While on pilgrimage in the Holy Land a few years ago, our group went to a place likely to have been where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. I was surprised to see that the water was murky, an unexpected ugly brownish-green. Our guide told us that this was due to years of fertilizer run-off from farmers’ fields. My surprise was not just because of the murkiness of the water, but because a few days prior our group had gone to a site near Mt. Herman in the far north of Israel where we saw the source of the Jordan; the water was crystal clear, not at all like the water to the south. Remembering this experience reminded me of how our interior life can become clouded by choices, anxieties, pressures, obligations, and the details of daily living: we get so into everyday busyness that we can easily move away from the spiritual practices that we once adhered to. We gradually get distracted and do not even realize that a shift in priorities has taken place. That is, we lose clarity until something shakes us up, calling us to re-evaluate and perhaps re-prioritize. To have clarity, spiritual or otherwise, we need to return to the source, the Lord, from whom all wisdom and grace flows.
We are clearly in a time of unbidden change. However, the present turmoil is not only an opportunity for reviewing our choices, but it gives rise to renewing our commitment to God and to a fuller spiritual life. And even though many of us actually have more distractions now than before we needed to stay home, this is the time when we most need to re-think our priorities. While we may not have the clarity we seek, if we approach all things based on what Jesus taught and enter into prayer with a heart which truly seeks Him, we can trust that God will guide us to move toward Him and the merciful love He offers. To do so, we must keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open, and we must be willing to let God lead. This is a challenge which has never been easy, even for the apostles, saints, and holy ones, but it is the intention of our hearts which the Lord understands and honors. If all we have to offer is a little chaotic at first, then offer it. But the point is that this is a time when we can and should evaluate that which is truly important and brings us life in Him.
Remember that the apostles also began their ministry separated from the wider community. Even after the Risen Jesus appeared to them, they were told to stay in Jerusalem – (‘stay in the house, don’t go anywhere’)* – until the Holy Spirit came. They did accompany Jesus to Bethany (Luke 24:50) where He gave them their final instructions and then ascended into Heaven “while they were looking on,” (Acts 1:9), but they were instructed to return home and remain there until the Spirit came. Between the Ascension and Pentecost they prayed and re-prioritized their lives, knowing nothing would ever be the same. However, as they prayed in that Upper Room they had no real clarity as to what was about to take place. They trusted in what Jesus had told them and therefore were receptive when the Holy Spirit descended.
Even after Pentecost the apostles still had to pray and discern how they ought to proceed. What they had received was not complete understanding, but rather the gifts needed to help make things clearer. This is how the spiritual life works: the more we study the Scriptures and spend time in prayer, the more we come to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our decision-making. Many things will still be wrapped in mystery, but if we do everything with love, giving our best effort to let the Spirit guide us, we can make choices which are life-giving and holy. Our task is to learn to recognize the Spirit’s presence which can only be done by spending time with Him.
Right now we have an opportunity to reflect upon our choices, priorities, and values, discerning which ones give life to our soul and have real value in the Kingdom of God. We are invited to re-evaluate our relationship with God, how we spend our time, and the quality of our love of neighbor. Like the apostles after the Ascension, we are called to reflect upon the charisms we received through Baptism and Confirmation, asking for guidance in using them. We can use a little more of our ‘home time’ for prayer alone and with our families, attending liturgies together even if we are in our living room instead of our church; we can pray for growth in gratitude for the simple things we do have, rather than lamenting the myriads of choices which have been ‘lost.’ We can reach out to those who are alone, unemployed, or in need. And if we are the suffering or ill during this time, perhaps we can accept the care given by others as a gift from God. What is most important is that we pray for guidance, turning to God, the Source of clear Living Water, in order to continue our growth in faith, hope, and love. We might not find all the answers we crave, but we will find assurance of His love from which we can never be separated.
May we turn to the Father in gratitude for what He has given! May we turn to Jesus, the Source of Living Water, that He might slake our spiritual thirst and fulfill our desire for new life today! May we turn to the Holy Spirit to help us discern what we can do to move closer to God! And may we grow in our ability to follow the Lord who alone leads to life! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* These are my words, meant to highlight the similarity between the experience of the apostles and our present stay-at-home situation.
1. My photo: the Jordan River in Israel at the representative spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer
2. Painting, abstract art, With the eagle, by Paul Klee (1918): I chose this because it seemed to have symbols which could be seen as home, out in nature, distractions, intentions and reflections, attempts at clarity, and even the chaos of a busy home. Yes, it is an eagle, as the title of the painting indicates, but it if we stretch, perhaps we could envision the Holy Spirit instead. Information at https://wikioo.org/paintings.php?refarticle=8LT4AG&titlepainting=With%20the%20eagle&artistname=Paul%20Klee
3. Fresco, The Ascension of the Lord by Giotto: Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy
4. Icon, The Holy Spirit The Lord the Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. My photo: the source of the Jordan River, near Mt. Herman, Israel
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Heart Speaks to Heart