January 5, 2015
Monday after Epiphany Sunday
Feast of Saint John Neumann, Bishop
Jesus Has a Voice: Ours
Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God.
How does Jesus save our minds from veering off into distortion?
Centuries of cultural conditioning, in cultures infected by billions of “original” and not-so-original sins, have embedded more distortions than we can recognize in the perceptions, attitudes and values of the human race. No one escapes.
When one culture replaces another, whether in time or in space, some misconceptions may be purified out, but others will be implanted. There is no such thing as a “pure” human society, including the society of “cultural Catholics.”
The bishops who assembled for the Second Vatican Council in 1962 acknowledged this.
For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church's image is less clear… and the growth of God's kingdom is delayed. All Catholics must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each according to their station, play their part so that the Church may daily be more purified and renewed. For the Church must bear in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle (Decree on Ecumenism 9).
We urge all concerned, if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them, and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God (The Church 51).
The message here is not, “Don’t trust the Church.” The message is, “You are the Church. Make the Church trustworthy by paying attention to your spiritual instincts.”
You aren’t always right either. But Jesus, through his Spirit, is trying to guide you. Until you hear and recognize his voice, question every other.
My sheep follow me because they know my voice. They will not follow a stranger... I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father (John 10:1).
It’s all about personal relationship. Communication with God is always personal. The Father, Son and Spirit only communicate with you Person-to-person, by enlightening your mind and moving your heart. Only in your own mind can you recognize God’s truth. Only in your own heart can you feel God’s Spirit.
So whatever you read, whatever you hear, test to see if the Spirit is verifying in your heart what the words seem to say. If not, read more. Ask questions. Reflect. Discuss with others. Pray.
Jesus is still teaching in the flesh. He is in the world, speaking in the actual circumstances of our time and space. He is speaking in and through the Church. Those who hear the Church hear Christ. And we are the Church. The Church is us.
Jesus said to the seventy disciples he sent out on mission: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 9:16). He said this to all seventy of them. They were all lay persons.
Pope Francis clarifies this:
“No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ… Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ.. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church. Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as just an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.” (New Year’s Day homily, January 1, 2015).
By the “Church” Francis does not mean the hierarchy:
The Church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the Church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the Church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit… We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the Church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the Church (America Magazine interview, September 30, 2013).
We don’t know what Catholic doctrine is until we know it is “catholic”—kataholos: held “throughout the whole,” universal, worldwide. And the first way we know this is by the effect a teaching has on an ordinary good person or congregation. St. Ignatius teaches:
In the case of those who are going from good to better, the good spirit touches the soul gently, lightly, and sweetly, like a drop of water going into a sponge. The evil spirit touches it sharply, with noise and disturbance, like a drop of water falling onto a stone. But in those going from bad to worse, the effect is reversed. It depends on the disposition of the soul: contrary spirits enter with noticeable noise and disturbance; similar spirits enter quietly, as if going into their own house by an open door. (Spiritual Exercises, rules for the discernment of spirits 335).
So Catholics culturally conditioned to accept false teachings—such as racism, “profit only” economics, or those attitudes identified in the first session of Vatican II as “legalism, clericalism, and triumphalism”—will be disturbed by true “prophets.” But when preaching or teaching disturbs good Catholics’ sense of justice and compassion, or makes them feel alienated from God, it is probably the voice of false prophets, not the voice of the Good Shepherd they are hearing.
Bottom line: Jesus is still speaking on earth. In the flesh. With a human voice. But we have to learn to discern it.
We begin by listening to our hearts.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart!”
Pay attention to your feelings. Pray over anything that turns you on or turns you off.
What have you heard from the pulpit that you felt was or was not God’s voice?