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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fighting as a Free Man

Braveheart: the speech of William Wallace | 1000 Diamonds
"They may never take our freedom!"
My Exodus brothers this morning all echoed something I’ve been thinking but afraid to say out of heresy….Easter sucks.  Haha, don’t get me wrong, He is Risen, He is Risen indeed! However, to relay what one of the dads comically said, “I miss Lent.”  
For those who don’t know what Exodus 90 is, it’s a 90-day spiritual exercise challenge where one prays and does a daily laundry list of ascetic practices such as cold showers, no alcohol, no snacking, no non-work related computer/TV use, no desserts, and on and on.  Quite frankly, having followed the guides as best as I could these past three months (definitely not perfectly), I’ve never been so intimately joyful this consistent ever in my life.  I think on top of praying an hour every day (one of the requirements), it seems to me that cutting out all of these distractions has allowed me to make more intentional time for what really matters: God, family, and others.  But having that bourbon on Easter Sunday didn’t taste as good as I remember, nor the consecutive beers or sweets these past two days. Even the warm shower recently seemed like a consolation prize and not a reward.

The DeSales Exodus 90 Journey: Part I - DeSales Media Group
Probably the freest 90 days in recent memory
           Of course, the Aujero household has had moments during the sad reality of the corona life we live in. In the past week alone, family members of students and friends have died due to COVID-19.  My uncle died of cancer; though hearing a loved one cry about it over the phone was even more painful. Mimi went (and is still going through, though on an upward swing) through a month-long struggle of anxiety/asthma/lack of sleep.  There was definitely a point last week I got on my knees and wept over all that was and is going on. But even through all that sadness and struggle, at least up until Easter, my interior peace and joy remained as I came up for prayer each day.
           It’s only these past three days where I took off the guardrails a little bit with my spiritual practices that my Exodus brothers and I agree that the worldly grass on this side isn’t as green as we thought or hoped.  I told the guys maybe it’s because of the difficult time I’m still in, dealing with Mimi’s health, but there’s something in me that tells me, no, that’s not quite it.
[Editor’s note: Mimi would like to add here that maybe it’s just because I didn’t care enough and that I’m a version of a donkeybutt.]
           BUT, if I believe Fr. Jacques Philippe in his book Searching for and Maintaining Peace, (and I do) he basically says that for the TRULY free and peaceful man, NOTHING in the world---no sickness, no pain, no circumstances, no anything---NOTHING in this world should be able to take away his peace.  Philippe says that a complete surrender to Jesus (not me) to do EVERYTHING, to have complete Trust in Him and to believe that we’re not meant for this world but for eternity, will give us this undisturbed peace.
           A quote from He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. (who by the way, my nearly one-year-old son John Peter Walter is named after) had been leading me:

I had realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong…What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal.  He was asking of me an act of total trust…no reservations, no exceptions, no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking a complete gift of self, nothing held back. It demanded absolute faith: faith in God’s existence, in his providence, in his concern for the minutest detail, in his power to sustain me, and in his love protecting me.

But this last line is what’s really been haunting me these past three days:

           “It meant losing the last hidden doubt, the ultimate fear that God would not be there to bear you up.”


           The Exodus practices had led me throughout Lent to not have that “hidden doubt,” and had contributed to my great peace during those days.  But with the practices gone, the idea that peace comes from my own strength has crept back in, and I’ve tried to sustain it by being hero-dad. Like a kid ready to take off his training wheels, I subtly said to myself,  “I can do it!”  Key word: I. In result, I’ve crashed and lost my peace.  The way I’ve felt these past three days is a STARK contrast to how I’ve felt in the past three months.  Somewhere in my head I thought I was the hero and forgot briefly that there is only one hero in this story and it’s not me, but Jesus.  As JPII reminds me, Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
Here’s how the He Leadeth Me quote ends:
It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatever---only to find that the water truly holds him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed.
As “difficult” as the practices have been (cold showers are not pleasant), giving God everything actually gave me an ease of life I’ve never experienced before.    

(A He Leadeth Me conversation Mimi and I streamed for our parish three weeks ago. Half of the hour is just Mimi laughing.)
     It brought me this morning to listen to a song I’ve learned to love recently: “Nothing else” by Cody Carnes.  Unlike most praise and worship songs that are happy about God, this song laments how we may really feel at times:

I'm sorry when I've come with my agenda
I'm sorry when I forgot that You're enough

And here’s the line that struck me (and gets repeated)

Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You

         I started this Exodus journey three months ago with the realization of my necessity for Jesus.  With it over, even for a short amount of time, I’ve found the worldly pleasures don’t cut it at all in place of Him.  The guys in my groups and I agree that no, maybe I’m not going to go fully back to all the asceticism guides (the bourbon didn’t taste THAT BAD) and we’re not meant to be Captain Exodus, (as one priest says, “Christianity isn’t a program.”)  However, there is merit to the practices because it did give me joy to offer up my sacrifices for others. And perhaps that was part of the point.

         To end, there’s a scene from one of my favorite movies The Patriot that has come to mind in prayer these past two days.  After many battles via guerrilla warfare against the British during the Revolutionary War, Mel Gibson tells his men to go home and be with their wives and children.  He thanks them for fighting so bravely beside him so far and says he has no judgement if no one returns to fight the next big battle. In the movie, through the fog of the swamp, you see men slowly return after being with their family, to fight once again.  It culminates in a seeing a black man, an actual slave who has been given freedom, to stand up at the front line of the last battle:
White man: “You’re a free man.”
Black man: “I’m here now on my own accord.”

(1:31: "You're a free man.")
         As another priest has said, maybe we’re at halftime.  Maybe this is Lent: Part II and the end is Pentecost. During Lent, there’s this sort of obligation to do penances because it’s a penitential season.  Easter, we have been set free with no obligations. We are free men.  But perhaps the opportunity is even greater to choose to fight, choose to sacrifice out of our freedom, out of love, out of our own accord.
         No, Easter doesn’t suck.  Jesus has risen.  He has risen indeed.  It’s Him I need to continue to keep my eyes on, to joyfully give through in my prayer and sacrifice.


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