it’s not boot camp

Sep 7, 2021


Today’s gospel calling of the Twelve is worth reflection in itself, but it’s the mandate given in the first reading that we (who already sense that we have been called) might find especially helpful.

“You must live your whole life according to the Christ you have received – Jesus the Lord; you must be rooted in him and built on him and held firm by the faith you have been taught, and full of thanksgiving. 

“Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some second-hand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of on Christ.

“In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your own fulfilment, 

Too many times over the years I have been caught out by subtle distractions which, while looking like pure encouragement in the form of disciplines and programmes, have nudged me away from freedom which is Christ-centred.

I think of the times when I focussed for weeks and months on trying harder using spiritual programmes of prayer and fasting. To be honest I loved doing this since it brought a sense of progress and achievement. But then I would begin to see that elements of “rational philosophy based on principles of the world” had been a good part of my focus (kind of like a spiritual boot camp) “instead of on Christ.”

I’m probably hyper-sensitive to this after Pope Francis’ strong teaching last Wednesday in his Audience.

“Even today, people come and harangue us, saying, “No, holiness is in these precepts, in these things, you must do this and that,” and propose an inflexible religiosity, the inflexibility that takes away from us that freedom in the Spirit that Christ’s redemption gives us. Beware of the rigidity they propose to you: be careful. Because behind every inflexibility there is something bad, which is not the Spirit of God.

“And for this reason, this scripture will help us to not listen to these somewhat fundamentalist proposals that set us back in our spiritual life, and will help us go ahead in the paschal (suffering, death & resurrection) vocation of Jesus.

“This is what the Apostle reiterates to the Galatians, reminding them that the Father “supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you” (3:5). He speaks in the present tense, he does not say “the Father has supplied you with the Spirit”, (Gal 3:5). “No”: he says — “supplies”; he does not say, “has worked”, he says “works”.  

“For, despite all the difficulties we may pose to his action, also despite our sins, God does not abandon us but rather abides with us in his merciful love. God is always near us with his kindness. He is like that father who went up to the terrace every day to see if his son was returning: the love of the Father never tires of us.

 “Let us ask for the wisdom to always be aware of this reality, and to turn away the fundamentalists who propose to us a life of artificial asceticism, far removed from the resurrection of Christ. Asceticism is necessary, but wise asceticism, not artificial.

Full Text of Pope Francis’ Audience at this link.

The mind-of-the-world sees any kind of growth including spiritual as the fruit of hard work and discipline. However spiritual maturity in Christ is never a human achievement. It’s more like falling in love – the result of being encountered and overpowered by Jesus Christ, an event that is most likely to happen when I turn to Jesus as a beggar been brought to my knees by my weakness, failure and sin.

I’ve used Pedro Arrupe’s prayer before, but it is now a daily reflection for me:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.

But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.

It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.

 Pedro Arrupe, S.J.


  1. Wonderful reading & re-reading & contemplation. Thank you Father .

  2. I loved your reflection until the last line do we really need to see ourselves as beggars and sinners or can we just see ourselves as loved and indulged by Jesus in spite of ourselves. Such love speaks to the heart.

  3. an event that is most likely to happen when I turn to Jesus as a beggar been brought to my knees by my weakness, failure and sin. I can really relate to that. Thanks, Father John.

  4. I’ll be cured of my weakness, failure and sinfulness, my poor ability to humanly see, when I reach out to Jesus. Thanks John for sharing Francis’ reflection on the way to true hope for salvation. Help me God out of my artificial comfort zone into your hands.


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