Grounds for a New Beginning

These reflections are based on selections from “The Fire in These Ashes; a Spirituality of Contemporary Religious Life” by Joan Chittister, OSB, published by Sheed and Ward, 1995, paper, 179 pgs. It also has a group discussion guide available. As it states in its introduction, “The questions in this study guide have the greatest relevance for those in vowed religious life but they can be adapted easily to the broader Christian community. Individuals, faith communities, parish groups, can all benefit from the insight in this book. We encourage you to adapt or choose the questions to fit your needs and situation.”

As the La Salette Rule of Life states: “After the example of Mary, Reconciler of Sinners, the Missionaries of La Salette consider it their duty to enter more deeply into the mystery of reconciliation. They do so through prayer, meditation, study and ministry.” (1 cp) We hope your reflection experience is a time of true grace and reconciliation for you.
   
Each series is made available especially for those connected with the Missionaries of La Salette—La Salette religious, lay associates and others. These can be used by individuals or groups in their continued meditation on the meaning and purpose of the La Salette Missionaries and allied groups. They can be used in personal prayer or in group discussions.         
Meditation One—Keeping Old Fires Alive:

Scripture: Ezechiel 36: 24-28 (I will give you a new heart)

For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Reading:
“This book…is meant to be a word of soul to those who carry the vision of religious life during this time –young and old, newer or older members – and who seek to rethink its purpose, its blessings and its power in a period when it has become more fashionable to speak of its demise than its resurrection.

The book's theme and title derives from the Gaelic process of grieshog, of keeping old fires alive for the sake of building new ones.

The ideas here are my own, of course – but not totally. I see them everywhere. They leap up and live, too often unnoticed, unnoted, and unrecognized, in the valiant religious of this time who, full of the Spirit and on fire with life, bury the coals and fan the flame of a world yet unseen but sure to come. In them lies the embers of the spiritual life that not only make contemporary religious life really religious but the future possible as well.” (preface, page x)

Reflection Question:
  • Is Joan Chittister’s comparison of religious life to a mound of flickering ashes an apt comparison? Why or why not?
Meditation Two—Are We Called To Be Perfect?

Scripture: Matthew 5: 43-48 (Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect)

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reading:
“It is important to realize, then, that one thing religious life is not is a perfect state of life for perfect people. It is not a state of life where perfection is even supposed. It is a state of life where effort is assumed and failure is taken for granted, where the human quest rather than the deluded notion of human flawlessness is the content of life. Only through consciousness of its frailty, the religious life of every peoples proclaims, may the human condition take hope. A monastic tale, for instance, reminds us of visitors from another age who were trying to determine for themselves the purpose of a monastery. “But what do you do in the monastery?” they asked the old monastic. And the elder replied, “Oh, we fall and we get up; we fall and we get up; we fall and we get up again.” The religious pursuit, not religious perfection, is the, proper subject matter of religious life.

Religious themselves mirror the struggles of the time by defining them, facing them, dealing with them in their own lives, not by running away from them as if spirituality had something to do with running away from the great questions of the age.” (chapter one, pg. 7)

Reflection Question:
  • How do you understand the “theology of perfection” and the gospel imperative: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”? How does this still apply to us today?
Meditation Three—Is the Flame Still Alive?

Scripture: 2 Timothy 1: 6-11 (God did not give us a spirit of cowardice)

I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed preacher and apostle and teacher.

Reading:
“Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote once, ‘I would not have liked to live without ever having disturbed anyone.’ The question is not, ‘Should religious life exist?’ The question today is, ‘Is religious life disturbing enough in our time to meet the great need that the world has for it?’

The real question is whether or not there is still enough fire in these ashes to bring to flame the energy that is needed now to make religious life authentic. The real question is, what qualities are necessary now to bring religious life back to the white heat of the Gospel life? What, if anything, is virtuous, is holy about religious life as we know it today? What, if anything, is there in religious life today that makes it safe and secure for tomorrow?” (chapter one, pg. 26)

Reflection Question:
  • Where do you see “the flame of energy” (of the Holy Spirit) alive and well in the church and/or in religious life?
Meditation Four—Reading The Signs Of The Times:

Scripture: Matthew 16: 1-4 (Some are able to read indications of coming weather but not the indications of the coming kingdom)

The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He said to them in reply, “(In the evening you say, 'Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red'; and, in the morning, 'Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.) An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

Reading: from the La Salette Rule (#26):

“Responsive to the needs of the universal and local Church and in conformity with our charism, attentive to the signs of the times and after prayer and discernment, we generously undertake those apostolic tasks to which we believe Providence is calling us. We also willingly evaluate our ministries and regularly renew our apostolic methods, adapting them to present needs and the requirements of our working conditions.”

