Fight the Good Fight, Preparing the Way of the Lord

Prepare the way of the Lord…

Fight the good fight – work out your salvation – by faithfully striving in Him who supplies every grace, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, together with one another.

Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[…] these rebel powers that thee array;
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then. 
–William Shakespeare

1 Timothy 6.12

[12] Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Colossians 1.11-23

[11] May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
[12] giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
[13] He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
[14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
[15] He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
[16] for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
[17] He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
[18] He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
[19] For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
[20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
[21] And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
[22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,
[23] provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Fr. Thomas

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Advent 1 – The Two Comings of Christ

St. Aelred (1110 – 12 January 1167),  was a Christian of the British Isles. “The Catholic Encyclopedia” summarizes his life, thusly:

Aelred decided to become a Cistercian monk, in the recently founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Soon he was appointed master of novices, and was long remembered for his extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those under his charge. In 1143 when William, Earl of Lincoln, founded a new Cistercian abbey upon his estates at Revesby in Lincolnshire, St. Aelred was sent with twelve monks to take possession of the new foundation. His stay at Revesby, where he seems to have met St. Gilbert of Sempringham, was not of long duration, for in 1146 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. In this position the saint was not only superior of a community of 300 monks, but he was head of all the Cistercian abbots in England… Aelred undertook a mission to the barbarous Pictish tribes of Galloway, where their chief is said to have been so deeply moved by his exhortations that he became a monk. Throughout his last years Aelred gave an extraordinary example of heroic patience under a succession of infirmities. He was, moreover, so abstemious that he is described as being “more like a ghost than a man.” His death is generally supposed to have occurred 12 January, 1166, although there are reasons for thinking that the true year may be 1167. St. Aelred left a considerable collection of sermons, the remarkable eloquence of which has earned for him the title of the English St. Bernard.

Here is one of his sermons for the First Sunday in Advent.

The present holy season which we call Advent directs our thoughts to our Lord’s twofold coming. We have therefore a double reason for rejoicing because we are meant to derive from it a double benefit.

Advent calls to mind the two comings of our Lord: first the coming of the fairest of the sons of men and the desire of all nations, so long awaited and so fervently prayed for by all the fathers when the Son of God graciously revealed to the world his visible presence in the flesh, that is to say when he came into the world to save sinners; the other that second coming to which we look forward no less than did our fathers of old. While we await his return our hope is sure and firm, yet we also frequently remind ourselves with tears of the day when he who first came to us concealed in our flesh will come again revealed in the glory which belongs to him as Lord. Of that day the psalmist sings: God will come openly; it is the Day of Judgment when Christ will come as judge in the sight of all. Our Lord’s first coming was indeed known only to a small number of good people, but his second will be evident to good and bad alike, as is known to us by the prophet’s announcement: All flesh will see the salvation of God.

To speak more precisely, however, the day we are shortly to celebrate in memory of our Lord’s birth brings him before us as a newborn child, that is to say it more expressly signifies the day and the hour when he first came into the world, whereas the season we keep beforehand represents him to us as the longed-for Messiah and reminds us of the yearning that filled the hearts of those holy fathers of ours who lived before his coming.

How beautifully then at this season the Church provides that we should recite the words and recall the longing of those who lived before our Lord’s first advent! Nor do we commemorate that desire of theirs for a single day, but share it so to speak for a long period of time, because when something we greatly love and long for is deferred for a while it usually seems sweeter to us when it does arrive.

It is our duty then to follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers and so inflame our own souls with love and longing for Christ. You must understand that the reason why this season was instituted was to inspire us to remember the desire of our holy fathers for our Lord’s first coming, and through their example learn to have a great longing for the day when he will come again. We should consider how much good our Lord did us by his first coming, and how much more he will do for us by his second. This thought will help us to have a great love for that first coming of his and a great longing for his return. And if our conscience is not so perfect that we dare entertain such a desire, we ought at least to fear his second coming and by means of that fear to correct our faults, so that if perhaps we cannot help being afraid here and now, we shall at least be secure and fearless when he comes again.  St Aelred, abbot of Rievaulx (1110 – 12 January 1167), Sermon for Advent 1

Our prayer is that you will “follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers,” such as St. Aelred; and that He will “mightily enflame” your soul “with love and longing for Christ” as you enter and journey with others through the Advent season.

