Inspiration is contagious. When I was in grade school, girls mostly jumped rope or played tag at recess. There was also a clapping game we played together sung to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” One girl, who wore a leg brace and could only use one of her arms, always stood alone and watched the rest of us play. I never gave her much thought until the day I saw my best friend approach the girl. They figured out a way to play the clapping game using just one hand. I was in awe of my friend. Her compassion and ingenuity would have been impressive in someone even more than ten years old. I wanted to be like her. I began playing with the physically challenged girl, too, and we became friends.
Awe is a great motivator. We don’t grow spiritually by brow-beating ourselves. Holiness isn’t fitting ourselves into a moral straight jacket. When we admire others who make generous use of their time, talents, and treasure, they inspire us to do likewise.
Who could be more awe-inspiring than God? Which is why spending time with Him invites us to grow spiritually. When we reflect on God’s love, mercy, truth, and the like, we immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. Mean or shabby motives in our own nature pale in comparison and we become willing to let them slip away.
Time spent with our awesome God changes us from the inside out.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy Lord.
Reflection: Which of God’s awe-inspiring attributes speaks most to your heart today?
Jesus was angry as he looked around at them, but at the same time he felt sorry for them, because they were so stubborn and wrong. Mark 3:5
Jesus had mixed feelings about the religious leaders who couldn’t see beyond the letter of the law. They wanted to condemn Jesus for breaking the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day. What could be more holy than reaching out with compassion to relieve someone else’s suffering? No wonder he felt angry.
He also felt sorry for them. Why? Because they were stubborn and wrong. I can’t claim to know what Jesus was thinking, but I suspect it had more to do with their being stubborn than wrong. When we’re wrong, we can always change our minds once we’re corrected. But when we’re stubborn, the right information won’t help. We refuse to see the truth even if it’s right under our eyes. Stubbornness truly deserves pity. There is no hope of growth or change when our minds are already made up. We dig in our heels and refuse to budge.
What’s so hard about being open to another point of view? What’s the harm in looking at things in a new way? We have nothing to lose. If the new idea isn’t correct we can retain original position. But if we obstinately cling to what we think we know—without even considering other options—we’re stuck with no hope of growth. No wonder Jesus pitied them.
I’ve been stubborn more than once in my life, often for no better reason than, “I’ve been doing it this way for years, why change?” I said it in the 1970’s when our office computerized operations we used to do by hand. Luckily, my inflexibility gave way to the desire to keep my job. What if I had refused to consider the new procedure? I wouldn’t be writing this blog, for one thing. I would have shut the door on learning the skills that have become a way of life our culture today.
Stubbornness can stunt our spiritual life with even more impact. The Holy Spirt is dynamic. God’s truth doesn’t change, but our understanding of it and the way we live it grows as we grow. The religious leaders weren’t wrong in wanting to honor the Sabbath, but they were wrong clinging to their narrow interpretation of what that meant. May God grace us with open-mindedness as he deepens our understanding of his truth.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the humility to be teachable.
Reflection: What ideas are you clinging to that might be worth a second look? How can open-mindedness help you grow spiritually?
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this must also say, “Come!” Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it. Revelation 22:17
Are you thirsty?
We’re invited to refresh ourselves. The water of life is a free gift…if we want it. We don’t have to earn it; it’s a gift. The only requirement seems to be that once we’re invited, we invite others, too.
Life-giving water isn’t stagnant. What flows in must also flow out. We can’t hoard the invitation. We’re meant to share it. We’re called to offer the water of life to “whoever wants it.” Not just those we think are suited to it, although that might be comfortable. Not even with those we think need it—people don’t always want what they need.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said prostitutes and tax-collectors would enter God’s kingdom before religious authorities. Being an outcast is likely to make us very thirsty. Whatever we think makes us an outcast, isn’t a barrier to being welcomed by God. It’s almost a pre-requisite. Once we receive our invitation, all we have to do is drink deeply and pass it on to other thirsty outcasts.
