Receive Mercy, Become Mercy, Offer Mercy

When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy during Lent, our practice is to recite the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6.36-38)

The Son of God became like us that we might become like Him.

Us. All of us alike have gone astray, each to his own way. One is not “less astray” than the other. I am not better than my fellow human. I am not worse either. We are all encountered by God in love in our common condition of lost-ness – of hell.

When we begin our life of Christian discipleship, we realize that categories of sin are, in many ways, an attempt to not to achieve justice but to excuse myself and make myself feel “less bad.” We realize that when we judge our brother or sister (see the story Pharisee and publican) we are actually condemning ourselves.

It doesn’t mean we throw judgment out the window and adopt a “whatever” attitude. No, judgment is necessary. It is just that God is the only judge. And, His judgment is not from afar but from the midst of us. Christ is in our midst as the merciful judge. Mercy is the law that governs the whole universe. It is the power that saves the whole universe. It is the law that is at the heart of every authentic relationship. Perhaps that is why, in the Holy Tradition, “Lord have mercy” is the most frequently repeated phrase.

His desire is for you and me to be in the midst of the life of others in the same way by grace. The unceasing phrase within us needs to be, “Lord have mercy.” Be merciful as your Father is merciful. The mercy we receive is the exact mercy we offer. Not a skimpy mercy. That is not mercy. That is judging in noble clothing. Mercy is overflowing, outrageous, and astonishing. It is not, therefore, the mercy I would end up offering. My version of mercy must be crucified. What is raised — born — is the mercy of God in me that I choose to be expressed through me. The mercy I offer is the mercy I have become by grace.

If that is the case, my task is to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s desire to address everything in my life that hinders such an inward-outward flow or operates instead of it or contradicts who I am in Christ — my life-giving identity by grace.

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“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4.15-16)

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You see, then, that Christ has two natures in one Person, one which always was and another which began to be. And according to that nature which was eternally his, he always knew everything. But according to that which began in time, he experienced many things in time. In this way he began to know the miseries of the flesh, by that mode of cognition which the weakness of the flesh instructs.

Our first parents were wiser and happier when they did not know that which they came to know only foolishly and in wretchedness. But God their Creator, seeking what was lost, came down in mercy in pursuit of his wretched creatures, to where they had miserably fallen. He wanted to experience for himself what they were suffering because they had gone against his will. He came not out of a curiosity like theirs, but out of a wonderful charity. He did not intend to remain wretched among them, but to free those who were wretched as one made merciful.

Therefore Christ was made merciful, not with that mercy which he who remained happy had had from eternity, but with that mercy which he discovered in our fleshly garb as he himself went through our misery. SourceSaint Bernard (1091-1153), The Degrees of Humility and Pride, §12

Readiness – Hear See, Understand, and Keep

Text: John 16.16-33

There are no parables in the St. John’s gospel. Strange. And yet it would be accurate to say that St. John’s gospel is deeply parable-like in character. All through the gospel, people are mystified, confused, hard-pressed, and bewildered by Jesus’ words and deeds. That is, after all, the purpose of a parable.

Some people think a parable is a story that seeks to make a point clear using everyday examples. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

“As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4.10-13)

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15.8-9)

Jesus was speaking to those who had a readiness of heart to hear and understand and follow. So, really, receiving, understanding, and living it out are all aspects of the same reality. Hearing the word and keeping the word cannot be separated (John 12.47; 14.21).

The prerequisite for receiving the gospel AND living it out is a readiness of heart. A perceived need and desperation. The cost of discipleship must be outweighed by the benefit to put it bluntly (see Philippians 3.8-10).

Understanding a parable — the Gospel — IS THE POINT, of the parable, but only for those who are ready for it. Yep, a paradox.

Understanding the gospel is not related to high intelligence, or years of seminary study.  One can understand only when the heart – the very life of the person — has been broken open to truth – by the Holy Spirit (see Mark 2.17).

It is the way of the Spirit. It is, therefore, a dangerous tendency to artificially attempt to make the gospel “easy to understand” or “easy to receive” or even “easy to follow.” Jesus didn’t fudge on this and neither should we.

