Friday, 15 November 2013

86: Getting ready to receive Jesus' Call

Q. You write that "comprehending the full picture of the Spiritual Journey is essential for each Christian who receives Jesus’ call to follow Him". Does not every Christian receive Jesus' call to follow him?

A. A call is a call (please read this post as well), it happens at a certain point in time. The fact that "all are called", doesn't mean that "all have yet received the call". The call is a personal act from Jesus, to a specific person, when the person is ready. We should remember the fact that the call is Jesus' initiative not ours. He says: “I am the one who calls you, not you”.
Is that  what you meant?
Of course this is an important clarification that I didn't personally see for years. I was convinced, after Vatican II (see Lumen Gentium, "The Universal Call to Holiness"), that "all were called", but then, I realised that "a call is a call", and is not automatic, or to be taken for granted. This call has to enter in time, in the life of a person. And for that to happen, one should be ready. For instance, see how God sent John the Baptist to prepare the people of Israël to receive the Messiah.

Q. Is it possible some may never be ready i.e. never receive the call?

A. To speak plainly, I would say the following:
Theoretically the call is there in God's mind/project from day one, from the day he created us. He created us "at His Image and Likeness", He wanted us with Him, breathing His own life. So the initial design and built quality of the human being were meant to have him: being Holy, as God is, because we are made to share His Own life, and breath His own “oxygen”.

But practically, I think that the call for Perfection is heard (/reaches us) in a palpable way when we are close to a specific threshold: having accomplished /fulfilled what should be done as it is described at the third Mansions of Teresa of Avila for example.
There are plenty of other Biblical examples that foster such a vision and understanding. God always prepares us.
1. All the Old Testament, 1800 years (Abraham) at least if not plenty more, is a preparation for humanity (the chosen people first) to receive God himself (the Messiah, Jesus, the Only begotten Son). He didn't send his Son to Adam immediately after his fall.
2. Again: when Jesus was ready to start his mission (at the age of 30) He didn’t start immediately. God send a Prophet, the Greatest one, to pave the way for him, and “prepare” the people, through repentance and a first wash (John’s Baptism).
3. Again, and again, when the Young Rich man asked him what to do in order to reach perfection, /Eternal life, Jesus didn’t start by saying: follow me. He showed us in His reply that preparation was needed: did you follow Moses Commandments?

In other words there is a clear pedagogy from God’s part, in order to help us reach the Supernatural Grace of Jesus, the Personal relationship: the direct, personal call to follow him tightly.

I may add that if the young rich man had answered: "no, I didn't fulfil Moses commandments", he wouldn't be “ready” to “hear” a new Call, a call for Perfection.

Jesus doesn't cancel Moses Commandments, He brings Perfection to them, in Him. So, if what we can really do (with the General help of the Grace of God) is not done, how can we dare dream of higher realms? Total nonsense. Jesus said that faithfulness in “smaller things” will allow God one day to pass us unto greater things: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a smaller things, I will put you in charge of greater things.” (Matthew 25:21)

Some people might object: there are plenty of persons amongst the Gentiles (non Jews) in the Act of the Apostles and in the Gospel (the Samaritan lady) who didn't need any preparation. Well, it is not true: When Paul preached at the Assembly of Athens, almost nobody listened to him. They weren't ready. Some Fathers of the Church say that the Greeks were prepared by God through their Philosophers. Which is not wrong, but incomplete.
And what about the great sinners? Well: sin, falling very low, sometimes creates an amazing humility. See the Prodigal son's reflections while eating the pigs food (and compare them with the other son's reflections). Don't we use animal excrements to fertilise the soil ! Humility and real repentance are the best preparations to receive Jesus' Call and Grace. But still, repentance is a long journey of rehabilitation. Even St Paul says that after his powerful conversion he needed 3 years of rehabilitation (see Galatians) and purification.

I humbly think that often we tend to abuse the Grace of God, thinking that we have the right to receive everything. Jesus himself (God) doesn't through the pearls to the pigs (pigs were considered as an impure animal). But in fact, this is a spoiled child behaviour. Certainly He obtained for us everything (Salvation) on the Cross, but the clear teaching of the Bible shows that for each new step one has to be ready.
Matthew's Call (Caravaggio - Rome)
So, all in all, we need to do what each step requires, in order to get to the threshold with the following step.
See the journey of the People of God in the Desert. They reach a point where they break the Covenant with God in a grave way, they don’t TRUST Him when He says: "go and fight the 7 tribes, you will win". What is the consequence? 38 years of purification, until all the generation that was able to fight dies. This lesson alone should make us think. Poor us. (see the clear allusion to these 38 years in John Chapter 5, the healing of the paralysed man.)

