“… And this leads all of us Jesuits, and the whole Company, to be “decentred,” to have “Christ more and more” before us, the “Deus semper maior”, the “intimior intimo meo”, that leads us continually outside ourselves, that brings us to a certain kenosis, a “going beyond our own loves, desires, and interests” (Sp. Ex., 189). Isn’t it obvious, the question for us? For all of us? “Is Christ the centre of my life? Do I really put Christ at the centre of my life?” Because there is always the temptation to want to put ourselves in the centre…” Pope Francis, on the occasion of St Ignatius’ Day at Gesú in Rome.
Kenosis. Imagine my surprise when I read the Pope’s address to the Jesuits in Gesú, the church of Ignatius in Rome, on the occasion of St Ignatius’ Day, and saw that he had used the word ‘kenosis.’
In Christian theology, kenosis (from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσις), kénōsis) is the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will (Wikipedia). The word ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) is used in Philippians 2:7-8:
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
I came across this word studying theology some years back. It became real to me, however, and part of my vocabulary, in the final week of the Ignatian Immersion Course in Manresa this Spring. We were explained kenosis as in ‘the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises [that] can be envisaged as a gradual, systemic unfolding of the Paschal Way’… The Paschal Way, the dying on the cross, is the Cruci-form of all.” (George Pattery, SJ, Pune).
I left Manresa and the Ignatian Immersion Course with a mind and a heart filled with new insights and Ignatian experiences. The word standing out most of all that I had gathered and learned there was ‘Kenosis,‘ for it seemed to me that the Risen One, the One who had emptied himself of all divinity and died on the cross for us is calling all of us to follow him in this self-emptying. “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Mat 16:24)
What does kenosis mean in ‘real life’? I would say it is pretty much everything I have not chosen, whether health issues, a breakdown in relationship, a death, a pregnancy, job difficulties, money problems, thorny exchanges. My normal reaction is to fight what I don’t want, to resist, to avoid, to ignore. With kenosis in mind, it becomes a sort of mantra, a reminder that what is coming to me uninvited is in fact an invitation to let go, to let Godde, to find Godde in what is coming to me. Kenosis is also a way of accompanying Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane all the way to the Calvary, not carrying his cross, but the one I received.
For quite a while now, I have seen the cross as the narrow gate through which one goes and passes on to another level of understanding and faith. Thus, kenosis is a way to the cross, another sort of Camino if you wish.
It does not mean that I will go out of my way to provoke kenosis in my life. I don’t really need to. It has come to me throughout the years. It is just now that I see it for what it was, for what it is — a way to be a companion on the journey.
What came through my mind also when I read Pope Francis’ remark on kenosis is that this theme may be familiar to all Jesuits, something introduced and often repeated in the course of their many years of studies. The mention of kenosis in the Immersion Course, therefore, would have been just a reminder to the many Jesuits in our midst. For me, it was entirely new and thoroughly enticing. I felt called to kenosis, without ever having the slightest idea of what this would entail. I just know that from the moment we left, anything mildly unpleasant coming my way prompted the word kenosis to my mind and helped me breathe better, to accept it rather than to reject it — all being part of a process of self-emptying.
I am not quite sure where this will all take me — even though the famous Suscipe prayer of St Ignatius seems to be all about kenosis:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.
Inviting you to a kenotic way of life,
One with you in the Risen One.
Art: Jane Davies, Cruciform Series