The Marriage and Family Life Office works to promote healthy, happy, and holy family life. We support parishes in the areas of marriage preparation, marriage enrichment; natural family planning; grief support for all ages; troubled marriage support and more. The office also assists lay Catholic organizations and apostolates in their work related to families and parishes. This is a member office of the Office of the Domestic Church and Discipleship.
Blog: Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Deacon Scott McKellar
This Sunday’s reading from Luke’s Gospel is a very familiar story. Ten lepers approach Jesus and are healed, yet only one returns to give thanks. We can easily see the themes of healing, faith and gratitude, but there are other aspects to this story, which touch on all of our hearts. Lepers are not the only ones suffering from rejection, loneliness and feelings of unworthiness. Have these feeling ever touched you?
Leprosy in the Bible covered a wide variety of skin conditions, but none of them is what we mean by this disease today. While we do not know what kind of skin conditions these men had, we do know that, according to Jewish law, they were required to isolate themselves from normal society.
The social isolation and their subsequent rejection as “unclean” would have been more painful than the disease itself.
The rate of cure from these skin diseases was very low, in fact, first-century rabbis thought that the cure of a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead. If a leper recovered, they could only be restored to normal society after the priest examined them and after they had offered the prescribed sacrifice for purification (Leviticus 13–14).
Clearly, Jesus’ miraculous healings came to the attention of these ten men, and the promise of this good news brought them out of isolation. While they desired healing, they needed to have considerable courage to overcome the rejection they would have felt in their community. The lepers “stood at a distance” (Luke 11:12) and “raised their voice” to Jesus (17:13) so that they could keep respectful distance.
A disease caused the plight of these lepers, but their emotional circumstances parallel many people in our world today. Modern researchers have demonstrated that each one of us is hardwired neurologically for connection with others. A sense of secure connection with others is one of our highest needs.
Many people suffer from the fear of being disconnected from others. They often secretly fear that there is something about them, which if revealed to others, would cause other people to reject them because they would not be worthy of connection. The name we give to this fear of disconnection is shame.
The truth is that each one of us has from time to time experienced the feeling that “I’m not good enough.” The “good” which we are measuring with these feelings can vary widely. Some common themes might be the thought that I am not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, successful enough, promoted or appreciated enough. As a result, we often secretly fear that we are unworthy of connection with others.
Researchers tell us that shame is pretty much universal. Shame seems to play a digital track in our mind that says, “I’m never good enough” or if we get past this, “who do you think you are?” A leading relationship researcher, Brené Brown points out, that no one wants to talk about shame, and the less you talk about it, the more shame holds you in its grip.
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that we have transgressed some moral norm by our actions. I did something that I regret or that was bad. Guilt can be a healthy emotion that helps us to readjust our actions and lead us to grow. Shame simply says, “I am bad.” It is focused on self rather than behavior. Like the lepers in this Gospel, we can feel shame without actually having done anything wrong. Shame does not lead to spiritual growth.
Why do some people experience paralyzing shame while others seem to overcome these emotions?
The ten lepers illustrate the solution. The lepers feel rejected by their community because they believe their disease makes them unworthy of connection. The nearness of Jesus causes the lepers to choose come out of hiding and to allow themselves to be seen in all in their weakness.
The name for this courageous act of allowing oneself to be seen is vulnerability. Many people assume that vulnerability makes you weak. It actually takes a great deal of courage and authenticity to be vulnerable with others.
Modern researchers have demonstrated that we are all capable of vulnerability, and that vulnerability is the key catalyst to forming secure human connections. Shame can only grow and thrive in secrecy and darkness. Vulnerably releases us from the paralyzing grip of shame.
Brené Brown explains, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage” (Rising Strong).
Although she does not use the word vulnerability, St. Teresa of Avila in her work, The Interior Castle, admonishes that the soul practicing prayer should spend much time in the room of self-knowledge. St. Teresa equates self-knowledge with humility. No matter how advanced a soul is it always needs self-knowledge or an awareness of what we were, what we are by the grace of God, what we would be without Him, and of the constant danger of falling if we rely on ourselves.
