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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

Love Encounter

 

Jesus’ Love Meal—our Eucharistic Celebrations—is a Love Encounter. A Love Encounter with the Father, who is the Source of All Love. A Love Encounter with Jesus, who is Love in Action. A Love Encounter with the Spirit of Love, who anoints us to live a life of love. In short, Jesus’ Love Meal is a Love Encounter with the Trinity of Love.

And profoundly, a Love Encounter with ourselves and the Beloved Community, our sisters and brothers!

Unfortunately, the Church has transformed Jesus’ Love Meal into a Church service—a ritual of words and practices centered on the celebrant, who is only the presider.  So, we have to make Jesus’ Love Meal come alive for ourselves. How? By embracing the three stages of the Love Encounter during our Eucharistic Celebrations. The three stages form a dynamic process that moves us to authentic self-love, to surrender of self into union with God and our sisters and brothers, and to spiritual empowerment to empower ourselves and others.

Encountering Love’s Source. To all appearances, at his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus  had a God-experience: Jesus encountered the Father, the Source of All Love. And so must we, or at least desire to do so—to enter fully into Jesus’ Love Meal. But let us first look at Jesus’ experience to draw out some clues for our own encounter.

In Mt 3: v. 16-17, we read: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him, and he (John the Baptist) saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Of course, Jesus was sinless and did not require baptism. But after his God-experience, Jesus was transformed into a person of great power and authority.

Scripture scholars have suggested that Jesus needed the Father’s expression of love to confirm his identity and mission. In light of that interpretation, I can identify with Jesus’ God-experience. This Gospel passage has helped me appreciate my own God-experience of many years ago.

My “baptism in the Jordan” took place on a weekend retreat. I came to it with much negative baggage—pockets of self-hate buried deep in my subconscious. In the first meditation of the day on the masks we wear, I saw them march across the stage of my imagination. Unbeknownst to me, the Spirit had already come down on me. This revelation stirred my anger toward myself. I vowed never to live my life that way again.

When I came up out of the water of my reflection, I felt the Source of All Love radiating out of my gut. It was as if God, the Father, was saying to me: “You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” My Creator loved me. I was lovable. I could love others. I could love! Great joy burst within me.

Discovering that we are created by the Source of All Love for a life of love is the most fundamental struggle of our spiritual life. This discovery must be experiential, not a head trip. It establishes our true self-love based on our relationship with the Source of All Love, not on the narcissistic love of self. Without authentic self-love, we can neither love ourselves nor God nor our spouses nor others.

This experience of authentic self-love is a divine gift, a gift that we must constantly seek. Before we enter Jesus’ Love Meal, let us pray in an attitude of powerlessness and surrender for this gift in such words as: “Father, Source of All Love, let me encounter you. Make me aware of my union with you. Only you can gift me with true self-love. I can’t do it for myself. Let me surrender to your Spirit’s invitation to true self-love. Let me totally enter into Jesus’ Love Meal.”

Encountering Love’s Action. The historical Jesus was both Love in Action and a man of great wisdom. When he planned to leave us, he must have seriously pondered what would be his final legacy to us. Consider the problem he faced and his creative solution. The myth of the Garden of Eden reveals the threefold problem of humanity that we have all inherited. By their disobedience of God’s command, our first parents had alienated themselves from God. Problem No. 1: They had lost their natural union with God.

Problem No. 2: They had alienated themselves from one another: “…they realized that they were naked.” Their loving union had become an alienating subject-object relationship. Thus, all human relationships would be impacted.

And Problem No. 3:  Union of heart and mind that had been the glory of their personhood had become a lifetime of self-alienation with computer-like minds isolated from hearts. Jesus’ creative solution was to solve the problem of alienation in all its forms by bringing us into union through love. For this purpose, he established his Love Meal, our Eucharistic Celebrations.

Lived fully, Jesus’ Love Meal can heal us of our alienation toward God, self and others. How? By encountering the Risen Jesus who is Love in Action. To do so, we must identify with him as the loving Celebrant at the altar. The priest is just a stand-in for Jesus. We must be fully present with a caring heart and an attentive mind to the core actions of the liturgy. They are Jesus’ invitations to the Love Encounter:

  • Jesus invites us to offer up ourselves in union with him. When we offer what sustains our life—our food and drink symbolized by bread and wine—we are offering up our lives. Let us also enter deeply into Jesus’ self-offering by encountering briefly his passion and death—visualizing his crown of thorns, his flesh torn by whips,  nails hammered into his hands and feet, the lance piercing his side. Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary has made eternal the fire of Calvary that creates the crucible of his love to transform us.
  • Jesus invites us to be consecrated with him for sacrifice. As the priest consecrates our gifts of bread and wine, we all become the bread and wine. A double transubstantiation takes place—for Jesus and ourselves. Jesus has immersed us in a life of union with our sisters and brothers.
  • Lastly, Jesus invites us to be consumed with him by our sisters and brothers. Lovers experience being consumed in the act of love.  Surrender is key. We lovingly pray: “Make us Eucharist for sisters and brothers to receive one another as bread and wine.” Jesus’ Love Meal has brought us into union as all love meals do. The Beloved Community with our sisters and brothers is being built up. Jesus anoints us for greater love and union with one another by gifting us with the Spirit of Love.

