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Do Not Cling

 

The greatest love scene in the Gospels between a man and a woman is the most profound revelation of who the historical Jesus is NOW for us and what our relationship is with him.   Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, author of The Wisdom Jesus, calls the bond between Mary Magdalene and Jesus “love, pure and simple.” The Risen Jesus appeals to this love bond to reveal the new possibilities of mystical love, mystical union with Jesus to Mary Magdalene—and to us. A revelation that the Church has ignored for over 2,000 years.

The scene is early Easter morning (John 20:11-18). Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb and sees that the stone has been removed from the entrance. Refusing to accept the word of the angels that Jesus has risen, she implores a man whom she takes for the gardener to tell her where he has put him and she would go and get him. Jesus answers her: “Mary!” She turned to him and said “Rabboni.”

“Easter Sunday begins with the energy of this encounter; it reverberates with two hearts reunited, her yearning met in his response. At the epicenter of what Christians call ‘the Easter kerygma’ (the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection) is a powerful moment of pure love,” states Rev. Bourgeault.

But where is the revelation? In the Risen Jesus’ words: “Do not cling to me.” Puzzling words to Biblical scholars. But understandable to lovers. The Risen Jesus was revealing to Mary that their relationship had changed, and by extension, that our relationship with the historical Jesus had changed. No longer could she enjoy relationship with the physical presence of Jesus who had ceased to exist. She, and we, would enjoy something much better, something much deeper, a mystical union.

New Jesus. Let us hear in our imaginations what the Risen Jesus was telling Mary. “Mary, I am no longer the Jesus whom you knew. The Jesus you sat before and listened to in rapt attention. The Jesus you hugged. The Jesus whose company you warmly desired. Yes, I am that person but I am much more than that person. Do not cling to the historical Jesus!

“Be consoled, Mary. Jesus’ life experiences live on in me. They will be forever available to you. Your love will unite us. Just remember and relive the times we were together, embracing them with all your heart, and we will be reunited. My Spirit of Love will make our union happen. You need only call upon me, the Risen Jesus, and I will breathe into you that same Spirit who drove Jesus all his life. And that Spirit will guide you, unite you with Jesus.”

Jesus Unbounded. What the Risen Jesus was telling Mary, and us, is that the historical Jesus is now unbounded. The possibilities for relationship with Jesus are unbounded. The possibilities for loving union with Jesus are now unbounded. Jesus is no longer bound by the limitations of time and geography. The historical Jesus has been freed from history. Jesus has been transported into the present moment for us so that we can relate intimately to Jesus here and now in our lifetimes. It is as if we can meet Jesus for the first time in history, walking the roads of Galilee and Judea, and Jesus turning his face toward us and asking us: “What do you want of me?”

Not only has the resurrection unbound Jesus for greater mystical love and union with us, it transforms the history of an itinerant preacher into a here and now power source for us. The Risen Jesus has transformed all Jesus’ life experiences into sacramentals for us. Sacramentals that are not only symbols of a spiritual reality but also the means of conveying the spiritual energy to follow the way of his teaching. If we call upon the Risen Jesus, he will empower us to carry on Jesus’ life of bringing people peace, healing and forgiveness. Jesus’ Spirit of Love will be our empowerment.

Jesus Process. The flesh and bones historical Jesus no longer exists. There is a new reality. A new Jesus. The new Jesus is in fact a dynamic process. Today, when we encounter Jesus in the Gospels, we must be aware that Jesus is much more than the historical Jesus. Jesus is now the medium for us of the Risen Christ and the Spirit of Love. The Risen Jesus now contains Jesus’ lived experience and has transformed it into a power source, present here and now in the 21st Century. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to transform ourselves and the world around us.

Let us see how the Jesus Process works. Take the Gospel reading that describes Jesus going up into the mountain to pray. When we are ready to pray, we can connect in our minds and hearts with Jesus in prayer. The Risen Christ has transformed Jesus’ prayer life with the Father into a power source, out of which the Spirit empowers us to pray. Let our prayer begin with the historical Jesus, but move on to beseech the Risen Jesus to breathe the Spirit upon us to gift us with Jesus’ power to pray.

Note: the historical Jesus is forever the medium of encounter with this powerful spiritual reality. Besides being the catalyst of the Jesus Process, the historical Jesus is our “powerful psychological anchor” in the words of St. Theresa of Avila, in our efforts to encounter the Trinity of Love. The historical Jesus is the image of God. He is the mirror of the invisible. Just don’t cling to him. Be ready for mystical love and union with him.

Conclusion. Fear of human sexuality has driven the Church to ignore human love as the model for spirituality, despite the fact that the Risen Jesus chose that model as the point of departure for Christianity on that Easter morning. The result? The Church has clung to the historical Jesus, making him a moral teacher and depriving him of his powers. Little is spoken of the Risen Jesus and the Spirit. It is preaching an unspiritual spirituality!

Here is how Rev. Bourgeault sums up Jesus’ and Mary’s Easter Sunday encounter: “Clearly a very deep mystical bond between the two of them, stronger than physical life and death, becomes profoundly engendering to the whole subsequent unfolding of Christianity. In a sense—and without wanting to make unfair distinctions—one must honestly say that the Christian path was not founded by the male disciples, although they are given the credit for it. It grew heart and soul out of the pure love and trust between a man and a woman who had, in a deep way, transcended their male- and female-ness to become living spirits.”

In a sense, we are all Mary Magdalenes on that Easter Sunday morning. The Risen Jesus is saying to us: “Do not cling.” He is inviting us all to a deep relationship with Jesus in all his dimensions—the New Jesus, the Unbounded Jesus, the Jesus Process—the medium for us of the Risen Jesus and the Spirit of Love.

