Tracking the Spirit

Brothers and Sisters,

I just wanted to post a quick note on the great feast of Pentecost.  This is really the Called and Gifted1 feast day if there is one.  

I was reflecting on my notes from the Damien Shayne Charism School2.  There is something that he refers to as “tracking the Holy Spirit”.

Damian Stayne Healing Miracles in the name of Jesus Cor et Lumen Christi

The idea here is that if we examine Jesus’ ministry, we may be able to see some shortcomings in our approach and our effectiveness when comparing ourselves to Jesus.  This need not necessarily be the case though.  

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12 

Stayne points out that we sometimes get stuck in a routine or a repetitive pattern.  Jesus used many different approaches with people even when circumstances may have been very similar.  He allowed the Spirit to guide him to use the most effective approach for that time and that situation.  He also was tremendously sensitive to the person that he was ministering to.  How many times do we fail to recognize who we are ministering to and what special considerations would make our ministry more effective.  I am personally guilty of this one.

Tracking the Spirit is a fancy way of saying that if our actions are guided by the Holy Spirit, then we will be able to say the right things in each of the situations that we find ourselves in.  If the Spirit is not telling us to do something, we are better off not doing it.  As Stayne puts it, “we get in trouble when our output exceeds the Holy Spirit”.

Rom. 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  The first thing that we need to be about is spreading the love of God, not trying to prove a point or win an argument.  I am preaching to myself now.

Acts 1:8 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,” Stayne says we have to start yielding to the Spirit.  The question is do we want to be drunk or just a little tipsy?  If we are drunk in the Spirit, we are no longer in control.  Then we will be able to do the greater works that Jesus spoke of.

Most of all on this Pentecost, pray with the Church that we will be filled anew, to an even greater extent than we have before, with the love of God that will draw people to Him.  With the Spirit leading and equipping us, we “… can do all things through Christ who strengthens…” us. (Phil 4:13)

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

1. A ministry of the Catherine of Siena Institute. https://siena.org/called-gifted

2. A ministry of Cor et Lumen Christi Community. http://www.coretlumenchristi.org/charism_school.php

“That’s not Biblical”

Brothers and Sisters,

People of faith are, at times, the subject of, or witness others being treated disrespectfully by those who don’t share common religious beliefs, practices, or preferences. There are various ways to respond and, depending on the circumstances, some will be preferable to others.  One response that rarely works well is to get into a heated argument about who is correct.  This approach can often entrench both parties in their position and damage the relationship between them.

St. Augustine arguing with Donatists by Charles Andre van Loo (1705-1765)

The approach that I would like to explore here is intercessory prayer.  Saint Paul refers to this in 2 Tim. 1:3, “I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”  He is speaking to Timothy a leader in the fledgling Church who is in need of encouragement.  Intercessory prayer is not something we do for our own benefit, but on behalf of others.  Jesus models this for us as we see in Heb. 7:25, “Consequently he [Jesus] is able for all time to savethose who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”  So if Jesus is already interceding with the Father on our behalf, why is Paul interceding for Timothy? 

“…In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks ‘not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 2635)

For those who have invited Jesus into their hearts, He lives in them and He prays in them.  Where Christ is the Holy Spirit is also.  As we see in Rom. 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  So we are participating in the intercession of the Son and the Spirit to the Father.  If we want to truly be effective at intercession we must align our prayers with God’s will.  In order to know how we should pray for someone, we need to ask God how we should pray for that person. 

Often the mistake that we make is that we pray for our will for someone else.  In the situation that I opened with, we want God to change the person’s mind so that they agree with us. That may not be what God wants at all.  We must sincerely seek the Lord’s will for the person that we are praying for.  If we do this we free ourselves from the expectation of having our prayer answered in a particular way.  We obviously have no control over how the prayer is answered so why should we take on the stress caused when we expect a particular outcome?  We simply trust with childlike faith that our good, good Father will give them what they need most.

