FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
THE WAY FORWARD IN CHRIST
THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
June 15, 2011
Today’s reading: Matthew 6:1-18
Jesus has told us about the high calling of being a Christian. From the beatitudes to love of enemies, culminating in the call to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5), Jesus presents to us the challenge of following him. It is a calling that we cannot do on our own strength. But when God calls, He provides. He certainly freely provides grace. And God also provides particular human disciplines by which we can tap on to that grace, and have the strength to live according to His ways.
So what immediately follows Matthew 5 is Jesus’ teaching on almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Mt 6:1-18). How do these three spiritual disciplines relate to our Christian life?
We could visualize it like this.
|To rid us of
|Prayer||God||Mind and spirit||Pride and the desire for power|
|Almsgiving||Neighbor||Heart||Love for possessions|
The two greatest commandments (or one commandment with two parts) is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two depend the whole law and the prophets, that is, the fullness of God’s call to us. How can we love if we do not have a relationship? Thus we pray so that we communicate with God and grow in a loving relationship. Thus we fast and so get to know ourselves and what controls us in life. Thus we give alms and manifest our loving care and concern for those around us, especially those in need.
In growing as a Christian whose body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, no part of us can be detached from responding to the fullness of God’s call. We cannot give generous alms but hate a brother. We cannot spend time in prayer but beyond prayer give free rein to the lusts of the flesh. Thus fasting disciplines our body, our flesh. Almsgiving touches our heart. Prayer transforms our mind and spirit. Together, the three disciplines form and transform our whole being, everything that we are.
Now there are three fundamental challenges that face us, those things that can easily bring people down. These are money, sex and power. The antidotes are the spiritual disciplines of almsgiving, fasting and prayer.
Let us visualize it like this.
|Money||Inordinate love for
money and possessions
|Sex||Lust of the flesh||Fasting||Chastity and
abuse of power
When we get into the practice of almsgiving (not just giving to the poor beggar on the street but looking to the needs of all, including the financial needs of our community and parish), we can begin to think not so much of “our” money that we use for our own good, but we can begin to realize that we are just stewards who manage God’s money, which is to be used for the common good and for His mission in the world. The more we grow into this, using more and more for the good of others rather than ourselves, then we attain to the poverty of Christ and the detachment that we need to have from material goods.
When we get into the habit of fasting regularly, depriving ourselves of what is good (basically food, but can also be an activity one favors doing), we can begin to master the unruly and sinful flesh in us. Our life is no longer dictated to by what our human mind and body and emotions desire. We can start to look to the more sublime things in life. We can begin to grow in chastity, in living pure for God.
When we get into the habit of daily prayer, God teaches us a lot of things. We get to know God more intimately, and thus His ways. When we come into worship before Him, we realize what a great and awesome God He is, and how truly insignificant we are. Then we are led to humble ourselves before Him. We also realize that He is Lord and Master, and we are His servants. We then grow in our desire to serve Him and to give more and more of our life to Him.
God’s call is to perfection. For human beings that is impossible. For God, nothing is impossible. The God who calls us is also the God who provides for what we need to properly respond to His call. Thus He has given us the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
These three are so easy to neglect. But we do so at the peril of being unable to respond fully to God’s call. On the other hand, we might be intimidated by the call to holiness and perfection, but the process by which that can be achieved is not really all that hard. We simply make use of what God has provided us.
And so we pray–daily personal prayer, worship is community gatherings, weekly Eucharist, rosary and Marian devotions, plus many other ways by which our relationship with God is built.
And so we fast–weekly fast from food, fasting from something we normally like to do as a particular offering to God, fasting from unchristian speech, and the like.
And so we give alms–giving money to the beggar, supporting our community and our parish with our finances, helping build a church or send a missionary, sharing our resources with those in need, and so on.
Let us all move on to Christian perfection.
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