Fr. Thomas

A Couple of Reflections to Help Get You in the Advent Mode

I am, as many of you know, a “gleaner.” I roam through the Church Fathers and Mothers; the Reformation; and contemporary authors seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in and through not only their writings but the testimony of their lives.

I have often said that one of the greatest gifts a minister of the gospel can receive from the Holy Spirit is the crucifixion of the “need to be original in order to be truly original.”

Well, Advent is upon us. I offer to you two sets of Scriptures with reflection that I came across this week. They are taken from the an email reflection program called “The Daily Gospel”. It can be accessed here. It has blessed me in a mighty way. I highly recommend it!!

I could give you a bullet list of about 10-15 things that touched me in reading these, but I will let the Holy Spirit use them to bless you in His own way. I recommend printing out the passages and reflections and then using a highlighter to tag the words and phrases that touch you. Then journal a little, letting the Holy Spirit take you deeper and deeper into His purpose for you…

Aren’t we blessed to have not only the Scriptures but the treasure of the life and writings of a great cloud of witnesses to encourage us and spur us on to faith and good works (see Ephesians 2.10; Hebrews 10.24-25)?!

Scriptures and Reflection #1

Revelation 14:14-19
Then I looked and there was a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud one who looked like a son of man, with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Another angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the one sitting on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap the harvest, for the time to reap has come, because the earth’s harvest is fully ripe.” So the one who was sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven who also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel (came) from the altar, (who) was in charge of the fire, and cried out in a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth’s vines, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage. He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.

Psalms 96:10-13
say among the nations: The LORD is king. The world will surely stand fast, never to be moved. God rules the peoples with fairness.  Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound;  let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice
before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth, To govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness.

Luke 21:5-11
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down. Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”

Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Mt 24.35)
Our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven at the end of the world, on the last day. For the world will end and this created world will be renewed. For since corruption, theft, adultery and all kinds of sins cover the earth, and “bloodshed follows bloodshed over the land” (Hosea 4.2), therefore this world will pass away and another, more lovely, will be established so that this wonderful dwelling place may not remain full of injustice…

Hear what Isaiah says: “The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll and the stars fall like the leaves of a fig tree” (cf. Isaiah 34.4). And the Gospel also says: “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky” (Matthew 24.29). So let us not be dismayed as though we were the only ones who must die. The stars will also die and yet perhaps they will be brought to life again. The Lord will roll away the sky, not to destroy it but to restore it to life more lovely than before. Listen to the prophet David speaking: “Of old you established the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They shall perish but you remain. They will all grow old like a garment; like clothing you change them and they will be changed” (Ps 102[101].26-28)… Listen, too, to our Lord speaking: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt 24.35), for the authority of created things does not equal that of their Master’s words. — Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313-350), Bishop of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church , Baptismal catecheses, no. 15

Scriptures and Reflection #2

Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth became illumined by his splendor. He cried out in a mighty voice: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great. She has become a haunt for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every unclean bird, (a cage for every unclean) and disgusting (beast). A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea and said: “With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down, and will never be found again. No melodies of harpists and musicians, flutists and trumpeters, will ever be heard in you again. No craftsmen in any trade will ever be found in you again. No sound of the millstone will ever be heard in you again. No light from a lamp will ever be seen in you again. No voices of bride and groom will ever be heard in you again. Because your merchants were the great ones of the world, all nations were led astray by your magic potion. After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying: “Alleluia! Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her harlotry. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” They said a second time: “Alleluia! Smoke will rise from her forever and ever.” Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These words are true; they come from God.”

Psalms 100:2-5
…worship the LORD with cries of gladness; come before him with joyful song.  Know that the LORD is God, our maker to whom we belong, whosepeople we are, God’s well-tended flock. Enter the temple gates with praise, its courts with thanksgiving. Give thanks to God, bless his name; good indeed is the LORD, Whose love endures forever, whose faithfulness lasts through every age.

Luke 21:20-28
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all the scriptures are fulfilled. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

Christ will come again in glory  
“Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14.9). Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1.20-22), for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled (Ephesians 1.10).

