What’s wrong with being a chicken?

New York, 17 May, 2020. | Sixth Sunday of Easter.

by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the mens’ branch of the Idente Missionaries.

Acts of the Apostles 8: 5-8.14-17; First Letter of Peter 3: 15-18; Saint John 14:15-21.

Experience teaches us gradually that victory in the Christian life is not just by removing a sin here and there, but rather by being filled with the Spirit of God.

This is the mystical life, in which the helm is taken by the Holy Spirit, and from us is expected fidelity in the ascetical life, in clinging to the marked course and not wasting time and energy looking elsewhere, to what has nothing to do with the kingdom of heaven, be it morally good, neutral or negative. 

A truly spiritual person, holding up an empty drinking glass, asked the audience: Tell me, how can I get the air out of this glass? One man said, Suck it out with a pump. He replied: That would create a vacuum and shatter the glass. After many impossible suggestions, he smiled, picked up a pitcher of water, and filled the glass. There, he said, all the air is now removed.

Often we lead poor lives, like a glass full only of air, without realizing the power inherent in us and we end up in frustration and failure because we are ignorant of the power God has given us through the Holy Spirit. In today’s Gospel, the disciples were distressed at the announcement of Christ’s departure. They could not imagine, as we do, the scope and power of the Spirit to change our lives, which without Him would be very different.

There is an old fable about a changeling eagle. A farmer, one day found an egg of an eagle. He took the egg home and hatched it along with the other chicken eggs. This eaglet started growing up with the other chicks. It started eating worms, pecking here and there like the other chicks. But it never learned to fly like an eagle. One day as it was foraging for food from the ground, it saw an eagle majestically soaring high in the sky. As the eaglet was admiring the grandeur of the soaring eagle, the other chicks came and said to the eaglet: Look, that is the eagle –the king of the birds. You and I are chickens. We cannot fly like the eagle.

This little story teaches us that the difficulty in walking without being attentive to the Spirit is more than a moral problem. Our own nature is wounded. We can choose to be a chicken, even an exemplary chicken, but…something important, essential, is being lost.

The First Reading presents an example of how the early Christians lived this experience and welcomed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The small Christian community began to be persecuted in Jerusalem, and the target of the persecution were the Hellenists, like deacon Philip. So he decided to head North, to Samaria, where his example and preaching bore the first fruits of healing and conversion. The Holy Spirit works miracles among the people who believe and becomes a source of spiritual power in their midst. If we are humble and attentive to the signs of the Spirit, we will be able to say with St. Augustine that miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature.

The young community in Jerusalem was indeed attentive to the signs, so Peter and John went to Samaria and continued the evangelization begun by Philip. In this First Reading, St. Luke tells us succinctly that the Samaritans had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit. From this we can learn at least two lessons: that the apostolate is certainly a shared, communitarian task, since it requires, sooner or later, the confirmation and witness of a community, and that the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus Christ, is always active and His presence takes many forms, requiring from us a continuous attention to his signs, which are given in the life of people, especially of those who are close to us.

But today’s Gospel text refers to a delicate matter, something that makes us lose the clues that the Spirit offers us. We are all victims of many forms of anxiety and impatience, with God and with our neighbor. Literally, Jesus affirms from the Holy Spirit that the world cannot receive him because it neither sees nor knows it.

This impatience still goes beyond what we normally suffer (which is already something remarkable…) in our daily activities. Generally, we talk about patience/impatience with an individualistic perspective, both in everyday conversations and in the analysis of emotions.

Patience is generally understood as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, difficulty, or annoyance without getting angry or upset. Every day, all of us, we see impatience rising in us. The manifestations may be very different, but we must recognize that they affect all our thoughts, our moods and our behavior.

And it happens all the time: when we are stuck in traffic or in a long line, when it comes to mastering new skills, when we have to listen to someone take what seems to be an interminably long time to explain something simple…Impatience arises when people or our environment or ourselves are not conforming to our expectations. In particular, a disciple of Jesus must remember the words of St. Paul: Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others (2 Tim 3:12).  Impatience is a rejection of the way things are, a rejection of reality.

Generally, well-meaning people who are able to guide others remind us that impatience produces incredible stress, alienates the people around you, and distorts your ability to enjoy and appreciate life.