Still the nagging question persists, why are we needed in this equation?  Why don’t we just let God handle it?  I think the answer lies in why God created us in the first place.  He wanted to share with us his goodness and love, he wanted us to participate in the loving relationship of the Holy Trinity.  We are truly not fulfilling the purpose for which we were created when we don’t enter into what the Church calls the Communion of Saints.  The Communion of Saints can also be thought of as the Body of Christ which Paul talks about in Rom 12: 5-6, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”

The communion of saints, seen in the Baptistry of Padua, Italy (Wikimedia Commons/José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro)

This is not to be understood that we should only intercede for those in the Body of Christ.  We want to bring everyone into the Body.  God indeed, “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)  God does bring specific people and situations to our attention that He desires us to pray for.  These are not necessarily short term assignments either.  Perseverance and patience are needed for intercessory prayer.  The human heart is often slow to change and that is directly related to the time required for intercession.

One of the charisms of the Holy Spirit is intercessory prayer.  People with this gift are very comfortable spending extended time in prayer.  They often sense strong desires to pray for someone or a situation that comes to their mind.  This may even happen in the middle of the night.  Praying for people is a joy for them rather than a burden.  Intercessors get results and may become known in their communities as “go-to” people when prayers are needed.  The results are not necessarily immediate, but intercessors are faithful to pray until God answers.  When problems are presented to them they often will turn to prayer before trying to offer advice.

When tension and difficulty come into a relationship, I usually take that as a sign that I need to put the desired action or decision on the back burner and take the matter to prayer.  Roadblocks and obstacles are much more easily cleared by the proper intercession rather than trying to push harder or talk louder.  So the next time you encounter disrespectful or even rude behavior, consider it as a signal that intercession is needed to prepare the way and weaken the resistance.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Joy in the Midst of Suffering

In this post I would like to talk about something that I am not sure technically falls under intercessory prayer, but I am equally unsure that it doesn’t.  There is an aspect of praying for others that involves taking their suffering on yourself. The ultimate example of this is, of course, the suffering of Jesus during his passion. This suffering was not for His benefit, but for ours.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

I have heard of people that experience physical pain in a particular area of their body, let’s say their shoulder.  This might happen in the context of a healing service that they are attending.  They then discover that someone in the crowd has shoulder pain that the Lord wants to heal.  So, in some sense the pain is being transferred from the suffering person to the person praying.  I have also heard about people with a healing charism who also have this ability and it lets them know what ailments to pray for the Lord to heal.

In connection with this in the emotional or inner healing arena, I wonder if there is not a similar type of transfer of emotional suffering that is transferred to the person praying that can somehow reduce or even eliminate the suffering of the person under emotional distress. Perhaps there is a hint of this is Jesus’ agony in the garden. He undergoes stress and agitation in His human nature perhaps due to the anticipation of the physical suffering that he faces, but he also seems to be very concerned about the time of trial that his disciples face. The disciples seem unable to stay awake to pray which potentially increases Jesus’ distress.

“He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14: 33-38)

I suspect that this also happens in the spiritual realm.  Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was known to have had physical encounters with the Devil that involved physical injury.  The grace that he gained from undergoing that undoubtedly helped others that he was praying for.

I have noticed a couple of people in the last week that this transfer of suffering from one person to another seemed to be happening.  This does not necessarily make the person who takes on the suffering have feelings that they enjoy.  So, in this respect it is different than other charisms, but if they can put the suffering in the right context, they might be able to feel some joy in the suffering knowing that it is helping the other person they are praying for.

Scripture tells us:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. “1 Pt. 4: 12-13.

Painting of Therese de Lisieux on her deathbed. From a prayer card issued on the occasion of her canonization in 1925.

This suffering is in the context of suffering persecution for the faith. But perhaps suffering on behalf of another person, in whatever form it takes, can be endured with the same anticipation of the revelation of the glory of God, therefore, producing gladness and joy.  If this is possible, it is surely only possible by the grace of God, not by human will power and endurance.

