17 October, Monday — The spark of life

Oct 17 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

St. Ignatius (c. 50–107) was a convert from paganism to Christianity. He succeeded Peter as bishop of Antioch, Syria. He served during persecution of Domitian. During the persecution of Trajan, he was ordered to be taken to Rome to be killed by wild animals. On the way, a journey which took months, he wrote a series of encouraging letters to the churches under his care. He was the first writer to use the term The Catholic Church. He was an apostolic father and a martyr. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Legend says he was the infant that Jesus took into his arms in Mark 9.

  • Patron Saint Index

Eph 2:1-10
Lk 12:13-21

But God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ 

When I was asked to write the reflection for today, my immediate reaction was ‘oh no, I don’t think so’. I had felt then that I had too many things to deal with, and could not take on another day’s reflection in addition to the one from yesterday. Then, I was asked a second time. This time, I read the passages before turning the request down. The lines above struck me, especially the word ‘quickened’. It just sparked something in my head, like a switch that flipped, and this time I agreed to contribute this (well, clearly …).

I first heard of this word ‘quick’ in the context of the Sharon Stone movie which I had never watched — I just heard about it. I learned that ‘quick’ also meant ‘not dead’. Fast forward years later when I learned about ‘quickening’, which described coming alive, and the moment when fetal motion is first felt. This quickening was a rather sure sign to the mother that her child is alive in her womb, back in the days when ultrasounds weren’t invented yet. I remember the first time I saw my older daughter on the ultrasound — she was about 8 weeks old, and had just developed little nubby limbs. On the imaging, she was waving her little limbs about rapidly. I just about cried when I saw that — thanks to technology, even without physically feeling her move, here was a sure sign of her ‘quickness’, her Life.  

Why is a spark of life so moving and so invigorating? Why is it such a defining moment? Is it because of the clear ‘before and after’ spark of life? Before, we were deadened; after, we are newly alive. Yesterday, I wrote about sin and how difficult it is to fight it, and how easily we fall to it. And every time we fall to sin, it feels like a death of some kind. Indeed, sin leads to death — spiritually and emotionally, and sometimes physically.  

The spiritual death that comes with sin should not be news to us. After all, the bible says the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin acts on our disordered desires and deceives us into turning away from God. Every sin we commit is like a wave pushing us further away from God. If we let it, we can drift endlessly away, never seeing the shore again. Sin also hardens our hearts and closes our hearts to the voice of God when we are unrepentant and insist on our evil ways. When taken to the extreme, this spiritual death can be forever. While we wholeheartedly hope that we will turn back to God and repent at the very last moment, can we truly be sure of that? Can we be sure that sin has not closed us off to God’s grace? Will our pride get in the way of us reaching out to accept his mercy? If there is a chance of this happening, we really need to nip it in the bud so we do not end up irredeemable by our own actions. 

Emotionally, sin makes us feel numb and defeated. We certainly feel unalive, and unable to pick ourselves up. This is probably normal for most people — the initial shame and disappointment in ourselves, the hopelessness, the urge to just give up trying. There is a sense of having turned to stone and becoming set in our ways, never changing except to be eroded and crumbled by external elements. I am not going to lie — the pull of sin is strong. It is the easy way out, the way that gives you immediate satisfaction, the way that allows you to put yourself first. However, the wake of sin can deeply unsettle, although being disturbed by your own sinful acts can be a good thing, if it spurs you on to change for the better.

Sin leads to death. And it is easy to slip down that path. We have all been there, and we have known the difficulty and tremendous effort needed to even just stop going down that path, let alone to backtrack and go the right way. What makes it even tougher is the emotional and spiritual death and dryness we experience, which really does not encourage. This is the reality that we all live in. It all feels hopeless and futile, like Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill all day, only to have it roll back down again.

But there is another reality that many have also experienced — the spark that gave them a new life. There is nothing we can do, no sin we can commit, that God cannot forgive, and that your priest has not heard before (however, it is possible to shut yourself off from forgiveness by being unrepentant, or by despairing that you can ever be forgiven).  

The hold of sin is strong and vicious and seeks to destroy us. But God can bring us back from this death, and God is always waiting to do just that. No matter how unalive we feel, that spark of life is not far away if we only reach out for it. Through the sacraments, we are given new life and we are fortunate that the sacraments are back to being so easily accessible to us. While it is not easy to drag our sorry selves to confession and to Mass, we have to do it. Once we have managed that, the spark of life takes hold and takes over.  

A scene that came to mind was the scene in CS Lewis’s ‘The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe‘, where Aslan, Susan, and Lucy entered the White Witch’s castle courtyard that was filled with stone statues — creatures that she had turned to stone. Then, Aslan brought them to life. The process was compared by Lewis to how a flame of fire spreads, and described as a streak of gold. In contrast with the cold white stone of the statues, this scene clearly showed how the breath of God can bring us back to life, can quicken us, even while we are dead in sin.

The two things that keep on drawing my attention are the fact that first, we tend to sin and that leads to death. Second is how generous God is with His mercy and love, that He is always ready to rescue us from the dead and bring us back to life. There is a beautiful psalm that is often sung as a hymn, and one line of it goes “You will not leave my soul among the dead or let your beloved know decay“. 

God has promised to give us life. He has given us life, and He will bring us back from our death. We just need to reach out and take it.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: Father, help us to never despair over our failings. Help us to never doubt your love for us. Give us the strength to overcome our sins.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus, the gift of Life. Thank you for loving us even when we are dead in sin.

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