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Toward Beloved Community

 

 When Jesus revolutionized public worship by instituting a Eucharistic Celebration—a Love Meal—he did not tell us his End Plan was to create the Beloved Community. Nor how it would come about. Jesus left that work to the human heart and the Spirit who would inspire us.

Inspiration for me came from attending the Eucharistic Celebrations at the churches of the Monastic Order of Jerusalem in Europe. Whenever we are in Paris or Florence or Rome, we have made a point of attending their liturgies. What makes these Eucharistic Celebrations so inspiring? Dressed in white robes, the entire community—priests, sisters and brothers—mount the altar for Vespers followed by Mass. At the Kiss of Peace, they all descend into the congregation to offer the Kiss of Peace with warm smiles and gracious handshakes.

Their Kiss of Peace is not just a ritual gesture. It is intentional! Mind, heart and will are embodied in their intentionality. It says: “We are here to support you. We are here to anoint you. We are here to release the Spirit’s gifts to you.” Their demonstration should inspire us to a vision of the Beloved Community. For the Beloved Community to come about, our Kiss of Peace must first of all be intentional, not just a ritual gesture.

Wounded Community. Our Kiss of Peace must be the outward expression of our awareness that our community of sisters and brothers whom we meet at our Eucharistic Celebrations is a wounded community, and we must be moved by compassion for one another.

Compassion awakens our hearts to the fact that the Mass is not a private devotion, but a Love Meal. A Love Meal where Jesus invites us to consume bread and wine, Jesus’ Body and all the members of his Body, and where we will be consumed into Mystical Union. With this awareness, our Kiss of Peace becomes meaningful. And Jesus’ End Plan to create the Beloved Community begins to evolve.

Let us look at life’s reality. Every one carries a cross. No one escapes. In our midst at Mass, there are those who are fighting cancer or some other deadly disease or addiction or loneliness or depression. Those who are struggling with relationships—separation or divorce, unresolved issues, children who find growing up difficult. Or families with special children.

Besides, we are born into the human condition of alienation from God, alienation from anyone who is different from us, alienation from ourselves due to heartless minds. The list is endless and it is real. For these people, our Kiss of Peace says: “Whatever your cross, we support you in your suffering.” Then the Beloved Community is in the process of becoming!

Challenged Community. Do you feel challenged by your presence at Mass? We must be deeply aware of the challenge in our Eucharistic Celebrations. Jesus challenges us to pour ourselves out into his Love Meal. His Love Meal is a challenge to create the Beloved Community.

Unfortunately, the Church has taken the challenge out of our Eucharistic Celebrations. It has transformed Jesus’ Love Meal into a church service. Just follow the ritual and you are home free—no challenges. But Jesus’ Love Meal is a challenge to surrender ourselves intentionally into union with Jesus and our sisters and brothers.

Look at how challenging the core actions of our Eucharistic Celebrations are and grasp their dynamic, erotic invitations to union. When we offer up our gifts of bread and wine—symbols of our lives—together with the celebrant, we must intentionally act out our desire for spiritual communion with Jesus and our sisters and brothers. When the celebrant consecrates our gifts of bread and wine, we must intentionally be consecrated for sacrifice. At Communion time, we must intentionally receive Jesus and our sisters and brothers as bread and wine, as they receive us as bread and wine.

We must ritually act out our desire for union with Jesus and the Beloved Community. When we offer our Kiss of Peace, we are saying: “We desire Mystical Union with you and we hope you desire the same!” Then the Beloved Community begins to take shape.

Empowered Community.  Are you aware that our Eucharistic Celebrations are occasions of empowerment for you? The same Spirit who transforms bread and wine into the Body of Christ at the Consecration anoints us, empowers us. The empowerment is ours for the asking. No credentials required. No skills needed. Just heartfelt desire and awareness that the Spirit seeks to empower us.

Our work is to surrender to union with the Spirit, to yield to personal transformation by the Spirit. Focusing on one area of our personal woundedness makes the transformation process more real to us. For example, our intolerance of others who are different from us.

Just as Jesus revolutionized public worship, he also revolutionized anointing of individuals. Empowerment comes no longer through prophets, but directly through the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit anoints all who participate intentionally in his Love Meal for self-transformation and to empower others.

