GROWTH IN SPIRITUAL MATURITY

September 6, 2014 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

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SCRIPTURE READINGS:  1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Luke 4:38-44
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The first reading hints at the struggles in unity in the Christian community at Corinth.  They had been baptized but were having problems trying to live as a community of love according to the gospel of Christ.  They were divided because of jealousy and competition among themselves.  What they went through is also very much what we are all going through as well.  No community, even a Christian one, regardless of whether it is in the parish or in religious life, is exempted from difficulties in community living.  We have our own fair share of disagreements, quarrels, competition, jealousy and gossiping.  When we read of their struggles, we cannot but feel consoled that we are not the only ones facing such human problems.

More importantly, we can learn from them how to deal with selfishness and divisions in community living.  If not we can get disheartened or become disillusioned by the problems we are facing.  Tensions in community life cannot be avoided.  Understanding the reality of human imperfections will help us to accept and deal with them in the right Christian perspective.  Only by understanding the nature of community life, can we learn to love the community we belong to with all its defects and struggles.

How then do we look at community living?  If we think that the Christian community is a perfect community, we are in for a rude shock because we will see that all of us have our own weaknesses and imperfections.  That is why some people who enter religious life or who join Church organizations become easily disillusioned when they find that there is no ideal Christian community.  They then become skeptical and cynical.  When hurt and wounded, they begin to think negatively and conclude that everyone is a hypocrite and everything is only a pretense.  This kind of attitude is fatalistic and self-destructive.  The truth remains that a loving community is always an ideal to be reached.

Against such kinds of false or one-sided perception, we need to see community life in a more realistic manner.  The reading from the letter of St Paul, which is in continuity of yesterday’s reading, will give us some clues as to what a real community entails.  According to St Paul, we must recognize that there are three different levels of spiritual growth.  We are not all on the same level in our spiritual life.  There is the level of infancy, childhood or adulthood in our faith.  In saying this, it does not mean that we all belong to any one of them exclusively, but only predominantly.  So we can be in any one or even all the three levels in different situations of our lives.

What then is the first level of spiritual life?  It is the level of being infants in faith.  This is the state of one who lives an unspiritual life, which St Paul mentions in today’s reading. He told the Corinthians, “Brothers, I myself was unable to speak to you as people of the Spirit: I treated you as sensual men, still infants in Christ.” To live such a life is to live a life of the psyche, that is, a natural and earthly life.  Such a person lives an unenlightened life because he lives only for this life.  Being unspiritual, he cannot see beyond this world or the eternal values of life.  Such people are actually good people.  They are humanists or even atheists.  Because they do not see beyond the earthly life, they do not understand the greater values of generosity, forgiveness, poverty and sacrifice.  For them, life is to be famous, rich and powerful; to accumulate more and more.  They will fight for their rights.  They are therefore materialistic people and can see nothing beyond this physical life.  They only live for this world.

The second level of spiritual life is to live like children in faith.  This is the stage of discipleship whereby the person takes action in disciplining himself to walk in the footsteps of our Lord and live the life of the Spirit.  This is the stage of believers, those who have just discovered God in their lives and have just been initiated in the faith.  This is the state of the sensual man as St Paul labels it.  To be children in faith is to live on the level of the flesh, that is, to live a worldly life.  Note that St Paul is not reprimanding the Corinthians for simply being made of flesh but for being dominated by the flesh, that is, by their desires and passions.  So to live on the level of the flesh is to live a life apart from God and apart from others.  It is to live a selfish life, catering only to our pursuits and our selfish interests.  As a result, we become troublesome, quarrelsome, argumentative, jealous and competitive people. This was certainly the situation of the Corinthians and those who have just discovered God in their lives.  This is because the Old Adam has not yet died completely.  Again and again, they tend to fall back to their old way of life and their worldly attachments and self-centered behavior. The temptation to live in the flesh is still very strong, despite their desire to live the life of Christ.