If, from God’s part, Salvation is ready and available to us, from our part (the receiving end) we need to get ready to receive it, and this goes step by step, like when you build a huge house. You start with the Foundations, then you go for the ground floor and so forth.

Even if the Plan of the house is ready and clear in God’s mind, we have to undergo the building operations, step by step. Some people think that if they want to burn the stages in between this is possible. Let them think that. You don’t put a New Wine in old skins. We collaborate in the operation of our own salvation, we are co-builders. Some people believe in magic, they think that since Jesus did everything on the Cross then everything is already achieved in us. Not at all. Baptism is a Seed, and the Seed needs to become the biggest tree of the garden. Would this happen magically? People who follow Satan’s inspirations do like the magical easy way. All the three temptations that we see in the Gospel (when Jesus is tempted) are about doing something magically, in an easy way, without the use of our freedom and will, collaborating, through time.
We want to be like puppets, we like that route (the devil’s route) of negative passiveness. We want everything and NOW! We want Him to move us and direct us like dead-puppets. We present the resignation of our will and freedom.
The Call for Perfection follows the laws of construction… or the biological laws of growth. The Grace of God needs our collaboration.
God created us without asking for our permission. He won’t save us, though, without our collaboration.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

85: The forgotten theological act: Hope

As you know, I prefer to speak about the "act" of hope than the "virtue". Because the "repetition of good acts" generates a "good habit", a "Virtue". Remember the muscle of the body-builder we have muscles in us (the faculties of the soul: mind, will, memory) that need to be activated in a correct way and direction: the Divine Blood (the Grace of God) is offered to our faculties and is waiting to be used through activating the muscle (the faculty).

Strengthening the virtue's "muscle"

The muscle of hope is the mind (some say it is the "memory"). But I prefer to take an example in order to understand it better: hope is like hands (or arms) extended, waiting to receive something (the object of a promise). It is a desire, a motivation, a drive that moves us ahead.

"Hope" and "hopes"

"Hopes" are "normal hopes", even the good ones, the good causes, the spiritual causes. "Hope" is the theological Act, never to be mixed with others, or worse: exchanged by others. "Hope" is vertical, it connects us directly with Jesus-God – this is why it is called: theological (Theos: God). "Hopes" connect us with something created. The difference is huge!
This is why we need to pass the comb, in order to see if the hairs of our desire are well orientated (toward the object of our hope) and in order (gathering properly all our energy).
Mind you, without hope/hopes we would never do anything. They are the driving force in our life. What makes us wake up in the morning and wanting to go through the day. We all have "hopes", but do we have a "Hope"? We often put our heart in the hopes, but is all our heart in the only Hope?

How to do an act of Hope?

"Hope" is all related to a "Promise". It is our reaction (what we will do) in front of the obtaining the object of the promise. We extend our hands, our arms, in order to receive the promised Gift.
Our hands could be already filled with other things instead; this is why it is important to check, regularly, our desire, our Hope, how we perform the act of desire (how we "aspire"). We all have semi-conscious hopes that motivate us, that constitute the drive, that make us move, try, do, start, create, realise (work, mission, family, money, career,…). Our heart gets filled by these semi-conscious hopes. But if we prepare ourselves to do an act of hope, through checking the state of our heart, his longing, his desires, his possessions, we become aware of these semi-conscious hopes.
We then focus our mind on "studying" (staring at length, deepening,…) the real Hope, the Real and only Promise made to us, the solid indestructible promise, the Anchor of our Life.
Then, gathering all the energies of our heart, we orientate it toward the real Hope, the vertical one.
The direct realistic consequence of the vertical Hope is for us: to do what we are supposed to do today, without thinking of tomorrow. Focusing on today as if today is the only day we have to live, and live it to the fullness. If we are still capable of thinking of tomorrow, it probably means that part of our energy is going horizontal and is not connecting us to the real and only Hope. We need to focus on today: what to do today, according to Jesus will, because this will bring us closer to Him, to the realisation of our Hope.

