Today I talk about our spiritual life. For hundreds of years our Christianity has based its spirituality on the monastic model of spirituality. A bunch of men or women living together in community (in a convent or monastery), spending maybe four, ﬁve, six hours each day in prayer and meditation, was seen as the ideal way of life for a Christian. It was regarded as the best and most spiritual way to live. This left 95%-99% of christians struggling with a way of life which was regarded as basically inimical to spiritual development, that is to having a close relationship with God. One was encouraged, even required, to set time aside for prayer, meditation, the mass, sacraments and other cultic practises in order to re-energise ones spiritual life. Just like recharging a battery. Few, immersed in the struggles, joys, duties and responsibilities of family life had the opportunity or the desire to do this on any regular basis . In this way everyday daily life became detached from the spiritual life. Became detached from the things of God. My ﬁrst consciousness of an alternative, and for me, more attractive, spiritual life, came when, in the nineteen ﬁfties I read a book by an American parish priest. Lacking the time or energy for the approved monastic style of spirituality he talked of making his everyday parish activities his prayer and his spiritual nourishment. For example in those days before Eucharistic Ministers were taught of he had to do a lot of bringing communion to the elderly and the housebound. So instead of becoming hassled and annoyed with driving in city trafﬁc and rushing to make time for the required periods of prayer, he would belt out the hymn ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’ at the top of his voice as he drove along. This not only calmed him down physically but also gave him more spiritual nourishment than the required periods of prayer which he constantly failed to perform. In other words he made his work as parish priest, with and among his parishioners, his prayer and source of spiritual nourishment. I too will always be trying to play catchup, always be experiencing a spiritual lacuna in my life, always feeling that I should be doing something else, someplace else, until such a time as I make my everyday life to be my prayer life and my spiritual life also. For example delivering your children to school in the morning and collecting them in the afternoon can be a hassle, or on the other hand, it can be doing exactly what you should be doing at this particular time, what God wants you to be doing at this particular time, what is the very most important thing for you to be doing at this time. Doing it with good humour, a grateful heart, and gentle demeanour is your prayer at this particular time. That is where you get your spiritual nourishment at this time. Extending this attitude to everything I do and say every day is, I think, the way for us. What I should be doing or have to be doing at this particular time in this particular place must be my prayer and my source of spiritual nourishment. I do it in union with my God by dipping in and out of the presence of my God, even if just momentarily, from time to time. This attitude of mind is also known as walking in the presence of God – living in the presence of God. To set aside time for formal prayer is good and highly recommended but not always achievable, even in ones own home. Making my everyday activities my prayer, turns my whole day into a prayer and keeps the presence of my God at least in the background of my mind and consciousness. With some effort I may ﬁnd myself living my whole day in the presence of my God, even when the amount of time when I am consciously in communication with God may be relatively short. This type of spirituality can work for me whether I am lecturing in philosophy or shovelling manure.
Today’s Gospel reading is a fascinating and detailed account of the Pharisaic mindset. One’s very erudition in a subject can blind one to reason and right judgement. One’s expertise is ones pride. These two combined to bring tunnel vision and refusal to see the obvious. Today’s Gospel is about seeing. A blind man, born to darkness all his life, sees. The Pharisees, as a group, priding themselves on their knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures and their expertise in distinguishing right from wrong and truth from falsehood are blind to the obvious. If I think carefully and truthfully over my life I can ﬁnd occasions when I too have fallen into the same trap. I know what to do, I understand the situation, I know who is at fault, only I can solve the problem, my line of reasoning is the correct one, my response was the only possible response, I know right from wrong etc. (Every taxi driver in the country knows the solution to all the country’s problems) Looking back now I can feel the prods of guilt, the uncomfortable waves of embarrassment, at my failure or deliberate refusal, to see. Parallels of today’s Gospel can be seen all around us in disputes between individuals, companies, tribes, nations, political parties, churches etc. not only between them but internally also. We Catholics must not, as a church or as individuals, be too strident in our claims to being ‘The One True Church.’ History shows, as does our own experience, that our claimed oneness and truthfulness is a well patched garment. Todays Gospel reading illustrates nicely the words of Jesus of Nazareth; “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” It is well known that one can ﬁnd more faith in the pew at the back of the church than in the book lined study of the theologian, the parish priest, the archbishop or the cardinal. The religious Pharisees answered (the once blind man) and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.” ‘Threw him out’ was not just telling him to ‘get the hell out of here’, it was a formal excommunication from Judaism. Jesus hearing this went looking for him until he found him. Having spoken together the man said; “Lord I believe, and he worshipped him.” Jesus did not even bother to see the Pharisees. They were blind and couldn’t see.
Todays Gospel reading is so packed with symbolism, with references to the tribal history of Israel, with allusions to traditional practises, gender inequality, and historical tribal animosities that I will not even try to make sense of it for you. That is unless you have a couple of hours to spare. A great theme or symbol in the Bible are water. For areas like the middle east which are desert, semi-arid or subject to periodic and prolonged droughts, water is very much bound up with life and health. People are accustomed to travelling long distances to obtain water. It is a great blessing, equivalent to life itself. Having a constant and dependable source of water was a very great gift indeed. Even here in England if you have ever experienced dry taps for a short period you will get some idea of the importance of water in our lives. We have all experienced the rejuvenating effects of an early morning shower. Jesus uses this constant preoccupation with water in his teaching and parables. “Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” We all have a great thirst for love, for compassion, for recognition, for appreciation, for respect. We cannot get enough of these things. The lack or denial of these things, especially as we grow up, can have grave consequences in our lives. Can cause great damage. Jesus of Nazareth claims to have, and freely offers us, all these things. As he said “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” But do I have the bucket to lower into the well of living water? There always seems to be this hitch. God’s gifts are there before me. They are freely offered. But I lack the motivation, the ability, the will, the courage, to reach out and take them. I do not have the bucket and am not willing to go to the trouble of going and getting one. I instinctively understand that accepting God’s living water will mean surrendering my life to God. Handing over control to God. Saying goodbye to self-interest. As Jesus said “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” But I don’t want this. I am not ready for this. I like to dip in and out as I feel like it. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I am in the same boat as the rest of you. The saints and Jesus of Nazareth tell us that handing over control to God is the path to true freedom – freedom to love and to be loved.
These weeks will encourage children and young people to engage in theit faith through fun, games and spiritual input.
They take place at the Marist Convent, Nympsfield. For more details and registration see the notice board or email firstname.lastname@example.org