Eymard and the Gift of Self

Eymard and the Gift of Self
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  Eymard and the Gift of Self When he packed his bags to leave the Redemptorist house on the ViaMerulana, Eymard felt, despite the heavy disappointment of hisfailure to acquire the Jerusalem Cenacle, that he was taking with hima new treasure with which he had been gifted during the three monthshe had spent there. As he put it to one correspondent,I admire the good Master’s way of forcing me into solitude, and now,I’m very happy about it. Not that I want anything more, no! but I seemore clearly. All that remains now is to knead this new bread of my poor soul. I won’t give you any today; that would be taken from theold [bread] which you have been familiar with for such a long timeand which did not always suit you, because it was too old! We willgive you something fresh when we arrive.In the early stages of the retreat Eymard records a SENSE OFEMPTINESS: “My soul is empty of God. I no longer feel God in meexcept when he chastises me.” “Oh! How my heart needs God, isfamished for God!” he cries out on the fourth day . .DISORIENTATION ; he seems to be LOST, has no longer a sense of direction. There is the feeling that something is wrong. This sensationreturns again and again; as late as March 17th, for example, he writes:I pictured myself as a man in the haze of the lowlands who needs toreach a higher level in order to see the sun; as a man in a cold regionwho has only a few steps to take in order to reach a fire.He is bewildered in the face of his own behaviour, feels distressed before the enigma of his own contradictions. He is a puzzle to himself and feels baffled.My life is a mystery to me; I seem to want no one but God alone, andyet at every moment I find myself loving no one but myself, workingonly at what appeals to me, devoting myself only to what I desire,love or hope for.The discovery of NUMEROUS CONTRADICTIONS BETWEENHIS IDEALS AND HIS ACTUAL SELF, as he sees it, alarms him,  arouses anger and fuels a grim determination to dominate his self-centredness.He is forced to recognize a constant presence of compulsivetendencies that he cannot succeed in subjecting to his will. He isimpressionable, his mind is hyper-active, volatile; his curiosity pullshim after it. Impatience grips him when interrupted or when he isobliged by duty to terminate some activity which he has under wayand in which he is absorbed. Anger flares up when others behave badly; he pictures himself lecturing them, giving them a piece of hismind, putting them right. He concludes with bitter realism: “all that is but a footstool for my ego.”He feels impelled to identify what he describes as “an inordinate andhidden love that shows up under every possible form and is present ineverything.” He seeks to get a grasp of the unity of principleunderneath:What is this inordinate affection? What is the soul of it? What is itsgoverning principle? That is what I am looking for but cannot find,the soul of what is evil in my soul.He senses that, underneath all of its manifestations, there must besome unity, some single source or principle that gives shape andconsistency to this disordered love.Recourse to the METAPHOR OF “CENTRE” helps him to focus his perceptions. His professed centre is Jesus Christ and his ostensibleaim is to procure God’s glory. But there is another story going on. HISEGO (MOI), his self, is constantly intruding, finding space even in hismost religious activities, to turn everything to its purposes.If I examine my ordinary and extraordinary sins, I find that they allspring from vanity or that vanity has crept into them; my ego hascrept into everything, has dominated my speech, my innermostthoughts even in the care of souls, in the works I do for God.He recognizes that while his desire to promote a spirituality of love,for example, is in fact the fruit of a genuine insight, yet it becomes  infected by his own deep-seated need to be at centre-stage. He is onthe lookout for something that makes him stand out, that is uniquely,especially his. “I also saw the illusion of my apostolate of love,” henotes, referring to “that mysticism that seeks to show off.” “Why seek overmuch,” he asks, “A MANNER of preaching or of spiritualdirection that is DISTINCTIVELY MINE?” The same need drives him to give value to whatever ensures successin his ministry. The ostensible motive is to make Christ known, butcunningly concealed in it is something else, namely, a self-seekingdesire to draw the crowds, to make an impression on the public. Because success satisfies his craving for recognition, it exercises anirresistible attraction over him, disinclining him to give thought tosubjecting what he is doing to critical evaluation.His impulse to correct others, to point out to them what is the rightthing to do, arises from a will to impose his own views, bringing into play thereby an image of himself as the