A couple of weeks ago, I spent 4 days with my brother priests from the Diocese of Belleville at our annual Convocation. It is to be a time of spiritual renewal, continuing formation in priesthood and fraternity. To varying degrees these goals were met.
There was one particular “take-away” phrase that has stuck with me since those days of convocation. While it was given in the context of a talk about the ongoing spiritual formation of priests, I think it applies to any Christian seeking to grow in holiness and their baptismal calling. Fr. Louis Cameli, one of the presenters during the convocation, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, currently the Archbishop’s Delegate for Formation and Mission and a former professor at St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. He stated that part of a priest’s spiritual life is to live in poverty. He was not talking about monetary or fiscal poverty. He was reflecting on the need for “kenosis,” a Greek word that means roughly “emptying of self” and “detachment” where a person grows in reliance of the grace of God. The phrase that sticks with me is this:
“Nature abhors a vacuum. The Holy Spirit abhors a full soul and self.”
How true! If we are full of ourselves, there’s no room for God to enter into and dwell. If we’re always focused on “me”, how will we hear the Word of God calling us to conversion of heart and life? If we don’t attempt to silence our own words and thoughts in our mind in prayer, contemplation and liturgy there is no space for the Word to be heard. There must be some emptiness in our life to relieve the gift of grace, the experience of God’s love for us. That emptiness can be silence in prayer, the inability to heal some pain on our own, fasting’s hunger or a lack of financial resources. Emptying the self comes in many forms. Only when the vessel is empty can something be poured into it. Kenosis requires a life time of rehearsing and practice. Ultimately, that “rehearsal” will make the final “emptying of self, our death, less fearful and prepare us to receive the fullness of life.