Living in and Following the Spirit, 28th Wednesday (II), October 15, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila), Doctor of the Church
October 15, 2014
Gal 5:18-25, Ps 1, Lk 11:42-46

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we come to the end of our reading of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and he summarizes everything he’s been saying about the contrast between living thinking one is saved by the law and external deeds versus living to be saved by God through his grace received and responded to with faith in two totally divergent sets of effects. One he calls the “works of the flesh,” because this is what living focused on the “works of law” produces and is entirely the production of the individual; and the other is called the “fruit of the Spirit,” which like fruit is made requires the cooperation between the one who sows a seed (in this case, the Holy Spirit) and the one who receives it (in this case, us). The contrast couldn’t be greater. Often when we think of the “works of the flesh” we would think first of those living under the three fold concupiscence of the lust of the eyes (materialism), lust of the flesh (carnal sensuality) and the pride of life (a desire for control and dominion). But St. Paul makes clear in context that living according to the law, rather than according to the Legislator, can produce these same works of the flesh. He says that 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. He says that those who do such things “will not inherit the kingdom of God” not so much because they’ll be punished but because they won’t be interested in God’s kingdom because they’ve made other things their god.
  • Jesus pronounces a series of “woes” (indications of a cursed life) in the Gospel to those Scribes and Pharisees who, even though they thought they were living the way God wanted them to live were living ultimately according to the flesh. Unless they convert, he said, they’re doomed because while they pay tithes on the smallest of garden herbs they “pay no attention to judgment and to log for God.” They focus on the most conspicuous seats and the greetings of others, but are spiritually dead “like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” To use the words of today’s Psalm, they’re ultimately like the “chaff that the wind drives away.” They impose burdens on others hard to carry without lifting a finger to help them, the exact opposite of a Good Samaritan. We see the works of the flesh in the way they attacked Jesus and others he had come to save. We see their idolatry of the law. We witness their immorality, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of anger, acts of selfishness, and envy in the way they conspired to have Jesus framed and executed. We see their dissensions and factions in the discussions of the Sanhedrin, to which many of them belonged. On the outside they seemed to be doing the works of God, Jesus was saying, but on the inside they were just doing works of the flesh, refusing to enter the kingdom, and producing chaff and interior death.
  • St. Paul calls the Galatians and all of us Christians to another path. In the Psalm, it’s described as the way of the “Blessed man” who “delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night” not as a dry document or as an idol but as a means of growing in love with the Lord who gives us the law to train us to love God and others. Such a person, the Psalm says, is “like a tree planted near running water that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade.” That’s the person who plants himself in the Holy Spirit, “lives” in him, is “guided” by him,  and “follows” him. This cooperation with God’s grace in faith yields the type of fruit in every season that St. Paul describes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Those fruits don’t happen as a coincidence; they all flow from a union with God. If we’re aware of God the Holy Spirit working within us, how can we not experience greater love for God and for all those God loves? How we can not experience the joy that is the infallible sign of God’s presence within, a joy that lasts even in the midst of suffering and contradiction because how can anything compare with the happiness that flows from God’s presence? How can greater awareness and conscious following of God the Holy Spirit not increase our peace? How can it not help us with patience, for isn’t waiting for whatever we need to happen so much easier when we know we’re waiting consciously and prayerfully with God? How can the awareness of God within not make us more kind and gentle, seeking the other’s good together with the God who loves them and even correcting them out of love, knowing that the Holy Spirit will help us with the words? How can we not be more generous when the Holy Spirit has been generously poured into us as his temple? How can we not grow to trust God more in faith when he entrusts himself to us? How can it not help us with self-mastery over our lower appetites when the Holy Spirit strengthens — literally confirms — us within?
  • Hearing all of this, who among us wouldn’t choose life according to the Spirit? The question I really want to ask, though, is whether someone would honestly be able to predicate all of the various manifestations of that fruit of the Spirit to us. If our family members, friends, fellow parishioners and even strangers who took the time to observe us were to be asked to describe us, would the first words that came to their lips be that we live with and are models of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? I know to my great lament that God, and my guardian angel and even my mother couldn’t say all of these things about me, yet. To the extent that they can’t, that’s because we’re still living according to the flesh. We may, like the Scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel, be “very religious,” we may say our prayers, tithe and never break the letter of the commandments, but we still wouldn’t be living fully in the Spirit and following the guidance he gives us. Today is a day for which the Holy Spirit has been waiting a long time, a day on which we ask him for this grace, give him permission, and then “crucify [our] flesh with its passions and desires” as St. Paul says to allow the Holy Spirit to raise us from the dead.