“These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’” (John 6.59-65)

Let’s take a step farther into this mystery of readiness. Such openness is not, however, just a prerequisite. It is essential to our ongoing life of discipleship. We grow/maturity in our capacity to understand as well as what we understand. We need a “ready heart” or a heart that yearns to hear more and more.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, there are several times in which the priest says, “let us be attentive.” In addition, the priest prays this before the reading of the Scriptures appointed for the day:

“Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

It is important to remember, then, that the Christian faith is a revelatory faith. Story after story in both the Old and New Testaments are about revelation, its prerequisite, and its fruit (illumination, purification, and deification). The narrative of the Scriptures are the “Church’s book.” It is certainly offered to the world. But, it is offered with the conviction that only those who are ready or “drawn by the Father” will hear and respond positively.

And, of course, the Scriptures are for those who do believe that they may mature in their faith, hope, and love, being transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. As we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to break our hearts open, to soften our hearts, to “purify our hearts,” then, we will be illumined. We will “see God” more and more and be conformed to His likeness from one degree of deification to another.

So Now It Begins.

How do we know when we are IN LENT? When do we know Lent has become really real? I believe it is when we are tempted to resort to praying to God to make us strong and successful in the Lenten disciplines… It is then that the test comes.

Wait. What?! Yes, it is subtle.

Paradoxically, the most dangerous point in our discipleship is when we desire to make progress in our discipleship. To be somehow, “better disciples; to strengthen us to do something.

When do we believe and praise God? When do we stay the course and finish the race?

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“I believed, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’…” (Psalm 116.10)

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Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3.17-18)

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“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2.12-13)

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Lord, grant me grace — the courage and sheer guts — to become, be, and remain nothing. Don’t make me strong or successful in the race. Grant me the grace to repent of being strong and successful. Grant that this prayer not be for something, namely some “courage and sheer guts,” but for Your courage and sheer guts in me. You be strong and successful in me. You be courageous and gutsy in me. Amen.

Seek Wisdom and Pursue It

Fasting is only one of the Lenten disciplines. The Holy Tradition counsels us to regularize and intensify our discipline of reading and reflecting on Scripture and the lives and writings of the saints. In so doing, we are seeking to acquire not, primarily, more information but the very mind of Christ Jesus.

Jesus was very serious not just about repentance but also about illumination – knowing, understanding.

So, we seek not only to repent, but also to realize that the repenting is really also a “coming to know.” And, in accordance with the desire of our Lord, to live out the wisdom He shares with us.

The result, of the operation of both repentance and illumination, as I have said before, is the increase of love. The keeping of the greatest commandment. Jesus said that people would know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13.35). This lived love is the wise life – the illumined life.

So, the desire for knowing something and living it out are really inseparable. The knowing and the doing. The wise woman or man is one for whom this is recognizably true. Thy have been reduced to love. They have devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, among other things, and the foolishness and delusion of the self-full life has been crucified. This journey of being crucified with Christ of their foolishness and delusion was powerful and courageous wisdom. What has been raised up and set free to live in this world, for the sake of this world, is the new woman or man in Christ Jesus.

These are the women and men who are sought out by those who desire authentic life, fullness of life. The life of the wise one speaks (Psalm 51.6, 10, 13). It is a witness of “being wisdom bearing the fruit of behaving wisely.”

This is the Christ-life by grace, the wise life is foolishness to the world. And, of course, this is the hard choice. Choose this day (and everyday), wisdom or folly. Die to folly; be born and grow up into and as wisdom.

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3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3.3-8)

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2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1.2-7)

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Our hearts must constantly dwell on the thought of wisdom, our lips repeat its lessons. Let your tongue pronounce right judgements and the law of your God be in your heart. This is the way to understand that verse of Scripture: You shall speak of these things when you sit in your house and when you walk along the way, and when you rise. Let us, then, speak of the Lord Jesus, for Jesus is wisdom in person; he is the Word, the very word of God.