St. Teresa observes, “Without humility all will be lost” (IC, 13). Teresa warns that we must not only think of our own weakness but must “soar aloft in meditation” on God’s greatness. In prayer there are no secrets hidden from God, and he communicates his unconditional love to us.
In community, we must learn to accept who we are and be willing to let other see who we are. Having said this, of course this does not mean having no healthy boundaries, or privacy with others. It means the willingness to practice vulnerability.
There is also a danger of false humility or thinking that we are humble because of our weaknesses. St. Teresa observes that when the soul only thinks of its own weakness and never of God’s greatness there is a danger that we will not rise above our own nature by grace and remain burdened by cowardice and fear. Again, this sounds a great deal like a description of paralyzing shame.
Our Gospel today is a metaphor for our own journey with God in prayer. We need to be vulnerable first interiorly with ourselves and then before God. The presence of Jesus brought the lepers out of hiding. Being seen by Jesus allowed them to be healed. We need the courage to let our weakness be seen, and to allow ourselves to vulnerable.
Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese North Parish.
Photo (detail): The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Engraving after Sir John Everett Millais, 1864.The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Will money condemn you? This week’s gospel reading, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) seems to say that. I admit to feeling a bit of delicious righteousness when I hear this parable. This is the “make your poverty feel better” parable. When I get jealous of rich people with fancy stuff, or super talented people who do everything right, I think about this parable. “See,” I say to myself. “You’re getting your reward now, but I’ll get mine later in heaven.” Not that I’m as poor and sick as Lazarus. Perhaps there’s people in real poverty saying the same thing about me. But is that really what’s going on here? Is Jesus condemning riches and giving most of us “middle-classers” a satisfying hope of comeuppance? Probably not. Let’s dig deeper.
First, I want to point to the doctrine of the Particular Judgment. Everyone is judged immediately after death and rewarded, or punished, according to their faith and how they lived. Don’t confuse this with what we profess in the Nicene Creed—that Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” That refers to the Last Judgment at the end of time. In this parable you see that individual judgment takes place right away and you go where you’re meant to go for all eternity—heaven (probably by way of purgatory) or hell. Boom! Just like that. Lazarus goes to a place of comfort and peace, the rich man to a place of torment and anguish. This is not Heaven and Hell…not yet. It can’t be because Jesus hasn’t yet opened the way to heaven by his saving sacrifice. Lazarus goes to “Abraham’s bosom.” This is another name for the Jewish place of afterlife, “Sheol” or the “Abode of the Dead.” It’s a place where the righteous awaited Christ’s redemption with blessed hope. Christ descended into this place after his death and before his resurrection to free these holy inmates and escort them to heaven. The rich man goes to Hades, which technically is not Hell although it doesn’t seem much better. Since they both have contact with Abraham, it’s possible this is also the waiting place…with previews of what’s to come. Nevertheless, there is a separation that can’t be bridged so no one is sneaking into the Bosom of Abraham from Hades…at least not if Abraham has anything to say about it.
Second, this parable teaches the inherent dignity of every person. Lazarus, poor and destitute, disgusting and full of sores, is still a human person and therefore of infinite worth. He’s not attractive or popular. He’s not influential. He doesn’t contribute much to society. He doesn’t have a huge social media following or tons of likes on Facebook. He’s nothing in society’s view. The refuse. An outcast reduced to begging on the street and even that doesn’t sustain him. But obviously he has a good heart and loves God. Every human person has dignity and worth in God’s eyes, as well as every Christian who sees with God’s eyes. Our worth is immeasurable despite the world’s appraisal, because we’re made in God’s image. We are all lovely because God loves us. We are worthy because God finds worth enough in us to die for. Our worth doesn’t depend on our beauty, talent, intelligence, wealth, power, or influence in the world. It’s not measured by what we do, but who we are inherently as sons and daughters of the Father.
So, what brought the rich man to such low estate after his death? Was it his wealth? Was it because he was rich and had tons of possessions? I don’t think so. Jesus never condemns wealth or the mere possession of goods. However, he has harsh things to say about those who are selfish and don’t think about others. The rich man is condemned because he fails to pay attention to Lazarus’ needs. Here is a man sick and starving to death right outside his door and he can’t even bother to give him the leftover food he throws out in the garbage. Never mind having to go out of his way to find someone to help. He literally steps over this guy every morning. No doubt he hates having to smell Lazarus when he passes him and wishes he was dead.
