This is part 2 of a 3 -part series that I spoke about a women’s group in a local parish.
Sometimes my students ask, as we all do, if God is so good and loving, then why do bad things happen? Great question. I don’t know. I’m not God.
But I do say…
Not everything that happens is God’s will…Not everything we do is in accordance with God’s will… and the same is true of everyone.
This is why we need discernment. We must consult with Jesus at our sides about what is happening, what ought to be happening, and what we are to do and stop doing.
We all have many voices swirling around in our heads and feelings swirling around in our hearts. Saint Ignatius believed that these voices and feelings have something to tell us about God, God’s will, and what we are to do. The process of listening to these voices and feelings and distinguishing what is from God and what is not from God is called discernment.
Here’s one of my favorite passages on how Jesus is UNDETERRED by the voices of an evil spirit – evil spirit is just the phrase I and others use to mean those spirits we discern to be not of God.
This is the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the flow of blood.
We’re going to read it like a game I’m playing with my students lately. The game is called “OK, stop.” (I stole this idea from the HBO-televised version of Pod Save America – it really works in the classroom!)
Jairus’s Daughter and the Woman with a Hemorrhage.
When Jesus had crossed again [in the boat] to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
Snarky disciples. “Ummmm, there’s like a whole crowd of people here. Hecka people are touching you, dude. Why are you worried about one person?”
And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Okay, stop. Be ready. Something really lovely and life-giving and ultra against-the-rules has just happened. This woman is considered ritually unclean. Her children can’t touch her or eat the food she has prepared. No one is to sit on chairs she sits upon. She certainly shouldn’t be going around touching rabbis. But – rather than condemn her – Jesus heals her, calls her daughter, and sends her on her way in peace.
But not too fully, because here comes the nasty spirit:
While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Come ON!… (is what I would have said).
(That’s about it. But read on about how Jesus is unperturbed).
Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out.
Okay, stop. I just love the Jesus who puts them all out. “Anyone going to ridicule me? Tell me this is a pointless exercise? Anyone who maybe does *not* want to see this little girl healed? Yup. You can go.
He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. [At that] they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.
This story exhibits signs of the tendencies of the evil spirit – quit now. Give up. This is too hard. You got your one good thing; don’t be greedy.
And I have noticed in my life that the evil spirit really gets riled up and jumpy and loud when I’m tiptoeing right toward exactly what God wants… It’s like big obstacles open up in the road… NO! STOP! Don’t go in there! Just like in the story… several voices do not want Jesus to make it to this girl’s bedside. But Jesus is undeterred.
So, how are we to know what is worth pursuing? What is worth pushing past the blockades and obstacles? How do we know it’s not God’s spirit saying, “Stop! Don’t go there!” Because sometimes it IS God saying STOP!
Again, discernment. Ignatius challenges us all to recognize our true feelings and to be honest about them. The actions worth pursuing are the ones he writes,
“that lead to every increase in hope, faith, and love, and every interior joy which calls and attracts a person toward heavenly things by bringing the soul peace in its Creator.”
Scripture tells us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
When we notice these things – and we honestly believe an action is leading us to faith, hope, and love, then this is the action to take.
I used to work as a campus minister in a religious high school. This school had a challenging administration. From my perspective, they put up many obstacles to doing my job. We had a chapel on campus. They didn’t want students to be able to go in there. We had a lot of non-Catholic students, they didn’t want us to have Mass regularly. We were struggling financially. They didn’t want to commit money to expensive spiritual formation programs like retreats. There was a big, huge part of me that wanted to say – no shout – well, then why the HELL did you hire me? But each time I prayed, I did not see Jesus showing me the door. Didn’t see him inviting me to leave. Every time I prayed, I saw and felt Jesus looking at my students. And I felt Jesus calling me to turn my attention to my students too. Jesus was not interested in looking at the principal or other members of the administration – or even my co-workers who didn’t seem interested in or supportive of a vibrant campus ministry program. Nope. Jesus was NOT INTERESTED in them. He wanted me to look at my students. So, I tried to do that.
It wasn’t so much that my students knew what they needed in terms of spiritual formation; but when I looked at what was working in other high schools, and what had connected with students in my past ministry, and I offered it to them, what do you know? They connected with it! When I was able to get students allowed into the chapel, they came. And they were respectful. One Lent, I proposed offering a reconciliation service after school for students who wanted to come and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation from a priest. My administration, of course, was against this. “No one will come.” They said. “No one wants absolution from a priest anymore.” They said. I didn’t argue with them. It was MY time, after all, that I would be wasting if no one came. So I asked a couple of priest friends to show up… and like 12 students came! It actually turned out to be a bit of a problem because by 5:30 p.m. confessions were still rolling and the Sisters who used the chapel for daily Mass were starting to roll in. Oops. We continued offering reconciliation services after school, only for students who wanted to come, during Advent and Lent, for several years. Some years we got a lot of students, some years, we only had one or two. The thing is- Jesus didn’t seem to care how many students came. I knew that the students who needed to be there would be there. This was one example of using discernment at work for me. I did not follow the commands of my immediate authorities at work, but in prayer, I tried hard to listen to what Jesus was saying and to look at those at whom Jesus was looking.
It wasn’t all perfect and I don’t do a perfect job of listening to Jesus all the time, but when things are going well, I do feel like it’s because I’m able to listen and to look at situations with Jesus next to me and in my ear.
So, what is the message? Only through discernment can you know, I think. But it doesn’t have to be heavy-duty, necessarily. Take a quiet moment and believe that God has some good news to share with you.