Tuesday, October 6, 2015

St Cyril, from the Jerusalem Catecheses: The Anointing With the Holy Spirit

When we were baptized into Christ and clothed ourselves in him, we were transformed into the likeness of the Son of God. Having destined us to be his adopted sons, God gave us a likeness to Christ in his glory, and living as we do in communion with Christ, God’s anointed, we ourselves are rightly called “the anointed ones.” When he said: Do not touch my anointed ones, God was speaking of us.

We became “the anointed ones” when we received the sign of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, everything took place in us by means of images, because we ourselves are images of Christ. Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of his divinity, and when he came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon him, like resting upon like. So we also, after coming up from the sacred waters of baptism, were anointed with chrism, which signifies the Holy Spirit, by whom Christ was anointed and of whom blessed Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor.

Christ’s anointing was not by human hands, nor was it with ordinary oil. On the contrary, having destined him to be the Saviour of the whole world, the Father himself anointed him with the Holy Spirit. The words of Peter bear witness to this: Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit. And David the prophet proclaimed: Your throne, O God, shall endure for ever; your royal scepter is a scepter of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above all your fellows.

The oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed was a spiritual oil; it was in fact the Holy Spirit himself, who is called the oil of gladness because he is the source of spiritual joy. But we too have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in his life. Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of his divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Being Fully Present

One of the great challenges in prayer, whether singing or praying the Psalms, or praying informally, is being fully present. In The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Joan Chittister recounts the following story.
An ancient tale from another tradition tells us that a disciple asked the Holy One:
“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?”
“Here,” the Holy One said.
“When will it happen?”
“It is happening right now,” the Holy One said.
“Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look,” the Holy One said.
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing,” the Holy One said. “Just look.”
“At what?”
“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the Holy one said.
“Must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “The ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look in the ordinary way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “You don’t.”
“Why ever not?” the disciple demanded.
“Because to look you must be here,” the Holy One said. “You’re mostly somewhere else.”[i]

St. Benedict tells us that in singing or praying the Psalms, “We ought to sing the Psalm in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”[ii]
It seems that some of the very basic things in spirituality must be repeated often, and just as often brought back to mind. St. Paul says, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”[iii]
I think that the most basic challenge is being present, not just being present with God, but also being present with others, and even being present with ourselves. Even in ordinary conversations we have to recall ourselves to the present moment. The simple truth is that, by virtue of our human frailty, we can’t be radically present all of the time. That is an attribute of God, not of humankind.
Were Adam and Eve always living in the present moment before the Fall? I rather think not, or Eve wouldn’t have misquoted God when talking with the devil.[iv] It is that human weakness the devil banked on, when he asked, “Did God say?”[v] The only safe thing that Eve could have said, was “Be gone, Satan! (hypagay satana…  [upage( satana/.)[vi] There! Just there, we might drift off from being present and chase that old black weasel down the hole.
The first step in prayer is being present; being consciously present with God, and being consciously living in the present moment. “If we do not live life consciously…we may not be living at all.”[vii]
The second step in prayer is not talking, but listening to what God is saying to you in your daily reading of the Psalms, and in the rest of His word. Prayer is a dialogue, and God really should get to speak first, and in truth He is always speaking, and the only question is are we present, aware, and listening?
The third step in prayer is responding to Him in prayer on the basis of what He has said to you. This brings to the fore the discipline of personal Lectio Divina; Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.
The fourth step in prayer is bringing to Him the concerns of the heart. It is here that old habits frequently prevail. We often focus on our list of concerns and in doing so we begin to slip away from the Presence. Those concerns, those intercessions, are actually something we do together with the Holy Spirit. The Quaker Douglas Steere points out that it is the Holy Spirit who brings to mind the things that we feel led to pray for; they are in effect not just our concerns, but they are the concerns of the Holy Spirit. Here remember the doctrine of the Trinity! It is not merely the Holy Spirit who brings these concerns to our minds; it is Christ the Intercessor, who through the office of the Holy Spirit, is praying through us to God the Father.
I have prayed for some people on my prayer list a very long time with no results that I can see. Just because I can’t see the result now, means nothing. I may never see the result of my prayers until I see God face to face. When you are concerned enough to pray for someone, to even persist a long time; know that the Holy Spirit not only moves you to pray, but undergirds your persistent prayer. Steere, points out,
Before we begin to pray, we may know that the love of the One who is actively concerned in awakening each life to its true center is already lapping at the shores of that life.  Such prayer is only cooperation with God’s active love in besieging the life or new areas of the life of another, or of a situation.[viii]

The same principle of actively being present is true for corporate prayer as well as individual prayer, and neither corporate prayer nor individual prayer can stand alone. Christians were not meant to be one legged warriors; both individual and corporate prayer are necessary for a balanced prayer life.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, (New York: Crossroad, 1997), p. 178
[ii] The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 19
[iii] Philippians 3:1
[iv] Genesis 3:2-3  "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"
[v] Genesis 3:1
[vi]Matthew 4:10
[vii] Chittister, p. 19
[viii] Douglas Steere, ed. Foster, Devotional Classics, p. 89

Copyright © 2015 Robin P. Smith