Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

This past Sunday, the postulants took a 24-hour hiatus from the phone, computer, television, newspaper, and general conversation so as to devote an entire day to prayer and meditation. We were free to spend it however we pleased as long as there was an emphasis on renewal and contemplation (for some of this, this even meant intense exercise, as that can be a great time to think!)

Though I found the many things to be fruitful and the day to be rejuvenating in general, rereading parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters ended up being the most revelatory, “blindsiding” me with a truth I needed to hear: “my” time is not my own.

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at this own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own” (Letter 21, page 111-112)

The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. No more than twenty minutes prior to reading this passage, I was informed that our Spanish class would replace the scheduled afternoon meeting for the next day, that the original meeting would be changed to the evening (my time), and that another meeting would be scheduled another night (also my time). No sooner do I get home do I read this passage, which continues, “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift.”

BOOM! Wakeup call! In as many words, this passage not only captures the most frustrating aspect of postulant life, it forced me to see its true source: me. When I stepped back and asked myself why I got frustrated with these common occurences, I realized that it wasn’t because the unplanned tasks were difficult, painful, or even useless; the source of my frustration was an unfounded assumption that I had exclusive possession of certain time periods. Rather on focusing on the great gift that I have each and every day to work, pray, eat, sacrifice, and so on, I was stuck into believing that I was entitled to a time each day to do whatever I pleased, and that the aforementioned “gifts” were actually inhibitors to that time.

As a Christian, let alone a friar in training, this possessive idea of “mine” can be a dangerous one. Left unexamined, it can permeate beyond time into all aspects of our lives until we become disillusioned into thinking we are the Lord of our own lives:

And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong–certainly not to them, whatever happens (Letter 21, page 114-115).

As I move forward in formation, I must always remind myself of the wisdom in this letter: everything that I have, whether it be time, material possessions, a functioning mind, or good health, are “mine” not because I created them or am their sole controllers, but because they have been gifted to me by God. Thus, a worldview firmly rooted in this wisdom, one that I must challenge myself to accept each day, no longer wishes to differentiate between “mine” and “not mine.” Rather, it wishes to use and share all that we have for the sake of loving God, self, neighbor, and the created order, acting with humility and gratitude for all that we have been given. The first step in forming myself in this way is accepting that God is my all, and that of me, he says, “Mine.”

What Can’t I Live Without?

What things do we refuse to let go?

One of the things that I continue to discern on my Franciscan journey is the idea of poverty. When I look to scripture, Jesus is very clear about what it takes to follow him: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor” (Lk 18:22, Mt 19:21, Mk 10:21). It’s no coincidence that this same story is found in each of the synoptic Gospels, nor is it a coincidence that Jesus talks about the poor more than any other subject. Which makes me wonder a few things: 1) Is the vow of poverty an extreme expression of faith in Christ by men and women in religious orders, or is it something to which ALL of his followers are called? 2) Do even men and women religious fall short of Jesus’ expectations when they own simple, practical things like books and cell phones? and 3) Does poverty have a universal standard of living or is it relational to the rest of the community?

Honestly, I have no concrete answers for any of these questions at the moment; I ask them simply to show what sorts of things I think about during the day, and what sorts of things I will be attempting to answer over the next few years. So far, here’s what I’ve come up with:

I was looking around my room the other day, wondering, “What can I live without?” I thought about some of my clothes, the Bowflex dumbbells, and a lot of, if not all of my books. I had no problem imagining life without them because I see them as gifts from God, borrowed and shared so to make my life easier or more pleasurable. If I ever find these things are not being used, I will not hesitate to share them with those with greater need. Good, right? In the case of the rich man talking to Jesus, giving up what he could live without was not the problem though: it was giving up what he found dearest to him, his wealth, that kept him from following Jesus. So I asked myself, “What can’t I live without?” Essentially, what could potentially get in my way of following Jesus? I realized that my Mac computer and my iPhone were items that I prized much higher than anything else, and found myself very reluctant to even imagine life without them.

In one sense, what I take from this passage is that there is a certain disposition we must have towards all that we own, always able to drop whatever we have for the sake of following Christ. When we find ourselves becoming too attached to a certain possession, we might want to consider letting go of it, at least temporarily, as a way to clear the way for following Jesus. In the case of the rich man, it wasn’t the fact that he was rich that was important, but rather that he valued his money more than Jesus. For me, if I want to keep my computer or my phone, I need to start approaching them like my other items: gifts from God that are meant to be borrowed and shared; used but not loved.

That being said, I think this interpretation alone can be a rationalization to ease the consciences of all of us that own more than we need by saying to ourselves, “Well if I were to see Jesus face-to-face today, I would give up my (unneeded possessions) in a heartbeat!” This sort of interpretation upholds the status quo, and doesn’t ask for any true change in us right now. It in effect waters down the message of the Gospel forgetting that this passage still has a literal message: those with ____ need to give to those without ____ in order to follow Jesus. It doesn’t matter how easily we could let go of some of our possessions if we don’t actually do it from time to time.

From this, I think we are all called to determine what we could live without and share it with those in need. Such is the essence of Christianity. Part of my discernment over the next few years will be determine what exactly I could live without, and then to do it. As I begin to go a bit farther and live a life of vowed poverty, I think I’ll need to ask myself a more difficult question: “What can’t I live without, and how am I going to find a way anyway?”