A while back, while on a retreat directed by Fr. Albert Haase, OFM, Fr. Haase based the retreat on the following definition of the “Spiritual Journey”: The Spiritual Journey is a process of being conformed by the spirit of God into the image of Christ for the sake of others. Fr. Haase took the rest of the five days to unpack some of the ideas contained within that understanding of a Spiritual Journey. I will not attempt to re-present the retreat, but I would like to explore some key ideas embedded and how they might fit into the Unleash The Gospel program initiated by our Archbishop, Allen Vigneron.
It is essential to understand that if the Spiritual Journey is a process of being conformed, then there should be at least two fundamental premises: 1: there is movement; change; growth. 2: the process does not require a linear progression. Another essential element to consider is that to be in the image of Christ, is not to grow a beard and walk-around in a robe and sash. To be conformed into the image of Christ is to love as Christ loved. Thus, the “Spiritual Journey” is not a metaphor for some esoteric prayer life, but a transformation of one’s spirit expressed in Christ-like attitudes and behaviors. The valid Spiritual Journey brings us into direct relationship with the world, the earth and the people around us.
Not specifically stated in the definition above, but absolutely essential to the idea of Spiritual Journeys, is the understanding that the journey is a process that requires a willful participation and openness to God’s prompting. God does not force us against our will. It is in prayer, personal prayer as opposed to strictly a “devotional prayer format” that God speaks to the heart. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for God to reach into our hearts if our hearts are cluttered with the stuff of our private agendas and emotional needs. A point frequently made throughout the retreat, by Fr. Haase, was that the greatest lie we seem to buy into is the following: There is something missing in my life that I need, to be happy. Psychologically speaking, needs (real or perceived) will drive us to do anything to acquire, possess, and increase a satisfaction.
Our part in cooperating with the Spirit of God is to examine not simply our consciences, but our psychological needs in relation to our living an image of Christ. Are we a person who needs to be in control?; the center of attention?; liked by everyone?; or have a position/title of honor to be happy? If we find ourselves answering yes to any of these or some other need to provide and define our happiness, then even doing the “work” of Christ becomes a “job” and if we don’t get our paycheck – happiness, then we feel cheated and often angry. By making an honest effort to understand what truly motivates our actions and our attitudes, and examining them against the command to do all things in love (1Cor 13) God’s Spirit enters our hearts to guide us on our journey.
In relationship to the diocesan program UNLEASH THE GOSPEL, we need to be a people motivated out of Gospel values to bring into the world the Risen Christ. To understand the UNLEASH THE GOSPEL as a program simply to bring people back to church, back into the Sacraments, is to not really understand either the Gospels or what it means to unleash them. If the Gospel message of universal love, unqualified and all giving love, isn’t deeply rooted in our words and actions, then we are really preaching an untrue gospel. Attending church, receiving the Sacraments are essential in living a solid Christian life, but they are not ends in themselves. To suggest that we can “earn” our way into heaven by regular Mass attendance, frequent receptions of the Sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, is to promote a heresy. The Sacraments strengthen us in our commitment and ability to be conformed into the image of Christ. They strengthen our ability to unleash the power of love for all people, called for in the Gospels.
Fr. Albert Haase, OFM, suggested we take Matthew’s Gospel, chapters five through seven – The Sermon On The Mount – and use the beatitudes contained within as a barometer by which to compare our attitudes. Are we poor in spirit, or are we arrogant? Are we driven for success, or do we mourn the injustices in the world? Do we love with a pure heart, or do we only see life through our own distorted vision?
All sin can be traced back to a perversion of love, a misguided attempt to find happiness outside of loving others as Christ does.