"teenager" hope

Like spiritual "adolescents", we need everything (all of it), and now (today)... We would like to reach the top of the Mountain (Jesus' Promise) today. This is "Dreamy Hope". Not bad, we need to have big Hopes, real ones. But the energy we put in it should be as well converted into something solid, concrete: a real step ahead, today. Only the theological acts (the acts that connect us directly to God, to Jesus-God) are realistic, incarnate and real. The rest doesn't break the surface of the Divine Seed, Life doesn't come out of it to blossom. It remains imprisoned in it. Theological Hope, Holy Hope, points on our feet, showing the step to do today. If we want to climb the Mountain and be at the top of it, we need to start putting a foot in front of the other. Hope is practical! It looks paradoxical to say so because it seems that Hope puts our head high up above the Clouds. Yes, indeed it does that. But real Hope never forgets the earth and knows that in order to walk one has to keep his/her heart beyond the clouds (the veil), anchored in the Promise, and in the same time one has to keep his/her feet on earth, well grounded: by doing what we are supposed to do today.

Often we want to know what we will be doing tomorrow, or in 5 years, or 10. We want to know our vocation, our mission. But this literally sucks our sacred energy, the energy of our Heart, created only for God, for Jesus, and deprives it from the drive to do what we are supposed to do right now, regardless of what will happen tomorrow or in 10 years. This is why it is important to walk with our back upright, straight, connecting heaven and earth.

Hope vs Faith-Love

We can have Faith, we can have a little Love, but the forgotten little act, Hope, is the engine, the drive that pushes us ahead. Without hope the "car" of our spiritual life will be at halt. Very dangerous.
Hope is related to growth, climbing, transformation, sanctification.
If I don't know my goal, how will I ever reach it?
Clarify your hope, your HOPE, the Holy Hope… not any hope, like the "hopes", the cheap ones and the "expensive" ones. We have only one Theological Hope.

So negligent!

Do we know what tomorrow is made of? Do we know if our heart will continue to beat within three minutes? Can we change a hair from black to white? No. So why putting our energy in uncertainty.
The one who promised is faithful and trustworthy and realises His Promises.

The Promise

Now, what is the Promise to which Hope is attached to? What is the Promise that constitutes our Hope? Where do we find that Promise in the Gospel?

We need the help of the Holy Spirit in order to become able to see deep in Jesus on the Cross, and find out that, deeply, He is embracing me on the Cross, He united me to Himself on the Cross. This is His plan, this is what He wants to realise on earth. This is His Promise. "heaven" is not a state, it is not a place, it is a degree of transformation in Jesus. Sanctification, divinisation.
Jesus holding each one of us
On the Cross He realises from His part that transformation, and He is offering it to me, as the Project of my life. This is His Solid Promise to me. Do I see that?
This is the goal of my life, this is what I am waiting for, here on earth. It is not a Promise for "after-death", no, it is here on earth. The Saints shout it very loudly. Will I bank all my life on that? Hummm, this is the real theological challenge.
We live our lives with no theological dimension, it is flat. Full of good intentions, beautiful things, but where is Jesus Promise on the Cross? "And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD." (Hosea 2:19-20) This text, should be heard this way: said by Jesus on the Cross, in the present tense! This is the object of our hope.

hopes, joys, fears

Hopes generate in us false joy and false fear. Joy of possessing or about to posses horizontal things, and fear of not possessing goods or possessing bad things. Vertical Hope, offers a pure hope, and fills our heart with it, protecting our heart from being harmed by false joys or fears. Detached, free, belonging to Jesus.

When we look at the Cross, by the Grace of God, we should be able to see Jesus embracing us tightly; this is our Anchor. We already see it. We then can walk toward it, closer and closer until we reach with St Paul this Song: "it is not me who live, it is Jesus who lives in me".

Reading about Hope

In the third book of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, first part of it, saint John of the Cross explains how to do a pure act of Hope.

Examining our hope

It is so important to pass the comb, to check if our hands are full of possessions, and get rid of them, by simply gathering all our attention to the Cross, seeing His Promise, and gathering all the Energy of our heart, in order to desire this Promise, be attached to it, hooked to it, and then searching His Will today, in order to know were to put our foot, in order to do today's step.

A Parable on the conditions of Hope

"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' […] 33 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:28-33)

Now this parable has various aspects. First it speaks about the object of Hope: the Tower to build. But it takes it's existence and the knowledge of it for granted, which is not the object of this post. In this post, I do consider that the majority do not know the Vertical Tower
But, having crossed that bridge, you see the Lord's advice: take time, ponder, in order to do the act of Hope correctly. Imagine you say: "yes, the goal of my life is to become holy", or "my aim is to reach the Union with Jesus", do you think that we really take the means of our hope? Do you really build correctly our hope? Do we really do one step at a time everyday, in the journey of transformation? Are we re-adjusting everyday ourselves to Jesus' Will? Is our Heart really totally attached to this hope? Is all our energy there?