Christian communities cannot become the Beloved Community without each of us experiencing self-transformation.  But again, we must intentionally seek it. When we offer our Kiss of Peace, we are saying: “We are anointed and we anoint you. We release to you the Spirit’s gifts of love, hope and faith to bless and support you. Please reciprocate.” Then our community is on its way to becoming the Beloved Community.

Conclusion. Creating the Beloved Community will be the ultimate witness to Jesus’ authenticity and on-going presence and power in the world. For our part, it will take awareness and intentionality.

Awareness that our Christian community is a wounded community and our intentionality to be compassion to our sisters and brothers. Awareness that our Christian community is a challenged community and our intentionality to surrender into union with Jesus and our sisters and brothers. Awareness that our Christian community is an empowered community and our intentionality to surrender to the Spirit’s empowerment to transform ourselves and to empower our sisters and brothers for self-transformation and Mystical Union.

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!

From Fear to Trust

The previous article highlighted the growth rhythm of invitation and yielding in all of life, including the spiritual life. A reader responded to this article in an email: “Before anyone will yield there must be trust.” A precious insight! Trust is the underlying disposition needed to yield. Therefore, our potential to grow depends on our capacity to trust. But trust and yielding don’t come easily. What makes it so difficult? And how do we grow in trust?

Fear in Genes. Imagine the dawn of reason for mankind. Primitive people gazing at creation. Seeing their own fragility. Experiencing life’s suffering and dying. I suspect that the first question human beings asked themselves was: “Is reality hostile or can it be trusted.” Right from the start, fear was planted in our genes.

Psychologists tell us that children between the ages of four and six discover that the inner feelings they have of themselves are not “in synch” with the world around them. Reality, which includes the cosmos and God within it, is in some way hostile to them. This early childhood conclusion leads to the formation of defensive, controlling, manipulative personalities that are aggressive toward the world, conforming to the world, or withdrawn from the world.

To break out of the pathology associated with our personality type, we can take a number of approaches. One, we can undergo serious self-discovery to work our way through our personality trap. Two, we can bring to bear on our search for the fullest life the best in Christian spirituality—no dualism that pits body against soul.  Three, we can experience a transforming, psycho-spiritual experience on an encounter retreat.

In the article, Jesus’ Transformation, I shared my personal experience of discovering the pockets of self-hate in my life in the loving environment of an encounter retreat, becoming angry with myself and then breaking out into ecstatic joy. Note the words I used: “At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, whom I called God; that all creation was lovable; that I was lovable.” I had discovered the answer to the essential question buried in our subconscious: Is reality hostile or can it be trusted? Discovering love at the heart of reality can be the breakthrough experience that puts us on the path to deep trust. But we still have to work at it.

Semantics of Trust. The word “trust” is too important to leave vague. Trust is not simply faith, with which it is often confused. So, let’s first look at the term “faith.” Theologian Paul Tillich tells us that faith is not an act of knowledge that has a low degree of evidence. Nor should faith be understood as the contents of faith as we recite in the Creed at Mass. But faith is our total commitment to God as the ultimate center of our lives. Tillich describes an act of faith “as an act of a finite being who is grasped and turned to the infinite.”

Now, there is a connection between faith and trust. Trust is the face of faith. Trust is the way people act when they have deep faith. But how do people act when they trust? I believe that Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us a clue. In his discussion of suffering, he writes: “Suffering is never an absolute; it is not an end in itself or even a higher state of godliness than blessing. Both suffering and blessing are fruits of setting ourselves entirely at God’s disposal.”

From Bonhoeffer’s insight, we can draw out an understanding of the virtue of trust. Trust is the capacity to set oneself entirely at God’s disposal—despite our vulnerability. If we shy away from vulnerability, our trust in God will not deepen. We must remember that we are setting ourselves at the disposal of the One Who is Love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred by the Nazis in World War ll.

Centering prayer is a good example of how faith and trust operate in our spiritual life. It is our faith that draws us to centering prayer, our total commitment to God as the ultimate center of our lives—the Mystery who transcends our knowing and is beyond all understanding. But it is our trust in God that enables us in centering prayer to yield ourselves to the unknown, to put ourselves at the disposal of the unknown. In our wordless prayer we experience our total inadequacy to do what we are doing; we don’t know what the results will be; we just do it. It is our trust that turns centering prayer into a love affair with God.