Prayer: I accept your invitation, Lord. Thank you.
Reflection: Who in your life is thirsty? How can you share your invitation with them?
The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34 NAB
And [Jesus] did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 NRSV
We belong to the New Covenant. When our spiritual forefathers broke the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant. More than Ten Commandments on a stone, He promised to write the new law on our hearts. He promised to be our God and all we had to do was be His people, that He would enable all of us to know Him, and that he would forgive our sins.
At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the beginning of this New Covenant instituted with His blood on the cross. He promised that after His death and resurrection, He would send us a Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to live the New Covenant. When we allow the Spirit to move us, we can live out God’s law of love for God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We can connect with God in our heats, we can accept the priceless gift of forgiveness and know we belong to the Body of Christ.
Prayer: Praise God who does for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Reflection: How can responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings affect your relationship with God, with others, or even with yourself?
In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. Luke 4:33-35
The man came to a place of worship even though he had a spirit of evil within him. Interestingly, the evil spirit could not override the man’s free will nor keep him from entering the holy place to hear God’s word.
The evil spirit cried out, asking to be left alone. So often, temptations beg to be left alone…We want to stop indulging in ways that damage our health, our self-esteem, or our pocketbooks—but not if we have to give up the treats we like. We long to have better relationships—but not if we have to do the hard work of looking within and searching out how we contribute to the unhealthy patterns.
Then, some moment of truth shows us the finer things we’re capable of.
…There are times when we must acknowledge the truth, at least to ourselves. In those moments, will we choose to listen to our Higher Power or some lower power?
Prayer: Loving Savior, remind me that you are greater than my demons. It is safe to surrender myself to your care.
Reflection: When you wrestle with inner demons, what are some ways to turn to God and appropriate God’s healing power?
“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”
Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach
Paulist Press, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
Used with Permission
Cornelius said, “It was about this time three days ago that I was praying in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly a man dressed in shining clothes stood in front of me and said: ‘Cornelius! God has heard your prayer and has taken notice of your works of charity. Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner of leather, who lives by the sea.’ And so I sent for you at once, and you have been good enough to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God, waiting to hear anything that the Lord has instructed you to say.” Acts 10: 30-33
Not only was Cornelius a Gentile, he was a captain in the Roman occupying army. In spite of his powerful position and his lack of Jewish religion, he was devout believer of God and lived out his faith through acts of charity. In a vision, Cornelius was invited to send for Simon Peter, the rock upon whom Christ said he would build his church. God also sent a vision to Peter, guiding him to accept the invitation.
God’s grace empowered Peter, seeped in Jewish tradition, to cross the religious boundary that prohibited Jews from associating with non-Jews. That same grace inspired Cornelius’ devotion and enabled him to be open to God’s presence—even though transmitted through the people Cornelius and his fellow Romans had conquered. Humility, faith, and willingness paved the way for this significant milestone in the development of the Body of Christ. God poured out his Holy Spirit on Cornelius, his family and friends, all who had gathered to hear Peter’s message. That same Holy Spirit allowed Peter—contrary to centuries of Jewish tradition—to recognize that “God treats everyone on the same basis. Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to.” God’s love has the power to melt divisions between people.
The boundary between Jew and Gentile was an enormous hurdle to overcome. From the birth of the Church as the Body of Christ, God demonstrated that the differences that divide those who love and serve Him are no match for the power of His love . As Christ said, the time is coming when all who worship God will worship in Spirit and in truth. As Cornelius worshiped God in truth through his actions and received the Holy Spirit, let us who receive the Spirit allow our actions to be guided by the truth of God’s love for all—even those who disagree with us.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, melt our divisions with the flame of your love.
Reflection: What divisions keep you separated from others? How might God be calling you to act in love today?
