Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we hear St. Paul tell the Romans, “Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8: 9). Paul then reminds us, “…if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8: 13).
The idea of “living in the Spirit” is something most of us don’t think about very often – if ever. However, this concept is very important, because as Christians, it is our job to be lights to the world, to reflect Christ in all we do.
Before discussing “living in the Spirit” more fully, however, let’s look at a story told by Anita Kennedy when she served as a Volunteer Missionary in the African country of Sierra Leone.
One day, Anita was returning to her home from a village in Sierra Leone. As usual, she had her little red backpack flung over her shoulders. The children of the area knew that Anita usually had her camera in the backpack. As she walked along the path, she heard the sound of little children coming from a mango tree. Though she could not see them, she heard them calling down, “Anita, Anita, take our picture.”
When Anita got to the tree, she saw beautiful smiling faces of the children looking down at her. She knew this would make a great photo. So, she snapped a photo straight up into the tree, capturing all the children on film.
Later, Anita sent the film home to her brother who mailed back copies of the photo so that each child could have one. Word that the photos had arrived spread like wildfire through the village – “The photos are in!”
Little Mohammed eagerly led his mother to Anita’s home and said, “Anita, I heard you got the photos. Is that true?”
“Yes, Mohammed. I got the photos.”
After she gave the little boy his copy of the photo, Mohammed looked at the snapshot and identified each of the children in the picture. That is, he identified everybody but one child – himself. You see, in his village, there were no mirrors, so he had never seen what he looked like. Pointing, his mother said gently, “Mohammed, this is you.”
Anita was amazed, for she had never realized that the people of this village had never seen themselves in mirrors. Anita came to realize that in this village, little Mohammed, like the other children, only saw themselves through human mirrors. When they greeted each other by saying, “How are you today?” or “I’m sorry that you are sick” or “That’s not a good thing you are doing,” they learned about who they were.
That night, before Anita went to sleep, she said a very special prayer. She said to God, “If modern mirrors ever come to this village, please don’t let the people here lose their human mirrors.”
If you are like me, the first time I encountered this story, I was amazed. It was difficult for me to grasp the concept of a person who had never seen their reflection before. Likewise, it amazed me that the only way the people of this village knew who they were was how others treated them and interacted with them. Needless to say, one could reflect on this for many days.
Today, we hear St. Paul tell us that when the Spirit lives in us, we are to act like it. But what does it mean to “live in the Spirit.”
When Paul talks of living in the Spirit, he is referring to the idea that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in us. The Holy Spirit is, as we know, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Sometimes the Spirit is called the Comforter, Gift-Bearer, Advocate, Counselor, or Teacher.
But unlike God the Father who is identified as the Creator of the Universe, and unlike God the Son who is identified as Jesus Christ our Redeemer or Savior, the Holy Spirit is not so easy to discuss. Perhaps it is because from an artistic perspective, the Spirit is not easy to make into something concrete such as God the Father as an old man sitting on a golden throne, or God the Son as a man named Jesus Christ. Rather, the Spirit has appeared through the ages in very mysterious and different ways – as tongues of fire, as a dove, as wind, and as an Advocate.
Despite the difficulty in presenting the Holy Spirit concretely, we believe that to live in the Spirit means we are filled with energy and zeal and love. It means that we are like lamps glowing for others to see the light of Christ in us. And we remember that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be lights to the world (Matthew 5: 14).
Being lights to the world, or being filled with the Spirit, means we reflect God in our actions. It means that the language we use is clean. It means that our actions reflect the virtues we profess we value. So if we say we value the virtue of generosity, for example, that means we need to actually be generous. To be filled with the Spirit means that we follow Christ’s commandments, commandments such as welcoming the stranger, giving drink to the thirsty, teaching the ignorant, visiting those in prison, consoling those in sorrow, forgiving those who harm us, and many others.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we could make the case that we, indeed, have “life in the Spirit.”
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Anita Kennedy. “The Human Mirrors of Community.” Joseph G. Heeley
(Ed.), Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.