|Salvador Dali- Crucifixion|
Holy Week will soon be upon us. By the time it arrives, we will have prayed, fasted, given alms, done certain pious acts, and so on; in short, we will have been generous toward the Lord and our brothers and sisters. We will have in one way or another participated, at least in a small way, in Jesus’ own generosity as he journeyed to the Cross. After all, generosity is what Holy Week is really about: Jesus’ kénōsis, Jesus’ self-emptying.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:7), Paul writes that "he emptied [ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen)] himself". The Church sees many layers of meaning behind this simple phrase. One of these holds that κένωσις (kénōsis) is the act of "self-emptying" of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God's divine will. If this action of self-emptying is to be authentic, it would require much generosity from our end. In order to give our will to the Lord and to abandon ourselves to his will, we must undergo a profound interior transformation to attain the freedom to do so.
This brings us full circle to our initial reflection on our Lenten commitments: they are really there to help us achieve an interior disposition of detachment for the service of the Lord. It is only through this attitude of interior freedom that we can be generous and kenotic. It is true, however, that many personal attachments stand in the way of us generously giving ourselves to the Lord. The act of giving as a Lenten commitment is therefore of special importance: we commit to give something that is our own. It mirrors in a small way the giving of our own will to the Lord.
Giving then enables us to slowly learn to give ourselves away and to move away from our selfishness. Generosity is an external sign of an interior freedom to give oneself, be it with our physical goods or with our time. But really, what does this giving of self all leading to? It becomes all the more important at the moment when we receive a mission-task from the Lord; when we are called upon to participate in the missio Dei, will we be free enough to give ourselves to the mission? If we cannot be givers in small things, how can we be magnanimous givers and kenotic actors in the drama of salvation history? These stern words of Jesus emphasize this complete kenosis of a disciple:
"As they were going along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.' To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' But he said to him, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Lk 9:57-62)
What the Church desperately needs today in her labourers is this gratuitousness giving of self. We ought to guard ourselves lest we fall into the temptation of focusing on our own personal agendas and on what we will gain from serving. As such, the call is to keep our eyes on the mission that Christ continues to entrust to the Church. The grace of interior freedom first and foremost comprises of humility, in which we admit and trust that the Spirit of God is indeed at work in the Church, and that by accomplishing the Church’s work, we in fact accomplish this missio Dei. Otherwise, the Church is torn by its members in a thousand directions because every individual believes that their respective mission is the top priority. I repeat again: kénōsis is the "self-emptying" of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God's divine will. Let Jesus’ prayer be our prayer: "not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).
I present here a quotation from Pope Benedict’s third Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate to summarize this short reflection on kénōsis. The Pope writes that “Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension” (Caritas in Veritate, 34). The Church is not the only institution in need of the disposition of gratuitousness; all aspects of society need it in order to be true places of justice. Each one of us is called to participate in this transcendent dimension – it is undoubtedly difficult, and there is a fair bit of suffering involved; just look at what happened to Jesus! But the Lord promises to repay us a hundred-fold (Mk 10:30).
You may rightly ask: okay, so what can I do, in the concrete? I suggest speaking to your parish priest and telling him that you would like to be of service to the parish. By helping out at the parish in whichever capacity, you contribute to the mission of the diocese, and hence, to the Church. If you are not part of a parish community, you can be generous with your time and energy by participating in the Church’s mission to the poor and needy by doing volunteering at venues where they are served.