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Horror/Love Image

 

Jesus_on_CrossParaphrasing Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven, I fled the image of the Crucified Jesus “down the nights and down the days…I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind…” Always knowing that one day I would have to embrace the Crucified Jesus. Now very late in life, I find myself dwelling on this image of horror, this image of God’s love for us.

The image of the Crucified Jesus should have been an image of love and hope. Instead it became an image of horror because of its association with the price of redemption. I fled that image. I promised myself that I would embrace it some day, but not now. And the years have come and gone. My assumption is that many people have suffered this terrible ambivalence. How do we heal this spiritual ambivalence? Let me suggest three ways.

Contemplate the Crucified. What is there to analyze? An Infinite Lover, infinitely mysterious, expressed infinite love to humanity on Calvary. God did it his way, and his ways are not our ways, and certainly not within our capacity to understand. In Sr. Ilia Delio’s book, Christ in Evolution, we read: “St. Bonaventure maintained that God, who is a Trinity of incomprehensible love, reveals that love in the mystery of the cross….only one filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the fire of love, can enter into this mystery; here the mind gives way to the heart and we are drawn to the one whom we can never fully understand but whom we desire from the depths of our being.”

Contemplation of the Crucified is required, not rationalization by our computer-like minds. Our rational minds divorced from our hearts cannot deal with mystery. They produce all the wrong answers—penal substitution, ransom, Father’s vindictive justice. Rather, we must embrace this mystery—being fully present to it with loving hearts and attentive minds. We must surrender ourselves, gift ourselves to the image of the Crucified. And let the image speak to our hearts and our hearts to it.

Change Image of Crucified. What has always disturbed me about images of the Crucified Jesus is that they show Jesus as a single isolated, abandoned individual being crucified. Just too horrible to gaze at! St. Bonaventure’s comment that the Trinity of love was present on Calvary manifesting love for mankind raised my comfort level. Inspiration! Find an image that reveals this Trinitarian relationship and participation. Friends pointed out Salvador Dali’s painting “Christ of John of the Cross.”

This painting communicates that idea. It was based on a drawing by the 16th Century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. Dali says that he was inspired in a dream. Dali employed a triangle and a circle for Jesus’ figure: the triangle is formed by Jesus’ arms suggesting the Trinity; the circle for Jesus’ head suggesting Jesus as the center of the universe. Jesus, the medium of our union with the Trinity of Love! It is an image that I cherish and pray with.

Identify with Crucified. Jules Massanet’s opera Thais surprised me with a whole new approach to deepening my relationship with the Crucified Jesus. The opera is the story of a monk who attempts to convert Thais, an Egyptian priestess, to Christianity. The monk presses the crucifix in her face and pleads with her to abandon her sinful living.

In the next scene she is lying on a lounge pondering his words. Her meditation is expressed through an apparently erotic dance by a topless dancer. She had me entranced. We hear the composer’s beautiful interlude, Meditation. The stage prop is a hollow frame of the cross. Its structure allows the dancer to move in and out of the cross’ frame. Finally the dancer lifts herself onto the cross taking the pose of the Crucified Jesus, her body writhing in agony.

An “erotic” dance became a sacred dance—expressing Thais’ self-emptying, spiritual nakedness, self-transformation. She had surrendered, totally identifying with Jesus. Her surrender was the Spirit’s invitation to me to identify with Jesus’ passion and death. Before the Consecration at Mass, I try to identify with the Crucified Jesus through this image. It is an appropriate time. The Risen Jesus brings the fire of Calvary to our altars to create his crucible of love, in which he melts down our alienation from God, from others, from ourselves—if we are open.

Conclusion. For almost 2,000 years the Church has preached, and continues to preach, a theology of redemption with its message of penal substitution. Fr. Joseph Komonchak defines that message as: “Christ stepped into our place and endured the full wrath of God’s vindictive justice…to pay off the immense debt incurred by the sins of humanity.” He calls this theological viewpoint oversimplistic. Oversimplistic because the Church sought a rational explanation. We need loving contemplation to enter into this mystery.

“Those who gaze upon the crucified long enough—with contemplative eyes—are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggressivity and victimhood,” states Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. “It demands no theological education at all, just an inner exchange by receiving the image within and offering one’s soul back in safe return.”