Growth in Trust. The person who loves much will trust much. Living the spiritual life passionately opens us up to growth in the virtue of trust in God. Further, we grow in trust by direct experiences of trusting God:

Once we experience God as the Infinite Lover at the core of our personhood radiating out love beams through our mind, heart and will, we make a practice of connecting with our Center. And we grow in trusting that Center to recreate ourselves from the inside out and empower us to live a life of love.

Once we experience God as Divine Eros inviting us to greater growth and love, we make a practice of being attentive to the Spirit’s invitations and praying to the Spirit for enlightenment. And we grow in trusting the Spirit to guide us on our spiritual journey.

Once we experience God as taking over our lives to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation, we make a practice of looking for the movements of our hearts that push us beyond ourselves to act out of love for others. And we grow in trusting the Risen Jesus to operate in our lives.

Besides growing in trust of God by the direct experiences noted above, we also learn to trust in God from other realms of our life. For example, our appreciation and thankfulness for the beauty in nature and the arts can move us to greater trust in the One who is the source of all beauty. Another example: married couples risk vulnerability by putting themselves at the disposal of one another. From this experience they can learn to grow in trust of one another, but it can also be the path to greater trust in God.

Message of Trust. In The Jesus Myth, Fr. Andrew Greeley states that the core Christian message is above all a message of trust: “This message speaks to the most fundamental questions a person can ask: Is reality malign or gracious? Jesus replies that it is gracious to the point of insane generosity….The Really Real is generous, forgiving, saving love.”

According to Greeley, Jesus called for a change of life vision based on this new understanding of reality.  Jesus urged us to rejoice in God’s fulfilled promise. Jesus proclaimed that we should be confident, despite suffering, injustice, misery and death; everything would still be all right in the end. Why? Because God is Love and God will triumph. We are called to a conversion from fear to living lives of trust in God. How often do we hear in the Gospels Jesus proclaiming, “Be not afraid!”

Greeley gives us a new understanding of Jesus’ revelation. What I see in   Greeley’s thinking is that Jesus’ revelation contains both a religious and an erotic message. The religious message found in Scripture that God would send a Savior for humankind has been realized in Jesus. The erotic message, hardly ever mentioned, is that the deep, erotic longing of the human heart to trust reality, to be free of fear, has been fulfilled by God through Jesus who knows the human heart.

Preachers have tended to focus on Jesus’ religious message and ignore Jesus’ erotic message, but it is his erotic message that keeps the Christian message fresh and relevant, not just for Jesus’ day, but for all time. In fact, it is the erotic nature of Jesus’ revelation that makes Jesus so unique, so believable. It explains why Jesus’ ministry moved from one of preaching repentance for sin and baptizing to one of preaching that the kingdom was at hand, that a new age of trust had dawned for humankind. To grow in our capacity to trust and yield, we must grasp the core message of the GOOD NEWS and live it.

Trust through Resurrection. Jesus’ crowning message is the message of Resurrection. We are Resurrection people. Therefore, we are people of trust. Trust is the face of our beliefs. We believe that Jesus brought life out of death. We believe what Jesus told us: namely, that we had to undergo death experiences 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; we are called to grow in trust in God. The poet Wendell Berry gave this advice: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts….Practice resurrection. Practice coming alive again.” Resurrection people are a people who trust in God.

Earlier I said that trust was the face of faith. In reality, trust is the fruit of the spiritualization process. Trust is the face of faith, hope and love—the works of the Spirit within us.

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.

Obstacle to Solidarity

In Incarnational Spirituality, we celebrate solidarity with others because we are all members of the Body of Christ. While this is a spiritual reality, we cannot say that we experience it deeply or often. The great obstacle to living this solidarity is the basic flaw in human nature of alienation, the result of Original Sin.

Some Christian writers have interpreted Original Sin as the sin of pride, while for others it was disobedience. St. Francis of Assisi gave another explanation. Our first parents were created in the image and likeliness of God. The devil’s offer to make them on the same level as God was like selling them the Brooklyn Bridge. A terrible deception. St. Francis interpreted Original Sin as our first parents being grasping, wanting to possess what they did not already have. This lust for possession was the Original Sin that resulted in alienation from God, self and others─with some interesting consequences.

