NEVER WITHOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT!
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. (Lk 4:1–2)
1. Listening to the Gospel
LUKE, EVANGELIST OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Of course, it’s the apostle Paul, whose disciple is Luke, who mentions the Holy Spirit the most in his letters. Luke offers us a gospel, not letters, set out in two volumes—the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. He reveals himself not only as The evangelist of the Holy Spirit but also as the evangelist of the Christian mission. Mark mentions the Holy Spirit only six times while Luke does so 90 times (20 times in his gospel and 70 times in the book of Acts).
The Spirit is, first and foremost, the all-powerful force of God. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows us how all of God’s friends are moved by the Spirit or filled with the Spirit. This is the case, for example, with Mary (1:35,49), John the Baptist (1:15,80), Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67), and the old man Simeon in the temple (2:25,26,27). Above all, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (1:35). The Spirit descends upon him at his baptism (3:22) and so we come to our gospel of the first Sunday of Lent: Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and it is with this same Spirit that he goes into the desert, as we shall see later.
In the rest of the gospel, Jesus returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4:14) and the first words of his first sermon will be to testify to the presence of the Spirit within him (4:18). His mission is to baptize in the Spirit and fire (3:16). Jesus rejoices under the action of the Holy Spirit (10:21) and at the end, he is taken to heaven by the Spirit (24:51), while promising to send the Spirit to the disciples: the Spirit is called here the ‘promise of the Father’ and the ‘power from on high’ (24:49). Only Luke invites us to ask for the Holy Spirit in prayer (11:9-13) because, for Luke, this is explicitly what the Father gives to those who pray to him. Nothing is good but God alone, through his Spirit (18:19).
As we begin this retreat, let’s ask ourselves this question: am I living in the Spirit in all my daily activities? There is no Christian life without the Holy Spirit. If I notice that the Holy Spirit is scarcely present in my life, there’s no need to feel guilty, but rather to rely on God’s promise to reveal him to us. Here is what’s wrong: we don’t want to receive what God wants to give us! So let’s take advantage of this retreat to choose a moment during the day to invoke the Spirit: for example, by using this very short prayer as we breathe: Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!
Having been convinced of the importance of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, we can return to the gospel text. And enormous surprises await us: it’s the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the desert to confront him with need and temptation!
We might not want to let ourselves be guided by such a Spirit because he will reveal to us how much we depend on someone else and how much our main struggle will be to trust him. To nurture a real trust in another person, and for it to be more than theoretical, nice words, and good feelings, it’s necessary to begin in a place where we are in real need of help, where down deep we truly experience our misery—our radical loss without God’s presence and help.
FREED FROM OURSELVES BY JESUS!
This is what Jesus experiences! This is what he comes to impart to us: his filial trust no matter what happens—not just from time to time when things are going a little better than usual. Therefore, it’s in the experience of need, poverty, and temptation that our trust in God is truly nurtured—and this is the difficult part! Jesus has gone before us, led by the Holy Spirit. And this is what we must never forget!
Therefore, the ever-deeper awareness of our misery and poverty is the foundation of our real attachment to Jesus as our savior, as well as our profound attention to his words: he is our servant, our healer, our salvation. Our openness to Him depends on two things: to be convinced of our extreme misery, and from there, our willingness to surrender ourselves to Jesus each day, so that he may do with us as He wills.
The principal temptation in the desert of our powerlessness is to run away! So this is our main struggle: not to run away from life. We are invited to seek security not in ourselves but God, even if it hurts inside us. The perception of our inner poverty is, in fact, the foundation of our real trust in God: to turn ourselves over with trust to God, who is poor like us.
This is what Jesus experienced in the desert when the adversary proposed that Jesus should escape from this condition. He entrusts himself to God with confidence and invites us to do the same! We have to receive from him a profound liberation: often, we are focused on our need for self-sufficiency, our need for possessions, our need to know how to provide for ourselves—in other words, our need for control that is all about ‘me’. Jesus, the Son, comes to give us his way of life that is completely oriented towards God and others.
