“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”
One of the many blessings about attending seminary is formal spiritual formation. At the seminary I attend, one of the Fathers gives a brief conference each Sunday evening before Compline (Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours). This past Sunday’s conference was on preferences.
The spiritual writers agree that all growth in the spiritual life depends on giving up our will and uniting it to Christ’s. It is not a single act: “here Lord, I give you my will”, and fire from the heavens theatrically comes down to consume it. That is too flashy, easy, and ultimately, meaningless. Denying ourselves and uniting our wills to Jesus Christ’s is a continuous labour of love. One little, easy way of denying ourselves is giving up our preferences.
We all have preferences. It’s natural for us to have preferences, and we can’t stop having preferences. However, we can stop making them known to others, insisting upon them, and even imposing them on others. What are your preferences that you feel everyone has to acknowledge, if not outright accommodate?
In the modern culture of convenience which we live in, we have this instinctual idea that “if I get my way, I win, and if I give in and don’t get my way, I lose”. We need to rid ourselves of this. It is the polar opposite of the conditions for discipleship of Our Lord Jesus Christ:
“…For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” [Matthew 16:25]
The more we insist on our own preferences, the more spiritually narrow we become, and we gradually end up closing off ourselves to God, all the while claiming to serve Him.
A priest preparing a couple for marriage said: “As a husband, your wife’s happiness will be your job. As a wife, your husband’s happiness will be your job”. This applies to anyone living together, be it a community of religious, or a husband and wife. If we are not watchful, we will easily fall into a pattern of insisting on our preferences, making what should be a free gift of self into a contract of terms, “if you do this, I’ll do that-”. And though our preference may be a good thing, – which we will always think it is or we wouldn’t prefer it – getting things our way is destructive for our spiritual life.
Denying our preferences is sure means of humility, which is the foundation of all the virtues. And God gives us so many opportunities every day. If we make a habit of denying our preferences in little things that God asks of us, when God asks big things of us, we’ll have no trouble responding to Him as The Blessed Virgin Mary, the handmaid of the Lord did – “May it be done to me according to your word.” [Luke 1:38]