January 27, 2012

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Holiness is won through detachment

Sean GallagherThe vocations to which God calls us are, on one level, wide and varied. The life of a Trappist monk can seem worlds away from the lives of parents caring for their children and working in a career to support their family.

In the end, people in all vocations are called to holiness. And the way that this ultimately happens—in every vocation—is through becoming detached from our own will and embracing wholeheartedly God’s will for us.

Sometimes, in my busy day-to-day life as a husband and father of four young boys, it can be easy for me to forget such a fundamental truth of our life of faith.

But I was reminded of it in a beautiful way recently when I watched Of Gods and Men, a powerful 2010 French film about the true story of a group of Trappist monks living in the mid-1990s in Algeria.

Although these monks lived in peace and cooperation with their Muslim neighbors, their way of life became increasingly threatened by violent Muslim terrorists in the country.

They are faced with a choice. Do they stay? Or do they leave?

At one point in the film, the monastery’s abbot talks about the choice facing the community with Brother Luc, an elderly monk who is also a physician and tends to the medical needs of his fellow Trappists and their neighbors. Brother Luc doesn’t hesitate in affirming his choice to stay, saying that he is “a free man.”

In an online commentary, Father Robert Barron said that this freedom was rooted in Brother Luc’s detachment from the things of this world, including life itself, and any desire to control them.

The terrorists may have seemed to hold great power over Brother Luc because they could take everything away from him, even his life. But they were ultimately powerless to reach into Brother Luc’s heart where lived God, and his unshakable desire to do his will for him.

Although the life and dilemma facing the Trappists in Algeria may seem far removed from our lives here and now in central and southern Indiana, the holiness to which they and we are called—and the fundamental means to reach it—are the same.

They had to detach themselves from their own will and fully embrace God’s will for them. So do we.

But many of us, myself included, are not really free men like Brother Luc. We are not detached from the things of this world and from our own will. We are not wholly free to follow wherever Christ leads us because we just can’t imagine our lives without various things.

For some, it might be alcohol, drugs or their favorite food. For others, it might be sports, a TV show, the Internet or their smartphone.

And most of us, I’d say, are bound to time itself and our attempt to assert our will to control our use of it. We want to do what we want to do rather than give of ourselves in service to our family, co-workers, friends or even complete strangers. We have allowed these things to hold power over us, to take our freedom away.

With the help of God’s grace, however, we can win that freedom back and do without all of them if that is what God is calling us to do. In any case, grace can help us to use them according to God’s will.

Charged with this freedom, our hearts will then have much more room for a love of God and neighbor that is beyond anything we can imagine. †

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