We have Jesus’ promise of this deeper life with him: “When I go, you will not be left orphaned; I will come back to you. In a little while, the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.” (John 14: 18-20

Creation as Incarnation

Judaism and Christianity have been blamed for our world’s ecological crisis. Critics point to Genesis 1:26-28 giving humans dominion over physical creation. They charge that this mind-set has resulted in abuse of our planet. Theologian Gregory Baum has suggested that part of this blame resides in church teaching, legislation and practice that gave expression to the “sharp division between the Church as the fellowship of grace and the world as the place of God’s absence.” Adds theologian Elizabeth Dreyer: “The anti-matter, anti-worldly aspects of so much Christian literature have contributed to our inability to value matter in appropriate ways.”

By contrast, St. Francis of Assisi called the sun and fire, air and wind brother, and the moon and stars, water and earth sister,. Was he just exercising poetic license? No, he had a deep insight into Incarnational Spirituality. This insight gave him, and gives us, the theological basis for a new attitude toward physical creation and the environment.

Creation in Love. Our tendency is to isolate theological truths, rather than seeing them as a seamless whole. Incarnational Spirituality helps us to see creation, Incarnation, the crucified Christ as one continuous outpouring of God’s love for us, not as isolated events. In Franciscan Theology of the Environment, Fr. William Short, OFM writes: “Wishing to express His overflowing goodness, God pours out an expression of the divine life. God’s desire to share goodness is expressed in creation. But creation is not merely to receive some partial, limited sharing in God’s goodness and life. God will actually give away even the very heart of the divine life, the Word.”

Creation and Incarnation are the expression of God’s Transcendent Love. To abuse creation is to abuse God’s gift to us. To be oblivious of creation’s beauty and bountifulness, is to be oblivious of God’s love and bountifulness.

Creation in Christ. Fr. Short states that God formed the world through the Word. Since the Word is the crowning glory of creation, “God makes light and darkness, trees, stones and fish, all the creatures, according to the Word as model, or blueprint or form.” Each being—living and nonliving—in some way resembles the model who is Christ. All creation was created for Christ and manifests Christ in some way. Just as there is a solidarity between all human beings through the Body of Christ, so there is a solidarity between all created beings, human and nonhuman, through Christ. Therefore, all creation is sacramental. We need to reverence creation and view it with “sacramental vision”.

Creation in Spirituality. How does our attitude toward or our relationship with physical creation affect our living the spiritual life? We need that spiritual insight that enables us as body persons to realize our uniqueness among all God’s creatures and yet our likeness to them as a recipient of God’s love. That brotherhood and sisterhood to creation must be the basis for our love of God’s creation. Then we can love others, whether the others be a person or a tree or a stone.

Alienation from God, ourselves, others and creation is the primary obstacle to growth in the spiritual life. When we are possessed by the Spirit of love, our alienation is wringed out of us and we are freed to reach out and be self-giving, at least for a time. The spiritual life is all about becoming more possessed by the Spirit of love and about the process of integration with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the physical world.

This process provides us with a “cure” for our deep-seated alienation. Our relation-ship to physical reality is an integral part of that cure. For if we are not open to creation as brother and sister, we are probably not open to the Spirit of love and we are probably experiencing some measure of alienation, whether we are aware of it or not.

Catch the Vision

 

The Christian Vision is not about a set of dogmas or about a set of pious practices. It is all about a person named Jesus. The Christian Vision is about: (1) Jesus’ life vision, (2) Jesus’ life mission, (3) how he calls us to complete his mission, and (4) how he has empowered us for that mission.

Leave out any one of these four elements and the Christian Vision is incomplete. Omit Jesus’ call to us to complete his mission, and a critical part of the Christian Vision is lost. Ignore the fact that Jesus has empowered us for our task, and we are left with an impoverished Church attempting the impossible.

Ultimately, if the Christian Vision is worth anything, it should move us to a dynamic relationship with Jesus. If it does not, our understanding of the Christian Vision is incomplete or we are rejecting one of its essential elements.

For is not that the fundamental spiritual issue each of us faces? How do we transform a figure who lived 2000 years ago into a present day force in our lives? How do we make Jesus come alive? How do we make Jesus religiously compelling and spiritually transformative for ourselves, today, here and now?

In the end, the Christian Vision reveals that Jesus is not frozen in time 2,000 years ago, but is alive today and is the catalyst of a dynamic spiritualization process in our lives. We can have a dynamic relationship with Jesus because Jesus is a dynamic force. But first let us look at the historical Jesus.

Jesus’ Life Vision. What was Jesus’ life vision?  Let us first define what we mean by life vision. Life visions are all about attitudes, our attitudes toward God, self, others, life and reality. Now a key question is what was Jesus’ attitude toward God? The answer to that question will determine Jesus’ total life vision.

In Jesus Before Christianity, Fr. Albert Nolan, O.P. states: “It is generally agreed that somewhere at the heart of Jesus’ mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience…we know that the Abba experience was an experience of God as a compassionate Father.” As a compassionate Father, God loves all persons.

Here is the important insight. Jesus’ solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all humanity. The driving force behind Jesus’ life vision was compassion for others. Jesus’ God-centeredness impacted all the elements of his life vision, because he saw all through God’s eyes.

What Jesus teaches us is that once we enter deeply into solidarity with God, we will become compassionate persons because God is compassion. The move from self-centeredness to God-centeredness is the breakthrough conversion in our life visions, and therefore in our spiritual lives. We see ourselves, others, life, reality in an entirely new light, because we view all through God’s global view rather than through our narrow point of view.

