Integrating Awareness, Service and Faith into Our Lives
There are times when we say to ourselves, “If only I could see more clearly! If only I knew more clearly what is expected of me, life would be so simple and easy. Yet our experience tells us that we are most of the time in the dark, fumbling along, and unsure of how we should act and what we should do. For many of us the future sometimes looks bleak. What will happen to us and those dear to us? How can we cope with an uncertain future? May His Word renew our strength.
Mary Adele lived all her life in small native communities. But after some years Mary discovered that her homeland was being used for low-level flying for testing weapons of war. Mary became active in the struggle to stop this low-level flying for more than five years. She soon discovered that another battle was going on inside her – a battle with cancer. Mary Adele knew the seriousness of her illness and yet she did not fear death. She was always dressed for action and her lamps were lit. When the Son of Man came for Mary Adele, she was ready and willing. This ordinary woman with great courage knew that her priorities had always been to do God’s will. She had lived up to them to the best of her ability. After a short life of forty-eight years Mary Adele had accumulated few material possessions. She did have, however, a wealth of treasured experiences of love and service which she cherishes today in heaven. -Today’s Gospel spoke clearly to Mary and she responded with her life. As Christians we need to ask the same questions. What are our priorities? Who or What is most important in our lives? God or me?
Jim McShefffrey sj in ‘Living in Christ’
Pray that I have clarity!”
Long ago, when I spent a month working at the ‘House of the Dying’ in Calcutta, I sought a sure answer to my future. On the first morning, I met Mother Teresa after mass at dawn. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” I asked her to pray for me. “What do you want me to pray for?” I voiced the request I had borne thousands of miles: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said “No.” That was that. When I asked why, she answered that clarity was the last thing I was clinging to and had to let go of. When I commented that she herself had always seemed to have the clarity I longed for, she laughed: “I never have had clarity; what I’ve always had is trust. So I will pray that you have trust.”
The First Reading of today points out the quality of the covenant through which our citizenship as the people of God was established. This covenant is divine and firm. Therefore, we are admonished to be joyful and courageous because our citizenship is based on a solid foundation. This covenant enables us to share in the blessings and heritage of God our Father.
Today, the psalmist exalts us: “Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.” In order words, our God has extended his hands to all of us through Christ. Unfortunately, many of us have failed to realize our exalted position as God’s people. This failure has resulted in so many setbacks in our lives. This is why the church today reminds us of our rightful place before God. She encourages us to appreciate and take full advantage of this position.
According to our Second Reading, we become God’s adopted children through faith. Thus, we share the same heritage with Christ. Faith is like the DNA that identifies people of the same ancestry. It is the proof of our heritage to the same Father. God revealed himself fully in Christ. Hence it is through our faith in Christ, that we became God’s people.
AND WHAT IS ETERNAL LIFE?
The Gospel text of today seems to suggest that there is nothing new under the sun. Even Jesus uses economic language. He speaks about purses that do not wear out, stocks that will not fail you, and treasures that cannot be robbed or liquidated. It is around these themes that my reflection revolves.
Spiritual Capital is what Jesus calls, “treasure in heaven”. It is in our own exercise of free-will in responding to the grace of God that the spiritual capital is built. Therefore we cannot fully take credit for the growth of the spiritual capital (SC). The readings of today seem to suggest three pathways towards the building of the spiritual capital:
(1) At the intrapersonal level by means of being awake
(2) At the interpersonal level by means of giving alms
(3) At the transpersonal level by means of faith in God. (Second Reading)
Let us explore these three areas basing ourselves on today’s Liturgy of the Word.
Intrapersonal – Awareness: “See that you are dressed for action…”! (Lk 12:35)
Most religious traditions have spoken about awareness as a point of departure for a spiritual journey. Silence, meditation, prayer are the means to deepen this awareness of the concerns of the self towards God and fellow human beings. A sure way of building the spiritual capital!
In the Christian context being awake is tied up with a sense of readiness and hope, as we hear in the gospel reading of today: “Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (Lk 12:43). Being awake does not surely imply being tensed and anxious about the moment of grace- the arrival of the master. In fact, in the context of the Word of God, being awake is just the opposite of being anxious. We are called to be alert to the action of God in our hearts and in our lives – which is being at home with ourselves, others and God. Silence and deep prayer are the means to attain a relaxed – but not lethargic – state of openness to recognise the Lord who is passing by.