Are you your brother’s keeper? You bet you are! Pope St. John Paul II commented on this parable saying, “Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of the ‘precious blood of Christ’ (1 Pet 1:19)” (John Paul II, Homily in Yankee Stadium, 2 October 1979).
So, will your riches condemn you? Probably not…but what you do with them might. Like it or not, we are all bound together. Our love for Jesus obliges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. You owe a debt of service to everyone you meet, which means looking out for their welfare and their needs. As well, you have a debt to help your brothers and sisters get to heaven. If your actions hinder that, you falter in your duty. Condemnation could ensue. If, however, your actions expedite another’s entry into blessedness, you in turn will be blessed. Something far greater than “Abraham’s bosom” awaits. How will you respond to the Lazarus’ you meet?
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Suffering. Into every life a little must fall…even Christian lives. Some think that shouldn’t be the case. Have you heard of the “Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel”? It’s the notion some Protestant preachers put forth that being a Christian makes you exempt from such things. God is the best Father and gives the best gifts. He wants to bless his children…and blessings don’t include suffering and trials. What kind of father would that be?
However, this week’s second reading, Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13, offers a different perspective: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by Him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.”
Wait a minute. Disciplined? Punished? Chastised? Does that sound like a loving Father? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
The passage cited above is a quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. Now, before you start talking about how the Old Testament God is different from the New Testament God, just stop. That’s not a thing. Besides, this is quoted and held up as explanation in the New Testament.
To understand this passage, we must do a little digging into ancient world culture. The Greek word translated as “discipline” in this passage is “paideia.” It refers to the educational system in ancient Greece and Rome…but it’s more than simply school as we know it. Paideia included the modern elements of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, philosophy) but also sciences like arithmetic and medicine, as well as athletics and the arts. Paideia was only for the children of aristocrats. It was training for leaders, a vehicle for raising the perfect, well-rounded members of society. Paideia molded youth with a sense of excellence similar to the upbringing of medieval knights or English gentlemen.
Paideia wasn’t always sunshine and roses. St. Augustine, the bright son of a Roman nobleman, said he often didn’t study unless forced. A slave, his pedagogue, was assigned to make sure he did his lessons and sometimes that involved punishments. The ferula, or “master’s rod,” was the symbol of the pedagogue’s authority. He was present 24/7 to protect and care for his charge…and occasionally chastise when behavior called for it.
This “spare the rod, spoil the child” attitude isn’t vogue today. However, the point is still valid. The student in paideia was meant for excellence. Mediocrity wasn’t an option, and sometimes that required a firm nudging in the right direction or a correction in attitude. When we think of God in these terms, a different kind of father emerges. Not one willing to spoil us by indulging every whim, but one who sees our great potential and desires to bring it out. God’s discipline is not vengeful and pitiless, it’s paideia—education in excellence. God is an affectionate, yet firm, father who raises children to be the best they can be. This might involve divine teaching methods such as suffering and corrective chastisement that educate us and correct our paths.
I learned something about this when I joined the Navy. I went to Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS), a fourteen-week officer boot camp for Navy pilots. Each class had a Marine Corps drill instructor, and ours was Gunnery Sergeant Massey. He yelled more than he spoke and wove a tapestry of curse words that could almost be classified as art. During our first week, which was the hardest part of the whole program, a senior candidate about to graduate told us the drill instructors didn’t do things randomly. Everything had a reason. “Gunnery Sergeant Massey knows the program,” he said. That meant all the harsh words, ridiculous commands, and encouraging words were calculated for a certain effect. The fourteen weeks were planned out to make us the combat pilots we wanted and needed to be. “Gunny knows the program” became our mantra when things got hard and we were discouraged. Looking back, we could see that senior candidate was right. Massey had drilled things into us that seemed useless at the time, but later proved to be valuable skills.
