Category: Second Week


AMDG

We may have met people who have had a powerful ‘conversion’ experience.  They feel as though they have been chosen by God, who has acted in their life in a decisive way.  A classic example is an alcoholic who reaches rock bottom, and then calls out for help and is touched in some way which leads to this conversion of life etc. George W Bush is a classic example – often the person feels like God has touched them especially and their personal theology, as a result, is more exclusive, although in his case Billy Graham gave a  helping hand. Perhaps this explains how language such as his ‘axis of evil’ upset so many liberals in Europe.  In Saint Ignatius’ rules for discernment, he talks about how the Holy Spirit can work in this way – like water hitting a stone – like a ‘spiritual’ intervention.   It all depends on the direction of someone’s life, if you wake up at the age of 40, like ‘Dubya’ after a wild weekend and you see your life slipping away a because you are drinking too much,  and in this reality check you are given a cold sharp clarity that makes you realise you have to stop.  Whereas if your orientation is the other way, i.e. if you are already seeking God and becoming growingly sensitive to the interior life then the spirit works more softly – ‘suavemente’ in the original Spanish – like water hitting a sponge.

The general orientation of a person’s life is key here because it can work either way, the spirits have the opposite effects depending on your general orientation. A person moving from good to better can suddenly be faced with a not-so-subtle temptation that could knock them of course, MP’s expenses come to mind. However, if a person’s life is disintegrating for whatever reason, and they are in the grip of an addictive vice, such as online gambling – the soft movement is from the ‘bad spirit’.  One more subtle temptation here, one more rationalisation there…. like water hitting a sponge.  Whereas the good spirit will come in clashing – like water hitting a stone in this case – a sudden sting of conscience, or a sober realization that all my credit cards are maxed out. We all have these ‘turning points’ in our lives, and this is where it pays off to have a spiritual director to help understand what their significance is.

Second Week Rules for Discernment – Rule 7 

In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.

AMDG

Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!

AMDG

Homily given at the Holy Name, Manchester at Midnight Mass, 25/12/2014

Jesus-and-ChristmasThe Night of Nights…..  Tonight we remember the night on which all of history turns…..  the night in which God breaks through 2014 years ago – the night that our Calendar is based on, the night which divides time to Before and After …..  Before the coming of Christ and After the Arrival of Our Lord.  The Incarnation – the infinite God becoming a finite, vulnerable baby – the craziness of a love that never gives up on us, that never gives up on humans even though we make such a mess of things….. The Night of Nights

Tonight there is a crack in the Universe – that is first noticed in Nazareth as an angel appears to a young girl –  then the crack leads a starry trail to Bethlehem that starts to attract attention from far away, in the learned scientific halls of astronomers and also closer to home in the palaces of ruthless power.  But notice how the truly powerful one – the creator of the universe –  chooses to visit us – on the edge of things, in poverty, in simplicity, far from corridors of political intrigue, far from halls of great learning.

It is in the emergency shelter of a stable that this child-God begins to open a space in the world in which God’s healing love can work.  This space – the stable in Bethlehem – will soon grow into a new sanctuary – and will spread around the world – overtaking nearly half of the world’s population.  From here the faith of 2 and half billion people is born, from this temporary shelter, great cathedrals will arise all over the world, this humble beginning will inspire great works of art, literature and breathtaking beauty.

star-of-bethlehem1But tonight is about going back to those humble beginnings in Bethlehem – and one thing I ask that you do over the next days and weeks – is to gaze upon that image of the stable, to ponder how it all started – the vulnerability, the tenderness……  A modern translation of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises asks us to enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the eyes of faith  .  We can do that beautifully in front of the crib …….  Gazing at the figures ……… enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith .  In a few moments of stillness and silence …… watch the brave Girl who said yes to God, even though to be pregnant out of wedlock was a great shame and often meant you would be stoned to death or thrown down a well …… ponder on the courage of Mary….. and then the quiet support of Joseph, that decent man who instead of abandoning Mary listened to the angel in a dream and stood by her, his faith overcoming his pride, his compassion overcoming his male ego.  As we watch them caring for each other – allow that tenderness to seep into your soul, and then that tenderness will lead you to ponder the vulnerable, baby Jesus, dependent on their care – the man who will command the waves to be still, who cures so many people, who raises Lazarus from the dead….  As a helpless baby – The Son of God born into this world.

Some time over the next few days, take a little time out from the feasting, the telly, the computer, prize your eyes away from your smart phone and contemplate that image from Bethlehem…….  What we spend our time looking at affects us deeply – how we thing about the world – how think about our selves.

kim-kardashian-paper-cover-billboard-650Possible the most looked at image last year was that strange picture of Kim Kardashian – with her unusually shaped body – showing a little bit too much of it – and then that bizarre image of pouring champagne over her head into a glass that was balanced on her unusually shaped body……  I think you know what I mean …..  these images were looked at so often the strap line ‘Break the Internet’ was attached to it.   Talking to so many students – I know how much pressure they feel under to have the perfect body – male as well as female students.  How they are bombarded with images of ‘beauty’ all the time and how it leaves so many feeling inadequate, frustrated and unhappy.  It is like a spiritual sickness in our image obsessed world……

So be careful what you are looking at – notice if it doesn’t increase your faith , or your hope or your love it is probably slowly having a poisonous effect…. Take time away from all of that and spend some time gazing with wonder at the nativity scene – The church is open all day during the holiday period – when you gaze at the crib – what you find there is the image of pure Love – a love that is strong that as St Paul said it emptied itself, by taking the form of a servant so as to be born as a human….. the longer you Gaze on that – that love will slowly penetrate your heart ….  And you won’t feel inadequate or unhappy but your heart will fill with wonder…..

Enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith 

And if this is your annual visit to church, or you don’t come very often, if you’re not sure about your faith, or you just like celebrating Christmas – you are very welcome …. But come again, come more often, spend less time with the Kim Kardashians of this world and the snares of our celebrity culture and more time with us and ponder Him who is the source of our joy and who can change anything