Tag Archives: Confirmation

Our actions will always harmonize with what’s inside us.

‘Spirit’ Confirmation Programme 2.

We’re asking you today to witness to the Spirit. Actually, that’s not right. You’ve chosen this, didn’t you? So you’re telling us that you’re going to witness to the Spirit.

'Spirit' Workshop No. 2. Candidates for Confirmation viewing video footage of how people witness to the Spirit.

‘Spirit’ Workshop No. 2. Candidates for Confirmation viewing video footage on an iPad of how people witness to the Spirit.

The visit of Annette McCarthy to the school on Friday together with the workshop this morning will have given you real examples of witnessing to the Spirit.

Here’s another way that you might witness. Sometimes as people get older they can become invisible. People don’t see them any more. So, here’s what I want you to do. You can make older people visible – all through your life – by just smiling and saying ‘hello’.

Still, I do not want you to get the idea that witnessing to the Spirit is just about being a ‘good’ person or a ‘nice’ person. Sometimes even our goodness is a witness to ourselves rather than God, my spirit rather than God’s Spirit, and merely carries the mask of witnessing to God. This – reducing Christianity to being a ‘nice’ person – is something we’ve been doing within Catholicism for most of my lifetime, and it’s directly related to the slow decline of Catholicism.

Catholicism is first and foremost a well-trodden path to a real and ongoing encounter with God. This ongoing encounter with God is what gives our lives joyful and lasting security. This is basic Jesus-speak! He never tires of telling us things like “…a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns even when he has more than he needs” and “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” (Luke 12:15, 12:20)

There’s a desperate human need portrayed in today’s First Reading (Job 7:1-4,6-7), the kind that must surely precede suicide. There’s similar human need portrayed in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39) but in the Gospel the need encounters Jesus Christ and is transformed. I heard an elderly man say recently – a man who’d lost both his wife and his son – “Life? It’s nothing in the end!” He’s right. Without Jesus Christ, it comes down to nothing in the end. It’s the encounter with God that causes us to witness. Witness is not a dry demand!

This encounter with God is not imaginary. Its development is marked by clearly defined stages, every bend on the road to God, every junction, every cul-de-sac, every obstacle, and every contour is documented. Catholicism is first and foremost a ‘how to’ manual, how to encounter God, and for the purists it’s an experiential ‘how to’ manual produced by God. So, before you walk away from Catholicism, read the life of at least one saint. It’s an interesting question to ask those who’ve already abandoned Catholicism: Did you read the life of at least one saint before walking away?

So, I do not want to be asking you to witness to a Spirit that you do not know. That’s to do violence to you. We can only witness to God’s Spirit to the degree that he’s present within us.

When we try to witness to Gods Spirit when he’s not inside us – when he’s not a real living force in our lives or when he’s diminished to the bare minimum for human life – we get fed up, bored, we fall away, and worse, we may even resent this imposition. Religion without the Holy Spirit quickly becomes a burden and even tyranny!

Sooner rather than later, our actions will always harmonize with what’s inside us.

I’ll give you an example using one of the gifts of the Spirit: Piety, or as you’d call it; Reverence.

pope-francis_2541160kPiety (Reverence) is a gift of the Holy Spirit which means that it doesn’t belong naturally to human nature. It’s as it says on the tin – a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s an instinctive-like affection for God that makes us desire to worship him. Pope Francis described it as indicating “our belonging to God and our profound bond with him, a bond that brings meaning to our lives.” He said this bond is not “a duty or an imposition” but “a living relationship with the heart… our friendship with God, given by Jesus.” (Catholic World News, June 04, 2014). Where it is present religion is never boring, where it’s absent everything about religion is boring!

So, the gift of Piety (Reverence) alone, or its absence, can explain so much about our behaviour around religion, about how we witness, or don’t witness!

 

Fifth Sunday, B.

Satan is forced out of hiding by spiritual growth! Fourth Sunday, Year B.

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, "More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, "Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael"; also, "Father Pio don't steal the bodies from us and we won't bother you."

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, “More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, “Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael”; also, “Father Pio don’t steal the bodies from us and we won’t bother you.”

This weekend we begin the Confirmation ‘Spirit’ Programme. We’re beginning with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the gifts is to make us holy, like God. They’re the means by which God draws us into his own life, the Divine life.

Some of us will know them, particularly those of us of a certain age – we were taught them ‘by heart’ as we used to say. My mother can still list them – at 83 years. We’ll look at just two, briefly, the first two, Wisdom and Understanding.

Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it does not belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in everything from health to wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.

Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, they always lack conviction.

Now, the thing about the Gifts of the Spirit is that they can be difficult to understand. If you go looking for an explanation you’ll find multiple explanations, nearly all different, or at least they appear to be different.

Here’s the reason. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit. Therefore they’re supernatural. They’re not naturally part of human nature. We’ve almost lost this sense. This is the root of the difficulty with explanations. The gifts are known only by experience and cannot be really known outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth. So our understanding of the gifts tends to reflect the point where we stand on the scale of spiritual growth. That’s the reason we get so many different explanations.

Overall, in my lifetime, there’s been a tendency to reduce the gifts to the purely natural. I think this reflects the decline of Catholicism generally.

"The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind." Padre Pio

“The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind.” Padre Pio

Now, similarly – and this is the point I want to make about today‘s Gospel (Mark 12:21-28) – spiritual evil, both satan and unclean (evil) spirits, cannot be understood outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth.

The essence of the spiritual life is the death of self. This is the reason true religion will never be popular. The death of self is the last thing we want to hear and we ‘naturally’ fight it all the way, sometimes spending a fortune trying to avoid it! As John the Baptist said; “I must decrease and he must increase” (John 3:30). Here’s the point: Only when we’ve spiritually advanced to the point where we’ve truly died to self and started living for God alone, only then will we come face to face with spiritual evil. Only then will satan and the unclean spirits manifest themselves directly to us and become a part of our experience. It is spiritual maturity – a full complement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – that forces satan out of the shadows, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Satan was always there, hidden, unseen, but now holiness forces him out. If only Jesus could get the same recognition from us!

So, we’ve looked briefly at both ‘extremes’ if you like, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit on the one hand, and satan and the unclean spirits on the other, and we’ve seen that our understanding and knowledge of both is determined by where we stand on the scale of spiritual development.