Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Follow the Spirit

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Luke 11:45-46

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

R. Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers. (Psalm 1:1-4)

St. Paul contrasts life in the spirit with life in the body.  Those who belong to Christ can lead others to Christ by following the Spirit.  However, when Jesus addresses the leaders of the church, he is not addressing people who are living in the Spirit.

Jesus is not putting his best Dale Carnegie lessons to work today – winning friends and influencing people.  He pulls no punches calling out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the scholars of the law. Jesus accuses them of leading others astray through their seeming over-zealous attention to the law.  For example, leading people to walk over “unseen graves” results in ritual impurity – requiring cleansing at the temple (with an appropriate coin in the collection basket).


Among the latest examples of the men who will wear the red cap of the rank of
Cardinal in the Catholic Church is a man some call a living martyr who exemplifies living in the Spirit.  Fr Ernest Simoni who was condemned to death by the communist government in Albania and whose witness moved the Pope has been named Cardinal.

In a recent article in America magazine, we read more about the story of how this Albanian priest endured decades of imprisonment, torture, and forced labor during his country's communist crackdown against the church brought Pope Francis to tears.[i]

During the pope's 2014 visit to Tirana, Cardinal-designate Simoni moved many listeners when he described the brutality a militant atheist regime wielded against people of every faith, and paid tribute to God's infinite goodness, grace, and love for allowing him to survive.

Cardinal-designate Simoni dedicated his life to drawing people away from hatred and revenge.  For that work, he will be one of 17 prelates elevated to cardinal in a consistory on Nov. 19 at the Vatican. Of the group, 13 are eligible to elect Pope Francis' successor in a conclave. Cardinal-designate Simoni is one of four older than 80 and, therefore, ineligible to vote.  Fr. Simoni returned to the public priesthood after the communist government fell in 1991.  He is the only one to get the red cap who is not an archbishop.  He is a Franciscan priest.

On Christmas Eve 1963, the priest was arrested while celebrating Mass and was sentenced to death by firing squad. He was beaten, placed for three months in solitary confinement under inhumane conditions, then tortured because he refused to denounce the church.

He was eventually freed, but later arrested again and sent to a prison camp, where he was forced to work in a mine for 18 years and then 10 more years in sewage canals.

All the time he was imprisoned, he has said, he celebrated Mass from memory in Latin, heard confessions and distributed Communion to other prisoners -- all clandestinely.

When Pope Francis learned how severe the religious persecution was, he made Albania the first country in Europe he visited.  During a vespers service in Tirana's cathedral, the pope listened to Stigmatine Sister Marije Kaleta and Father Simoni talk about holding onto their faith and sharing it with others despite the cost.[ii]

As a college friend would comment on some of the Americans in this class, “the smell of the sheep is strong in this man.”

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