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Jesus’ Priestly Mission

Sacrifice and prayer characterize Jesus’ priestly mission. Jesus through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished to God to cleanse us from our woundedness. Heb 9:14. Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father reveals the third mission received by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the other two being his kingly and prophetic mission. While his priestly mission culminated in the sacrifice on the cross, it had unfolded in Jesus’ life of prayer which we will focus on here.

Praying Jesus. We only get brief glimpses at the praying Jesus in short sentences, even scraps of sentences, in the Gospels. Further, what is left unsaid is that it was the Holy Spirit who urged Jesus to pray. Prayer time for Jesus was a time of Jesus’ companionship with the Spirit. It was a time when Jesus was refreshed, drew new strength, became re-created, built himself up to face the upcoming conflicts.

In Luke 5:15ff we read: “Great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, BUT he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Note that Jesus would not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the crowd and give up his time for prayer. On another occasion, “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself and from them he chose twelve. Luke 6:12ff. It is as though by day Jesus carried out the Spirit’s inspirations he had received at night in prayer.

The Spirit was Jesus’ constant companion. When Jesus went to the mountain and was transfigured before the apostles, his intent was to pray. His transfiguration was the Spirit’s surprise for him. In the supreme moment of offering his life, the Spirit was with Jesus in Gethsemane to sustain him. It was “in the Holy Spirit” that Jesus, “in the days when he was in the flesh offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears”.

All the prayers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels have one feature in common: he addressed God as Abba, as Father. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa states: “Now we know that it is the Spirit who raises the cry ‘Abba!’ from Jesus’ heart: ‘At that very moment, he rejoiced in the Holy Sprit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father (Abba), Lord of Heaven and earth’”. Luke 10:21. We might reason that it was in Jesus’ prayer time that Jesus searched for his identity and that the Spirit progressively called forth Jesus’ radical faith in God’s love for him and God’s mission for him. The Spirit was the soul of Jesus’ prayer.

Praying Cursillistas. We are called to carry on Jesus’ priestly mission. How? First, we must “spiritualize” our prayer. It should be done “in the Holy Spirit”, as was Jesus’ prayer.St. Paul in Eph6:18 tells us: “With all prayer and supplications, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” We must spiritualize both our liturgical and private prayer. The liturgy will be either a structured approach that enables people to get through a period of time or it will be a heightened spiritual experience that transforms us through the Spirit who reveals the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words and who unites us in Christian community. The Risen Christ gifts us with the Spirit at Mass! Further, believing deeply that the Spirit is our guide and mentor will dramatically change our private prayer.

Second, we must spiritualize our Cursillo activities of palanca and prayer by performing them with the support of the Spirit. We should also understand that the Spirit through these activities unites us with Jesus who treasured prayer and sacrifice. It is our way of manifesting the Risen Christ within us.

Third, we must spiritualize the relationship between our prayer and our action. We can mechanically pray before an activity or we can pray first and act on what emerges from our prayer. That way we act out of the Spirit’s inspirations.

Missing God’s Invitations

We have noted that consolation can come from the Holy Spirit and also from the enemy who attempts to deceive us. There is a third source —ourselves. Examples are our natural joy of aesthetics, wonder, good company, or the exhilaration of doing our own thing. These non-spiritual consolations are not bad in themselves. They are naturally good. What is bad is when we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are experiencing spiritual consolation when we are not.

Note: for the joy and peace of consolation to be the work of the Holy Spirit, they must be integral parts of a faith experience. If faith isn’t the source of our consolation, we can deduce that our consolation is non-spiritual.

The really unfortunate fact about non-spiritual consolations is that they are missed invitations: they are spiritual consolations waiting to be discovered. And when we convert our non-spiritual consolations into spiritual ones, we don’t lessen our joy, we only magnify them. Why? Because they become gifts from a magnanimous Gift-giver.

Jules J.Toner, SJ, gives us a number of examples. Consider the opportunities we have to raise our minds and heart to God in faith as we look out into His creation. We can look upon God’s creation with just the natural joy of wonder. BUT only when we center our joy in God as Creator revealing Himself in creation or faith in God’s love for us as shown in His gifts, do we experience spiritual consolation—the work of the Spirit.