Reflection Question:
  • How have La Salette (or Church) ministries—past or present—responded to the “signs of the times”? Can you give examples of it?
Meditation Five—“Grieshog” (preserving the fire):

Scripture: John 4: 4-30, 39-42 (Jesus heals the Samaritan woman; especially John 4: 39-41, about what just one person can do:)

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.

Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Reading:
The Irish have a word for it. Grieshog, Gaelic speakers tell us, is the process of burying warm coals in ashes at night in order to preserve the fire for the cold morning to come. Instead of cleaning out the cold hearth, people preserved yesterday's glowing coals under beds of ash overnight in order to have fast-starting new fire the next day. The process is an extremely' important one. Otherwise, if the coals go out, a whole new fire must be built and lit when morning comes, an exercise that takes precious time and slows the more important work of the new day.

“Time is the substance from which I am made," José Luis Borges writes. “Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” (Labyrinths: A New Refutation of Time, 1964) I am, in other words, what is to become. What is going on around me is going on within me now and will or will not happen because of me. I am both the vehicle and the substance of the future. What I am now, religious life will be in the future. There is no future without me because the future is within me.

The thought sobers a person to the center of the soul. Religious life will not die in the future unless it is dead in religious already. Each and every religious alive today is its carrier. Each of us is its life. I myself am whatever good it is.

When people ask about the state of religious life, they are asking about me. What will religious life look like in the future? The answer is an easy one. To get a glimpse of the coming religious life, all a religious has to do is to look in a reflecting pool: Is there energy of heart shining out of the eyes there? Is there a pounding commitment to a wild and unruly gospel there? Is the spiritual life aglow there? Is there risk there? Is there unflagging commitment, undying intensity, unequivocal determination to be what I say I am? Or has the old glow gone dull? Is life now simply a matter of enduring the days and going through the motions? Or is religious life in a brand new arc demanding more discipline from me and giving more life through me than ever?” (chapter three, pgs. 36-38)

Reflection Question:
  • What are your reflections on the statement: “What I am now, religious life will be in the future. There is no future without me because the future is within me.” Do you agree or disagree and why?
Meditation Six—Put Up With Hardship:

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4: (Be self-possessed; put up with hardship)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.
 
For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

Reading:
If religious life fails, it will not be because religious life changed. It will be because the religious of this period of history have lost a sense of the spirituality of the present and sold their souls instead either to the past or to the future. If religious life fails, it will be because we ourselves, our individual and corporate selves, lost a sense of the value of the present, the power of the present, the challenge of the present, the meaning of the present, the sanctity of the present.

It is an important time for religious life, a time of great new birth embryo, a time for total surrender and total involvement at the same time. This generation of religious will decide the birth of the next, aborted or stillborn, bright-minded or open-souled.

It is what is happening now in religious life that will measure its goodness, its holy tenacity, its depth of spirit for ages to come. And what is happening now is the task of a holy tenacity and indomitable zeal that enables the young to expect the impossible and the old to be willing to begin again.” (chapter three, pgs. 39-40)

Reflection Question:
  • Comment on the statement: “It is what is happening now in religious life that will measure its goodness, its holy tenacity, its depth of spirit for ages to come.”
Meditation Seven—The Two Lives Of Contemporary Religious:

Scripture: Genesis 28: 10-22 (Jacob’s Dream: If God remains with me, the Lord shall be my God.)

Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and proceeded toward Haran. When he came upon a certain shrine, as the sun had already set, he stopped there for the night. Taking one of the stones at the shrine, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep at that spot.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God's messengers were going up and down on it. And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: “I, the Lord, am the God of your forefather Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing. Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.”

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, “Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it!” In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!”

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on top of it. He called that site Bethel, whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.  Jacob then made this vow: “If God remains with me, to protect me on this journey I am making and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I come back safe to my father's house, the Lord shall be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial stone shall be God's abode. Of everything you give me, I will faithfully return a tenth part to you.”

Reading:
In Genesis (chapters 27-32), Jacob sets out to achieve one thing and finds himself faced with a new and different task. Jacob laid his life down for Rachel, and got Leah instead. It was not simply a private blow, a life challenge, a moment of struggle for Jacob. It was also, in the divine scheme of things, an act of personal faith that sowed the seeds of a whole new world for the Chosen People at large.

