Learning Holy Living with Authentic Discernment
Last week we took a look at “learning holy living” based on John Cardinal Henry Newman’s principles that spark the Catholic imagination. If you missed that blog, click here. This week, we are going to take a look at some questions that, if we answer them honestly, can open the door to the Lord’s transformational presence. Warning: this is hard work. If you are already experiencing a sense of “too much, right now”, please simply skip this blog in favor of some quiet time resting in the Lord’s healing light, and then ask the Lord to direct you to this work when it is your time. Be kind and gentle to your spirit. These are tough times for us all!
We, the followers of Jesus, are supposed to be different from other people. Jesus intended for our “difference” to be significant…that is, a sign for others that points to the rightness, the goodness, the truth and the beauty of life lived within God’s embrace. In other words, our faith is not private and individual, for our own salvation. Faith in Jesus Christ is to be personal and public: a sign for the world of a new creation, of the dawning of God’s Kingdom, coming on earth as it is in heaven. We are to be a people who both speak and live differently than others who do not follow Jesus. A simple concept. Harder to actually practice.
What follows are some questions to get us all started on an authentic discernment regarding the depth of our faith, and our willingness to live holy lives, lives that are visibly different from others not on this quest. One question will lead to the next. What I am sharing here are questions that indict me personally, and have led me to a deeper commitment to Christian discipleship, with the related need for considerable conversion and with the promised divisions, persecutions and sufferings. This is a pathway to embracing a costly discipleship. Be warned.
- To what extent do I actually believe Jesus is God incarnate and so accept His lordship over my life? I am a white American who has been raised to eschew anyone or anything who seeks to rule or control me. “Free, white and 21” was the mantra of my early days. “You can be anything you put your mind to.” “The world is YOUR oyster.” “You are the mistress of your own destiny.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” These were the axioms of my impressionable youth. They taught me to be my own mistress, to look within myself for meaning and success. What then does it mean to say that I believe that Jesus is God incarnate, Lord not just of heaven and earth but of my life as well? How has my sense of freedom oppressed black people? How has my sense of privilege caused me to deny the rights of others, to take more than my fair share of the earth’s resources, to see myself as entitled to comfort and success? How has seeking my own self-interest blocked God’s power and presence?
- To what extent do I believe that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God? I read a reflection piece in National Catholic Reporter a couple of weeks ago where the writer was reflecting on what this means with regard to former President Donald Trump and his family, supporters and allies. That was a litmus test moment for me about my belief in the imago Dei and all the implications of that. I think we can replace the Trump cohort with any individual or group we have judged as anything other than worthy of God’s love and therefore of ours. This is a serious “authentic” discernment question with implications for my rhetoric, my levels of respect and inclusion and my deepest fears. How about you?
- How seriously do I take the idea that Jesus is alive and still at work through the Holy Spirit, now…today? Do I make room for that “voice” in my personal thinking and reflecting? How about in my decision-making? My attitude about suffering, death, chaos, dismantling and defunding? Yep…those words that lead me to consider police over-use of force and of the cries of the Black Lives Matter movement? Is the Holy Spirit at work trying to create something new, that new creation Jesus came to usher in? Am I standing aligned with Christ and the Spirit, opposed to it or just paralyzed with fear over what I cannot see and what it might cost me. And what of my parish, diocese and the US Church…are they open to the new creation, the life promised when the Spirit is allowed to create?
This is a blog…not spiritual direction…so I am going to stop here. But this is what an authentic discernment entails: really hard questions about the fundamental beliefs of a Christian individual and a Christian community and the extent to which those beliefs inform our attitudes, values, and actions. Authenticity requires that we go deep, answer truthfully over and over again, and repent when we discover our expressed beliefs do not match our use of money, time, or talent; when they do not inform our voting, our relationships, our use of the earth’s resources. We are to be holy…that is different. Others are to see in us signs of a new creation, the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. This is at least part of what it means to learn to live holy lives.
Let us pray…