[Apollos] was an eloquent speaker and had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he proclaimed and taught correctly the facts about Jesus. However, he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home with them and explained to him more correctly the Way of God. Acts 18: 24b – 26
Apollos had his facts straight. He had knowledge, eloquence, and enthusiasm. Those are good things. He used the talents God gave him to spread the good news as far as he had it. But Apollos knew only about the baptism of John; he was unaware of the reception of the Holy Spirit experienced by believers at Pentecost. Priscilla and Aquila, who had worked closely with St. Paul, shared their deeper understanding and experience with Apollos.
He have been unaware of the workings of the Holy Spirit, but Apollos certainly demonstrated at least one of the fruits: humility. Although knowledgeable and eloquent, he was open-minded enough to learn from Priscilla and Aquila. Knowledge can make us full of ourselves and inflate our egos. Apparently, this was not a problem for Apollos. He didn’t let what he knew keep him from learning even more, which, in turn, made him even more effective. He is mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters as a fellow worker in the vineyard.
Someone said that some people come to drink at the fountain of knowledge and some come to gargle. We’ve all met people who know plenty of facts but are clueless when it comes to living with wisdom. Luckily for the early church, Apollos had both. May we be like him.
Prayer: Lord, keep me teachable.
Reflection: Carl Jung said that we always think we are at the end of our discoveries; we never are. How is what you already know—or think you know—holding you back from learning even more?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.
We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.
We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.
It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.
The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we let go of trying to force things according to self-will. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or happiness by getting our way, we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?
Do not restrain the Holy Spirit…1 Thessalonians 5: 19
Why on Earth would we restrain the Holy Spirit? One reason is fear. It can get scary when we’re not in control…not that any of us is really ever in control. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8) So often we prefer the predictable, so we can be prepared. But if we’re already on top of what we’re doing, there’s no room for growth. We can’t go beyond what we already know. It’s only when we’re not in charge that there is room for growth.
Did you ever feel a nudge from within to do something outside your comfort zone? A thousand self-doubts, “what if’s” or “why me’s” can stop us dead in our tracks, even when the risks are minimal. When my daughter was in second grade, one day I got to school to pick her up a half hour before the lunch break. I felt a strong inner prompting to go into her classroom, even though class was still in session. I had no idea why. Even though I was afraid I’d look like an idiot for intruding, I walked into her classroom anyway. Moments before, the teacher had gotten a call about her own daughter, who had taken ill while away at college. The teacher wasn’t going to abandon the class, but she was much relieved to have an extra adult in the room. I remained with the class all day, playing it by ear, helping the teacher and giving the children a hand as needed. For once, I had chosen not to restrain the Holy Spirit or talk myself out of following that inner nudge. It was an amazing experience.
Prayer: Lord, help me follow where your Spirit leads.
Reflection for sharing: What doors might open for you if you stop restraining the Holy Spirit?
Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. Philippians 4: 5
How is being gentle with others tied to the Lord’s coming? “Gentle attitude” is also translated as “forbearance”, which means patience, tolerance, or being considerate. What does the Lord being near have to do with our being patient with each other?
I’m reminded of my sneakers: I didn’t realize how beat up my old ones were until I held them next to my new sneakers. Looking at God’s goodness reminds me of my imperfections. When I’m aware of my own shortcomings, I’m less judgmental mood. I can afford to be more understanding of other people’s flaws. My perspective shifts when God is my point of reference. Little things that seemed ever so important shrink to insignificant molehills when compared to eternal values.
In this season, we celebrate Christ’s coming to the world as an infant, long ago. We don’t know when He will come again. What if it were tomorrow? How would that change our attitudes towards others today? Maybe He comes as soon as we let Him in. In one sense, He’s already here in Spirit. Every day is a day to remind ourselves the Lord is coming soon and to show a gentle attitude toward everyone.
Prayer: Fill my heart Lord, so I can show others the consideration I myself crave.
Reflection for sharing: How would a ‘gentler’ attitude towards others make a difference in your life today?