The condition of "Hope" is "renouncing all" as Jesus states it. Would this mean that we all have to leave this life, and take the cloth and hide in the Desert? Or course not, "renouncing" is first and foremost the matter of the will and the desire. Many are in the Desert and their will is still holding on to possessions… of all sorts… possessing them really, or hoping to possess them.
Even health is a possession. See how St Theresa of Avila (in the Way of Perfection) says that one has to be fiercely detached from worries for his own health in order to put the Lord first and serve Him, and drop these silly fears about health. Of course, many persons wouldn't have that courage!

Hope is serious

Do you think that wanting the Holy Hope to be fulfilled is a light decision/enterprise? No. This is why Jesus' advice is, before pretending to embark in the Christian Journey to: "first sit down and count the cost".
Hope is the engine in your Christian Car. This is what makes it move…
Hope is about receiving something here on earth, and not only after death. Jesus said it: "I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:27). For some people this verse speaks a lot… " "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 8: 8)… the Call…

My hope, and the others

Every time I do an act of hope, every time I reconnect with Jesus the Groom, who promised He will unite to me during this life, every time I search for His Will for today, and put it into practise, and do receive a share of that big Hope, by doing one step ahead, in the climbing of the Mountain of the Lord, every time I do that all humanity does one step ahead. The act of Hope is not an egoistical selfish behaviour. We all belong to one same Body, we are all connected, deeply, so if I do progress, all humanity progresses with me, and this is what matters. Each act of Hope you do, sends waves of Living Waters (or Living Blood) across the whole Body…

The Mother of our Hope

Mary is the mother of Our Hope, she is the one that keeps it and preserves it pure for us. We can say about her what is said about Abraham, and much more: "No distrust made him waver concerning the Promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had Promised." (Romans 4:20-21) She is the one who hoped for the Messiah, the only one who was able to believe the words said by the Angel (Zachariah didn't) and receive Him. She is the only one who believed in the Jesus' Promise that He will rise again and waited for the Lord to Rise.
Mary, obtain for us the Grace of the correct and pure attitude for Vertical Hope… Pray for us… and teach us how to put it into practice everyday in order to get, day after day, closer to the Realisation of the Promise.

Important remark

Of course this topic (Hope) goes with the "Spiritual Journey" topic because the latter shows not only the goal but the way as well: the full length of the journey, it's shape. So please, in order to strengthen your Hope, do not hesitate to read the explanation of the 11 diagrams of the spiritual journey. They start here (please click here). Spiritual journey and Goal (the Promise) are not separable.

Hoping, Praying

Take time, every day to revise your "hopes", the mechanisms of your hopes, you semi-conscious acts. Take time to put all your energy in one Hope.. the one that is sure, solid, Eternal. This time is called as we: Prayer. Meet Jesus who Promised and won't fail to fulfil His Promise. Take time to See Him holding you already on the Cross, take time to entrust your energy and Hope in the Hands of Mary.

Friday, 1 November 2013

84: "our actions", growing in love & witnessing Jesus

Question: While working on my plan for a pilot project here in C. for Forming Intentional Disciples last night, I came to a question that made me ponder. Reading Sherry Weddell's book, "Forming Intentional Disciples", she points to some fundamental principles, including a need for a personal relationship with God and the need for us to witness to others. My question is: Is it our witnessing that is changing others... or is the fact they see genuine love and Jesus in our actions?

My conclusion is the latter. Consequently, it will take 2-5 years (as Sherry says in FID) for the parish to see the fruits of our efforts… because it will take that long to move from the initial ID's stage to truly living the way God wants us to. In a recent talk, Deacon P. calls it "Experiential knowledge vs Cognitive knowledge". When only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God... what will it take to get the "Experiential knowledge" with God. We should spend some time talking about how to witness when you don't have the experience.

Answer: I would like to clarify the meaning of: "our actions".
First, it is very important when we deal with Jesus' things to do it with humility, understanding that God is the one who calls us, not us who call Him and that God is the one who guides us in everything (if we allow Him to do so). We are NOT in charge of anything, or going on a mission. We humbly try to reply, daily, to His Call. The Grace of God comes before anything else. It is not by "doing" that we will change the world but by "following the Grace of God".
The "go get" mentality, or the "dower" allegedly "practical" mentality can play very nasty tricks to the person who becomes Christian (you call it "Intentional Disciple", I call it: "becoming more Christian"). So we need to be very careful not to play the gods here. This could be an the modern world mentality and tendency. But the norm remains the Gospel, not our mentalities/tendencies.
Therefore the tendency will be to consider "that book", or "that formula", or "that experience" and so forth as a "winning formula" and forget the Grace of God. We do not control God. We are free to love Him, to reply to His love and He is free to love us (first). He loves us… indeed, He never ceases. This is why, by receiving humbly his Love, we try to let it flow to the outside world.