In this day, too, older religious know well the meaning of a life that begins in one thing but becomes another, and younger religious know what it is to have the burden of beginning again in the spirit of the first. What is important is that the relation between the two life tasks never be forgotten, never be misunderstood. Jacob made a promise and kept it through both its dimensions. When Jacob was given the right to marry Rachel, the dream of his life, he also got contention and challenge far beyond his wildest notions of them. He got a second life.

Contemporary religious life has lived two lives, as well. The first was staid and standard, a good life with clear rules and certain rewards, a private exercise of personal virtues. The second life, on the other hand, is wild and unclear, makes demands on us we never dreamed possible, demands that everyone, young and old, begin again and, most of all, has a beyond the church alone, the Catholic ghetto, and the struggle for personal salvation. This time religious life has meaning for the world at large.

Like Jacob laboring for Leah, it is time for us to begin again to achieve the purpose we came for in the first place. The French proverb teaches, “Everything passes, everything perishes, everything palls." To have something leave us is not a sign of loss. It is only a sign that we are meant to go on to something else, to what, like Jacob, we set out to the very beginning. But it will take a keeping of the coals. (chapter three, pgs. 42-43)

Reflection Question:
  • What are the “two lives” that contemporary religious (and laity) have lived?
Meditation Eight—Seeking God and Nothing Else:

Scripture: Genesis 12: 1-5b (The call of Abraham)

The Lord said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

Abram went as the Lord directed him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his brother's son Lot, all the possessions that they had accumulated, and the persons they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.

Reading:
“It is seeking God and the reign of God that makes religious activity really religious. Anything else is good-hearted but ill-defined, kind but not religious, well-meaning but not really effective, polite maybe but not prophetic. Being steeped in the mind of God is the essential religious activity. Everything else simply follows from that.

When Abraham left the country of Ur it was in the very going that he found God, yes, but more than that, it was God for whom he went. Because Abraham was attuned to the voice of God, he survived what would have been impossible for him to withstand otherwise. Abraham's journey fails over and over; the path twists and turns over and over; the circumstances threaten over and over; authorities obstruct him over and over, he loses resources over and over. But Abraham feels no defeat in any of them, not in the failures or the changes or the disapproval or the turns in the road. Because he has talked to God, because God has talked to him, only the voice of God itself is the measure of his meaning and his success.” (chapter four, pgs. 48-49)

Reflection Question:
  • What qualities can we appreciate in the life of Abraham? How can they be applied to our daily living?
Meditation Nine—Our Common Call To Be Contemplative:

Scripture: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13a (Saul anoints David as King)

The Lord said to Samuel: “How long will you grieve for Saul, whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons.” But Samuel replied: “How can I go? Saul will hear of it and kill me.” To this the Lord answered: “Take a heifer along and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I myself will tell you what to do; you are to anoint for me the one I point out to you.”

Samuel did as the Lord had commanded him. When he entered Bethlehem, the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and inquired, “Is your visit peaceful, O seer?” He replied: “Yes! I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. So cleanse yourselves and join me today for the banquet.” He also had Jesse and his sons cleanse themselves and invited them to the sacrifice.

As they came, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is here before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him before Samuel, who said, “The Lord has not chosen him.”

Next Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any one of these.” Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”

Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The Lord said, “There—anoint him, for this is he!” Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.

Reading:
We talk about “active” life and “contemplative” life as if those were true opposites and concepts in tension. The fact is, however, that it is the “active life” and the “cloistered life” that are opposing categories. Contemplation is basic to the terms “cloister” and “contemplation,” in other words, are not synonyms. Contemplation, the coming to see as God sees, is required of us all. For some people, cloister is a vehicle to contemplation; for others, God is found in the faces of the poor. In both cases, contemplation is both the beginning and the end of the enterprise.

The spiritual quest seeks God in everything, everywhere and will not cease until each step of the quest comes to holy completion. Where God is, the spiritual quest demands that we go there. Where God is not, the spiritual quest demands that we bring to the situation the vision of what the moment lacks. To do those things, however, we must ourselves be steeped in the spirit of God, be alive in the spirit, be attuned more to the spirit than to the task. (chapter four, pgs. 50-52)

Reflection Questions:
  • What are the qualities of a truly “contemplative” life?
  • Who are the people I know who have one or more of these qualities?
  • How do I reflect these qualities in my life?
Meditation Ten—Growing Old Gracefully and Faithfully:

Scripture: Mark 2: 21-22 (No one pours new wine into old wineskins)

“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

Reading:
At the very moment when the world expect decline, require decline, religious life be less than itself. Religious life requires risk now more than caution, more than conformity, more than conservatism intent on preserving the things of the past than the wisdom of the past. Religious life needs older members who refuse to give in to oldness of life members who refuse to give in to oldness of soul.

