The first half of the week has been dedicated to praying over scenes not found in the gospels. A major focus of these prayers has been allowing us to take a good look at ourselves. Such an activity is not always thought of when one things of the Christian life (or the virtuous life in general.) In “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis observes that most people in the modern world would even consider unselfishness to be the highest of all virtues. So why all this focus on the self this week?
Part of the reason lies in the fact that unselfishness can ultimately be nothing more than a means, rather than an end, if it is to be any sort of virtue. If we decide “I will not focus on myself anymore” and do not then turn our focus elsewhere, what exactly is gained? When Jesus tells us to take up our crosses, it is only a means, rather than an end. The rest of the sentence is “…and follow me.” St. Ignatius recognizes this, and so our selfishness is combated in the Exercises not by telling us to neglect ourselves entirely, but by giving us prayers that are never truly about us, even when our dispositions and attitudes are being examined. Our unselfishness is cultivated not with the lie that we are nothing, but with the truth that we are not everything. Knowing this, unselfishness is transformed from something sought for its own sake to something that allows us to respond generously to the Jesus’ call.
Moreover, we have these prayers because God’s call is not generic, but personal. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus does not simply beckon His sheep with an indiscriminate whistle, but that “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn. 10:3). So our prayer is not only about Jesus, but our response to Jesus: where we are, how we can best respond, and what holds us back. Going back to the prayers from this week, look at yourself in the light of Christ, and see how you may respond to God’s call with full generosity.