Inhale

“Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also everyone for those of others.” -Philippians 2:1-4

I’ve been doing a study on the four female Doctors of the Church with a couple friends, and it has been wrecking me. Last week, we reflected on St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was a pharmacist, mystic, abbess, poet, theologian, and composer (so she was basically amazing at everything), and she wrote several books and over 300 letters.

St. Hildegard often struggled with self-doubt, but as she grew in allowing herself to receive Christ’s love into the deepest depths of her being, her voice was freed and the doors of her heart flew open to letting the Holy Spirit work through her in powerful ways.

Today’s first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians talks about participating in the Spirit. A few years ago, a friend of mine asked: “What would happen if we prayed for the same response to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles had at Pentecost?” My initial reaction was one of fear. “What kind of crazy things would God call me to?” I thought. How often fear prevents us from saying yes to the greatness the Holy Spirit wills to do in and through us.

This one mind, heart, love, and thinking that St. Paul is talking about is all wrapped up and rooted in the Holy Spirit. He is our healer, comfort, strength, and guide. We all have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to bring life and transformation to others through our words and actions. Let’s not squander that gift.

Will we have the courage to respond? In order to lead others to Christ, we must first look inward and do a heart-check on ourselves. Last week at a retreat for my youth ministry teens, the speaker said, “God wants to breathe new life into us, but we have to inhale.” And not only that, but once we let the Holy Spirit fill our beings, we have to exhale His fruits for others, and never stop breathing in.

What gifts has God given you that the Holy Spirit is calling you to use? What is one way you can be obedient to the Holy Spirit and exercise those gifts today? It may be as simple as texting a friend that God puts on your heart to let them know you’re thinking of them. It may be having the courage to have a difficult yet needed conversation. Maybe God is calling you to serve Him in a new way.

God has given each of us a light that no one else in the world will ever be able to give. You are an integral part of building up God’s Kingdom, whether you feel like it or not. Do not give into the temptation that someone else will do it, that you are not good enough, or that He may ask too much of you. Why are we often so afraid to shine?

“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light.” -St. Hildegard of Bingen

Living in the Spirit, Following the Spirit

Brothers and sisters:
If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.
—Galatians 5:18-25

Do you ever catch yourself reading a Scripture verse and thinking, “Okay that seems obvious”? Or maybe a better way to phrase the phenomenon is glazing over a verse here or there because it just seems too…straightforward? Easy to digest? Unremarkable?\

Sure, you do. We all do, we all know the feeling. It’s happens all the time when our minds wander, and sometimes even when you’re pretty well focused. That happened to me with today’s first reading.

Luckily, I caught myself this time. Do I really think St. Paul was redundant? Should I really write him off as an over-communicator? Of course not.

So I went back to the last verse of the reading: If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Straightforward, no? Yet what happens if we break this verse down grammatically? If I believe and profess that the Bible is the written Word of God, then every sentence, and possibly every word, should get this treatment. There are so many “levels” on which you can read Scripture, and God can speak to you through all of them! Read a chapter for the story, or meditate on a single sentence or passage a la lectio divina; the Spirit speaks either way.

So. Back to today’s verse: If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.

Why wouldn’t somebody be doing both? Why does it need to be stated?

As Catholics, what does it look like to live in the Spirit? The most obvious response is being a regular participant/recipient of the Sacraments. Jesus instituted the Sacraments as vehicles of grace, aka the gifts of the Spirit. Regular Mass-goers, you can check this one off: you, in a technical sense, could be considered to be living in the Spirit (if you go to Confession, and if you are not in a state of sin; big ifs)

If we’re living in the Spirit, it does not mean that we are necessarily following the Spirit. Participating and receiving do not mean that we are listening. If we are to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, do we need to receive the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. Is that enough by itself? Not at all.

“Following the Spirit” can have two related meanings: discerning God’s will in your life (i.e. following as a guide) and acting in accordance with His law (i.e. following as a rule). How often do we participate, but do not seek time in prayer for the Spirit to speak on a personal life decision? How often do we pray before a difficult conversation? A meeting at work?