The fact of the matter is that it is not our obligation to preserve religious life. Our only obligation is to go to the grave being religious ourselves. We must stop looking for reasons, accepting excuses, telling ourselves the self-fulfilling prophecies that enable us to run in place. We talk about declining numbers and rising median ages as if numbers and median ages were the meaning of our commitment, the measure of our success.

We talk about tradition and "the spiritual life as if daily schedules and changeless rituals were the mark our fidelity, the manifestation of our faith. We compare past forms to present forms and then find the new unacceptable, not because it is unfaithful to the spirit of the life but because it is unfamiliar. We talk about new needs and then find them impossible because of "the old (members)” not because they can't meet them but because we don't want to take the burden of doing them ourselves. We falter at the very point when, after a lifetime of prayer, we should be most strong and fail to become precisely what we have prayed to be all our lives: people of faith, people of prophesy.

It is time for new life in old age, and age, as every religious knows only too well, is no excuse for not living. It is time for living to the hilt. Nothing else, in fact, will make for sanctity now.
(chapter five, pgs. 60-62, 67)

Reflection Question:
  • Who are the people I admire who are older? What do I admire in them?
Meditation Eleven—Two By Two:

Scripture: Mark 6: 7-13 (Jesus sent them out two by two)

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick--no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.

He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Reading:
Religious life to be valid does not require a cast of thousands. It does not depend of hordes of people to prove its value. It was never meant to be a phalanx of faceless people, a world unto itself, an assembly line of anonymous, invisible, interchangeable parts.

Religious life at its best is nothing more, perhaps, than a sentry on the wall, a bugler at dawn, a lamplighter at night, a candle on a far hill. They are simple tasks, these, all very reflective and solitary and singular positions. All of them can easily be done, as scripture suggests, “two by two,” with an eye to holding one another up, helping one another on, goading one another from place to place in order to speak where the voice of Scripture has been muted or has come up missing entirely.

So consumed are we as a church, as a culture, as congregations by the seductiveness of numbers that a spirituality of diminishment, a call to poverty of spirit, escapes us entirely. We see as failure what may be our very strength. We count as death what may well be new life within us. (chapter six, pages 71-72)

Reflection Question:
  • How can the fact of our lessening numbers be seen as a challenge and even an advantage (as religious, as lay volunteers, as members of a ministry group)?
Meditation Twelve—If God is For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?

Scripture: Romans 8: 28, 31b, 35-39 (If God is for us, who can be against us?)

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
If God is for us, who can be against us? What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Reading:
The spirituality of diminishment requires that we give up the idea of coasting into retirement on steadily decreasing responsibilities. It demands the kind of commitment our founders brought to the altar – work without stint, trust without reason, prayer without ceasing, hope without end.   

At this moment in history, diminishment is not a sign of failure, a sad preamble to death. It is, if we are to believe the voice of science, the warnings of ecologists, the very stuff of new life. If we cannot respond to the discipline of diminishment now, as once we lived with vigor the development of congregational institutions, we will certainly have missed the moment. We will have foregone, perhaps, the very time for which we came to religious life in the first place, the God-moment beyond all others, the holy time more purifying than any other. The problem will not be that the old form of religious life failed; the problem will be that we failed at the very moment that could have been the most valuable, the most real, the most sacred of our religious lives, the moment in which we were asked to give our whole life to what has little if any promise of success, simply because God wills it and it is right. If religious life in the past was worth anything at all, surely it should have been able to prepare us for this moment above all others before us.(chapter six, pgs. 72-74)

Reflection Question:
  • How can the spirituality of diminishment and the asceticism of  religious (or Christian) life transform us (our religious community, our ministry, our family)?
Meditation Thirteen—The Challenging Spirituality of Diminishment:

Scripture: Philippians 2: 3-11 (Christ emptied himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross)

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Reading:
Diminishment certifies religious to become what they say they want to be – one of the little ones, one of the simple ones, one of the humble ones, one of the dispossessed. Diminishment, if we allow it, if we embrace it, if we see it for the spiritual discipline it is, can save us from making a playschool out of religious life. Diminishment, the sense of smallness that comes from handing ourselves over to the immensity of God, from doing what cannot possibly succeed without the empowering presence of God, can make religious life real again to the point of pain.