As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body (Ephesians 1.22). Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church… “The kingdom of Christ (is) already present in mystery”, “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom” (Vatican II : LG 3; 5). Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfilment. We are already at “the last hour” (1John 2.18)…

Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” (Luke 21.27) by the King’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. “Until everything is subject to him, (1Corinthians 15.28), until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God” (LG 48; Romans 8.19, 22). That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Maranatha! “Our Lord, come!” (1Corinthians 16.22 ; Revelation 22.17, 20). — Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, §668 – 671

God Bless you,

Fr. Thomas

Christ the King

Today we focus our attention on the Kingship of Christ Jesus (the God-man) over:

  • The universe
  • Mankind
  • The Church
  • Our local fellowship
  • Our family
  • Our personal life

**Everyone and everything, in other words, whether or not they realize it and embrace it**

His Kingship is exemplified in His:

  • Creation of the universe and mankind
  • Saving Incarnation for the life of the universe and mankind
  • Second Coming to consummate His will for the universe and mankind

During the four weeks preceding Christmas, we focus on the first and second comings of Christ Jesus and prepare ourselves to encounter Him in His saving provision… Specifically, we desire to become more regular and consistent in our ability to seek and serve Him in all persons and circumstances. We seek to encounter God, present and active in our everyday lives.

The fruitful celebration of Christmas is not automatic. It doesn’t just happen. We must follow the example of those who have come before us in the Judeo-Christian faith. We must be intentional. There are many ways in which men and women have effectively invested themselves in this season of preparation over the centuries. Take this week to prepare yourself and your family for the observance of the Advent/Nativity fast.  It has been customary to prepare our souls to meet Christ Jesus in a new/fresh way by such things as:

  • Engaging in some form of fasting
  • Engaging in works of mercy and almsgiving
  • Increasing (or just becoming more consistent) in our prayer and Bible reading, focusing on the Incarnation, Apocalypse, and the Scriptural account of how God was present and active in the everyday lives of men and women

In Him and through Him all things were made; He came into the world in humility and obscurity, as a child in a manger and ultimately wearing a crown of thorns; He will come again in glory, publicly, riding on the clouds and will conclusively put an end to the culture of sin and death, once and for all.

God is in charge and victorious in the permanent sense, right here and right now and more so every second, regardless of how things appear on the internet news bytes! The fulfillment of the petition the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven” IS being fulfilled and is yours and mine to live.

The Eastern Orthodox Liturgy proclaims, “We have seen the true light! We have received the heavenly Spirit! We have found the true Faith! Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.” Join me in the observance of Advent, seeking to really LIVE THIS TRUE FAITH, OUR FAITH – the only real hope and life of the world!

Fr. Thomas

Being Built into a Holy Temple

Pope Gregory I, (c. 540 – 12 March 604), is most commonly known as St. Gregory the Great.

The collect prayed in the Anglican Church on the occasion of his feast day (March 12 in both the West and the East) to commemorate him is:

“O merciful Father, who didst choose thy bishop Gregory to be a servant of the servants of God: grant that, like him, we may ever desire to serve thee by proclaiming thy gospel to the nations, and may ever rejoice to sing thy praises; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

I came across one of St. Gregory’s homilies on Ezekiel that served to remind me of a several aspects the character of not only my discipleship but the discipleship of the Church.

That statement, “the discipleship of the Church,” might seem strange. You and I might find it quite easy to think of ourselves as maturing in our discipleship and ministry in the world but not quite so easy to think of it in terms regarding the Church. Does the Church mature? St. Gregory implies very strongly in this homily that when the Body of Christ thinks of itself in a static way, as some kind of “finished work,” existing in the world, it runs the risk of going astray from Christ and becoming not just “in the world,” but “of the world.”

Join me in taking a stroll through St. Gregory’s “inspired convictions” regarding not only our personal discipleship but that of the Body of Christ as well. The portion from St. Gregory is indented and italicized. My ruminations follow in each case:

It is precisely because the vision of inward peace is made up of a community of saints as its citizens that the heavenly Jerusalem is built as a city. Even while, in this earthly life, its citizens are lashed by whips and subjected to oppression, its stones are being quarried every day. It is also the city, namely, the holy Church, which is to reign in heaven but is still toiling on earth. It is to its citizens that Peter says: And you are being built up like living stones. Paul also says: You are God’s land, God’s building. Clearly the city already has its great building here on earth in the lives of the saints.

“Inward peace,” St. Gregory contends, is not just something we enjoy individually as disciples. It is the fruit of the Spirit at the very heart (center) of the “community of saints” – the Church. We are citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem” – city of peace – and are the very stone out of which the city is built.

