P&W Reflection: “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is”

Some time back, I was at this program teaching us about the Holy Spirit. One of the program sessions was about the ‘Spirit of conviction’, the Spirit that empowers us to be free. As I was watching the video, the song “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is” by Hillsong came into my head and I realized how apt it was for this paeticular session. If you doubt me, just look at the chorus:

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is
There is freedom
Where the Spirit of the Lord is
Chains are broken
Eyes are open
Christ is with us
Christ is with us”

More than just the explicit mention of freedom, the idea of the breaking of chains and the opening of eyes also evoke a sense of freedom. Expounding on this idea then, we can see that there seems almost a two-part approach to freedom. The more widely known part of freedom is the idea of chains being broken, or the giving to an individual the ability to choose freely and deliberately. This idea is more than just about the physical restrictions; it talks very much also about the chains of emotional baggage and addictions. The verses in the song also talks about this idea of breaking free from the bondages of these chains. The first verse goes “In Your Name alone, we have been released” with the second talking about how “we are slaves no more”. I think things such as emotional baggages, addictions, past hurts and other such things limit us from being able to act freely because of their ability to influence us. In this sense, these factors chains us to simple reaction, doing things out of fear – fear of repeating past hurts or fear of being emotionally wounded again – or simply by being compelled by our addictions. Just like how the fear of prosecution kept the apostles locked in the upper room after the resurrection of Jesus, the Spirit of conviction gave the apostles the freedom to act beyond this fear; to act freely and deliberately to let the Good News be known.

If this was the only definition of freedom, then the Church wouldn’t have so much problems with the freedom espoused by the world in general. However, many seem to forget of the second part of the notion of freedom: eyes being opened. The song opens with the verse “For we know the truth, Your truth has set us free”. If we look to what the Church has to say about freedom, “human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.” (CCC 1731). There is an ordering of our freedom towards God. CCC 1734 adds that “there is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just”. The first step, just like how the song first starts off, is recognizing this important truth; that true freedom is tied to the truth of God. If the ultimate purpose of our earthly life is to achieve perfect union with God, then freedom must be framed through the lenses of our end goal. It cannot simply be a desire to choose. Someone who has never learnt to play the piano is free and can choose to play the piano badly, but they are not truly free to play music on the piano owing to the sheer fact that they have never learnt nor practiced the piano, unlike a professional pianist. There is a lack of the freedom to be excellent. In this same vein, if we are all called to be excellent and to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, (Matthew 5:48) then abusing our free choice to disobey and be anything less than perfect becomes the “slavery of sin.” (CCC1743)

But what this song always reminds me of is our redemption and freeing from the bondage of sin. It is our victory cry. This is encapsulated so beautifully in the third verse:

“Who the Son has freed
He is free indeed
All our sin is gone
We have been redeemed
Jesus paid it all
Jesus paid it all”

And what’s more amazing? The fact that the Son chose to free all of humanity from the sins that held us captive. Not just His chosen people but Jews, Gentiles, pagans and all of humanity were saved. Free. Not just to be able to choose but to choose good. To choose to follow God. To choose to be in communion with God and with one another, we who are saved and free.

At the end of it all, the bridge gives two very important reminders in our freedom: that docility towards the promptings of the Spirit does not reduce our freedom but in fact, grows it and to always praise the Lord through our lives, in the free choices that we make. So, as we continue to continue on our various journeys, may we continue to open our hearts to the gentle promptings and fiery passion of the Spirit of the Lord that convicts us and to lead a live of true freedom, growing closer to the Lord and praising Him with our lives.

“Open wide the gates of heaven
Fill our hearts as we surrender
Lord let Your presence fall
Lord let Your presence fall

Open wide the gates of heaven
We will worship You forever
Lord let Your presence fall
Lord let Your presence fall”

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan

P&W Reflection: ‘Lord, I Need You’

Chris reflects on the important message conveyed by Matt Maher’s song ‘Lord I Need You’.

Sometimes, the most powerful songs are written in the simplest of ways, and Matt Maher’s ‘Lord I Need You’ is one such example. Unpretentious yet strikingly profound, this song encapsulates the essence of God’s unconditional love for all of us. The more I listen to it, the more I am reminded of the Prodigal Son parable in Luke 15. In the following article, allow me to share more about why I am deeply moved by this beautiful song and why it serves as the theme of song for all prodigal children – you and I included – of our most loving and most forgiving Father in Heaven.

Lord I Need You begins with the following lyrics – “Lord I come, I confess / Bowing here I find my rest”. Immediately, it is evident that the song speaks of humility, of contrition, of wanting to return home to “find” “rest” in God. The lines that follow in the same stanza exudes a similar sentiment – “Without You I fall apart / You’re the One that guides my heart”. Here we see a recognition that God is our all in all and we are His beloved. This recognition also reflects the awareness that our relationship with God is a personal and intimate one – one that speaks heart to heart. God is not some distant, authoritarian figure, ever ready to judge and to condemn but a God who provides “rest”, who “guides”, who loves passionately. Indeed, it is almost as if this stanza was crafted specially for the prodigal son in Luke 15. One can almost imagine that upon “[coming] to himself” (Luke 15:17) in hunger, desperation and despondency, the prodigal son “set off and went to his father” (Luke 15:20), singing these exact same lyrics.

