Ways of living in the Spirit

Someone I know was so good at her job that her boss offered her promotion. Let’s call her Miriam. Given that Miriam might have moved to another firm, the boss was a wise man ; but what he did was to offer her a choice of three jobs to choose from. “Think about it” he said “And then let me know which you want.”  Being a Catholic, Miriam thought about it by praying about it, because after all, that is what prayer is, thinking things through with God.  All three jobs were good jobs, and one was very attractive because it was the best paid ; but she decided one of the other two was best, for her, and went for that one.

I tell you this story because it illustrates what it means to be a Christian. It isn’t principally about doing good or being good. It is about becoming a friend of God and learning to live with God and in God in everything we do. In this case, whatever job Miriam had chosen, God would have blessed her and worked within her. There was no right decision and no wrong decision. She was lucky, of course, sometimes we have to make choices where none of the options is the perfect one for us. In the end, we just have to make a choice and know that in doing so, God will help us to make the best of the choice we have made.

It’s the same with marriage isn’t it? There is no perfect person out there whom we can fall in love with and live with happily ever after. Yes, people can fall in love, and overwhelmed with that emotion can think that the one they love is perfect. But that’s a dangerous thing to do, it is not a good way to go into a marriage that has to last a lifetime. In order to make a good decision, one has to think the thing through (pray about it in other words) and then make a choice to love that other person, not because you are “in love”, but because after careful thought, you choose freely to commit yourself to that person “for better or for worse… till death do us part.”  

Now what has all this got to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today? The answer is that both the story of Miriam, and this talk about Marriage, are illustrations of one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that are listed by St Paul in our 2nd Reading (Gal 5:16-25) And the one I have been illustrating today, is the one at the end of the list – self-control. Our problem is that because Paul puts it in the middle of an attack on immorality, it is easy to think that self-control is something that stops us doing things that are wrong. But my two examples show, I hope, that self-control is actually about something completely different. Of course we are meant to avoid immorality, but it is even more important for all of us Christians to realise that we are called by God to make careful choices in every aspect of our lives,; so that instead of doing whatever we feel like doing, we actually think and pray things through. We actually look before we leap. Doing God’s will can be hard sometimes, but it can also often be a delightful opening up of a new challenge, a new experience, even a new joy.

Look at the disciples gathered in that upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They already loved Jesus, and had already seen him in his Risen Body, giving them new hope and joy. But they needed to be helped by the Holy Spirit to find in what direction that love and joy would take them. As yet, they were held back by the fear that, if they spoke out, they might be arrested and killed as Jesus had been. Now, the Holy Spirit gives them the power to control that fear, and to go out in joy to tell others about Jesus.

Just like Miriam doing her new job, or a couple about to get married, great challenges lie ahead ; but we all know that once we have made a decision like this we just have to get on with it; and as Christians we know and believe that whatever those challenges are, God will be with us to help us get through them. For the disciples, that final challenge was to be arrested and killed as Jesus had been. We may not have to face anything as hard as that, but still troubles will come to us, and they can sometimes be very hard indeed; and then Jesus tells us not to be afraid. He says “Go…. I am with you always, till the end of time” (Matt 28:19)

The other thing about all this is that we cannot know fully what the future holds for us. Miriam could not know which of those jobs would actually be best for her, which could bring out more of her full potential, and which was right for her at that point in her life and her career. Similarly a married couple cannot know what they are actually committing themselves to in a long future together. That is surely what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel today. (John 15:26-27 & 16:12-15) He doesn’t say that everything is going to be made clear to them now. In fact he says quite the opposite. He says “I still have many things to say to you, but they would be too much for you now.”

Being a Christian, doing the will of God, is not to have some plan clearly marked out for us that we have just got to discover and stick to. We are not machines that only work in one way. We are human beings, and so there are many many ways in which we can live with and in God; and God will help us on whatever paths our choices take us. But what we must do is choose carefully, exercising that self-control that comes to those who think and pray about their lives with God.  Yes, as I said earlier, most of these choices will be less than perfect, but then, with God to help us, it is up to us to make the best of it, for that is what doing God’s will, being fully human, is all about.

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