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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.

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

Horror/Love Image

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

Mystery of Love

 

Forty years ago I left the Marriage Encounter weekend with two deep desires. The first desire was to grow my relationship with my wife. The weekend had taught me the need for communication to nourish our marriage and the techniques to do so. The second desire was to pursue a greater love of God, for on that weekend I had experienced God as Love at the center of reality and my life. From the convergence of those two desires, an intuition took root: If I could grasp the nature of marital love, that insight would guide me to greater love of God.

What moved my deep-seated intuition 40 years ago to today’s insight was reading “Will and Spirit” by Dr. Gerald G. May. The author was an expert in both human psychology and in spirituality. His analysis of both these subjects prompted me to make two discoveries. One, that the manifestations of love for both marital and divine love are basically the SAME; and two, that the manifestations are in reality a PROCESS—a transformative one at that.

As human beings, we have a mysterious, fundamental human longing for unconditional love. It manifests itself in different ways. In both marital and divine love, we experience narcissistic love, erotic love, compassionate love and agapic love.

Narcissistic Love. Hardly a true form of love, narcissistic love manifests itself in marital love when we are self-centered. Or when we seek to bolster our self-image. Or when we are more interested in receiving than in giving, more focused on self-preservation and aggrandizement than on the welfare of our spouse.

That is its manifestation in marital love. But can our love of God be narcissistic? Yes, when we adopt a coping strategy in our relationship with God. When we look to God only as the One who saves us from the problems and sufferings of life. This kind of mentality is hardly spirituality. Yet, religious institutions encourage it. The good news is that there is a redeeming quality in narcissistic love.

Erotic Love. As our empowering life force, erotic love is pleasure, is passion, is sexual that moves us to union with our spouse—and to the fullness of human life. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says that we are born with fire in our bellies—eros—that drives us to love, beauty and creativity, or to destructiveness. Ultimately, it is what we do with that energy that matters.

What about our love of God? Can it be erotic? Should it be erotic? As erotic beings, we can’t love our spouses in one way and God in a different way. We have one mind-heart set for love. NOT a secular set to love our spouse, and a spiritual set to love God. Ultimately, spirituality seeks union with God—and with others. We must bring our erotic energy to bear on our spiritual life—in our prayer life and in our relations with others. Otherwise, our spiritual life will dry up.

The primary example of our need for erotic love is in our Eucharistic Celebrations. Jesus revolutionized public worship by creating a Love Meal intended to form the Beloved Community. Indeed, Jesus’ Love Meal is either an erotic experience or it is an experience that doesn’t nourish our relationship with God or our sisters and brothers. Unfortunately, the Church has turned Jesus’ Love Meal into a church service. We must make it happen for ourselves.

When does erotic love lead us astray? When we adopt a strategy of seeking emotional highs or irrational exuberance in our relationships with God and others. When we look at spiritual experiences as escapes from reality or allow the so-called “spiritual” to blind us to the problems and sufferings of others. Or when we are selective in our choices of persons to whom we relate.

Compassionate Love. In marital love, compassionate love is a committed, noncontrived giving of time, energy, attention and wealth to further the welfare and improve the life of our spouse. It flourishes when we have moved beyond the phase of seeing our spouse as the “intimate enemy” who must be controlled or manipulated to conform to our personalities. That breakthrough leads us to compassionate love of our spouse.

A similar breakthrough in our relationship with God opens us up when we have gone beyond strictly a need mentality or an escapist mentality. We must even eliminate a happiness mentality which conditions our relationship with God based on the proposition: if one lives one’s life correctly one will be happy. Not so. We experience negative feelings which rise from our human condition. Further, life provides us with many painful situations.

Like the marital life, the spiritual life requires us to experience purgation of those mentalities that prevent growth in love, hope and faith in God. The good news is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, is an aggressive Lover who enlightens us and consoles us on our spiritual journey. Compassionate love of God blossoms in us when we discover that the Spirit of Love is at work in our lives and we foster that relationship.

Agapic Love. The previous manifestations of love—narcissistic, erotic, compassionate—are all conditional forms of love. Circumstances and personal whim can influence them. To a degree, our wills can control them. Self-serving motivations can enter into their expressions. But agapic love is ultimate, unconditional love. As such, it suffers from none of these defects. The only choice humans have in relation to agapic love, Dr. May writes, is whether or not to recognize its presence. We can neither magnify nor destroy it. That suggests to me that agapic love is pure gift, the gift of the Spirit of Love.

