Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Self-sacrifice, Prayer and 2 Corinthians 6:6-10

This is a paraphrase by Merton found in his book Contemplative Prayer. He is addressing the idea of "interior freedom" through self sacrifice and denial.

It means detachment and freedom with regard to inordinate cares, so that we are able to use the good things of life and able to do without them for the sake of higher ends. It means the ability to use or to sacrifices all created things in the interests of love. In St. Paul's words: "We have to be pure-minded, enlightened, forgiving and gracious to others; we have to rely on the Holy Spirit, on unaffected love, on the truth of our message, on the power off God. To the right and left we must be armed with innocence, now honored, now slighted, now traduced, now flattered. They call us deceivers and we tell the truth; unknown and we are freely acknowledged; dying men, and see we live; punished, yes, but not doomed to die; sad men that rejoice continually; beggars that bring riches to many; disinherited, and the world is ours."

He goes on later to say:

Our ability to sacrifice ourselves in a mature and generous spirit may well prove to be one of the tests of our interior prayer. Prayer and sacrifice work together. Where there is no sacrifice, there will eventually turn out to be no prayer, and vice versa. When sacrifice is an infantile self-dramatization, prayer will also be false and operatic self-display, or maudlin self-pitying introspection. Serious and humble prayer, united with mature love will unconsciously and spontaneously manifest itself in a habitual spirit of sacrifice and concern for others that is unfailingly generous, though perhaps we may not be aware of the fact. Such a union of prayer and sacrifice is easier to evaluate in others than in ourselves, and when we become aware of this we no longer try to gauge our own progress in the matter.


Robb said...

That's a very different take on freedom than we're used to and comfortable with hearing in a culture of classical liberalism and capitalism. In addition to the 2 Corinthians passage, this reminds me a lot of Galatians 5, particularly verse 13 with the reminder that God's freedom also separates us from the tyrrany of self-indulgence in our interdependent, social world and makes us capable of true service.

I've heard the case made for capitalism over socialism, etc. because it allows more freedom to give up as well as get. I'm not sure that's really how it's worked out institutionally and culturally, but Merton's words also remind that there's danger in depending on attachment/association to something other than God to do this for us too.

It'd make for an interesting discussion, though - unless your Joe Biden (remember when he implied it would be patriotic to be willing to pay more taxes if you could afford it to help others?) campaigning against McCain and Palin, but it's ok cause his administration got accused of being socialist later anyway, so balance was restored. It's a crazy place we're at right now as a culture.