Life in the Spirit–Repentance

For the reflection this week I would like to cover the third session of the traditional Life in the Spirit seminar which is repentance.  This topic is sometimes combined with the second one which was Salvation.  In my last message I talked about going to confession and progressively finding the courage to bring out the more shameful sins of my life.  There is, of course, no reason to extend this process.  Ideally a person should make a thorough confession that does not hold back any mortal sins, which is actually the requirement for a good confession.

Unfortunately, often times the things that people, like me, can find themselves guilty of can be quite shameful.  Things that we definitely would not want to have posted on Facebook or showing up on the nightly news.  Some of the things may be against the law.  Some of the things may have deeply wounded others.  After we meet Jesus and understand that He loves us and has already paid the price for all of the stuff that we have done, no matter how shameful, we need to repent or turn around.  Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now sin no more.” (John 8:11)


Gustave Doré’s “Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery” 1866 (public domain)

Can we really do that–not sin anymore?  Can we just leave all that self-loathing behind?  For me, I found it to be not quite that simple.  When I finally came to grips with how far I had strayed from the holiness and purity that God wanted for me, it was almost hard to believe that it could just be wiped away.  I would periodically get into times of self-condemnation, where I would think, “what I have done is so bad, I am permanently damaged and there is no way that I can really be what God wants me to be.  I don’t really have the strength to avoid sinful behavior, and even if I could, God can’t really do much with me because I am damaged goods.”

Fortunately, one day I was listening to a protestant radio program that was talking about this problem.  First of all, it was comforting to know, that I was not the only one that experienced it.  They talked about a book called Breaking the Shame Barrier by Larry Lea.  He talked about how he had been held captive by something from his past that was severely inhibiting his ability to live for Christ.  He said that the whole problem was that he was listening to a message of the Devil that was being replayed in his head; “You’re nothing, what you have done can never be forgiven, you will never amount to anything, you couldn’t stop doing that if you wanted to, etc.”

The solution he said was to take authority over those voices and rebuke them in the Name of Jesus.  Tell the Devil to go back to Hell and take his lies with him.  We stand on the promises in God’s word and not on the lies of the Devil.  I began to do that whenever those thoughts would enter my head.  Gradually the thoughts did not come as often and I was able to begin to see myself as the precious child of God that I am. 

The Archangel Michael defeating Satan by Guido Reni 1635 (public domain)

So the process of repentance is not necessarily over when we confess our sins, we have to receive the forgiveness, we have to change our identity from that of a helpless sinner to a redeemed child of the King.  We have to surround ourselves with people and situations that will reinforce our status as God’s children, and avoid the people and situations that will pull us back into old sinful patterns.  We have to be “set free from its bondage to decay and [we will] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21)

This process is also known as healing or inner healing.  Sometimes people need help to come to this healing.  Small groups of people with common struggles can be very effective in helping recovering sinners to obtain this freedom.  Knowing that you are loved and that people want to see you succeed gets better results than trying to do this on your own.  The old Catholic paradigm of “my faith is a private matter” can be huge obstacle to getting the healing that we need.  I also found that having people pray over me for healing has been very helpful.  The Holy Spirit will often work through prayers for healing to identify roadblocks (sometimes called strongholds) to the healing process.

In summary, the process of repentance and healing for the sin in our lives is a necessary precursor to really being fully open to all that the Holy Spirit wants to do in us.  God loves us, died to save us, and wants us to repent, be healed and claim our identity as a new creation, as the scripture says: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

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Life in the Spirit – Salvation

Brothers and Sisters,

This week I am continuing with the survey of the Life in the Spirit Seminar topics.  The second topic, Salvation, is very closely related to the first (God’s Love).  Salvation, in this context, is our response to the love of God.

In my own story I witnessed the love of God on a parish renewal weekend.  It was “intriguing” at first, then over the course of the weekend it had grown to “very attractive”.  I went to confession that night, but I must admit I was not ready to mention the darker things in my past.  So I was “not all in.” I had not truly surrendered my life to Christ.  I was still a little unsure about what all this would mean for me.

I did agree to join the next retreat team.  One of the things that I immediately noticed was that I had a very poor working knowledge of sacred scripture.  I obviously had heard it at mass and had some academic training in the faith from having attended Catholic schools before college.  But like most of what I learned the important part was to get the grade on the test and not necessarily to learn the material in a way that I would retain it.  We were very fortunate to have an older man who was with us on the team that really knew his stuff.  I would hang on his words as he shared his wisdom and cited scripture to back up what he said.

