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Spirit’s Sculpture

StTeresa (2)A picture is worth a thousand words. The great 17th Century artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, did it one dimension better. He did it in stone. Bernini captured the essence of the spiritual life with his sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Here he dramatically depicts the spiritual life as our relationship with the Spirit who aggressively pursues us.

This sculpture is displayed in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini has an angel stand in for the Spirit. An angel with a smile. The angel has penetrated the heart of St. Theresa with an arrow. The arrow is the Spirit’s invitation to growth.  She is in ecstasy. Surrender to the Spirit’s invitations is joyful. Absolute surrender is absolutely joyful!

Steeped in Jesuit spirituality, Bernini would have been aware that the Spirit dialogues with us, not through words but through our feelings. The Spirit uses the gift of consolations (emotional highs) to invite us to greater love, hope and faith. Not only for St. Theresa, but for all of us. We can project ourselves into the dynamic action of this sculpture.

Bernini is unconventional. He avoids the traditional image of the dove for the Spirit. Who can relate to a dove?  So he focuses on the Spirit’s action. Bernini has given us a way to visualize our relationship with the Spirit and fire up our spirituality.

Spirit at Work. Let us visualize the Spirit directing his arrows of invitations to our hearts for greater love, hope and faith. The Spirit’s arrow of faith is the Spirit inviting us to discover his presence where our bodily eyes cannot see him, and through his Word in our hearts to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning can provide, according to Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ.

The Spirit’s arrow of hope invites us to a certainty beyond what we can calculate. In earthly matters, Fr. Orsy states, “When I say ‘I hope’, I express an expectation that some future event will take a favorable turn for me. I may have a burning wish that it should be so, but I have no certainty.” By contrast, with divine hope the Spirit invites us to an awareness that we already possess the Kingdom of God in our hearts. “The final outcome is certain; its time and manifestation have not been revealed.”

The Spirit’s arrow of love invites us to learn the ways of love. Growth in love make us generous givers beyond any human measure. These three virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but the components of a dynamic spiritualization process. Faith generates knowledge. Hope provides the energy that love needs for its operation. For the most part, love is the driving force in this process.

Consolation at Work. If your reaction to this sculpture is: “That’s not my spiritual life, a life of ecstasy,” you have missed the point. You have to go beyond the sculpture’s setting to your own spiritual life. Bernini highlights the relationship between the Spirit and the individual soul of every man, every woman. We may never experience ecstasy, but we should be open to and eager for the Spirit’s gift of consolations.

The Spirit is smiling. He has gifts of consolation to give us. Spiritual consolation is experienced on two levels of our consciousness, according to Jules Toner, SJ. One, we experience our love, hope or faith increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness. Two, we recognize feelings of peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like—flowing from our spiritual experiences.

Most likely, you have experienced such moments in your spiritual life. You may not have attributed these joyous experiences and feelings to the Spirit, unless you are living a deep relationship with the Spirit. But the Spirit is making it happen.

Note: when we are the source of our consolations, they are not the work of the Spirit. Fr. Toner writes: “…feelings can be to a large extent or even wholly non-spiritual when the subjective ground is not living faith but only sensitivity to poetry, great thoughts, music, the charm of human persons.” Discernment is needed. Our awareness of what is taking place within us can help us convert our experience into a truly spiritual encounter.

Pursuing the Pursuer. Bernini’s sculpture is telling us that the Spirit is an erotic God. The Spirit aggressively pursues us. Each day let us pursue the Pursuer. Not for his consolations. That is the Spirit’s gift to give or not to give. But for deeper relationship with the Spirit.

Daily I recall Bernini’s sculpture in my imagination. I envision the smile of the angel, the face of St. Theresa. And I pray: “Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, direct your arrows toward my heart to awaken it to greater love, hope and faith.”

Divine Eros

How do you address the Holy Spirit in your prayer life? I call upon the Spirit as my Higher Power, my inner guide, my mentor. But upon examination, I find terms of love are missing. My perception of the Spirit? The One who gets things done. When I need guidance as to what God wants of me, I turn to the Spirit. Or if I need courage to evangelize, I call upon the Spirit.

Of course, I am aware that in the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, we ask that the Spirit: “Kindle in us the fire of Your love.” I am aware too that theologians describe the life of the Trinity as the Spirit flowing from the mutual love of the Father and the Son.  Obviously, the Spirit has a lot to do with love, even the fire of love. But that perception has not penetrated my spiritual life. How do we explain this?

