Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Year II 22nd Tuesday of Ordinary Time

This week and next I am conducting daily communion services at Holy Family Parish in South Ogden. This presents a rare opportunity for me, as a deacon, to preach the weekly lectionary. What follows is my homily for Tuesday, 5 September, fortified with useful links.

Readings: 1 Cor 2,10b-16; Ps 145, 8-14; Lk 4,31-37

Our first reading today, from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, seems a bit esoteric. Any attempt to describe in mere words matters of the spirit is bound to come across as a bit confusing and fall short of the reality of the experience. In this passage, Paul uses the analogy of how difficult, if not impossible, it is to know what is going through somebody else’s mind. We all know that that person alone is privy to his/her innermost thoughts and feelings. Sure, we have language to tell others what is on our mind. Our outward disposition, our body language, if you will, also indicates, at least to some extent, what we are thinking or feeling in a given situation. But we can also go to great lengths to conceal our inward disposition.

St. Paul uses this analogy to demonstrate that "no one knows what pertains to God except of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2,11). He mentions this not to demonstrate that what pertains to the Spirit of God is inaccessible, or unavailable to us. On the contrary! For in the very next sentence the apostle writes: "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God." Paul’s point is that we have received God’s Spirit for an express purpose; "so that we may understand the things freely given us by God" (1 Cor 2,12). Now what is given us freely by God is salvation by and through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. As a result of this gift of grace, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit so the you and I, by faith and in virtue of our baptism and being sealed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation, "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2, 16).

One of the results of having the mind of Christ is being attentive to spiritual realities. It is easy to dismiss passages of Scripture, such as our Gospel today, in which Jesus casts out a demon, as having nothing to do with us and our advanced technological age. It remains true that the best trick Satan has up his sleeve is to convince us that he doesn't exist. So, while we may never experience anything as dramatic as this morning’s Gospel passage, we do experience the influence of the Evil One. Like a good policeman, our Adversary applies no more force than is necessary to accomplish his purpose, which is always to separate us from God and from each other. We experience this influence when we are hampered, like St. Paul (Rom 7,15) from doing the things, not only that we know we should do, but that we want to do. This influence is subtle and is manifested when doing the good we want to do and know we should do becomes hard. When little things, like praying each day, not being angry with or resentful of others, not nursing grudges, reaching out to those who need our help, etc., become like climbing Mt. Everest. In other words, when following Jesus seems inordinately difficult, like being afflicted with spiritual chronic fatigue syndrome, we can be certain that the enemy is at work.

We should not fear, however, because in the Holy Spirit, we have the same power to overcome evil as our Lord in today’s Gospel. Indeed, we “have the [very] mind of Christ!” This power of God unto salvation is a gift that we receive by faith. But, to borrow the words of Christian teacher Dallas Willard, “salvation is a life.” Therefore, to have recourse to the Holy Spirit in our hour of need, we must constantly strive to live in such a way that we know the mind of God. This means nothing more than knowing how God works in each of our lives individually. God relates to us all in a different way because, as our loving Father, He knows each one of us intimately. God knows us better than we know ourselves.

A disciple observes the disciplines of her/his Master. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, it stands to reason that in order to know the mind of God we must communicate with Him. We must pray, contemplate and meditate on God’s word given us in Scripture. If we truly believe the Scriptures are God’s revelation to us, we must know Scripture. The ancient practice of lectio divina can be a useful tool in each of our lives. One way to practice divine reading is by looking at the readings for each day’s Mass. Then, following this tried and true method of listening to and hearing God’s word for our own life, we go forth each day with a word from God we know is true. Lectio divina involves four steps:

1) The first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but the passage should not be too long. Lectio is very different from the speed reading which modern Christians apply to newspapers, books and even to the Bible. Lectio is reverential listening; listening both in a spirit of silence and of awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally - not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's word for us this day.
2) The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us. We might repeat it out loud or in our mind over and over, until we know it and begin to think about what is God saying to me in this word, in these words?
3) The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.
4) The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.

Prayer, as we see from lectio divina, includes at least as much, often more, listening as talking. It is absolutely essential to having the “mind of Christ.”

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