Friday, September 24, 2004

Seeking security keeps us from the poverty and trust that open us to the union and spirit of Christmas - "Spiritual Development and the Gospel Narratives 3" by John Shea

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


As I relabel these blogs, we are approaching Advent and Christmas.... It's November 20, 2006. This particular entry is especially interesting in light of the kind of openness and trust we all understand and long for, sadly forget about most of the year, and joyfully remember again as we approach the mystery of Christmas - the festival surrounding the awesome coming to Earth of a God - the Son of God who came among us a a little child destined to grow up to be a man unlike any other, yet given to us as a gift to reveal to us precisely the kind of men and women we are called and destined to become..... Fr. Gilles All references are from the bibliography of the course Spiritual Development and Gospel Narratives, IPS 414 at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University of Chicago, drawn up for the students by Professor John Shea.

In his “Introduction” to The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers John Shea notes that the preoccupations of this culture “with physical need, social standing, and financial security” hinder the openness of the soul to the spiritual dimension of all of life. This is something pastors and preachers already know and struggle with, and we have much to learn from Jesus’ deliberate approach to the people and his ministry to them. We are in our turn to do all we can to allow the Gospels to capture their imagination; so that the Spirit can draw their minds - in awe of Jesus - towards conversion to Spirit, who lone can transform their hearts to receive and then to “release spirit into the world” in their daily lives.

Since I was first offered to go on sabbatical as a gift following on a very difficult assignment of these past ten years, I’ve been taken up by reflections on pastoring in the parish setting. There are so many challenges and expectations coming from bishops, people, and priests ourselves; that it’s difficult to navigate through them with a sense of doing all that is most important and essential to our calling. I have a sense that a lot has been written and said about priesthood, pastoring, and ministry in the parish, but have not found much to help make sense and put order in the priorities. After ordination, we send priests out and hope they will “find their way” through the variables of their own condition, personality, and skills, and of the condition and quality of the faith community in the parish. Because of changing demographics, we have all but lost the system of mentoring which allowed young priests time to learn from older and more experienced priests. In the increasing absence of priestly fraternity, they can suffer isolation.

A good friend who died 5 years ago was epileptic and used to refer with wry humor to the ways his psychologist pathologized his faith. Bob would’ve appreciated this article "A model of spirituality for psychotherapy and other fields of mind-body medicine," in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine (2001) 17, 90-107, by Ruth Cohn Bolletino even more than I do. Her treatment of “the new spirituality” which uncritically takes to itself any and all the latest "new age" or other fads loosely based on claims that a particlar practice or substance is spiritual, healthy or restorative describes the trend as the magical thinking it really is. I welcome her call to psychotherapy and psychiatry to incorporate the spiritual dimension as essential to the whole human person in practice, and value her thesis for its practical applications for ministry today in the Church.

All of life is deeply spiritual in terms of our origin, destiny, and by virtue of our being sustained in existence by God from moment to moment. Our situation as pastors and confessors is different from that of physicians, psychologists, and psychotherapists or counselors who have until now kept themselves "independent" from the spiritual dimension, in that our duty and the expectation of the faithful require that we help them connect with the Gospel and our faith tradition; so that they might then make an informed decision in the conduct of their lives.

It has been a long time since I’ve read anything like The Grand Option, by Beatrice Bruteau, and it brought me back to my college years, when I couldn’t get enough of Teilhard de Chardin, a French priest who was a hybrid theologian and anthropologist. As I read chapter 6, part of me felt like this is wishful, almost magical thinking; yet at another level, I was realizing this convergence thinking is so much in the culture that I’ve actually taken it in and do think that way myself. Bruteau contends that unless humanity enters deeply into the sense of wholeness demonstrated by Jesus, the conflicts and divisions in humanity could very well destroy everyone. Jesus did all He could to bring his listeners to realize that we are all literally connected as one living organism, and embrace the implications by living a life in a new solidarity with everyone else - even enemies.

I couldn’t help but think that the Muslim world is experiencing a convergence of its own, only it is not a full convergence, but in opposition to our western culture and society, which it generally perceives as sensual, decadent, even depraved, and in many ways, we can’t really argue with them. As Church people, our desire for convergence may have begun in earnest in a widespread, popular way, with Pope John XXIII, who was so loved by Jews, Protestant Christians, and people of other religions. Jesus brings us to a much wider belonging than we are accustomed to today or in any generation, which connects with this course’s perspective on Jesus’ call to unending repentance from the mind unenlightened by Spirit that ever seeks to narrow our outlook and action and control our motivation and behaviour.

In “Following Jesus into Faith” from The Journal of Christian Healing (Fall 1988), 21-28 by Beatrice Bruteau, Ph.D., a very bold article, one which does not in any way contradict anything I have come to know, understand, or believe about God, Revelation, and the faith journey. On the contrary, without referring to original sin, she puts in contemporary terms the truth that we are already in union with God, and therefore with others and all of creation. It follows we are only separated from God, others, and creation inasmuch as we have become isolated within selfish, sinful, or fearful preoccupations. The highest good for which we have been given life and are being sustained in life by the Creator and Source of all is this very union. Union is the primary motive of prayer, to let the Holy Spirit draw us ever more fully into perfect union, which ever bursts forth into life-giving action, which she calls manifestation.