Jesus’ Life Mission. Jesus’ life vision would become his life mission. Fr. Nolan points out, that unlike John the Baptist, Jesus did not feel called to save others by bringing them to a baptism of repentance. Jesus saw his mission as liberating people from every form of suffering—physical, psychological, spiritual, social, and political. Jesus would become God’s compassion incarnate.

Jesus would seek to win over all people through compassion. His one  and only motive for healing people was compassion, not to prove that he was the Messiah. He mixed socially with society’s outcasts, sinners and tax collectors, completely ignoring the scandal he was causing, so that they would know they were accepted by him.  He fought the oppression of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the times, because they imposed a loveless, burdensome religion on the people.

Fr. Albert Nolan writes: “The kingdom in which Jesus wanted his contemporaries to believe was a kingdom of love and service, a kingdom of human brotherhood and sisterhood in which every person is loved and respected because he or she is a person.”

Jesus’ Call. In his radical love for us, God sent Jesus to save all humanity. And Jesus calls us to dream the impossible dream of joining him in his mission to liberate people from every form of suffering—physical, psychological, spiritual, social and political. Jesus wanted all people to experience the fullness of their humanity. We are called to make his mission our life vision and our life mission!

Jesus’ mission is what we call broadly today “social justice”, and is the essential mission for us. Over time, Jesus’ mission has expanded to include many missions, among them Christianizing our environments and teaching catechetics. But in whatever mission we are involved, we are called to manifest Jesus’ compassion, gifting others with our presence and affirming their giftedness. Our compassion toward others opens them to Jesus’ message.

Jesus, Our Brother. Who is it who calls us to complete his mission of saving the whole world? Jesus, our brother. Jesus, though divine, was no make-believe human being. Jesus had to grow in understanding by moving from ignorance to knowledge, from doubt to certainty, from indecisiveness to decision, just as we do. Jesus learned from his Jewish culture as we learn from our culture. Jesus learned from his personal relationships as we do. Jesus learned the way every human learns.

Only when we can sense Jesus’ confusion as to where the Spirit was leading him, can we feel at home with our brother Jesus and be open to his call to mission. So many times we read in the Gospels that Jesus left the crowds behind and went off to pray. What he prayed for was guidance.

Further, Jesus was no solitary man. In pious literature, Jesus is presented as self-sufficient, self-reliant. But the Holy Spirit was his tutor every step of the way. He depended on the Holy Spirit as his mentor and guide, just as we have to do. Truly, Jesus became our brother and embraced our human condition, except for sin. For this reason we can relate to Jesus as brother and friend.  This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission.

Jesus, Our Crucified Lover. In time, our brother Jesus became our 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 and committed disciples.

For over a thousand years, theologians have been obsessed with the explanation of penal substitution as the rationale for Jesus’ death: Jesus stepped into our place and experienced for us God’s vindictive justice. Thus, God is a cruel God, even a child abuser. Ultimately, we must conclude that we are dealing with mystery, the mystery of God and evil.

However, Jesus’ love for us is not a mystery.St. Augustineasked: “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 we might love him back…”

What St. Augustine is telling us is: Don’t focus narrowly on Jesus’ suffering which he willingly undertook for us: concentrate on Jesus’ love for us. Let us remember that for each of us personally, Jesus in his passion and death took upon himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our childhood and our childish ways of trying to survive. He did this out of love for each one of us.

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 vision and mission. His words give us only a glimpse into the mind and heart of Jesus, our tremendous lover, the image and mirror of God, the Radical Lover. This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission.

Jesus, Our Leader. Jesus assures us: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Fr. Nolan writes:  “Jesus was experienced as the breakthrough in the history of humanity. He transcended everything that had ever been said and done before. He was in every way the ultimate, the last word. He was on a par with God. His word was God’s word. His Spirit was God’s Spirit. His feelings were God’s feelings. What he stood for was exactly the same as what God stood for. No higher estimation was conceivable.”

Jesus in his humanity is the physical revelation of the infinite God who is invisible and beyond our comprehension. If Jesus is forgiving, God is forgiving. If Jesus is compassionate, God is compassionate. Jesus is the image of God, the mirror that reflects God in all his reality. This is the kind of leader we have—a brother, a Crucified Lover and the very image of God. This is the Jesus who calls us to complete his mission. Nor does he do so without giving us the power.

Jesus, Our Empowerer. For too long the Church has ignored the meaning and significance of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not just an historical event. It is not the anti-climax to what took place on Good Friday onCalvary, as it has been treated by the Church.

The Resurrection is all about Jesus’ triumph over death and coming into the power of the risen life, and empowering us. If we minimize the Risen Jesus, we minimize the powers Jesus gave us. We are Resurrection People—full of faith in the power of the Risen Jesus, and thus full of hope. The Risen Jesus is the magnificent power broker. With Jesus we can do all things. Let us look at four power sources that the Resurrection opened up to us:

(1) The Risen Jesus sacramentalized the historical Jesus’ whole lifetime by transforming his life events and words into a power source. It is as if Jesus’ life events rose from the dead with him. Jesus lives here and now with all his life events acting as power sources for us. When we unite ourselves with Jesus’ life events in our prayer life, in our spiritual formation and in our evangelization of others, in our suffering, we are empowered by Jesus because his life events live on as sources of power for us. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(2) The Risen Jesus continues his Incarnation on earth through us by incorporating us as members of his Body. And he empowers us with the same powers that the historical Jesus enjoyed—to bring peace, healing and forgiveness to others. When we employ Jesus’ powers, we manifest the Risen Jesus within us to the world. The challenge for us is to take possession of Jesus’ powers. We have been given the powers. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(3) The Risen Jesus pours out his Spirit on us, constantly empowering us with his Spirit’s powers to bring us to self-discovery and to transformation into Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation within us. The Spirit is our inner guide and mentor. God carries on a Divine Dialogue with us, making known his will and direction for our lives, and it is the Holy Spirit who confirms within us that we have recognized God’s word to us. It is through the Spirit that we gain the courage to complete Jesus’ mission. It is through the Spirit that we grow in the discipline of love to be self-giving persons as Jesus was. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

(4) The Risen Jesus sacramentalized Christian community and continues to do so. He promised that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he would be present. Think of Jesus’ disciples hiding in the Upper Room behind closed doors. Imagine the Risen Jesus here and now penetrating our communities, and most importantly, penetrating the closed doors of our minds and hearts, opening us up to his Spirit. Imagine Jesus saying to us: “Peace be with you!” and breathing his Spirit upon us. The Risen Jesus continues to empower us through the Spirit in our Christian communities. We only need faith in the Risen Jesus.