 

Jesus’ Transformation

In the early 1900’s, the psychologist William James wrote “Variety of Religious Experiences”, the classic study of everyday “mystical” experiences. He recounts the transforming moments in people’s lives when they discovered deeply the presence of the divine in their lives and the impact such peak experiences had on them. They were found to be a relatively common experience among common people. Simply a surprising gift given without any concern for merit or learning.

Might not we suppose that Jesus, being the most human of human beings, must also have experienced such a peak experience that became a transforming moment in his life? I believe so. Therefore, I want to share the transforming moment in my life and attempt to draw parallel insights about Jesus.

In My Life. My transforming experience took place on a weekend retreat. I had brought to the retreat a lot of psychological baggage. On the first morning of the weekend, the presentation dwelt on our “persona”, the masks that we wear to hide our true selves so we can project a public self of self-esteem and confidence. During my meditation on this subject, I saw clearly the pockets of self-hate in my life as if they were on stage.

I became angry with myself that I had allowed so much self-hate to operate in my subconscious. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And suddenly I broke out into ecstatic joy. At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, Whom I called God, that all creation was lovable, that I was lovable. Instantly, my life vision was transformed—the way I saw myself, God, others, life, creation.

In Jesus’ Life. As Jesus studied the Scriptures to learn about God’s relationship with Israel and, more importantly, to learn about his mission and destiny, what must he have felt when he read the words of the prophet Isaiah 50:60 describing the obedience of the Lord’s servant? “I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face.”

Jesus was no dummy. He realized that those words applied to him and that he would become the suffering servant of God. Might Jesus have wondered to himself: “Is God a God of vengeance? Am I to be the victim of God’s wrath?”

I believe that it was only through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus came to discover God as Compassion Who loved all beings and creation with unconditional love. What the Old Testament did not reveal to Jesus, his contemplative prayer did. It was at that point in Jesus’ life that he must have come to know beyond doubt that God was love, that all creation was lovable, and that he was the beloved Son of God. In that moment, Jesus experienced transformation.

More than ever before, in that special moment Jesus began to enjoy the unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience, the experience of God as a compassionate Father. Perhaps too it was at that moment of transformation that Jesus decided to quit the quiet, private life ofNazarethand embark on his public life and divine mission.

Transformation’s Effects. Transforming experiences are empowering, because they are a kind of a death/resurrection experience—moving one from self-hate to self-love, from self-ignorance to self-knowledge, from fear of God to deep faith in God as Jesus experienced.

Transforming experiences are vision changing experiences. When I returned from my transforming experience, I saw people as persons. My attitude toward women changed dramatically. They were persons, not sex objects. I was aware that all persons experience the pain of being human, as I had, and deserved my compassion. Likewise, Jesus too had experienced the pain of being human and his newly acquired solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all persons. The driving force behind his mission would become compassion for others: he would liberate them from all forms of oppression.

Transforming experiences open our eyes to creation. When I returned from my transforming experience, I was moved by a deep eros for creation. I wanted to touch the leaves of trees. I wanted to feel the essences of things, such as trying to feel the essence of water that was real but could not be grasped. I can easily imagine Jesus at night marveling at the moonbeams shimmering on the Sea of Galilee, or being filled with wonder at the mighty olive trees.

This erotic awareness of nature soon became an awareness of the gift dimension of creation and life. Through this discovery of the gift dimension of creation I experienced creation reverberating with God’s presence, love and attention. Creation gave me the gift of God’s presence. I felt that I was surrounded by God’s love in creation. Likewise, from human experience we can deduce that Jesus must have experienced the presence, the beauty and the wisdom of God in creation.

Transformation and Spiritual Life. What is the nature of transforming experiences?  When we discover that Love is at the heart of reality, we discover that Love Center that resides within us at the core of our personhood and Who radiates out the energies of love through the pathways of our minds, hearts and wills, and makes everything lovable to us—we are lovable, others are lovable, creation is lovable.

For a short but ecstatic period of time, I felt driven by my Love Center, Divine Eros. I believe that Jesus experienced this kind of transformation, only he was able to hold onto it and to live fully a life of love. However, I have come to believe that such transforming experiences are not just one-time episodes in our lives to be enjoyed for a brief time.  Rather, they can happen many times and each time they once again disclose to us the  depths of our spiritual reality and set a goal for our spiritual lives.

