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Domestic Spirituality

There is a bluntness about our second reading today (1 Cor. 6.13-15, 17-20) that comes as rather a shock to our easy-going age. I can imagine many people around us thinking that it is hopelessly unrealistic. However, remember two things. First, recall that this advice is given in the 1st century AD in the middle of the Roman Empire. Now that empire was a hard and sometimes cruel affair. If you were a slave you were open to exploitation of the worst sort. This advice, this bracing call to sexual discipline from St Paul, ran counter to a good deal of the customs of his day. Second, remember that Christianity grew and grew and grew. Its growth was so rapid that it rattled the authorities. Clearly this challenging sexual ethic did not put off converts. Rather the opposite. Many people were looking for a proper discipline that would structure their life. Many people, it turned out, esteemed the high family values that Christianity encouraged. So perhaps the advice is not as unrealistic as it appears. It is part of what we might call domestic spirituality. And if we look at the reading again, we find that far from being gloomy, it is uplifting, with its reminder that we are linked to Christ, part of his mystical body, and the presence of the Holy Spirit breathes in each of us. That is quite awesome.

Domestic spirituality occurs also in the gospel (John 1.35-42). The followers of John the Baptist are encouraged to see in Jesus the Lamb of God, that is, the one person who will stand in place for the whole people, bringing the promise of life and the defeat of death. So this title is a high one, a mystifying one even at the time, and naturally they are both nervous and intrigued at the same time. They begin to follow Jesus in the literal sense of dogging his footsteps. He turns and asks them what they want. In a moment of confusion and embarrassment one of them blurts out something banal: ‘Where do you live?’ The question, naïve though it is, produces a cheery ‘Come and see’ from Jesus. Result: a day with the Lord, which will be, we can assume, the first of many. Their question may have been naïve, may have been simple, and yet it is profound at the same time. To spend time with the Lord, to be at home with him, for him to be at home with us – a spirituality of companionship, one might call it. Surely a good deal of our spiritual life begins in this way, in fact might even still begin this way. Christ is there in our hearts. He is there in our homes. He is with us at work and he is with us in our relaxation. In fact, he in turn is our home. In this place, in his company, we find rest, we find assurance, we find a welcome, we find a quiet presence that renews us day by day.

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