They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” (Acts 5: 18-20, NIV)
Once again, I begin writing on a topic about which I feel unworthy to comment. How can I claim to know anything “this new life” (or simply, “the life”) when I myself am still living the old one?
Yet something inside of me longs to write of it.
What has changed that there is now a new life that people need to be taught?
It all seems too much for words. In my last post, I wrote of The risen Lord and the wondrous and mysterious nature of His appearances after the Resurrection. If we now read of the lives of the Apostles after the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, we find something just as wondrous and mysterious.
We read of ordinary men, weak people who doubted, questioned and shrank from the Truth much like the rest of us, acting just like Christ.
They can understand each other, even when speaking different languages. With unwavering certainty, they bring healing to people with diseases and deformities. They cast out unclean spirits – and the spirits obey them. Angels lead them out of prison, without unlocking the doors. They are undeterred by the suffering they encounter in liberating people from their sins.
It is as though these ordinary people are now living the life of the risen Christ.
And, of course, that is exactly what they were doing. The risen Christ showed them the new life, the fully Human life, the life we were created to have before we fell into sin.
Having destroyed our sin and death with His humility and love, Jesus showed them that nothing need block the way anymore to the full living of our true Human-ness. With His Spirit alive within them, His life was their life, their life was His life.
What before they would have thought impossible – or perhaps possible only for Him – they now knew was simply true. What was called a “miracle” was actually how life was made to be. It was sin that had left this unrealized, unknowable to the pre-Christian soul.
Which brings us to the disturbing question: what has become of this new Life?
I could begin a critique of the churches and say how they have failed to teach us well and so on. But the reality is that I must look at myself. Why am I not living this new Life fully? Why is my “Christian” life but the palest shadow of Christ’s, despite having been taught the faith and given of His Spirit?
I doubt very much that I am the only one asking this question.
In fact, I have read various opinions as to why there is so little spiritual healing now compared to the early Church. Some even seem to suggest that these special gifts were needed more then than they are now in order to help build up the early Church.
Yet, if we look at our world today, we can hardly deny that there is a need for spiritual gifts – miracles and grace in any and all forms.
We live in a world that is desperate for God, starving for the healing, understanding and forgiveness of sin that is the heart of the new Life. Surely God is not withholding His gifts.
Indeed, at this moment and within our lifetimes, people have been quietly living Christ’s life. Tumors have disappeared. People have understood each other without speaking the same language. Those crushed by sin, despair and addiction have found liberation through the prayers of the Spirit-filled.
It can happen. It does happen. The new Life has not died.
But I fear that if we asked most people attending Christian churches (much less the droves who have stopped attending) if they ever witnessed or experienced any of these things personally, the vast majority of them would say no.
How can this be? Again, I can only examine myself. How is it that I have lived a “Christian” life for so many years, unaware that I was not truly living the life of Christ?
I have no answer. All I can do now is live this moment in Christ.
And to live His life is not something I know how to do on my own.
Knowing my weakness, I must repent always. I must live a life of repentance – not a gloomy obsession with sin by any means – but a constant awareness of my need to turn my heart toward God. I cannot turn my heart just once. I must turn again and again, for I am so easily distracted that I lose sight of Him before I realize it has happened.
I can only hope to live the life of Christ by the gift of His Spirit. But I must do more than simply pray for His Spirit.
I must do the work of emptying myself.
God gives His Spirit to us freely – He wants us to share in His life and have the strength and comfort of the Advocate.
However, if I am full of human spirit, human preoccupations, desires and ambitions, how can I receive His Spirit?
If all of the rooms in the inn of my heart are occupied, how can I welcome this Guest? Where would I have Him stay?
Again, to empty myself does not mean to take on a gloomy, impoverished life. If the “rooms in the inn” are full of clutter or occupied by scoundrels, emptying them allows their true beauty to become apparent. Even more so as the Spirit fills them.
Any emptying, whether a fast from food or a giving up what I want for the sake of another, initially feels like a deprivation. But as the emptying creates space for Another, the joy received replaces any distress a hundredfold.
In our own small way, we become like the Apostles who rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer “for the sake of the Name” (Acts 5: 41). Being flogged did not humiliate or discourage them. Rather, it emptied them further that the Spirit might live more and more fully through them.
And so, weak creature that I am, I take on my life of repentance. I empty myself in my own small ways, cleaning out one by one the many rooms of my heart.
And I rejoice.
The disciples rejoiced, alleluia, alleluia. When they saw the risen Lord, alleluia, alleluia.
– Evening prayer, Liturgy of the Hours (Catholic)
“. . . the disturbing question: what has become of this new Life?” I think it is still vibrant, Mary, if certain reflective weblogs that I follow are any indication, not to mention the Liturgies/Mysteries that are always at hand — so powerful.
Maybe “this new Life” is even more vibrant now (not really, and why compare anyway? but you “opened the door,” as courtroom lawyers say) because we don’t experience the results the way the first followers did. Our efforts require even deeper faith, it seems to me, at the same time that our awareness of failures and weaknesses could result in greater hope. But you have already clarified this in your writing here. I’m just saying “Amen!”
P.S. It took almost a lifetime to understand that “a constant awareness of my need to turn my heart toward God” might be what repentance really means. I got lost counting up sins, and finally gave up — which turned out to be a kind of emptying that eventually made the awareness at least possible, even if not yet constant. A long way to go still, but the company I keep keeps me on track. Thank God. Yes, and thank you, and so many others.
Amen! Thanks, as always, for your reflections.
Counting our sins can be a major distraction. Comparing the gifts that Holy Spirit has or hasn’t given us relative to the Apostles (or others we know or know of) can be a distraction. All of these distractions are just some of the traps set by the enemy, part of the “warfare” that we must fight through.
Or more simply, we need to just keep turning our hearts toward God.
After all, He knows our sins and doesn’t need us to count them. He knows what gifts we need to do what we are asked to do and will provide them. By relentlessly turning our hearts toward God and avoiding these distractions, we will accept His mercy and gifts more fully.