So, when we are in moments or even seasons of suffering, let us ask God for the grace to be able to experience gladness and joy in anticipation of God’s glory being revealed.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Key Factors About Intercession

Brothers and Sisters,

In this post I will continue with the topic of intercessory prayer. The article1 that I have been referencing in the previous posts on this topic offers some advice on things to be mindful of as you mature in this gift. Here are some thoughts along those lines.

Intercessory prayer often involves sensitive information. For example, perhaps a couple is having difficulty with their marriage, or someone is struggling with a drug addiction, these may not be things that they want shared publicly. Sometimes the Lord may reveal certain information to you as you intercede for others. Intercessors must therefore exercise a little prudence in how and with whom they share sensitive information.  If you are given sensitive information because you are known to have the gift of intercession whether it be from God or the person seeking prayers, it should naturally be taken as a sacred trust. 

An Elderly Man in Prayer – Rembrandt

In Deuteronomy 6: 16 we read, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” If God reveals information about a situation to and intercessor and he/she turns around and uses it in a manner that is not consistent with His will, then he/she is, in a sense, putting God to the test. In Deut. 11:26 the Lord says he sets before us a blessing and a curse. The curse is for those who do not obey the commandments of the Lord and the blessing is for those who do. Intercessors may be entrusted by God with information that is to be used for His purposes, not for them to grow in the esteem of others. So, it is important to ask God what to do with the information that is received or revealed. If it is not clear, then the best course is to keep it between you and God.

What reasons might there be for not telling people what the Lord has shown you? Perhaps the people asking for your prayers may not be ready to receive the message given to you; perhaps you misunderstood the message or don’t have a full understanding of the situation; perhaps the time for making it known has not yet come in order for it to have the greatest impact.  Ps. 37: 34 says, “Wait for the Lord, and keep his way, and He will exalt you to possess the land.” So, ask the Lord not only for the desired information or favor, but that the answer to the prayer would be given in a way such that it has the maximum impact for the most people and that He show you when and to whom to share the information that He has revealed to you.

Because the gift of intercession is so powerful, the person with the gift must be on guard against misusing the gift. The admonition in Matt. 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you,” can be applied in this context. Keeping our intercession secret can also be prudent especially if we struggle with pride.  The tendency to become a little “puffed-up” because God is answering his prayers may do more harm to the intercessor than the good done by the prayers. Also, others who learn of the effectiveness of the intercessor’s prayers may try to use them for self-centered purposes.

The question also comes to mind: well, what about the seeds of faith that can be sown by the success of intercessory prayers?  Shouldn’t we make those successes known?  I think the answer to that question would really depend on the circumstances.  Possibly the good news should be spread by the recipient of the answered prayers rather than the intercessor. Looking to Jesus as an example we also have to say, “It depends,” sometimes Jesus in the gospels tells the recipients of his healings and exorcisms not to tell anyone (Luke 8:56), and other times he tells them to go and make them known (Mark 5:19).

Another caution can be drawn from the healing of the boy with a mute spirit in Mark 9. In verse 18 we see the father of the boy tell Jesus, “I asked your disciples to cast it [the spirit] out, and they were not able.” The intercessor may be asked to pray for things that they are ill equipped to handle. So, before accepting or at least acting on a prayer request, it is a good idea to ask God if this is something you should take on.  Intercession can place an intercessor in the crosshairs of the enemy and if he/she does not have the experience and/or authority to engage in the battle, there can be negative repercussions. In general, when prayer requests bring you into direct conflict with evil spirits, it is best not to engage unless you are trained, experienced, and have the spiritual authority to do so.