It is as if each day our love capacity falls to the default position of our self-centeredness, and we must raise ourselves to God-centeredness. Each day, we must recreate ourselves from the inside out; we must connect with our center, our Love Center. Each day we must rediscover our Love Center at the core of our personhoods and let it radiate out through our minds, hearts and wills. Each day we must re-experience our transformation.

 

 

Practice Union with Jesus

We have said that living the spiritual life is a life lived in the Jesus Process. We have defined the Jesus Process as the Risen Christ transforming Jesus’ lived experience on earth into a power source, out of which the Risen Christ gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to live lives of faith, hope and love.

Now let us ask ourselves: How do we live the reality of the Jesus Process? The simple answer is: Practice union with the historical Jesus in whatever you do in the spiritual life. Practice resurrection with the Risen Christ. Practice empowerment with the Spirit. Not as isolated practices but each flowing from the other in the dynamics of the Jesus Process. Here we will focus just on practicing union with the historical Jesus.

The Cursillo Tripod defines what we do in the spiritual life. Can we apply the Jesus Process to the living of this growth model? Our pursuit of holiness, formation and evangelization are in fact encounters with the Jesus Process. Being a fully human being, Jesus had to grow through this growth model as he grew in wisdom, age and grace, prompted and supported by the Holy Spirit. As the Risen Christ, Jesus perpetuates his developmental process, so that Jesus can now invite us into the Jesus Process of his growth experience.

The reality of the Jesus Process transforms the Cursillo growth process for holiness, formation and evangelization from simply a methodology based on good human psychology into a personal relationship or encounter with Jesus. Previously we defined these terms in the abstract and set them up as a model to live by. But what the reality of the Jesus Process does is to encourage us to unite ourselves with Jesus in his search for holiness, in his efforts for spiritual formation and in his efforts at evangelization. Jesus invites us to experience with him his lived experience of his developmental process and his evangelization activities as here and now experiences.

Practice Union in Holiness. Before praying the Vision for Life prayer, unite with Jesus imagining him praying to obtain God-centeredness: “My God, be the center of my life. Let me see all through Your eyes. Let me see myself as beloved by You from all eternity.” Then let Jesus lead you to the Risen Christ’s resurrection and the Spirit’s empowerment. Before attempting to grow in any virtue such as compassion for others or dependency on the Spirit, or before entering into any prayer, let Jesus lead the way.

Before Mass unite with Jesus at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the apostles and gave himself as self-gift to us in the Eucharist, truly a love feast. Let the Risen Christ transform that historical event into an ongoing love feast and empower us with the Spirit to make it a here and now experience for us to love Jesus and others more.

Practice Union in Spiritual Formation. Before spending time studying scripture, performing spiritual reading, or attending retreats or lectures to form ourselves in the spiritual life, let us unite with the historical Jesus. Imagine Jesus unfurling the scrolls of the Old Testament and spending much time studying them in an effort to discover His identity and mission. Again, let Jesus lead you in your pursuit of spiritual formation. He will change everything from history into a here and now experience through the Jesus Process.

Practice union in evangelization. Before attempting to help people to enter into themselves and discover themselves as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well or with Nicodemus who sought Jesus’ wisdom, let us unite with the historical Jesus. Let Jesus begin our evangelization efforts and be the catalyst of the Jesus Process.

Crucified Lover

Jesus’ priestly mission came to a shameful, horrific end. How we explain his passion and death can either cloud Jesus’ triumph of love for us and weaken our response to his love, or it can transform us into tremendous lovers of Jesus.

Theologian Father Joseph Komonchak critiques in the January 28, 2005 issue of Commonweal the oversimplistic theological explanation of penal substitution: “Christ stepped into our place and endured the full wrath of God’s vindictive justice…to pay off the immense debt incurred by the sins of humanity.”

Mystery.  Komonchak says that this theological viewpoint neglects the fact that “the redemption involves mystery from the beginning to the end. It deals with things like evil and death, life and forgiveness.  Any theory will have to move between the supreme mystery of God, whose ways and thoughts are not ours, and the abysmal mystery of evil.”

