John 6 (sort of): What if He thinks we mean it?

I just finished Fr. Mark Thibodeaux’s excellent Ascending with Ignatius: A 30-Day At-Home Retreat, which I recommend highly. He ends the last day with a prayer that St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is known for:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, me memory, and my understanding, and my entire will, 

All that I have and call my own.

You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will. 

Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

I can pray that, so long as I’m reasonably sure that God’s not going to take me up on the offer. But what if He thinks we mean it?

John 6 is primarily the “Bread of Life” discourse, where Jesus proclaims that He is the bread of eternal life, as opposed to the manna that Yahweh gave the Israelites in their exodus through the desert. I don’t have much to offer you about the discourse, except that, while Jesus draws this contrast between the manna and his body (generally assumed to be a reference to the bread and wine offered as the Eucharist), the common denominator here is that both manna and Jesus are *given* by God. They are not ours, really. We just call it our own.

And that’s true of everything, if you look at it from the right distance. All the stuff we claim as ours, all the things we say we’ve done, they’re really all given to us. And our calling is to offer them back to God, and mean it. This is the essence of what Jesuits call detachment, which is an attitude not of not caring, but of not being so attached to anything, even if you care about it, that that thing will keep you from following Jesus.

Hurricane Ian went through Florida last week, and while we don’t live in an evacuation zone, big hurricanes like this still make you stare down the possibility that you might have to walk away from all you have called your own. Whether you’re driving to higher ground or putting the tools away after affixing the last sheet of plywood, there is a point at which you look back at the house and everything inside it and realize it might be taken by wind or water, and you realize that you are not so perfectly detached. You might really lose all this stuff that you said wasn’t really yours anyway. And you really didn’t mean it.

Hurricanes make that a reality for a lot of people all at once. So many people here in Florida have lost their homes. But it happens to other people every day in quieter ways. Dementia takes people’s memories and understanding. Illness and addiction take people’s life and liberty. War and famine make people walk away from their homes, just like hurricanes do. 

The prayer ends positively: Give me only your love and grace, that is enough for me. And this is the opportunity in tragedy for those of us who dodged this particular bullet: to realize that the “love and grace” part is our job. Since we all belong to each other, we owe it to each other to provide the love and grace people need when they’ve lost all the other stuff. 

Whether it’s a storm or a war or a disease or a crime that makes them give up what they thought was theirs, it’s our job, this time, to fill those gaps with love and grace. Whether they are in a hurricane shelter or a refugee camp or a memory care center or a prison, our job is to give them love and grace until they believe that that’s enough. Just as we will rely on the same from others next time, when it’s us.

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