journey. The magisterium (mater = mother) accompanies us like a mother. Sacramental life and the teachings of the Church are guides for our ongoing formation. They are companions on our journey. How far are we up to date with the teachings of the Church? The whole process of our fidelity and growth is facilitated by the accompaniment that we receive from so many quarters in our life. The guidelines we receive from all quarters, the suggestions we receive from so many interested people, the observations from nature, the values that we gather through these observations, all these are part of the accompaniment that we receive.
Today this is all the more important because as we move on in life, there can be the possibility of detours and deviations. They at times harm or hinder our journey or divert the focus of this ongoing process. The detours can be attractions of the world, ambitions in life or even distorted goal of one’s life journey. How do I address these detours in my life? These are the questions that each one of us will have to examine with the help of those who accompany us. How do I accept myself as I am with all my shadows and lights in my life?
Examples of such twists and turns in one’s life can be seen in the life of many characters in the Bible. Peter as the head of the disciples could not stand strong when his master needed him most. He became a victim of his deviations in his life. But a glance from his master woke him up to a new way of life. What about Zacchaeus? He had his bad past. He was able to make a change in his life in the presence of the public boldly. Nathaniel had very poor opinion of Jesus. But, he changed his perception of Jesus after meeting him. In this connection, the attitude of Jesus is very important to consider. It was an affirmative and accompanying presence of the Lord that changed the course of their journey. A dinner changed a sinner in Zacchaeus. A glance brought grace on Peter. A word of appreciation entirely changed the life of Nathanael and he became a disciple of the Lord.
Some tips for the way
Journaling: We live in an era where old styles of spiritual diary and even writing habits are fast disappearing. They are now replaced by digital walls and pages on our social media. Whether digital or analogue, expressing the self through writing is one way of journeying within. A person who constantly evaluates self by keeping a record is one of the effective ways of doing examination of conscience which also ought to lead us to an awareness or consciousness of our own disposition. In this context, it is good to pause and see what we write and share in the social media space. Do they help us and other recipients to stay focused?
Word of God: The Word plays a very important role in our lives. The Word can change our lives upside down. It was the Word that changed the course of the life St. Antony of Egypt (Mt. 19:21) St. Augustine (Rom 13:11-14) St. Ignatius of Loyola (Mt 16:26) etc. The Word of God is our companion on our way. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path (Ps 119:105).” Lectio divina practiced regularly can help us remain focused in the light of the Word of God.
Spiritual Guide: The role of Jesus during the Emmaus Journey of the two disciples needs to be considered here. It turned out to be a journey that changed the life of the two disciples. The U-Turn in their lives happened after a prolonged discussion, discernment, doubts and daring challenges from the stranger on the road. That stranger built a relationship that was friendly. So much so, they invited the stranger to stay and have meal together. The role of the accompaniers is one of friendly relationship. The capacity to change their mind set began with their hearts. Change is a matter of the heart. “Were not our hearts burning with fire along the way?” (Lk 24: 32).
In his book ‘Winning with people’, John C Maxwell speaks of an experience where in March 1995 the New England Pipe Cleaning Company of Watertown, Connecticut, was working under the streets of Revere, Massachusetts, to clean out a ten-inch sewer line. The workers found many of the usual items that cog those kinds of pipes. However, they discovered several other things as well: 61 rings, coins of various types and silverware. The bad news in this process is that the workers had to do an unpleasant job. The good news is that they were allowed to keep the valuable things they discovered in the process. In the process of reflection, we may have to go through a painful process to make things right. But the reward is that we may discover some treasures that we did not know existed or even the insightful rediscovery of certain qualities of our own life is also possible. “If you want to become well, you need more than a fix. You need to become fit” (Kevin Myers).