What does it mean “to be born from above”? In John 3:7b-15, Jesus explained that it means being led by God even when we don’t know where he’s leading us. This is the virtue of detachment! It means being free to float in the Spirit at any time in any direction, because we are not attached to this world even though it’s what we can touch, smell, see, hear audibly, and control.
Life in the Spirit means living as a feather on the wind, offering no resistance to being picked up and transported by a gust that we cannot see, having no sense of alarm when find ourselves in an unexpected place. However, being a light-weight feather that’s blown around by the Lord’s invisible breath is more likely to freak us out than to relax us, because it challenges our “need” to be in control.
We see in Acts 4:32-37 that the believers chose detachment from their possessions for the sake of community. They were so high on the Spirit, so fully trusting in God that everyone made themselves available to be used by God to meet each other’s needs. Why can’t we become like that? It is possible – this is God’s design – but it can only happen within the context of community.
By ourselves, we cannot be that generous, supplying everything that another person needs, but we think we should, and so we feel overwhelmed and inadequate and therefore we don’t do much at all. We get stuck in our inadequacies because we live such individualistic lives that we forget that we are part of the earthly Body of Christ, which is the whole Church in community. Individually, the Holy Spirit shows us which particular needs of the community he wants us to address, and in community, Christ’s Spirit joins our helpfulness to others who can also help. Through personal detachment, everyone’s needs can get met.
To measure your freedom of spirit, examine how attached you are to this world. Test yourself with the collection basket at Mass. In scripture, God repeatedly asks for a tithing, i.e., 10% of our total income (which can be split between the parish and other charities). If we’re so attached to our possessions that we can’t give five percent of our money to our own parish, how free are we to follow any other leadings of the Spirit?
What if the Lord makes you aware of a parishioner who cannot get employment because he has no car? And what if you’re about to trade in your old car for a new one? Could you give it to him? What if he attempts to pay you for it but his check bounces? Would you demand payment or forgive the debt? Or would you instead thank God for the opportunity to experience one of the wounds of Jesus as you continue to float along wherever the Spirit blows? (It really is possible; I speak from experience.)
St. John of the Cross said:
“It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. For even if tied by thread, the bird will be prevented from taking off just as surely as if it were tied by cord – that is, it will be impeded from flight as long as it does not break the thread….This is the lot of a man who is attached to something; no matter how much virtue he has, he will not reach the freedom of divine union.”
© 2009 by Terry A. Modica