Rising Above the Earth

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2006
Reproduced with Permission

One nice feature about summer and fall is being able to look up now and then and see colourful Hot Air Balloons rising above the neighbourhood. But that beautiful spectacle, both from the vantage point of those on the ground as well as those above, is only possible on condition that the lines, which secure the balloon to the earth before take off, be detached from its moorings.

This provides a fitting analogy that highlights certain aspects of the spiritual life. Sometimes an individual or even a parish as a whole is unable to make a great deal of headway along the road of the spiritual life. Pastors will sense that their parish is stuck, and they can experience great difficulty attempting to move it forward.

The situation is comparable to the Air Balloon whose flame is filling it with hot air, urging it upwards to levitate between heaven and earth, but it rises only a few feet off the ground. The problem is the line is still attached to its moorings, which are deeply rooted in the ground. In other words, human beings who would otherwise rise to great spiritual heights cannot do so because they are still attached to the earth, to one or more vices that they are unwilling to surrender, or to temporal goods to which they are inordinately attached and which act as weights that counter the force of the flame urging them upward.

Examples of such vices and attachments might include feelings of envy, a spirit of independence and disobedience, pride, or unwillingness to let go of certain ideas. They might include chronic and wilful anger at a particular person, or a preoccupation with one's own security that excludes trust in divine providence. Indifference to the welfare of others and inordinate partiality towards the pleasures of the table, or sexual vices, etc., all weigh a person down to prevent the development of a spiritual life.

But when a person finally decides to leave this world behind, he discovers a much greater joy, a larger perspective, and a whole new world. The trouble is that on a cultural level, we insist on the joy of air travel without having to leave the earth. We want "spirituality" without the rules and discipline of religion.

Most priests have experienced the pressure from parishioners offended and angry at having been instructed in a sermon on basic morality, especially anything to do with sexual morality. But such parishioners are unaware that moral instruction is given in order that they might rise towards the fullness of good, namely God Himself. But like spoiled adolescents, they take it as an attempt to unjustly deprive them of what is "rightfully" theirs.

It is tempting for clergy to give in to the pressure and simply not mention the moral implications of living in Christ, and some, perhaps understandably, have done so. But the possible results are people who will receive the Eucharist regularly, but who at the same time lie, deceive, manipulate, cohabitate, or who are habitually unfaithful, or who are addicted to pornography, etc., without the explicit awareness that their actions are inconsistent with charity.

But there is no genuine spiritual growth without severing the moorings that keep one secured to the ground any more than one can lose weight and become healthy without giving up certain foods and engaging in difficult exercise.

Moreover, rising above the earth does not entail indifference to the plight of suffering humanity - on the contrary, being bound to the earth generates precisely that indifference. Rather, it means rising above oneself and one's propensity to sin and self-seeking. This can only be accomplished by the grace of God, which is given in the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Confession.

We cannot grow in holiness without taking a hard look at what it is in our lives that keeps us from rising higher, that is, without regular Confession. Anger at a priest or bishop for drawing moral boundaries should alert us to something within ourselves that needs serious attention; for holiness is charity, and there is no perfect charity without a perfect divesting of self.