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Window at Saint Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Geneva, Indiana

It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to take seriously what others on the team were telling me. I needed to make scripture a daily part of my routine and develop a prayer life.  I was noticing an internal thirst for scripture and really anything I could find to listen to that talked about our relationship with Jesus and what being a Christian meant.  There was no such thing as Catholic radio at that time, so I found myself listening to a lot of protestant preachers.  I can remember sitting in my car in the dark long, after all the lights had timed out, in order to finish listening to those programs.  The programs moved me deeply, often leaving me in tears.

I gradually began to see the discrepancies between my life and what the Christian life was supposed to be like.  It did not happen all at once, but gradually I would get the courage to bring up another of the deep dark sins in confession.  With each step of letting go of sin and resolving to get it out of my life and where possible make restitution I got a little closer to surrendering my life to Christ.

I began to understand that salvation is not a one-time thing, contrary to what many of the preachers that I listened to would say.  “Just say this prayer accepting Jesus into your heart,” they would say and you’re in.  I did say that prayer and I think it is an important step, but that is not surrender, that is not putting Jesus on the throne in your life.  Truly embracing salvation is putting God’s will ahead of your own, doing what He wants comes first and my stuff can come after that if there is time.

Christ the King by Hubert van Eyck in the St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium

Giving over the reins was a little scary.  Was I being called to the priesthood?  That was a new question that I was asking myself that was definitely not on the radar before.  Perhaps I should give up my engineering career and go on mission somewhere?  I was working on trusting Jesus with my provision.  My folks had never had much money and we received a fair amount of assistance from others as I was growing up, so one of my priorities was making sure I did not find myself in that situation.

As I grew in my understanding of theology and began removing the roadblocks to believing it, I gradually let the knowledge in my head get down to my heart.  I knew that God was in control of my life but embracing that idea in my heart and seeing the freedom that it brings took some time.  If the truth be told it is really a daily requirement.  When I wake up in the morning I have to say yes to Jesus all over again.

Salvation can be talked about in three words.  The first is justification, or being made right with God.  This happens initially at our Baptism.  Perhaps for many people who have gone through the motions growing up in the church but not really making the faith their own, it happens more fully when we have an adult conversion.  The second word is sanctification, sometimes used to describe the ongoing process of building virtue and growing in holiness.  The third is glorification, which is that which will happen when we persevere in the faith to the end of our earthly lives and join the saints in heaven.  In justification, I have been saved, in sanctification I am being saved. In glorification I will be saved.  (This is a simplified treatment of a controversial topic among Christians of different backgrounds.  For more on the Catholic perspective I suggest this article by Jimmy Akin.)

So the first step in the process of a fuller release of the Holy Spirit in our lives is knowing the love of God for me personally.  The second step, salvation, is responding to the love of God by getting on the road of discipleship and putting Jesus first.

Some of you may be saying, yes, I know all this, I’m on the journey already.  The Life in the Spirit seminar is intended not only as an introduction to the Holy Spirit’s activity in our lives, it is also used as a means to deepen the experience of the Holy Spirit.  There is always more, we can never get to an end of God, He is infinite.  I would encourage you to reflect anew on each of the topics and have the expectation that the Holy Spirit will bear you up to greater heights in the life in the Spirit.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Life in the Spirit – God’s Love

Brothers and Sisters,

For this week’s reflection, I would like to take a look at a popular way of introducing people to the Catholic Charismatic renewal.  The process varies somewhat depending on who is presenting the material but there some general themes.  It is widely known as the Life in the Spirit Seminar or the Holy Spirit Seminar.  I first had an opportunity to go through the seminar as it was incorporated into a Catholic Charismatic Conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana in the June of 1999.  I had already been to other Charismatic events, but had not gone through a formal seminar.

These seminars are certainly not the only way to be introduced to deeper understanding of the working of the Holy Spirit but they have a very good track record.  There are typically 7 topics that are covered and I will call them:

1) God’s Love

2) Salvation

3) Repentance

4) New Life in the Spirit (Knowing God)

5) Charisms (The gift of the Spirit)

6) Baptism in the Spirit (Coming near)

      7) Growth in the Spirit

Over the course of the next several posts I would like to unpack these one at a time.

