Newness of Life — Riskless Risk and Changeless Change

Luke 11.9-13
[9] And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
[10] For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
[11] What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;
[12] or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
[13] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This passage is not about getting answers. It is about persevering on a journey. God invites us to persistently seek, ask, and knock for transformation. Transformation, on many occasions, seems like the opposite many times.

It means, at one and the same time, living on the edge of “my life” in order to live in the center of “God’s life.” Centered life is living on the edge. Likewise, transformation involves letting go of risky living. My need to be in control in all of the ways that expresses itself is the real risk, not living by faith. Living by faith is the willingness to be totally centered and secure in the changeless and dependable truth of God’s love and available to step out beyond the edge where it seems like there is nothing but change and impermanence and a lack of anything that might resemble a real future.

Transformation means, at a deep level, relinquishing our set of measurements regarding “progress” and “success” for another set — God’s set.

If we seek, ask, and knock, God will give us the greatest gift of all — Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. But, be warned. He will wreck havoc on our nice neat little churchy fiefdoms. He will color outside the lines of propriety we have invented and advertised as the Kingdom of God and the right way to be Christian. (I’m just saying…)

Pope Francis reflects on this multifaceted mystery in his homily from Pentecost of this year. Here is an excerpt:

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more  secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build,  programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort,  our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we  follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to  abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the  soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force  us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and  selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history  of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness – God always  brings newness -, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all,  builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand;  Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the  apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim  the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search  for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own  day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually  brings fulfilment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and  desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to “God’s  surprises”? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy  Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s  newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures  which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new? We would do well  to ask ourselves these questions all through the day.

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in  the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this,  by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit  of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of  Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is  harmony – “Ipse harmonia est”. He is indeed harmony. Only the  Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time  building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and  close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division.  When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans,  we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves  be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source  of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of  the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her  pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of  the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for  every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which  brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are very  dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and  community – the Apostle John tells us in his Second Letter – and do not  remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn v. 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit,  overcoming every form of exclusivity?  Do I let myself be guided by him, living  in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a  kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives  it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his  impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the  mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is  gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the  doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel,  to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is  the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two  thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which  affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the  Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy  Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants  that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: “I will ask  the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever” (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the “Comforter”, who grants us the  courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy  Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of  existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do  we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy  Spirit open us to mission? Today let us remember these three words: newness,  harmony and mission. Source: The Vatican Website

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