In both our marital and divine relationships, we can and should be open to reach the heights of agapic love. Dr. May gives us an insight into agapic love by contrasting it with erotic love. He states: “The world falls away in the ecstasy of erotic love. The ecstasy of agapic love is characterized by an awesome joining with all the rest of the world, becoming a part of it. In an erotic ‘high,’ the world disappears in love. In the spiritual ‘high,’ the world appears in love.” When marital love or divine love has brought us to moments of loving all beings and creation, we know that the Spirit has gifted us with agapic love.

Love’s Process. The above analysis suggests that manifestations of both human and divine love are basically the SAME. It also suggests a new perception of this mysterious phenomenon called “love.” First, the various manifestations of love are not stages at which we arrive at and must spend time. Ideally, love is a PROCESS—a flow from the narcissistic to the erotic, to the compassionate and to the agapic (if we are gifted). Second, seen in this light, love becomes our commitment to our spouse and God to surrender to love’s WHOLE process. That commitment and intentionality are our deepest expressions of marital and divine love.

We may begin with narcissistic love for both our spouse and God but we must strive for deeper love. What we can’t allow ourselves to do is to get “stuck” at any point in the love process. For example, we can’t allow ourselves to remain at the narcissistic, for that would be destructive of both human and divine relationships. Both our human and divine loves manifest the sensational—the highs of life. But we can’t allow ourselves to get stuck there. That would only block growth in our relationships. Further, couples must be capable of transcending their own relationships to reach out to others: that is the way the Spirit of Love operates—inviting us to compassionate and agapic love.

Love’s Transforming Power. Plutarch, the first-century Roman historian, recognized love’s process in his marriage and its transformative power. In his “Dialogues of Love,” he wrote: “Physical pleasure with a spouse is the seed of friendship and the participation in great mysteries. Though the physical pleasure is brief, from it grows day by day respect and grace, affection and faithfulness.”

Likewise, in the spiritual life the Spirit’s gifts of consolations (emotional highs) are joyful experiences on our spiritual journey to greater love, hope and faith. But the joy is not an end in itself. The gifts of consolations are invitations to transformation and spiritual growth.

What is the secret to love’s transforming power? Love generates psychic fire that is the agent of transformation—the fire of the Spirit of Love. However, that psychic fire is inflamed in committed unions. Committed unions—marital and divine loves—are the crucibles of love. Given that environment, love melts down our alienation from God, others and our spouses. That is why our divine union, such as in the Eucharist, and marital union are potentially so powerfully transformative.

Love’s Prelude. Since marital love and divine love are so similar, we can draw insights from either one and apply it to the other. From my pursuit of a deeper spiritual life, I have learned that it is what I do BEFORE a spiritual exercise that is most important. Here is what the spiritual life has taught me about love’s prelude for marital love and how I have applied it

One, we must approach both marital and divine union—conscious of their inherent mystery. As mystery, we are powerless to be the masters of our own experiences and must rely on the Spirit of Love. Before prayer or Eucharistic Celebrations, I remind myself that I have been programmed for relationship with an Infinite Being, an Infinite Lover, but I am powerless to live such a relationship without the Spirit’s help. Before marital union, I remind myself that my capacity to love is so deep within me that I am powerless to awaken it without the Spirit’s gift. Mystery, and the wonder that mystery evokes, helps prepare me for both divine and marital union.

Second, recognizing the mystery we are engaging in and our powerlessness in both divine and marital love helps us to experience self-emptying. We must strip ourselves of our masks (clothes are part of our masks), behind which we hide to enhance our false self. We must experience psychic nakedness. Then, we can put ourselves at the disposal of the beloved (human and divine), gifting ourselves, yielding ourselves, surrendering ourselves to the beloved’s invitation to union. We surrender into union.

Third, focusing on the transformative nature of both marital and divine love opens us up further to the mystery of our engagement. It is kind of like the leap of faith. We know that we are entering into a mysterious encounter and we believe that it will be transformative—how we don’t know. For divine union, I know from experience that making transformation of a personal defect my goal at Eucharistic Celebrations opens me up to the Spirit’s action and deepens my potential for union. For marital union, being aware of this union as being mysteriously transformative, helps us to experience more deeply our powerlessness and psychic nakedness that invite the Spirit of Love to gift us with unitive and agapic experiences.

Love’s Mystery. Love’s mystery begins with ourselves. Fr. Teilhard de Chardin has written that we are not human beings living a spiritual life. Rather, we are spiritual beings living a human life. Love’s mystery begins with our mysterious human nature.