Then, we have the third level of spiritual growth.  It is the level of becoming adults in our faith, which is to live the life of the Spirit.  In this stage of spiritual growth, we live a spiritual and enlightened life.  Such people do not live life superficially but in its deepest reality.  They are not concerned with the externals, nor with the sensual or the material, but with the real values of life.  Because they see life beyond this worldly and earthly perspective, they seek for the more aesthetic and spiritual realities of life, such as love, peace, joy and unity.  Such people are not contented simply with a physical or materialistic life because they seek for meaning and fulfillment.  Hence, they do not seek for glory or success but for the highest form of life, which is to live a life of true freedom in love.  Such people treasure values like poverty, obedience, simplicity, chastity, forgiveness and generosity.

In the gospel today we have Jesus living this kind of spiritual life.  We read of how Jesus overcame evil with goodness.  He rebuked the fever in Peter’s mother-in-law because for Jesus, all sicknesses are manifestations of the evil force.  He also exorcised those who were possessed by evil spirits. But even in His good works, Jesus did not seek publicity, notwithstanding the devils’ attempts at exposing Him; nor for glory, when the people tried to hold Him back.  No, Jesus was only concerned about the Kingdom and the Good News that His Father wanted Him to proclaim.  He could have been tempted to stay back and build His kingdom around the people who adored Him.  But Jesus remained unattached.  He was a man totally free from the need of attention, power and glory.  He was certainly an enlightened person, a man who lived by the Spirit.  But that is not all; Jesus was also a man of compassion.  Although He lived a life of the Spirit Himself, He empathized with those who were struggling against the sin of the flesh. This explains why He could be so forgiving, tolerant and compassionate towards sinners.

We too are called in a special way to live the life of the Spirit like Jesus.  We are called to live beyond the worldly or even earthly levels because such a life cannot lead us to true happiness.  We must strive for the real and eternal values that can make us truly liberated.   We must also be compassionate with those who are still living on the first or second levels in their spiritual life.  Hence, if we are intolerant of those who have not yet arrived at the third level, it means that we ourselves cannot claim to have the life of the Spirit in us yet.  For only a truly spiritual person would be able to understand the struggles of his fellow human beings.  While not imitating their foolish way of life, they also do not condemn them but seek to help them in due time to live that life of the Spirit.

There is still a fourth level of spiritual growth which is to be a missionary or an apostle for Christ.  Like St Paul and the early Christian disciples, they felt called to labour in the vineyard of the Lord for the extension of the Kingdom of God.  Even whilst working in the mission, they were conscious that it is God’s glory that should be proclaimed and not theirs.  St Paul wrote, “After all, what is Apollos and what is Paul? They are servants who brought the faith to you …..It is all one who does the planting and who does the watering, and each will duly be paid according to his share in the work. We are fellow workers with God; you are God’s farm, God’s building.”  Such too was the attitude of Jesus, for when “the crowds went to look for him, and when they had caught up with him they wanted to prevent him leaving them, but he answered, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, because that is what I was sent to do.’ And he continued his preaching in the synagogues of Judaea.”   A truly mature Christian is one who lives in the life of the Spirit, and in the power of the Spirit proclaims the gospel by his words and deeds.  And he does this not by himself but in union and communion with his fellow Christians without claiming any credit for himself.  His only motive is to bring Christ to all so that they will encounter the Good News.  

So how can we attain this level of spiritual growth?  Today, the gospel tells us that like Jesus, we need to make our way to a lonely place to pray.  Only when we are people of prayer, can we have the grace to discern what are the truly important matters and values of life.  Only a man filled with the Spirit can see the deeper realities of life.  For this reason, we need to pray and be in touch with the Spirit of God, if we are to live a truly spiritual life.  Without being in constant relationship with God, the values of the world will overwhelm us and we will lose our sense of direction and priorities.  Hence, the secret to community living is to cultivate a spirit of prayer in the members, both on the individual and community levels.  Unless, we are praying and prayerful people, we will not be able to grow in maturity in our faith, nor have the compassion to walk with our fellow human beings in their pilgrimage of growth in the life of the Spirit.

WRITTEN BY THE MOST REV WILLIAM GOH
ARCHBISHOP OF SINGAPORE
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Retrieved from http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.OCmb1dOG.dpbs

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Entry filed under: Inspiring Faith.

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