Month: June 2019

HAVE YOU SEEN THE TREE WITH THE LIGHTS IN IT?

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“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Have you seen the tree with the lights in it?

Father Irala laments that many of us fail to have “clear sensations” of the beauty of the external world. “Only rarely,” he says, “do we come out into the exterior world, beautiful and joyful as it was created by God.” We are preoccupied, worried, and caught up in our own subjective world. Some people even find it difficult to put down their cell phones as they walk along a beautiful nature trail.

The great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, tells this tale: “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see these things anymore.’”

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  states that “there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.” She says, “When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens , and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.” Father Dubay adds: “The personal inability to perceive truth and beauty is related…to a lack of wonder….It is troubling that in a universe replete with mind-boggling fascinations masses of people live dull and drab lives.” 

Dillard relates in her book that “the secret of seeing is…the pearl of great price.” For “the newly sighted,” she says, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning.” Dillard mentions a girl who, born blind, underwent surgery which restored her sight. “When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’” Dillard’s quest was to recover this pure sensation of sight so that she too could see the tree with the lights in it.

We can relearn to receive the true “sensations” of nature’s beauty. Here are instructions given by Father Irala to improve our receptive power in the areas of sight and sound.

Sight: “For your re-education you should apply your sense of sight for about ten or twenty seconds to a landscape, an object, a detail. Keep a tranquil or almost passive attention. Take your time. Consider the object before you and no other. Pay no attention to any other idea. Let the object enter within you as it is in itself, without any special effort. Look at it the way a young child does. [Remain] loose and relaxed.”

Hearing: “Apply your hearing to a near or distant noise. Let yourself be penetrated by the sounds, as above, naturally, without mental discussion of the fact or its cause. Be a mere receiver of sound and perceive it with pleasure and relaxation.”

Dillard learned how to see like the young girl who, through her doctor, received the gift of sight. Dillard relates the following: “One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.”

The great Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, states: “The part played by the senses in the perception of beauty is even rendered enormous in us, and well nigh-indispensable…only sense knowledge possesses perfectly in man the intuitiveness required for the perception of the beautiful.” “At first,” says Father Irala, “it is not so easy to practice these fully conscious sensations with no attention at all paid to anything else. So, in your first attempts, you might find yourself thinking about the process itself, or the cause, effect, or some circumstances, instead of what you perceive. But in a few days, after a series of good tries, you will succeed in separating the pure sensation from accessory mental processes. And then you will find joy or rest in the sensation itself.”

Commenting on the healing power of nature, Saint Pope John Paul II made the following observation: “The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.”  (John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)

Have you seen the tree with the lights in it? Learning to slow down and gather in the beauty of nature with child-like simplicity will be of immense value to all of us.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard; Achieving Peace of Heart by Father N. Irala; and The Evidential Power of Beauty by Father Thomas Dubay.

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“CONFESS YOUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER”

THE COMFORTING POWER AND FRIENDSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

“And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16)

In this note we will be discussing the tremendous comfort and strength the Holy Spirit can bring to someone suffering from loneliness, ostracization, and the crushing difficulties of life.

A great spiritual writer of the twentieth century wrote the following:

“God the Holy Spirit is the divine friend of the human souls to whom he is sent. Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to us in order, among other purposes, to banish from our life on earth that which constitutes one of the great pains of our present existence. There are few things so hard for a man to bear as loneliness and isolation. Man is not made to live alone. In a world which is ever hostile to Christ and will always hate his followers as it hated him, the Christian necessarily suffers from a certain measure of ostracism.

Moreover, the Christian has to bear the loneliness that, with the advance of years, is the common lot of mortals. Death and other causes tend to thin the ever narrowing circle of one’s friends and acquaintances. How frequently the pathos of this abandonment shows in the eyes of the aged whose contemporaries have vanished year by year.

Jesus has provided for the comfort of lonely hearts. When it comes to a human creature, neither to love nor to be loved by anyone, then existence has turned to dust and ashes. The disciples of Christ need never experience this dread starvation, this withering of their powers of affection, seeing that they may, by grace, possess within themselves in the closest intimacy a Person who, by the Word of Truth [Jesus], has been declared to be preeminently a consoler (John 14:16) – a Person who may be loved without limits and who repays every mark of affection by more than the hundredfold in warmth and tenderness. Consider for a moment the POWER of loving in the Holy Spirit who is love personified, who IS the personal love between the Father and the Son!

The Holy Spirit has not only an infinite capacity for friendship – He has, as well, an infinite power to make his friendship effective for the consolation and comfort of those he loves. In the great trails of life, notably in the bereavement caused by the death of those dearest to us, how impotent we find the well-meaning efforts of our friends to touch our grief with healing. When the soul is burdened by a great sorrow, nothing can bring alleviation and strength except that which can penetrate and change the spirit of man. This the Divine Friend – the Holy Spirit – alone is capable of doing.

How frequent an experience it is to find the faithful who, when faced with an overwhelming calamity, which should normally paralyze and crush them, manifest a courage, calm and resolution, traceable to no natural source. The origin of this mysterious peace and confidence is the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Their turning to God in their distress has provoked the inner and direct action of the Holy Spirit on the substance of the soul itself.