Thus far, we have seen how Jesus’ solidarity with God who is a compassionate Father created solidarity for him with all humanity. His life vision became his life mission. Further, Jesus invites us to live his life vision, the Christian Vision for us, and to commit to his life mission. Lastly, the Risen Jesus has empowered us to complete his mission to the world.

Embracing the Vision. What remains to be answered is: how do we embrace the Christian Vision? Earlier we said, the Christian Vision is all about a person, a person named Jesus. We live the Christian Vision by embracing Jesus as ardently as we can and as often as we can. Does that mean embracing just the historical Jesus? No, it means embracing the total Jesus—the historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus, and the Jesus who gives us his Spirit. How do we embrace Jesus?

(1) Practice Resurrection. When we embrace Jesus’ Resurrection, we embrace Jesus. At every Mass we attend let us rejoice in the rising from the dead of our Crucified Lover who carried our burdens on his cross and celebrate the Risen Jesus coming into his triumph and power—the power he has shared with us. Let us celebrate his ongoing presence among us, his ongoing Incarnation in us, his ongoing transformation of us, his ongoing empowerment of us, his ongoing bringing us into union with all men and women who are the Body of Christ. At the consecration, when the priest holds up the host, let us be aware that we are included in that host as members of Jesus’ Body, and let us offer up ourselves as self-gift to Jesus and to our sisters and brothers.

When we are in Christian community, let us remind ourselves that the Risen Jesus is present in our midst, still gifting us with his peace and the Spirit’s empowerment as on the first Pentecost.

(2) Practice Union with the historical Jesus. When we embrace Jesus’ humanity, we embrace Jesus. Let us be keenly conscious that Jesus’ power goes out from him 2000 years later due to his Resurrection. So let us practice union with our brother Jesus. Let us get in touch with Jesus’ power in everything we do—in our prayer life, in our spiritual formation, in our evangelization of others.

(3) Practice Pentecost. Our dream of joining Jesus in his mission to save the whole world is the impossible dream unless we have a Higher Power. That Higher Power is the Spirit whom the Risen Jesus continually pours out upon us. So let us practice Pentecost. Let the Spirit become our guide and mentor. Let us pray the Come Holy Spirit prayer daily and many times during the day for the courage to act and lead to complete Jesus’ mission, and for the power to love others with a radical love. When we embrace Jesus’ Spirit, we embrace Jesus!

(4) Practice Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. When we embrace the Risen Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us, we embrace Jesus. Let us manifest the Risen Jesus within us. Let us practice being sacraments to others—bringing peace, healing and forgiveness to others as Jesus did. Let us practice being Jesus’ compassion to others by gifting people with our presence and affirming their giftedness. Let us practice being communion to others by being bodily present to others with our gestures, tone of voice and our attention to them. Let us practice being channels of faith and hope to others to awaken faith and hope in them.

Embracing Dynamic Jesus. The Christian Vision understood in all its splendor reveals the answer to the fundamental question: how do we move toward a dynamic relationship with Jesus. The short answer is: embrace the total Jesus revealed at the Resurrection.

For the Risen Jesus transformed Jesus’ life on earth into a power source. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to live lives of radical faith, radical hope and radical love. The historical Jesus has become and is the catalyst of a dynamic living process of spiritual empowerment for us by bringing into play all his dimensions—his humanity, his resurrected life, and his Spirit. We can have a dynamic relationship with Jesus because Jesus is dynamic!

 

Resurrection Mindset

As St. Augustine said, “We are Resurrection People.” So, we must have a Resurrection Mindset. In our series of articles on the Resurrection, we have looked at our spirituality through a Resurrection Mindset, seeing all facets of our faith and spiritual practice through the lens of the Resurrection: How the historical Jesus is the dynamic catalyst of the Jesus Process leading us to the Risen Jesus and the Spirit’s powers. How the Resurrection affects our prayer life, how it affects the way we pray the Mass, how it affects our reading the Gospels. How we cope with life’s death experiences. How we view Christian community as the source of Spirit-empowerment.

All these outcomes of the Resurrection flow from Jesus’ death and Resurrection. The great Christian paradox: out of death comes life. Yet, how many practicing Catholics cling exclusively to the historical Jesus? They are happy to draw inspiration and wisdom from the earthy Jesus, but dismiss the “mystical” stuff. They accuse the Church of mythologizing Jesus with its talk of the Risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit. These people must die to their too great comfort with the historical Jesus in order to grow into the Christian Vision.

Evolutionary Mindset. Now we want to consider how a Resurrection Mindset impacts the process of our spiritual development. Here is what Maryknoll spiritual writer Fr. John Walsh, M.M. says about the necessity of a growth-oriented mindset: “People cannot evolve without an evolutionary mindset. Unfortunately most cultural Christians (those born into the Faith) still live in a static universe.”

Our Resurrection Mindset is just such an evolutionary mindset. It is a process mindset because Jesus is the dynamic process, the catalyst of the Jesus Process, the driver of the Resurrection Process, constantly calling us from death to life.

