FR. MICHAEL WRITES:
“This life is not good if it is not an imitation of Christ’s life,” writes St John of the Cross in a letter of 1590 to Mother Anne of Jesus, the prioress of one of the reformed Carmelite Monasteries he had helped to found together with St. Theresa of Avila.
“Now, until God gives us heaven” He says, “Pass the time in the virtues of mortification and patience, desiring to resemble somewhat in suffering this great God of ours, humbled and Crucified.” This is his theme even when he had just been sacked by his confreres at a counsel meeting of the Order from being Provincial Superior of Andalusia, together with a number of other senior roles, and was now simply a Friar, much disliked by some of those who were newly his superiors.
However, he was delighted that he had been relieved, for whatever motives, from an enormous burden of administration as he could give himself again to unencumbered contemplation.
Given that this correspondence was between two saints as Mother Ann was also later Canonised, it’s reassuring that even saints are in danger of being occupationally over-committed but it should also challenge us to do something about it.
We would be doing ourselves damage if we do not make some effort actually of setting our hearts, as today’s gospel has it, on the Kingdom of God first, letting the other things take their proper places in our lives after that.
Lent, coming up this week from Ash Wednesday, is exactly such an opportunity to refocus our lives and bring a little clarity to begin: a clarity which should soon bear fruit in charity.
Pope Saint Leo the Great, speaking of the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms giving: has an excellent phrase describing the purpose of the struggle even within our graced lives: “certainly it is true that the water of rebirth in baptism initially brings about our new life of grace, but for all of us it remains absolutely necessary to struggle every day against the rust of our earthly nature”.
Rust unattended can soon eat through the metal.
If attended, the metal becomes the more polished!
Cardinal Vincent in his Pastoral Letter to us this weekend offers us an additional opportunity to attend to our rust. “I ask you all” he says, “to focus on one particular corporal work of mercy: caring for the sick… whether in body or in mind.” In helping others bear the crosses of sickness which come to us we will certainly be imitating Christ’s life, given how much and how often Jesus sought to relieve those who suffered sickness.
And if we imitate Christ’s life, we will find we soon agree with the doctor of Divine Love as St. John of the Cross is also called, that this life is good.