St. Paul clearly links “peace” with the Spirit guided building/construction process underway, which produces “the Body of Christ” in the world. Peace is not a static/passive condition. Rather, St. Paul would have us understand this quality as powerful – dramatically transformative. In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle says:

Ephesians 2.11-22: [11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands —
[12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
[13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.
[14] For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility,
[15] by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
[16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.
[17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;
[18] for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
[19] So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
[20] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
[21] in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
[22] in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Notice he contrast between isolation and fellowship? Notice the connection between peace (reconciliation – the joining of two things that were alienated) and its result, the establishment of a dwelling place for God (a heavenly tabernacle) in the world but not of the world.

So, the peace of God establishes maturity not only in the life of the individual believer, but of the whole Body of Christ. St. Paul, in writing to the church at Colossae, instructs the fellowship in that city to continue to mature. He instructs them, I believe, not on an individual basis but on the basis of the fellowship as a whole. His counsel to them involves the kind of maturity that can only be achieved by the investment and resolve of the whole community. Right in the middle of the exhortation, he establishes the necessity for the peace of Christ. It is this “peace of Christ,” that is able to establish and transform them as a community:

Colossians 3.15: [15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.

Notice also, that it is the sufferings of the Church as a whole and of its members personally, is said, by St. Gregory, to be way in which the stones – you and I – are quarried. The Holy Spirit’s quarrying of us as “living stones” out of which His heavenly city/temple is constructed is by the chisel and hammer of being “lashed by whips” and “subjected to oppression.” That is an amazing picture and a mysterious work. This is certainly the spirit in which St. Peter writes his two epistles not just to suffering disciples on an individual basis but the church as a whole.

St. Gregory continues:

In a building, of course, one stone supports another, since they are placed one on top of another, and one supporting another is itself supported by another. So in the same way, in the holy Church, every member both supports and is supported by the other. For neighbours give each other mutual support, so that the building of love may rise through them. Hence too Paul’s instruction to us: Bear each other’s burdens, and in that way you will fulfil the law of Christ; and he claims the virtue of this law, saying: It is love which fulfils the law.

For if I neglect to support you in the way you live, and you pay little attention to supporting me in mine, how will the building of love rise among us? He alone who supports the whole fabric of the holy Church supports us in our good ways and our faults as well. But in a building, as we have said, the supporting stone is itself supported. For just as I already support the ways of those whose behaviour in the matter of good works is still unformed, so I too am supported by those who have surpassed me in the fear of the Lord, and yet have supported me, so that I myself should learn to support through being supported. But they have also been supported by their predecessors.

There are three questions that my mentors over the decades have consistently asked me when I went to them for spiritual direction and counsel:

  • Are you saying your prayers?
  • Are you reading your Bible?
  • Are you in a fellowship of accountability and encouragement?

Perhaps the presence of these three essential aspects of a rule of life provide us with the ability to be consistently “supporting one another” and the willingness (humility) to “be supported by the other.” In essence, we cannot be a support if we are not, in turn, willing to be supported.

Think about it. How in the world would someone build a building in which one row of stones did not depend on the support of the rows beneath them.  And, what is more, the row that has received support is also being used as a support for the rows above them (??!!)  It is all quite obvious. And yet is not quite so easy. The stones you use to build a house do not have free will. WE DO… Simple, but not easy.

St. Gregory could have but chose not to take time to say what he is clearly implying. We, as living stones MUST submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit and to one another to be used to support one another with the support that is the Lord’s support in and through us for one another. In other words, we MUST deal with our WILLFULNESS as individuals and as the community of saints – the Church. And, if you don’t think the Church can have a wilful spirit, you haven’t been in the Church long enough!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, says that we must bear the burden of our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. We must bear with their good points as well as their bad points. One challenges our pride and jealousy; and the other challenges our willingness to be patient and forgive.

Some folks are “farther along” than us and we are “farther along” than others. That is the way it is supposed to be.  We need fathers and mothers in the faith to teach, encourage, correct us who are still in our youth. And, likewise, we who are older brothers and sisters can do the same for those who look to us for guidance and companionship.

In this way, through bearing our brothers and sisters, supporting them and letting them support us in the way St. Gregory outlines, that the Church becomes a holy temple to the glory of God. Once again, St. Gregory assumes that the Church not just the individual believer is maturing in the building process.

