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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Act Against Your Attachments

Robert Barron - Act Against Your Attachments

Robert Barron - Act Against Your Attachments

Peace be with you. Friends, a couple summers ago I had the great privilege of visiting in connection with a film we were making the sites connected to St. Ignatius of Loyola. We went to the Basque Country, to Loyola, where he was born and where he recuperated from his war wounds, where he had his great conversion experience. We went to Montserrat, that wonderful Benedictine Monastery where he pledged his life to Christ. We ended up in the rooms where he died in Rome right next to the great Church of the Gesu, where he's buried. But for me the most moving place to visit was a little cave in a town called Manresa. Manresa is not too far from Barcelona. And the young Ignatius, after he's turned his life over to Christ, spends about nine months literally living in this cave in utter simplicity. He had been obsessed as a young man with his appearance. He wanted to be a courtier. He wanted to cut a dashing figure.

So trying to turn away from that, he kind of let himself go. He let his hair grow, let his fingernails grow. He lived in poverty and simplicity and fasting for those nine months. He was often consumed with lust, and so he lived in an austere celibacy for that time. Since he was so obsessed with his reputation, he decided to live for those months as a nobody, even as worse than a nobody. Because anyone seeing him would say, "Well, who's that weirdo? Who's that vagabond wandering around"? That's how he lived for those nine months, and out of that experience came the famous Spiritual Exercises. If you go on a Jesuit retreat to this day, you'll be taken through the Exercises that he composed while he was going through that time at Manresa.

Now I think the heart of what he learned at that time, the heart of what he teaches in the Exercises, is this idea of detachment. He was attached to many of the goods of the world. I've named some of them, wealth and power and prestige and cutting a dashing figure, all that. But, if he was to do the will of God, he knew he had to become detached from those addictions and those obsessions. So during those nine months, in a particularly intense way, he engaged in this spiritual exercise of detachment. You know what came out of it is a principle that's basic to the exercise, basic to Jesuit spirituality. He called it the "agere contra," which is Latin simply for "to act against," "to do against". The idea is simple: If you're attached or addicted to some worldly good, well then the best thing is to act against it, is to press aggressively, even, in the opposite direction.

Remember long ago, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle said if a stick is bent this way and the idea is to straighten it out, you have to kind of bend it back the other direction. You have to bend it out of shape in the other direction to bring it back in line. So if your spiritual life is disordered, like you're drawn to a worldly good in an exaggerated way, well then you got to run in the other direction, agere contra. So for example, Ignatius teaches, if sensual pleasure, let's say the goods of eating and drinking, are really important to you, and look at our culture today, there are a lot of us who are preoccupied with eating and drinking and good food and all that, well, if that's your hang-up, agere contra, act against it. Fast. Why is fasting so important in the spiritual order? Because we hate this world and we hate sensual pleasure? No, no. It's this bent stick idea, that if you're exaggeratedly pulled in that direction, you've got to go in the opposite direction.

So you fast. Let's say you're too caught up in nice things. You know, being surrounded by the comforts of the world, that becomes too much of a preoccupation for you. Maybe you're spending a lot of your waking hours obsessed with making your life as comfortable as possible. Well then, agere contra. Live as Ignatius did, not only in Manresa but other points in his life, on purpose living in radical simplicity and poverty. To this day young Jesuit novices practice this. They're given a little bit of money and they're told to go on a kind of pilgrimage. They've got to get from point A to point B but relying not on their own resources, but relying on the providence of God and the goodness of people around them. When you're too addicted to the comfortable life, you actively embrace an uncomfortable life. Suppose you're too attached to money. There are many of us in our culture who are in that situation. Becomes a kind of addiction.

I never have enough of it so I strive and strive and strive. People that invest in the stock market, they do fine, but it's not enough. They've got big bank accounts, but they're not big enough. Let's say money has become your preoccupation. Well, agere contra. Give a lot of it away. How many people in the spiritual life, you look at over the history of the saints, you'll find this move, maybe Francis of Assisi most famously, I mean literally handing over all of his possessions including the clothes on his back. Give away your money, give away your material things if that's become too much of an obsession to you. Suppose, like Ignatius of Loyola who wanted to be the dashing courtier, you're preoccupied with honor, with being noticed. Everyone's looking at me.

