Music and the Gospel: “The Greatest,” Sia

SPIRIT this week explores ways the Holy Spirit moves in us—in our failures and regrets as well as our gold stars and friendships. Sometimes we sense the Spirit stirring during quiet contemplation. The Spirit risks new friendships with us or pushes to give our best to a challenge. Sia’s song “The Greatest” is all about connecting with a animating presence greater than ourselves, pushing and staying motivated against all obstacles, and embracing life.

Key Lines: Hey, I am the truth / Hey, I am the wisdom of the fallen – I’m the youth / Hey, I am the greatest / Hey, this is the proof / Hey, I work hard, pray hard, pay dues, hey / I transform with pressure, I’m hands-on with effort / I fell twice before my bounce back was special / Letdowns will get you, and the critics will test you / But the strong will survive, another scar may bless you, ah

Questions: When have you pushed yourself beyond old limits to new ones? When have you experienced being part of something greater than yourself?

Music and the Gospel: “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford and Sons

God within us guides and inspires us, accompanies us in exciting times and difficult ones. This week, SPIRIT explores how a young woman, 16 and pregnant, makes a difficult decision about the baby with her boyfriend and family. In the gospel Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, who begins to serve him as the first woman disciple. Both women feel the stirring of God within their hearts and put these feelings into action. When you feel the Holy Spirit burning within you, do you smother or fan the flames?

Key Lyrics:So when your hopes on fire / But you know your desire / Don’t hold a glass over the flame / Don’t let your heart grow cold / I will call you by name / I will share your road

Questions: Think of a time when you knew within your heart what decision to make, even if those around you didn’t feel the same as you. How did you recognize this feeling? What did you do to let that feeling move you to action? How can you help this flame within others grow and be put into action?

The Gift of the Spirit

In this week’s Spirit, we read about a devastating earthquake that hit Peru in 2007, causing 80,000 families to lose their homes in just one city. In addition to this earthquake in Peru, most of us can name numerous other natural disasters that have wrought immeasurable suffering in cities and countries around the globe—the flooding in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan… The list could go on and on.

In the face of such humanitarian tragedies, it is easy to be numbed by the scope of the destruction and the amount of work that needs to be done to bring life back to livable standards for those inhabiting the affected area. It is easy to think, “I am only one person. The problem is too big. There is nothing I can do to make a difference.”

Jessica LaRonde and her friend Lana Johnstone did not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by what had happened in Peru. They advocated so that supporting recovery in Peru would be the project of their Interact Club, a club dedicated to helping youth make a difference around the world. Raising $750 for building a schoolhouse in Chincha, Jessica and Lana made the trip to Peru to participate in the building of the school and the life of the community they were helping.

So what makes it possible for Jessica and Lana to respond to the suffering they know is happening in Peru? Why did they not just throw up their hands, saying this was not their problem or that there was nothing they could do to help?

Of course, the answer to these questions is complex. But I want to focus on one part of the answer to the questions suggested through this week’s Gospel reading from John 20:19-31. When Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, he offers them peace before commissioning them to go forth and spread the Good News, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” But Jesus does not send them to continue his work and message alone. Rather, he breathes on them and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Put another way, Jesus insures that his disciples will have the help of the Spirit to assist them.

And what does the help of the Spirit entail? Isaiah 11:2-3 enumerates seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts that are given to us in baptism and that are renewed when we receive Eucharist. These gifts are:

  • Wisdom: the desire to contemplate the things of God
  • Understanding: the ability to comprehend divine truth, especially as revealed through Jesus Christ
  • Counsel: the ability to judge how to act based on faith
  • Fortitude: the courage to follow through on actions suggested by the gift of counsel
  • Knowledge: the ability to see our lives as God sees them
  • Piety: the desire to worship and serve God
  • Fear of the Lord: the desire to act out of hope and out of wonder and awe of God (which is different than acting out of fear of punishment)

When I read Jessica and Lana’s story, I can see the gifts of the Spirit working in them. Particularly, I see a demonstration of the gift of counsel, in that they knew to act by giving preference to the poor and suffering, as Jesus did; the gift of fortitude, as they had the courage to stand by their convictions, to advocate that funds be raised to help the communities in Peru devastated by the earthquake, and to travel to Peru even if this would be a new experience for them; and fear of the Lord, as they acted out of hope and not despair.

When it seems as if we might be working alone or when it seems as if a problem is too big for us to make a difference, it is important to remember that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are never working alone, and while a problem may be too big for us, who are we to say what is too big for God?

How have you experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Being Called

In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:35-42), Jesus gains followers. One of these followers, Andrew, is intrigued when his friend John the Baptist calls Jesus “the lamb of God,” and upon hearing Jesus teaching, Andrew begins following Jesus, literally and figuratively. Convinced Jesus is the Messiah, Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter and invites him to come follow Jesus as well. In this reading, we see that it is through relationships that people are called to be disciples of Jesus. Another way of saying this is that the Spirit works through people’s relationships, awakening their hearts to the truth of Jesus Christ.

At the Catholic high school I attended, students usually ended up with different religion teachers each trimester. My first year there I had the odd fortune of having Mr. G for three trimesters in a row. Even though I was really quiet, Mr. G got to know me, perhaps because I was the only consistent presence in his freshman religion classes. Toward the end of the school year, Mr. G caught up to me after class one day to ask if I would be interested in going on a day-long service trip to a halfway house and soup kitchen. I told him I would have to think about it and made a hasty retreat.

As I tried to decide what to do, two fears played in my mind: (1) What it would mean to miss a full-day of school? (I took academics a little too seriously and doubted there was much for which it would be worth missing school.) (2) Would I have anyone to talk to on the trip? (Given my first fear, you probably figured out I was a nerd and not the best in social situations.) These were the two fears I could admit to myself, but they covered a third, even bigger fear, one that only tickled my subconscious: (3) What would it be like to interact with people who lived in a halfway house and to serve lunch to clients of a soup kitchen?

Given these fears, I had all but talked myself out of the service trip. But then Mr. G approached me again. He kindly said he thought it would be a good experience for me to go on the fieldtrip and that he would like it if I came along. I didn’t know how to say no, so instead I said yes.

To this day, I am grateful to Mr. G for his invitation. That one day was crucial for my faith journey, because for the first time I saw and understood that not everyone lived a comfortable life like my family. I understood that being Catholic is not just believing the right things but also about enacting a preferential option for the poor. In retrospect, I see the Spirit’s work in my relationship with Mr. G. He called me to do something I found uncomfortable, but I chose to follow and thus deepened my understanding of what it means to be a disciple.

When you think about your own faith journey, through which relationships have you been called to be a disciple of Jesus?

Through which relationships might you be calling others to come and see?

How has the Spirit worked in your relationships?