Take works with thoughts and feelings with a religious theme such as Handel’s Messiah. They can give us a purely aesthetic consolation. Yet, they could be invitations to awaken spiritual consolation. For example, the Messiah could be an invitation to celebrate our faith in Christ’s Resurrection and our own future resurrection.

Likewise, we can read Scripture in a scholarly way or even as great literature or as simply as a part of a ritual, but totally devoid of spiritual experience. Are we missing the Spirit’s invitation to greater faith, hope and charity? If we think of Scripture as being always a challenge, as always a call to metanoia, we can activate our faith in the Spirit’s presence and open ourselves to spiritual consolation.

Religious experiences should prepare us for spiritual consolation. However, Father Toner writes: “The joy or peace or contentment that comes in liturgy from moving words and music, from personal encounter with other persons who are participating—these 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.” We need to be aware of what is taking place within us. Then we need discernment. Is our joy coming from our faith? Or is it coming from natural exhilaration? We must ask ourselves: What can we do to activate our faith, our hope, our charity and thus convert our non-spiritual consolation into the work of the Spirit?

Our ultreyas are another example of a religious setting that should prepare us for spiritual consolation. We can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing something spiritual. The fact is that we can allow ourselves to get lost in the amenities of the experience—music, food, good company. It is only by activating our faith in Christ as being present in community and thus the source of Spirit-empowerment that we can convert our experience into a truly spiritual experience.

We may take joy in doing a work for God that we like doing, even if it wasn’t for God. Again, we can deceive ourselves that we are experiencing spiritual consolation. In reality, we may be finding joy in doing our own thing. We must see our talent as God’s gift in order to convert our joy into spiritual consolation.

Discerning True Consolation

Consolation is an experience of greater love of God, or an increase in faith, hope and charity, or peace. However, we must discern true from false consolation. Why? Because all consolation does not come from the Holy Spirit.

Spirit-generated Consolation. There is an uncommon form of consolation that is unquestionably from the Spirit. It is when our minds, imaginations and senses are not involved. It is an experience of pure gift. Example: a devout person, who in the middle of experiencing the desolation of rejection, experiences the Spirit’s consolation. The consolation did not come from the person’s mind, imagination or senses. Just the opposite of what we would have expected. Undoubtedly, the consolation of the Spirit.

Even in the case of Spirit-generated consolation, St. Ignatius warns us to distinguish cautiously the actual time of the consolation from the “afterglow”, a peace and joy which remains while our minds, imaginations and senses start to enter our experience. Our faculties make the afterglow a dangerous time. We may form resolutions or plans that have not been confirmed by the Spirit. Spiritual direction is needed.

Self-initiated Consolation. We are encouraged to use our minds, imaginations and senses to encounter God, and frequently we experience consolation. It may be a beautiful sunset, a favorite scripture passage or prayer, or a meditation on Christ’s life when we try to envision a Gospel scene. We may experience an increase in faith, hope or charity. However, St. Ignatius counsels us to discern the source of this consolation. Is it from the Spirit or is it from the enemy? Whenever our faculties are involved, there is a question.

Enemy’s Strategies. It is obvious that the Spirit uses consolation to further our growth, but why should the enemy give us peace and joy? When the enemy cannot block our spiritual growth by desolation, he uses the weapon of consolation. If we love to pray, the enemy will encourage this love to foster pride or to neglect our apostolic responsibilities. If we are committed to works of justice and charity, the enemy will foster that commitment to the point where we despise less motivated persons and where we look upon prayer as a mere luxury.

Discernment. How can we discern the Spirit’s action from that of the enemy? St. Ignatius says that we must examine the beginning, middle and end of our consolation. If all three are good, it is a sign that it is from the Spirit. If the enemy appears in any of the three, it is suspect. “Beginning” refers to the context: Am I in the right place at the right time for the right reasons? If the inspiration to pray takes us away from our obligations or results in others shouldering our share of the work, it is suspect.