The experience of the desert journey in our lives reveals our thirst for independence, self-sufficiency, and self-importance. In this way, we can grow in our desire to be true sons and daughters of God by genuinely trusting God in all the events of our lives: only Jesus can provide this for us. This isn’t the result of our efforts, no matter how generous they may be.
When confronted with temptation, Jesus ultimately doesn’t respond to the tempter: he uses the temptation to express trust in his Father by relying on the Word. Jesus wants to impart to us his way of life which consists in consenting to poverty to nourish unconditional trust in the Father.
So the Christian life doesn’t look like an achievement that we would be proud of and satisfied with! The more Christ imparts his life to us, the more we become little in our own eyes and we feel less threatened by our weaknesses. We grow in the conviction of our great inner poverty and this growth becomes the place of even deeper surrender to the invasion of Christ’s life in us.
Therefore, we’re invited not to turn our backs on everything that in our daily lives shows us that we’re limited, fragile, and poor because it is from this experience that we truly live in dependence on God with Jesus. We choose then, no matter what happens, no matter what we think or feel, to ask Jesus only to draw us into his very own surrender to the Love of the Father.
2. Mercy with Teresa of Avila
A WAY OF FREEDOM
Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) experienced such a liberation. She lived in a social context very different from ours. In her world, women were particularly devalued. Women were considered ignorant and weak, and the Church herself did nothing to compensate for this tendency. Teresa had the paradoxical experience of being socially marginalized as a woman and being deeply loved by a God who had mercy on her. It is in her relationship with God that she receives from him the opportunity to be reconciled with her own nature.
If Teresa enjoyed a happy and privileged youth, she also had to deal with the shock of her mother’s death and a general context where deaths, illnesses, and economic crises weighed on daily life. The society in which she lived was marked by a deep, anthropological pessimism: only a minority of people will experience anything good—after they die—in Heaven! A spiritual movement in which she participated would help to alleviate such a view. It was centered on the humanity of Christ contemplated in personal prayer.
Teresa will discover a space of freedom within herself. Prayer allows her to discover how deep God’s mercy is and how it reaches her, just as she is. From within, Mercy seeks to liberate her from the various forms of misery and oppression she suffers. Teresa welcomes God’s merciful presence within herself; this presence is a work of divine salvation at the heart of all that she may go through. Throughout her life, she experienced mercy as a divine pedagogy. Let’s mention some of the facts about this journey.
In the innocence of childhood, she was strongly sensitive to God. She even desired to be a martyr because it seemed to her to be a shortcut to be with God in Heaven. She was resolute and absolute. Her father sent her to the Augustinian boarding school of Our Lady of Grace, close to the family home, to protect her from the temptations of adolescence. In this new environment, she became aware of her infidelity to God, especially her ingratitude towards the one who had given her so many blessings. The boarding school allowed her to benefit from the good example of the Augustinian Sisters and this brought about in Teresa the fruits of true conversion. She wanted to become a religious sister, but the servile fear of God was still quite present. Jesus would gradually lead her to a commitment out of love.
Teresa also was marked by chronic health problems that would accompany her more or less throughout her life. She finally entered the Carmelite monastery of the Incarnation in 1535 at the age of 20. God showered her with spiritual favors, but she had to leave the monastery after three years because of her health problems. During this time of convalescence, she discovered an essential book, which was a guide to the life of prayer: the Third Primer by Francisco de Osuna. But her health deteriorated to the point that she saw death coming. She chose to experience this trial by identifying herself with the suffering Christ. Her friendship with God intensified amid her illness. She remained weak and imperfect: leaving the infirmary, she frequented the parlors and even abandoned the practice of prayer for a few months in 1540-1541. This trial made her recognize the reality of her infidelities and her inability to progress in the spiritual life on her own. Entrusting herself more to mercy, she received from God the courage to persevere in prayer. A central event in Teresa’s life was still to come: in 1554, while passing in front of an image of Christ scourged during his Passion, she surrendered herself deeply to the grace of God and received from him a new determination to serve and love him.