Encountering Spirit of Love.  Each time we receive Eucharist at our Love Meal, let us imagine that Sunday night in Jerusalem when the disciples were gathered behind locked doors for fear of persecution. Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is what the Risen Jesus is telling us each time we receive Eucharist! Let us respond with prayer and surrendered hearts to the Spirit of Love’s invitations to union when we receive Eucharist:

  • Union with God. Let us pray for greater union with the Father, the Source of All Love. We need to call upon the Spirit of Love, God’s own life of Love, to dispel our alienation toward the Father and awaken our hearts to greater union. For it is the Spirit who is the life-giving agent of all our creativity, all our inspiration, all our love’s aspirations. Who invites us constantly to greater love, hope and faith. Let us daily strive to hear and feel our Father’s words to us: “You are my beloved son (daughter) in whom I am well pleased.”
  • Union with Others. Let us pray for greater union with our sisters and brothers. Let us ask the Spirit to weaken our deep-seated alienation toward others, the effect of Original Sin. Let us pray that the Spirit will anoint us to live a life of compassion to our sisters and brothers—being fully present to them, with a caring heart and an attentive mind. To be sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness to them. To be channels of love, hope and faith to them to awaken their love, hope and faith.
  • Union with Self. Let us pray for greater union within ourselves, without which we cannot love God or others. That the Spirit free us of heartless minds so that we might truly see and understand, that we may see others as subjects, not objects. the divine in all creation. That the Spirit restore union of heart and mind within us that had been the glory of our personhood before self-alienation resulted from Original Sin.

Conclusion. The historical Jesus’ creative solution for the problem of alienation and the resulting loss of our union with God, others and ourselves was his Love Meal. It is at our Eucharistic Celebrations that the Risen Jesus anoints us with the Spirit of Love to bring us back to the Garden of Eden where our first parents experienced the Original Blessings of union with God, others, themselves and creation.

What an incredible, wonderful solution to Paradise Lost! A Love Meal that is a Love Encounter with the Source of All Love, with Love in Action and with the Spirit of Love—to bring us into union with the Trinity of Love, with ourselves and our sisters and brothers!

Jesus knew that only transformed people could transform others. That only transformed people could build the Beloved Community. That only transformed communities could transform the world—the ultimate witness of Jesus’ authenticity and power. An incredible End Plan!

Releasing the Spirit

When I told my friend that she had empowered me, she replied in surprise: “I have never empowered anyone in my life.” I didn’t know how to respond to her. I only knew that I did not have the courage to do what the Spirit was asking of me, but after her affectionate embrace before Mass I found the courage.

Thanks to Bill Johnson, Pentecostal pastor and author of Hosting the Presence, I now have an explanation. Johnson states that the Spirit lives in all who are born-again believers, but the Spirit does not rest upon every believer. The Spirit is in us for our sake, but He rests upon certain individuals for the sake of others. Ever so briefly, the Spirit had rested on my friend who  released the Spirit’s empowerment of me.

Jesus, the Model. Jesus’ lifestyle was the relentless and consistent hosting of the Holy Spirit. His ministry of compassion for others flowed out of His relationship with the Spirit. Take the example of the woman with the issue of blood who touched the edge of Jesus’ clothing, Jesus realized that anointing, the Presence of the Holy Spirit was released from Him. He was conscious of the Spirit’s presence, even when he was walking and talking, listening to people’s comments and questions.

Johnson pictures the woman as watching Jesus work and coming to the conclusion that He carried something on His person that could be accessed through touch. She observed something unseen and responded with faith. Faith sees and responds to unseen realities: something rested upon Jesus. And the Spirit’s power was released to her.

Jesus, the Teacher. Here is what Johnson has to say about Jesus’ commissioning of the 70 disciples: “If the truth be told, in most our churches this group of unqualified people wouldn’t be allowed to be ushers or to direct traffic, let alone head up evangelistic campaigns.” Intentionally, Jesus sent them in over their heads. They would be forced to rely on a Higher Power. His goal was for them to learn to work with the Holy Spirit who was with them. Jesus was more interested in connecting them to the process of hosting the Spirit’s Presence than in results.

