Living and Walking
by Fr. Jack McArdle
"Learn to live and to walk in the Spirit" St. Paul tells us. You have the Spirit; now let the Spirit have you. "Little children, there is a power within you that is greater than any evil power you will meet on the road of life" St. John tells us.
The Holy Spirit is like Popeye's spinach that can transform my greatest weaknesses into sources of strength. Nothing in my life will ever be the same again, once I learn to live and to walk in the Spirit. I am like the body, or the frame of a car into which the mechanic puts a brand new and powerful engine. I can move now, but I have to develop the constant habit of never moving, of never doing, of never acting without involving the Holy Spirit in the process.
When I act in the power of the Spirit, I am free of Original sin, and I am free to return to the Garden, where I can walk with God in the cool of the evening. Once I believe that I am saved, I begin to look saved, and my Christian witness begins. I cannot overemphasise the part the Spirit plays in this new way of living. Human nature being what it is there is always the danger of welcoming the Spirit, being happy to have the Spirit, and then setting out on my own, as if nothing happened!
The Spirit could be listed among my 'Emergencies Only' phone numbers! That can no longer be the case. You have only just begun to walk in the Spirit, and it is an on-going process to deepen that relationship, and allow the Spirit even greater freedom to work in you, and through you. It requires constant surrender, constant yielding, until I have handed over the whole initiative to the Spirit.
If I am to be led by the Spirit, then I must accept that my role is to follow. This directly confronts Original Sin, which was a decision to do things our way. It transforms our inner spirits into a humble and gentle obedience. We learn to listen to the gentle breeze that is the Spirit, and to allow that breeze to fill our sails as we float along. I am no longer in control, but have totally surrendered to a Higher Power. Like Mary after the Annunciation, Jesus is beginning to be formed in me. In other words, I become more Christ-like, developing a family resemblance to Jesus, as a member of the family of God.
Might I suggest a little prayer that I believe can help? Just to constantly whisper "Spirit and Breath and Power of God". Nothing more. Just a constant reminder again and again, because it is so easy for us to forget, and get caught up in all the troubles and travails of life again. There can be no going back. If I say my daily 'yes', the Spirit will continue to lead me forward. The work is not complete yet, until, to quote St. Paul, "Christ is formed within you".
When I am living and walking in the Spirit, the Spirit becomes my starting point for everything. I would not begin to pray without asking the Spirit to be in my words, to turn my words into prayer. Before I switch on the computer, pick up a phone, or ring a doorbell, I whisper a prayer to the Spirit, inviting him to be present in whatever is going to happen. Where the Spirit is more obviously and essentially involved is when I begin a talk, a homily, or am involved in any kind of direction or counselling.
The Spirit is the Great Giver, and his Gifts are most precious. In most jobs the person is supplied with a box of tools, or with files for his briefcase. I am staying with a family in the north of Ireland as I write this. The man of the house works for the telephone company. He has a van to travel to his various places of work. He checks a laptop each morning to find out his work assignments for the day. His van contains all the tools he needs to properly do his work, and he has work-sheets to record all details of work as they are completed. All of that goes with the job. If he transferred to work with the electricity board, all of that would change. A different van, different tools, and completely different skills.
As a Christian, I am fully equipped with all the 'tools' I need to live the Christian life. In one situation I will need wisdom, discernment, and knowledge, and in another I will need faith, healing, or anointed speaking. The wonderful truth is this: I will NEVER be in a situation where there won't be a Gift of the Spirit to see me through. I ring a doorbell to inform parents of the suicide of a son. In human terms, I would dread this moment, not sure what to say to help the situation. When I involve the Spirit in the process, the words I use are totally unimportant; rather it is the Spirit in the words that makes all the difference. Later, when I have left them, I probably won't remember a word I said, but they will, and that's what matters.
I am writing a letter of sympathy to someone on the death of a loved one. I can chew at my pen for hours, writing and rewriting each sentence, always searching for a new and better way of saying something. I am composing the letter, and the letter is from me, and by the time the recipient has read it, the words will have faded into oblivion. On the other hand, I can take a deep breath, call on the Spirit, and just write from the heart. I post the letter without even rereading it. For years to come, the recipient will retain that letter, and will constantly refer to how much it helped at that particular time. (The funny thing is that, by that time, I myself will have completely forgotten a word that I wrote!).
I occasionally have someone come into my office in a very distraught condition. Like a doctor, I open my medicine bag, and find the very treatment that is needed in this particular case. I could speak to the person in such a way that he tells his family when he goes home that I was able to read his mind! (When he has gone out my door, I may not even remember his name!). The wisdom, discernment, knowledge, etc., are available right there for that particular person. It is important to remember that the Gifts are not mine, and they are only available when needed in a particular situation. The Gifts are provided for the sake of the other person to whom I minister. Some of the Gifts, of course, are for my own private use, like the Gift of prayer, or the Gift of leadership. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the Gifts of the Spirit.
It is important to make a clear distinction between the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit. The Gifts come down upon me like tongues of fire. It is like the vertical beam of the cross. When I begin to exercise them in the service of others, this produces the Fruits of the Spirit, which is like the horizontal beam of the cross. The Fruits are Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, etc. If the Gifts do not lead to producing the Fruits, then I am like the tree in the gospel story, which had beautiful green foliage but had no fruit. Jesus cursed the tree, and it withered. "By their fruits you will know them" says Jesus. The Gifts are often used in private, as in praying with the sick, but the Fruits always give public witness to the presence of the Spirit. "A good tree produces good fruit" Jesus tells us.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he had one very important word to leave with his apostles. "Very soon now you will receive power from on high, and you will be my witnesses onto the ends of the earth". Notice the two parts of this statement. You will receive, and then you will have to give. I cannot accept the privilege without accepting the responsibility that goes with that privilege. Through the Gifts that lead to the Fruits, Jesus was preparing his apostles to begin their mission.
Preaching the gospel is a way of living. St. Francis of Assisi says that we should always preach the gospel, and, only when we have to, we should use words. You are the only gospel that some people may ever read. They may never buy the book. "You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do, and the words that you say. People read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?"
It is very important to get the balance right between the vertical and the horizontal. Jesus bonded both of these beams through his blood, where the divine and the human are sealed as one. What comes down must go sideways, if we are to continue receiving. The more forgiveness I give to others, the more forgiveness is poured out upon me. I cannot say to God "I love you. Thank you. Praise you. I'm sorry" unless those around me hear that first. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers that's what you do onto me". Just as the Spirit is poured out upon me, so must that Spirit pour out from me into the hearts and the lives of others. Once I receive that outpouring of the Spirit nothing in my life will ever be the same again. Christianity is about attracting, not about promoting. Whatever it is I have, if it is genuine, others will surely want it. I become a leaven in the community, a presence for good wherever I go.
I headed this chapter Living and Walking. Like the crow in a previous story who got the voice-box of a blackbird, I have to practise living and walking in the Spirit. When I was born I had the gift of speech, and the ability to walk, but it took quite a deal of practice and constant endeavour before I could walk or talk freely. The great thing is that I have the Spirit, and I am absolutely certain that I will learn to grow in living the Life of the Spirit. We are speaking of pure Spirituality here, and this must never be confused with Religion. Religion is what we do, and Spirituality is what the Spirit does. The whole secret is allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, and I will speak about that in the following chapter.
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