Demons tormenting St. Anthony

In developing and intercessory prayer gift it may be helpful to seek the wisdom of a mentor who has the gift or even better a group of intercessors.  Their experience will help you to avoid mistakes they may have made and help you to become more effective in a shorter amount of time. That being said, the Lord gives each intercessor certain things for which they are to pray which may not always be the same as their mentors.  The Holy Spirit should always be the most important guide in what to pray for and what to do with the answers that you receive. Those that I have known with this gift have a great love for prayer, spend a lot of time in prayer, and have a number of examples at hand the show how God has worked through their prayers. Answered prayers boost the faith of the intercessor, the subject of the prayers, and the community that they are members of. I would encourage those who think they have this gift to as God to show you a context in which your gift can bear fruit.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

1. https://www.missionariesofprayer.org/2013/08/gift-intercession/

Why Pray for Others?

Brothers and Sisters,

I wanted to share more information, which I found helpful, from the missionariesofprayer.org website regarding the charism of intercession.   They listed some benefits of this gift.

The Benefits of having the Gift of Intercession:

The greatest benefit is having intimacy with God.  You’ll have a clear understanding of the heart and mind of Christ on certain issues. He will reveal things to you that He may not necessarily show to others (2 Kings 6:8-12).

You will have the ability to affect the lives of others in a positive way that live miles away in other continents. People may never meet.

You get to partner with God in creating change.  How amazing is this?

As you pray for others and see their success you will also experience tremendous joy because you know you were instrumental in making that happen.

While you are praying for others God in turn will begin to answer your own prayer requests.  This doesn’t mean that you should never pray for your own needs it just means that you will notice that your own prayer requests are being automatically answered.  It’s almost as if the Lord begins to reward you for your service to Him by answering your prayer requests.

You will develop a heart of gratitude.  When you get a look at other peoples burdens your own problems will become miniscule in comparison.

Intercession is actually a doorway to many of the other spiritual gifts so God can actually activate many other gifts within you when He chooses to do so for His glory.

You’ll change. True intercession is praying the will of God.  If and when you pray something or think about praying something that is not His will, you will instantly know it.  As a result, you’ll change your prayer request and then your prayer will be answered.  A prayer prayed under the influence of the Holy Spirit and according to God’s Word is one that is answered 100% of the time.  When your request conforms to His will it will be answered so you’ll notice that you are the one who changed.  God didn’t change His mind, He changes you and your request to line up with His will.” 1

Image of Risen Christ – St. Mary of the Knobs, Floyds Knobs, IN.

I have a particular instance where I think the charism of intercessory prayer was probably at work.  It was an instance of recognizing it in someone else, rather than myself.  In the past I attend a bible study at work during lunch time.  I was running a little behind so when I arrived at the meeting they were just finishing up prayer requests.  They asked me if I had any.  I mentioned a personal issue that someone in my family was dealing with.  The intercessor (the person who I suspect has the intercessory prayer gift), told the group that as soon as I mentioned the request, he had an incredibly strong sense from the Spirit that the group should lay hands on me in proxy for the request that I had mentioned.  So the group did lay hands on me.  As they were praying over me, I felt a sense of peace, not terribly strong, but enough, as if the Lord was saying everything will be all right. The intercessor then mentioned that he expected a good report.  Within an hour and a half of when the prayer was said, I got word that the situation had improved.  I shared that with the group, so the good report was not delayed.  Over the next several days the situation seemed to continue to have improved.

Image of Mary also from St. Mary of the Knobs

Experiences like this can happen to anyone who prays for others. But, if you notice that this happens frequently when you pray for others, that others notice the results of your prayers as beyond the ordinary, and that you really enjoy spending time praying for others you might have the charism of intercession.  To test this possibility, you might consider asking others if you can pray for their intentions, joining an organized group at your church or workplace to pray for the needs of people there, or volunteering at a place that serves those who could benefit from your prayers. Above all, ask God to show you where he wants you to serve, and obey what He reveals to you.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

1. https://www.missionariesofprayer.org/2013/08/gift-intercession/

Charism of Intercession

Brothers and Sisters,

I would like to take a look at some of the gifts that were not specifically covered in my previous emails.  First I would like to look at what is called the gift of Intercession or Intercessory prayer.  This addresses the prayers that are intended to benefit others rather than ourselves.  Hopefully, we all pray for other people. 