The great danger of this long-standing theological viewpoint is that we are left with the feeling that God is a vengeful God who desired Jesus’ suffering and death. Yet scripture tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (John3:16). Jesus was God’s Self-gift to humanity, the highest sign of God’s love for us.

Another problem is that this theological viewpoint focuses our attention on the brutality of Jesus’ passion and death. The physicality of Jesus’ suffering overshadows the spirituality of Jesus. The great love story becomes the great horror story that can hinder us from entering into Jesus’ tremendous love for us.

A further problem of penal substitution as an explanation for Jesus’ passion and death is that it turns our attention on ourselves rather than on Jesus’ great love for us and thus becomes a block to a deeper relationship with him. If we shed tears for Jesus’ agonizing suffering, let us also shed tears of joy and gratitude for his great love.

Spirit at Work. The Spirit did not abandon Jesus at his critical time. The dynamic partnership that Jesus enjoyed with the Spirit throughout his life brought out Jesus’ tremendous love for us. Mysteriously, the Spirit helped Jesus resolve the great dialectic—two opposing realities—the mysteries of God and evil through Jesus’ love and forgiveness that overcame the reign of sin and death. “A frightful evil was transformed into a transcendent good, an execution became a self-sacrifice”, says Komonchak.

At creation it was the Spirit who brought order out of chaos. On Calvary the Spirit continues his work of bringing order out of chaos in the reconciliation of God with humanity through Jesus’ great act of self-giving.

Love Conquers. In the end, we must ask the question thatSt. Augustine raised more than 1500 years ago. He asked: “What is the beauty we see in Christ?….The Crucified limbs? The pierced side? Or the love? When we hear that he suffered for us, what do we love? The love is loved. He loved us so that that we might love him back, and that we might love him back, he visited us with his Spirit.”

It would be helpful to imagine the love life of Jesus as he encountered his agonizing last days. Imagine Jesus going up the mountain with the apostles and being transfigured before setting out on his journey to Jerusalem and certain death. Jesus thinks to himself: “I choose to live for and with those for whom life is one long, desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I’m going… If it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice saying, “Do something for others.”….”We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop….I just want to do God’s will…I have seen the promised land… My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

These are the words of Reverend Martin Luther King who prophesized the end to his life, a life of self-giving to others. His words give us only a glimpse into the mind and heart of Jesus, the tremendous lover, the image and mirror of God, the Radical Lover.

 

Jesus’ Priestly Mission

Sacrifice and prayer characterize Jesus’ priestly mission. Jesus through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished to God to cleanse us from our woundedness. Heb 9:14. Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father reveals the third mission received by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the other two being his kingly and prophetic mission. While his priestly mission culminated in the sacrifice on the cross, it had unfolded in Jesus’ life of prayer which we will focus on here.

Praying Jesus. We only get brief glimpses at the praying Jesus in short sentences, even scraps of sentences, in the Gospels. Further, what is left unsaid is that it was the Holy Spirit who urged Jesus to pray. Prayer time for Jesus was a time of Jesus’ companionship with the Spirit. It was a time when Jesus was refreshed, drew new strength, became re-created, built himself up to face the upcoming conflicts.

In Luke 5:15ff we read: “Great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, BUT he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Note that Jesus would not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the crowd and give up his time for prayer. On another occasion, “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself and from them he chose twelve. Luke 6:12ff. It is as though by day Jesus carried out the Spirit’s inspirations he had received at night in prayer.

The Spirit was Jesus’ constant companion. When Jesus went to the mountain and was transfigured before the apostles, his intent was to pray. His transfiguration was the Spirit’s surprise for him. In the supreme moment of offering his life, the Spirit was with Jesus in Gethsemane to sustain him. It was “in the Holy Spirit” that Jesus, “in the days when he was in the flesh offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears”.

All the prayers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels have one feature in common: he addressed God as Abba, as Father. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa states: “Now we know that it is the Spirit who raises the cry ‘Abba!’ from Jesus’ heart: ‘At that very moment, he rejoiced in the Holy Sprit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father (Abba), Lord of Heaven and earth’”. Luke 10:21. We might reason that it was in Jesus’ prayer time that Jesus searched for his identity and that the Spirit progressively called forth Jesus’ radical faith in God’s love for him and God’s mission for him. The Spirit was the soul of Jesus’ prayer.