Let’s further define a Resurrection Mindset. It is comprised of two elements, a lively faith vision, and a realization that only by dying to oneself can we experience new life. First, our faith vision assures us that Jesus is dynamically alive and calls us out of our tombs, as he called Lazarus, to partake more deeply of life. As Resurrection People, we will experience death many times as we move to new life, new periods of growth.

Second, we must constantly ask ourselves: what must I die to in order to move to new life? What attitudes of my life vision require change? My attitude toward God, Jesus, Spirit, ourselves, others, life, reality? Wherever we are on our spiritual journey, we must look upon ourselves as ever evolving to new life, but always needing to die to grow.

Evolving Spirituality. In Evangelization and Justice, Fr. Walsh cites the stages of spiritual maturity. Given a transforming environment, such as a Cursillo Weekend, most active Christians will move out of the traditional stages of absorbing their faith from others and will make a conscious decision to take possession of their faith. But they will have to die to the comfort of letting others think for them. When this happens, they will grow up spiritually.

Unfortunately at this juncture, they will normally adopt one model of Christian living. Their spirituality will be predominantly either head-oriented or heart-oriented; group-oriented or individualistic; action-oriented or contemplative-oriented. But to continue their growth, they must die to what hinders their progress to move to the conflicting polarity. If they are predominately action-oriented, they must become more contemplative-oriented. Likewise, they must grow into the other opposing models, leading eventually to a richly integrated spiritual life. The final stage of growth is when we become Spirit-possessed and allow the Spirit to create prophets and mystics out of us.

Evolving Heart Wishes. What helps us to evolve our spirituality? Fr. Walsh responds that we must surface and expand our basic heart wishes to embrace all the models of Christian living. He enumerates these heart wishes as follows: 1. We want to love. 2. We want to be loved. 3. We want to share our experiences, and we want to enter into the experiences of others. Actually, we hunger for solidarity with God and others. 4. We want to grow our potentialities. We must be keenly aware of our heart wishes and attempt to discern these movements in our everyday lives, for it is the Spirit at work inviting us to come out of our tombs and grow our souls. We will have to sacrifice something to respond. What is it? Ultimately, we come to the realization that only by encountering fully God and our sisters and brothers that we attain our heart wishes.

Evolving Self-discovery. Besides having positive heart wishes, we also experience the shadow side of ourselves. Call them death wishes for they destroy or hinder our spiritual progress. Here too we must surface our feelings and discern our fears, hostilities, passivity, self-centeredness so that we can handle them at a conscious level, rather than allowing them to sabotage our relationships with God and our sisters and brothers.

So, in our spiritual lives we are faced with the challenging conflict of our positive heart wishes and our death wishes. Only Jesus through the Spirit’s powers can enable us to cope with this inner, never-ending conflict. But Jesus will lead us out of the darkness of our ignorance to reveal to us our human condition. The evolution here is one of continuing self-discovery and acceptance of reality, leading us to deeper dependency on the Spirit.

Ultimate Evolution. What is the ultimate evolution in our personal/spiritual development? Fr. Walsh responds: “It is ourselves with our resurrected bodies, alive in a radically changed universe that has become the site of these resurrected bodies…It is only when we pass through the evolutionary transition called death-unto resurrection that we can experience the fullness of evolution without extinguishing our individuality. In fact, just the opposite will happen: Through our ultimate encounter with Christ and others, our own personality will be enhanced beyond our wildest dreams.” We will be swept up into the inner love-life of the Trinity through the risen Christ. Until our personal resurrection, our personality, our true self is incomplete. Only then will our heart wishes be fulfilled in union with God and our sisters and brothers.

With a Resurrection Mindset, we will be sensitive to Jesus’ calling us constantly from death to life throughout our lives and into eternity. All life is Resurrection from the dead into new life!

 

 

 

Praying the Gospels

In previous articles, we explored how our deeper understanding of the Resurrection and of the Jesus Process changed everything—the way we pray, the way we participate in the liturgy of the Mass. Now let us examine how the Risen Jesus changes how we read the Gospels, how we preach the gospels, and how we practice faith-sharing based on the Gospels.

When it comes to the Gospels, the tendency is to focus solely on the historical Jesus’ every word and action. But if we go no further, we lock Jesus into history and he becomes only an inspiring figure, whose words we use to moralize to improve our own or others’ conduct. But by so doing, we encounter only one dimension of Jesus. Thus, he does not become the catalyst of the Jesus Process whereby he leads us to the Risen Jesus and to the Spirit’s empowerment of us.

We must read the Gospels three dimensionally. We must move the focus of the Gospels ultimately to all the dimensions of Jesus—the historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus and the Jesus who gives us the Spirit. Otherwise, we miss the power of the Gospels to transform us into persons who carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. Fr. John Walsh, M.M. says that we have to look at the Gospels as unfinished: we have to write the latest chapters. It is as if the Gospels are contained in a loose-leaf binder. However, to do so we must grow deeper in the awareness that we have been empowered by the Risen Jesus.

The Risen Jesus has empowered us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation by giving us the same powers Jesus exercised in his earthly life. The key questions we have to ask ourselves are: How does the Scripture passage, which we are reflecting on, reveal the powers that the Risen Jesus has given us?  How do the Gospels empower us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation?

Take the Gospel story of the woman “who had suffered from severe bleeding for 12 years. She had spent all she had on doctors, but no one had been able to cure her. She came up in the crowd behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and her bleeding stopped at once. Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’” Despite the denials of everyone, Jesus insisted, “Someone touched me, for I knew it when power went out of me.” Today, we have to be the hem of Jesus’ garment. If people in need touch us, they touch Jesus. His power will go out from us—if we have faith, if we have taken possession of Jesus’ powers given to us by the Risen Jesus.