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. “  (James 5:16)

But what is different about the prayers of an individual with the gift of intercessory prayer and the prayers of the rest of us?  I came across the website of an interdenominational Christian group (missionariesofprayer.org) whose mission includes teaching people how to pray for others that has some suggestions about what the difference might be.  I found the suggestions helpful and thought I would share them with you.

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary (1714). Ceiling paintings made by Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654-1730) for the Karlskirche, Vienna. Post-processing: fade correction.

How do you know if you have the Spiritual Gift of intercession?

  • “You have a deep concern for others who may be walking in a sinful path
  • You have a deep concern for certain regions or areas that others don’t seem to notice.  Do you know someone who is constantly asking you to pray for something that you don’t feel a particular interest in? For example, they always want to pray for the government. Not that this is not an important area to focus on but this is their constant request.  That is usually a sign that they have been given the assignment from the Lord to pray for the government.
  • You have compassion to the point of tears for persons or places that have no direct connection to you.
  • You have knowledge about persons or places that are not directly connected to you.
  • You have an ability to relate to people or places that are not directly connected to you.
  • You get lost in prayer and can pray for a much longer period of time that most.
  • The first thing that you do or think when you hear about a problem is pray.
  • When you pray words come out of your mouth with information that you didn’t know you knew.
  • You are very sure within your heart that when you pray for certain things the prayer is being answered instantly.
  • You have the ability to exercise more faith than others for miracles in prayer
  • You are happy to pray for others and consider it an honor that they would ask you.
  • You sometimes experience an emotional or even physical pain for others when praying for them.
  • And the most important trait is that things happen or answers to prayers come very fast when you pray.” 1
Prayer team in Cotonou, Benin

In looking at the list, there are some other charisms that are combined with intercession as they are defining it.  Mercy, prophecy, and faith jump out as being included in this list. 

As we grow and develop in our charisms there may actually be some that we have that have gone unrecognized up to this point.  If this list has struck a chord with any of you, please let others know.  Ministries are always in need of people with this gift to pray for specific needs that they have. Forming a relationship with a ministry that will provide you with requests that you can regularly pray for is a great way to experiment with this charism. They can also provide feedback about the things you have been praying for. Truly fruitful ministries are successful because of gifted intercessors.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

1. https://www.missionariesofprayer.org/2013/08/gift-intercession/

The Key to Overcoming Resistance

With this post, I would like to conclude the topic of the Charism of Obedience.

I read a book by Matthew Kelly entitled Resisting Happiness. Kelly’s premise for the book is that whenever opportunities for growth in our surrender to God (ultimately what makes us the best version of ourselves) present themselves there is always a resistance that accompanies them.  The enemy of our souls does not want us to go deeper with God, so he shows up with the thoughts and circumstances that make it difficult for us to take that step.  In it he also mentioned that this resistance is universal to the human family.  This resistance is to things that will make us genuinely happy and fill our lives with joy.  This resistance resonated with me because I had talked about it in the recent post in the context of obedience, and also in an earlier post in the context of sacrificial giving.  I figure if I am on the same wavelength as Matthew Kelly, I must be on the right track.

Matthew Kelly – Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose event – The Dynamic Catholic Institute

Kelly illustrates this resistance playing out in his life as a young man (before he heard the call of God)1.  He talks about how a male acquaintance of his, who was about 15 years his senior, repeatedly challenged him to incorporate some things in his life that the man claimed would make him a happier person.  First the man suggested going to church every day and spending 10 minutes in prayer.  Kelly resisted initially, wondering what kind of religious nut he had run into.  Over some weeks, he decided to give the suggestion a try.  Low and behold, after doing it for a while he found it to be a key difference between his good days and his bad days. 

