Several times in my journey through this vale of tears I have been summoned to make a crazy sacrifice in order to follow Christ.
One of those times was when I left the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic. We had a large house in a sleepy English village, two beautiful thousand-year old churches, a quiet life and a secure living. I could have hunkered down and stayed there for a very long time, walking the dog, reading books, raising a family and serving the Lord.
But I had to become a Catholic. So we left it all. We moved across the country where I had a job with a video production company that went bust soon after I joined (it wasn’t my fault) and so I was unemployed. We lived in a little duplex. More kids came along. Things were not easy.
I’m not telling this to toot my horn, but to mention something bigger. It’s this: when persecution comes to the church the only ones who will survive are those who have already learned renunciation.
If you just once give up everything for the Lord Christ you will never again be in chains. If you walk away from everything–just once in your life– you will be able to do it again.
I have no recipe for how each other person should face renunciation, it may come to you voluntarily when you have to choose between your conscience and your job, or when you have to choose between being enslaved to a boss and an institution that has compromised the faith, or it may come to you through life’s circumstances.
You may lose your job. You may lose your health. You may lose your marriage. You may lose your security. You may lose everything. Embrace it. This is your chance for renunciation. This is your chance to learn how to rely on your wits, your wisdom, your faith and your God, and you will find an inner freedom you did not know was possible.
What are the benefits of such renunciation. First of all, your own courage and self esteem and personal power will flourish. If you make an act of renunciation of your own free will you are given a new and amazing power and energy.
Secondly, through renunciation you claim authority over whatever it is that enslaved you. This is where renunciation of worldly goods through crazily generous giving will set you free. When you give an amazingly stupid amount of your money away you are telling your money who’s boss. You are taking charge. You are no longer enslaved to money and the things and security you think it can buy.
Thirdly, renunciation reverberates. When you renounce something (even if it is in secret) that action of strength and generosity reverberates in the world. Other people notice your new found freedom. Other people follow your example. Other people live like you do, or at least they want to.
I said to my fifteen year old son the other day, “You know what? I don’t care about material things. I really don’t. We have a nice house and cars and nice stuff, but I could walk away from it all tomorrow. I really could.” He thought for a moment and said quietly, “I’m like that too.” See? Live the life even a little bit and it reverberates.
Fourthly, renunciation sharpens your spiritual life. When you renunciate immediately your true values snap into place. Suddenly you can listen to God’s voice because a lot of the other clutter and noise has been thrown away and turned off.
Finally, through renunciation–freedom. This is why the friars and monks and sisters and nuns and priests are supposed to be poor–not because there is any particular virtue in being impoverished, but because through renunciation they are free. They can serve God not mammon. They can serve Christ the King and not their boss or their bank account.
This is why, when persecution comes only those who have already been practicing renunciation will survive. Only those who have already been living sacrificially will be able to make the ultimate sacrifice. Only those who have already broken their slavery to material things, to power and to worldly security will stand. That is because the earthly power will discover that they have no power over these brave souls. The earthly power will not be able to take anything from them, for they already have nothing to lose.
How will Americans stand when they have become so soft, so self indulgent, so egotistical, so enslaved to their material wealth and worldly pleasures? How will they be able to give up everything for the truth when they cannot even give up a little of their wealth and security and pleasure for the sake of God’s kingdom now?
This is the real reason for renunciation during Lent–not just to give up some little pleasure or to enact some personal discipline.
It is to practice renunciation, for the purification of our souls and for the encircling gloom.