For the longest time, I suspect, we have attributed the actions of the Spirit to the term “grace”, the unmerited assistance given persons by God for their conversion and sanctification. In this view, there is a Higher Power who makes things happen, for which we are grateful, but not quite the Lover in our minds.

Further, the Spirit has been AWOL (absent without leave) for almost 2,000 years of Christian spirituality, until the Charismatic Movement rediscovered the Spirit for us in the Sixties. No doubt, the Spirit’s absence created a certain awkwardness of language. Instead of perceiving the Spirit as the source of loving assistance, we have lived our spiritual lives with the abstract concept of grace. Our spiritual love life needs rekindling.

Fr. Jules J. Toner, SJ states that faith is the radical work of the Spirit, and charity is the principal and crowning work of the Spirit. Let me suggest that we can come closer to an appreciation of the Spirit’s work if we recall Eros from Greek mythology. Eros is the son of the goddess of love who excites erotic love in gods and persons with his arrows. In our times, he gets a lot of publicity around Valentine’s Day.

For us, the Spirit is Divine Eros. The Spirit’s arrows are loving invitations to us to grow in faith in God, in the Historical/Risen Jesus and in the Spirit as well. These loving invitations are the calls of a Lover, calling us to expand our capacity for love. It is the Spirit who awakens our hearts to the possibilities of love each day. It is the Spirit who calls us each day out of our tombs to experience new life like Lazarus. It is the Spirit who invites us daily to live a life vision based on the primacy of love, the radical life vision that Jesus manifested for us.

The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts through gifts of consolation. Through these gifts we experience our living faith increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness. Through the Spirit’s consolations, we recognize that something beautiful is happening to us as we experience peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like. When that happens, we know that we have been struck with the Spirit’s arrows. We know that Divine Eros, the Spirit of Love, is at work.

Of course, we cannot always expect such consolations, because they are the Spirit’s gifts. Let us be grateful when they come; in dry periods look forward with expectancy.

I believe that the Song of Songs in the Bible, which describes a torrid love relationship, is an allegory for the love relationship between the Spirit and ourselves. It is full of the language of desire and passion. Saints like Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross used this book to grow their spirituality. For the essence of the spiritual life is the heart’s surrender. Yet, we have no control over our hearts. We need to depend totally on the Spirit, Divine Eros, to direct arrows at our hearts to awaken them to greater love of God and others.

Perceiving the Spirit as Divine Eros radically changes our relationship with the Spirit and the tone of our spiritual life. Not that our perceptions of the Spirit as our Higher Power or mentor and guide are incorrect. They are correct, but they energize the faculties of our will and our mind, whereas the perception of the Spirit as Divine Eros energizes our heart which is really surrender of our total person to the Spirit—heart, mind and will.

If Cursillistas could discover the Spirit as Divine Eros, the Cursillo Movement would be revolutionized. If the Church proclaimed the Spirit as Divine Eros, it would be as if the Risen Jesus launched the Spirit of Love into the world for the very first time.

 

 

Growing Faith

Because the gift of faith provides us with our Christian Vision, it is the engine that drives our living the spiritual growth process and our growth in relationship to Christ. One would think that high priority would be given to growing in faith, especially when the business of religion is all about mystery─the mystery of who God is, the mystery of what God has done for us.

Doesn’t just the opposite happen? Faith becomes some kind of a buffer against spiritual mysteries. If some dogma is a matter of faith, we don’t have to think about it seriously. Or worse, we speak about dogmas, as if we fully understand them. This mindset leads us to pray without meaning or heart. The end result is that we tend to take the mystery out of the mysteries in the spiritual life. Yet, in other phases of our lives, mystery is the source of wonder, romance and creativity.

Wonderful Faith. Prayer is a profound act of faith, and grows our faith. However, to bring energy to our spiritual life, we must acknowledge, accept and celebrate mystery in our prayer. We can do this by creating psychic distance between ourselves and dogmas so that we can rejoice in their mystery. For example: “Jesus, You are God incarnate. How incredible! HOW WONDERFUL!” Or, “Spirit of Jesus, You are my Higher Power Who guides and enlightens me. How preposterous! HOW WONDERFUL!”

Rather than ignore or run away from mystery, we must embrace it with all our mind, heart and will. By nature, we are controllers. We want to control everything. Mystery affronts our rationality. By rejoicing in mystery, we are acting against our nature. However, in this way, we unleash wonder, romance and creativity in our spiritual lives.