Alienating Possessiveness. Have you noticed how thin-skinned we are? We are easily offended by people being different from us. If they think differently from us, we are offended. If they act differently from us, we are offended. If the way they dress is different from us, we are offended. The French may say, “Vive la Difference!” when it comes to the differences between men and women, but countless books are written about men being from Mars and women from Venus. And the marriage statistics demonstrate that the difference in gender is hard to cope with.

It seems that we possess very strongly what is peculiar to ourselves—our style of thinking and acting. We possess our personal qualities so strongly that we feel endangered by others being different from us. Fear sets in that we may lose what we possess. St. Francis put his finger on it—lust for possession. In reality, a lust for psychic possession. Our deep-seated alienation toward others is awakened by their differences.

What does this fear do for our relationships? When St. Francis met the leper, he was able to embrace him. When we encounter people who exhibit differences from us, they become lepers to us, and unlike Francis, we are unable to embrace them.

Unifying Poverty. St. Francis countered against human lust for possession by emphasizing poverty. Yes, material poverty, but also spiritual poverty. In the Gospels, we read: Blessed are the poor in spirit. When we deeply experience the insight that all that we possess has been given to us by a loving and gracious God, we can begin to take steps toward spiritual poverty. Ultimately, our deep-seated alienation is a rejection of our creaturehood and a refusal of gratitude to the Creator. Living deeply a life of gratitude to the Divine Giver will help us grow in spiritual poverty and become more open to others and their differences.

The spiritual exercise of practicing compassion is another help to growth in spiritual poverty. Here we attempt to become fully present to another, in a caring and attentive way, so as to receive the presence and the unique gift of the other. Through this exercise, we give ourselves away as a gift to others, making ourselves spiritually poor. For the moment we shed our psychic possessiveness. We deliberately set aside our alienation toward another with the expectancy of discovering the giftedness of the other. In the process, we suspend judgment of the other and we see the other in a different light.

The ultimate growth experiences in spiritual poverty come from the progressive surrender to the Spirit’s possession of us. Our lust for possessiveness can only be remedied by Spirit-possession. We demonstrate our Spirit-possession by our total dependency on the Spirit. Only the Spirit of love can dispossess us of our psychic possessiveness and free us for compassionate relationships with others.

Jesus-Life Model

In the preceding series, we have explored many qualities of Jesus’ humanity. We have used Scripture to reveal His attitudes toward God, self, others and life. While analyzing Jesus’ humanity, we have contrasted our human approach to live our lives as followers of Christ. We have emphasized that the human tendency is to take good qualities of being human and pushing them to an extreme out of some inner compulsion. What conclusions can we draw?

Self Knowledge. As we explored the many qualities of Jesus’ personality, did you discover yourself identifying with one dominant trait? Perhaps as the person who searches for wisdom or the person who seeks achievement, or one of the other traits? Were you able to identify with the tendency to take a good quality and push it to an extreme? Oh yes, you probably related to many of the weaknesses described, but it is identifying your dominant driving force that is important. That produces the valuable discovery of self-knowledge.

Personality theory tells us that as early as the age of six we have adopted a consistent way of coping with life for the sake of gaining security and a meaningful existence. We can go through life without consciously perceiving or reflecting on our defensive strategy, because it is so carefully hidden in our subconscious. It is only when we are seeking to achieve personal and spiritual growth that we become aware that a problem exists. We keep repeating the same weaknesses. We find ourselves making little spiritual progress. If we don’t discover our dominant compulsion, it will greatly influence our decisions about what we do or don’t do, how we think about ourselves or how we relate to others.

Further, discovering the dominant driving force in our life leads us to greater intimacy with Jesus. For we share with Jesus a common way of living. If we are bold leader-types, so was Jesus. The only difference is that we have taken that quality to an extreme. So that discovery can lead to greater union with Jesus and provide the basis for realistic prayer.

Ideal Evangelist. Jesus was a fully integrated person. He could be an idealist, but He could also be a Good Samaritan. He could be an achiever but also an optimist. He could be a searcher for wisdom but also a feeling person. He could be serene, and loyal to institutions, but also a bold leader who confronted the establishment. As such, Jesus is an ideal model for us of an ideal evangelist. To accomplish Jesus’ mission, we will be challenged to move out of our personality’s comfort zone and become the idealist in one set of circumstances or the Good Samaritan in others, and so forth. To be successful at evangelization, we will be required to be the fully integrated person that Jesus was.