Spiritual writers have called this state “being centred” or “being rooted”. Even amidst the busy schedule of daily life we can remain rooted. In fact when we are rooted even the gushing wind cannot down the tree of life and the self. How do we establish these roots of inner stability – only by means of awareness, silence, meditation and contemplative prayer. These means facilitate our own openness to the grace of God that shares with us the taste of eternal life – life in God – here and now!
Interpersonal – Altruism: “Sell your possessions and give alms” (Lk 12:33)
Jesus consistently invites us to perceive wealth as a means of building better relationships. In the parable of the astute servant (Lk 16:1-9), Jesus invites us to “use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings.” In the gospel reading of today, as on several others occasions (Mt 6:2-3; Mk 10:21), Jesus invites us to “sell your possessions and give alms” (Lk 12:33). Therefore, one possible way of gathering treasures in heaven is giving away the earthly treasures to people in need. This is a concrete way of investing towards the increase of the spiritual capital.
I see that there are at least two manners by which we can reach out to others in building the spiritual capital. One way is what we have mentioned above, namely, giving away the material treasures of the earth to those in need. I draw the second manner from the first reading of today. I was intrigued by this phrase from the Book of Wisdom that we heard read in the first reading of today: “So the holy children of the good offered sacrifice in secret and with one accord enacted this holy law: that the holy ones should share good things and dangers alike” (Wis 18:9).
When I was a school kid, there was a Jesuit priest who introduced us to the devotion of “the Spiritual Bouquet.” There are different versions of this practice, but what I am referring to goes something like this: we were given small booklets that contained line drawings of different images of, say, flowers, ladders, paths, rosary beads – and similar objects. Whenever you did a kind act to someone or a good turn in secret or you did a penance by yourself, you took that booklet and coloured one of the petals of the flower or one of the rungs of the ladder. You went on to complete the flower or the ladder by repeating the little sacrifices in secret. And when the flower was complete you did an offering of it to Jesus or to the Blessed Virgin. However childish this devotion was, recently I was thinking how much valuable it was in building good habits and motivating us to take spiritual matters seriously. The words from the Book of Wisdom referring to the secret sacrifices of children reminded me of the immeasurable value of little acts of charity and personal penances that I did as a little boy. ( courtesty Sahayaselvam)
I believe very strongly in the redemptive meaning of the sacrifices that we make in enduring the little inconveniences of daily life. For instance, I believe, that it is not the flowery language that might touch the hearts of the listeners of my sermon, it is the sacrifice that I make in preparing this sermon that will move grace to touch the hearts of people. Our actions performed even in secrecy have a social and spiritual impact. They build the spiritual capital for others and for ourselves.
To retain a vibrant faith, Jesus makes three demands of his followers. First, we are to share with the needy (v. 33f.); the only worthwhile treasure is that which awaits us in heaven. Secondly, we are to be vigilant, prepared, and living lives that are integrated by our faith. And thirdly, whatever our task in life, we are to carry it our faithfully and responsibly in a spirit of service.
Transpersonal – Primacy of God: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for…” (Heb 11:1)
The third means of building the spiritual capital is faith. The second reading invites us to focus on the primacy of God in our lives, because “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Heb 11:1). What is the blessing that is guaranteed by faith: could we say it is the spiritual capital, the treasure in in heaven, eternal life?
Before we focus on eternal life and the treasure in heaven, I would like to add a word about the primacy of God. Faith, to me, is the recognition of the image of God that I am created in, and the acknowledged action of God who moves me from within me towards himself. This is naturally linked up to awareness and silence – being awake. It is also linked to altruism because every human person is in fact in the image of God. And because the image of God is also Trinitarian and relational, I also realise the image of God within me only through genuine relationship with others. So growth in spiritual capital is three dimensional – intrapersonal, intrapersonal and transpersonal. The end product is eternal life – the true treasure, the true spiritual capital. And what is eternal life?
Pope Benedict XVI says, “‘Eternal life’ is not – as the modern reader might immediately assume – life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize ‘life’ here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone” (Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, pp.81-82).
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.