Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: "through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth "

Thursday of the 26th Week in Course 2016

Joy of the Gospel

We know how to give good gifts to our children. So does our Father. After all, He has given us existence, life, forgiveness. He did not shrink from offering up His only Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation. And as a last gift, He gives the Holy Spirit to all who ask. Perfect gifts from the perfect parent. The challenge, however, in a society that is freighted with consumerism and materialism, is to help others grow to understand that what we really need, and what we really should want, is that blessed Spirit–the Holy Spirit whose proper name is Love.

The Holy Father knows this: ‘In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.

‘Although it sounds obvious, spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom. Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere. To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father.

‘Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives. But this always demands the patience of one who knows full well what Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us: that anyone can have grace and charity, and yet falter in the exercise of the virtues because of persistent “contrary inclinations”.[133] In other words, the organic unity of the virtues always and necessarily exists in habitu, even though forms of conditioning can hinder the operations of those virtuous habits. Hence the need for “a pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery”.[134] Reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions calls for much time and patience. As Blessed Peter Faber used to say: “Time is God’s messenger”.’

I’ll accuse myself of an habitual “contrary inclination” that I acquired from my comrades in high school. Instead of encouraging each other, we assumed a kind of disinterested and sarcastic demeanor that persisted into adulthood. I have to fight falling back into that style of relating to others. Fortunately, whatever may be your “contrary inclination,” the Father will certainly give you the Holy Spirit, and with the Holy Spirit all the grace you need to grow out of it.

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