Time for Some Straight Talk

“The Lamb of God, John the Baptist and Andrew” (detail) by Ottavio Vannini (1585-c. 1643) [Public domain]

If you appreciate straight talk, the Gospel of John has a great way of getting to the point.

“‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.But there are some of you that do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him.” (John 6:63-64)

These are some rather blunt words from our Lord and Savior. He is not pulling any punches. The question for each of us is simply—how will we respond?

Just like our own times, not everyone who heard Jesus’ spoken words was entirely comfortable with what Christ had to say. But these people were forced to answer same question every living soul is ultimately forced to answer for themselves, “Do I believe in Christ’s words or not?”

“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer want about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’” (John 6:68-69)

Simon Peter, despite his own struggles, many of which would continue to the end of Jesus’ life, seems to have thought this question through and come to his own conclusion.

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69)

You can almost hear Peter saying, in that rough demeanor for which he was known, “Hey, this is not an easy path you are laying out Lord, but let’s get real here, it is the only path that leads to eternity.”

We have all experienced those days haven’t we? Days when we might find it a little difficult to stay in the fight for faith. Perhaps things have not been going well, maybe for a long time. Maybe the days have turned into weeks or months. Or perhaps we have experienced a significant setback in our plans, or maybe we have just gotten tired of practicing a daily regimen of prayer and devotion and we might have begun to wonder, “What impact is it all having?”

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we are still left with that nagging question from Peter, “Hey, where else are we going to go?” After all, if you are in the market for eternal life, Christ is the only one who is really offering that option.  

Of course, we could try to fill that sense of desire or emptiness we all carry within us with some temporary or material object, whatever it might be, (and some are clearly better than others). But at the end of the day we will end up right where St. Augustine did when he prayed and then later wrote these words, “Our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in thee.”

Do you sense that restlessness, a feeling that no matter how you fill your days, you just never seem to touch what is truly eternal? Isn’t it true for many that we do not seem to come to that true feeling of rest, a complete peacefulness, and a sense that our deepest desires really can be fulfilled?

There is actually a very simple reason for this, and it comes from the very first sentence in the Scripture verse we cited above:

“It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

We will never find the fulfillment of our deepest desires through anything in this world. Or, said another way, we would not be happy even if we had everything this world had to offer. In the end, all the best that this world has to offer will still leave us wanting, and this is actually a good thing, by the way. You see, it means that we actually have an infinite capacity for fulfillment, and yet, our greatest expectations cannot match or even perceive the degree of fulfillment that the Lord intends to provide us. 

The reason for this is simply because, at our deepest core, we are primarily spiritual beings. Yes, we have flesh and blood, but because we are made in the image of God, we are also spiritual beings. And, as a result, we can only be truly satisfied by what God Himself must give to us.

“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

It is true, we spend the vast majority of our lives dwelling in and responding to the desires of our material nature, and this is a consequence of Adam and Eve’s fall. But, in prayer, we have the opportunity to feed and respond to the needs and deepest desires of our spiritual nature, and we have the very real opportunity to touch the eternal.

No doubt many will say: “But I don’t seem to get anything out of prayer.” And for many, this is perhaps true much of the time. This is the case because we have not yet adapted ourselves to live in our spiritual nature. Or, more to the point, to dwell in our spiritual nature by communicating with the source of our spirit—God—in the way that He wants to communicate with us. We still want to converse with Him through our natural faculties, while He is seeking to communicate to us on a deeper level.

Our prayer life might be like the person who goes on a diet and finds themselves running to the scale every hour to see how they are doing. Surprise, it does not happen that way. You will find very little happening hour-by-hour, or even day-by-day. We need to learn to make a lifetime commitment to prayer and stick with it through good times and bad. We may not find our circumstances changing by the hour, but if we are committed to walking in the Spirit of Faith and prayer throughout our entire day for the rest of our life, as Scripture tells us:

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

And then we will find that we are slowly changing, and our more immediate circumstances themselves will become less and less a focus for us. We will discover that life is indeed found within us, in our spirit, and not in the passing circumstances of this world.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

This is not simply about life after death, but about the fullness of life in the Spirit which we may have today.  

We might all pray this week for the grace to simply dwell in the Spirit.

God Bless

Copyright © 2020, Mark Danis


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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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