St. Gregory brings his homily to a close:

However the stones placed at the top of the building to finish it off, though supported of course by others, have no one to support in turn. For those, too, who are born at the Church’s end, that is, at the end of the world, will certainly be supported by their prede­cessors, to dispose them to behave in a way that leads to good works; but when they have none to follow them who could profit by them, they have no more stones to support for the building of the faithful above them. So for the time being they are supported by us, and we are supported by others.

There will come a time, as in every building project, when the final row of stones are laid and the building becomes a “finished work.” Who can tell if he or she is part of the “last row?” That is not, in my estimation, a point to be debated. We must, I believe live as if there will be another row to support. Let the builder – God – decide how many rows there will be in his temple. You and I are to give ourselves to supporting and being supported by one another, not “row counting.”

However it is the founda­tion that carries the entire weight of the building, because our Redeemer alone supports the lives of all of us together. As Paul says of him: For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid, which is Christ Jesus. The foundation supports the stones and is not supported by the stones, because our Redeemer supports us in all our troubles, but in himself there was no evil demanding support.

Christ Jesus “carries the entire weight!”

In the New Testament, however, there are a number of striking statements in this regard.

  • “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19.28)
  •  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” (Acts 2.42)
  • “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to…” (Acts 15.28)
  •  “…built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” (Ephesians 2.20)
  • “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known…” (Colossians 1.24-25)
  • “Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads.” (Revelation 4.4)

Who carries the weight of the Church, Christ or Christ and the apostles and prophets?!  These passages suggest that it is both. Christ and Christ in and through His Apostl es. Does this disturb you?! If it does, then, I suggest that you reread the New Testament with a different emphasis – the Father’s work in Christ Jesus being the reestablishment of union between God and man and, as a result, the successful administration of the dominion of the created order that God intended as mankind’s priestly ministry… God unites Himself to us to unite us to Himself. God shares His authority with us… That authority is an aspect of the Church’s stewardship. We cannot pretend it does not exist and we cannot presume upon it.

What then, is the key to understanding that it is no contradiction to say in the same breath that Christ alone carries the entire weight and Christ and His apostles carry the entire weight?  It is the difference between humility and presumption.

After all, don’t the Scriptures also proclaim:

  • Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness! (Psalm 115.1)
  • “And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.’” (Revelation 4.9-11)

The question for the Church is not IF we are called to bear the weight in Christ. The question is how do we understand the bearing of that weight and with what spirit?! Is it “alongside” or is it “in union with?” There is a BIG difference between “alongside” and “in union with.” Is it with an attitude of “grasping at” or “available to?”

The spirit in which we understand and seek to do a thing is of utmost importance. As John Cassion says in his Conferences, “…we must look not only at the thing which is done, but also at the character of the mind and the purpose of the doer. And therefore if you weigh with a careful scrutiny of heart what is done by each man and consider with what mind it is done or from what feeling it proceeds…” Conferences 16.22

Once again, an opportunity to reread a lot of the New Testament…

I take away from this homily the conviction that St. Gregory is saying that we, as the Church and as individual believers are maturing into our call to be His holy temple that is acceptable to Him for eternity.

Fr. Thomas

The Story of Jesus and Bartimaeus – An Allegory of Unseen Warfare

I have been posting lately about spiritual warfare. Specifically the inner or unseen warfare — see Romans 7. Here is a wonderful homily by Saint José Maria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-1975), from his book of homilies, Friends of God, based on the encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus.

Mark 10.46-52

[46] And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae’us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae’us, was sitting by the roadside.
[47] And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
[48] And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
[49] And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.”
[50] And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus.
[51] And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.”
[52] And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Homily

If we turn now to St Mark we will find he tells us about another blind man being cured. As Jesus ‘was leaving Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, the blind man, Timaeus’ son, was sitting there by the wayside, begging’. Hearing the commotion the crowd was making, the blind man asked, ‘What is happening?’ They told him, ‘It is Jesus of Nazareth.’ At this his soul was so fired with faith in Christ that he cried out, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’

Don’t you too feel the same urge to cry out? You who also are waiting at the side of the way, of this highway of life that is so very short? You who need more light, you who need more grace to make up your mind to seek holiness? Don’t you feel an urgent need to cry out, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me?’ What a beautiful aspiration for you to repeat again and again!

I recommend you to meditate slowly on the events preceding the miracle, to help you keep this fundamental idea clearly engraved upon your minds: what a world of difference there is between the merciful Heart of Jesus and our own poor hearts! This thought will help you at all times, and especially in the hour of trial and temptation, and also when the time comes to be generous in the little duties you have, or in moments when heroism is called for.

‘Many of them rebuked him, telling him to be silent. As people have done to you, when you sensed that Jesus was passing your way. Your heart beat faster and you too began to cry out, prompted by an intimate longing. Then your friends, the need to do the one thing, the easy life, your surroundings, all conspired to tell you: ‘Keep quiet, don’t cry out. Who are you to be calling Jesus? Don’t bother him.’

But poor Bartimaeus would not listen to them. He cried out all the more: ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Our Lord, who had heard him right from the beginning, let him persevere in his prayer. He does the same with you. Jesus hears our cries from the very first, but he waits. He wants us to be convinced that we need him. He wants us to beseech him, to persist, like the blind man waiting by the road from Jericho. ‘Let us imitate him. Even if God does not immediately give us what we ask, even if many people try to put us off our prayers, let us still go on praying.’ (Friends of God, Homily 195)

————-
The entire text of Friends of God can be found here.

Fr. Thomas

Presumption — Dangerous Indeed

In today’s reflection from The Prologue (November 12th), by St. Nikolai, I am reminded of the sin of “presuming on the compassion of God.” This sin is recounted by the prophets, all through the Old Testament beginning with Moses and including St. John the Forerunner. St. Nikolai says,

Before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, it seemed that only the Jews were close to God and that the pagans were farther away from God. But as a matter of fact, the Jews and the pagans were equally estranged from God, and from true reverence for Him. Then He came, Christ the Savior, and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh (Ephesians 2:17) and by that, brought both Jews and pagans by one Spirit unto the Father (Ephesians 2:18).

It is easy to get into the habit of “judging our progress” as if somehow I have become better than others or accomplished an independent standing of “nearness” to God. All intimacy is a gift that, at one and the same time is a pure gift and requires my meaningful (essential) cooperation. The sign of maturity is to not “grasp at” the maturity even though my effort is an aspect of its existence. Therein lies the difference between humility and pride. Do I NEED to get credit for my standing in the sight of God or not?! (The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican has, I am sure, already occurred to you.)

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18.10-14

We are, at one and the same time, maturing (being made perfect) and constantly in need of the mercy of God (being made perfect). Being made perfect in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit is a matter of “already and not yet.”

The tendency, which hinders my mysterious growth in the Lord just as powerfully is somehow convincing myself that NOTHING is happening – that somehow I am beyond help… The opposite of presuming upon my progress is never receiving the Holy Spirit’s assurance that progress is occurring! (I will reserve a reflection on that tendency for another reflection.)

We are all, as the hymn says, “standing in the need of prayer.”

Standing in the Need of Prayer

It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer;
It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer.

Not my mother, not my father
But it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer. 

Chorus:
It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer;
It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer.

Not my brother, not my sister
But it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer.

Chorus:
It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer;
It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer.

Not my elder, not my leader
But it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer.

I can never cease to consider myself a “beginner” in the faith but I can never doubt that I am progressing by means of the dynamic union of two efforts – the God’s and mine. In yesterday’s “Imago Dei” email reflection, Rob Des Cotes expressed the mystery in this way:

Spirituality is not something we accumulate.  Nor is it a matter for which any language of acquisition is really appropriate.  It is always a fallacy to think in terms of quantifiable spiritual growth in an economy that is based solely on God’s grace.  Since we do not own or possess whatever spiritual life we have, we should always be wary whenever we find ourselves thinking in terms of loss or gain with regards to our relationship with God. 

As humans, we tend to assess all things, including ourselves, in terms of progress—that we are getting better in this area, or regressing in that area of our lives.  Because we are temporal we think sequentially.  But God is beyond space and time, and a different vocabulary is necessary when we speak of maturity in this relationship.  Rather than talk about “spiritual growth” as if we were accumulating a yield, we should perhaps consider the preferred expression that both Peter and Paul use when they describe the mature spiritual life as one that is “established” (or “made stable”) in Christ…

As Col. 4:12 prescribes, faith is a matter of our “standing firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  The only progression we can then speak of is that of our growing capacity to recognize when we have moved away from this foundation, and knowing how to return without delay. 