Praying Cursillistas. We are called to carry on Jesus’ priestly mission. How? First, we must “spiritualize” our prayer. It should be done “in the Holy Spirit”, as was Jesus’ prayer.St. Paul in Eph6:18 tells us: “With all prayer and supplications, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” We must spiritualize both our liturgical and private prayer. The liturgy will be either a structured approach that enables people to get through a period of time or it will be a heightened spiritual experience that transforms us through the Spirit who reveals the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words and who unites us in Christian community. The Risen Christ gifts us with the Spirit at Mass! Further, believing deeply that the Spirit is our guide and mentor will dramatically change our private prayer.

Second, we must spiritualize our Cursillo activities of palanca and prayer by performing them with the support of the Spirit. We should also understand that the Spirit through these activities unites us with Jesus who treasured prayer and sacrifice. It is our way of manifesting the Risen Christ within us.

Third, we must spiritualize the relationship between our prayer and our action. We can mechanically pray before an activity or we can pray first and act on what emerges from our prayer. That way we act out of the Spirit’s inspirations.

Jesus’ Prophetic Mission

After Jesus struggled with Satan in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and taught in the synagogues. “He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.’ Then Jesus said to them: ‘This passage of Scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.’” Luke 4:16ff. In this way, Jesus began to fulfill his prophetic mission of announcing the Good News.

The passage from Luke gives us two sources for knowing what the Holy Spirit worked in Jesus at the inauguration of his evangelizing mission. First, what the Gospels themselves say of Jesus. Second, what the prophets foretold about the relationship between the Spirit of God and the Messiah, which here Jesus applies to himself, namely,   that the Spirit would be conferred on the Messiah especially in the work of evangeliz-ation. Note: Pope Paul Vl states that the Spirit is the principal agent in evangelization.

Kerygmatic Jesus. We read in Luke’s account that all the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on Jesus. Can you imagine their astonishment? This carpenter whom they had seen grow up in their hick town of Nazareth. They had to ask themselves: What had transformed him into God’s prophet? The only answer is that the Spirit had called forth Jesus’ radical faith, hope and love which transformed him into a kerygmatic evangelist. The word “kerygmatic” (pronounced ker-ig-‘mat-ik) means “proclaim” such as is the function of a herald or an official messenger. But with Jesus there was a big difference. For him there was the inner dynamic process of radical faith, hope and love working inside him (prompted by the Spirit) that erupted into kerygmatic evangelism.

The Spirit does not give Jesus the word to preach, for Jesus is himself the Word of God, but the Spirit gives force to his word by conferring authority and efficacy on it. “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.” Jn 7:46. Above all, the Spirit gives Jesus the strength not to become discouraged in his moments of failure, conflict and rejection.

Kerymatic Church. Note that kerygma or proclamation of the Good News is uniquely important in the evangelization process, for like Jesus, kerygmatic evangelism flows out from the depths of our radical faith, hope and love. The result? It arouses faith! Unfortunately, the Church has divided the Good News into two components, according to Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa: one, proclamation of what God has done in Jesus which is truly the gospel; and second, the teaching that stresses completeness and orthodoxy of the content of the faith itself. The teaching tends to form and support faith, but it is kerygma that arouses faith. Fr. Cantalamessa states that the Church must return to the early Church’s emphasis on kerygma and the miracle of coming to the faith.

Kerygmatic Cursillistas. For Cursillistas, kerygma is the key to everything—message, method, style, witness and commitment, according to The Fundamental Ideas of the Cursillo Movement, page 105ff. The message is the proclamation of Jesus the Savior and the gifting of the Spirit. The method is to ignite desire for conversion of principles, behavior, whole life. The style is joyful, deep, heartfelt, lived conviction. The commitment is in giving witness that our proclamation is carried out by testimony of our lives. Lives that are the radiation of radical faith, hope and love!

At its beginning, Cursillo created excitement with its kerygmatic evangelism that invited people to conversion. We must recapture that original kerygmatic evangelism.

Jesus’ Kingly Mission

Jesus’ whole life unfolded under the action of the Holy Spirit such as his choices of the apostles and working of miracles. However, a special moment took place at the very beginning of his ministry when the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted. Mk 1:22. In the struggle with the devil, Jesus fulfills his kingly mission to overthrow the kingdom of Satan and establish the kingdom of God.

