Do not seek spiritual gifts, but the Spirit Himself

Carlos Overstreet's picture

Do not seek spiritual gifts. Do not seek to be filled with wisdom for the sake of being seen as wise. Do not seek to be a charitable person, so that people may say "look, there's so and so doing such a wonderful things." Do not fast, so that you may hear whispers in the halls of how pious your fast is. Do these things with an indifference to what the world thinks of them. As long as we care not for what our "image" is, than the Paraclete who is within our hearts, will work His love within us, and in those around us. It is by God and not us, that honor will be bestowed upon us. When John Chrysostom says we are to fight for our crowns, it is not us, that crown ourselves as victors over our passions, but Christ God. Do not think you can beat the devil on your own. Judas believed he was his own master, and the devil came to him, and swallowed him into the darkness. 

Let us look at the image of two monarchs. On the one hand, we have Charlemagne, who bowed to the Pope as he was crowned Emperor. Sure he had his faults, but he knew he was a servant of Christ, and allowed the Church to bestow upon him the honor of kingship.On the other hand, we have the proud Bonaparte, who snatched the crown from the hands of the Pope and placed it upon his own head. War, death, and chaos followed Bonaparte, whereas Charlemagne led Western Europe into a period of peace and prosperity it had not enjoyed for centuries. What became of these two men? Charlemagne is hailed as a hero of Western Europe, and Bonaparte ended his life, humbled and in exile. Be like Charlemagne, and you will be crowned with glory.

There is a strong desire in many to be seen as a good Christian. For some this may be demonstrated to the society by the number of ministries one is involved in. We all know that person, they are usually running around to meetings and events, but seem rarely to be deeply involved in any of them. And seem almost more involved in the doing and going of things than the real work of acquiring the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps we know the half-priest (or priestess), who is a lector, altar server, usher, and extraordinary minister. They feel if people see them doing everything one can in liturgy, than they must be a good Christian. Still others may be seek to publicly manifest some charism or gift of the Spirit.

Brothers and Sisters, fight the pride! When we begin to think of how good others will perceive us, we have already fallen prey to the enemy. Don't be confuse this though with an honest examination of conscience. It is good to examine oneself, daily if possible, to see just how we have failed to live up to God's likeness. And so humble ourselves before God, asking for his pardon and compassion so that we might try harder in the future. However, when we do spiritual feats, and practice virtue, not for the sake of God, but for the sake of attention and public acclaim, we have soiled ourselves with pride and vanity. The devil is cunning, and among his best tactics is to spoil our fruits. He takes our good works, and he makes them worthless with vanity. He takes our spiritual feats, and he ruins them with egotism. Pride is that worm that grows unseen at the center of our many good works and unbeknownst to us makes them rotten. We should always be vigilant so that we can catch the worm before it buries itself deep in our works. We should always look out for the seed of pride that the devil loves to sow in our minds.

St. Gregory Palamas reminds us, that better than seeking to acquire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we should instead seek the Holy Spirit Himself. We do this through the taming of passions, by prayer and asectical disciplines that cultivate a life of humility. Humility above all destroys pride. It is precisely when we stop caring about what others think, that we may be comforted by a kind word of thanks and love. For love begets love. It is only when we are in the Spirit, that the Spirit can freely and fully manifest Himself in us through our gifts. St. Gregory says we should not so much seek to banish demons from others, but rather, to make ourselves temples of the Holy Spirit. It is then, by the Holy Spirit, who is with us, that we can say to the demons, “be gone!”

"Driving away demons, is not required of us, and even if we were able to drive them away it would be of no advantage to us if we lived carelessly. “Many”, it says, “will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity” (Matthew 7.22-23). It is much more profitable to us to strive to banish the passions than to cast out demons. But being delivered from bodily sins is not enough, we must also cleanse our soul. For out of the hearts “proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness” (Mark 7.21) and so on—these are what motivate people. And when your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions. This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of a cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside, and the whole cup will be clean (Matthew 23.25-26)." - St Gregory Palamas, Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent

A Blessed Lent!

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