The spiritual life then is more of a deepening disposition than a quantifiable asset.  It is an attitude of greater freedom in relationship to the movement of God’s will and of giving God increasing access to our lives… (Imago Dei, November 12th, 2010)

Rob’s words cannot, however, lead us into the region of laziness and negligence. We cannot just say, “Oh, well, it is all a mystery.” That, to be quite honest, is exactly the kind of misappropriation of “mystery” that we fall into over and over for the sake of not becoming presumptuous. No, the way to address presumption is not by becoming vague and overly nebulous — putting everything in the untouchable arena of “mystery.” No, “The Mystery” — the Word of God — became flesh and dwelt (dwells) among us performing His saving work. Our cooperation is real but it must be humble. The key is not to become nebulous but humble.

John the Forerunner, who I have already mentioned, did not mince words. He came preaching to a message of repentance. He said, as did our Lord, that repentance is not just the doorway to the beginning of a relationship with God, but the ongoing character of our relationship with God.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad’ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 3.7-10

Our Lord Jesus Christ preached a message of peace. The message of peace is a message of repentance, release, and freedom. The peace is, mysteriously one of assurance but never presumption.

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2.17-18

I really like that quote from Colossians:

“Ep’aphras, who is one of yourselves, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always remembering you earnestly in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4.12)

I am always standing in the need of prayer. Prayer that I will not become presumptuous. The prayer I/we stand in the need of is not just our prayers for one another in this regard, but our own prayer for ourself. That prayer is:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Fr. Thomas

Unseen Warfare: Our Struggle toward Perfection #2

In the introduction, Staretz Nicodemus, the author of, Unseen Warfare, gives us a detailed list of the weapons of our unseen warfare. He will speak of these in the course of the book. They are:

“With what weapons are warriors armed for this unseen warfare? Listen. Their helmet is total disbelief in themselves and complete absence of self-reliance; their shield and coat of mail – a bold faith in God and a firm trust in Him; their armour and cuirass – instruction in the passion of Christ; their belt – cutting off bodily passions; their boots – humility and a constant sense and recognition of their powerlessness; their spurs – patience in temptations and repudiation of negligence; their sword, which they hold ever in one hand, is prayer whether with the lips or within – in the heart; their three-pronged spear, which they have in their other hand, is a firm resolve in no way to consent to the passion which assails them, but to repulse it with anger and wholehearted hatred; their pay and food, sustaining them in their resistance to the enemy, is frequent communion with God, both through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and inwardly; the clear and cloudless atmosphere, which enables them to see the enemy from afar, is a constant exercising of the mind in the knowledge of what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and a constant exercising of the will in desiring only what is pleasing to God, peace and quiet of the heart.” (pg. 72)

I am, of course, immediately reminded of the list in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6.10-20)

Nicodemus is reiterating what St. Paul and Jesus before him taught that the most important location of spiritual warfare is the inner man. The Apostle makes this point clearly when he says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The word “listen,” should set off a connection with the Rule of St. Benedict. That word is the first word of his “Rule.” And, not surprisingly, St. Benedict makes it clear that the rule of life is for the purpose of doing battle in union the Christ the Lord. It is only by engaging in the warfare, in the context of a community of accountability and encouragement, abiding in Christ at all times, St. Benedict says, that we will “be found worthy to be coheirs with Him [Christ] of His Kingdom.”

“Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away. To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King… We are, therefore, about to found a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictateth anything that turneth out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow. But as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love; so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.”(The Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue)

With the warfare come the weapons. The Apostle, during his lifetime as well as the staretz during his lifetime, point to the need for the warrior to be armed if he or she intends to enter the warfare.

We could, contrast these who accounts of the weapons of our warfare, but we need not. They are not comparable. Rather, they are complementary. They inform and deepen one another issuing out of the lived experience of the living Christ in their own circumstances and challenges. At one and the same time, the lists are different and yet they are the same.

  • They refer to the power of God.
  • They refer to the powerlessness of the disciple.
  • They, none the less, refer to the intentionality and effort that is required of the believer
  • They refer to the “passions of the flesh” that still reside and operate within the disciple and must be addressed.
  • They refer to the presence and diabolical intention of the enemy.
  • They refer to the commitment to join the battle (make the effort) in the midst of present circumstances not to use our energy wishing for a better set of circumstances in which to live out life of faith, hope, and love.
  • They refer to a nourishment and atmosphere of clarity and wisdom in which the warfare is waged. They refer, therefore, by implication, to the great cloud of witnesses, in the midst of whom and with whose aid we wage war within, and to the Lord Himself in whom we must constantly abide and under the shadow of whose wings we prevail against every foe and rejoice.