Reinforced Faith. Our faith gives us our Christian Vision. By raising our awareness of the Christian Vision as life’s ultimacy, we reinforce our faith. Prayer is both an expression of our Christian Vision and a plea for greater faith in that Vision. When we pray: “My God, be the center of my life”, we actualize our faith that God is the center of our lives and we pray for God-centeredness. Our faith is reinforced!

Prayer seeking to see God present in everyday life is an extension of the Christian Vision, and grows our faith. It can be simply expressed: “Lord, help me to believe that my life-events are Spirit-laden, that my crosses are the Spirit’s whispers, and that my deep, positive feelings and desires are the Spirit’s prompts to take action or to change my values. And help me to be open to the Spirit’s presence.”

Further, kerygmatic evangelization, radiating out our faith, hope and love, reinforces our faith in the Christian Vision by  proclaiming the Good News.

Also, we grow our faith by living a life of radical love, for the theological virtues are a dynamic process, each impacting the other. In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, a wise man says of faith: “Love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you will be convinced of the existence of God.”

Superficial Faith. Our level of understanding of what we believe impacts the potential level of our faith. Unfortunately, spiritual truths do not carry labels indicating the appropriate level at which they ought to be considered. For example, one can understand the Incarnation as an historical event and that would be correct, but our understanding would be superficial. At a higher level, one understands the Incarnation as the ongoing process of the Risen Christ living within us. That understanding has the potential to deepen our faith in Christ dramatically, because it helps us to enter more deeply into our relationship with Christ. An inadequate understanding of spiritual truths results in an impoverished view of the Christian Vision, and thus, an impoverished faith.

Leap of Faith

There is incompleteness about us as human beings.St. Augustine captured that thought in his statement: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” We are driven toward faith by our awareness of the infinite to which we belong, but which we do not own like a possession. Ultimately, faith is God’s gift to us.

Our restlessness impacts us psychologically as human beings. We need a center to our life outside ourselves, around which our thoughts, feelings and desires can navigate. Faith as our total commitment to God, as our life vision, can act as our center. But it takes a leap of our total personhood to embrace this vision because we are embracing Mystery.

The word “faith” has many meanings─some helpful, some not so helpful. A misinterpretation of faith is to consider it an act of knowledge that has a low degree of evidence, or worse just an emotion. Nor is faith solely trust in a higher power. Unfortunately, faith is often thought of as the contents of faith, as in the Credo that we recite at Mass. A more  helpful definition sees faith as a power, as in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Now let’s focus on theologian Paul Tillich’s rich definition of faith as the concern in life that claims ultimacy for our life. For it is when we leap from faith as the contents of faith to faith as ultimacy in our lives that we experience the depth of faith.

Ultimate Concern.  Whether we choose our nation, or our success, or our relationship to God as our ultimate concern, the chosen concern demands that we sacrifice all other concerns such as our time, money, recreation, family, maybe even our life. In Deut 6:5, we are given the commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This commandment applies to whatever concern we make our ultimate concern, our god.

What is the difference between true and idolatrous faith? In true faith, our ultimate concern is about the truly ultimate. In idolatrous faith, we elevate finite realities to the rank of ultimacy, to the rank of the divine.

Ultimate concern is the issue that is addressed on Friday of our Cursillo Weekend. We are asked in the Ideal Talk: what is our god? Then we hear the Christian Vision, and we are challenged to worship the true God and commit to the Christian Vision. We are asked for outright conversion to the Christian Vision as our ultimate concern. The human heart seeks the ultimacy of the infinite because that is where our hearts will find rest.

Ultimate Benefits. Tillich describes an act of faith “as an act of a finite being who is grasped by and turned to the infinite.” Thus, faith is the state of being ultimately concerned. As such, faith subjects all our other concerns to itself, giving depth, direction and unity to all our other concerns and with them to our whole personality. Faith then is the integrating center of all the elements of our personhood. Faith unites our bodily, our unconscious, our conscious and our spiritual elements. Faith is the centered movement of the whole personality toward something of ultimate meaning and significance. As such faith is a passionate act because it is a matter of infinite passion.

The disrupting forces of our human condition represent great obstacles for our personal and spiritual life. If we lack a unifying center, we are subject to personal and spiritual disintegration. So we must strengthen our faith through constant conversion and spiritual experiences that awaken our consciousness of our ultimate concern.

