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When I was studying Saint Thomas Aquinas and his thought and life, there was an image that was used that has stayed with me. It was to represent that we were, as people, going to God, and going out from God. It was breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. This is what happens all of the time in the relationship of spiritual growth with God. God draws us in, God sends us out.
These two dynamics are present in today’s readings. In the first reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we are very much reminded about those external actions of our lives. What gives glory to God? Is the external action by itself? Or, is there more than that? Too often, the temptation can be to use the external as the goal of our spiritual life. That if we just do these actions, then we will be close to God. That is not the point. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that external actions should always lead to internal spiritual growth.
This same notion is echoed in today’s gospel. The Apostles are simply quite excited about all they have done and accomplished. You can almost sense their enthusiasm as they return to tell Jesus all they have done. It does not seem like much that they are eager to keep going. If a little bit of effort has accomplished so much, just imagine what could be done when we go out to do more.
But Jesus personifies the breath of God. He is active, healing, preaching and giving. But so too he goes away to receive. What the apostles accomplish comes from their cooperation with the hand of God. Without recognizing that it is God that gives them strength, without recognizing the source of all they can do, they will fail. They will burn out. To be active in the spiritual life means recognizing the breath of God. We need to breathe spiritually. We need to be drawn to God and to be sent by God.