Published Sun, 11/04/2021 by

The Gift of Self-control

I’d be the first to admit I don’t at this stage in my life make much time to follow sport, but in my youth I used to go quite regularly to cricket matches at Old Trafford when the Lancashire team was full of international stars, like Clive Lloyd, Faroukh Engineer, and – towards the end of his career – bowler, Jack Statham.  For Statham’s testimonial a Roses match was staged between Lancashire and their traditional rivals, Yorkshire – another star-studded team, with Statham’s opposite number Fred Truman on great form.  Any number of players that day were capable of enthralling the crowd and setting hearts on fire.  

Other sports focus attention typically more on individual players rather than on the team.  This week, I heard a pundit on the radio saying that an upcoming golf tournament won’t be the same this year due simply to the absence of just a single player, Tiger Woods.  Woods’ presence, he said, always brought this contest to life – due to that indefinable ‘something’ that separates the great player from the merely very good.  

It’s hard to put your finger on what that unknown X-factor is in sport that makes all the difference between just a decent team or sportsperson and one that is truly outstanding – but we know it when we see it.  Part of the secret has to be a sort of instinctive knowing when and to what degree to perform some shot or other action that will bring home the bacon.  Coaching can take a person so far, but the outstanding team or player will bring some innate extra dimension to their game more often than not.

In relation to the Christian life we call this extra dimension, this instinctive knowing what to do and when, a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is the gift of good sense or right judgement.  Pope Francis has said that the gift of Right Judgement illuminates the will of God – helps it to shine out.  Thomas misses out on this gift on Easter Day, because he wasn’t there when the Risen Lord, appearing to the others, breathed on them, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The following Sunday, when the Lord appears again, Thomas is now with them.  Despite his doubts, receives this gift of divine mercy which enables him to come to the insight of faith, that right judgement, that the one standing before him really is the risen Lord and no phantasm as he exclaims, ‘My Lord and my God!”   Like the other apostles, Thomas will now go forth from this encounter as a missionary disciple, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide.  Ancient tradition maintained to this day has it that Thomas preached in Iran and India, founding churches as he went.

We are each given gifts by the Holy Spirit.  Other people will become aware of it if we allow the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.  To the extent we keep our lives truly Christ-centred, allowing God to reign in our hearts, we will witness to the Risen Lord and, through our choices, build others up as members of the Body of Christ – and ourselves as well.

Before they went out far and wide as individuals, the apostles first made a team choice to spend time together sharing all their possessions and resources in common (as we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles).  Bearing the Spirit’s fruit of self-control, we read they were united heart and soul, and were never in need.  By their faith they “overcame the world”, reminding us of a former time in the Garden of Eden, and showing a new way of living, that of those (as St John says) “begotten by God”.  For the apostles, the gift of right judgement issued in the fruit of self-control, making them outstanding, collectively and individually, the greatest missionary disciples the Church has ever known.

In what way is the God the Holy Spirit stirring in your heart at this time?  

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