These two elements, living in the Spirit and following the Spirit, are symbiotic and necessary. The grace of the Sacraments will flow into and inform our prayer and actions, and our prayer and actions inspire a greater desire for the Sacraments.

In addition to seeking out ways you can more deeply live in and follow the Spirit in your life, I ask that you say a special prayer for those who attend Mass regularly, but God does not have a central place in their lives otherwise. Pray that the Spirit would enkindle in them a new fire of love for Christ.

 

Fruit of the Vine

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

—Matthew 9:9–13

In the Confirmation class I taught, we covered the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit. During a review game, my class of seventh-grade boys was split into teams, and one team was asked to name a few Fruits of the Holy Spirit. After a few blank stares where it became clear they had no recollection whatsoever of our lesson discussing these Fruits, one smart-alecky student replied, “Apples, oranges, blueberries…” His partner soon chimed in with “Strawberries, mangoes, bananas…” I rolled my eyes and asked if they had a real answer. When the first student said no, I started listing off the actual Fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience…—only to be interrupted by the second student. “Wait a minute,” he said, “those aren’t fruits!”

So, in case you were not aware: no, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are not literal fruits. The Holy Spirit does not, to my knowledge, operate a juice bar. But why is it that we refer to them as Fruits in the first place? In today’s first reading, St. Paul’s description of our relationship with the Holy Spirit gives us more insight into the metaphors of Fruits and Gifts.

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace…
But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ.

—Ephesians 4:1–3, 7, 11–12

Paul tells us that as Christians, we are all called by God to live uprightly, actively cooperating with the Spirit and developing virtue. But he also speaks of graces that were given to us freely, without merit on our part; these graces vary based on the needs of the Body of Christ. In order to develop the virtues he describes, we must receive these graces with open arms and allow them to take root within us.

If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are the nutrients that flow into us through Christ, giving us life and enabling us to grow. If we are connected to this nourishing Spirit, it will naturally follow that we will bear fruit. The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are evidence that God is working within us; they are the external virtues that flourish when we cooperate with God’s grace.

If we are truly living in the Spirit, the Fruits will manifest themselves in our lives. Unlike the Pharisees, who followed the law and yet lived in ways that were critical, impatient, harsh, and self-serving, we can become truly gentle, peaceful, and loving by softening our hearts and being open to receiving God’s grace. Just as He did with St. Matthew, He calls to us and asks us to follow Him; He seeks to heal us from our infirmities and pour His grace into us, that we might be grafted back onto the Vine and bear fruit. May we allow Him to reconnect us to the Source of all grace, that our souls might bloom ever stronger.

Earthly Disconnection, Wounds

“Gross is the heart of this people,

they will hardly hear with their ears,

they have closed their eyes,

lest they see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts and be converted

and I heal them.”

—From today’s Gospel

 

“Two evils have my people done:

they have forsaken me, the source of living waters;

They have dug themselves cisterns,

broken cisterns, that hold no water.”

—From today’s first reading

 

Dear fellow pilgrims, 

Today’s readings connect the misuse of a few things fundamental to human survival (water, the senses) with spiritual rebellion, laxity, or inattention.  God is the source of living water, a spring, a natural source, so fundamental to human survival and all life, and yet, humans do not trust this source and have dug cisterns (or an underground container) for storing rain water for themselves.  God is also the source of Truth and Reality, and yet, so often, the five senses  given to us by our Creator betray their purpose, which is to connect our consciousness with the reality occurring around us.  

Which is to say that all to often, we pick and choose what we want to see and hear, and thus, believe, because something within us rejects God as Reality and Truth. 

We also think we can find our own sustenance, appease our own various thirsts, our own lacks, without tapping into the living water, the eternal refreshment of the Holy Spirit. (Cue the cliche phrase: “Lookin’ for looove in allll the wrong places…”) All too often, there is a disconnect between the human needs God has allowed in us and the fullest means of addressing them. Spoken plainly… the people described here think they can meet their own needs; they don’t think they need God. 

Yesterday, Aidan talked about this theme of “earthen vessels,” how awesome it is that we who are made of dust were chosen to be purified in holiness the very Spirit of God, the Creator. Today, the readings seem to show the “dark side” of this truth: our given state is not divine, we must be purified out of earthly rebellion and into divine receptivity and attention. 

