I must talk to You about what I have learned about loss. I was listening to a minister on the radio talking about the tremendous sense of loss experienced by St. Paul, which he grew to recognize as gain. Paul had great status and position among the Jews as a Pharisee. He had an education enviable in his day because of its rarity. Among the Pharisees he was esteemed enough to be given the task of ridding Judaism of the thorn of Christianity and he took pride in this.
When he was knocked from his horse, all this was lost. But it was not the end of it. He even lost his sight until he learned to see with his heart. When, at this point, his life was totally turned around and he became a defender and promulgator of Christianity, more loss was heaped upon him. He lost all those he had previously counted as friends. He lost his freedom by being frequently thrown into prison. There were times when he even lost the support of the Christian Jews in Jerusalem. Ultimately he lost his life. But he counted all this as gain; and the one thing he never lost was hope.
This exposition of loss in the life of St. Paul led me to think about loss as St. Francis of Assisi might have experienced it and, from that, the general sense of loss among the poor and how it all ties in with Your own sense of loss and defeat in Your passion and death and the words,”to those who have the least, the most shall be given.”In other words it appears it’s life’s so-called losers we should be admiring and emulating in paradoxical opposition to what our hearts, minds and the rest of the world holds up as success and/or winners to be imitated as good examples.
St. Francis was a noble and wealthy young man who took his cue from his own status and the glamour of soldiering. Through a special grace Francis came to realize that it was those who had nothing who were really closest to You. He not only set about pursuing this ideal for himself and his community but he extolled greatly the life of poverty which economic circumstances forced upon others. Rather than trying to overcome it, Francis somehow realized he should pursue it and embrace it. Loss was gain!
As one might look out upon the needy throng at a hunger center, it is not hard to get the feeling that these people are extra close to You because everything else in their lives has been stripped away. In such a condition it is easier to see You as the only reality of life. I have come to the conclusion that this is why the poor are so special to You. It is truly the poor who provide the most fertile ground for Your love and for Your message.
It does indeed have a great deal to do with the loss of“things,” material goods, comforts and possessions, but it also has something to do with what the beatitudes refer to as poverty of spirit. This is the loss of “self.” - the humility and lack of guile of the Shepherd’s sheep. The more about me and my life that tends toward nothing, the closer I come to You. True wealth is the instinct of the sheep to recognize the voice and footstep of the Shepherd.
There is a profound lesson that we often miss in the fact that Your ministry sought out first the “have-nots” of Your own society, and the fact that Your life was an exquisite example of loss being gain. So seminal is this concept to spiritual growth that in some cases, such as Paul and Francis, you had to knock them “off their horse” for them to see it.
Within this idea too is DeMello’s tenet that suffering (loss) teaches. It is almost as if to say that first we must be emptied of all our own gains in order to gain spiritually. Gains of my own push me from You. Loss, like a magnet, draws me to You – and, on the level of human comforts, loss causes suffering, and suffering teaches. The way of loss is the bumpy yellow brick road to learning love in this life.