_

Alessandro_Turchi_(L'Orbetto)_-_Christ_and_the_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery_-_WGA23159
Alessandro_Turchi_(L’Orbetto)_-_Christ_and_the_Woman_Taken_in_Adultery

So let’s start with God’s love. This to me was the most powerful and memorable talk of all of them.  I am not exactly sure why that is.  It had been 10 years since the renewal  weekend that led to my adult conversion.  I thought I learned that Jesus loved me on that weekend.  I thought that I had seen Jesus love personified in the wonderful men that put on the retreat, many of whom had seen me grow up.  I had already dramatically reordered my life–to the point that all that I wrote about in my journals was this or that ministry and how I felt the Lord was leading me to talk to such and such a person about faith, and so on.

Why was it at this point in my life that this message of God’s love so resonated with me?  I wonder if maybe it is possible to get too focused on all that we are doing for God that we forget about God.  Perhaps that is what was going on.  I heard the priest who was giving the talk about God’s love tell us how this simple understanding of God’s overwhelming love for him had revolutionized his priesthood.   He of course had essentially had the same experience that I was having.  He was a priest, for goodness sake, he had devoted his entire life to building God’s kingdom and he was blown away by someone telling him that God really loved him.

One of the memorable lines from his talk was that the longest 18 inches in the world is from the head to the heart.  By that he meant that we have all been told from childhood (assuming you were raised in the faith) that Jesus loves us.  I can remember singing the song in first grade, “I’ve got the love of Jesus down in my heart and I’m so happy, so very happy….”  We know in our heads that Jesus loves us, but to move that love down to our heart, to know and experience that love in a deep and profound way truly impacts us.

God’s love is so incomprehensible.  Scripture says that “God is love”.(1 Jn 4:8) Also Eph. 3:16-19 says,” I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

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Return of the Prodigal Son, displayed at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, MI

The love of Christ surpasses knowledge that tells me it is not a head-thing.  It is a heart-thing.  It is the stuff of eternity, we will not full experience it on earth.  Father Cedric Pisegna describes a near death experience (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh3Gw_3cWMQ&start=1173) when he was 19 where he felt a love that was unconditional, beautiful, passionate, and deep.  It was far beyond any earthly experience of love that he had ever felt.  So at best we get glimpses of it through various mountain top experiences in our spiritual lives.  It is absolutely foundational though as the verse from Ephesians above says, we are “being rooted and grounded in love.”  The reason this topic comes first is that our experience of the Holy Spirit’s power is also founded on the heart-knowledge that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.

Take some time this week to reflect on God’s love for us, do a little search on one of the online bibles for “God and love” or “Christ and love” and see what you turn up.  Reflect on the parable of the prodigal son, seeing the father as God and yourself as one of the sons.  His love is extravagant, He is not waiting around for you to slip up so he can zap you. He is waiting for you to come home so he can shower you with his extravagant blessings.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Do I Really Need All Those Presents?

Brothers and Sisters,

I recently finished a book by Fr. Thomas Dubay, that a friend gave me, entitled Happy are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom.  Dubay takes a serious look at the Gospel Poverty lived and taught by Jesus.  It would seem very difficult to look at the life of Christ and come out with the materialistic gospel that is preached in some parts of Christianity today.  We don’t see Jesus accumulating wealth, power and position or praising those who did so.  Quite the contrary:

”So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14:33)

 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”(Matt. 8:19-20)

 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”(Mark 12:43-44)

His disciple’s response may indicate the interpretation of this teaching.

“Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:10-11)

Dubay is not suggesting that all followers of Christ should reduce themselves to destitution, such that they require others to provide for their needs, but rather that we live with simplicity and detachment from the things of this world.  A key enabler to this detachment is indeed reducing our possessions to a level that we have only what we need. What is in excess of that, we give to meet the needs of those who are unable to meet their own and in support of those organizations that best facilitate that.  Preferably those organizations that also teach the poor to provide for their own needs in this world and to receive eternal life in the next.

architecture bushes chimneys clouds
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As we enter into this season, at least in the western world, of material indulgence there is plenty of “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2) for us to sink our teeth into.  Increasingly in American culture the way that success is defined has to do with the size of one’s home, the cost of one’s car, the exclusive club memberships, the frequency and lavishness of one’s vacations, and/or the fame or power that are amassed. We might be tempted to say that these are all signs that God is pleased with me and the way I am living my life.  However, if we go back to the Gospel:

“Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”(Luke 12:18-21)

This is all well and good I am tempted to say, but I pay my tithe and give alms above that, I live more frugally than others in my income range, isn’t that good enough?  If we go back to the title of the book, Happy are Your Poor, how exactly are the poor happy?  I will quote from the book at this point.