Our capacity to actively participate in our union with God is obscured, hindered, damaged, or shut down by our sin, but also by various injuries we come to suffer, until we come to the Lord - often through the help of others and the sacraments - and He forgives, reconciles, and heals us. Because of original sin, our own sinfulness makes us think we are separate from God, like the prodigal son. Conversion is what Beatrice calls insight, and the free decision that follows not to accept this perspective, but to surrender it and embrace the gift of our revealed, gratuitous union with God. Repentance is living aware and grateful that our willingness to accept God’s self-bestowal moment by moment is itself grace, the work of the Spirit within us. Discipleship is “following Jesus into faith”, becoming one with his mind and heart, passing through Him as a door into the Father, the Source of All, and returning through Him, one with his action in the world. The prayer of insight daily lets go the misconception that we are separated from God and seeks to enter into the Center where Jesus and the Father are One, and we are one with them and each other, in the Spirit.

Disorder and disease, pain and fear keep us from holding fast to and deepening our union with God and acting out of it, entrapping us with false beliefs incompatible with the truth revealed by Jesus. Such beliefs may act as operating principles in the world, and they lock our mind in the ways of the world and away from divine wisdom. Beatrice contends that by leaving people in these misconceptions – which engender sin – we “retain” their sins, but if we refuse these false beliefs and send them back to people – thus demonstrating their untruth – we “remit” the sins that are engendered by them. People are then free from falsehood, free to let go of the sins until now generated by their false belief. They can accept the unconditional love of God – his gift of Self – that purifies them with the truth. Jesus brings them and us into his own knowledge of and faith in the Father’s love, where He restores our vision of God and of who we are in his eyes, and then leads us back into the world to see it, love and serve it as He does – with compassion and healing – living in God, never to be separated from Him.

We are held in existence by the ever-flowing Breath of the Father shaped by the Word of the Son, and in faith we correspond to the will of the Father by thinking the truth that comes from Him, seeing it as real around us, will that it actually be, and feel and relate to it as present, without wavering or doubting. I know this as true and it helps me understand more clearly what happened to me in the seminary in 1978. I was visiting the sick at a hospital, entered a room where an elderly man lay apparently dying, his wife and son standing as far from him as they could. Simply responding to inner impulse, I talked with them and slowly moved closer to the bed until I invited them to pray with me for the man. I invited them to lay hands on him with me, and prayed simply with faith and hope. They were grateful, and a few weeks later called me with great joy to invite me for dinner, as he had miraculously recovered and was now back home. I never fully understood what had happened until now. I was not aware of myself but attentive to the others and conscious of being one with the Lord. He was free to do what He wanted, and in this case it was to restore the man, for now, until his appointed time. Since then, I’ve certainly experienced what the author calls the doubting and doubling of the mind, and walking in uncertainty, especially when I'm less in touch with my union with God and more preoccupied about getting from God some particular outcome, such as healing for the sick person..

As Jesus was tempted, so are we, not just for 40 days, but throughout life, to believe the great deception, the great lie which has engendered all the disorder, fear, and sin in humanity. As the Spirit refashions our mind and we put on the mind of Christ, we live in all truth and it sets us free to actually live as children of God and to call others to this truth that there is nothing to fear, because we are spirit, and it can never be injured or killed. I am also flesh, which will suffer and die, but only to be raised up into immortality. What is lost will be restored a hundredfold. Baptism reclaims the mind for God and restores its sight to vision of God in the Spirit to enter in through Jesus to the path of life and walk in it our whole life long. This is the great healing. We are to so enter the mind of Christ that “we are ourselves in direct contact with the love that is God” and know the Father and his love even as Jesus does; no longer needing intermediary manifestations of his love for us.

This is what Jesus revealed when He became poor, and yet the Father still loved Him; cold and hungry, and yet the Father still loved Him; tempted and agonizing over the Father's will, and the Father still loved Him; persecuted and arrested, tortured and dying on the cross, alone, abandoned, and the Father still loved Him. Jesus breaks our misconceptions that when we suffer God has forgotten us or doesn't care. We are to walk on this path as disciples, apprentices under the mastery of Jesus, beginning now to practice doing all that He himself has done and given us to do. Accepting the reality that our spirit within is as formless as the Spirit who sustains us in being, we can be detached of all expectation or preference, and be open to become part of God’s self-manifestation – in sacramental and ordinary moments – drawing all people to Him.

Those who reduce the devil to the tangle of impulses within us that would prevent us from embracing conversion and being transformed deny the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Our inner struggles are very real, but they are not the full picture. I believe all that the Christian tradition professes and acknowledge the reality of the spirit entity referred to as Satan (the accuser) or devil (the one who pulls apart or destroys). Being fully human, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are – the apostles believed this too – and we are all tempted to self-sufficiency, pride, and appetite for privilege, power over others, and preoccupation with our own safety.

However, to make the case that Jesus was human, we don’t need to reduce him to the lowest common denominator of human - He wasn't just tempted at the level of the comfort of his flesh or psychological advantage, his social status, and influence. We believe as Christians that Jesus was primarily tempted to accomplish his very lofty mission with human means, relying on himself and his privileged position, rather than relying on his Father in complete trust. He overcame his temptations by accepting to be weak, like us, which is one reason why Jesus is himself the way we must walk; since we are most definitely weak. It is one reason why we are so encouraged and empowered by his temptations to walk after Him, with Him.

to be continued.....


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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