Next the man asked him if he would like to start playing basketball every week on Thursday, just the two of them.   This he agreed to without much resistance; he liked to play basketball.   During these sessions, the man would ask him how things were going in his life, his prayer, etc.  Over time the man introduced new suggestions like attending daily mass at least once a week, coming with him on Saturdays to visit people in nursing homes, praying a daily rosary, etc.  With each suggestion there was the resistance again; I can’t do that, I don’t have time, etc.  The reality is, all that we have is time.  We just have to choose what to do with the time.  The question is do we spend the time doing things that will bring us joy and happiness, or do we spend our time doing things that tear us down, damage our relationships, and lead us away from God.

We choose… To change the world….one person at a time! Alden, NY Substance Abuse Coalition

Kelly’s says that his ministry, with millions of books, speaking engagements in more than 50 countries around the world, the Dynamic Catholic organization, etc. are all a result of this man being obedient to God’s call to evangelize, not on a street corner, but one person at a time.  This would not have worked unless these were things that the man was doing himself.  The man challenged Kelly’s view of the world and his view of God.  The man did this in the context of love, love of God and love of neighbor.

This is an example of what the Holy Spirit, can do with each one of us.  If we take the charisms that we have been given, overcome the resistance that tells us not to use them, and the doubt that what we have is really a charism, then God can do great things with us. 

Obedience is the key to overcoming the resistance.  We may not always feel like using our charisms, natural gifts, and talents, any more than my kids feel like taking out the garbage, but often the biggest hurdle is just overcoming that universal human resistance to yield our wills to that of legitimate authority. 

Joyful, generous, and prompt obedience done in the context of a deep love for God and neighbor will yield a harvest of joy and happiness that will defy our circumstances.

 “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  Psalm 16:11

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. I can’t remember exactly, but I think these details were either in a video that was on YouTube but in no longer there or in Kelly’s book, Called to Joy. I think the same man is mentioned in Chapter 30 of Resisting Happiness.

Doing God’s Will

Brothers and Sisters,

What does it mean to be obedient to God?  First we can look at some scripture passages.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 5: 14 And we urge you, beloved,[d] to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

1 John 2:  15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; 16 for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world and its desire[f] are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

We can pick out a few themes from these passages. God’s will is for us to be holy or sanctified, which involves setting ourselves apart from the world and renewing, or retraining, our minds so that we begin to value what God values.  It involves doing good for others, praying all the time, and giving thanks in every circumstance.  It means loving God more than the world.

The magnitude of the task of doing God’s will can seem overwhelming if not downright impossible.  But, we can’t forget that “for God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26)

Still all this is a little too general and often difficult to incorporate.  The pull of bad habits, attachments to worldly things, and fear of what others will think of us can prevent us from making much progress in doing God’s will. 

Train Up A Child (Instruis l’enfant) by William Mulready, 1841-1853. Oil on panel, 66 x 79.4 cm., Musée du Louvre

If we look at the task of raising children, it is also overwhelming if we consider the task from start to finish.  There are way too many unknowns, ”what ifs”, and “you shoulds” to get your head around.  So how do we approach it?  One step at a time.  As Matthew Kelly says, “what’s the next best thing” that I should do.  I propose that doing the will of God should use the same method.

Perhaps we have to start with a resolution to say to the Father as Jesus did, “Not my will but yours be done.”  Then we can start looking for opportunities to surrender our wills.  If my spouse asks me to do something when I am in the middle of something else, I can joyfully, generously, and promptly say yes and proceed to do it.  If my confessor or spiritual director makes a suggestion, I can accept that as a request from the Lord and get to the task. 

 If we prayerfully choose someone that we are going to practice yielding our wills to, then we should find it easier to yield our wills to God.  If we can be obedient in small requests, the training will help us when the requests are bigger.  “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.”(Luke 19:17) 

Obviously, we need to be prudent about who we choose to submit our wills to.  There is no danger in submitting our wills to God, because everything that He asks us to do is for our good.  Even then, there is a danger that we may not have correctly discerned God’s will.  

