Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
Saint John Baptist de la Salle/Saint Stephen April 30, 2023
I grew up in an age when there was no television, at least in my hometown. My grandfather was the first person in town to get what was called a television set, and people from all over the place came to see this strange new device. In those early times, there were no streaming services. If you wanted to watch a television show, and there were very few, you did so when it was broadcast because there was no way to record a show for later viewing. And cable television, with its promise of a steady signal, did not yet exist. You received the television show over the airwaves through an antenna that sat on top of the television or upon your roof.
We lived in the country, and stations like CBS and NBC had rural boosters; ABC did not. This meant that in order to watch a television show, you were constantly adjusting the antenna, if you could, just to keep the screen and sound in focus. Many people believe that connecting to God is very similar. We are not as close as we should be to Jesus, or we are not in the right location, so transmissions are relatively infrequent and not easily received. Yet the truth is that we were created to be in sync with Jesus, who constantly reveals himself to friends and foes alike if they know how to listen.
So, even though our picture of Jesus might be a bit blurry and there may be a bit of static when we are trying to listen, we are able to recognize God’s voice, “For the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name.” You do not ignore your emotions to hear God; God speaks through them. Yet both the Holy Spirit and the Evil Spirit speak to us through positive and negative emotions, although how they do so is distinct and contrasting. You can tell which spirit is speaking to you, and you can comprehend the message once you tune your emotions in their moral contexts.
Let me give you an example. The Holy Spirit touches your soul gently, lightly, like a drop of water falling on a sponge. The Evil Spirit touches your soul sharply, with noise and disturbance, like a drop of water falling on a stone. If we are trying to tune into God, you can expect the Holy Spirit to confirm your progress with positive emotions.
In contrast, the Evil Spirit will send unsettling feelings, aiming to slow down the progress. However, in order for us to understand, we need to recognize that we are neither pure saint nor sinner, but some mixture of the two. So, in this area of our life, while we try to follow the Lord and listen to God’s message, we can expect the Holy Spirit to send gentle, confirming emotions. For example, we feel good about performing an act of charity and it leaves us with a peaceful feeling.
In contrast, it is then that the Evil Spirit suddenly hits us with a jarring emotion, with the aim to unsettle, to discourage us. “What good am I doing? What I do will never make a difference?” But what about a situation where following Jesus is difficult? One where it takes everything we have not to give into temptation, not to tell someone off? We find it difficult to move forward and we yield to evil. Here we can expect the Holy Spirit to unsettle us emotionally, for God wants us to change our behavior. We feel awful about what we said or how we acted. Yet in contrast, the Evil Spirit will be the one trying to comfort us by making us feel, “he or she really deserved that.”
Good and evil touch our souls in the opposite way. It is no longer a challenge for us to watch television. Indeed, with so many options, the real challenge is how to stop for a while. And when we watch, it is helpful to have others, a whole family of believers, who can help us and guide us and tell us what is worth our time. Most of us have learned whose recommendations we can trust, and the Holy Spirit acts in this way as a guide to life.
Yet we might still compare our spiritual life to the early days of television. If you're having trouble getting a clear signal from God and seem to be losing ground, the Holy Spirit will send emotional jolts in our disrupted life. If you're in tune with God, the emotions will be steady and peaceful.