With the Parish Mission at Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg now complete, I would like to share some of the insights I gained. First, I’m reminded once again of Jesus’ teaching that every time we take the opportunity to give of ourselves, whether in ministry or in relationships, we always receive in return more than we give. This is primarily the truth of Psalm 126 when it teaches: “They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing: they come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”
These past three nights we focused on God’s love and how we experience this love through the Holy Spirit in the person of Jesus Christ. We further examined how Christ came into the world to reveal the love of God through His teaching, ministry, passion, death and resurrection. After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples to continue the same mission through the Church and by the power of their own witness of faith in Jesus Christ.
One person asked at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s mission: “What advice do you have for families to better live their faith?” Many asked other questions along similar lines regarding the parish as a whole or what to do in one’s individual life.
I am even more convinced today of the need for each individual, for every family to renew the trajectory of life to its true purpose. This (earthly) life is fundamentally a journey of faith, a pilgrimage. We are therefore to understand that a truly human life is oriented to God. Thus, a truly human journey is one that follow’s the way of truth, goodness, beauty, in short, holiness.
Just as all things which are bearers of truth, goodness, and beauty ‘transcend’ or ‘go beyond’ themselves and point to something else, so to the human person is ultimately to ‘go beyond’ him or herself and point to the Creator. So, the true trajectory of every human life is God.
Lent is therefore a time to renew one’s practice of prayer. Life with God also requires simplicity, (in the sense that we shed our worldliness) humility, (seeing that we are nothing and that God is everything) and community, particularly the community of faith, the Church.
To succeed in such ‘conversion,’ we need discernment, we need wisdom. Today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-23) recounts a moment when Jesus expels a demon, only to be accused by some that “it is by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Obviously, that was not the case, as Jesus goes on to instruct, that it is by the “finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Jesus is our “strong man” who guards and arms the city of our soul. Thus, the need for us to renew the course of our life to Him. But, we also know that there are many distractions in our life, and many demons that wish to take over our inner life, values and practices. We need to be wise in the ways of the LORD, and have the perseverance to remain on the straight and narrow path.
I wish to close by sharing some simple rules for discernment which the LORD shared with St. Catherine of Siena. These passages came from a book written by her spiritual director and companion, Blessed Raymond of Capua:
“Daughter, if you wish to acquire the virtue of fortitude you must imitate me. Though I have divine power and could have annihilated all the powers of evil in quite a different way if I had willed to do so, nevertheless, wishing my actions to be taken as a model, I willed to act by way of the cross, so that I could teach you by words based on actions. If you want to have the strength to overcome all the enemy’s powers, take the cross as your refreshment as I did. For indeed I, as the Apostle says, ran to such a hard and shameful cross because I had been offered joy, so that you would patiently choose pains and afflictions and embrace them indeed as consolations. And indeed they are consolations, for the more you suffer such things for My sake the more you make yourself like Me. If you conform yourself to Me in suffering, truly, as My Apostle says, you will become like Me in grace and glory. Therefore, O daughter, for My sake regard sweet things as bitter and bitter things as sweet and then have no fear, for undoubtedly you will be stong in all things.” (Catherine of Siena, pp.89-90)
“When she talked to us about this, she always told us as a general rule never to descend to the level of argument with the Enemy in times of temptation. Getting people to discuss the matter was exactly what he wanted, … so a soul chastely united to Christ should refuse to discuss the Enemy’s temptations but turn to its Bridegroom in prayer, relying on Him with absolute trust and faithfulness. All temptations, she said, could be overcome by the virtue of faith.” (Catherine of Siena, p. 91)
So, my friends, let us continue to follow Christ this Lenten season. Let us be “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)