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

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?”

Continue reading “St. Francis De Sales’ Roses Among Thorns”

The Excellent Exsultet

Greg refelcts on the beautiful Easter prayer, the Exsultet.

“Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,

exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,

let the trumpet of salvation

sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!”

Each time I hear this being sung at the beginning of every Easter vigil Mass, my heart and soul simply feel so uplifted, ready to exalt in the Resurrection of Christ together with His Church! The Exsultet holds such deep meaning, both in its verses and in the beautiful symbolism it uses. A century-old prayer that has been almost unaltered since the Middle Ages, the practice probably dates to even before that.

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Letter to St. Teresa of Avila

Chris writes a letter to St. Teresa of Avila — a Saint whom he considers very very intimidating.

“Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing dismay thee:
All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”  –
St. Teresa of Avila

Dear St. Teresa of Avila,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have a quick confession to make: I find you incredibly intimidating.

Your writings are always so fiercely passionate and incredibly firery; they have pierced the depths of my soul, over and over again. Paradoxically, however, my trepidation towards you does not stem from fear but more from awe. I am awed that a living, breathing individual like yourself was able to reach such immense depths of union with Christ whilst on this earth. I am awed by how you remained steadfast and convicted to our Faith despite the numerous trials and tribulations that you experienced both from the world and from our very own Church.

Though I find you very intimidating, I must also add that your writings and ideas have aided me enormously and have drawn me closer to God. Indeed, you have been a very effective instrument of His will, and a very clear signpost pointing towards God to so many people. Some of my friends even consider you as their closest spiritual companion, and I know a couple of them who have entered Carmel, so moved by your life and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

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Letter to Pope John XXIII

Chris writes a letter to Pope John XXIII — a Saint whom he finds very jolly and jovial (with a very important lesson to teach!)

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”  – Pope John XXIII

Dear Pope John XXIII,

Congratulations on your recent canonisation four years ago! I hope that all’s well with you in Heaven and that you’re enjoying yourself immensely with the communion of saints as well as the perpetuation adoration of our Lord, God and master, Jesus Christ.

I must be honest: I write to you today not because I have loads to share with you nor do I have any particular prayer intention that require your assistance. Pope John XXIII you must forgive me: I hardly know you and only just read about you the other day whilst completing the book The Ascent of Mount Carmel: Saint John of the Cross Reflections by Friar Marc Foley, OCD. That being said, after chancing upon one of your quotes and reflecting on it deeper in prayer, I must say that I felt a stirring in my heart to get to know you better. I will share your quote momentarily but before that, I just want to say that I’m moved by how light-hearted you seem to be. Reading up on you has allowed me to get a better sense of who you are. Yet, most – if not all – of the quotes that I’ve read about you seem to paint you as an exceptionally jovial and joyful person. Pope John XXIII, your personality speaks to the depth of my heart simply because you don’t take yourself too seriously; you seem to exude a distinctive childlike aura that I find deeply alluring – one that painfully reminds me just how “adult” I’ve grown to become.

Continue reading “Letter to Pope John XXIII”

Creating Space for God

Chris shares about the importance of carving out time to reconnect, recalibrate and recenter one’s life in God’s love.

Lately, I’m noticing an invitation to actively create space and make myself available for God in my life. The availability that I actively consent to, the willingness to sit with my inner restlessness and resist the constant (and inordinate) desire to do something (for God, for the church, for ministry-related activities etc. in a knee-jerk and sporadic manner), better allows me to cooperate with God’s divine grace and trust in His perfect timing. Continue reading “Creating Space for God”