The specific answer to your question is: neither nor. What we need to do is to listen every day and every second, in our heart, to Jesus who calls us and do His will. In the Gospel, we see that sometimes Jesus asked people, healed by Him (who therefore became his disciples), to remain silent and not to say anything; other times He asked them to witness to Him; other times He sent them back to their daily life. Each person is different, each need is different, each time in the Journey with Jesus is different, each mission is different. This is what matters. The general rule is the need for all for growth, but it doesn't happen the same for everybody. The general rule is as well the need to witness to Him, and spread the Gospel. But when and how, we need to see with the Holy Spirit that works in the Church and through the Church.

If He asks me to witness, I have to do it. At any time! Immediately after meeting Him, or years after that. As many times as He asks! If He doesn't, then I need to the other things He asks me to do (according to my state: married, work, family,.. this as well is a mission and a witness to Him.). There are different trees, different type of heights, depths (roots) for these trees.
Now, after that, if He asks me to witness and I do so, will this bear fruits? Not always. St Paul in the big city of Athens had to speak. Did it work? Well it was a big fiasco. Only 2 or 3 persons followed him. Had St Paul known that he wouldn't have fruits, would he have had to consider that it was better not to bear witness to Jesus? Of course not! He had to. When Jesus asks us to do something He doesn't guaranty the success. Obedience remains the highest virtue of the Apostle.
Some soils are good, some others are hard. Some soils allow us to see the fruits of our labour, others need years and others will see the fruits. What a sower has to do, with a detached heart, is: to sow, with a detached heart, obeying to His Master and trusting in Him, and Him only.
On the other hand, the more a person matures in Christ, the more the old man's influence on him/her diminishes, and the more the Grace of God works and make the new man grow in him/her. We are like pregnant women with twins, the old man and the new man, and the food we give (by our acts) either feeds one or the other.
So the more we are purified, the more we are transformed in Jesus, the more the Holy Spirit moves us with greater ease, the more our acts gain in efficiency (they bring more and better results). No doubt at all about that. One act made by a purified person bears infinitely much more fruits for the Church than thousands of acts made by a whole crowd. A saint asked Jesus how many souls He would give her (He would save because of her act) for something she did for Him. She said: 10? He replied: 10.000.

But still, you have saints who preached in places, and never got any result: starting by the Lord Himself in Jerusalem. That was tough. But still, God recompenses them anyway. And they have to do it anyway, so people can't say: we never heard of that, so God's justice is preserved. And you have "devils", who work a lot for the Gospel, preach, make miracles, and still hear Jesus in the end say to them: "go away, evil doers, I don't know you". Why? They were doing their own will, not Jesus' will (Doing a "good thing" is not enough for the apostle; one has to do God's will. This is why Obedience comes first.). If He sends me, then I have to go. If He doesn't send me, then better for me to shut up and stay still, and work on bettering myself (we have to do it anyway), by the Grace of God. This is why Jesus says: spend time removing the big log that pierces your eyes, and then, purified, you'll be able with the Love of God, to remove the straw in the eyes of your brother.

I am not sure I got your question, but this is what comes to mind.
The experience of Jesus, the personal relationship with Him, is a long journey anyway. It usually takes years of growth until one reaches the Union with Jesus, or at least the Spiritual Betrothal. Therefore it is important in each step to discern His will and do it, with the help of His Grace.

Father Marie Eugene, in the end of his book "I want to see God" (the second volume) wrote a small treatise on the relationship - in us - between the Growth of Love and Apostolate/Ministry. Remember, his book is a master piece commentary of the book of St Theresa of Avila: "The Interior Castle". This little study he makes is moved by a genius intuition, which is the need to understand the relationship between the fruitfulness of our actions and our spiritual growth.
He goes through all the stages of growth and explains the risks, the fruits, what we should focus on.
Fr François Regis Wilhelem did pick up this intuition and deepened it in a book (only in French, Italian or Spanish). Excellent work, that should transform our understanding of ministry in the Church.

I hope that helped.

Please pray for me