With Evening Prayer today, the Easter Candle will be lit for the last time, except for the celebrations of the Mass of Resurrection (funerals). This Easter season has perhaps been one of the most grace-filled Easters of my life, and I believe the reason is that God has kept me very busy with his work, and less and less focused on my own interests. The interpretation of that statement is found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; Now the works of the flesh are obvious; immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5: 16, 19 – 20, 22)
One does not need to be a Scripture scholar to connect a few dots here. First of all, it seems rather obvious that the world is experiencing a great deal of fury, selfishness, dissension, immorality and other forms of impurity. No one wants to live in such a world. But, we do have an option, and it is the option of believers to live in the Spirit.
A world closed to God and to Jesus Christ and his gift of the Holy Spirit will experience divisions, chaos and violence; it is the only outcome. We do not need to condemn the world, for Jesus did not come to condemn, but rather to save. (see John 3:17) The believer simply needs to beg God for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We need a greater ability to discern what spirits are at work in our life and world, and as St. Ignatius said; where the counter spirit is at work, reject it. Where the Holy Spirit is at work, embrace it.
I have prayed often over the years for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and never really felt like I had experienced it. Partially, this was because I was a novice about the ways of the Spirit. But perhaps more importantly, I was still living a life too focused on self – a life of the ‘flesh’ if you will. In the same Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says that those who live according to the flesh will not enter into the kingdom of God. (see 5:21)
We are very good at identifying the various appetites of the body, and also very good at satisfying those appetites. But, we need to be even wiser about the desires of the soul, and how to satisfy the longings of the Holy Spirit who abides within us. If we are serious about wanting to enter the fullness of God’s Kingdom, and I do not know anyone who does not desire heaven, then we must be adept at feeding the soul, and advancing God’s Kingdom here on earth. That is the work of the Holy Spirit! That is the work of the church. That is the work of believers.
St. Paul lists many fruits of the Spirit, but perhaps the most important one for novices is that of self-control. If we learn to properly discipline our bodies – with all due respect for the goodness of the body – then we will be well on our way to learning how to feed the soul, and be even more docile and obedient to the inspirations and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
This does not mean that we will all be speaking in tongues, but it does mean that we will be better able to live out the gifts God has given us for building up the Body of Christ, the Church. It does mean that we will be advancing God’s Kingdom and bringing more love, joy and peace into the lives of others. If we are persecuted for this, so what? If we are martyred for this, so what? We will enter into the fullness of God’s Kingdom, which is our deepest desire and our ultimate goal in this life.
Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; (Matthew 5:11-12)