No doubt Jesus was surprised by this turn of events. Jesus went into the wilderness to pray and to fast. He wanted to make a solitary retreat to acquire a deeper understanding of the Father’s revelation and the purpose of his mission. But the Spirit had other intentions and the Spirit was calling the plays.

Spirit’s Support. We read in Luke 4:1ff that Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days: “In all that time he ate nothing so that he was hungry when it was over.” First, the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread. Next, the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he worshipped him. Finally, the devil tempted him to tempt God by forcing God to rescue him from a deliberate fall from the temple’s highest point. In the end the devil melts away. Here we witness Jesus courageously taking on the powers of darkness. Was Jesus left to fend for himself as a solitary man? No. The Spirit was a continuous presence in Jesus’ life, strengthening his powers of faith and hope.

In his book, “The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus”, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa sums up the significance of Jesus’ clash with the devil. He states that Jesus’ threefold no to the devil’s temptations were in fact an unconditional, loving, threefold yes to the Father’s will: “Satan’s defeat thus begins where his victory first began: in an individual’s free will. Jesus appears to us, at this moment, as the new Adam at last uttering that free yes for which God had created heaven and earth.”

Yet, Jesus’ final victory over Satan had not taken place. It was only on the cross, obedient to his Father’s will even unto death, that Jesus finally breaks the power of Satan. Hebr 2:14. Nevertheless, for us the struggle continues on.St. Paul warns: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” Eph 6:12.

Our Mission. We are called to complete Jesus’ kingly mission to overthrow the kingdom of Satan and establish the kingdom of God. We are called to subject the whole of human life to divine critique and wrestle with the powers of evil—as Jesus did, with the power and support of the Holy Spirit.

Theologian Gregory Baum states in Man Becoming that the “disclosure of the demonic is part of God’s message of salvation. Revealing himself, God has also disclosed the demonic in history.” Where do we find the demonic, the evil that vastly exceeds the harm that can be done by men’s evil choices? We find the demonic at the institutional level, Baum says, when institutions forget the purpose for which they were created and make themselves their own end, treating people whom they were meant to serve as objects or numbers.  For example, when governments or church institutions elevate themselves to a superior caste concerned with their own power and privileges.

Sometimes we too struggle in the wilderness when we are exposed to repetitive, compulsive, and relentless pathological forces that threaten to devour us and make us do awful things which we do not freely choose. The pathological makes us compulsively relive unresolved conflicts of the past, makes us unconsciously inflict hatred and anger on people whom we consciously respect or clamor for massive revenge against people whose disagreement with us is only slight. We live in a wilderness, but with the Spirit!

Jesus’ Holy Partnership

The Holy Spirit’s presence and activity in Jesus’ life have not yet received the attention they once claimed in the early Church, according to Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., preacher in the papal household. For example, we tend to look upon Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan as a minor episode in his life and therefore miss the realization that the Spirit was a continuous presence in Jesus’ life. Consequently, we cannot appreciate Jesus in all his fullness. Further, it may also explain why we ignore the presence of the Spirit on our own spiritual journey.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, ‘This is my own dear Son with whom I am pleased.’” Matthew 3:16ff. Fr. Cantalamessa states: “The mystery of the anointing …speaks to us of Jesus who at the incarnation and still more specifically at his baptism was filled with the Holy Spirit by the Father, so that Jesus in turn could fill us with the Holy Spirit since we share in the mystery of Christ’s anointing.”

Significance for Jesus. At Jesus’ baptism something happened that changed dramatically the course of his life. In this transforming moment in Jesus’ life on the River Jordan, the Spirit brought forth the virtues of radical faith, radical hope and radical love that were innate in Jesus at his incarnation. Here Jesus reached a stage in his growth in wisdom and grace that he began to commit to his messianic mission, publicly sharing the Good News with others. His baptism was his epiphany! Jesus’ life spent in Nazareth in obedience to the Father and to Joseph and Mary had been one long apprenticeship for this moment. Jesus experienced the powers necessary for his mission.