Our first reading today is an excerpt from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, expounding upon how the Jewish people were once completely in love with God and trusted Him in the desert, but then lost that trust when they were brought into the abundance of the promised land. Their needs that were being met by God in the desert so clearly were now being met by warped notions of “god” (the pagan gods of Baal, native to Canaan, the promised land for the Jewish people).  How often have you felt this shift in your own life?  I can recall vividly many difficult times when I was really close to the Lord for different seasons, and then feel myself slip away from Him when that season began to shift into what seemed to be “verdant pastures of repose.”  

Part of this disconnect between seasons of what is characterized by apparent difficulties and then abundance happens BECAUSE we revert back to trusting immediately what we see and hear in front of our faces. We have lost that inner knowledge, that lens of God’s reality, true reality, because our senses are given relief from that time thirsting for water in the desert. 

So how do we change, if this is where we find ourselves: Seeing, but not really seeing what God wants you to see. Hearing, but not really hearing what God wants you to hear. Drinking water to quench your immediate thirsts (i.e. for human connection, physical bliss, admiration from others) but not drinking living water that truly quenches your deep, inner thirsts. Jesus tells us: we must be converted by understanding these sights and sounds with our hearts, and this conversion involves healing. It involves healing because these modes of sensing are not only warped, they are wounded. Jesus is the divine physician, not the divine finger-pointer. He wants to heal the way we see, hear, quench our long list of human thirsts. 

Allow the Lord to speak to your heart tonight (or today). Pray in the silence of your heart: 

Jesus, please show me the thirsts in my heart that I try to satisfy by myself, without the thought of You entering my mind. Show me what wound is reflected by my thirst, what don’t I believe about your power to ultimately satisfy me? 

Jesus, please show me how I am seeing or listening to this world without stopping to consider Your Reality shining through it. Please show me how my understanding of myself and the world is broken and wounded. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
—Matthew 16:16–18

Considering the fact that they often disagreed in life, it’s funny that Peter and Paul now share a feast day. However, despite their differing personalities, their stories have much in common. Both Peter and Paul were beacons of the early Church, instrumental in evangelization and leadership. Both gave their lives as martyrs, sowing the seed of the Church. And both underwent radical conversions after personal encounters with Christ.

Peter’s story in the Gospels is one of constantly trying, failing, and persevering. He is somewhat of a hapless apostle, trying to please Jesus but constantly making mistakes in the process. His sincere love for Jesus is fully apparent, alongside his flawed humanity, and through this combination he models for us how to fall upon the great mercy of God. If someone like Peter can not only be forgiven for his denial and betrayal of Jesus but also be named the first pope—well, then there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

Roman_School,_circa_1620_Saints_Peter_and_PaulPaul has perhaps the most famous conversion story of all time, the dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. He too is a prime example of a flawed saint; before Jesus dramatically intervened, Paul was literally murdering Christians. Not a typical path to holiness. But Jesus took even that unlikely path and redirected it toward sainthood. Paul always recognized that it was only through God’s grace that he was able to carry out his good works; he had no illusions of his own inherent goodness.

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith…
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
—2 Timothy 4:6–7, 17

St._Paul_Visiting_St._Peter_in_PrisonPaul poured himself out until he was empty, an open vessel in which Christ could dwell. It was then that God’s grace worked in him most fully, supplying him with a transcendent strength to persevere in his mission. The words Jesus once spoke to Peter apply to Paul, too: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter and Paul both found their strength in weakness, by being receptive to divine revelation, allowing God to take control. Peter was particularly changed after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—before that moment, he was cowering in the upper room, but upon receiving those graces, he immediately stepped out in courage.

There is a lesser known story in which Jesus meets Peter out on the road and redirects his path. Instead of the road to Damascus, it is the road from Rome:

A legend has Peter walking along a road outside of Rome, fleeing arrest and certain death, when he comes to a crossroads: where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina.

There he meets our risen Lord.

“Quo vadis?” Peter asks, to which Jesus replies:

“Romam vado iterum crucifigi.” I am going to Rome to be crucified again….