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St. Francis De Sales’ Roses Among Thorns

Chris shares his reflection on a book by St Francis de Sales.

Recently as I was tidying up my Evernote database, I chanced upon the following excerpt from St Francis de Sales’ Roses Among Thorns – a very thought-provoking book that I completed numerous months ago:
Do not allow yourself to become angry or let yourself be surprised to see that your soul still has all the imperfections that you habitually confess. Even though you must reject and even detest them in order to amend your life, you must not oppose them with anger, but instead with courage and tranquility, so that you will be able to make a solid and secure resolution to correct them. (…) When we censure our neighbour or complain about him — something we should do rarely — we never bring it to an end, but are always beginning again and endlessly repeating our complaints and grievances, which is a sign of a nettlesome heart that has not yet regained its health. (16)
Embedded within the above excerpt are two striking issues worthy of exploration and further discussion. Firstly, Sales affirms a poignant reality of spiritual maturity i.e. that the further we traverse on this journey towards oneness and unity with Christ, the more aware we become of our soul’s “imperfections”. Indeed, I have been privy to the recurring emotions of anger and frustration whenever my imperfections, weaknesses and failings get surfaced. I often ask myself “Oh gosh, there you go again. Haven’t we been through this before? Why are you imbibing in these habitual, self-gratifying sins again, sins that serve no greater purpose and goodness than selfish pleasure? Don’t you know better? Didn’t you just go for confession and made a commitment to repent?”

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7 Last Words — “Father, into your hands …” (Luke 23:46)

“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). This is the last sentence that Jesus spoke before he died on the cross, for us. In the Good Friday service of the Catholic Tradition, this is also the last sentence that the presider recites before the entire congregation kneels down in silence and acknowledges the harsh reality of Jesus’ death. These few words, simple and child-like but pregnant with poignancy speaks so much of Jesus’ reckless abandonment to his father – it reflects his radical trust and complete surrender to God.

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7 Last Words — “It is Finished” (John 19:30)

Chris reflects on the very last words of Jesus, and what they mean for our Christian mission here on earth.

Mission Accomplished. For the longest time in my childhood, the words “Mission Accomplished” were my two favorite words in the English Language because they always appeared with the completion of a particular level and/or scenario in a video game. Be it Super Mario Brothers, Harvest Moon or Grand Theft Auto, I enjoyed playing these games as they required the fulfillment of a designated mission. The completion of a mission often gave me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. More importantly, however, the completion of a mission opened up yet another (unknown) level that I could further explore and with it came another mission to be fulfilled. This cycle was repeated until I finished playing the entire game.

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The Donkey of Palm Sunday

Garrett reflects on the figure of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on during Palm Sunday.

It was Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Holy Week, which signals that Lent is about to come to an end, and Eastertide is drawing near. Arriving early to Church with my family, I jostled through the crowd towards the queue that had formed along the collection point for palm branches. Picking out two sturdy branches to bring back to my family, I made haste to return back to them. Along the way, I accidentally brushed the spiky palm leaves against the arm of a prim-and-proper looking lady. As she turned around, I raised my free hand sheepishly in apology. Re-joining my family, I fell into place as the procession began. Palms held aloft, we waited for Father to begin the procession into the main church. The procession has it’s own Gospel reading too, the one where Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Ah, I thought, somewhat wistfully. It’s going to be a long Mass. Guiltily, I recalled the (paraphrased) words of St. Josemaria Escriva – “The Mass is long, you say. Because your love is short, I reply.” And indeed, I had little right to complain. The Palm Sunday service is a beautiful one. It is also the only time where the Gospel is interactive, with the congregation playing the part of the crowds of Jerusalem at Jesus’ entry into the city on a donkey, and later at His trial and Passion.

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7 Last Words — “Woman, behold your son …” (John 19:26-27)

Chris reflects on the truly self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and how this love can be an example for us.

What pain and what agony Jesus must have felt when He said those words to his loved ones. What pangs of loss and anguish that Jesus must have experienced knowing that He would be (momentarily) separated from His mother and His beloved disciples. Separation: have we all not experienced this in one way or another before? Have we all not felt pain through separation, death and loss? Separation implies a dis-connection – to separate is to break away, to break apart, to be divorced from community; indeed the oft-used phrase “to go our separate ways” is undeniably tinged with melancholy and sadness. Here, then, we see a visceral portrayal of Jesus’ humanity – His desire for community and intimacy. Indeed, apart from being the savior of the world, Jesus was also a beloved son, a beloved brother, and a loving friend. Similar to you and I, Jesus also wanted to love and be loved by those around Him, especially in seasons of sorrow and loss.

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