Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Difference Does it Make?

Two days ago I posted about the action of the Spirit in the resurrection of Christ and of our own lives. Reader and regular commenter Patricio asked questions in that com-box that seemed to me to be beyond the scope of what I could answer in that short format, and that were big and important enough to not simply be passed over. Here is his comment:
Is the Spirit brushing the cheek of all persons and participating in all good? Is the Spirit involved in the good actions of the secular person? Is the non believer unknowingly and perhaps unwillingly an instrument of the Spirit when repenting, loving or doing good? Is Christian life different?
It does seem there is no identifiable difference between most Eucharistic recipients and other Christians. The Sacrament of Confirmation is often the door through which young people leave an active Catholic faith. Where is the Spirit? How does a person of faith come to a oneness with the Spirit? Do we simply trust the Spirit is present in our lives or can a person of faith look for some identifiable life change to result as happened in the hearts of the Apostles? Looking forward to your comments. 
Now there's an awful lot going on in this series of questions, eh? Theological depths and heights, truth be told, some of which take us into the deepest heart of the mystery of Christ and humanity. But let's see if I can break it down a bit.

Is the Spirit brushing the cheek of all persons and participating in all good? Is the Spirit involved in the good actions of a secular person? Is the non-believer unknowingly and perhaps unwillingly an instrument of the Spirit when repenting, loving or doing good? Yes, yes, and yes... with one proviso. This really flows from the orthodox Christian doctrine of creation. God is both utterly transcendent and other than his creature, and intimately present and loving towards every particle of his creation.

Every creature--even inanimate ones--insofar as they 'pursue' the good of their being are implicitly ordered towards God who is the ultimate form, if you will, of all goodness. Persons, in essence made to freely know and choose the true and the good, experience this presence and intimate action of God in a personal way, the 'brushing of the cheek.' A human being genuinely choosing what is good to the best of his or her knowledge of it is moving under the aegis of the Holy Spirit and with His help, whether they know it or not. But not 'unwillingly' - that's the one proviso. Unknowingly, as God in his divine charity and humility does not wait for us to have our intellectual act together before He will help us, but implicitly one who freely chooses to love, to seek truth, to choose others over oneself--all of this is an implicit choice for Christ and for God, and is a choice freely made with the help and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Is Christian life different? Now that's where we get into true heights and depths of theology. Yes, Christian life is profoundly different. The Spirit is moving in the hearts and minds and souls of every human being, true. In our created order we are made to know the truth and do the good, and God's whole action towards each person is to move them in that direction, as much as he or she will cooperate.

But Christian Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist initiate us, not into merely a better and more successful pursuit of 'the true, the good', but into being sharers of the life of God. On Sunday we will hear the great commandment of Christ proclaimed at Mass: Love one another as I have loved you. Not, 'as you love yourself', which is still on the human level, loving in a human way, but to love as God loves. This is the elevation of our humanity to the divine plane. This is salvation and eternal life, and is what God desires for each human being, but it only comes through incorporation into Christ, and in that incorporation, into the life of the Church. In these sacraments of initiation our entire interior being is configured into that of Christ, into being a direct graced sharer of the life of the Trinity.

Where is the Spirit? Patricio points out the dreadful fact that very little indeed of what I have just written here is visible in the life of the average Catholic/Christian sitting in the pew and receiving the body and blood of Jesus each Sunday. This is a dreadful, lamentable, tragic fact indeed. Of course we all know the usual suspects, the usual explanations. God gave us free will; God does not force our participation in all this; the sacramental acts of the Spirit are only fruitful if we freely dispose ourselves to it. Yes, yes, and yes.

But I believe there is also a terrible failure in our catechesis and formation of Catholics from infancy to know who they are and to know what they are called to. Human sin is always a reality, and life in the Spirit is always a battle to be fought to the end of our earthly lives. 'Give blood - receive the Spirit!' is one of the great axioms of the desert fathers of the early Church. Do we teach our children, our teens, our young adults that they have to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil if they are to love as Christ loves? I wasn't taught that, and it has taken me many years in the best possible spiritual environment with the best teachers possible (Madonna House, in case you're interested) to learn this.

We do not equip people for the battle, and then we are surprised when they are mediocre, compromised, lackluster in their performance. There is a deep need for renewal and reform in the Church in the matter of Christian education and formation in discipleship, at least in the North American church which is all I have direct experience of.

This blog post is getting long enough. Patricio goes on to ask how we are to receive the transforming gift of the Spirit, and is it supposed to make a difference in our lives (I paraphrase here). The masters of the spiritual life have always taught that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (Lent redux!) are the basic spiritual exercises of the serious Christian disciple, and are what dispose us to the Spirit's divinizing work. The question of the difference in our lives is a bit tricky. People tend to think the spiritual person should walk around in some kind of mystical haze or permanent emotional high. This is incorrect.

But it does make a difference, and the difference it makes should be 'freedom to love, freedom to serve, freedom from any and all encumbrances that impede living the great commandment of Christ.' And with that, I need to go love and serve my MH family in the kitchen right now (I'm on breakfast duty this week!), so I'll sign off for today.     


  1. Father Denis and Patricio,
    Maybe, I am mistaken,,,but it seems like the questions are really old ones- why is religion important? Does Christ make a difference? If so what is it?

    Big questions...I jsut have a couple small thoughts..
    I agree with anon- The problem is more than a growing number of non believers and athersists. It is also a problem of believers who have substituted cultural illusions and cheap grace for authentic discipleship, Counter culturalists and modernists alike...

    As I see it it really is not about choosing faith over science, or old culture or new culture... It is about recognizing the ground of our being. That in the deepest part of ourselves, inside that sometimes dark hole, there is something good and something holy.

    Even the non-Christians would agree with that. Perhaops even the athesists. They exist in God- just as Christians do- as Fr Denis wrote this morning. They just call it something else- if they call it anything at all.

    Life is a process of learning to listen to discover that goodness deep inside ourselves. We can really only choose Christ by learning to recognize ourselves and the world as they really are- as we encounter it in the simple plane of our own freedom- and the gifts of our heart and mind.

    Foolish, maybe, definitely scary sometimes...but this inside out way...maybe it does not lead to clearer understanding of religion and God- but it does lead to a deeper trust, a more clean love- a way to present out hearts.

    I do not know if how I have offered my heart as a Christian has made a difference. I am not really looking at the difference, I am trying to look at Jesus. It is when I look at the process too much that I get all messed up. Please pray for me.

    1. That's very good, and very well put, Catherine. Yes, when we look at the process too much, it really does mess us up - too many idols, too many distractions. The key is to continually look at Jesus, and pray our little guts out that our lives do indeed flow from him and to him and somehow, some way, show forth His radiance in the dark world.

  2. Thanks one and all for your words. Cahterine your opening sentences grasp the main point. I believe when I can tell my story as to the difference Christ makes in my life I can move beyond teaching/belief to witness to the gifts and fruits of the Spirit at work in my life. This morning while biking with a secular friend he talked about his costly trips to the doctor with his dog and I was able to speak about the time when my children were little when we laid hands on and prayed for our very sick (seemed to be dying puppy) lying in a cardbord box and about 30 minutes later he jumped out of the box and was fine. This has helped to sustain our family as believers in prayer and potentially got my friend thinking. My quiver is full and I have my eye on him.
    Expectation is essential. If you do not expect him you will likely not recognize him. Every time we take the road less traveled he is there as was the father to the prodigal son with more than we can ask for or imagine and our heart is filled with heavenly joy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.