The end of the story, of course, is the end of Peter. He turns around and heads back towards Vatican Hill. This is the last time he would need to be redirected by Jesus.

Brad Miner

1601-2

Imagine Peter at that crossroads. It would not be the first time he’d found himself in that position—his abiding love for Jesus pinned against his all-encompassing terror of suffering and death. Here was a second chance to choose faith over fear. Perhaps this time, Peter would recall the words he once spoke to Jesus: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”

Just as Peter and Paul persevered despite their flaws and sins and mistakes, may we too find the courage to get up when we fall and keep moving forward. May we recognize that it is far better to stumble along the right road than to speed down the wrong one—for even if the wrong one is smoother and easier, it won’t take us where we need to go, and there is only one Way that leads to everlasting life.


1. Anonymous (Roman school), Saints Peter and Paul / PD-US
2. Filippino Lippi, St. Paul Visits St. Peter in Prison / PD-US
3. Annibale Caracci, Domine, quo vadis? / PD-US

The Word of God Is Not Chained

2 TM 2:8-15

“Beloved:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David:
such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering,
even to the point of chains, like a criminal.

But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,
together with eternal glory.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

As I read this first reading from St. Paul, the imagery and meaning of “chains” stood out to me. Prison cells just shortly after Jesus’ time could not have been very conducive to writing a major religious work, but these were the conditions under which the Holy Spirit was thriving in prophesying and teaching through St. Paul. Here was a man who had made a living killing Christians who was about to be martyred for that same faith. He saw his conditions, his chains, but he also saw the deeper truth of the unchained Spirit working in and through him. For he had seen the chains of his own heart destroyed by the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit in the extreme conversion of heart he experienced; he knew the power of God keenly.

And this is why he distinguishes the power of the Spirit working inwardly from his current outward state: we should never doubt that God works wonders even when it seems all external constraints have taken hold on our lives. “The word of God is not chained!” That is a cry to yell into the evil one’s face when he is making you feel like you’re “nowhere near where you thought you would be in life by this point,” or if you really can’t figure out why God would allow this much suffering in your life…we are all “in chains” that constrain us or even hurt and confine what we want our life should be. We might be “in chains,” but the source of all strength and courage and purifying grace and mercy is never limited to our condition, rather, He liberates us from our conditions to a higher consciousness of prayer and awareness.

Where in life do you feel stuck? Do you feel like God is working there, or do you feel like He has left you?

Speak into these parts of our lives. Claim your chains so you can claim the Spirit’s freedom to work within you given the circumstances. These chains are the environment where God is trying to reach you, and there may be reasons that will ultimately benefit you why you are remaining in such a state.

Pray for clarity, wisdom, and humility, to know our limits of our state of life and vocation, and for a greater outpouring of His Spirit upon our lives.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Stirred into flame

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
– 2 Timothy 1:6-8

Today’s first reading is the basis for an incredibly formative moment in my faith journey, a college retreat called Fan Into Flame. Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO), my campus Catholic community, would host this retreat for relatively new members of their ministry. It was intense, charismatic, and went deep quickly. It would be easy to think that the whole retreat might be a bit “heavy” for the college students who were still feeling out their identity and path in life, so why does SPO start with this retreat? The Scripture above gives the “why”: the laying on of hands is a direct reflection and prayer for an imposition of the Holy Spirit upon the students’ lives.

Through the sacraments and intercessory prayer, we have received the Spirit. Through Christ, we are temples of the Spirit. The Spirit is the mobilizing force of God, His Presence and Advocate in our soul. When we pray for a renewed outpouring, perhaps a “baptism in the Spirit“, we give the Holy Spirit permission to move in new ways. We cry out for manifestations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, not for drama’s sake, but for the good of the Church, to strengthen ministry. We ask the Lord for power, love, and self-control.

When was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit? I encourage you to pray today for an unlocking of the Spirit you have received, that you would be stirred into flame. Even better, pray with someone else, as St. Paul would have done (he knew a thing or two about the Spirit).

Then go forth in confidence, power, love, self-control, and with the strength that comes from God.