How do we carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us? How do we write the next chapters in the Gospels? We must exercise the powers given by the Risen Jesus to be sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness. The Gospels are all about these powers.

Does our reading of the Gospels awaken our faith in our powers to be sacraments to others? Fr. Ronald Rolheiser writes in The Holy Longing: “We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.”

Does a sermon on the Gospels inspire us to bind sinners to Jesus through our love for them? Fr. Rolheiser states: “If a child or a brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching the hem of the garment….and is forgiven by God.”

Does the compassionate life of Jesus that the Gospels relate raise our awareness that the Risen Jesus has given us the powers to be compassion and communion to others? Do our Gospel readings empower us to be channels of faith, hope and love for others as Jesus called forth faith, hope and love in others during his earthly life.

Prayer & Risen Jesus

The people in the Gospel stories had a great advantage over us when it comes to prayer. Jesus was present to them as a person, whom they could see and touch. The Jesus we know through the Scriptures no longer exists. Only the Risen Jesus exists. This leads us to two questions: First, in light of the Resurrection, to whom do we pray? Second, what is the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer life?

Fr. William Johnston, SJ. in an introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing answers our first question in this way: “Now the Christian, following St. Paul, does not pray just to a historical figure but to the now existing risen Christ who contains in himself all the experience of his historical existence in a transformed way, as he indicated by showing his wounds to his disciples.” So, the object of our prayer is clearly the Risen Jesus.

In response to the second question about the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer life, Fr. Johnston states that the problem is that “Christian theology, following the New Testament, situates the historical Jesus at the very heart of prayer—Christ the man, the Incarnate Word.” We are comfortable with the historical Jesus. We can have thoughts and ideas and images of Jesus through his life events. We can have no adequate picture of the Risen Jesus. How then do we make our prayer Christocentric and at the same time relate to the Risen Jesus?

The Jesus Process. We have described the results of Jesus’ Resurrection as the Jesus Process, described in this program. First, let us revisit that concept and then explore its relevance to our prayer life. Jesus’ lived experience on earth is the core element driving the Jesus Process. Christ, as the Risen Jesus, no longer limited by time or geography, transforms Jesus’ historical experience into a power source, present here and now in the 21st Century. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us and manifest his powers for others.

Seeing the historical Jesus as the catalyst of the Jesus Process enables us to make our prayer Christocentric and at the same time enables us to embrace the imageless Risen Jesus. Besides being the catalyst of the Jesus Process, the historical Jesus is our powerful psychological anchor in our efforts to encounter the mysterious Risen Jesus, according to the mystic St. Teresa ofAvila.

Power Source—To the two questions we raised at the very beginning about the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer, we should add one more question: What is the place of the Risen Jesus in our prayer life?  We must situate the Risen Jesus at the very heart of our prayer, the very center of our prayer. For while the historical Jesus is the catalyst of the Jesus Process, it is the Risen Jesus who POWERS the Jesus Process.

Through the Risen Jesus sacramentalizing Jesus’ life and actions on earth, the Risen Jesus empowers us to practice union with Jesus’ life and actions. Through the Risen Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us, the Risen Jesus empowers our hearts to be awakened to the Holy Spirit who grows our faith, our hope and our love. And through the Risen Jesus incorporating us into the Body of Christ, the Risen Jesus binds us to our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, and empowers us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation by being sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness for others, by being compassion and communion to others, and by being channels of faith, hope and love for others.

Our prayer should always begin by praying to the Risen Jesus, the power source of the Jesus Process. Before we say prayers of petition, thanksgiving or adoration, let us begin by praying that the Risen Jesus unite us with the human experiences of Jesus, such as Jesus going off to the mountains to pray. Let us then ask the Risen Jesus to open our hearts to the initiatives, invitations and inspirations of the Spirit. The Risen Jesus brings all the players in the Jesus Process together to make our prayer effective.

Also, in centering prayer we should begin by praying to the Risen Jesus. In centering prayer, we attempt simply to be fully present with all our heart and mind to the presence of the Risen Jesus. It is a wordless, imageless way of prayer to the Risen Jesus who is imageless. So, it is a very appropriate form of prayer.

An important aspect of centering prayer is our intentionality. Here we attempt to establish beforehand our desire to surrender to the Risen Jesus’ mysterious presence. Praying the Jesus Process prepares us for centering prayer. Before we begin, we should ask the Risen Jesus to give us the desire of the historical Jesus for contemplation, and the fire of the Spirit to lose ourselves in union with the Risen Christ.

Let us make the Risen Jesus the center of our prayer life. The Risen Jesus is the only Jesus we have!

Resurrection-based Spirituality

Who can stop us from celebrating? Jesus is risen from the dead. The Resurrection is the second “Big Bang” in the universe, the “new creation” of God’s relationship with us. The Resurrection opens us up to spiritualities that are centered on a dynamic relationship with the historical Jesus, on a dynamic relationship with the Risen Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us, and on a dynamic relationship with the Spirit. Let’s take a closer look.

Dynamic Spiritualities. (1) The Risen Jesus sacramentalized the historical Jesus’ whole lifetime by transforming his life events and words into a power source. It is as if Jesus’ life events rose from the dead with him. The Risen Jesus contains in himself all the experience of the historical Jesus in a transformed way, still empowering us as in Jesus’ earthly life.  

(2) The Risen Jesus continues his Incarnation on earth through us by incorporating us as members of his Body. And he empowers us with the same powers that the historical Jesus enjoyed—to bring peace, healing and forgiveness to others. Even to bind others to Jesus through our love. Further, he sacramentalized Christian community and continues to gift us with his peace and to breath his Spirit upon us whenever we gather together in his name.

(3) The Risen Jesus pours out the Spirit on us as he did on that first Pentecost, constantly empowering us with the Spirit’s powers to bring us to radical love of God and others through self-discovery and transformation.

Growth Spiritualities. Like any relationship, each of these three spiritualities must be developed. To grow in these spiritualities, we must practice union with the historical Jesus, we must practice Pentecost with the Spirit and we must practice the ongoing Incarnation of the Risen Jesus. We are called to grow in union with Jesus’ life events in our prayer life, in our spiritual formation and in our evangelization of others, and in our suffering. Only then can we be empowered because Jesus’ life events live on as sources of power for us.

We are called to grow in faith that we possess the powers that Jesus exercised on earth. Only when we exercise those same powers will we manifest the ongoing Incarnation of the Risen Jesus within us to the world. We are called to grow in awareness of the Risen Jesus’ presence in community and approach Christian community with great expectancy of the Spirit’s empowerment.

We are called to grow in faith that the Spirit is our inner guide and mentor. God carries on a Divine Dialogue with us, making known his will and direction for our lives and it is the Holy Spirit who confirms within us that we have recognized God’s word to us. Further, it is through the Spirit that we gain the courage to complete Jesus’ mission. And it is through the Spirit that we grow in the primacy of love, and in the discipline of love to be self-giving persons as Jesus was.

Integrated Spiritualities. Not only does the Risen Jesus launch these three spiritualities, but he puts the historical Jesus on center stage of the three spiritualities. Our chart shows that each of our three spiritualities ends in our deepened practice of the Jesus Process. However, not only does the Jesus Process  integrate all three spiritualities, but it also empowers them. The Process begins with uniting ourselves with the historical Jesus’ life experiences and the Risen Jesus transforming them into sources of power from which we are gifted with the Holy Spirit who empowers us to a greater love, hope and faith in the historical Jesus. But the Jesus Process does not end there. The Jesus Process deepens our relationship with the Spirit who drives our quest for holiness and it deepens our relationship with the Risen Jesus who seeks to take possession of us that we might manifest Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in our mission of evangelizing others.

All spirituality is Resurrection-based spirituality. Practicing Resurrection and the Jesus Process that flows from the Resurrection leads us to a deeper practice of each of the three spiritualities—the historical Jesus-centered spirituality, the Risen Jesus-centered spirituality and the Spirit-centered spirituality. Practicing each of the three spiritualities reinforces the others. And the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

We are Resurrection People empowered by the Risen Jesus! Who can stop us from celebrating?

Practice Jesus’ Ongoing Incarnation

Through his Resurrection, the Risen Christ unleashed three major spiritual realities. He transformed the whole life of the historical Jesus into a sacramental power source present here and now. He poured forth the power of his Spirit who acts as our constant guide and mentor. And he incorporated the Body of Christ, continuing his Incarnation in us and thus empowering us with his presence and powers, both as members and as a community. How do we manifest the Risen Christ within us? Practice Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us by exercising his powers in our actions and relationships to others.

Be Sacraments to Others. As members of Christ’s Body, we are empowered to carry on the work of Jesus. We continue the work of the sacraments. Whatever the sacraments do, we do for one another. We forgive, we heal, we bind others to Christ through our love. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser states that when we continue to love and forgive the sins of others and, insofar as they receive that love and forgiveness from us, they are receiving love and forgiveness from God. Why? Because we are part of the Body of Christ and they are touching us. “What Jesus did we too can do; in fact, that is precisely what we are asked to do,” he writes. Be sacraments!  

Be Compassion to Others. In Jesus Before Christianity, Fr. Albert Nolan describing the taboos against social mixing between the clearly defined classes within Jewish society in Jesus’ times states: “The scandal Jesus caused in that society by mixing socially with sinners can hardly be imagined by most people in the modern world today. It meant that he accepted them and approved of them and that he actually wanted to be ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Jesus gifted society’s outcasts with his presence and affirmed their giftedness. He exercised compassion in the sense of making himself fully present to them, with all his mind and with all his heart in order to receive their presence and their giftedness. For Jesus, all persons were gifts; there were no cellophane people. In solidarity with the Father, Jesus saw others as the Father saw them—unfinished creations of the Father, diamonds in the rough. Be compassion to others!

 Be Communion to Others. When we live compassionately for others to its fullest degree, we become communion to others. As compassion is being spiritually present to others, communion is being physically present to others. In his book, Our Journey Home, Jean Vanier gives us an insight into the meaning of communion. He says that communion is being bodily present to others. Body language—gestures, tone of voice, the look in our eyes, a handshake or a hug—is the fundamental instrument of communion. In the way we look and listen, we can reveal to someone his or her importance and unique giftedness. Be communion to others!

Be Channels of Faith. Fr. Nolan points out that Jesus was unlike the holy men of his times who worked healings. They relied upon their own holiness, their own esteem in the eyes of God; Jesus relied upon the power of faith of others. Jesus said to the persons he cured: “Your faith has healed you.” Nolan states: “He is saying in effect that it is not he who has healed the sick person….Jesus’ own faith, his own unshakable convictions, awakened this faith in them. Faith was an attitude that people caught from Jesus through their contact with him, almost as if it were a kind of infection….Jesus was an initiator of faith. Be channels of faith for others. Let your faith awaken faith and hope in others!

Where is the playing field for practicing Jesus’ ongoing incarnation in us? In our everyday lives, everyday dialogues, everyday relationships. And in carrying out Jesus’ mission to free people of every form of oppression—social, political, institutional.

