The Holy Eucharist – Fullness of Life in the Midst of Life

Gratitude — Really?? Am I??

Ecclesiastes 1.12
[12] And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Psalm 116
[12] What shall I render to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
[13] I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
[14] I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
[15] Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
[16] O LORD, I am thy servant;
I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast loosed my bonds.
[17] I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
[18] I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
[19] in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

I have been blessed over the last several months in my ongoing reflection – ruminatio – on passages from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. She says, early on, in what proves to be a/the key chapter of the book, “a word to live … and die by”:

“Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy.’ Joy. Ah…yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about, that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception…all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is joy.’ … ‘The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live…. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.’ … Eucharisteo – whenever: now. Joy – wherever: here… ‘The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”

Really, the only way to appreciate this all too brief quote is to read the whole chapter and the whole book ! !

Now, of course, I am not going to leave it at that. I must place it in the context of the Church Fathers (and Mothers). Transformation often happens in my life in this way (among others): My independent lines of reading intersect, affect one another, work transformation in my life or the life of someone with whom I share life, and reorient my course and focus in those lines of reading. Well, it just so happens that my reading of the chapter mentioned above coincided with a book of daily readings from the Church Fathers. Here is the text of that reading.

From the Detailed Rules for Monks by Saint Basil the Great
Love of God is not something that we can be taught. We did not learn from someone else how to rejoice in light or want to live, or to love our parents or guardians. It is the same, perhaps even more so, with our love for God: it does not come by another’s teaching. As soon as the living creature (that is, man) comes to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love. When the school of God’s law admits this power of reason, it cultivates it diligently, skillfully nurtures it, and with God’s help brings it to perfection.

For this reason, as by God’s gift, I find you with the zeal necessary to attain this end, and you on your part help me with your prayers. I will try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, let me say that we have already received from God the ability to fulfill all his commands. We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us. We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received. When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness. But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.
This is the definition of sin: the misuse of powers given us by God for doing good, a use contrary to God’s commandments. On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God’s command.

Since this is so, we can say the same about love. Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence and innate power and ability to love. The proof of this is not to be sought outside ourselves, but each one can learn this from himself and in himself. It is natural for us to want things that are good and pleasing to the eye, even though at first different things seem beautiful and good to different people. In the same way, we love what is related to us or near to us, though we have not been taught to do so, and we spontaneously feel well disposed to our benefactors.
What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and satisfying than God’s majesty? What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified of sin and cries out in its love: I am wounded by love? The radiance of the divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.

… What words can adequately describe God’s gifts? They are so numerous that they defy enumeration. They are so great that any one of them demands our total gratitude in response.

Yet even though we cannot speak of it worthily, there is one gift which no thoughtful man can pass over in silence. God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.

Then, when man was deceived by the serpent and fell into sin, which led to death and to all the sufferings associated with death, God still did not forsake him. He first gave man the law to help him; he set angels over him to guard him; he sent the prophets to denounce vice and to teach virtue; he restrained man’s evil impulses by warnings and roused his desire for virtue by promises. Frequently, by way of warning, God showed him the respective ends of virtue and of vice in the lives of other men. Moreover, when man continued in disobedience even after he had done all this, God did not desert him.

No, we were not abandoned by the goodness of the Lord. Even the insult we offered to our Benefactor by despising his gifts did not destroy his love for us. On the contrary, although we were dead, our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to life again, and in a way even more amazing than the fact itself, for his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.

He bore our infirmities and endured our sorrows. He was wounded for our sake so that by his wounds we might be healed. He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for our sake, and he submitted to the most ignominious death in order to exalt us to the life of glory. Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination.

How, then, shall we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? He is so good that he asks no recompense except our love: that is the only payment he desires. To confess my personal feelings, when I reflect on all these blessings I am overcome by a kind of dread and numbness at the very possibility of ceasing to love God and of bringing shame upon Christ because of my lack of recollection and my preoccupation with trivialities.

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Do you detect the interplay between these texts ? ! I did… What makes them transformative is not the profundity of the information contained in them, although it is profound. What makes them transformation is meeting and communing with Christ Jesus in and through them. The course of my life has changed because the Lord Jesus Christ, the “One Who has come,” “the One Who is present,” and “the coming One” encountered me and I Him, via these texts.

Fr. Thomas

Pre-Lent and Lent

Lent is coming… We need to listen again to the voice of the Forerunner, “Prepare the way…”

Here is a timely reflection. As I read it, the Lord, pointed out several things to me.

First, it signals the “directionality” of the Lenten journey on which we will soon embark. This journey is of return or repentance. Turning again… I turned away and I refresh and deepen my second turning which is back toward to God.

Second, I am reminded of the fact that God SEEKS the lost and the formerly lost. He is always facing me and seeking me. The invitation of lent is to deepen my facing God and in so doing to face myself – the darkness and the light within – and to be transformed more fully into the likeness of Christ Jesus.

Third, is my multifaceted response to His countenance. The dark remnants of my fallen identity (false identity) responses to being sought out by, sometimes, hiding. I don’t want to be sought and seen. I hide as did Adam and Eve. He reminded me of His conversation with Nicodemus and  the danger of seeking the darkness when the light shines. He reminded me that His light that shines in my life is for the purpose of salvation not condemnation. And, the yearning to have the fullness of being born anew touches an irrational fear that God will turn His gaze away from me and quiet seeking to fulfill the good work He has begun in me.

Perhaps this is what these passages (and many others) really mean.

“Hide not thy face from me. Turn not thy servant away in anger, thou who hast been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation!” Psalm 27.9

“Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51.11

God Bless your Lenten preparation.

Fr. Thomas

January 1 — What’s It To Ya ?!

January 1

Depending on the portion of the Body of Christ of which you are a part, today has different associations. Let me list the variety of associations:

  • The Octave Day (eighth day) of the Christmas that corresponds to the “first day” of a new year (age, season, opportunity, etc.)
  • The Circumcision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
  • The Holy Name of Jesus
  • The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus Christ
  • The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
  • World Day of Peace
  • Simply the first day of the New Year upon which you can pile whatever associations “works for you” (especially resolutions about how we are going to live “from now on”)
  • The Fiscal Cliff

Whichever association, they all have something in common. It is a threshold day, so to speak. A day that divides what was from what shall be without divorcing their complementary character. It is a day that reminds us in a special way of the threshold significance of every day, event, circumstance, relationship, etc. In this vein, I deeply resonate with the first three on the list. It is a day in which we can “examine and resolve.” There is a wonderful prefiguring and fulfillment interplay between them that is the source of fruitful contemplation.

I invite you to “take five” or “call a time out” and consider deeply where you have been and where you might need to be headed; and the adjustments this will require; and what it will take. OR are we going to choose to “kick the can down the road” one more time??

A very good friend sent this piece to me this morning. I found it to be helpful as I stand at this crossroads looking backward and forward and all around. As I “choose this day” so to speak how I will continue to walk. She said, “These seem like good thoughts to begin our new year today.” I wholeheartedly agree. I pass it along to you…

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George Carlin’s wife died early in 2008 and George followed her, dying in July 2008. It is ironic George Carlin – comedian of the 70’s and 80’s – could write something so very eloquent and so very appropriate. An observation by George Carlin:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, ‘I love you’ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.

George Carlin

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A Collect for Guidance
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, pg. 832)

A Blessing
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly andgive you peace! (Numbers 6)

Fr. Thomas