“Happy are the poor because they suffer no impediments to what they most deeply crave.  They are free to rejoice in the Lord always.  Such is at least part of the reason why one cannot be a disciple of Jesus unless he renounces all that he possesses. (Luke 14:33) When this complete surrender occurs, one is then able to experience a fullness of joy, not just a trickle of it: “These things I have said to you, that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11)” (Happy are Your Poor, pg. 163)

And further:

“Poverty of fact and of spirit contributes to the radical self-emptying that is a condition for this fullness of prayer and joy: ‘Having nothing, possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10). God forces himself on no one. If I cling to things, he lets me have my things. If I am empty of things, he fills me with himself.  Paul can assure us that our eyes have not seen and our ears have not heard—indeed, we cannot even imagine—what God has in store for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9) The poor are indeed happy. They have everything.” (Ibid, pg.164)

If you are up for a challenge, read the whole book.  It might intrude on your comfort zone

in a good way.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

The Link Between Service and Holiness

Brothers and Sisters,

As I was talking with a co-worker earlier this week, the charism of service, was flashing  like a neon sign in my mind as we talked.  He and I had volunteered at a women’s shelter doing some general clean-up and landscaping work.  I had not talked to him in several months since that time.  I had done maybe one other volunteer service activity since then.  He on the other hand had been back to the shelter and gave me a run-down of the developments there, he also mentioned at least three other projects that he had done.  He was organizing other employees to staff service opportunities.  He is on the board of directors of at least two charities.  He was so enthusiastic as he talked about how much he enjoyed this work, it is quite evident to me that he has the charism. With this prompting I have a further reflection on the charism of service.

It is important to recognize the link between service and holiness.  Historian of Christian spirituality, Henri Bremond said of St. Vincent de Paul, “It was not love for men that led Vincent to sanctity; rather it was sanctity that made him truly and effectively charitable; it was not the poor that gave him to God, but on the contrary, God who gave him to the poor.” (Source: SVDP Manual – online at http://www.svdpmadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Manual-2007-final-draft-revisionb.doc)  This quote brings to mind the interplay between serving the poor and holiness.  Serving the poor advances our holiness and our holiness advances our service to the poor.  Growth in Christian maturity manifests itself in our prayer life, our Christian service, our growth in virtue, effective evangelization, and the fruit of our work for God.  We can’t do this without God and God won’t do this without us.

Elisabet_av_Thüringen
The Charity of St. Elizabeth of Hungary by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922)

St. Vincent de Paul tells us: “It is our vocation…to set people’s hearts ablaze, to do what the Son of God did, who came to light a fire on the earth in order to set it aflame with his love.  It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor does not love him.  I must love my neighbor as the image of God and the object of his love…I must act in such a way that people love their Creator and each other in mutual charity for love of God who loved them so much that he delivered up his own son to death for them.” (Source: SVDP Manual)

I would like to suggest that, as with other charisms, even if service is not our primary charism, we can all grow in the gift.  We have to start where we are and challenge ourselves to move toward a greater level of service.  If we have our eyes open, we may find opportunities that present themselves to us without having to search to find them.

Some time back, I was presented with such an opportunity.  A relative that we visited had been struggling with a series of illnesses that had really worn her down almost to the point of despair.  When we arrived at the apartment it was in such a state that it was barely livable.  I immediately recognized the opportunity for service and pushed aside her protests that we should not worry about it.  We spend two or three hours cleaning up the place and talking with her about her situation and expressing our concern for her.  Before we left we prayed with her and encouraged her to allow God into her life.  We had not planned to stay very long and so we were late to some other activities that we had planned.  Our small sacrifice yielded some fruit, which was evident from follow-up communications with our relative.  In that case it seemed like the most important result of our service was that it was a concrete reminder to her that someone cared enough to give her some tangible help.

good samaritan
Painting of Good Samaritan, Colombiere Center, Clarkston, MI

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus gives us an example of an opportunity for service.  The priest and the Levite pass up the opportunity for service because they have more “important” things to do.  In describing the actions of the Samaritan, Jesus lays out the expectation for those who would inherit eternal life.  The Samaritan went over and above what was expected, particularly since there was no duty whatsoever from a worldly perspective that would drive him to do that.  In my example, helping a relative could be expected, but helping those who we know don’t like us, as in the case of the Samaritan, is the standard that Jesus sets out for us.

