Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Letter from John Michael Talbot

The following is the entire text of the 2007 Easter Letter from John Michael Talbot. JMT makes several really good points here:
Peace and Good in Christ!

We enter into Holy Week starting with Palm/Passion Sunday, going through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and culminating with Easter Sunday. It is a journey that most of us have made many times. Yet each year the Lord has something new for us.
The word "holy" means "separated; set apart." In that spirit, this week we are called to set aside time and space to walk through the Passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, both as a gathered Church, and in a very personal way. We are to "set aside" this week as a special time of prayer and conversion.
This year I have read much in the religious press about "religion vs. spirituality," and how religion can sometimes actually hurt humanity. Some statistics show that the more religious a culture is, the higher its crime rate (especially drugs and sex), and the more warlike that culture tends to be. This is a shocking statistic. It is true that religion either brings out the best or the worst in human beings. When it works it can be wonderful. When it does not work, it can be like a bad dream.

The journey through the Passion of Christ also addresses this reality: Jesus was rejected by the most "religious" people of his time, and handed over by them to be crucified by the Roman government. Indeed, as the gospel stories unfold during the last days of Lent, we see a growing confrontation between the spirituality of Jesus and the religiosity and legalism of the Jews of that time.

This conflict gives me pause to reflect on a song I recorded on my first Christian recording in 1976 entitled "Would You Crucify Him?" I must ask myself: Would I crucify Him if He were among us today? Each of us must ponder that question during this Holy Week. Of course, Jesus founded the Church and her "religion," and bestowed upon us the Holy Spirit to guide us. Yet, there are plenty of examples from Church history of terrible popes, bishops, clergy and laity who were obviously very far from the teaching of Jesus in their own lives. So none of us are above the question.

Religion can tend to rely upon zealous fanaticism and legalism. In contrast, spirituality relies on enthusiasm in the Spirit and divine love. Simply said, religion is about law, while spirituality is about love. Religion tends to judge, while spirituality forgives. Religion, especially fundamentalism of any kind, can breed religious fanatics. Spirituality calls its followers to be wholesome and balanced radicals. While religion tends to produce fundamentalists, healthy spirituality develops solid fundamentals. There is a huge difference between the two. Most of us can tell the difference in the inner recesses of our heart, even though it is sometimes hard to verbalize. Somehow we just "know" when it is right-when it is in balance. This is the work of the Spirit within us.

How do we get to that righteous balance that is true spirituality? I personally get there through personal and communal prayer that is confirmed and strengthened by good teaching, receiving the sacraments, and dedicating myself to a life of prayer and charity. For me this takes on the expression of daily charismatic thanks and praise which fills me with positive rather than negative thoughts and emotions, and seated meditation using what I call "breath prayer," which allows me to physically, emotionally, and intellectually become still enough to allow the last vestiges of self- preoccupation to simply fall away from me. These practices give a whole new meaning to my daily life, permeating everything from doctrine to sacraments. Then doctrine, sacraments and daily life are "born again" as I am born again daily. These help me to more totally let go of my old self so that my actions in daily life slowly become more like Jesus. Though there may be initial periods of breakthrough, these practices are most often part of the normal lifetime journey toward deeper spiritual growth. For me, this is a powerful process.

After much reflection, I realize that what many others might deem a dichotomy between "religion versus spirituality," is in truth more about "vain religion" versus a "spiritually rich religion" that comes from and glorifies God. The true issue is not so much a matter of semantics or doctrine as it is a matter of the heart. It is upon the human heart that the new covenant of God is written by real relationship with and in the real Jesus.
What then is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Remember, it is good news! We have only to look at the Beatitudes, or St. Paul's chapter on love in I Corinthians: 12, or to the fruit of the Spirit in Paul's letter to the Galatians. These scriptures describe the divine gift that every human being longs for in the depths of their heart. We are created for such God-glorifying love.
I believe in the wonderful news that the old man or woman can die with Christ on the cross, be totally forgiven our sins, and the person God really wants us to be can be raised up as a "born again" child of God through the resurrection of Jesus. The essential message of Jesus and call for Christians is nothing more complicated, but nothing less challenging.
This year we must make a decision: Are we going to settle for just being "religious," or will we really be born again, and let Jesus make us into the person God originally made us to be? Will we crucify Him by our stubborn adherence to vain religion, albeit under the name of "Christian" or "Catholic," or will we "let go and let God" by allowing Him to raise us up as a new creation-- a new man, a new woman? That process will help bring about a return to the original purpose of spiritually rich religion.
I will pray with you this year as we all make the journey through this Holy Week.

In Jesus,

John Michael Talbot

Founder, Spiritual Father and General Minister
The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage