Sunday, 22 January 2012
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
Mk 1:14-20; 1 Cor 7:29-31
I’ve been thinking this week about some of the things I need to give up if I am to follow Jesus better.
We just heard of the call of the first Apostles, and that account indicated the things that they "gave up" in order to follow Jesus. They were fishermen, and yet we heard how they "left their nets" in order to follow Him. They had family, and yet St Mark specifies that they "left their father" in order to follow Him.
I want to focus on one aspect of "following" the Lord, namely, the vocation to love. I want to think about why being free to love needs to involve letting go, continually “leaving things behind”.
One of the things that stops me loving other people, even when I might have a general emotional and effective disposition in my FEELINGS to love somebody, one of the things that stops me loving other people is my disordered ATTACHMENTS.
For example, even when with a friend and planning to spend some time together to relax together, it's easy to have my attachments to my preferences stop me being free and to love my friend in a way that gives preference to my friend’s preferences. If sitting down with some alcohol is high on MY list of priorities then I can fail to see the things that my friends needs for HIM to relax. So, my attachment to alcohol, even my attachment to small amounts of alcohol, can stop me being free to love.
Attachment to the things of this world is something we find the saints of the Church repeatedly warning us against. They speak instead of the importance of a spirit of "detachment".
There are, of course, many different types of attachments. In my affections I can have an attachment to individual people, and this can be the kind of properly ordered affection that can remain even in heaven.
But my affections can also attach me to THINGS. I can be too attached to my car, to my favourite seat the sitting room, to my most comfortable shoes. When my affections attach me to such THINGS I have the very real danger that my affections therefore lack their proper affection in love for people and for God.
And, as I've already indicated, my attachment to my personal preferences can prevent me from being free to serve the preferences of other people.
BREAKING our disordered attachments, acquiring that saintly spirit of "detachment", is not an easy thing to do. When we "give things up" for Lent, and in small acts of self-denial, particularly on Fridays, this is one way we can grow in detachment. But sometimes the opportunities to grow in detachment are not things that we choose, they are in things that are thrust upon us, they come in the daily crosses that we do not choose for ourselves, but we can nonetheless choose to accept with good grace, to carry with good grace in our following of the Lord.
To take an example from my own life this week, from one of those things that are so mundane and unexciting and yet unavoidable. Every week I print out my sermon on my computer printer. This week, however, I was not able to print out my sermon on my computer printer, because my computer told me that the printer that has been attached to it for the last four years it no longer "recognises". So I disconnected and reconnected the leads, I uninstalled the software, I reinstalled the software, I uninstalled again, and reinstalled it again, and yet the computer STILL told me that the printer was not there. The end of all this was a lot of wasted time. My point, however, is how this wasted time related to my plans and my preferences and my attachments. Like so many of us, I very easily get attached to my plans for what I'm going to do with my day, with my time, with my energy. And I can let my attachment to my plans prevent me from being open to seeing what else I should be doing, to seeing how else I should be serving my neighbour, my parishioner, my Lord. But, when I find my daily life bringing me up against my attachments, when I find my daily cross denies me those things that I'm attached to, then I find myself in a situation to gain, and sometimes to re-gain, my inner freedom. The freedom I need if I'm to love.
And what is the ultimate value of so many of these worldly things we are attached to? As we heard St Paul remind us in our second reading, “the world as we know it is passing away”(1 Cor 7:31), and so are all the things that our disordered attachments are made of.
If we would follow the Lord, as those first Apostles followed the Lord, then just as they left behind their fishing nets and family, we too must leave behind the disordered affections and attachments.