Well, I mean, there are a lot of us in our culture today who are preoccupied with this. I want to be in the first place, I want to be the one that's in the headlines, I want to be the one who's noticed. Well, if that's your hang-up, agere contra. Actively seek obscurity. Actually seek not to be noticed. Go in the opposite direction. Okay. Agere contra in service of detachment, which is finally in service of doing God's will. Now I want to be really clear about that. I want to say that again so we don't get hung up on this as some kind of puritanical program. It's not that at all. It's the agere contra so as to get away from attachments which are preventing me from doing God's will, because what matters is God's will. That's why Ignatius says at the beginning of the Exercises, "Lord, whether I have a long life or short life, I don't care. Whether I'm rich or poor, I don't care. Whether they love me or hate me, I don't care, as long as I'm doing your will".

The whole purpose of the Exercises is to find that will, to discern the will of God. But to follow it, I've got to be detached. To be detached, I've got to agere contra. That's the program. Okay. All of that is an introduction to this famous story we see in the Gospel today. Jesus is at a banquet, and not a little family supper, but a banquet, a lot of rich and famous people there. We have our version of that. When you go to a formal dinner and all the insiders are there, all the big wheels are there. What does he notice? He noticed how people are actively looking for the most prominent place at the banquet. And again, you know as fellow sinners, right? We know how this works. You come in the room, a lot of famous people there. Can I get that front table? Can I be with the glitterati? Can I be with the rich and the famous people? Can I jockey for position so that everybody notices me?

I mean, we play this game all the time. Jesus says, "When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not recline at the place of honor... Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place". What's he talking about? "Avant la lettre," long before Ignatius, he's talking about the agere contra. If this is your temptation, and it is for a lot of us, then purposely and actively move in the opposite direction. Take the lowest place. How often when you come into a room like that, you know what I'm talking about, and you feel the temptation? "I got to be number one here". Can you say, "You know what? On purpose, I'm going to sit at table 135. I'm going to make myself obscure. I'm going to make sure that they don't notice me".

Think of how many times, how much energy is spent in our lives jockeying for position. What if we said, "I'm going to opt out. I'm just not going to play the game". Well, one thing, you'll throw everybody off, believe me. They'll wonder what is going on. You'll throw everybody off. But also, you're going to find something like freedom. If we get that monkey of attachment off our backs, "Oh, I need to be more wealthy, I need to be more powerful, I need to be more honored". It's an addiction. In our language, addiction is the best way to translate this spiritual principle I think. You know how addictions work is you get something and you get a buzz from it. This is booze, this is the drugs, this is sex, this is honor, this is money, whatever it is. But then it wears off.

Well, I got to get more of it. And then you get the buzz, but it wears off even faster. Then you got to get more of it, more of it, more of it. Before you know it, your whole life is preoccupied with attaining these worldly goods. And what that's doing, everybody, is it's blocking your access to the will of God. Ah, what a liberation if you can finally say, "You know what? I'm not going to play the game. I'm out". I've been thinking a lot about this with social media because, and I know, I'm on social media right now if you're watching this sermon; I get it, it's good in many ways, but it becomes its own addiction too. It draws us into itself, and the liberation that comes when I can just say, "You know what? I'm out". If you want to understand religious vows, think of it along these lines. That's exactly what it is.

You say, "Why would these people have poverty and chastity and obedience? Why would they do that"? Because they realize they're in the grip of addictions. Why would you take a vow of poverty? So you're out of the game of questing, questing, questing for more and more wealth. Why would you accept something like chastity or celibacy? Because you don't want to be in that game of constantly searching for that pleasure. Why obedience? Well because look, I'm looking for power and prestige and I am number one all the time. What if I just opted out of that game and I said, "No, I'm willing to be told what to do. I'm willing to be put in my place by somebody else".

That's what happened to Ignatius in Manresa, letting his fingernails grow and his hair grow. I'm out of the game. That's what he was saying. I'm out of the game of who's the top courtier. Living in poverty and simplicity, I'm out of the game of who's rising, who's fallen, who's richer. Forget it. Forget it. So think of this simple image everybody. They're all jockeying for the highest position, Jesus says, "Hey, you know what? Take the lowest place". Because you're probably going to find, let's be honest, more interesting people on table 135. Am I right? You're up at table number one, you're with a lot of obsessives. You're with a lot of weirdos and obsessives at table number one because they're all caught in this. They're not that interesting. Again, am I right? They're not that interesting. Go to table 135, because they're a lot more real. And then secondly, you're going to be breathing much freer spiritual air at table 135. Take the lowest place. It's actually a lot more fun. And God bless you.
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