There is another text that says: Open your mouth and let it be filled with God’s word. To be filled with God’s word is to repeat Christ’s message and dwell continually upon his teaching. Christ should always be the theme of our conversation. Whenever we speak of wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak of virtue, it is of Christ we speak. When we discuss justice or peace, we are discussing Christ and when our talk is of truth and life and redemption, Christ is our subject, for he is a­ll these things.

Open your mouth, Scripture says, and let it be filled with God’s ­word. You must do the opening, but it is God who makes his voice heard. That is why David said: I will hear what the Lord says ­in my heart, and the invitation: Open your mouth and I will fill it is made by the Son of God himself. Not everyone can arrive at the perfection of wisdom that Solomon or Daniel attained, but upon all of us, according to our capacity, the Spirit of wisdom is ­poured out, provided we have faith. If you believe, you possess the Spirit of wisdom, and faith gives you the grace to speak out.

As you sit in your house, then, meditate unceasingly on the things of God and make them the subject of your discourse. By house we can understand either the Church or that secret place in our hearts where we commune with ourselves. Choose your words prudently for fear of sin and beware of falling through overmuch talk. Speak too when you are walking along the way, so as never to be idle; and as you walk speak now to yourself, now to ­Christ. How should you address him? Listen to what Scripture says: I ­desire that the men should pray in every place, lifting their hands in reverence, without anger or quarrelling.

Speak also, my friend, when you lie down, or the sleep of death may steal upon you. Be instructed once more by Scripture: I will not give sleep to my eyes nor allow my eyelids to slumber until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. Overcome your natural inclinations and shorten the time you give to sleep, like David who kept the Lord in mind as he lay on his bed, waking early in order to hear Christ’s voice and perceive his light in the darkness. Do not wait for Christ to wake you; it is you who should rouse him by cherishing the thought of him even during sleep. If you do this, he himself will rouse you from slumber and wake you from the sleep of death. Speak of him then, when you rise, whether it is from your bed or from the grave, and so fulfil what the word of God commands. Source: St. Ambrose, In psalmis 36.65-66 (CSEL 64:123-125); from Word in Season II, 1st ed.

Wow, This is Messy Business

Well, we are half way through the first week of Lent. Have you reached the bitter end of you??!! Have you come to realize just how deep your supposed maturity in Christ really goes??!! I have. The realization of the power of the various forms that self-gratification still operative in my life is shocking. It is disillusioning. Wonderfully disillusioning. I am struggling and failing and succeeding and crying out. I am desiring to remain in this messy holy of holies — the pulsating point of heaven and hell — and soberly/painfully rejoice.

Wow, this salvation journey is messy business if we approach it from a different paradigm than learning how to be “well behaved.” If we approach via the paradigm of “right being,” the whole enterprise is different. The words are the same but we realize they mean something much (infinitely) deeper and significant.

We must press on, press in. Go the distance. In our weakness we cry out to God for grace to do the impossible because we realize and own the fact that it is, after all, impossible to live an authentically Christian life. And yet, it is exactly that impossible life we are invited and commanded to live. Do we know how to receive grace/mercy without leaving this space of “impossible possibility”?

Learning how to open ourselves to the powerful mercy of God in the moment/hour of our agony without making it possible somehow or giving up IS THE POINT. Stay in the garden of agony and cry out. Be weak and be strong in so doing. I reiterate: The great learning is, in practical terms, to receive the mercy so the impossible becomes possible without ceasing to be the impossible. St. Paul’s famous “I and yet not I.” We think we know how to do that. We think we have been doing that. And, to some degree, we have. However, it needs to be more than “to some degree.” It needs to be “all.” That is the edge.

Psalms 86(85):1-2.3-4.5-6
Incline your ear, O LORD; answer me,
for I am afflicted and poor.
Keep my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God.

Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for to you I call all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.
Hearken, O LORD, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my pleading.

And so, with the Psalmist and St. Paul and they with us, together, we “press on.”

Identity Driven Life

Suggested Texts: John 5.18-24; 12.27-50

The Christian life is identity driven. Before we realize the purpose of our life, we must come to realize our essential, our authentic “being” in our life. If we invent a purpose in hopes of receiving from it our identity, our authentic being, we will be frustrated forevermore. It is not an either/or but a both/and. Identity and purpose both belong and work together. But one does precede the other.