“Middle” refers to what happens during the consolation experience: Are we led to vain or judgmental thoughts? To resenting or despising those less pious? To anxiously clinging to God and to reaching for immediate perfection?

“End” refers to what we are moved to do or to think as a result: Does it end in what weakens us or terminate in what is destructive or less good? The enemy may inspire fervor to generate unrealistic expectations that lead us to give up entirely.

Thomas H. Green, SJ says the enemy is deceitful, but he can prove to be one of our best teachers, a real instrument of our sanctification, if we make a point to review immediately the whole course of our consolation experiences and the enemy’s deceits. The surest sign of spiritual maturity is a healthy mistrust of our motivations.

Understanding desolation and consolation, and the discernment of spirits enable us to practice the Awareness Examen more effectively, and to live our spiritual life more deeply, more richly and more wisely.

Handling Desolation

The story of St. Ignatius is the story of a soldier who became a master of spirituality. Wounded in battle, he returned home to recover. Through spiritual reading he experienced a conversion. However, though now committed to God, he experienced alternating periods of highs (consolation) and lows (desolation). Gradually, Ignatius realized the difference between the spirits who moved him, the Spirit of God with consolation, and the spirit of the “enemy” with desolation.

We can interpret the term “enemy” as personifications of evil forces in ourselves and in the world, capable somehow to instigate interior motions, thoughts and affections, calculated to hinder the Spirit’s work in us. Ignatius had discovered that our feelings are essential to the discovery of God’s will, and our progress in the spiritual life.

St. Ignatius explained that there are three possible reasons why God permits the enemy to strike us with desolation. They are: (1) God withdraws his consolation because we have shown negligence in our practice of the spiritual life; (2) God wants to test (strengthen) us to see how much we will advance without his consolation; and (3) God wants to teach us that genuine consolation is pure gift, that we cannot manipulate or control it.

Further, St. Ignatius described the character and the tactics of the enemy: (1) The enemy is ruthless when we are timid, and cowardly when we are strong. He cannot overcome us by force; so he uses psychological warfare to tyrannize us or to outwit us; (2) The enemy will urge us to confide in no one, for fear that his obvious deceits will be easily recognized by a third party such as a spiritual director; and (3) The enemy studies our character and attacks us at our weakest point; self-knowledge is our best defense.

To fight the strategies of the enemy, St. Ignatius gave us some counter strategies

Strategy 1. The enemy will surely test and tempt beginners with desolation. Beginnings may not be only at the early stages of our life of prayer and commitment, but also when a person faces a major life change such as marriage or death of a loved one or a transforming weekend such as Cursillo. When the Spirit calls us to greater spiritual growth, we can expect a more intense conflict with the enemy who will attempt to deter us. Spiritual warfare is the name of the game. Counter Strategy: Be prepared!

 

Strategy 2. The enemy will tempt us by causing us to experience desolation—discouragement, anxiety, restlessness, fear or loss of peace. Counter Strategy: In time of desolation we should never make any change but remain firm in the resolution which guided us the day before the desolation. Father Thomas H. Green, SJ in his book “Weeds Among the Wheat”, says: “Most good people immediately infer that God is sending them a message when frustration and discouragement strike….Desolation is the work of the enemy, it is never a sign of God’s voice.”

Strategy 3. The enemy will fill us with self-pity and restlessness to cause us to experience desolation. Counter Strategy A: Do the opposite of what he suggests. We should intensify our activity against the desolation. For example, if the enemy makes us feel our prayer time is too long, we should extend it. Counter Strategy B: In desolation, we should consider how the Lord has left us to our natural powers, so that we may prove ourselves while resisting the enemy. We should recall that divine aid always remains with us, though we may not perceive it. Counter Strategy C: We should simply be patient and wait it out. Also, we should remind ourselves that consolation will soon return.

Lastly, when we are in consolation, we are advised to plan how we will behave when we experience desolation, and to humbly thank God for experiences of consolation.