Faith makes us lovers and doers. As finite beings, we are aware of our separateness from the infinite. Our separateness requires great courage to overcome our very natural doubt. However, faith presupposes our reunion with the infinite. It is love that drives us toward that reunion. And the immediate expression of love is action.

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!

 

 

 

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.

Real Jesus

So much has been written about Jesus over 2000 years that one is tempted to ask, “Will the real Jesus stand up?” Perhaps the best way to understand Jesus is not through our minds but through our imagination. In literature we read of kings and princes who disguise themselves as nobodies so that they can mingle among ordinary people and find the love of their lives who will love them, not because of their position in life, but truly for themselves.

In some ways, Jesus is like these royal characters. But the big difference is that these fictional personages had deliberately chosen to disguise their identity. For Jesus, there was no make-believe. Jesus had to search for his identity. Jesus had to become a man of radical (extraordinary) faith, hope and love.

Radical Faith. Let us recall that the same Spirit Who brought creation out of chaos was the same One who empowered Mary to conceive Jesus. But the Spirit wasn’t finished with his work of bringing about Jesus. As a truly human person, Jesus was a work in progress. He had to undergo the same developmental process of any human being. He had to develop his body, his mind, human imagination and human feelings. We read in the gospels that Jesus grew in age, wisdom and grace. Much would be hidden from him as he went through this process of growth.

It was the Spirit who led Jesus to develop his innate belief in God’s love for him and in God’s mission for him. Jesus’ evolving faith was an extraordinary power. For Jesus’ faith empowered him to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning could provide. His radical faith would give him a vision of God, himself, others and life as God sees them. But still it was through the “eyes of faith” that Jesus saw his relationship to God and his mission for God.

Radical Hope. Now let us return to the Spirit’s role in the development of Jesus and ask ourselves: What kind of a person did Jesus need to be to accomplish his mission? Remember the purpose of Jesus’ Incarnation: to reveal God’s vision of reality to mankind and to reconcile humanity to God. In one sense, Jesus’ mission was Mission Impossible. Jesus would carry out his mission in a political environment in whichIsrael was an occupied land of theRoman Empire and his people were under the subjugation of Roman officials. In this environment, new ideas were unwelcome, even considered dangerous, that could lead to insurrection against the overpowering might of theRoman Empire.

Again, the Spirit led Jesus to grow his innate power of hope. Jesus’ radical faith gave him God’s vision of reality and his radical hope gave him the certainty that his mission would be accomplished and the energy to fulfill his mission.

Radical Love.  The Spirit set in motion a dynamic, psychological-spiritual growth process in Jesus’ life.  If we reverse the usual order of faith, hope and love to love, hope and faith, we make a rich discovery about Jesus. We discover that these three virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but are the components of Jesus’ growth process. We discover too that love is the driving force in the spiritualization process and, more importantly, in Jesus’ life. For it was only through radical love that Jesus could overcome the utter shame and repulsiveness of the Cross.

I believe that Jesus was very much like us in this matter. The logic of reason could not help him understand the mystery of redemption. He knew that it dealt with things like evil and death, life and forgiveness. But he did not understand the mysterious ways of God the Father, whose ways and thoughts are not ours. It was only through the power of love for God and us that brought him to the absolute faith that his death-unto- resurrection would mean salvation for the world. Ultimately, it was Jesus’ radical love that generated his radical hope and radical faith. “Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor: 13, 13.

Jesus has taught us that the spiritualization process is one of radical love, hope and faith. The goal of our spiritual lives must be to allow the Spirit to accomplish this process in us. The means are clearly the Cursillo growth process of holiness, formation and evangelization. Pursuing holiness is pursuing growth in radical faith in the Christian Vision. Pursuing spiritual formation is pursuing growth in radical hope that the Spirit will give us the wisdom to live the Christian Vision. Pursuing a life of evangelization is radical love in action!

 

 

Love, Hope & Faith

Did you notice that the usual order of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love has been reversed in the title? Surprisingly, this reversal opens us up to new discoveries. We discover that these three “divine” virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but are the components of a dynamic, psychological-spiritual process. We discover too that love is for the most part the driving force in this process. Love is at the very heart of the spiritualization process that leads to strong, living faith in God. Further, we discover that this process is the dynamic growth model for the spiritual life.

These three virtues are important because they comprise the inner dynamics of our relationship to God. They are more than our own virtues; they are the Spirit’s gifts. Fr. Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ says: “God is in possession of our person and He manifests Himself through the vital signs of the living Spirit, gifts welling up in our inner being. He gives the ‘eyes of faith’; He grants the strength of hope; He teaches us the ways of love.” The Spirit drives this dynamic growth process.