I hear people say, “I was born for this,” when referring to some project or vocation. What are they saying, whether they realize it or not? They are saying, “This action, this vocation, is the authentic expression of my identity. It is who I am, not just what I am doing!”

We are talented people. We can do many things, and do them really well. But, just because we can does not me we should. What is ours to do is what expresses that ever mysterious person we are coming to to know in Christ, as the living fruit of His saving love. The is a difference between what we believe we have to do, and what we simply do because of what we are.

All of life’s events and circumstances and relationships are the environment in which this illumination regarding our identity occurs. The “thread,” the “theme” of our life, the heartbeat  deeper than the actions begins to be heard with our inner ear. The pulse of life that issues forth in authentic action.

There are hints. There are clues. There are echoes. Are we listening and looking for them? Are we receiving them as what they truly are – the revelation of God regarding Himself? Are we listening for who Christ Jesus is in our midst and beginning to hear who we are in Him in our “human being”? It is true to say that the “search for self” or the project of “finding myself” is a fool’s errand. The search for Christ Jesus is the only authentic search. Mysteriously, we find the fulfillment of our search for self in our search for Christ. For, in His true self we find and receive our own.

It is true to say that only in our complete identification with the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, with the embrace of His identity, can we receive, and live out our own identity. And, of course, this must be true, for authentic identity is essentially the manifestation of the glory of the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Identity is the gift of God to us. I know who “I” am is because of who He is and who we are in relationship through Him.

We question is not, first and foremost, “What is the right thing to do.” The question is, “Who am I?” The right doing will come just as surely as the fig tree will bear figs.

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“You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw — but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of — something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for”. We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.” The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis

Experience: the Crucible and the Garden

Everyday experience is the revelatory and “terri-fire-ing” crucible in which we are called by the Holy Spirit to repentance. As we answer the call with our “yes,” our judgments and judging are reduced to so much ash and dust. They cease. The crucible becomes the garden in which illumination grows from the “humus” of our previous convictions, by Gods’ mercy, the fertile earth of our humility.

“May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, a good, loving, and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us, through … the power of the precious and life-giving Cross.” The Divine Liturgy

“Why do you fear then to take up the cross, the way that leads to the kingdom? In the cross you are saved, revived, protected. In the cross you are showered with sweetness from on high, your mind is strengthened, your spirit rejoiced. In the cross is virtue’s sum, and perfect holiness. In the cross alone is the hope of life eternal, the soul’s salvation. So take up your cross and follow Jesus; and you will enter eternal life… For if you die with him, you shall also likewise live with him. If you are his companion in punishment, so shall you be in glory. Everything is founded on the cross… There is no other way to life, nor to true inner peace… Walk where you will, seek what you will; you will find neither a loftier way above nor a safer way below, but only the way of the holy cross.” The Imitation of ChristBook II, ch. 12, by Thomas a Kempis

The cross shows our judgments — our wisdom — to be what it is, silliness, folly, foolishness, and life-robbing.

[17] For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. [18] For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” [20] Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1.17-20)

Where and when shall this occur?

Experiences of suffering and death are, I am convinced, the best examples.These, and all others in their own way, are the creative edge of God’s saving work into which we are invited to participate as co-creators.

“I thought,” we say, “but know I know.”

“His death has had the very unexpected effect of making death itself look quite different. I believe in the next life ten times more strongly than I did. At moments it seems almost tangible. Mr. Dyson, on the day of the funeral, summed up what many of us felt, ‘It is not blasphemous’, he said ‘To believe that what was true of Our Lord is, in its less degree, true of all who are in Him. They go away in order to be with us in a new way, even closer than before.’” From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

The Doors/Gates of the Pilgrimage of Salvation

Journey is essential to the saving work of God in time and space. Lent is a multifaceted journey. More aptly put, it is a journey of and into the paradox – the Mystery – of our salvation. Into Christ.

  • From and to.
  • Out of and into and deeper into.
  • Through
  • Renunciation and affirmation.
  • Relinquishing and taking up.
  • Lamentation and rejoicing.
  • Loss and gain.
  • Death and life.