The next level beyond just serving as things come up, involves a commitment to serve on a regular basis.  Just like meeting together with other Christians regularly helps us to grow in our faith, signing up to serve the poor and needy in a regular capacity will help us to grow more than random acts of service.

I will close with a quote from Pope Francis:

“But Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to our body – the body – the soul too, but – I stress – the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he’s in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. ‘Oh, great! Let’s set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help ‘. That’s important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.” (7/3/13)   (Source: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/upload/pope-francis-quotes1.pdf  page 129)

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Charismatic vs. Contemplative, Is that the Question?

Brothers and Sisters,

In the book “Fire Within” by Fr. Thomas Dubay explores the teachings of St. John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila regarding contemplative prayer.  While reading the book I had been trying to make a connection between Charismatic gifts and contemplative prayer.  Then I came across an article by Ralph Martin (author, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, and founder of Renewal Ministries) that supported the connection. The link to the article is: (https://www.renewalministries.net/files/freeliterature/Char_Cont..pdf)

The article relates Martin’s involvement in promoting the beginnings of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church and spreading it around the world.  At that time he was not familiar with the teaching of St. John and St. Teresa on prayer.

Juan_Rodríguez_Juárez_-_The_Virgin_of_the_Carmen_with_Saint_Theresa_and_Saint_John_of_the_Cross_-_Google_Art_Project
The Virgin of the Carmen with Saint Theresa and Saint John of the Cross by Juan Rodríguez Juárez (1675 – 1728)

When he finally read St. John’s book Spiritual Canticle, this was his reaction:

“I remember sitting in the Zurich, Switzerland, airport, waiting for a flight back to the States (my graduate theology studies were part-time and I continued to travel widely) and doing my assigned reading. As I read the “Spiritual Canticle” it was as if my life was flooded with illumination. Everything I had ever experienced, hoped for, desired, dared to dream about, in both natural and supernatural life, was being expressed in John, with a clarity and depth that literally took my breath away. I couldn’t keep my eyes open; I could hardly speak, so great was the light flooding my being.”

So this is a man who was heavily involved in the Charismatic Renewal and working with the Cardinal (Leo Joseph Suenens) assigned by the pope (Paul VI) to guide the development of the movement within the Church reads one of St. John’s writings is blown away.  This experience and subsequent reading of St. John and St. Theresa revolutionized the way he approached the Charismatic side of his faith.

Martin goes on to say that through his teaching and speaking events he encountered people that wanted to separate the charismatic and contemplative.

I periodically run into people who tell me something like this: “I used to be charismatic but now I’ve gone on to the contemplative.” Or, from another angle, “I much prefer the quiet of contemplative prayer and could never be a charismatic.” Or: “How could you encourage the expression of charismatic gifts? Don’t you realize what John of the Cross says about these kinds of spiritual experiences?” There seems to be a wide-spread impression that the contemplative and the charismatic are contradictory, not complementary, and that John of the Cross condemns the exercise of charismatic gifts.

Martin goes on to cite several works of St. John and makes the case that the saint is cautioning against the improper attachment of people to the charisms that they receive to the point that the charisms come between them and God.

He [St. John] points out how inordinate attachment or rejoicing in the possession of these gifts can lead very easily to their inappropriate or even inauthentic exercise. As John puts it: “People, on account of their joy in the gift, not only long to believe in it more readily, but even feel impelled to make use of it outside the proper time.” (A, III, 31, 2) This can lead people, John points, to even make things up, so attached are they to the appearance of having a particular gift. There’s even a danger of opening to demonic manipulation in the exercise of the gift.

