Discernment of Spirits

A wolf dressed in sheep's clothing

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

6th Week of Easter

Mass Readings

Reading 1 – Acts 16:22-34
Psalm – Ps 138:1-2AB, 2C DE-3, 7C-8
Gospel – John 16:5-11

Today we hear that Jesus talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He is preparing his apostles and his disciples for this great moment, this great Pentecost that’s about to happen. And he is trying to tell them to calm down, trying to tell them not to be afraid and that they are not alone. It is really an important message for all of us. How many of us or how many of our family and friends often go through life feeling that we’re all alone? That we have no one who could possibly relate to what we have done, to the sin in our life. We believe we cannot relate to anybody and no one can relate to the things we have done wrong. We think we are the only one who have done that particular sin. And then we beat ourselves up about it. So we do not ask for help. But Jesus says, “I am going to send the Advocate to you. I am going to send the Holy Spirit to you.” The Holy Spirit is going to do three things in particular. He is he to point out sin, righteousness and condemnation.

Now the sin the is the easiest part for us to figure out. It is that nudge we feel when we do the things we are not supposed to do. It is that push or voice that says, “you really should go to confession.” It is that sense of right and wrong that we feel. Like it says in Scripture, God wrote his Law on our hearts, so the Spirit that calls our attention to His Word, to His Law in our hearts. That is how the Spirit works.

With righteousness, the reality that Jesus is trying to explain to them then and to us now is that He is not going to physically walk with us. He will not journey with us physically. We cannot just look over and ask for his advice whether this or that is the right thing to do. But the Jesus says that the Spirit will be there for us and help us encounter Jesus. For example, in mass or a communion service, we will hopefully encounter Christ through God’s Word proclaimed, or through the homily or through the Eucharist. Outside of church, we can hopefully encounter Christ through our prayer life. The Spirit helps us understand God’s charity, mercy and justice in our own lives.

But we may also encounter Christ through our own acts of charity, mercy and justice. When we go out into the world and minister to others in the name of Jesus Christ. Whether we are ministering to people in our own family or among our friends who no longer come to church, or bringing the Eucharist to someone who cannot come to church anymore, or its reaching out someone like through the homeless ministry or to someone of another faith and saying, “you are welcome here.” There are opportunities for us to encounter Jesus Christ through these people out there, what Pope Francis describes as those on the margins. So we have to be sensitive to that. We have to be aware of the different ways the Spirit might present Christ to us.

The last is condemnation. Now condemnation is not against us. The Spirit is not coming to judge. He says condemnation because, “the ruler of the world has been condemned.” So the Spirit comes to condemn that evil spirit. Now we all have talked before that most of us will probably never encounter the physical manifestation of evil in our world, which is good. You know, the big demon we see on TV shows that we need to battle and  vanquish. That is also bad because if we actually saw that physical manifestation of evil in our world, it would be easier for us to recognize evil and to prepare ourselves for battle – to be physically and mentally ready for it. No, no, the evil we encounter is much more cunning. We have discussed in the past as we reflected upon that story from Genesis about that ancient evil voice that spoke to the first humans in the garden. That ancient evil voice who said, “Good? You are not good. If you want to be good, then you need to be like God. If you want to be God, then you need to eat the fruit of this tree.” It is that little voice.

If that is not a good image for you, then think of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who developed the spiritual exercises. Those exercises are really about trying to recognize that little, evil voice, as well as the good voice within. St. Ignatius tells us that there is this dynamic that happens inside all of us.

How do you know if the voice you hear is the Spirit or the enemy? St. Ignatius says, if after reflecting on the thought, the vision, the dream you had, you feel uplifted, happy, or at peace, then it was probably from the Spirit. But if after your dream, vision, delusion of grandeur, you feel dry, empty, St. Ignatius uses the word desolate, then that was probably the voice of the enemy.

St. Ignatius says to us that is very important to be aware. His big thing is awareness. So if you become aware of the Spirit in your life as well as the enemy, then it is easier to ask the Spirit to condemn the enemy. The Spirit cannot condemn without you doing your part? Why? Human freedom. God is not going to directly interfere in the choices you make in life. For example, it is all too easy for us to flip over to a channel we should not watch, or surf to a web page after everyone goes to bed that we should not be on. And sometimes we think there is nothing wrong in that because no one is getting hurt.

The reality is that you are getting hurt. The enemy might say, “see, that was not so bad.” Or, “you did that again! You got to the bottom of the ice cream container. You cannot be like that friend of yours that is healthy. So why bother? It is more fun to do this or that.” Of course, you are not feeling like you are having fun. You probably feel miserable. St. Ignatius tells us to be aware of those different voices so that you can call on the Spirit to condemn the enemy.

It is really important for us to be aware of this dynamic in our lives. When we become aware of how the enemy works in our lives, then we can all upon the Spirit to condemn the enemy. When we are aware of the sin in our lives and we take that to confession, then we are fully living the Gospel that Jesus talked about today – about really engaging the Holy Spirit. That is important. If we do not do that, then we miss out a beautiful gift that God of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. Do not try to walk this path alone. Jesus tells the apostles, “you are not alone, you do not have to do it alone.” I hope that makes sense.

Home work! There are two things I ask you to do as you prepare for Pentecost.

  1. After you receive the Eucharist or a blessing, pray, let us all pray that beautiful prayer of St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.” You go back to your pew and you say to God, “look, Lord, I don’t know what is going on or where my kids are because they are not in mass, but Jesus, I trust in you.
  2. I want you to ask God in what ways are you open to the Spirit in your life. What ways have you become aware of the Spirit. Just have that little dialogue over the next couple of days as you prepare for Pentecost to see if you can pick out times where you can see the Spirit at work in your life. I think that would be a great exercise to put is in the right frame of mind to welcome the Holy Spirit on Pentecost?

Does that make sense? Got it? Get it? Good! Through the intercession of our Blessed Virgin Mary, may we come to know the mercy and the love of Jesus! In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +Amen!



About Deacon Rudy Villarreal

I am a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ. I am a public speaker. I am a Roman Catholic deacon. I am a husband and a father. I am an amateur philosopher-theologian.
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