Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sin, Soon; John of Avila, Continued

A reader and spiritual friend emailed, asking me to consider writing about sin.  She is correct in that it is good to ponder:  What is sin?  Understanding the answer to this question makes easier or at least strengthens the ability in conquering the temptation and acting out of sin.  A confessor shared with her some of what is and is not sin; and a confessor after Mass this evening spoke briefly, also, as I asked him his expertise.  Also at ready is the tried and true Tanquerey: Treatise on the Spiritual Life.  The late great Archbishop writes much, clearly, on the topic of sin.

However, I beg some time.  (Some of my own flaws include being drawn off in other directions. (He who scatters will not gather.)  I don't want this, but it happens; I allow it.   Lack of discipline, I call it.  We will learn later if this is, or could be, a sin.)  But now we proceed with writing of the Holy Spirit, from the third of St. John of Avila's six sermons.

"We will come to him and will make our abode with him (John 14:23).  St. John of Avila bases this sermon upon Jesus' promises to the apostles and to all of us that if we keep His commandments, if we remain in His love, He will be our dwelling place.  Who is He?  Who is We?

The following excerpt from John of Avila's Holy Ghost homilies is key to our understanding of the fullness of His Real Presence:  Who, then, are those who are to come? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost--because wherever the Father and the Son are, the Holy Ghost is with Them.  The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity....And We will not go away--said our Redeemer.  'We will make our abode with him.' 

At this point, John of Avila further discusses why God made man.  "So that he might love God, and loving Him possess Him, and possessing Him, enjoy Him, and enjoying Him, become blessed.  Men were created that they might enter into a state of bliss...."  And man did enjoy bliss until we sinned.  But now Jesus tells the apostles (and us) that we do have a pathway of union with God, possible in the indwelling of the Trinity, through a process of our salvation.

Then the saint describes the religious men and women as well as the married thinking they can better dedicate themselves to God by going into seclusion or by avoiding work other than prayer and fasting.  But no, "God has called you to a certain state of life and in it you must gain salvation.  Be conscientious about doing your duty, and He will give you the grace of salvation."  Yet here he inserts a realistic warning:  "The devil will never let you be contented if you are leading a holy life, but will make you dissatisfied in order that you may lose the peace of mind you should feel in the state to which God has called you.  He will make you hope for what cannot be, for the impossible."

The way to avoid the pitfalls of sin and the tricks of the devil is to remain in His Love.  We must live in Christ in the present moment, yes, but we are discovering that Christ is not alone but is One in Three Persons, always.  Wherever is Jesus Christ is the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus came that we might have life and live it fully.  How do we know if our souls are truly alive?  "By the kind of life your soul leads.  When your soul is alive it loves and knows God and devotes itself entirely to His service.  The death of the soul occurs in three ways: through neglect, through error, through the passions.  In the soul that does not love God, the will, the reason and the memory are dead.  When the soul is dead, it cannot perform a good action."

"'By me, if any man shall enter in, he shall be saved, and he shall go in and go out, and shall find pastures' (John 10:9).  Since Jesus Christ is the door, where will this door lead?  To the Holy Ghost.

Consider the many Scriptures that depict the breath of life blown into the dead.  Recall, for example, in the Old Testament when Elijah placed himself over a dead child and breathed upon him, bringing life.  Think about how many times Jesus imparted the Spirit into the sick as well as the dead, healing and reviving them to fullness of life.  "He who does not receive the breath of Christ, no matter how rich or powerful he may poor, weak and wretched....Vine and branches are nourished with the same sap; Head and body are sustained by the same holiness: the spirit of Christ and the spirit of those who are incorporated in Him, is all one....Jesus and all His servants were chiseled by the troubles and persecutions of this world and therefore, His servants deserved to dwell with Christ."

"He who desires the Holy Ghost, let him love and obey and desire Jesus Christ forever!  Is it of little importance that the Father should love you?  There are no better chains with which to hold the Holy Ghost than by loving Jesus Christ.  'Because you have loved me,' says Jesus Christ, 'the Father himself loveth you,' because you loved Me very much.  He who loves Jesus Christ and desires Jesus Christ will in return receive the Holy Ghost." 

Later in this sermon, St. John of Avila inspires what is required of us, as Christ is our example.  He quotes St. Paul:  "'For if the blood of goats and of oxen and the ashes of a heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost, offered himself unspotted to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?' Hebrews 9:13-14....It was the Holy Ghost that moved and incited Christ to shed His blood so readily for us.

"Do not be frightened because the Holy Ghost has brought you today to be placed on a cross...."  John of Avila concludes this sermon by reminding us that through, with and in Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit will bring us to all goodness of union in such a way as to defy our fears and sufferings of this life.  We must keep our eyes, thoughts, hearts and souls upon heaven while existing in this realm.

I am reminded, personally, of how easy it is to be deceived.  The evil one can work through but one person to discourage us or misunderstand and mistreat.  Then others around that one person can follow suit, being used by the devil to go along with one person doing wrong--not that one still not realizing he or she is deceived.  Thus the ugliness spreads, and this includes the person mistreated, for the devil deceives and works on that one, too, who reacts to the persecution with upset and anger.  This is how evil can spread without any of the people realizing they are being used by the devil.

How quickly the devil works on us--just as surely and soon as we desire to live in Christ in the present moments.  Then when we are drawn into His Real Presence--the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--the devil strikes harder yet more secretively.  How better than to engage those who we'd least suspect of being hurtful, to turn upon the soul who is newly adopted into the abode of the Trinity?  And what great mercy of His Real Presence, the Trinity, to bring all sufferings and confusions to good in strengthening the soul even when all had seemed lost in chaos!

You can consider events in your own lives.  Of mine, I reflect briefly on the seemingly long-lasting coma of my ugliness and hurt--the snapping remarks, the chaos with relationships, my growing fear of others, the roller coaster days and nights.  I also consider with amazement the harsh and cruel ordeals of what some people said and did to me that defied which I reacted, at times, with the grace of His Real Presence but more often with the human failings of one inexperienced in rough, devil-clever, spiritual warfare.  I was so deceived; yet His Real Presence continued the gracious ecstasies which, beyond my understanding at the time, brought more hurt, unkindness, awkwardness and isolation. 

The reality is that no matter how low we fall nor how many times we succumb to the deception, no matter how hurt (yes, it comes to physical injury) or how often we complain, wail, or snipe back, His Real Presence lifts us up.  Jesus Christ shows us how to be crucified; even when we do not suffer well at all, the Holy Spirit reminds us to carry the cross for at some point we realize our love we had in the good times has bound us to Him.  He, They, the Three in One, His Real Presence--the Holy Trinity--have come to make Their abode in us.  We are through, with and in Him:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  For this time, at least, the coma of ugliness has been lifted and His breath revivifies not only our lives but our minds, hearts and spirits in even greater faith, hope and charity!

It is worth all.  I can say this now, thanks to so many who prayed for me--even those who departed due to my human failings and blindness.  How unexpectedly treacherous is the journey...but for His Mercy!  All glory and thanksgiving to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!   

God bless His Real Presence in us!

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