Definitions. Let’s begin with Fr. Orsy’s definitions of these “divine virtues.” By faith, we mean that Christ’s Spirit empowers us to discover His presence where our bodily eyes cannot see Him, and through His Word in our hearts to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning can provide. What a wonderful gift of the Spirit!

By hope, we mean that God empowers us with certainty beyond what we can calculate. In earthly matters Fr. Orsy states, “When I say ‘I hope’, I express an expectation that some future event will take a favorable turn for me. I may have a burning wish that it should be so, but I have no certainty.” By contrast, with divine hope the Spirit empowers us with the awareness that we already possess theKingdomofGodin our hearts. “The final outcome is certain; its time and manifestation have not been revealed.”  Allelluia!

When it comes to love, Fr. Orsy dispenses with a definition. Instead, he quotes two directives from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises: “…The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words. The second is that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he or she possesses… and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover”.

Spiritualization Process. Fr. Orsy continues: “The three virtues form a living and dynamic whole: faith generates knowledge, hope brings certainty, love makes us generous givers beyond any human measure….one cannot exist in its fullness without the others. Faith without hope and love would lead nowhere; love without faith and hope could not even exist….But there is also a difference between faith and the other two virtues. While faith gives vision, hope and love generate action: hope provides the energy that love needs for its operation.”

Thus, we see that these three virtues are components of the spiritualization process. As such, movement in any one of the components will impact the other components. For example, a transforming life experience can change our life vision and give us an infusion of faith, which impacts our capacity to hope and love. But more commonly, it will be love that is the driving force, because God has built into our very nature an erotic hunger that drives us to love of God and others.

While I discovered that love, hope and faith comprised a dynamic process from Fr. Orsy’s analysis, it was the death of a dear friend and a scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that opened my understanding to the primacy of love in the spiritualization process. In his novel, a woman complains to her spiritual director that she has lost her faith in God. He counsels her: “Love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you will be convinced of the existence of God.”

My new understanding: love actualizes our hope and our faith to their ultimate potential. Love is our greatest act of hope. Love is our greatest act of faith—faith that at the heart of reality is Love whom we call God. Now let us see how our dynamic process of love, hope and faith operate on various paths to faith:

For Non-believers. Fr. John Walsh, M.M. has written about his experience inJapan sharing Christianity with a people who had never heard of Christianity. He says that he could not begin with presenting articles of faith. They would have no interest to them. His strategy?  Help them to discover their spiritual hunger. They had to get in touch with their heart wishes to love, to be loved, to grow, to share their experiences with others. Then they had to discover that they could achieve fulfillment of their heart wishes in the Christian God of love and in a loving Christian community. So helping people to surface their desire for love had to come first. Then, and only then, could they be moved into experiencing hope and faith. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Indifferent Christians. What is true for a people unfamiliar with Christianity is equally true for Christians who are indifferent to their faith. You can’t sell them on the basis that we have the one, true faith. You can’t sell them based on Scripture. Fr. Walsh states that we must sell these people on a whole new concept of religion: “Religion is encountering God and others through whom we attain our basic heart wishes.” They must first experience the restlessness in their hearts that only the Infinite can satisfy before they can be moved to an appreciation of their Christian faith and a desire for spirituality.  Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Spiritually Hungry. Most models of spiritual growth require people to pursue holiness by growing in faith, to search for spiritual formation, and to live lives of sharing lovingly their faith with others, known as evangelization. Growth in holiness is usually the initiating force that drives this process. It prompts us to search for ways to deepen our holiness through spiritual formation. The result is that we are driven to evangelization. But the process doesn’t stop there. Our evangelization driven by love grows us in holiness and spiritual formation. Why is this true?

We have to look at the psychology of human action. By action, we mean our willing, choosing and doing by which we become ourselves. We are formed through our actions.  And our actions reflect our vision of life and values. Evangelization is formation through our loving action toward others. Our loving evangelization grows our hope in the capacity of love to fulfill our heart wishes, and grows our faith in God Who is love.  For when we share our faith with others, we evangelize ourselves most of all. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Married Couples. The Church has never offered married couples a spirituality, a spiritualization process. For almost 2,000 years the only redeeming value of marriage was the production of children. Ignored have been the psychological-spiritual challenges of married life. Couples challenge one another physically, spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, morally. For the unaware, marriage is indeed a tender trap.

