Thursday 1st February 2024
Spending Lent with the Corinthians
Yes, the Reflections are back, after their January break! I thought I would start this year’s Reflections with some thoughts on how we might spend a fruitful Lent. Lent so often has a negative connotation – it’s seen as a time when we give up things which we enjoy, in the hope that this act of self-discipline will somehow make us better Christians and perhaps better people. While there is , of course, much to be said for a regime of self-discipline, I prefer to see Lent in a positive light. Lent is a time for spiritual growth- a time to be refreshed and renewed in our relationships with God, with ourselves, and with one another.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Spiritual growth is a process which takes time – a whole lifetime, in fact. And some Christians believe that our spiritual growth does n’t even stop when we die, but continues in the life to come – this is sometimes called “Purgatory”, which is the name traditionally given to a half-way house between life on earth and life in heaven.
It's also a process which involves surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit, for the spiritual life is about the life of the Holy Spirit within us. This means that in our spiritual life, it’s the Holy Spirit who does the serious work – the “heavy lifting”, so to speak. Our role is to welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, and give Him the space He needs to do His work. I think most of us find this difficult to do, because we like to think of spiritual growth in terms of our reward for doing things like saying our prayers and reading the bible. Such spiritual activity may indeed prepare us to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we cannot dictate to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit remains a free agent. In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, in chapter 3 of John’s gospel, “ the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”.
It's also a process where it can be helpful to have a spiritual guide- a man or a woman who is experienced in the spiritual life, and who is open to discerning the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of the Church. Such spiritual guides come in all shapes and sizes, but I thought it might be helpful to see what St.Paul might have to say to us on the subject of spiritual growth. Because of the breadth and complexity of Paul’s writings, I’m going to focus on two letters which he wrote to Christians to in the Greek city of Corinth. We’ll be looking at these letters in the days ahead.