What were the immediate effects of the Spirit’s anointing? Jesus became a man passionate about his mission. His radical faith and hope gave him such fervor that his mind and heart worked with a supercharged power. When people came near him, they knew that there was something special about Jesus and responded in exciting ways. People gravitate toward passionate individuals. Jesus’ great confidence gave him power over people. Mt. 7:28ff: “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowd was amazed at the way he taught. He was not like the teachers of law; instead he taught with authority.” We should add: with the authority empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When people approached Jesus to heal them, they could confidently say: “Sir, if you want to, you can heal me.”  Or the woman suffering from the issue of blood, “If I but touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed.” People brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word. We should add: all through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Significance for Us. A Vatican ll document. Presbyterorum Ordinis, states that the Risen Christ “has made his whole Mystical Body share in the anointing by the Spirit with which he himself has been anointed.” Therefore, one same Spirit flows in Jesus and in us, as the same sap flows in the vine and in the shoots. Sharing in Jesus’ anointing, we also share Jesus’ mission and must bear witness in the world to his work of salvation.

As we read the Gospels, let us bear in mind that Jesus had a holy partner—the Holy Spirit who empowered him to radical faith, radical hope and radical love. It would be well to insert mentally the presence of the Spirit into the Gospel stories of Jesus’ life. Being aware of this partnership helps us to perceive the Spirit’s presence and activity in Jesus’ life and to develop our own personal partnership with the Spirit.

Jesus’ Tutor

In the Conspiracy of God, author John C. Haughey, SJ states that we must pay attention to the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ developing self-understanding: “A Jesus who is imaged as having made it without the Spirit generates a piety in which the Spirit is superfluous for all practical purposes.”

Growth in Understanding. As human beings, we grow in understanding by moving from ignorance to knowledge, from doubt to certainty, from indecisiveness to decision. We work our way through trial and error, analysis and insight. That was the process of our brother Jesus. “The great misfortune of the Christology bequeathed to us is its portrayal of a figure who effortlessly knew; from the beginning of his Incarnation he had nothing to learn, just much to teach,” writes Haughey. “Jesus learned the way every human being learns except that his principal teacher was the Spirit.”

Yes, Jesus’ tutor was the Spirit, the God of Mystery who mysteriously brings human beings to their fullness. The Spirit led Jesus to look upon all creation with a deep sense of mystery. Rather than being a know-it-all, Jesus looked upon all reality with a great sense of mystery and wonder. Paradoxically, embracing mystery helped Jesus, and helps us, grow in understanding and wisdom. Let the Spirit be our tutor!

Growth through Judaism. The Spirit used the same means available to every Jew to teach Jesus. If we demean the faith of the Jewish people, we ignore the fact that Jesus was the product of what the Spirit had been doing inIsrael for centuries. The Spirit taught Jesus by means of the Jewish law, the Prophets and the prayers of the Chosen People that he heard regularly in the synagogue of Nazareth and that he heard at his mother’s knees. Ultimately, it was through his realization that the Jews were the Chosen People that he realized that he was the Chosen One, the new Moses who would save his people.

No doubt, Jesus viewed his Jewish faith with the same worldview he perceived all reality. Rather than getting mired in the details of Jewish Scripture, he experienced profoundly the mystery and the wonder of God entering into the life of the Jewish people to save them, and selecting them as his Chosen People. He did not look at the basics of his Jewish faith as answers that closed the door to further inquiry, but rather as answers that spoke mystery, and as such, that invited continuing and deepening reflection. Is there a lesson here? When we embrace mystery in our faith, we open ourselves to the Spirit.

The Spirit used Mary to bring out Jesus’ worldview of mystery and wonder. She had experienced the mystery and wonder of the divine entering into her life. She pondered the mystery of Jewish Scriptures in her heart and shared them with Jesus.

Growth through Relationships. The Spirit used the relationships that developed between Jesus and others to teach him his identity. Before Jesus could experience the full presence of the Father as Father, Haughey writes, he had to have the capacity for relation-ship. Jesus’ worldview of mystery and wonder affected his attitude toward others and helped him develop his own immense capacity “to be wholly present to others as oneself and fully receptive to the otherness of others…. In time, he perceived that the Other into whose presence he was more and more intimately being led, was his Father….Each true relationship expands one’s capacity to stand in openness to God as wholly Other.”

Haughey’s concept of true relationship is linked to the Cursillo virtue of compassion for others (No. 5 in this series). Its practice expands our capacity to stand in openness to God as wholly Other. Viewing the people in our relationships as mysteries with the Spirit deeply involved in their becoming themselves, we can unleash our compassion for them and at the same time grow in our ability to relate to God, the Mysterious Other.