Sometimes, when life is hard and I’m feeling discouraged, I think about my experience at AOCS. I realize that God is like a drill instructor—the perfect drill instructor. Everything he does is planned to make me the saint I want and need to be. My part is to trust completely that God “knows the program,” and whatever happens in my life is happening for that reason.
“God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). Not just anyone went to paideia. The father in ancient Rome didn’t send a slave or an illegitimate child. He sent the son who bore his name. The special one. His chosen. “For the moment all discipline [paideia or education] seems painful rather than pleasant,” the author of Hebrews says, but later it gives way to “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). If you can think of the Christian life is a paideia, spiritual training, you’ll be a much happier Christian. God is not an overly indulgent father, but one who wants the best for his children. He wants them to grow to spiritual maturity and perfection in the likeness of the Son, Jesus. How can we expect not to suffer when Jesus himself did? So, take heart! Don’t be discouraged! You are not an illegitimate child the Father won’t bother to educate. He treats you as true sons and daughters in the Son by giving paideia, discipline, so you are worthy to bear his name.
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.
You’re a good Catholic, right? You’re living your faith. You go to Mass on Sundays, have a regular prayer life, and even attend a Bible study at the parish every year. You’re good to go. Except…there are those pesky Scripture readings that come up every once and a while. You know the ones about the consequences of not using your God-given abilities and gifts to further God’s kingdom? They admonish those who don’t engage in ministries and help people in physical or spiritual need. There’s the passage in Matthew’s gospel about the servant who’s punished for not investing his master’s talents to make more (Mt. 25:14-30). There’s also the one that says if you ignore your brothers and sisters in need, you ignore Jesus (Mt. 25: 31-46). Then, there’s today’s gospel, Luke 12:32-48. In this one, the steward who oversees the household while the master is away mistreats his fellow servants while getting drunk and feasting on the master’s food. Not only does he fail to fulfill his responsibilities to run the household and help his fellow servants, he’s a jerk and a thief. The spiritual meaning is we are all stewards of God’s gifts with the responsibility to help others. If we squander our gifts and mistreat those we’re called to serve, there will be consequences. On the other hand, being a faithful servant has blessings. So, why isn’t it enough to just take care of yourself? Why is it necessary for a faithful servant to help others?
Baptism and relationship with Christ bring changes. When the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, we think and behave different. It changes the way we act and the way we react. We think with the mind of God. Our likes and dislikes become more attuned to his. This isn’t just for our own benefit. Ultimately, God forms us for mission. We’re not meant to remain spiritual children. We’re meant to be spiritually mature adults who take responsibility for the upkeep and growth of God’s Kingdom. St. Paul teaches in Ephesians, we are given spiritual gifts to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). We’re meant for spiritually maturity…the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” That means we cooperate with him in mission. What did Christ come to do? Save souls. In 2 Corinthians St. Paul says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor 5:18-20). As St. Teresa of Avila said “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours…Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” You are Christ’s ambassador. As a baptized Christian in relationship with Christ, his mission is your mission. This is our baptismal call, to take up Christ’s mission and be his hands and feet in the world.
I know, I know. You’re busy. It’s hard enough finding time to take care of your own spiritual life, now you need to volunteer for a ministry. However, the truth is ministry and service aren’t merely essential to your parish. The parish, and the Church, need your contribution, but it’s more than that. It’s essential for you. I believe it’s impossible to reach spiritual maturity without giving back in some way. Being active in ministry is the natural progression of the Christian life and without it, you will stop growing. I know this from the experience of others, but especially from my own personal experience. When I started working for the Church and regularly exercised my charisms of teaching and evangelizing, my spiritual growth skyrocketed. You see, God is always pouring out graces on us. Once we’re filled, we’re supposed to return God’s grace. How do we do that? By ministering others, handing on his message, and leading people into relationship with him. That’s how he designed the spiritual life. Remember Matthew 25? We serve Christ by serving others in their need, both the physical and the spiritual needs. These are the Works of Mercy.
