Our scripture readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time deliver a challenging message, one which challenges and fascinates. It is also one from which most of us would like to escape. Elisha (1 Kings 19:16-21) gave up his career as a farmer, killed his oxen and used is plow as fuel to boil the oxen and gave the food to his people to eat. Then he followed Elijah. If that were not enough of a challenge we read in Luke 9:51-62 that no one who sets out on the journey and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
While I admire the dramatic sacrifice, I find myself hoping that a similar action will not be required of me. Being willing to go to any lengths is fine. I may need to give up my old ideas in favor of better ones - but do I have to? Maybe the First Principle and Foundation in St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises will offer an escape hatch:
The First Principle and Foundation
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, as paraphrased by David L. Fleming, S.J.)
St. Ignatius begins his Spiritual Exercises with The First Principle and Foundation. While not typically thought of as a prayer, it still contains much that is worth reflecting on.
The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God's life
to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God's deepening his life in me.
If I read St. Ignatius correctly, we need to review each of the things/activities to which we are attached or attracted. If we are not bound by some obligation (family, promise to a community or ethical obligation to employer) we should be willing enjoy and use and appreciate them - or to set them aside if they are leading away from God. This may not be much of an escape hatch.
I remind myself that what starts as a sacrifice - giving up old ways or ideas - becomes a transformation. The very energies that lead us in the wrong direction can be transformed into strength for the journey. Then we won't even want to look back.