Eros–driven Jesus

The previous article described my newly discovered perception of the Holy Spirit as Divine Eros. Divine Eros is the Spirit of Love directing arrows at my heart to awaken it to the possibilities of love. For me that was a peak experience, seeing the Spirit as well as myself in a whole new light. Then I realized that our peak experiences may well reveal to us something about Jesus, for he was the most human of all human beings.

Could it be that Jesus too must have experienced the Spirit of Love as Divine Eros? I think so. Jesus was familiar with the Song of Songs from the Old Testament and the erotic love relationship described in that book. He understood that the Divine Lover was searching for the beloved and the beloved was searching for the Spirit of Love, and he was the beloved. What emerges from this perception is not the typical holy-card Jesus but the Divine Eros-driven Jesus, the fully alive Jesus who did everything with passion.

Further, the Spirit operated in Jesus’ life, just as the Spirit operates in our lives. The Spirit would have invited Jesus to ever deeper faith, ever firmer hope and ever greater love through gifts of consolations which would have produced deep, positive feelings in Jesus. These feelings would have been the Spirit’s prompts and signs of Divine Dialogue, signs of the Divine Lover calling Jesus to discern God’s will and direction for his life.

The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that he was deeply aware, deeply expectant of the Spirit’s continuous presence in his life, Most importantly, the difference is that he surrendered to the invitations and inspirations of Divine Eros to grow in radical love. Now let’s look at three major directions the Spirit drove Jesus.

Driven to Contemplation.  It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who urged Jesus to enter into the contemplation of his Father, states Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFM, preacher in the papal household.  If we think that the desire for contemplation came to Jesus without effort, we are overlooking some of the obstacles Jesus faced. Jesus was a public figure. When word spread that Jesus was in the vicinity, crowds gathered. When Jesus tried to escape the crowds by sailing across theSea of Galilee, the crowds followed him on foot. He was a celebrity whom the people would not leave alone.

Further, Jesus’ compassion for the crippled, the sick, the deaf and those filled with unclean spirits drove him to be available to all those who needed his healing power. It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who kindled in Jesus the desire to move away from the crowds and seek solitude to discover through contemplation his relationship to the Father and to discover his identity and mission.

Driven to Holy Partnership. Jesus was a radical, an extremist. He questioned every sphere of life—political, economic, social and religious. Jesus turned upside down everything in the society of his times, states Fr. Albert Nolan in Jesus Before Christianity. Jesus showed that ideas about what was right and just were actually loveless and therefore contrary to the will of God. We might add that Jesus’ teachings are radical and extreme for our times, and for all times.

However, Jesus did not come with a blueprint for the ideal life and the ideal society.  He had to discover it. His radicalism was the result of his holy partnership with the Spirit. Jesus was pursuing the wisdom of God, not human wisdom. He was driven to the Spirit to help him create a whole new life vision, a whole new world vision.

Another sign of his radicalism was his choice of disciples. His choice put Jesus on the road to Calvary right from the very beginning. For he snubbed the established religious authorities. How radical to choose as his disciples ordinary men, even a tax collector, when he could have chosen men like Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and thus break into the ranks of the religious establishment! But that was not the Spirit’s way. Jesus was responding to Divine Eros’ initiatives, invitations and inspirations to steer him, not in the ways of men, but in the ways of God.

Driven to Compassion. The Spirit of Love called Jesus into an entirely different mission from that of John the Baptist who strove to bring people to a baptism of repentance in the Jordan. Jesus did not continue to baptize. Instead, the Spirit led Jesus to understand that his mission should be directed at the poor, the sinners and the sick—the lost sheep ofIsrael. The Spirit inspired Jesus to liberate people from every form of suffering and anguish. His miracles were performed not to prove that he was the Messiah; they were performed out of compassion, states Fr. Nolan.

It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who helped Jesus prepare his heart for the ultimate sacrifice he was being called upon to make for others. In the end, Jesus would go to his death knowingly and willingly, out of deep love for others.St. Augustine said that Jesus went to the Cross as a bridegroom goes to the bridal chamber. The ultimate and crowning work of Divine Eros!