Given these psychological-spiritual challenges, will marriage strengthen couples’ self-centeredness or move them to God-centeredness? Will they be able to befriend their marital alienations? What will be the ultimate goal of their marriage? For example, an intentionality of growth as self-giving persons. Will living a life with a person who is so much like oneself and yet so different from oneself lead to cynicism or to compassion? Compassion in the sense of being fully present to the other with a caring heart and attentive mind. Will it lead to a compassionate life for one another, for others, for God?

Could it be that the reversal of the theological virtues into love, hope and faith offers married couples a fitting life vision for their vocation? I believe so. This spiritualization process produces growth in mutual love which flows out beyond the couple to others in Christian love and compassion. Hope springs forth from growth in mutual love. Hope that will give married couples the energy for a life of love. Hope that transforms their human eros into compassion for others. Love and hope that feed their faith in the power and presence of love which is ultimately God. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

Last Testament. The death of a dear friend inspired this imagined dialogue between a dying woman and an officiating priest. The priest comes to administer the Sacrament of Healing to the dying patient. After he has completed the ritual, the patient asks the priest:

“Are people still talking about love? Are love songs still being written and sung?”

“Of course”, the priest answers.

“Are couples still getting married?” the patient persists. “Are preachers still preaching about love?”

“Yes, why do you ask?” the priest questions.

“Because love matters,” the patient replies. “If love exists, if love is real, God exists and love is forever. And I have a future.”

Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

Consolations of Love

Jules J. Toner, SJ states that faith is the radical work of the Holy Spirit, and charity is His principal and crowning work. The Spirit enables us to grow in living faith: to know Jesus ever more intimately; to understand His teaching and promises more clearly, more fully. And He pours the charity of God into our hearts. How does the Spirit do all this? Through His gifts of consolation.

Spiritual consolation is an experience in which our living faith is not only increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness, but is also recognized by us so that we experience feelings of peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like. The result? The Spirit’s consolations prompt us toward the expression of our living faith in our thoughts, affections, choices and actions.

Even in the spiritual life, there is a pyramid. Those few at the top who love much are given much consolation. According to St. Ignatius, the Spirit stirs an inner motion within them that sets them on fire with love of God that they love all created things only in the Creator of them all. When they experience this flame of love, they experience the joy of loving God, not only because of their faith-conviction that God is infinitely loving and lovable, but also because of their faith-experience of God’s love and lovableness.

The consequence of this inflamed love is that the lover can love no creature in itself but only in God. Without loving creatures less but rather loving them even more, all the love is love for God, one love for one Beloved. All their love is unified in God. For the moment, and it doesn’t last long, they love themselves only because they love themselves in God and God in themselves. Their love is utterly unselfish. For those who love much, the highest form of consolation!

Note that our love of God can be pure, intense and firm without inflamed feelings. Admittedly, the gift of consolation makes it easier, more enjoyable, but as Christ has told us: the sure sign of loving Him are not feelings, but doing God’s will. It is possible even in desolation and darkness to love God and creatures unselfishly.

Second, the Spirit gives the consolation of peace and joy for deep sorrow over our sins, or for heartfelt compassion with Christ in His passion. Here our sorrow is rooted in faith and love for God in Christ. Our sorrow becomes fused with the realization of God’s merciful, tender love conquering sin and turning it to His glory. A creative tension exists  between a deep sense of our sinfulness and of God’s redeeming love in Christ that flourishes into greater humility and gratefulness.

Third, the Spirit prompts us with His consolation to increase our faith, hope and charity. This does not mean that we cannot grow in these virtues during periods of desolation and dryness. In fact, we are encouraged to stir ourselves to these virtues when we are in such a disposition. However, being creatures who are so dependent on our feelings, we are grateful for the Spirit’s consolation, which helps us enrich our faith, hope and charity. In this way, the Spirit moves us toward an increased integration of our whole conscious life with our living faith as the center and source.

Fourth, the Spirit gifts us with the consolation of inward gladness that draws us to heavenly things. The gladness we experience is spiritual if it calls and draws us to heavenly things and to salvation; it must be a gladness over God and over all the wonders of creation and salvation as seen by faith, gladness because of hope in God’s promises, gladness because of some experience of God’s presence, a foretaste which rouses a yearning for the full consolation. Thus, our descriptions of consolation have progressed to a wider range of experiences, and have expanded to a larger number of people.