Given the decline in numbers, we excuse ourselves from the struggle. Or we become cynical about new efforts, new things, new prayer forms, new moments, new ideas. Or we deny the present situation entirely and settle down to wait for the return of another age. It is a serious moment in the life of the soul.

Diminishment requires more life of us than we have ever known before. It leads us to be ourselves, to give everything we've got, to know the power of God at work in us far beyond our own strength, far beyond our own vision. Diminishment gives us the opportunity, the reason, the mandate to examine our lives, to begin again, to dredge up what is best in us, to spill it recklessly across the canvas of the earth, to bank within us one more time the fires of commitment. Diminishment, arch-teacher of the soul, seals the entire enterprise. We know now that we are no more about our own work than were David, Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Judith, the Israelites in the desert or the exiles in Babylon. No, diminishment throws us back, whole and entire, small and trusting, aflame and afire, on God. And a life in God is anything but dead. (chapter six, pgs. 75-77)

Reflection Question:
  • “Diminishment requires more life of us than we have ever known before. It leads us to be ourselves, to give everything we've got, to know the power of God at work in us far beyond our own strength, far beyond our own vision.” Can you think of some people who have experienced the beneficial consequences of deep and lasting diminishment?
Meditation Fourteen—Our Call to Be Faithful:

Scripture: Hebrews 2: 1-4 (Exhortation to faithfulness)

Therefore, we must attend all the more to what we have heard, so that we may not be carried away. For if the word announced through angels proved firm, and every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? Announced originally through the Lord, it was confirmed for us by those who had heard. God added his testimony by signs, wonders, various acts of power, and distribution of the gifts of the holy Spirit according to his will.

Reading:
Perhaps of all the questions facing religious life today, the most important, the most troublesome, is the question of fidelity itself. In a culture where change is swift and common, in a world where movement is global and given, in a society where three careers and two marriages are commonplace, the very notion of fidelity stretches us to the outside edge of meaning. Is there really any such thing as fidelity now? And why?

The question is not to what were we asked to be faithful in the past. The question is to what must we be faithful in the present. Fidelity is not stability of place; it is stability of heart. Fidelity goes wherever it must to follow the star that it dare not lose at the risk of spending life forever off-compass. Fidelity means being willing to change in order to remain the same.

Fidelity is not the state of never making a mistake. Fidelity is the state of never staying in one. Was Moses “faithful” when he killed the Egyptian? Was David “faithful” when he took Nathan's wife? Not at all, if fidelity is a synonym for perfection. Decidedly yes, however, if fidelity means working life through to the end, taking nothing for granted, struggling till the struggle ends. (chapter seven, pgs. 78-83)

Reflection Question:
  • Sister Joan Chittester writes: “Fidelity is not stability of place; it is stability of heart.” Can you identify with personally with her statement? How are you called to be faithful to God and to others in your daily life?
Meditation Fifteen—Faithful Endurance:

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4: 1-8 (The mandate and promised reward of fidelity)

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

Reading:
Fidelity is not standing in place for the sake of being able to say we stood there. Fidelity is the potter's kiln of life where, tried by heat and flame, we change into shapes and glazes of which we never dreamed. Fidelity is not fidelity, then, until it's tried. Fidelity really happens at those moments when, in our unfaithfulness, we come to understand most clearly exactly what we have lost in the failing and choose it still.

What we must be faithful to is the beckoning God, who goes before us into human history healing what is wounded, raising up what is good in us for all to see and calling us to do the same. It is important always to remember that what we are faithful to is the faithful God. We must never be faithful to a thing for its own sake or fidelity will become an idol in itself, disheartened and bogus.

There are obstacles to fidelity that need to be uprooted from the religious soul. Rigidity is an obstacle to fidelity. Unchanging commitment to non-change flies in the face of the Holy Spirit. Anything else may well arrest our own development, stunt us and leave us at the end of life hardly having lived at all.

Insincerity is an obstacle to fidelity. When we don't do our part, when we stop praying, when we stop trying, when we stop dreaming the dream of the life itself, that's infidelity. When we stop believing that this great commitment to the pursuit of the presence of the Spirit in this way can be, should be, is, for me, the most direct route to the living God, that is the greatest unbelief of all.

Reflection Question:
  • Do you agree with the quote: “Fidelity is the potter's kiln of life where, tried by heat and flame, we change into shapes and glazes of which we never dreamed. Fidelity is not fidelity, then, until it's tried”? Why or why not?


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