Another harm from exercising the gift apart from charity or obedience to the will of God and impulses of the Spirit is to bring discredit upon the genuinely supernatural. The unsuccessful exercise of a gift, apart from the will of God, leads to sowing distrust and contempt for the things of God in the hearts of those who observe this.

John counsels them to rejoice not in the fact that they possess and exercise such gifts, but only in the fact that they are doing God’s will motivated by true charity. He quotes the important and familiar biblical warnings to this effect; 1 Cor. 13:1-2 with its warnings to keep the primacy of love to the forefront, and Lk. 10:20 with Jesus’ counsel to rejoice in the really important things, not just that the demons are subject to us in the work of evangelization, but that “your names are written in the book of life.”

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St. John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)

Martin concludes:

What answer can we now give to our original question? Does John of the Cross condemn the exercise of the charismatic gifts? No, he doesn’t. On the contrary, he gives much helpful advice about how they should be exercised so they effectively accomplish the purpose for which God gives them.

I took several quotes from Martin’s article, but I left out most of it, and if you have time I would encourage you to read the entire thing.  The important take-away from the article is that to truly make the best use of our charisms we should also pursue growth in contemplative prayer.  The proper use of our charisms and exercising deep prayer will optimize our relationship with God and our relationship with and service to others.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Inflatable Air Dancers: A Christian Analogy

Brothers and Sisters,

During my prayer time this morning I was struck by a quote from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s book Life in the Lordship of Christ.

“If you had been told: the door to the Kingdom is innocence, the door is the strict observance of the commandments, the door is this or that virtue, you could have found excuses and said: It’s not for me! I’m not that innocent, I haven’t got that virtue.  But you are being told: the door is faith.  Believe! This is not something above or beyond you, it is not so far removed from you.”

So faith is the doorway to the Kingdom of God.  Faith is a gift given by God that is available to all who seek it.  It does not depend on our personality or gifts, our past or level of intelligence, our wealth or lack thereof.

As I was reading through that list of excuses, I was imagining myself saying, “Well I don’t have that charism, so God could not be calling me to that ministry.”  People who have a particular charism don’t do anything to merit it being given to them.  Thus not having a particular charism should not be used as an excuse not to respond to a call that you perceive the Lord to be extending to you.

Back to Father Cantalamessa:

“The newness of the Christian message becomes clouded when the preaching, catechesis, spiritual guidance and all other formative activities of faith unilaterally insist on duties, virtues, vices, punishment and, in general, on what man “should do,” presenting grace as an aid that comes to man in the course of his commitment to make up for what he is not able to do alone and not, on the contrary, as something that comes before these efforts and makes them possible; when duty is created by law and not by grace and when duty is consequently not conceived as our debt of gratitude to God but rather as something that creates, if we accomplish it, a debt of gratitude on God’s part towards us.”

We must have the correct understanding that grace is not a supplement to our abilities when we fall short, it is the very fuel that allows us to do anything except sin.  It does not follow that we are incapable of avoiding sin and therefore should not even try.  If we are to avoid sin, it is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to have any success.

THW_Airdancer
Thiemo Schuff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
In a time of adoration this evening, I got the image of an inflatable air dancer.  (I did have to look up what they were called.)  These are fabric tubes that are attached to a fan.  As the fan speed is optimized the tubes will fill and collapse in such a way that they can look somewhat like a person dancing.

It occurred to me that this can be an analogy for grace working in us.  If we are trying to enter the Kingdom without the fan turned on, we will never get off the ground.  When we accept the offer of God’s grace the fan is turned on.  As long as the channel of grace is open we can stay off the ground, but there is always the force of our flesh that wants to pull us down.  If we later reject grace the fan is shut off, we resort to our nature, and fall back into sin.

Similarly looking at the analogy in the realm of charisms, as soon as the fan is shut off we are left with only our natural abilities.  We would be sure to fail at the things that God calls us to if we did not have the fan of the Holy Spirit fueling our efforts, taking us beyond the limits of our nature.  The fact that the air dancers don’t stay completely full of air at all times is also instructive.  If we were completely full of the spirit at all times we might lose sight of the fact that the source of the feelings, fruit, and feedback (that we get when working in our charisms) is indeed beyond us.  It comes to us only because God’s desire to animate us so that we can attract the attention of those around us.

While no analogy is perfect, I hope that you find this image helpful in keeping God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in proper perspective.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave