Offering up ourselves

     Here we are on a Friday of Lent, and the question is: what are we sacrificing?  What are we giving up?
     There comes a time in every Christian’s life when, after building up virtue, discipline, prayer, community, Christian vocation, it is time to give up one’s self.  That is, building up all these good things is important.  But we can get fused with them.  We can feel like these virtues and practices and disciplines are ours.
     But they are not ours.  They are God’s.  It is only by God’s choice that we live and breathe at all–we are not in control of our existence.  It is only by God’s choice that we have found faith–God gives the initial grace of faith (initium fidei), and all subsequence graces besides, drawing us to His presence.  It is only by God’s grace that we have any family whom we love, any children we cherish, any friends with whom we share our hearts and lives.  It is only by God’s grace that we sometimes (and only sometimes) act well–for we are inclined on our own to corrupt good things, to manipulate, warp, reduce and devalue that which is God’s gift.
     I have been gripped, without stop for weeks, by an intense, relentless discomfort and sorrow, regarding this realization.  I go from sadness to frustration to relief and back to remorse.  It is like something is dying, and as that process continues, I am in constant discomfort.  I cannot wait to feel relief: one day, this too shall pass.  I look forward to that day!  But until then, I have to bear this anguish.  If I distract myself from it, the death of the false self will not come to pass, and the relief will never come–only a bastard form, an earthly version of “forgetting about it.”
     As my light and vision, I keep thinking of Bernadette in The Song of Bernadette: a holy, lovely Catholic girl, she had lined up a job, and a boy was courting her.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these things.  But she was called to give up these things, to become “nothing” for God–to live in austerity in a monastery.
     There is nothing wrong, likewise, with my family or community life.  But sometimes, we are called to detach from them as part of our self-image, and see the reality: that anything good is a reflection of God’s “self-image,” and that we are nothing, we are a vapor, in the eyes of God.
     Given who we really are, only a total self-oblation, an offering up of our very selves, will suffice.