The foundation of this path is to turn unceasingly to the humanity of Christ. Teresa discovered that he is the mercy of God and that the main infidelity is to turn away from him. She received from God the ability to perceive the reality of her soul when separated from God; therefore she was able to experience the disastrous situation from which Jesus frees us. This grace, which is commonly called the vision of hell, nourished her commitment to the salvation of others. The practice of prayer is the prime place to receive mercy. The foundation of the monastery of St. Joseph in 1562 was an essential step in the Teresian itinerary: she received the call from Jesus to live in the spirit of the Gospel in the heart of a small community of sisters who would be united to experience mercy among themselves and to welcome it for the world. Ten years later, she received the grace of spiritual marriage: she experienced the goal of the whole journey upon which Jesus had led her: the height of divine mercy consists in making us equal to him through love, making us participate in his own mission of salvation for all. Teresa’s entire life, therefore, was a progressive discovery of mercy. Her infidelities highlight the divine fidelity to mercy. At the heart of the abyss between misery and mercy are the fruit that this mercy bears in a human life marked by sin.
YOU ARE A GOD OF MERCY
In conclusion, what are the characteristics of divine mercy for Teresa? Imbued with divine mercy, Teresa can testify in her writings to the reality of mercy: first of all, it is permanent and welcomes us in all that we experience. It makes up for the time we have lost while we were looking after ourselves instead of deepening our trust in God. In this way, she changes what was keeping us from him, namely evil, into good, and this is limitless because mercy covers a multitude of sins. For Teresa, God never stops reaching out to us and he offers himself to us as our true security and providence. This mercy, revealing to us the depth of God’s love for us, makes us fall in love with God more and more. Here is a door to love God: the desire to experience his mercy more and more. Let’s not hesitate to offer ourselves to mercy!
fr. Denis-Marie Ghesquières (Paris convent)
Pray each day of the week
with Teresa of Avila
Monday, March 7: Called to holiness
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (…) you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lv 19:2,18)
“He never tires of giving, nor can He exhaust His mercies. Let us not tire of receiving. May He be blessed forever, amen — and may all things praise Him.” (The Book of Her Life, 19:15)
Do I give thanks for this call to holiness, and to love, that the Lord is issuing to me? To better respond, I will read numbers 14 to 18 of Pope Francis’ exhortation “Gaudete et exultate”.
Tuesday, March 8: Practicing forgiveness
“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Mt 6:14)
“If you should at times fall don’t become discouraged and stop striving to advance. For even from this fall God will draw out good.” (The Interior Castle, II, 1:9)
What steps toward forgiveness can I take this week?
Wednesday, March 9: Begging for mercy
“They shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.” (Jon 3:8)
“It happened to me that one day entering the oratory I saw a statue they had borrowed for a certain feast (…) It represented the much wounded Christ (…) I felt so keenly aware of how poorly I thanked Him for those wounds that, it seems to me, my heart broke. Beseeching Him to strengthen me once and for all that I might not offend Him, I threw myself down before Him with the greatest outpouring of tears.” (The Book of Her Life, 9:1)
I will select an image that represents Christ. Each day this Lent, I will pray before it, asking for the grace of conversion for myself and the members of the Church.
Thursday, March 10: Acting with mercy
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Mt 7:12)
“All my life has passed in desires, but the deeds I do not perform. May the mercy of God help me.” (The Book of Her Foundations, 28:35)
Realizing that the Lord is looking upon me with mercy, I ask him to help me become merciful to others.
Friday, March 11: Reconciling with God and neighbor
“First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:24)
“Help us understand, my God, that we do not know ourselves and that we come to You with empty hands; and pardon us through Your mercy.” (Way of Perfection, 36:6)
To prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I read one of the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation.
Saturday, March 12: Renewing the covenant
“Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.” (Dt 26:17)
“I am Yours…
Yours, you saved me…
Yours, I did not stray.
What do You want of me?” (Poetry, 2)
I will spend some time in prayer to say again to the Father of mercies, “Here I am to do your will.”
Lent 2022 Online Retreat © Copyright 2022, carmes-paris.org, and © Copyright 2022, Teresian Carmelites in Austria, All rights reserved. Published in collaboration with:
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Teresianischen Karmel in Österreich ,
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Marienschwestern vom Karmel.
Translations provided by North American members of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order.