"But new wine belongs in new wine skins..." [Mt 5:36]
CONVERSION OF HEART
needs to find concrete expression in "newness of life" (Rm 6:4), providing new wine skins for the new wine of renewal, becoming "doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (Jm 1:22). Being a Priest Coworker should involve some real change in the way we live, not only in the way we think. "/ exhort you to live a life worthy of the gospel" (Phil 1:27), "a life worthy of your calling" (Eph 4:1).
As we have stated, conversion and renewal are fundamentally a process of beginning, but that beginning must be concrete, must find "new wine skins": planned changes or initiatives capable of containing and channeling the desire for renewal. The process of renewal, therefore, requires not only conversion of heart but a program of life, a program simple enough to be lived yet challenging enough to effect real change.
The formulation of a program of life will embrace universal principles and suit them to specific personal areas of need. We need ask ourselves not only, for example, if we are seeking the Father's will, but even more importantly, if what we are doing now is or is not His will, is or is not being done solely for His glory, etc.
And so the first step in constructing a program of renewal is to "examine ourselves" (2 Cor 13:5), with great honesty and specificity, asking above all that the Lord himself enlighten us as to what He would have us change or improve: "All these I have observed from my youth; what do I still lack...?" (Mt 19:20).
The Lord will indeed speak, He will indeed answer our questions, if we but have the courage to ask them. Let us offer a few "starting points," trusting the Lord to supply the rest:
"We have given ourselves to Christ in ordination, but have we yet completely emptied ourselves for the Spirit of Christ?
"It is necessary that others meet in us one who really knows the Jesus of whom he speaks. Are we aware of our spiritual poverty in often contenting ourselves to preach what others have written?
"Are we speaking from experience when we pronounce the words, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit?
"Often an immense pride is at the root of our difficulties in coming closer to Christ. Do we trust ourselves, our theology, our psychology, our pastoral plans more than prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit?" (Muhlen).
Have we become entrapped in a lifestyle that little reflects the spirit of the gospel or the lifestyle of Jesus?
Have we lost a spirit of zeal, falling into the law of minimum expenditure of effort and maximum ease and leisure? ' 'Are we attached to our priesthood only as honest functionaries, not as ones entrusted with the mission of bringing fire to this earth?" (R. Coste).
Have we allowed our ministry to become a career, a channel for ambition, success, and advancement?
Have we gradually lost sight of the essentially spiritual dimension of our ministry, forgetting that His kingdom is not of this world?
Are we striving to maintain purity of heart? Generous enough to make whatever sacrifices necessary to achieve it (Mt 5:29)?
In the desire to be popular, to be applauded, have we betrayed the gospel and the Lord, as Peter warming himself at the fire? Do we avoid proclaiming unpopular truths or taking unpopular positions?
Has prayer become a chore for us? Do we ever make the effort to grow from a superficial prayer that can never change us to deep prayer that is a face-to-face meeting with the Lord?
Do we ourselves take advantage of the Lord's gift of forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation?
Do we take the time to pray before Mass, so as to truly pray and not just say the Mass?
The process of renewal is an ongoing one. If we are even occasionally faithful to it the Lord will take us ever closer, show us ever more how much He has loved us and how much love He expects from us. The Movement sees St. Ignatius' "Exercises" as being a particularly effective tool in preserving and deepening the renewal process, not only as an isolated experience but as a program in itself for day-to-day interiorizing of the realities of the gospel.
As stated above, we believe that a simple, concrete challenge is the foundation for any effective program of life. To this end we suggest three basic elements that can provide the framework for constructing a personal program (these three points can also provide the material for routine progress evaluation):
1) Prayer: Ask yourself how you are praying now, and how you would like to pray. Above all, set aside a daily period for deep prayer, at a time and place where you will not be disturbed. Be absolutely faithful, begin again!) This prayer can be most fruitful if in the presence of the Sacrament that is source of our prayer and priesthood.
2) Livestyle: Do you recognize the gospel in your present lifestyle? Ask for the grace, and begin to simplify. This will bring a great sense of inner liberation and joy. "If you wish to be perfect..."
3) Charity: Am I living to satiate Christ's thirst in my people? Is that my foremost aim in ministry? Consciously strive to radiate Christ's charity and compassion in all aspects of ministry, in word aind in deed: "By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 Jn 3:16)
While each of these three elements are vital to our renewal, prayer is by far the most important, the key to living all three. While we may formulate many points in drawing up our personal program, let there be but one inviolable resolution, to be kept at any cost: a daily period of deep prayer in the presence of the Eucharist. This one practice will insure and vitalize all the rest, for it is a coming in touch with the living waters at their source, a drawing from the living font of our renewal.
While recognizing the primacy of prayer, we need also to recognize the interconnection of the three basic areas, as a tripod which depends on all three legs to stand. Not one of the three are optional, but each is an integrating part of the whole. Without poverty of spirit, for example, it is impossible to really pray, for our heart is divided from the outset. Prayer will remain superficial, and any attempt at deep prayer uncomfortable, as long as we are still attempting to serve two masters. As Mother Teresa observes, we must be poor to pray, and we must pray to love.
A common denominator in all our failings, in poverty, in prayer, in charity, is but one: having allowed in our heart and our life some desire other than the Lord and His cross. As long as our heart is host to multiple desires, to even one desire outside of Him, we will not only never be what the Lord expects us to be, but we will never be happy. Paradoxically, desire for Jesus and His cross is our only source of happiness and peace. And this is poverty of spirit, to desire but one thing, to desire the Lord alone.
Without that desire we may seem to have everything, but in reality we have nothing, we are empty. Without that single desire our priesthood, for all its accomplishments, will have been wasted. Without that desire we will speak perhaps of conversion, but never change. Yet with that desire, despite our failings and weaknesses, despite our inner poverty, we have everything, for that desire itself will change us. Even if we see that our lives are full of other desires, full of false gods, we have only to begin desiring to desire only Him. If we faithfully plant that desire in our hearts, it will be as a seed that grows and spreads its roots uprooting all the rest.
But that desire is not something merely natural, it is a gift, and a gift the Lord can never refuse. He himself wants us to want it, He asks us to ask. As that desire grows, He will grow in us, for the very measure of our desire will be the measure of receiving the Desired One. We have only to ask this one gift, the gift of desiring Jesus alone and His cross in our life, and to ask that that desire always grow. And the fruits of that asking, the fruits of that desire will be immediate: an increase of His peace, His joy, and His presence, especially there where we have been unable to find Him before. And perhaps for the first time, as that desire begins to grow, will we come to understand the magnitude of the love He wishes to give and receive, to taste the depth, the beauty, and the fruitfulness of our call. To begin our renewal, then, we have only to begin fostering that single desire that alone can give force and vitality to our poverty, our prayer, and our ministerial charity: a desire for the Lord alone and for His cross."
And no matter how weak, how unfaithful we have been, the Lord wants us to know that He loves each of us more than we can imagine. He wishes to tell us each personally, directly: "You are precious to me; I have carved you on the palm of my hand, you are mine..." (Is 49:16). If we but answer His invitation, if we but begin to desire Him, we can be sure that He will do the rest, that "He who has begun this good work in you will see it through to completion..." (Phil 1:6).