Josh Raymond began a segment on The Inner Life by recalling a game he used to play at recess with his friends in elementary school: marbles. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it essentially boils down to each player using their marbles to hit their opponent’s marbles out of a chalk circle or into a wall. If the players are playing “for keeps”, each player keeps all of the marbles that they eliminate.
In one particular game, 6-year-old Josh decided that he would play for keeps against his friend Justin and he would use his prized, steel ball-bearing as his shooting marble. However, on one of his shots, Josh’s steel marble accidentally made contact with the wall, meaning it was now in play and available to be taken by Justin. And on Justin’s next turn, he did just that: He shot at Josh’s favorite marble and hit it into the wall, eliminating it and ultimately taking possession of it.
Josh learned two lessons that day. Firstly, he learned that if you truly prize something and don’t want to lose it, don’t gamble with it. Don’t risk its loss because of your pride. And secondly, he learned that he shouldn’t become so attached to things that aren’t worth it. The loss of that steel ball made him upset in a way that he couldn’t explain.
Josh welcomed Father Rob Kroll, SJ onto the show to discuss the joy of detachment, how we can become attached to the right things, and what we can learn from St. Ignatius, a model of material detachment.
Father Rob began by saying that detachment can come in many forms and with regard to many things, material or otherwise. While sometimes it may be that we have a great attachment to our car or another possession of ours, it may also be that we are bound to a habit, a behavior, or a part of ourselves like our reputation or our appearance. Oftentimes these things that we have become anchored to offer us some sort of comfort or emotional boon. We may use our attachments to hide or drown pain or we may act out of character because we’re insecure.
God has given us His creation and creatures to be experienced and used in our lives, but the question of our success revolves around how we use those things. Are we praising and giving glory to God for the blessings He has given us? Or are we becoming obsessed and infatuated with the pleasure that worldly possessions have to offer us?
“C.S. Lewis, in one of his books, made the comment that matter is a good thing and God created all things that are material. We are made of matter and that’s good,” said Josh. “It’s really more what we do with that matter. Because we can get caught up in it, but we can also look at all material things and say, ‘Everything that is material is evil. It’s only the spirit that’s good.’ And that goes back to an early heresy in the Church. So there has to be this kind of balance that we approach when we look at things in our lives.”
Plato had a similar take on the material as the Gnostic heretics. He said we were spiritual beings trapped in physical bodies, trying to escape. But that conclusion denies the good in matter, the Incarnation, and the reality that God chose to occupy one of these bodies to show us the way and redeem us. The Christian view tells us that we are a body-soul unity, and it is our duty to find a balance and use the good that the world produces to get to heaven.
Father Rob, as a Jesuit, is very familiar with the words and teachings of St. Ignatius, a famous proponent of detachment. As he said, we were created to “praise, reverence, and serve the Lord”. With that in mind, we should only use materials of this world in the capacity that they serve that end. And on the other side, we should rid ourselves of the things that will not bring us closer to God.
“We should make ourselves indifferent to all creatures inasmuch as it is left to our individual freedom and not forbidden us; in this way we do not, on our part, prefer health to sickness, wealth to poverty, honors to dishonor, a long life to a short one, and so in all other things.” (St. Ignatius, First Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises)
Father Rob clarified, saying that we aren’t called to be “indifferent” in the negative sense, uncaring and aloof from the world. Rather, what St. Ignatius was proposing was spiritual freedom. Father Rob gave examples for each of St. Ignatius’s juxtapositions. Though he prefers being healthy, he realized that when he was sick, he had to embrace the detachment from his independence. He said he is much more comfortable serving others, but he put his pride aside.
As a Jesuit, he took a vow of poverty, and though he has very few material possessions, he once bought a nice red shirt that he thought looked very good on him. After a while though, he realized he had become attached and forced himself to give it away. And though he prefers a good, honorable reputation among the clergy, the congregation, or even non-Catholics, he realized that sometimes, he was going to receive correction and criticism. It isn’t easy, but it’s inevitable.
And though Father Rob is only fifty-seven, he has accepted that God will call Him home whenever he so chooses. Though he would prefer to live longer, he has not become attached to the idea of prolonging his life. He isn’t afraid to die. It’s in these everyday ways that we can find our own spiritual freedom. Look for ways to detach from the world.
“We ought to desire and choose only that which is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” (St. Ignatius, #23 The Spiritual Exercises)
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