I’m not saying you should do ministry because the Church needs it (although it does). I’m saying you must do ministry because YOU need it. Do you feel like you’re not getting anything from the Church anymore? Is your spiritual life feeling stale? Is your once strong faith failing? Perhaps you’re not doing enough for others. Perhaps you need to give of yourself in ministry. Once you reach a certain point in the spiritual life, the only way to renew your faith is to give it away. The reason is, if you’re filled up with God but don’t return it to him, your supply dries up. He won’t continue to pour into you if you’re not giving back. It’s a feedback loop. The more you give away, the more he resupplies. So, if you want your faith to be re-energized, share it! Don’t hoard it! God will never be outdone in giving.
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.
Picture: Pentecost – Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11.
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. The reading from Acts begins, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled.” The first Christian Pentecost takes its name from the earlier Jewish celebration.
In Jewish custom, Pentecost was a one-day festival concluding the seven weeks following Passover (Tobit 2:1). It celebrated the harvest offering or first fruits (Exodus 23:16, Numbers 28:26; Deuteronomy 16:9; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:23; James 1:18, Revelation 14:4).
At the time of Jesus, the meaning of Pentecost had been enriched by a new understanding commemorating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20).
Following a somewhat loose chronology of Exodus (19:1), some contemporary Jewish interpreters explained that the law of Moses was given on Mount Sinai fifty days after the Passover. This allowed them to see Pentecost as a time of covenant renewal recalling the events at Sinai.
Like the Exodus event, Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, was accompanied by wind and fire (Exodus 19:18-19; Acts 2:2-3; cf. Hebrews 12:19, 29) and could be seen as a parallel inauguration of a new covenant. St. Augustine points out this connection. Just as there were “50 days” from the Passover in Egypt until the Ten commandments are “written by the finger of God” (Exodus 20:1; 31:18), so now the Spirit comes at Pentecost to write a new law on our hearts (De Spir. litt. 16.28).
Echoing this teaching, Pope St. John Paul II notes, “The message is clear: Pentecost is the new Sinai; the Holy Spirit is the New Covenant; it is the gift of the new law.” Many modern commentators see the Christian event of Pentecost as paralleling Exodus 19-20. A ‘New Law’ is inaugurated by the Holy Spirit through Jesus who is acting like a New Moses.
As promised already in the Old Testament, no longer will the law merely be written on tablets of stone, but, in a new covenant, it will instead be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). No longer will we have a heart of stone but a heart of flesh. Ezekiel promises, “I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them” (Ezekiel 36:27).
In the book of Numbers, Moses expressed a desire that all of God’s people would one day be prophets (Numbers 11:29). This wish came to be treated as a prophecy of a future time when there would be a dramatic outpouring of the Spirit.
With the coming of the Messiah there was an expectation that the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32; Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29). This lavish out pouring of the Spirit would be brought about through a new prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) or a Messiah King (Isaiah 11:1-9; 61).
A Pentecost, the Apostle Peter uses the promised outpouring of the Spirit in Joel 2:28-32 to interpret the events in Acts 2:16-21. Now that Jesus has suffered, died, been resurrected, and ascended into heaven, the promised Spirit will be poured out on “all flesh.” With keen insight, St. Thomas Aquinas says that the Holy Spirit himself is the New Covenant, producing supernatural love in us, and the fullness of the law (Comment. in 2 Cor. 3: 6).
As St. John says, “As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27)
Jesus’ promise to his disciples at the Last Supper is now fulfilled: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The promise of the Holy Spirit is about our own daily intimate union with God through the Spirit. It is also a specific and unique empowerment for mission in the world (Acts 1:8). This is Pentecost. This is the New Covenant.
Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus promised, “in my Father’s house are many dwelling places” (John 14:2) using the same Greek word Jesus says, “we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).
In the Jewish world, the place where God dwelt among his people was in sanctuary or the holy of holies in the Temple. The Temple was God’s home. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus now equates the Temple and God’s home to his own body.
God desires to make his dwelling place in our hearts. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have communion with Christ’s own body. St Paul tells us that each one of us is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). He also reminds us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Each and every one of us is wanted by God. He loves us first, just as we are. Yet there is something we need to do. We need to accept his forgiveness and to let our life be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s presence. Each one of us must receive ‘the spirit of sonship’ allowing the Spirit himself to bear witness with our spirit that ‘we are children of God’ (Romans 8:15-16).