Spirit-driven. Jesus transcended all personality types because He was Spirit-driven. He responded to reality as it was, not out of some inner compulsion. When we operate out of compulsion, we do not enjoy the freedom to be aware or live in the now or relate Christlike to others. So what is the solution? Many spiritual writers say that when we reach the inner center of our being, we are more intimately at home with ourselves, more intimately united with others, more intimately united with God. So we must get in touch with our inner center and operate out of our inner center. Why? Because that is where the Spirit resides. Only by becoming Spirit-possessed can we gain our freedom from a compulsive life. Living that paradox leads to a more fully human and Christlike life.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus-Serene One

Among our fond memories of the Cursillo Weekend is the recollection of utter serenity that filled the environment from Thursday night to Sunday night. We might have thought to ourselves that if the spiritual life is the experience of such tranquility, surely it is worth living.

Likewise, Jesus demonstrated serenity in His life. Recall the scene of Jesus asleep in the boat in the middle of the storm. Or the scene of Jesus facing thousands of hungry people needing a meal; such a guest list would have thrown Martha into a tizzy. Or when the disciples might have expected a scolding for busying themselves with fishing rather than Jesus’ work, but He was all serene. When they brought their catch in, they saw that Jesus had a fire going and was frying fish for them. (Jn  21 1-13) We need Jesus as a model of serenity, because the human tendency is to take this good quality and push it to an extreme, causing us to become ineffective evangelizers.

Human Way.  We can get so caught up in the serenity of the spiritual life that we might become lazy about our mission to take the Good News to our environments. While some isolation from others is required to live the spiritual life, it can become a too satisfying habit. Erroneously we might take that spiritual directive of “let go and let God” to mean that God will do everything while we simply wait for His Spirit to bring about the Kingdom. We can allow our patience for results to limit our actions. We can forget that the goal of our work at growing in holiness and spiritual formation is to build resources within us to become evangelizers for Jesus. We can ignore Jesus’ promise that His Spirit will empower us to complete His mission.

Jesus’ Way. Jesus did not allow His personal serenity to interfere with His mission. He had to put up with the slow learning of His disciples, but He kept on trying with parable after parable, answer after answer. Just before His Ascension, Jesus had to exercise great patience when His disciples asked Him: “Lord, are You going to free Israel (from Rome) now and restore us as an independent nation?” Acts 1:6ff. While Jesus might have wanted more immediate results from His efforts, He was calm about the prospects, telling His disciples that the Kingdom was like a seed that takes root slowly; only after a time does it produce a harvest. At the heart of Jesus’ serenity was His great faith that God would ultimately accomplish His mission; He would succeed..

Remedies. If we find ourselves excessively drawn by a desire for serenity in our spiritual life, let us remember that Jesus promised His followers that God would empower them through the Spirit dwelling within them. In other words, the same gift that empowered Jesus in all His activity is our gift. God has entrusted each of us with unique gifts which the Spirit will guide and develop for our unique mission in life. So, we are gifted and we are powerful.

Second, God loves us as only God can love us—unconditionally. In the same way that Jesus is loved, we are loved Jn 17:26.Knowing God’s personal love, we experience deep inner peace. It frees us to be self-giving to others, for we have entered deeply into the gift-dimension of life. In our gratefulness for God’s love, we will want to help others discover that they are loved. However, others can only come to this truth if we love them with the radical love of Jesus. For we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

Third, if our desire for serenity isolates us from others, let us remember that Jesus promises a special presence of Himself when in His name we gather together in mutual love. Through Christian community we get in touch with the energy of Jesus’ Spirit. The energy to grow in faith, in hope and in love.

Jesus-Bold Leader

On our Weekend, we were called to show bold leadership to evangelize and transform the environments within the institutions we operate in—ultimately to Christianize society. Whether we were natural leaders or not, we were challenged to take responsibility to accomplish Jesus’ mission. We were asked to demonstrate a spirit of initiative in reaching out boldly to others to bring them to Jesus.

