Last week, we began studying spiritual starvation by comparing it, conceptually, to physical starvation. We looked at the definition of physical starvation as being a state of food deprivation which, if left untreated, can lead to death. We examined if it is possible to compare an abstract concept such as spiritual starvation with something concrete and measurable as physical starvation, and determined it is. With that established, we can now go forward in more fully defining our concepts, theoretical as they may be, so that everyone has the same basis for understanding what we mean by combating spiritual starvation.
We could spend days debating what we mean by “spiritual.” We could parse, lump and exclude. We could stretch until we lose sight of the horizon on each side. Still, we need a working understanding of what we mean by “spiritual” if we are going to do this right.
We want it to be clear that we believe every human being is comprised of body, mind and spirit interconnected. Some immanent character of our nature essentially and uniquely separates us from the other animal species. Since this character is defined in ways as numerous as there are worldviews, we know we have to draw our starting point firmly declaring our position that there is One, True Source of life whom we call God. We embrace the Christian view that God is triune in nature and that humans are unable to fully comprehend the workings of God because our intellect has been clouded by our ancestors trading their unquestioning acceptance of perfect order for skeptical scrutiny (… said with no presumption of summarizing Genesis in eighteen words).
We do not believe that it is necessary for people to share our theological view in order to benefit from the work we do and the ideas we promote. We will always maintain that the only qualification a person needs to be a Missionary of Saint Thorlak, or to partake in the fruits of our work, is to be human. It is helpful to understand our theological underpinnings, but not necessary; nor is it necessary to adopt our beliefs if you currently do not hold them.
Of the nearly infinite elements we could include in exploring things that are “spiritual,” it comes down to a practical need to limit ours to the specific focus we keep as Missionaries of Saint Thorlak. The definition of “spiritual,” then, which we will use for our purposes, is: matters which pertain to the essence of God endowed in each human person.
Saint Thorlak - The Bishop who Battled Starvation
The Icelandic settlers of the Middle Ages faced terribly harsh living conditions. Iceland’s terrain and climate were not crop-friendly and livestock required decades to establish. Fishing provided a steady supply of food when the weather conditions were favorable. Overall, conditions were difficult, and food scarcity during long winters was a hardship many endured.
Thorlak Thorhallsson, who rose from deacon to priest, from scholar-theologian to abbot, and eventually, to bishop, was a champion in the fight against starvation in his time.
He did many things to see that everyone – families, widows, children and homeless beggars alike – had adequate food. At a period in history when Catholic bishops held high social status, Bishop Thorlak used his position of privilege to invite the poorest in his diocese to dine with him (… but not before taking time to wash and dry their feet, in the tradition of the Last Supper, and to delight them with gifts from his own treasury).
But more so than these acts of magnanimity, Bishop Thorlak instilled his firm adherence to Matthew 18:20 to everyone he met, everyone he mentored, and everyone he admonished. He took great joy in recalling that, wherever two or more gathered in charity, Jesus Himself became spiritually present – creating a bridge between heaven and earth, and a direct connection to God. In other words, he propagated spiritual nourishment abundantly, everywhere he went!
Bishop Thorlak saw each person before him as bearing the essence of God, and was not afraid to teach about that in all that he said and did. From political figures to fellow clergy to ordinary people… from diplomatic relationships to the sanctity of the marital union to the sacrifices required of priests for the good of their people… Bishop Thorlak consistently taught that everything comes back to how well we nurture our connection to God in whatever our state in life asks us to do.
Bishop Thorlak battled spiritual starvation tirelessly… and, quite successfully.
May his way open doors for us as we now set out to propagate his model in our time.
PRAY: God, Our Father: You are the Source of our very life, and the Source of the life of each person we see… those we know, and those we do not… those with whom we speak, and those familiar through publicity and celebrity. Your essence dwells in each of us. May we learn to see You in everyone, and to recognize Your essence, even in those who seem distant from us… and distant from You.
CONTEMPLATE: At the very foundation of what we do is the acknowledgment of God’s essence in every person. Ponder this, deeply, in order to let it become part of our ordinary consideration of everyday things.
RELATE: As we go about our week, try to recall that God’s essence is in us… and in those surrounding us. Every interaction is an encounter with God’s essence. Are you aware of this more as you encountering God, or God encountering you?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak