Spiritual truths and experiences are not easily communicated using symbols and words. Sometimes it is necessary to “shock” someone into the spiritual sense of things by knocking some of the other kind of sense out of them – the earthly way of thinking, or completely shift our perspective. Our ways of thinking are not like God’s way:
“Let the wicked man forsake his own way and the unrighteous man his own thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:7-10].
That’s the key to understanding today’s Gospel: it’s a call for a radical and “big-picture” perspective on life, and what the purpose and end-goal of this mysterious process within which we are all involved is really all about.
Again, recall that Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables but to his disciples, his “friends,” with whom he was entrusting all of what the Father had given to Him, in plain English.
Sometimes, however, the best “plain English” way to explain something to your friend is still to use analogies and metaphors and similes, or whatever other literary device might be available to assist in the transfer of true ‘insight’. Here it is the perplexing “make you stop and think” phrase “hate your own life in the world”. Of course, the important conditional is “in the world,” which opens up the discussion about what it really means to “be with Jesus” while living in this world, when He is not, apparently, here these days, and the devil is having a field day.
The idea of ‘hating your life in this world’ wouldn’t likely be the headlining talk at a modern-day conference of psychologists on “Exciting New Approaches to Psychological Well-Being.” That’s because “happiness” is the goal of modern-day psychology, and that means doing whatever to obliterate negative emotions and feelings, and suffering, of all kinds, whereas “joy” is the goal of following Jesus, and embracing suffering out of love and compassion for Jesus, accepting it as the cost of testifying to the truth like Him, which may not bring what is commonly understood within our culture as “happiness” (in this world).
Happiness in pop-psychology terms (which is all psychology without spirituality) is the absence of suffering, mental mostly. The goal of following Jesus is to unite our suffering with His in the redemptive work of salvation, in honour of His great mercy and love, out of compassion for us and the desire to bring us into the eternal life of God. We suffer with Him, (latin “com“=with + “passion“=suffering).
BREAKING NEWS: OUR HUMAN NATURE IS “SPIRITUAL”
To really understand the Gospel teaching from Jesus it’s necessary to reflect on how we are Spiritual in nature. I don’t for a minute subscribe to any ‘dualism’ where we are two things – a body and a soul – in such a way that they can exist independently, and I believe with the Church in the resurrection, because whatever else our future being will, uh….well “be”….they will be bodies that can eat fish on an open fire on the shore and also appear in locked rooms, showing complete control and mastery over materials.
When people say they are spiritual, they often have in mind what is essentially ‘moral’ or ethical, and yes, morality and spirituality are intimately connected; however, spirituality per se is about understanding the nature of consciousness and the interior life and gaining control over that for the purpose of directing one’s attention and desire to God to effect spiritual transformation. That’s more than helping someone on the side of the road with a flat tire, although I suppose that deserves a “way to be spiritual” slap on the back as well.
We need to reflect more on what is involved with truly living a ‘spiritual’ life.
SPIRITUALLY, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, AND TRANSCENDENCE
Our self-reflective experience of being able to “transcend” ourselves (that is, “look at our own thinking” as if we were standing somehow “outside ourselves”) should be enough to at least give us some sense of how we are not machines – we are spiritual beings, free, capable of directing activity in the realm that is not material, using material from our experience (memories) and the potentiality of future realizations of reality via our active, dynamic participation with that reality (imaginings).
Where we direct our attention [mind] is where our heart is – it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario, where the truth is they work together like a team of horses reigned together at the neck – (and by ‘they’ I’m talking about the “mind” and the “heart”, otherwise known as the “attention” and our “desire”).
The attention of the mind seeks to know; the desire of the heart seeks to possess that which is known and loved. Sometimes the desire is enticed first, and the mind follows; at other times the mind discovers something enticing, is excited by the brilliance of that truth, wisdom, understanding, order or the beauty of reality which fills and satisfies the heart, to some extent, and the heart (desire) turns with force in that direction in pursuit, seeking more – and that MORE is the boundless and majesty that is God.
BACK TO EARTH
The shock word “hate” is not inaccurate, if that’s what it takes to ensure that our “desire” – i.e., our heart, is given entirely to God.
Anything that attempts to take our will out of the Divine Will and redirect it back to earth in search of one last numbing round of pina coladas by the pool, where a fella can perhaps wine and dine a bit and take a bit of a spiritual break to let off some stress given all the deprivations from the pandemic…nothing wrong with that is there?
Whenever we rationalize taking a break from being with God, yeah there’s something wrong with that, otherwise, maybe not:
“Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.” [Proverbs 31:6-7]
“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” [Psalm 104:15]
“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” [1 Timothy 5:23].
St. Paul (during a time when missionary outreach was a priority for the church – like today – in the midst of increasing persecution – like today) – was clear about how much ‘gladdening of the heart’ should be happening. There is a time and place for everything, as they say, so discretion (and caution) is well-advised when it comes to “enjoying” the world in the midst of the end days.
Remember the days of Noah? Yeah, well start asking for directions to the ark!
Our revelry should be in God – so if we do take a ‘stress break,‘ bring God with you on vacation, as a wise priest remarked: wine should only be imbibed giving thanks and glory to God, by the glass, maybe bottle depending on circumstances, definitely not a box.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” [1 Corinthians 10:31]
BEING DRUNK AS A “METAPHOR” FOR “LOVING YOUR LIFE IN THIS WORLD“
Perhaps drink is not your particular “negative inclination” – there are so many types of addictions these days, which is pop-psychology’s way (the kind with no spirituality at least) of describing a repeating preferential pattern of pining after paradise without actually being able to realize it, like St. Augustine, with a long life of very long life of enjoying the pleasures of this world, much to the sadness of his mother Monica, who prayed incessantly for Him.
Maybe your weakness if food, or hiding from people and world rather than overcoming fear and anxiety and engaging and working through things; or maybe a certain pattern of living that brings both guilt and shame, which you keep secret, but keep nonetheless, that ties your spirit to the ground like those steel cables tie electric towers.
There are a myriad of possibilities, and we each know what combination makes up our particular brand of “loving life in this world” even though when we say that, we’re really saying just ‘living’ or existing in this world, because over time the repeated disappointment and growing disgust with life that promises what it never delivers becomes increasingly like hell, and rates of suicides with those many “groups” associated with the myriad of ways to be unhappy in the world without God testify to the importance of our realizing we are, indeed, spiritual beings.
As spiritual beings, the REALLY GREAT NEWS is that we have been made to “fit” with God – God is all knowing and all loving and within that combination is everything else: all creation, all wisdom, all understanding, all in all, which is Jesus, the perfect reflection of the Father whom we see (know) when we see (know) our Lord, and understand (love) when we truly love (truly understand) Jesus:
So the following “list” of fodder for reflection on loving or not loving life in this world should be adjusted to suit the particular situations and challenges in your own life. If it’s a chronic pattern of lying about a selfish secret that keeps you trapped in a spiritless world, isolated and loveless, change the words accordingly in your mind when you read:
Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,