The new law begins with interior conversion in our hearts. Lord come and make your home in my heart this day. Take away my fears and let me find your peace in my heart.
Deacon Scott McKellar is Pastoral Associate at St. Therese Parish, North.
What’s the most important thing in the Christian life? Until recently, I got this dead wrong. I thought being Christian meant doing things like attending Mass on Sunday, praying, following the moral teachings of the Church, practicing virtues like kindness and forgiveness, and trying not to sin…at least, trying not to sin too much. And, I thought doing more of those good things made me a better Christian.
But I found out I was missing the point…the most important point. The Christian life is not about doing a lot of things, even though they’re good things. It’s about doing one thing–opening myself to the work of the Holy Spirit in me. That’s the foundation and everything flows from there. It’s not that those things are bad. However, they are not the point. In what does the Christian life consist? Not in doing things, but letting things be done–letting God work in us and act through us.
That’s what Jesus is telling us in this week’s gospel, John 14:23-29. It takes place at the Last Supper. Jesus tells the apostles he must leave them. However, they won’t be abandoned. He will send the Counselor, the “Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit. The passage starts off with the key verse, “’If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Christian’s greatest asset is not external…it’s internal. It’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through Baptism. That’s what Jesus means in saying “make our home with him.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God promised to dwell among his people. This is foreshadowed in the Tabernacle, the mobile tent where Israel kept the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 29:45). God manifested his presence there in the glory cloud, the Shekinah. It was a huge pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The Shekinah guided Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God was also present in the Temple (Ezek 37:26-27). When Solomon finished building it and placed the Ark of the Covenant in the sanctuary, the glory cloud filled the Temple with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10-13).
In the Old Testament, God was present but inaccessible. No one could enter the sanctuary except the High Priest and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. However, in the New Testament Jesus tells us God is within each of us. After Baptism, we are living tabernacles, so to speak. St. Paul says each baptized Christian is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 6:16-17). He’s referring to the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Fr. Jacques Philippe says in Fire and Light: Learning to Receive the Gift of God, “The most fundamental question of Christian life is this: How should we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can we keep ourselves ever open to his action?” St. Therese of Lisieux said, “The merit doesn’t consist in doing nor in giving a lot, but rather in receiving, in loving a lot.” You must learn to receive and be led by the Holy Spirit. This is the most essential thing for living the Christian life. It’s also the most difficult because it’s not intuitive.
It’s difficult because we fear not being in control. At the heart of it, we are prideful creatures totally dependent on our Creator’s mercy. Spiritually, we can’t save ourselves, but we don’t like to admit that. The truth is, most of us would be perfectly fine taking God’s place as the origin of who we are and what we achieve. That’s what we want, but what we need is exactly opposite—to embrace receptivity. Perhaps for some of us it should even be closer to passivity. You must receive everything, even your own self, from God. It’s only then that you can give others the best of what you have.
This seems like bad news, but truly it’s good. You don’t have to do this all on your own. You don’t have to be upstanding, moral, virtuous, and holy by your own strength, willpower, or ingenuity. In fact, you can’t! It’s humanly impossible. That’s why you need divine help to fully live the Christian life and receive all its benefits. You need the action of the Holy Spirit.
So how do you embrace receptivity? Despite what I said about passivity, there is something you need to do. Earlier, I slightly mislead you. Remember my list of good things? Even though those aren’t the point, there is one of them that leads you there—prayer. To be receptive to the Holy Spirit, you must pray. Prayer gets you in touch with where the Spirit is moving and opens you to moving along with him. God still desires to lead his people, just like he did with the Shekinah in the wilderness. When you can take your ego out of the equation and move where the Holy Spirit leads, you find the purpose God has for you…and there you find freedom and happiness.
That brings me to the benefits of receptivity. Jesus tells the apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Peace is the fruit of receptivity. Not a worldly peace that depends on your material comfort or lack of conflict, but a supernatural peace that can thrive in the midst of conflict. This is a peace that isn’t taken away by external circumstances. You can live unafraid. Let the Spirit move, and He will bring peace.
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.