It is a journey from death to life; from chaos to order. A journey requiring discipline, vigilance, and perseverance. And these the outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit when we have come to the end of being able to do them ourselves. (Hint: Lent is not about us “being successful.” It is about humility.)

During Vespers on Saturday evening before the Sunday of Forgiveness, we heard these words:

“The arena of the virtues has been opened.
Let all who wish to struggle for the prize now enter,
girding themselves for the noble contest of the Fast;
for those that strive lawfully are justly crowned.”

And yet again, at a latter point, these words:

“Adam was driven out of Paradise,
because in disobedience he had eaten food;
but Moses was granted the vision of God,
because he had cleansed the eyes of his soul by fasting.
If then we long to dwell in Paradise,
let us abstain from all needless food;
and if we desire to see God,
let us like Moses fast for forty days…
The time is now at hand for us to start upon the spiritual contest
and to gain the victory over the demonic powers.”

During the Rite of Forgiveness at Forgiveness Sunday Vespers we heard these words:

“Let us humble the flesh by abstinence:
As we follow the divine path of pure fasting…
That passing through the Fast as through a great sea
we may reach the Resurrection on the Third Day,
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls.”

Again and again, we hear and speak the language of journey. The journey of salvation.

Another aspect of this journey are the gates/doors we encounter. Scripture is filled with the image of gates and doors. They are essential to the message of salvation. I encourage you to do a word study of the passages. I is a fruitful study.

In the liturgical heritage of the Church, these door/gates are reiterated. The gates of repentance and paradise.

“Open unto me, O Giver of Life, the gates of repentance: for early in the morning my spirit seeks Thy holy temple, bearing a temple of the body all defiled. But in Thy compassion cleanse it by Thy loving-kindness and Thy mercy.”

and

“O precious Paradise, unsurpassed in beauty, tabernacle built by God, unending gladness and delight, glory of the righteous, joy of the prophets, and dwelling of the saints, with the sound of thy leaves pray to the Maker of all: may He open unto me the gates which I closed by my transgression, and may He count me worthy to partake of the Tree of Life and of the joy which was mine when I dwelt in thee before.”

As we pass through the gates of repentance let us set our face toward the gates of paradise. Indeed, let us realize, along the way in a refreshed manner during these forty days, that the two gates are actually two different encounters with the same gate/door the door of salvation which is Christ Jesus crucified and raised.

Note: All quotes are from , The Lenten Triodion, Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trs.(London 1978).

Leaven of Life or Death?

First the Word of Life and then some reflection which might edify.

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Mark 8.1-21

[1] In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them,
[2] “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat;
[3] and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come a long way.”
[4] And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?”
[5] And he asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven.”
[6] And he commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.
[7] And they had a few small fish; and having blessed them, he commanded that these also should be set before them.
[8] And they ate, and were satisfied; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
[9] And there were about four thousand people.
[10] And he sent them away; and immediately he got into the boat with his disciples, and went to the district of Dalmanu’tha.
[11] The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him.
[12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”
[13] And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.
[14] Now they had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
[15] And he cautioned them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
[16] And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.”
[17] And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
[18] Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
[19] When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”
[20] “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”
[21] And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

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Bread nourishes and nurtures. By the right relationship we foster with it we are not only fed but encouraged as well. The first aspect is easy to understand. Of course bread nourishes. But, how does it nurture? Bread presupposes a baker and a host. Bread is a provision proceeds from someone to desires to feed to the one who is in need of nourishment. So, the bread nurtures a sense of care and compassion – love. Not only that but the eating of the bread is occurs, ideally, in community. “Let us break bread together.” The eating of bread is a giving and receiving between the provider and the recipient AND an opportunity for those who need the bread to communion with one another. All of this is nurture.

Physical bread consecrated by and to God accomplishes this. This is bread in fullness. This is Eucharistic bread. It is not “merely bread” or even “special bread.” It is “God/bread.”

This is the leaven that saves – Sincerity and Truth – the outpouring and inpouring of love. The yeast that saves. (1 Co. 5.8)

The “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” does none of these things. Indeed, it does the opposite of all of them. This leaven is based on merit. It is always testing and seeking to condemn. It is about proving something to someone in order to gain acceptance. It is a symbol of corruption and the contagion of death.