It is this clarity (the opposite of it being fantasy and delusion) that are so very important in confronting the passions within us that keep us under their control and frustration our “sanctification” (the western term) and “deification” (the eastern term).

It is this danger that Nicodemus refers to in the next paragraph of his introduction:

“It is here, — here in this ‘Unseen Warfare’ (that is, in this book) or rather in the ‘Wars of the Lord’, that Christ’s warriors learn to discern the various forms of prelest (the nearest English equivalent seems to be “beguilement”), the different wiles, the incredible subterfuges and military ruses, which our invisible foes use against us through the senses, through fantasy, through loss of the fear of God, and in particular through the four suggestions, which they introduce into the heart at the moment of death – I mean suggestions of unbelief, despair, vainglory, and of the demons themselves assuming the aspect of angels of light. But in learning to discern all this, men learn at the same time how to frustrate these wiles of the enemy and to resist them. They learn how to find out what tactical moves to make and what laws of war they must follow in each particular case, and the courage needed to enter into battle. In brief, I would say that every man, who desires salvation, will learn through this book how to conquer  his invisible foes, in order to acquire the treasure of true and divine virtues and to be rewarded with an incorruptible crown and a token of eternity, which is union with God, both in this life and in the future.” (pg. 72-73)

The passions blind us to truth and keep us blind. They numb us to our own blindness. Whatever their original reason for being set into place by us – perhaps survival  – they have come to serve a destructive purpose. They keep us from accessing the “new life” we have “in Christ” by virtue of our Baptism.

All things bear their own fruit. It is no exception with the passions. They bear the fruit that speaks of them and their essence.

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”(Matthew 12.33-37)

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. (Galatians 5.16-26)

Unseen Warfare invites me to realize the necessity of spiritual warfare —  a subject that has become problematic in the Church over the last 50 years. The use of that term conjures up all kinds of images and experiences in my mind. I have, in my 32+ years of ordained ministry rubbed up against, relatively speaking, the best and the worst incarnations of the conviction. I venture to say we could share some wonderful and scary stories. But, according to the Church Fathers, the Apostles, the saints over the centuries and our Lord Jesus, there is a warfare in which to engage. It is not vague – ill-defined. It is not left up to me as an individual believer to figure out a way to deal with it nor is it allowable for a group of well-meaning believers to do so either. I am called to neither shrink from the fight nor engage in it in a cavalier way.

The way of warfare is definite within the historic Body of Christ and there is a “tried and true” way to engage in it.

I invite you to read on with me and receive more of the witness of the Lord in and through the Church regarding nature of the unseen warfare and how to engage in it.

Fr. Thomas

Unseen Warfare: Our Struggle Toward Perfection

The Forward of the classic, Unseen Warfare begins in this way:

“This book, which profits the soul, is justly named ‘Unseen Warfare’… for it teaches not the art of visible and sensory warfare, and speaks not about visible. Bodily foes but about the unseen and inner struggle, which every Christian undertakes from the moment of his baptism, when he makes a vow to God to fight for Him, to the glory of His divine Name, even unto death… It speaks of invisible and incorporeal foes, which are the varied passions and lusts of the flesh, and of the evil demons who hate men and never cease to fight against us, day and night, as the divine Paul says: ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’ (Eph. Vi. 12).

This book teaches that the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the hierarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.” (pg. 71-72)

The author(s) (there are several authors) make it quite clear, by implication, that in order to reach the desired aim of perfection in Christ Jesus, we must engage in an inner warfare. It is essential. Unless we actively oppose, in concert with the Holy Spirit, all that wars against God’s purpose within us – the “desires of the flesh,” St. Paul calls them – we will never realize our heart’s desire.

Many, I fear, have never been instructed either in the existence of the war; the necessity of the warfare; and the manner of its conduct. (I include myself in that number until my college days.) I would like, therefore, to spend some time moving through Unseen Warfare on this blog, from time to time for the purpose of receiving from the Lord, through His faithful servants – St. Theophan the Recluse, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Lorenzo Scupoli.

I will include a pertinent quote in course and reflect on it. I invite your reflections and comments toward the end of embracing the fullness of the True Faith.

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7.13-14)

“Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13.24)

Fr. Thomas

The Cross and Our Life

“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 99