But there is more. Impatience is one of the most powerful and frequent consequences of our lack of effort to channel our instinct for happiness. And the worst consequence of our lack of patience is that it does not let us listen neither to the Holy Spirit nor to the people around us. Impatience makes unity impossible… and our prayer is supposed to be unitive.

Patience involves much more than the mere ability to hold back for some future gain. Exercising patience (note the use of the verb to exercise) can be compared to growing a garden. Waiting is a necessary element, but one also needs to remember that one is not alone. The sun, the rain, the soil, all participate in the life of the plants.

Thus, when it comes to others, patience does not amount to mere restraint or toleration, but to an explicit engagement in their struggle and aspiration, in their more or less conscious seeking for perfection. In that much, patience is a form of compassion, which, rather than disregarding and alienating people, turns them into friends, brothers and perhaps allies.

In the book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the main character, Siddhartha, says: when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal because he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal…everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.

The Gospel teaches us today that, in our effort to follow Christ, the Spirit stands besides us, comfort us when we ask, help us in difficult times, and speak on our behalf when we are in need. Jesus has not taught only the way. He communicated his Spirit, his force to reach the goal. The Holy Spirit is like the invincible force of gravity in the story of Siddhartha and its thrust is what makes our patience possible.

In fact, in today’s Gospel, Christ calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete. It is a word taken from the forensic field. Sometimes, when an accused person could not prove his or her innocence, the Paraclete was some citizen well known for his or her impeccable and just conduct, who stood by the accused and his or her presence alone served as a proof. That blameless person, without uttering any word, would get up and would go to place himself next to the accused citizen. This gesture was equivalent to an acquittal. No one would have dared to ask for more condemnation. This defender is called the paraclete that is, one who is called to the side of another who finds himself in trouble. The presence and the act of the Holy Spirit helps us in our battle against the world that is against the forces of evil

But the daily reality is full of people who abandon their faith, because of the lack of accompaniment, of example or because of the pressing demands of life. There are many religious who are overcome by discouragement and psychological problems or old vices. Many of these people wonder what they did wrong and why God does not listen to them. How can we help them to be patient, to know how to endure?

Where is Lord God? This is the universal cry of man. This is the cry of an orphan. What answers can we give to them? Can we give our reasons for the hope we have, as Peter tells us to in the First Reading? We only have to go to what Jesus tells us today in the Gospel: that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. This is the second way he names him, besides Paraclete.

The Spirit of Truth shows us not a doctrinal or intellectual truth, but the Truth in the evangelical sense, which is Christ himself. His way of showing it is by reminding us of the blessings we have received.  Simply put, in bad times, remembering the good times; not out of nostalgia or longing, but to realize that God has always been by my side, particularly by forgiving me, finding a new way to walk by my side and confirming me in my modest mission. It is our duty to remain open to the impulse of the Spirit who always reveals new things. Of course, learning this takes time; we are disciples and are becoming more and more sensitive to God’s active presence.

We can verify that out of what seem to us the most difficult events, it takes the greatest fruits. Many of us, because of our sickness our encounters with failures and our ambitions for power and comfort, have become more realistic with life and more compassionate towards others.

When you are dealing with confused, lonely, hurting people, you cannot touch their hearts with information alone. But when you get real with them and share your own pain, frustration, and feelings of failure, your honesty will motivate them to open up their hearts as well. Out of your own brokenness and vulnerability you will be able to impart life to them, because you are sharing a part of yourself and not just something you read in a book. You will be able to leave them with hope, because the Father walked you through your dark night and took you deeper into His heart than you had ever been before.

This is what happened to Philip: because of the persecution that began in Jerusalem, he traveled to Samaria and gathered fruit that no one would have dreamed of. Jesus had already announced it: You will do greater things than me. Our hope and patience is founded on our past experience of His love. Then we will be able to handle our trials and sufferings positively and confidently, knowing that in every suffering, there is a reason, a meaning and a blessing.

And it is a sin against the Spirit to ignore or oppose the wind that, sometimes like a breeze and other times like a hurricane, brings up renewal and increases the joy and peace, that help us to pray better and frees the heart from useless fears.

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