Likewise, Jesus was a bold leader. He had the audacity to ask men to leave their businesses for an unknown future. Jesus called Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing nets behind and they left their nets at once and went with Him. Mt 5:19ff. Nor did Jesus mince words with the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them “white-washed sepulchers”, “blind guides” and a “brood of vipers”. He confronted their injustice of pretending to be for God when they were only for themselves and their position. We need Jesus as a model of a bold leader, because the human tendency is to take this good quality and push it to an extreme, causing us to turn people away from Jesus rather than to Him.

Human Way. We take our efforts to be bold leaders for Christ to an extreme when we go around looking for a fight or when we tend to step on people’s toes. Or when we assert ourselves at the expense of others. Or when we hold up ourselves as though the whole world is supposed to focus on us. Yes, we can respond with a strong sense of justice when that is required, but we cannot allow ourselves to be cantankerous. The real pitfall occurs when we like to be not only against others but also over others. In that mindset we are using authoritarianism to gain control over others. Not a way to live a life of radical love for others or manifest the Christ within us to evangelize others.

Jesus Way. Jesus’ bold leadership struck a balance. On the one hand, He had a strong sense of justice and was ready to confront the powers that be. Jesus could see through those who used violence to exert their influence or defend their position, and He had the courage to bring their evil to light. On the other hand, Jesus saw real strength in non-violence, for the Spirit works through our gentleness in the face of oppression by others. This is especially evident when He allowed Himself to be vulnerable in His passion and death. As Jesus told Peter, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Mt 26:52.He cautioned His followers: “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot destroy the soul”. Mt 10:28.

Remedies. We take the virtue of bold leadership to an extreme when we exercise our compulsion to be judge over others and are super-confident in our knowledge of what is just. It is at these times that we must draw on our virtue of compassion, being fully present in a caring, attentive way to the other so as to receive the presence and giftedness of the other. We need to offer ourselves totally as self-gift with the expectancy that we will discover the giftedness of the other. Since we are totally committed to the other, we suspend judgment of the other and see the other in an entirely different light. Our compassion will eliminate the excessive aggressiveness in our efforts to be bold leaders.

A good question for us as bold leaders to ask ourselves when we confront injustice or immorality in others is: “Am I confronting the others in ways that will lead them to repent, or am I simply seeking to prevail over those who are doing wrong?” This question presupposes that we have taken the time to learn what kind of a person we are confronting and what makes him or her tick.

Prayer should play an important role in our efforts to bring another to repentance. First, prayer for ourselves that the Spirit might enlighten and guide us that we have a correct sense of the situation, and prayer for the other that the Spirit might grant His light.

Jesus-Optimist

When we reflect on our Weekend experience, we fondly recall the moments of joy and fun amid the discovery and realization of the Christian Vision. Deep interior experiences are like that: they open us up to joy and joy transforms us at least temporarily—long enough to make us feel optimistic about living the Christian life and sharing it with others.

Likewise, Jesus was an optimist who liked moments of joy. By comparison with John the Baptist who did not drink wine and often went without food, Jesus was seen by His adversaries as a man who feasted and drank. Mt 11: 18,19. When a disciple of John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples fast as we do and as the Pharisees do,” Jesus answered: “Should the bridegroom’s friends mourn and go without food while He is with them.” Mt 9:14,15. Evidently being with Jesus was like being guests at a wedding party. We need Jesus as our model of an optimist, because the human tendency is to take our optimism and push it to an extreme, causing it to be an obstacle to spiritual progress.

Human Way. We can take the joy of our spiritual experiences as being the norm for the spiritual life. We may look upon pain as a great spiritual evil to be avoided. To have nothing interfere with our joy, we may try to avoid all conflict, even sweeping the dirt under the rug. We may become procrastinators, putting off what is unpleasant. Instead of completing what we have already planned, we may go off making more plans. Of course, when things don’t work out, we may become tense and irritable. Or we may engage in some form of escapism.

Jesus’ Way. The basis for Jesus’ optimism was His deep faith that “the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” Mt 4:17. He had the vision to see that although the Kingdom was the promise of joy in the future, the only way that the future joy would come about was to accept the problems and pains of the present. The troubles of the present moment are the signs and preparation for the joyful future planned by God. That is realistic optimism and Jesus expressed it with various illustrations. “I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth. Unless I die I will be alone—a single seed. But my death will produce…a plentiful harvest of new lives.” Jn 12:24. A mother endures great labor pains before she has the joy of bringing new life into the world. Jn 16:21.Jesus was a realistic optimist!

