My solemn word is this:
I am the sheepgate.
All who came before me
were thieves and marauders
whom the sheep did not heed.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be safe.
They will go in and out,
and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and slaughter
I came that they may have life
and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10)
Happy Easter everyone. The fifty days from Easter till Pentecost allow us time to reflect on the meaning of the Resurrection in our lives. In his glorious resurrected body Jesus reveals to us the nature of the spiritual world -- a world that is actually very close to us. It is possible for us to sense the presence of that world within us and around us.
Before Jesus rose from the dead, the Scriptures lay out for us a number of stories in which the spiritual world transcends the laws of the physical world. Such stories are Jesus calming the storm; Jesus walking on water; the devil's tempting of Jesus to throw himself down from the temple and have the angels lift him up; and, of course the signs that Jesus worked in healing the sick and raising the dead. Perhaps the clearest sign of the in-break of the spiritual world into the life of Jesus and hence, into our world, is the story of the Transfiguration in which Jesus' physical body was transformed as light, a clear foreshadowing of his resurrected body. Though we may not understand how these things could happen, I clearly believe that they were within the power of Jesus to effect. They help us understand that there are other (spiritual ) laws in the universe which transcend the physical ones of time and space to which we on our planetside journey are (usually) bound to obey.
The spiritual world exists outside of time and space, whereas the physical body is bound to live only in one moment and in one place, except, for example, out-of-the body experience.
Some of us like to dabble in the spiritual world. For centuries, people have dabbled in such things as fortune-telling, channelling, voodoo, witchcraft and other kinds of experiences that try to manipulate the spiritual world. It is true that there are witches and voodoo priests and fortune-tellers who do have access to some of the powers of the spiritual world. Some do so by manipulation; they "rip off" or steal the power of God.
There is a fascinating scripture in the Hebrew Bible that demonstrates the claims of a certain kind of spiritual power. King Saul would not listen to his prophet Samuel while Samuel was alive. Realizing he missed Samuel's counsel, he seeks out a channeller, known as the Witch of Endor. (A channeller is someone who makes contact with the dead through seances.) The channeller succeeds in conjuring up Samuel (I Samuel 28).
Fascination with spiritual power can be dangerous if we do not also submit ourselves to the power of Christ.
The Scriptures are clear: though God recognizes the existence of other ways of coming to spiritual experience, they are not to be engaged without his authority.
The point is that Jesus is to be for us the Gate to the spiritual world. He bids his brothers and sisters to enter the spiritual world only through him. I think the reason for this is two-fold: First God wants us only to have spiritual experience when it is for our good; that is, when God determines that it is for our good. Secondly, spiritual experience is very, very powerful. We can just as easily be harmed by what we "conjure up" as be helped. Dabbling in the spiritual world without God's protection is very dangerous. Recall the little animated film of Mickey (the mouse) as "the Sorcerer's Apprentice." He plays dangerously with his master's power and soon it gets out of control. He bids the broomsticks to come to life and do his work for him by emptying pales of water and there results a tumult far out of his control. In modern times, we wouldn't think of handling nuclear material. Everyone acknowledges the power at hand. But it is not for us to dabble in.
There are also drugs through which some of us come into contact with spiritual experience -- through unprotected mystical experiences or hallucinogenic experience. LSD is the most prominent modern drug, along with peyote and mescaline used by Native Americans, that may give access to spiritual experience. But they have the danger of having people lose their way in the labyrinths of their mind or be killed by walking off a balcony that appears to be just another "room."
I also fear that the myriads of "rooms" to which some of us have access on the Internet may place some of us, including our children, in jeopardy of experiencing more power than we can handle. For some of us, the computer becomes a god and our worship of it idolatrous.
There is a positive benefit in making contact with the spiritual world, albeit through a gate other than the one Jesus opens for us. The benefit is that we become convinced that there is a spiritual world beyond the physical one we see and touch every day, beyond the limiting dimensions of space and time.
But there is a negative, too, in that spiritual experience outside of Christ is fraught with danger, as a moth is in danger when it is fascinated by the flame of a candle; it can get destroyed by its fascination. Dabbling in things that fascinate us because we find we can manipulate spiritual power is dangerous in that we open ourselves not only to powers of good but powers of evil as well. Fascination with spiritual power can be dangerous if we do not also submit ourselves to the power of Christ.
We know of manifestations of spiritual power in the Christian tradition as well -- anything from speaking in tongues to levitation and bi-location. There are stories that John of the Cross and Therese of Avila in spiritual conversation would be seen levitating (hovering above the ground) because of the intensity of their spiritual "high." Then there is Padre Pio and Therese Neumann in our own day who have received manifestations of the Stigmata (wounds) of Jesus. Then, too, there are the incorruptible bodies of St. Clare, St. John of the Cross, St. Bernadette of Lourdes and St. Catherine Laboure and St. Pius X.
And what of Lourdes and Fatima and Medjugorje? These are wonderful manifestations of divine power, meant to get our attention and move us along the path of faith.
And yet these special manifestations of dimensions of reality that come from outside of space and time (the physical plane) have always been seen as superfluous to the spiritual life. That is why the Church has most often chosen to be skeptical of such extraordinary glimpses of power; in time, the legitimate ones become clear and the false ones fall away.
It is through the ordinary day-to-day manifestations of virtue that we become holy. Yet, I realize that (as for me) encounters with the supernatural can convince us of the existence of this spiritual world that surrounds us as a tiny island is surrounded by the depths of the sea. This is so dramatically demonstrated by the change in the nature of the Apostles' faith that occurred in them as they witnessed the manifestation of Jesus in his resurrected (luminous) body.
Hopefully any of us who have had manifestations of spiritual power also become loyal to Christ who is Lord of the Living and the Dead. It is Jesus who is the Gate to the spiritual world. Unless we enter that world through him we run the risk of encountering "thieves and marauders" -- those who simply "rip off" the power of God and twist it for their own purposes. Moreover, we would be guilty of false worship -- worshipping someone or some thing that, though there is a manifestation of extraordinary power, is not God! This is the reason that in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults there is a section for renunciation of false worship if peoples and cultures are exposed to pseudo-religious experiences such as voodoo and witchcraft -- or in our culture -- to drug-induced altered states.
But what of the spiritual power manifested by other religions -- Native Americans or Hindus or Buddhists for example? What do we have to say about the very real manifestations of power that we find in these religions? It would seem that for those who are Buddhists or Native Americans, there would be no harm in that. That is their experience. But for a Christian to dabble in these powers, it could well be idolatry. For, you see, we have Jesus who wishes for us to enter the spiritual world only through him as the Gateway. Just as we are bade not to seek potentially powerful relationships outside of marriage, so, too, we are not to seek access to the spiritual world except through our Lord Jesus Christ. We might easily lose our way.
Finding our way is what Jesus as the Gate is all about. Even in ordinary human experience, Jesus promises to help us find our way. When I received the prompting five years ago to enter the path of a priest/writer, I prayed intensely that God would lead me on the path I needed to find and live in God's will. I am convinced today that he has led me through the Gateway that has led me to rich pasture, rich spiritual nourishment, as he has promised. In this very ordinary sense, Jesus has manifested his extraordinary power. He has led me step-by-step along the way. For me -- and hopefully for you -- there is fertile pasture , indeed, on the other side of the Gate.
And so, the point is for us to be aware that there is a spiritual world beyond the limitations of time and space that caresses us on the outside and wells up from within. Being conscious of these realities will help us realize that we live in two worlds at one and the same time -- the physical and the spiritual. But for us who are Christian, Jesus wishes to be for us the Gate to the spiritual world.