admired and skilled guidewho is capable of setting others on the right path.The CORE ELEMENT that unifies all these manifestations, he believes, has to do, above all with the INSATIABLE DEMANDS OFSELF – the need to shine, for example, to feel that he is srcinal, to beapplauded. It is this need that has infiltrated all his religious goals;“my self-love,” he notes, “has found a means of masquerading as thelove of God.” The same insight recurs nearly three weeks later: “Self-love found the means of sneaking into the love of God, and thenatural into the supernatural.”The question then becomes how to make God, and Christ in theeucharist, rather than self, the real and effective centre of his mind andimagination, of his choices, feelings and projects.The attentive reader will remark how Eymard tends to OSCILLATEBETWEEN TWO WAYS of responding to these insights, onenegative and the other positive. Negatively, he asks himself withanguish how he can destroy or at least dethrone the self; but in other moments his focus shifts and he looks at matters from the other point  of view, asking how Christ is to become the effective centre of hisexistence.The habits formed in long years of hard and relentless ascetical effort,and the drive of his own perfectionism, fuelled by anger at not beingable to impose upon himself his ideal of order and control, incline himtowards the first approach. At the same time, there is another, more peaceful “voice” comingfrom within that has a different, more positive message, inclining himtowards the second approach. We hear the alternance between the twovoices already – however sketchily – on the second day: “I must dieto self, or rather I must give myself totally to our Lord.” On Feb. 6th he has inverted the order: “The first is to live the life of Jesus in me .. That is precisely the mission of the Holy Spirit. … Thesecond is to follow Jesus Christ in his war against the flesh and thespirit of the flesh.”In one striking text the co-presence of both of these interior “voices”is luminously clear. On February 24th he is meditating on how to become a true servant of Jesus Christ, totally at his orders. He goeson:But that calls for a change of command, of leadership, of principle; arevolution is in order, one of sheer power that resorts to fire andchains, and brings on the death of the ‘old self.’ How should I proceed? ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and clothe you with power from on high.’The spontaneous response, the message of the first “voice,” iscouched in the long-familiar and aggressive language of his yearningfor absolute control, “sheer power” as he calls it. But the second“voice” at once intervenes to tell him something different: that it isnot the ego that must be the agent of this revolution. The power doesnot come from him, it must come from Another, from “on high!” Theresolution that follows confirms this, for it has nothing to do with self-domination; rather it is about ATTENTION.  I took the resolution to read the word of God with a very deep respectand to pronounce with affection the liturgical prayers of holy church. Indeed, I would suggest that attention to the interplay between thesetwo voices may well provide a hermeneutical key for interpreting theexperience of the retreat as a whole.From his early youth Eymard was forever making programs for himself, setting himself goals, drawing up timetables. His hope was,once and for all, TO IMPOSE ORDER upon his reactions; he yearnedto bring everything UNDER THE CONTROL OF HIS WILL. In hisvery last retreat, at Saint-Maurice, at the end of April into early May1867, we find him still haunted by this ideal: “I must have order in mylife,” he wrote in the final meditation!His ascetical efforts were motivated, similarly, in part at least, by thesame need to impose order on his desires and needs, his reactions and behaviour. All of this seemed to him an expression of his sinceredesire to make his life wholly over to God. What he probably did not see so clearly and consistently was that hisoften violent striving to impose order, his efforts for perfection, hisendeavour to assert control over his instincts were, in large part, justas compulsive as the forces he was trying to dominate. From here toocame his anger at failure. His anger: a significant pointer He comes back a number of times to the question of anger,mentioning impatience at getting interrupted, but more generallyanger in his relations with others (especially Father De Cuers),mentioning especially “holy indignation” and “Boanerges zeal.”For some time my self-love has been like the edge of a sword,especially with a few persons whose life, character and actions havewounded my nasty self-love. Indeed, these bursts of impatience, thesereprimands and these cutting airs spring from an undercurrent of cowardice and sloth, which is eager to be rid or delivered of an
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