Jesus warns the disciples regarding this leaven. It looks good on the outside but is rotten on the inside. It promises to nurture and nourish but never satisfies the need for either. He promises, over and over, to provide grace to not only remember the warning but fast from sin and death and feast on righteousness and life.

The “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” is the desire to gain nourishment and nurture from being relevant, spectacular, and powerful to prove something. Shockingly, Jesus is not out to prove anything to anybody.  Jesus is out to love and, in so doing, save the world and everyone in it. For those who have eyes to see, these “signs” are the signs of the Messiah. They are signs that proceed from love and are love instead of signs that originate from a desire to prove something and convince the unconvinced.

Tests to qualify in sight of another vs. the outpouring of love that simply testifies of Truth. The question is not if Jesus does or does not perform signs. The question is why and from where do they proceed? The biggest difference possible. The difference between heaven and hell.

The invitation and mandate for us is to seek the Messiah not the signs. If we spend our time as “sign seekers and inspectors” we will miss the Messiah. For those who are truly seeking God and His salvation, the words and actions of God confirm what they already have concluded, this is the Messiah of God. They will receive the Messiah. The need is to need God so much that His simple appearance as “He Who Is Who He Is,” is enough. The need is to trust God not a specific form and shape of sign – spectacular, relevant, and powerful. After all, some of the most significant signs God has offered have not been spectacular, relevant, and powerful as we measure them. And, those, if we look at our life with clarity, are the ones that have served to save us.

The true signs are the ones, we realize, through which we were nourished and nurtured by the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus – “the bread of life … the fountain of immortality. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia ! !”

Let us embark, this Lenten season, on a pilgrimage of fasting from the leaven of the Pharisees, hidden in the patterns and practices of our everyday life and seek to feast on the leaven of immortality by searching for it in the present patterns and practices of our everyday life and new patterns and practices offer to us by the Holy Tradition. Let us embark on this Lenten season not to perform signs that prove, but to engage in practices that bear the fruit of the release of the love of God that has been poured into our hearts.

Christ, The True Me by Grace – The Icon of God

Salvation is not, primarily, about morality. It is, essentially, about identity.

True self and false self. The me I truly am is not the me I insist on being but rather Christ Jesus by grace. Not Christ Jesus instead of me. Not me mimicking Christ Jesus who is “over there,” separate from me in my independent existence; or even in an intimate relationship with me. Rather, me as me by Him living in me, and in so doing, giving me the only authentic life I can define as life. God living in me and through me that is me living a true, substantial, life in authentic human personhood. Without separation and without confusion. So, God dwells in me, giving me life, and God unites Himself to the truly alive me as One Who is completely other than me. Wow… Now THAT is Mystery with a capital “M”.

If the evil one can confuse and delude us regarding identity he wins a victory. If the evil one can convince us that salvation is primarily about “being good” he wins a victory. If the evil one can convince us that letting go of what we are convinced is our “irreducible self” without which we will slip into non-existence instead of the reception of our authentic self and the beginning of our true life from God, he has won a victory.

The realization that all of this just might be the case; that there might be a chance that what we have so deeply held as true is, in fact, delusion, is the beginning of our salvation. Indeed, is it a place we visit over and over to further the work of consummating our salvation. It is the work of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth. The Illumining One.

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18And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” 19They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” 20And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” 21But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” 23And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9.18-26)

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As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself… Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so. The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 13, by C.S. Lewis

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“It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not. It is as much as saying that you know better than God who you are and who you ought to be. How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life?: His sanctity will never be yours; you must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone… And so it takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the man, or the artist, that God intended you to be. You will be made to feel that your honesty is only pride. This is a serious temptation because you can never be sure whether you are being true to your true self or only building up a defense for the false personality that is the creature of your own appetite for esteem. But the greatest humility can be learned from the anguish of keeping your balance in such a position: of continuing to be yourself without getting tough about it and asserting your false self against the false selves of other people.” The New Seeds of Contemplation,  pg. 100-101, by Thomas Merton