Carmelite Profession

Going back to the discipline of the religious life (nuns, monks, brothers, etc.), a superior is chosen of a particular group, and the rest of the group applies their vow of obedience to that superior.  The superior of course understands the vow of obedience, and they are accountable to God for the use of that authority.  Saint Faustina quotes Jesus in her diary.  Jesus said to her, “Always tell your confessor about everything I say to you and command you to do, and do only that for which you obtain permission.  Do not be upset, and fear nothing; I am with you.” (Diary paragraph 645)  Even someone who has the clarity of divine revelation that St. Faustina did, needed the safeguard against deception of a spiritual director/ superior.

As lay people we may have difficulty finding a spiritual director who has the time to get to know our particular situation and that we would be willing to yield our wills to.  My thought is that we could still practice the discipline of obedience with someone that we know well.  This person might not even need to know what we are doing.  Depending on our situation, it might be a spouse, a supervisor at our job, an adult child, etc.  We could simply start to put their requests above our own on the list of things we have to do.  It might even have the added benefit of improving our relationship.  It would be even better if it was a mutual submission of wills. (Eph. 5:21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.)

As always, I welcome your feedback on my musings.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Joyful, Generous, and Prompt Obedience

Brothers and Sisters,

I am going to continue with the topic of obedience (started last time) for this week’s post.

Obedience can often have negative connotations in our minds.  These connotations are probably formed in our childhood.  Children are typically asked by their parents to help with chores, control the amount of noise they are making, refrain from inflicting pain on others, etc.  In exchange for obedience to these tasks various privileges are given to them, such as sleeping indoors, partaking of the family meals, and perhaps, for the fortunate, receiving an allowance.  Children, unfortunately, often miss the connection between the privileges and the obedience.

1860’s Chores – Laundry

From our experience as children, we bring to adulthood some vestiges of reluctance to obey when we are asked to do something, especially if it is something that is not easy or quick.   It is similar to the reaction when someone asks us for money that I talked about in a previous post. When someone asks us to do something, do we bristle and say, “But I am too busy.  I don’t have time for that?”  In order for us to obey the request of someone else, we have to surrender our will in that moment and set aside the thing that we were planning to do.  That is the first hurdle.

The next hurdle is to respond in a manner that does not convey our displeasure at having to set our wills aside, or even worse to respond in a manner that tries to inflict guilt on the person who asked us. A very small example of this in my life, is a situation that I periodically face.  Suppose I buy mangos at the store; they are sitting on the counter available to everyone in the house.  I decide that I am going to peal one and cut it up to put it in my lunch bag for the next day.  Just as I get done pealing and slicing the very appetizing fruit, members of my beloved family (i.e. vultures), start to appear and begin asking if they can have a slice or two or three.    You get the idea.  In this case it is not that I am obligated to share, but more a case of what does love demand.  Is the response generous, and joyful? 

Hooded Vulture

The remaining hurdle is the length of time taken to comply with the request.  First of all, how long does it take to respond to the request? Does it have to be repeated?  Multiple times?  Secondly, how long does it take between the response and the beginning of complying with the request? Immediately? In a minute? Or, long enough to forget that there was a request?  We might call this passive resistance.  Are the response and beginning of action prompt?

Obviously, we can’t comply with every request from everybody.  Obedience assumes that the person doing the requesting has some authority over us, either because it is forced upon us or because we have agreed to come under it.   Obedience also assumes free will; we have a choice to obey or not to.  Consequences are attached to our obedience to, or rejection of, the request.  At least this holds true in our relationship with God, our parents, our spouses, our spiritual directors, our bosses, our teachers, and there may be others.