  • The saint we celebrate today was one who truly gave the Holy Spirit a free hand in her life, in her discernment, in her prayer, and in her community, but it wasn’t as if she never suffered from life according to the flesh, even as a religious. Like many of us, she started off with great desires. When she was seven, she took great pleasure in the lives of the saints, making a little hermitage in her back yard where she could read and pray. One day her younger brother Rodrigo was in the back yard with her and they began to think about the happiness of the saints in heaven and got caught up in the thought of living “forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.” Rodrigo asked how they could get to heaven fastest, and Teresa replied that that would be through martyrdom, because the sufferings of the martyrs were nothing compared with the glory they received immediately upon death. Rodrigo asked how they could become martyrs and she said that they would need to go where the Muslims were in order to be killed by them for the faith. Rodrigo asked where the Muslims were and she told him in Morocco. And so off they went walking toward Morocco, forgetting — we can excuse 7 and 5 year olds! — the small geographical complication that there was the Mediterranean Sea between Spain and northern Africa! The got outside the city walls and as far as the ancient Roman Adaja Bridge when they were met by their Uncle Francisco coming back on his horse from hunting who asked them where they were headed. When informed they were heading to Africa to be martyred by the Moors, he told them he would give them a ride on his horse. After they hopped on, he took them back to their home! The episode shows, however, how strong young Teresa desired what the Holy Spirit wants, which is to help guide her all the way to heaven, how courageous she was from an early stage to be willing to suffer even earthly tortures — like the stories of the martyrs she read with her brother — for the eternal prize. That deep desire never left her, but over the course of time, it waned. She entered the Carmelite monastery when she was 20, but the house was in a spiritual malaise. Some nuns had suites of rooms, with servants and pets. Eventually she succumbed to it herself, spending vast amounts of time entertaining visitors and friends in the parlor, giving herself over to various compromises with worldliness and vanity. It was only two decades later, when she was about 40, that God reawakened her from her life according to the flesh, from her spiritual worldliness, from tolerating venial sins, trusting in herself, not valuing God’s grace, to a truly fervent life of the Holy Spirit. She gave herself over to God and allowed herself to be led to reform Carmelite life as a whole. The Holy Spirit revivified her desire for holiness, for happiness, for heaven and he guided her through all the stages necessary to give her a foretaste of heavenly union here on earth through prayer.
  • Perhaps the greatest way she was docile to the work of the Holy Spirit was in her prayer. She described the various stages on which the Holy Spirit led her and leads us as an Interior Castle with seven “mansions” (each containing many rooms) of prayer and the spiritual life which leads to it and flows from it. The first mansion begins in the state of grace, but involves a lot of fighting against sin, especially pride. People are pulled by the material world and a desire for possessions, honor and power. The second mansion happens when the person seeks to advance through the castle through daily prayer, thoughts of God, humble recognition of God’s work in the soul, sermons, edifying conversations, good company and other means. The third mansion happens when, moved by grace, the person has a love for God so great that the person has a total aversion to all sin including venial and a desire to do works of love for others for God’s glory. The person begins to have less self-reliance and become more dependent on God. The person has generally reached a high standard of virtue, self-discipline, penance and prudence. These are all stages that are meant to happen in everyone who follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ordinary Catholic life. The fourth stage is one of contemplative prayer, when the person no longer seeks to acquire or grow by one’s own efforts but allows God to lead, even in prayer. The person begins to attach lesser importance to the things of this world and far more to God. The person decreases and God increases and experiences many spiritual consolations, like the prayer of Quiet. It no longer shrinks from trials. The fifth mansion begins an experience of union of wills in which the person develops a complete trust in God’s will. There’s no longer a need to control events or lose much time over petty worries, something that opens the person to receive more and more gifts from God. It’s a spiritual betrothal and the faculties of the soul can often go “asleep” in prayer as the soul is completely possessed by God. The sixth mansion is when the person is torn away from outside afflictions and begins to experience not just a betrothal but a love between Lover and Beloved that lasts for long periods of time full of intimacy. It often involves some intense suffering (physical, spiritual, often misunderstanding from others and occasionally a sense of abandonment comparable to the pains of hell) in which through the Cross one’s union with God and longing for God grows. The person begins to become increasingly occupied in the things of God and can have difficulty in every day practical issues. In the seventh mansion, there is a spiritual marriage in which two candles become one, where there is complete transformation and profound peace, when inadvertent venial sins are still possible but there’s great fruitfulness in prayer and action. The person can now continue duties with no difficulty because there’s a union with God in doing them. The person is engaged fully in the service of God and others with great calm and self-forgetfulness. St. Teresa invited all her sisters through all of these stages of spiritual progress by opening themselves up to the grace of God. She considered it within the reach of everyone who allows the Holy Spirit to lead. She would encourage us to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit and let him lead us through the various rooms of each mansion according to God’s pace until, God-willing, we enter into the mansions where we, with her, will live and love God “forever and ever and ever.”
  • The first and greatest way we need to correspond to the Holy Spirit, to let him guide us, live in us so that we may follow him all the way to the Father’s house with many mansions (Jn 14) is here at Mass, where the Holy Spirit comes down to overshadow not just the priest and the altar to transform bread and wine entirely into God the Son in his body, blood, soul and divinity, but seeks to transform us into one body, one spirit of Christ. It’s here where we give him the permission to change us. It’s here where we encounter the source of our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and are spurred on to holiness. Let us renew the prayer with which we began this Mass and ask God the Father who “through your Spirit raised up St. Teresa of Jesus to show the Church the way to seek perfection” to grant that “we may always be nourished by the food of her heavenly teaching and fired with longing for true holiness,” the holiness that will lead us to enjoy her friendship forever in the eternal wedding celebration that culminates the spiritual marriage God intends with each of us.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 gal 5:18-25

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.

Responsorial Psalm ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6

R. (see Jn 8:12) Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.

Gospel lk 11:42-46

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”