This wisdom has been ignored when we have probed the mystery of marital love. Too much emphasis has been placed on biology and pop psychology to reveal the nature of marital love. Perhaps too the Church has taken possession of our understanding of divine love. As the result, for too long marital love and divine love have been isolated from one another. In reality, they enlighten and energize one another.

The Spirit of Love has used Dr. May’s book, Will and Spirit, to enable me to bring marital love and divine love together. My intuition 40 years ago was right. Grasping the nature of marital love guides us to greater love of God. But what has surprised me is how pursuit of a deeper love of God has revealed insights into marital love and has in fact reinforced that experience.

In the final analysis, the mystery of love is the mystery of the Spirit of Love. The Spirit pervades all of our life. The Spirit is the agent of all human creativity, all human inspirations, all human love’s aspirations.

When we attempt to relate to God, we find his infinity beyond our reach. The Spirit of Love makes encounter possible. Likewise, when we attempt to express marital love, we find our capacity to love is beyond our reach. The Spirit of Love makes it possible. Sure signs of the Spirit’s action can be seen when our marital and divine loves are transformative and transcending—driving us to go beyond our loves to love all beings and all creation. Indeed, the mystery of love is the mystery of the Spirit of Love.

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.”

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!

Radical Surrender

In my imagination, I heard the Eucharistic Minister offering me Eucharist say: “Consume and be consumed. Be anointed and anoint others.” How beautifully those words express the dynamics of our Eucharistic experience. For our Eucharistic Celebration is Jesus’ Love Meal, and like all love meals it is an invitation to radical surrender into union. That is what the Mass is all about.

The term, “Consume and be consumed,” signifies—radical surrender. But to whom? Our Eucharistic Celebrations are a twofold invitation to radical surrender—first to the Crucified Jesus and finally to the Mystical Christ who incorporates all our sisters and brothers.

Consuming the Crucified. Before we consume, we must consume. Before we consume Eucharist, we must surrender to the Crucified Jesus. The Crucified Jesus is the most dramatic expression of Divine Love. In a moment of time, the Eternal and Infinite Being emptied Himself and took on the form of a vulnerable human being who experienced suffering and death—for us. It is the fire of Calvary that fires up the power source of our Eucharistic Celebrations. Yet, the Crucified Jesus gets little more than an honorable mention at Mass.

We must experience radical surrender to the Crucified Lover. It is not Jesus’ wounds that we love. It is his love that we love. It is his desire to bring us into communion with the Trinity of Love that we love—to unite us with our Father who is the fountainhead of infinite love, to unite us with the Spirit of Love who is agent of all human creativity, all human inspiration, all human love’s aspirations. It is Jesus’ eros to unite us with him in one Mystical Body that we love.

Before we consume Eucharist, we must consume the Crucified Jesus. We must radically surrender to the Crucified Jesus. It is our love responding to Jesus’ love that creates the crucible of love that transforms us and prepares us for union with the Mystical Christ.

Consuming the Mystical. We no longer have the historical Jesus with us. But we have the Risen Jesus, who is now the Mystical Christ, in whom we are all incorporated. When the priest raises the host and wine at the Consecration, he is lifting up the Mystical Christ who includes all of us to be sacrificed. Sisters and brothers are co-mingled in the bread of the hosts and in the wine of the chalice. We are made Eucharist for sisters and brothers to consume the Mystical Christ and one another as bread and wine.

But how do we enter into this deeply mystical experience? It is not easy. It is like stirring the ocean. By contrast, the Crucified Jesus is tangible. We can witness Jesus’ passion and death in our imagination. It is more difficult with the Mystical Christ. Yet, union with the Mystical Christ is essential for achieving Jesus’ End Plan of creating the Beloved Community

What can we do? We can use what is tangible at our Eucharistic reception, and we can use our imagination and, most important, our desire for union. What is impossible for our rational minds does not hold back our hearts from leaping beyond the finite. We want to feel the flow of unitive energy with the Mystical Christ and our sisters and brothers. Of course, it is the Spirit’s gift to give us this consolation, but we should make the effort.

What is tangible at our Eucharistic reception is the priest or Eucharistic Minister. Think of this person as the presider for Jesus, the role of the priest throughout the Eucharistic Celebration and now extended to Eucharistic Ministers. Whoever offers us Eucharist, he or she is inviting us to consume the Mystical Christ and to be consumed by him. We need to approach this person in a relational way. At this moment we begin our surrender into union with the Mystical Christ.

