IMAGO DEI: June 13th, 2013
Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will gain it. Luke 17:33
In a meditation written just thirteen days before he died from pancreatic cancer, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin examined his life-long challenge with abandoning himself to God. The spiritual practice of “letting go” was not a new one for Cardinal Bernardin, but it certainly took on a more profound application as he approached his own end. He wrote,
Throughout my spiritual journey I have struggled to become closer to God. As I prepare now for my passage from this world into the next, I cannot help but reflect on my life and recognize the themes that, like old friends, have been so important to me all these years. One theme that rises to the surface more than any other takes on new meaning for me now—the theme of letting go. By letting go, I mean the ability to release from my grasp those things that inhibit me from developing a more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus.
We learn how to let go of ourselves best through prayer. Contemplative prayer, in particular, teaches us how to open ourselves up to God so that the Lord might live more fully in us. It encourages and sustains us in the life-long conversion that this spiritual direction implies. But it does so mostly by revealing to us the many ways we hold back from God. Bernardin writes,
I have prayed and struggled constantly to be able to let go of things more willingly, to be free of everything that keeps the Lord from finding greater hospitality in my soul, or interferes with my surrender to what God asks of me.
It is clear to me, especially now as I face death, that God wants me to let go. My daily prayer is that I can open wide the doors of my heart to Jesus and to His expectations of me.
Though he often communes with God in prayer, Cardinal Bernardin admits that he is still afraid of giving himself more fully to the Lord. He recognizes that he only lets God come in part of the way. Though he believes and understands that God is to be trusted, he still finds himself holding back, unwilling to let go completely. Bernardin speaks of his struggle in this saying,
The Lord is clear about what He wants from me, but it is really difficult to let go of all the plans I consider so important and all the needs I think I have in order to trust Him completely. I know that I must empty myself so that Jesus can come in.
It is the Holy Spirit who encourages us to perfect the offering of our lives so that we can more fully enjoy the freedom that that offering promises us. And to the degree that we withhold this offering our freedom is curtailed. As our Lord taught us, “Whoever keeps his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will find it.” Cardinal Bernardin understands this when he writes,
It is always unsettling to pray to be emptied of self; it seems a challenge almost beyond our reach as humans. But to let go of myself is the most perfect expression of my love and trust of the Lord. And if we try, I have learned that God does most of the work.
Jesus showed us the Way and promised abundant life to all who will follow His footsteps. He did not grasp at His own life. And because He made Himself nothing, His Father gave Him everything.
Rob Des Cotes, Imago Dei Christian Communities
1. In what ways do you find yourself responding to or resisting God’s invitation to “offer your life more perfectly to Christ?”
2. How do you relate to Cardinal Bernardin’s desire to “open wide the doors of my heart to Jesus and his expectations of me?” How does this reflect your own hopes for spiritual growth?
3. What fears does the thought of giving yourself more completely to God bring up in you? How do these fears rob you of the freedom that God otherwise desires for you?
PRAYER: In the gentleness of prayer, practice letting go and offering your life more fully to Christ. Make note of and confess any fears that arise in you. Take opportunity to express your trust of God, even in the midst of your fears. And above all, express something of your desire to grow more completely in the ways you offer your life to Christ.