‘Pope Benedict’s resignation shows immense spiritual freedom. Rare is the person who can, and will, relinquish such power voluntarily. It is an example of what St. Ignatius Loyola meant by being “disponible,” available, free of any disordered attachments, in order to be able to follow the will of God. Pope John Paul II was free enough to carry on in the midst of a difficult illness, and in the face of having to show to the public his obvious infirmities; Pope Benedict is free enough to accept his inability to carry on as he believes God would want him to. Spiritual freedom is on display today.’ James Martin SJ
As we start the season of Lent today, it is perhaps worthwhile to consider this idea of disordered attachments. Too many of us hiccup our way through Lent giving up the old favourites of chocolate or alcohol, giving a little extra to charity and maybe throwing in a bit of additional prayer. As I talk with friends over ideas of what they will do for Lent, it is increasingly obvious that these well worn actions don’t really have much spiritual impact.
What are disordered attachments? Returning to the quote by James Martin SJ, both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II exhibited spiritual freedom. Pope John Paul by choosing to remain in power even in frailty and suffering and Pope Benedict by choosing to resign. If Pope Benedict was inordinately attached to his position as pontiff, he would not have been able to respond to the inner promptings of conscience and step down. Ultimately, he would have put retention of his position above service to God. Having said that, it is important here to note the juxtaposition of these two men. Faced with the same issues, Pope John Paul believed he was called to continue. The issue is the willingness to be led, not the outcome of the decision.
We all have things we are invested in – careers, social standing, financial wellbeing, reputation etc. None of these things is inherently problematic, unless we are a little too attached. Are we willing to compromise our ethics to get ahead? Do we hide our faith from our colleagues? Do we parade our good deeds to our church friends? Do we sacrifice our integrity to climb the next rung on the ladder? Put in melodramatic terms these are the places that we sell our souls. That is to say, with slightly less flourish, these are places where our relationship with God is put into second place. The way in which this manifests itself is a great reluctance to relinquish the thing which feeds our ego. In the end we put our own ego before relationship with God.
Ignatius, in the Principle and Foundation puts it this way:
The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit. All the things in this world are gift of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the centre of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal. In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our own choice should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.
So maybe a useful consideration for Lent should be paying attention to those spaces where I find myself a little too attached; to pay attention to my conscience; to practice discernment to distinguish between those things which will lead me to greater authenticity and integrity and those things which feed my ego.