God is the ultimate authority because, without Him, we would not exist.  So the very fact that we exist puts us under the obligation to obey God.  He did give us a choice to obey or not to.  He also attached privileges and consequences based on our decision.  In the Garden of Eden, before the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve did not have fallen wills, so it was easier for them to obey joyfully, generously, and promptly.   However, they did also have to contend with the enemy that was allowed to be there.  If they made the wrong choice, we are doomed.  Doomed, that is, to life without the grace of God.  These graces come from the Spirit of God and are “distributed individually to each person as he wishes.” (1 Cor. 12:11)

God creating Adam and Eve

So, I am going to contend that joyful, generous, and prompt obedience is possible with the grace supplied by the Holy Spirit.  I will also contend that it is not easy, because of the world, the flesh, and the devil, but, it will lead to profound holiness.  It can also be useful for evangelization.  When other see what the Holy Spirit is doing in us, under the right circumstances, it is contagious.

Next, I need to address the magnitude to the task of being obedient to God, but I will save that for next time.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

The Charism of Obedience?

Brothers and Sisters,

Is there a charism of obedience?  The Called and Gifted workshop suggests that there are many charisms that are not covered in the printed materials.  In fact, it says no one knows how many charisms there are. Though obedience does not show up on most lists of charisms of the Holy spirit, some religious orders talk about obedience as a charism or part of their charism.

One example is the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Witchita (IHM) . The following quotes come from their website.1

“Obedience is the essence of the Christian life – and even more radically of Religious life – because it allows one to more closely imitate Christ. In his agony in the Garden, Jesus lovingly prayed to the Father, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ Scripture records that Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered. Christ clearly shows through his teachings and actions that obedience is crucifying, yet this is the mark of a true disciple for we are all called to take up our cross and follow Christ. In love, obedience is sweet and the cross becomes light when it is carried with and for Jesus.”

“Obedience” by Alfred Agache 1902

Further they say:

“Obedience is very freeing and when it is lived out joyfully, generously, and promptly, it leads to profound holiness. In vowing obedience, religious are given a clear-cut guide to knowing God’s will, for it is revealed through the directives of one’s religious superiors. In addition, religious strive to recognize all the circumstances and events of life, from the mundane to the most sublime, as a gift from their Providential Father.”

Certainly not everyone is called to the type of obedience that is practiced in religious life.  Therefore, it seems logical that those that are have a gifting from the Holy Spirit to be able to accept and thrive under this vow.

What about the characteristic of a charism that says that a charism is not given to us for ourselves but to be used in service of others.  I think a case can be made for this also.  It is undoubtedly true that many religious would not have chosen the life work that they find themselves doing under the vow of obedience.  Sisters in the Missionaries of Charity find themselves serving people in the worst imaginable situations, probably not because it is pleasant or easy, but it is the fruit of obedience, to their superiors directly, but ultimately to God.  So there is a connection between obedience and serving others.

What about the of the three Fs of discerning a charism? How does obedience measure up to these criteria? The first F is feelings.  The quote from the IHM Sisters above states, “when it is lived out joyfully, generously, and promptly”, indicating that obedience is most effective when it is full of joy.  So there is a connection with joyful feelings.

The second F, fruit, is pretty evident in the good work that those under the vow of obedience witness through their efforts.  Schools, universities, hospitals, disaster relief agencies, soup kitchens, etc., all are the fruit of obedience. 

President Ronald Reagan Presents Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House Ceremony in the Rose Garden, 6/20/1985

The last one, feedback, is also undeniable.  Mother Theresa was given numerous awards acknowledging her work.  A few are: the Good Samaritan Award in the US, the Templeton Award for Progress in Religion in England, the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize at the Vatican, the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Medal of Freedom, not to mention being beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

So, I don’t think I am too far out on a limb when I make the claim that obedience is a charism.  Over the next few posts, I will explore some aspects of obedience as a charism and also an invaluable tool for growing in the spiritual life.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. https://sistersihmofwichita.org/ihm-charism/vows/obedience