Desire is our most creative force and we should use our desire to prepare our hearts for Eucharistic reception. My prayer of desire is: “Jesus, anoint us for greater love and unity. Make us Eucharist for sisters and brothers to receive one another as bread and wine.” Receiving from the cup, I embrace the cup with two hands—an act of desire.

Another way of awakening our hearts to surrender to the Mystical Christ is to use our imagination. Simply imagine the Eucharistic Minister saying as the Eucharist is offered: “Consume and be consumed. Be anointed and anoint others.” Repeat the words to yourself. With the Spirit’s inspiration, these words can stir our desire for surrender into union with the Mystical Christ and our sisters and brothers.

Paradox of Surrender. We should not be surprised by the paradox that exists at the heart of our Eucharistic Celebrations. By radically surrendering to the Crucified Jesus and to the Mystical Christ at our Eucharistic Celebrations we are brought into Mystical Union. It is in Mystical Union that we are transformed and empowered.

Surrender is empowerment! The article, All Are Anointed, emphasized that at our Eucharistic Celebrations we are anointed in two ways. First, for our personal transformation that is necessary if we are to bring about the Beloved Community. Second, for empowering us to empower others to greater love, hope and faith.

Radical surrender to the Crucified Jesus unleashes the power source of our Eucharistic Celebrations. Radical surrender at our Eucharistic reception to the Mystical Christ, who includes all our sisters and brothers, brings us to the summit and fulfillment of our Eucharistic experience!

Finally, appreciation for Eucharist evolves, as our spiritual lives evolve. Jesus did not give us a manual to teach us the significance of his Love Meal. He did give us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, who guides us as individuals to embrace this Love Encounter in our personal way. The Spirit inspires us through our hearts that have experienced surrender into union in our daily lives. We need awareness, desire and discernment to respond. Jesus is counting on the Spirit and our hearts to bring about the Beloved Community through celebrating his Love Meal.

Creation as Incarnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renewing Cursillo

Two factors call Cursillo to renewal. First, in the 1940’s the Cursillo founders created our Movement to draw young men in Spain to Apostolic Action. They had to keep it simple. So they gave them an Action Plan, an unforgettable Weekend experience and a methodology to live their Cursillo Vision. A very sound psychological approach for the times and their young audience. But more is needed today.

Second, the Catholic Church itself has undergone renewal through Vatican ll to bring Catholics into a more mature, adult practice of their faith. Remember that when the founders created Cursillo, they did not have the advantage of Vatican ll. Or the inspiration of the Charismatic Movement in the 1960’s which opened the Church’s eyes to the Holy Spirit. Or the Church’s newly discovered Resurrection spirituality in the 1990’s. The Church has evolved. Can Cursillo do less? Cursillo needs a spirituality that embraces these advances in theology and spirituality.

Renewal does not mean abandoning Cursillo’s legacy. It requires discovering the implicit spirituality at the heart of the Movement and discerning the intentions of the Cursillo founders. Using this approach, we discover their deep appreciation for the Holy Spirit’s role in empowering the Movement and we perceive three powerful spiritual engines that drive the Movement. They are: the Holiness Engine, the Community Engine and the Evangelization Engine.

First, let us focus on Cursillo’s Evangelization Engine. Note: I am calling the Cursillo tripod  Cursillo’s Evangelization Engine—the familiar Holiness (Piety), Formation (Study) and Evangelization (Action).

The first requirement for Cursillo’s renewal? Realize that the Cursillo tripod is not a checklist of spiritual duties to be followed. Rather, it is a Spiritualization Process. Cursillistas must call upon the Spirit to set in motion the Process. Otherwise, we do the spiritual unspiritually. This dynamic Process is the Spirit at work in us. It is the Spirit who awakens our hearts to desire Holiness. It is the Spirit who enlightens us through Formation. It is the Spirit who incites us to Evangelization.

The result? The Spirit makes things happen. We discover that our pursuit of Holiness is the fire that drives our Spiritualization Process  We discover that our quest for Holiness and Formation activities ignite one another. We discover that together they arouse our desire to Evangelize, and our Evangelization efforts vitalize our Holiness and Formation. For when we evangelize others, we discover that we evangelize ourselves most of all. Put the Spirit into the Process!

The second requirement for Cursillo’s renewal?  Realize that the Cursillo community methodology of Group Reunion and Ultreya are added forms of the Spiritualization Process—the Spirit transforming us through others. Otherwise, Cursillo could become Club Cursillo, or simply intent on methodology. Put the Spirit into the Process. Put the Spirit into Cursillo’s Group Reunions and Ultreyas!