Practice Pentecost

It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ was raised up from the dead at his resurrection and brought back to life.  It was by the anointing of the Holy Spirit that Jesus received the power at the river Jordan to enter public life and work miracles, even casting out devils. Jesus promised his disciples that power from above would be sent down upon them in the form of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit is our Higher Power. Practicing Pentecost is working at connecting with our Higher Power, who will point us not to himself but to the Jesus in the Jesus Process, the mirror and image of God.

Practice Risk-taking.  When the Spirit rouses our consciousness of social injustice, or calls us to reach out to others to change their life vision or when the Spirit prompts us to move to a different place in our pursuit of holiness, spiritual formation or evangelization, we are faced with the challenge of risk taking. Every move from the accepted, the established, the ingrained requires the practice of risk taking. But we are also faced with the opportunity to connect with our Higher Power. The natural human tendency is to pretend that the social injustice does not exist or that is the responsibility of others. Or we may want to avoid the imagined embarrassment if someone does not respond to our evangelization. Or we may simply not want to try something new. Practice risk-taking. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Awareness. We can’t connect with our Higher Power unless we are aware of the presence and operation of the Spirit in our lives.  We can practice Pentecost by being aware of the Divine Dialogue that God constantly conducts with us. God initiates dialogue with us through the situations and events of our individual and community life to let us know what he wants of us. God does not speak to us in words but in the deep, positive movements of our hearts. And it is the Spirit within us who judges our choices, letting us know whether we have correctly read God’s messages to us. Usually we receive some confirmation through an interior experience of peace and joy.

We can also initiate dialogue with the Spirit. In our Group Reunions we share where the Spirit is leading us in our pursuit of holiness, spiritual formation and evangelization. As a Pentecost practice, we could ask the Spirit these questions at the beginning of each day. This practice would enhance our awareness of the Spirit’s role in our lives and would focus our attention on our path of growth.

It is good practice to review at the end of the day on how we have responded to the Spirit’s prompts to love God and others more. The Jesuits call this practice the Awareness Examen, which is described in this program.  St. Ignatius of Loyola considered this practice as perhaps the most important spiritual exercise after the Eucharist. Practice awareness. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Prayer. Much of our lived experiences involve making decisions to get us through difficulties and to make the most of opportunities for growth. Decision time is Spirit time. It is at these times that we should make a practice of connecting with the power and presence of the Spirit and invoking his enlightenment. We need to pray for the Spirit’s help and then allow time to pass. Then return to prayer and earnestly entreat the Spirit to help us peacefully make our decision.

The Cursillo founders believed that the mystery of Christ could not be understood without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are taught the Come Holy Spirit prayer on our Cursillo Weekend and this prayer should be on our lips daily for the rest of our lives. Practice prayer to the Spirit. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Resurrection

Jesus’ resurrection is the pivotal point in God’s plan for us. The Risen Jesus looks back at the life events of the historical Jesus and transforms them into a power source for our holiness here and now. The Risen Jesus looks to the future and pours forth his Spirit to guide and empower us.

Yet, the cloud of a thousand-year-old, distorted theology that ignored Jesus’ resurrection hangs over us, as described in the article, Glorious Resurrection. We can’t hope to change long-standing attitudes easily. How do we become the resurrection people God intended us to be? We must practice resurrection. Our practice will enliven our Christian Vision. Think of Vision, Values, Action (Practice), the psychological model of the human person; and remember that our practices can grow our life vision into the Christian Vision.

Practice Resurrection of a Lifetime. We have said earlier that Jesus’ resurrection transformed the historical Jesus’ lived experience into a sacramental power source for us. But this abstract notion is difficult to grasp and to make real in our minds and hearts. Let us use our imagination to practice resurrection of Jesus’ lived experiences. Let us not only imagine Jesus rising from the dead, but also his life experiences and words. Imagine the many thousands points in Jesus’ life events also rising up from the dead with him into the living present. Perhaps envisioning his life experiences and words as so many tablets dancing up from the dead along with Jesus. In fact, his words and lived experiences have a new life of their own and have become sources of power for new encounters with Jesus and sources of power for our transformation into the ongoing incarnation of the Risen Christ within us. Imagine whatever works for you and helps you enter into the reality of resurrection. It will help you practice union with the historical Jesus.

Practice Resurrection within Community. Jesus has promised us that he would be with us wherever we gather in community in his name. Again, we are faced with an abstract concept and must use our imaginations to experience this reality. Think of Jesus’ disciples hiding in the Upper Room behind closed doors. Imagine the Risen Jesus here and now penetrating our communities, and most importantly, penetrating the closed doors of our minds and hearts, opening us up to his Spirit. Imagine Jesus saying to us: “Peace be with you!” and breathing his Spirit upon us. The Cursillo founders realized that it takes more than a gathering of Cursillistas to form community. It takes the dynamic process of people sharing their faith and growing together—empowered by the Spirit.

Practice Resurrection of Life Events. Jesus both preached and lived the paschal mysteries of death, resurrection and transformation into new life.  By his death and resurrection, he was penetrated with the Spirit and exalted as Lord of the whole of creation. In life, Jesus had told us that we had to give up or surrender something, or undergo a death experience to receive new life. In our lifetime, we suffer many death experiences—the death of our youth, our wholeness, our dreams, our honeymoons. It is precisely in these life events that we are called to practice resurrection.

In each of these life events, we truly experience the pain of these life deaths. But in the separation we feel from our former lives, we are already being offered resurrection. We are being offered a new way of life. Of course, we will require time for readjustment to the new life and even time for grieving the old. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will let go and let the Spirit empower us for our new way of life.

The poet Wendell Berry gave this advice: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts….Practice resurrection. Practice coming alive again. Practice being a fiercely loving agent of Spirit, beauty and new life.”