In today’s gospel Jesus is criticised for being around the unrespectable, the ‘sinners’. He replies that it is the sick who need the doctor not those who are well.
We are unconsciously selective about where we place our attention, who we follow. And so often we are secretly manipulated by the glamour of success, approval and good appearance. We gravitate towards those who seem to have these attributes and bask in their glory even as we envy them. It is merely the way of the world. The Oscars ceremony doesn’t pay attention to those whose name wasn’t in the magic envelope of fame but only to those on whom the searchlight is briefly but intensely focused.
Maybe the elusive secret of happiness is found in this dimension of reality that lacks glamour and doesn’t cover up the signs of human weakness and mortality. It is the dimension that Jesus prioritises and invests with his presence. (We are present where we place our attention). We should pay attention to his example and in our own small way try to imitate it.
His most influential followers have discovered this secret dimension of the mundane and ordinary. Today is the feast of the patron saint of Benedictine oblates ( St Frances of Rome). Oblates – such as those of the World Community for Christian Meditation who will be helping to run Bonnevaux, are men and women who without taking monastic vows live in the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict – in obedience, stability and the conversion of daily life. Like the Rule itself it is not a glamorous path but one in which the doors of perception are gradually cleansed showing more and more strongly the luminous presence that is in every detail and moment of each dimension of reality. It is not based on the heroic holiness of the individual but on the contribution each makes and receives within the spiritual family. It is not ideologically driven but energised by mutual obedience and compassion for each other’s weaknesses whether, as St Benedict says, ‘of body or mind’. Unlike the brief blaze of glamour it is sustainable and opens up ever more dimensions of reality – the ‘infinite riches of Christ’ in unexpected and surprising places. We lose glamour but gain the glory of the divine dimension.
Jean Vanier found this in his life with the intellectually handicapped. Mother Teresa with the street people. Frances of Rome came from a privileged and glamorous background in which she married and raised her children. But she turned her homes into hospitals for the sick and used her resources to help the deprived. When she was free of family responsibilities she founded a new kind of spiritual community to share and implement these same qualities of care and compassion within a contemplative life of prayer and meditation.
The secret it seems is not to look where the searchlight of others’ attention is pointing but to the shadows where reality is illuminated by the pure light of our own attention. Our daily rhythm of meditation helps strengthen, as a matter of habit, our capacity to place attention where it should be and to see what really is. The habit of this attention is what we call wisdom.
Read other Lent Reflections 2019: Week 1