The result? Cursillistas are incited to expect the Spirit’s presence and operation in their communities. That expectancy will produce wonderful experiences. Through our Ultreyas and Group Reunion we will experience personal and spiritual growth in our on-going Spiritualization Process of Holiness, Formation and Evangelization. We will be moved to greater Apostolic Action.

The third requirement for Cursillo renewal is to power up our Holiness Engine. Unlike the other two spiritual engines, we have had to create it from scratch. Why? Because before Vatican ll, the Church held out Holiness as a life vision only for those in religious life, the state of perfection. It took Vatican ll to open up Holiness to all. However, in the article, Recapturing the Vision of the Cursillo Founders, which can be found under this blog’s heading, Founder’s Endorsement, our Cursillo Weekend experience was used to create our Holiness model with its seven virtues. Msgr. Sebastian Gayá, the priest/founder of Cursillo, endorsed this approach in an email, also on this blog.

However, we need to take a fresh look at the seven virtues and see them as our Holiness Engine’s powerful cylinders. First, note that the Church has focused almost exclusively on the Historical Jesus. That left the Holy Spirit as the Forgotten God. The Risen Jesus has been treated as an historical fact, rather than the source of empowering spirituality. We need a threefold spirituality based on all the dimensions of Jesus—the Historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus and Jesus’ Spirit—to fuel Cursillo’s spiritual engines.

For Cursillo’s model of holiness, we will use this chart of Vision, Values and Practice. Vision represents our attitudes toward Jesus in all his dimensions—Historical Jesus, Risen Jesus, Jesus’s Spirit. Values are the virtues needed to live our threefold spirituality; and Practice, the activities that flow from this spirituality. Let’s look at the seven Cursillo virtues in this light:

  • God-centeredness—The Historical Jesus revealed God to us and a new way of life. Jesus’ revelation helps us to move from an Ego-centered life to a God-centered life, our first conversion. We begin to see all through the eyes of God—ourselves, others, life, creation. We discover that this way of life fulfills our deepest heart wishes. It is a virtue that we have to work at constantly.
  • Compassion—The Historical Jesus chose a life mission of compassion for the wounded in society. But Jesus took his compassion to a whole new level—beyond mere pity. Those Jesus healed saw him as a person fully present to them, with a caring heart and attentive mind. Jesus is our model and empowerer of deep compassion for others.
  • Spirit-Dependency—The Spirit gifts us with faith that gives us an intelligence and vision that no human reasoning can provide. The Spirit grants us the strength of hope beyond human expectations. The Spirit inspires us to be generous givers beyond any human measure. We need to depend and call upon the Spirit to live the Cursillo Vision.
  • Courage to Act—The Spirit is our Higher Power who strengthens us for courageous Apostolic Action. But it is not the courage of the foolhardy or the power hungry. It is a faith-based courage that always translates itself into courageous action and even risk-taking. We need to ask the Spirit to transform us into bold evangelizers to transform our environments.
  • Discipline—The Spirit is our coach and trainer who carries on a Divine Dialogue with us to help us discern both the holy and unholy movements of our hearts. Discipline is to the spiritual life what training is to the athlete, or practice is to the musician or dancer. We need to keep in touch with the Spirit and ask for help.
  • Openness to Community—The Risen Jesus sends his Spirit to inspire us through others, if we are open. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am,” promised the Risen Jesus. And powerfully so. Our Cursillo communities of Group Reunion and Ultreya are occasions for our Spirit-empowerment. Before meetings, let us practice openness of heart.
  • Faith in Community—In making community the occasion for Spirit- empowerment, the Risen Jesus empowers us to greater faith in communal prayer and action. We must be believers in the power of prayer. We must practice Palanca to open others to the Spirit in them. We must act with boldness as a community, knowing that the Spirit is our Higher Power.

The Cursillo founders have given us a great legacy—the building blocks to create a Spirit-driven spirituality. We have drawn out Cursillo’s three spiritual engines from their resources. And we have created a threefold spirituality based on Jesus in all his dimensions to fuel those spiritual engines.

In the Gospels, we read of the land owner who provided his stewards with talents to invest for him while he was on a journey. The fearful steward hid his talent in the ground. Isn’t that what we are doing when we imitate slavishly the Cursillo founders’ original methodology? Should we not be using their legacy to renew Cursillo into a Spirit-driven Movement for our times? Remember: if Cursillo is renewed, we will be renewed.