Interestingly, Jesus gave these disciples the instruction to let their peace come upon a household. Not just a command to greet people with Shalom. Peace is a Person: presence of  someone—the Holy Spirit. Jesus added another command: take back their peace if people were not worthy. Did the Holy Spirit rest upon them? Were they responsive to the Spirit or not? That was the criterion.

Jesus’ statement in the Gospel with reference to John the Baptist has always puzzled me: “The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What makes this possible? Johnson explains that John lacked the one essential gift from God—baptism of the Holy Spirit. Baptism makes it possible for every New Testament believer to be greater than John, to be greater than the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. This is fire at a whole new level. And this fire is the Presence of the Spirit.

Losing the Spirit. Earlier we said that the Spirit lives in all who are born again believers, but that the Spirit rests upon certain individuals for the sake of others. It is this power to empower others that we can lose. Johnson gives an Old Testament example of King Saul. At first, Saul was anointed and he became the man God needed in that position. However, through a series of disastrous choices–like his efforts to kill David—Saul became the untrustworthy king of Israel. “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.” 1 Samuel 16:14.

How do we lose the Spirit? St. Paul says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Ephesians 4:30. And in Thessalonians 5:19 he says: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Johnson explains that we grieve the Spirit through sin in thought, attitude or action. Quenching the Spirit means to stop the flow of and refers to the passion part of our walk with God. Losing passion for God always affects our ability to allow the Holy Spirit to flow from us to change the world around us.

Further, we lose passion for the Spirit because our churches have lost passion for the Spirit. Unfortunately, in Catholic circles the Spirit is the Forgotten God. That deadens our sensitivities to the Spirit. Johnson states that so many people have no one to go to when God touches them in an unusual way.  The common response with many is to try to stay average, so our experience of God gets dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

Welcoming the Spirit. We can’t give what we don’t have. Generally, we can’t release the Spirit to others unless we first steward the Spirit’s Presence. Of course, the Spirit can make exceptions. When the Spirit rests upon a certain individual for the sake of empowering others, it is generally because He has been made welcome. Signs of welcoming the Spirit are:

  • Giving the Spirit priority in our spiritual life. Fr. Jules Toner, SJ. states: “Human life is Christian life in the measure that it is lived under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of Christ.”  Does that criterion reflect our attitude toward the Spirit? What about our actions? Is the prayer, Come Holy Spirit, or some such prayer, on our lips throughout the day?
  • Seeing our spiritual journey as a continuous process of expanding our relationship to the Spirit. We might begin our relationship with the Spirit as our mentor and guide in our discerning process when we are seeking God’s will or direction. We might then advance with the Spirit’s help to discerning the movements of our hearts—whether they be holy or unholy, calculated only to hinder the Spirit’s work within us.
  • Understanding the Spirit’s interior work. Let us call it the spiritualization process, and the Spirit is the catalyst of that process. The Spirit is at work within us growing our capacities to love and to hope, and for developing our faith. Let this process become the subject of our daily prayer to the Spirit.
  • Realizing our powerlessness. God has programmed us for relationship with Him—an Infinite Being, an Infinite Lover. But we are powerless to relate to such a Being on our own. God has put Himself out of our personal reach. Only the Spirit of Love can make encounter possible. Besides, we are even powerless to access our capacity to love. It resides at the center of our being. That too is out of our reach. Again, we need the Spirit who resides at our center to unleash our capacity to love.
  • Acknowledging the Spirit’s scope. The Spirit is not just our personal possession. The Spirit is the Cosmic Spirit. The agent of all human creativity that inspires the beauty in our world. The agent of all human inspiration that reveals all our knowledge and insight. The agent of all human love’s aspirations that create communities of love and goodness in hearts.

Releasing the Spirit. Above are just some of the signs of welcoming the Spirit. Their focus has centered on our personal relationship. This is where we must begin. However, Johnson’s book, Hosting the Presence, offers us a dramatically new dimension to our relationship with the Spirit. It is at a whole new level!

He states that as we grow in relationship to the Spirit, He will allow us the increasing privilege of releasing His Presence and powers into various situations and people’s lives. Just becoming aware of this privilege has caused me to act as if the Spirit has already rested on me for the sake of others. Awareness has that kind of power to set us on fire.

Isn’t this spiritual reality awesome? Through the Holy Spirit, we can empower others, anoint others. We can host the Presence of the Holy Spirit for the sake of others. The Spirit will rest on us without withdrawing if we make the Spirit welcome. That really is the biggest challenge of our Christian life. After all, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ greatest gift to us. What we do with that gift is our greatest gift to God!