Remedies. First, if we find ourselves compulsively seeking joy in our spiritual life, we must face the reality that the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit is at the heart of our faith, and therefore must be at the center of our spirituality. His life mirrors our life. That’s reality. We cannot enter deeply into Jesus’ life or even our own life unless we understand and fully embrace the Paschal mystery in Jesus’ life and how that mystery works in our life to heal our woundedness.

Second, we must realize that the spiritual life is not a superficial way of life. In our exuberance we may think that we are experiencing spiritual joys in scripture reading, good liturgy or the camaraderie of Christian community. The reality is that spiritual joys to be the work of the Holy Spirit must be integral parts of a faith experience. We have to recognize and work on the Spirit’s invitations to greater faith, hope and charity.

Third, we must act against the grain. We must grow in a disciplined life. The discipline of giving the spiritual life top priority. The discipline of loving God and others even when we are not in the mood. The discipline of staying focused. The discipline of always being open to explore new understandings of God, Jesus, the Risen Christ, and Spirit as well as new insights into our own compulsions and weaknesses.

Jesus-Loyal Person

If we did not feel indebted to the Church for our faith before our Cursillo Weekend, we certainly experienced a strong sense of loyalty by the end. Further, as Cursillo was the medium of our deeper relationship with Christ and our new appreciation for the Church, we extended our loyalty to Cursillo.

Likewise, Jesus was a very loyal person. Loyal to God, to the Jewish people, to Jewish law and scriptures. Jesus discerned God’s plan for Him through the study of the scriptures and he accepted all the demands made on Him. Mk 10:45.  Although the           Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah, He remained faithful to being God’s gift toIsraeland loyal to Jewish law. Jesus asked His accusers: “Which of you can truthfully accuse me of one single sin?” Jn:8:46. We need Jesus as our model of a person who is loyal to institutions, because the human tendency is to take such a virtue and push it to an extreme, preventing our growth as persons and in the spiritual life.

Human Way. In our great loyalty to the Church, Cursillo and other institutions, we may make observance of their laws and regulations an end in itself rather than a means to an end. We may even judge our relationship with God based on our outward observance of their laws and regulations. This is the trap of legalism. We may not be aware of it but what we are seeking is the security that outward observance of laws and rules give us Should it be difficult in a given instance to decide what to do, we may even prefer to get our answer from some authority figure. Again, looking for security. Unfortunately, legalism leads to the self-righteousness of the Pharisees.

Jesus’ Way. Jesus avoided the trap of seeking security from external observance of law, as we see demonstrated countless times in the Gospels. It was the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law that mattered to Jesus.St. Paul makes this distinction eminently clear: “Christ has made us free and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies.” Gal. 5:1ff. Jesus’ loyalty to the Jewish people and to Jewish law was always governed by His loyalty to God. Jesus came to reveal that God was not a lawgiver, but truly a loving parent.

Remedies. First, we must realize that if we take our loyalty to institutions to an extreme, we are creating a monumental barrier between Jesus’ Spirit and ourselves in our spiritual life. The Spirit of God dwells within us, reveals us to ourselves, calls us to growth and gives of Himself in relationship. The Spirit operates within each situation and experience of our daily life. We must believe that we are in the process of becoming, and we must be open to this interior process of discerning where the Spirit is leading us. It is the Spirit who will guide us in living the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.

There is no greater security available to us than to have the Spirit as our inner guide and mentor. But it takes dependency on the Spirit and deep personal courage and faith to live according to the Spirit.

Second, we readily admit that every individual is driven by pathologies and compulsions. But are we aware that every institution, the best of them, is affected by pathological trends? Writes theologian Gregory Baum in Man Becoming: “The presence of the demonic in institutional life casts a shadow of injustice on all human activities, even the best….The Christian is summoned to remain critical in regard to institutions, to wrestle with the powers of darkness present in them, and to involve him- or her self politically in the various societies to which he or she belongs.” Loyalty is not blind. We demonstrate true loyalty to the Church or Cursillo or other institutions when we act like Jesus: Jesus loved the institutions of His day but he challenged them.