by Fr. Jack McArdle
Living and walking in the Spirit is called the New Life. It is about being born again, and beginning life as completely transformed creatures. The cocoon is broken, the caterpillar is transformed, and a beautiful butterfly lands on your hand.
There is a story that is often used in talks about death, but it also fits in here. There were grubs in the bottom of a bond. Occasionally, one of them feels itself drawn to the surface. The others are wondering what happens when one goes up there. They agree among themselves that the next one called to the surface will return and tell the others what it's like up there. Eventually, one grub makes its way towards the surface. He is amazed to find it so bright and so warm up there, with a brilliant light that touches the soul.
Suddenly the grub began to change. His whole body went through some sort of transformation that seemed to go on for ages. Eventually, he discovered, to his amazement, that he had become a really beautiful dragon-fly. (This was what he was created to be, but he thought that he had settled for always being a grub!). He flew back and forth across the bond. He could see the others below, but they couldn't see him. He then realised that he could not get back. After a while, he gave up any intention of trying to get back, because, he thought "They would never recognise a beautiful creature like me as ever being one of them". A bit far-fetched, I know, but it does point to a very real and deep transformation within, even if I still look like the photo on my passport!
I have known a few people who have had heart transplants. Before the actual operation, they have to go through a long and tedious process. There are x-rays, scans, and every possible way of examining the heart, to determine the amount of damage done, and to decide that it is beyond repair, and needs to be replaced. All of this is explained in great detail to the patient and the next-of-kin. They are shown diagrams of hearts, and they are shown how the heart will be removed, and the new one transplanted. The patient and family are given every option, before the final decision is made. Eventually, the papers are signed, and the process is ready to begin.
Now the wait begins, as they wait for a suitable heart. This may happen sooner rather than later, and, indeed, it very might be too late. Somebody else has to die, if this man has any hope of living. That person might already have a donor card, or the next-of-kin could decide that organs should be donated. The big day comes, and the man submits myself entirely to others, literally putting his life in their hands. When we have got to this stage, one very important thing must happen. The man must be totally removed from the equation.
He is given a deep anaesthetic, and he is out of all decision-making and action for the rest of the operation. Without removing him from the equation, there could be no operation. This is something that he cannot do for himself, and there is no doubt in his mind, or in anybody else's, about that fact. I have teased heart recipients on occasions, asking the spouse if he is more kind-hearted, more tender-hearted than before. Needless to say what the answer is, although some people, having had such a close brush with their immortality, can become much more considerate, grateful, and patient.
To walk again after a heart transplant is to be given a second chance at life. That is what Pentecost means for us, except that this second chance is so much more wonderful than the first one. It is as if the umbilical cord with God is reconnected, and I know that I am on my way back to the Garden. When the wise men visited Jesus in Bethlehem, we are told that 'they returned home by a different route'. Once they had met Jesus they owed nothing to the Herods of this world.
Living the life of the Spirit is like riding the wind like a seagull. The seagull makes the wind do the work, and it can really have a ball in the midst of the fiercest gales. I once saw a seagull travel about a mile, turn around, and go back the same way, without moving a wing. The Spirit is 'the wind beneath my wings'. The only real sin I can commit, as a Christian, is not to have hope. "Always have an explanation to give to those who ask you the reason for the hope that you have", St. Peter tells us. I have a new and eternal hope, and the Spirit has refocused my vision in such a way that I can see the Lord at work in my life. "Two men looked through their prison bars. One saw the dirt on the street, the other saw the glory of the stars". Remembering Peter's story up to, and including Calvary, it makes riveting reading to read his letters.
When Jesus returned to Nazareth, the people asked "Where did this man get this wisdom? He is one of us, and we know his family, and he has grown up among us." One could ask the same thing about Peter, except that we know what happened to him. The transformation that took place in him on Pentecost morning was most extraordinary. For someone who was afraid of a servant girl some weeks previously, he bounded out of that Upper Room, and with voice raised, he held his listeners spellbound for quite some time. His words were so powerful that thousands of hearts were touched, and many came to believe in the message that he gave. He took the cripple by the hand at the gate of the city, and told him to take up his mat and go home. He looked his accusers in the eye, as he was brought before the Sanhedrin, and he went out and continued the very thing they ordered him not to do. Peter may have looked the way he always looked, and those who knew him could still recognise him. But something within him had changed dramatically, and, in that way, he was a completely different person. The body is not me. I am living in the body. No matter what age the body may be, the child within never grows old. Yes, Peter had changed, changed utterly.
When I was in my mother's womb, being formed in human fashion, I could not understand my mother, or have any ideas whatever about her. When I was born, separated from her, I eventually came to know her face, to recognise her touch, and to respond to her voice. At an earlier stage in my life I was told that I looked like my mother. (With receding hair-line, and expanding waist-line, I am now told "You're getting more like your father every day"!). I am now in the womb of God, being formed in the image of Jesus Christ. This is the on-going work of the Spirit, that continues quietly but consistently "until Christ be formed in you". When we open our hearts to his Spirit, God is free to do in us exactly what he did in Mary.
At my first Mass some years ago, I had a song that was sung twice in the Mass, and was printed twice in the handout. "Be brave little mother for the burden you bear, for it's Christ that you carry everywhere everywhere." In visiting Elizabeth, Mary did exactly what I would hope to do as a priest, i.e., bring Jesus to someone else. I have a car outside the door. It means a lot to me because I'm on the road a lot. Supposing the car was stolen, and the culprit was brought into my presence, how do I think I would react? I don't know, actually, but I'm a pacifist by nature, so I hope there would be no violence.
Anyhow, to apply this to God, let us look at what he did after the rebellion in the Garden. Human beings wanted to have the power of God. What did God do? If it was his car that was stolen, he forgave the culprit, gave him the car, and provided enough petrol for the rest of his life! He forgave them, and put into operation a plan of salvation that would enable them share in the fullness of his life, and he provided the Holy Spirit that would enable them live with his life. Only God would do a thing like that.
There are words that must be written bold and clear across the sky, and I must never forget them "There is nothing impossible for God". I must never ever set limits to what God can do in me, and certainly wants to do in me. Mary believed that, and the Spirit had complete freedom to work in her. Just as Jesus was 'led by the Spirit' into the desert or down to the Temple, so Mary was ready and willing to be led by the Spirit, no matter where that was. She said her 'yes' on the road to Egypt and on the road to Calvary.
Summarising the last seven chapters is a path to Transformation. It is to enter into the fullness of the Gospel, and of the Life in the Spirit. It is a gift that is available to anyone who wants it. As Peter said on Pentecost morning "It is for you and all of your children." It is to enter into a life that is such that all I will need is the vision to complete it in heaven. There is nothing I will get when I die that I'm not offered now. The road to heaven is itself heaven. An end to guilt, to fear, to emptiness, and to Religion. It is to enter into 'the freedom of the children of God' as St Irenaus put it.
While enjoying the gift of life, and being truly grateful for it, it also engenders a sort of divine home-sickness for my True Home. It is not possible for me to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. Because of the process outlined in the last seven chapters, as someone with a Senior Citizen's free pass, I have never been as grateful in my life, and I have never been happier than I am now. I can only hope that what I have written may help someone else to discover this pearl of great price.
E-mail this article to a friend
Insights That Inspired Me copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.