All that love demands is that it be given free scope to express itself. The affection of the Holy Spirit for the soul he inhabits and adorns is not only strong and ardent…it is faithful as well. Let us train ourselves to be open to this potent, strengthening influence of the Divine Friend within our souls by a constant, loving attention to His presence. The Holy Spirit is the consoler of hearts because Jesus expressly sent Him to us in order to find comfort in all the trials and adversities of life, and Jesus further promised that the Holy Spirit would abide with us forever in a never ending friendship of love (John 14:16).”

This long quote, significantly edited and adapted, is from The Holy Spirit by Father Edward Leen (Scepter Publishers), pages 160-163. Father Leen, who belonged to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, wrote extensively on spiritual topics and his books are full of powerful spiritual insights.

Dear Friend, be ever more attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the depths of your soul, and of His infinite capacity to help you through the daunting difficulties of this present life, through a most remarkable and intimate friendship that will never end.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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THE HERO OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US!

“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5)

In his great Epistle on justification, Saint Paul presents the Holy Spirit as the hero of the Christian life, whose full power has been unleashed by Jesus’ death and resurrection! The overarching theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapters 1-8) is POWER leading to LIFE. Thus Paul says at Romans 1:16:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

This POWER flows from Christ’s resurrection:

“[Jesus] who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).

The general condition of humanity before the Gospel is powerlessness, both for Jew and Gentile. “We have already brought the charge against Jew and Greek alike that they are under the domination of sin” (Romans 3:9). Even compliance with the “works of the law” in the Old Testament economy is insufficient for justification: “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

Our reconciliation and justification comes from faith in Jesus Christ (chapters 4-5). “At the appointed time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us godless men” (Romans 5:6). This justification by faith flows not only from Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death, but also from the power flowing from his resurrection! “Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

Moreover, flowing from this gift of justifying faith is HOLY SPIRIT POWER! “We have gained access by faith to the grace in which we now stand, and we boast of our hope for the glory of God….And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Paul then asks: does this grace of justification give us immunity from sin?, to which he essentially answers: HELL NO! “Are we to say, ‘Let us continue in sin that grace may abound?’ Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2). Why is this? Because through faith we have been baptized into the sin-forgiving death of Jesus and the new life giving resurrection of Jesus. “Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life” (Romans 6:4). “Do not, therefore, let sin rule your mortal body” (Romans 6:12).

We then come to chapter seven of Romans where we encounter this mysterious, representative man who is struggling so mightily with the power of sin in his flesh. He cries out: “For I do not what I want, but the very thing I hate (7:15), and, “when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (7: 21). Is Paul speaking of himself here, or of Israel, or of the “universal plight of all men” (ICSB)? Whichever the case may be, the powerlessness this man feels in the flesh (in his human weakness) has a solution: it is the HOLY SPIRIT who will give him – give us – victory over sin through our new life in the Spirit!

The flesh may be weak, but the Holy Spirit is POWER! And as Paul foreshadowed at Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit has been given to us! We are not on our own in our fight against sin. We have a most powerful ally: the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here is the solution to the man’s problem in Romans 7: through faith in Jesus Christ, received in baptism, we have access to the Holy Spirit.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:24-25). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (8:1-2).

And if you think Paul is being subtle in pointing out the Holy Spirit as the solution to this man’s problem, think again! In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul makes reference to the Holy Spirit some 18 times! He uses the didactic method of repetition in order to drill into our minds that we have victory over sin in the power of the Holy Spirit! The following verses are representative:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life  because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of  his Spirit who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8: 5-14).

Conclusion: Do you know why St. Paul never allows even a shade of unethical conduct in his Epistles? Because the Holy Spirit empowers you to lead a holy life. Paul is utterly taken up by the reality of the Christian life. He is ablaze to the core with the Holy Spirit. The hero of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit. His full power has been unleashed, as Paul points out, by Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is a radical quality of Christian morality. God has given you the Holy Spirit! This is a supernatural reality made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a reality perceived by faith, and received in baptism. Holiness is a POWER. The Gospel has come to you in POWER! You are justified, you are set right with God, because Jesus has given you access to the full power of the Holy Spirit, who gives you victory over sin, because of His indwelling, sanctifying presence in your soul. The power of the Holy Spirit is the principle of LIFE! The death and resurrection of Jesus is therefore the engine which carries us along to the state of justification. “Romans 8 unveils the solution to the problem laid out in Romans 7. It is a divine solution orchestrated by the Trinity. The Father sent the Son to redeem the world from sin (8:3) and sent the Spirit to raise the world from death to new life (8:9-13)” (ICSB). See the source for this conclusion under References below.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: As you can see, I am relying on the notes in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. But primarily I am relying on notes I typed up years ago from a class on the Epistles of Saint Paul. I don’t even remember the name of the professor, but the entire conclusion above, and the whole theme of power leading to life, and of the Holy Spirit being the hero of the Christian life, comes directly from his lectures, and the notes I took. He was a Jewish convert, teaching at the St. Mary’s Campus in Orchard Lake Village, MI. Finally, I have also relied extensively on Dr. Scott Hahn’s excellent audio series on Romans.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism:

‘But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ [Romans 6: 8-11].

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:

‘[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized’ [Saint Athanasius].”   (nos. 1987-1988)

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