Whose Mercy Is Boundless And Love for Us Is Ineffable

One of the things i love about the “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” and Eastern Orthodoxy is that it does not present God as a wrathful judge Who demands satisfaction and appeasement. No matter where I have made contact with the Divine Liturgy in the context of Orthodoxy, this has been my experience. For that experience, I give great thanks.

Some might say that is not what they encountered or are encountering in Eastern Orthodoxy. I do not doubt that is true. Orthodoxy has its share of brokenness for it too is inhabited by sinners. But then, perhaps, just perhaps, sometimes we find what we expect to find and encounter what we expect to encounter.

The message offered, and which I have consistently encountered “again and again,” that shines forth and touches me, in spite of its brokenness, is the love and mercy of God. Christ Jesus’ sacrificial death is a life-sharing, life-creating, life-giving death not a life-ending death. The death of Christ Jesus is the death bears the fruit of life. That is the meaning of sacrifice, not appeasement or satisfaction.

And here is an important aspect of all of this. The irony. The treasure in earthen vessels – cracked pots. The need and the provision of mercy where judgment, a demand for satisfaction, would normally be the choice. Blessed are the merciful.

As we hear in the Divine Liturgy: “Lord, our God, whose power is beyond compare, and glory is beyond understanding; whose mercy is boundless, and love for us is ineffable; look upon us and upon this holy house in Your compassion. Grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy.”

———-

6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55.6-7)

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10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33.10-11)

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4 Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. 5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30.4-5)

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8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103. 8-12)

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“Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Oh, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the peopleladen with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters (Isaiah 1:4), as princes of Sodom (Isaiah 1:10), and upon the people who have become as the people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10): in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance–just as, after terrible lightning, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord–long-suffering and full of mercy: neither will He keep His anger forever (Psalm 103:9). Only if sinners cease to commit evil, and learn to do good, and turn to God with humility and repentance, will they become white as snow.The Lord is mighty and willing. No one but Him is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin, and by cleansing to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap–no matter how often it is washed and rewashed–it cannot achieve whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor, even with the help of all the means of the Law–until we, at last, bring it to the feet of God, spread out and opened wide, so that the light of God may illumine and whiten it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort. He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, to wring it out by repentance, to press it by the pangs of the conscience, and to clothe it with good deeds. After all of this, He calls us to Him: Come now, says the Lord, and let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18). That is, “I will look at you, and I will see if there is Me in you; and you will look upon Me, as in a mirror, and you will see what kind of person you are.”

O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the final wrath of that Dreadful Day.

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
Source: The Prologue, August 5th

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A Prayer After Receiving Communion

I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for Thou hast not rejected me, a sinner, but hast made me worthy to be a partaker of Thy Holy Things. I thank Thee, for Thou hast permitted me, the unworthy, to commune of Thy most pure and Heavenly, Gifts. But, O Master Who lovest mankind, Who for our sakes didst die and rise again, and gavest us these awesome and life-creating Mysteries for the good and sanctification of our souls and bodies; let them be for the healing of our soul and body, the repelling of every adversary, the illumining of the eyes of my heart, the peace of my spiritual power, a faith unashamed, a love unfeigned, the fulfilling of wisdom, the observing of Thy commandments, the receiving of Thy divine grace, and the attaining of Thy Kingdom. Preserved by them in Thy holiness, may I always remember Thy grace and live not for myself alone, but for Thee, our Master and Benefactor. May I pass from this life in the hope of eternal life, and so attain to the everlasting rest, where the voice of those who feast is unceasing, and the gladness of those who behold the goodness of Thy countenance is unending. For Thou art the true desire and the ineffable joy of those who love Thee, O Christ our God, and all creation sings Thy praise forever. Amen.

Epiphany/Theophany – Making Known and Being Known

I have blogged on several occasions regarding the burden and joy of language. It seems appropriate, on Epiphany/Theophany, to say something about knowing and making known and what that has to do with language.

We are created in the image of God. That means we not only “resemble” God (see 1 John) and are able to be the “in-templed” by God, but God is also able, via the Mystery of union, to express/share/reveal Himself through us (see 2 Corinthians 5). God desires to speak through us and so we are speakers.

Humans possess a mysterious ability to understand. Free will is involved. So is reason and intuition. Memory is one aspect of that capacity and gives us the ability to relate to what we call “the past.” Another is story-telling. Yet another is a certain attitude or way of relating to what we call “the future.”

The aspect that captures my attention this morning is articulation. As I said, mankind speaks, portrays, and explains. But why? What is the drive and what is the goal? God’s design is one thing. Our design might be another. Let’s take the noblest course.

We seek to include the other in our own life. We do this by sharing our very life in the form of articulation. Our words and deeds (which include a huge variety of things) are not, primarily, for the purpose of sharing information but of sharing our very self. The goal in this sharing is to find the one and the many who also seek to share their very self. The desire is for a moment and a lifetime of mutuality. In essence we seek to share a common life – commune – “to become one with.” This involves invitation and response.

This sharing is essentially relational and not propositional.

Of course the opening chapter of St. John’s gospel seeks to communicate this by referring to the Son of God as the “Word of God” and specific language regarding “invitation” and “response” and “union.”

None of this is vague in St. John’s gospel although it is certainly what, over the centuries, we have defined as mystical. The communion that communication seeks can never be vague. It must “become flesh.”

All of this involves articulation – the real, honest to goodness, use of language. The written, spoken, and acted out forms of articulation offer us the opportunity to do what we were designed to do – remember, share, pass on what is of essential value, and live in a “leaning into the future” kind of way with a specific kind of expectancy. All for the purpose of achieving not just relational but ontological union (without confusion of identities).

This leads me to share the conviction I was taught and have held for as long as I can remember – salvation is essentially a “conversation.” Now it should be obvious from all I have said that I intend for you to hear the word “conversation” as meaning something more than the “exchange of information.” Our salvation, being essentially conversational, is in and of itself transformative life-giving and life-bearing. There are several reasons:

  • It means that salvation is not, primarily, about assent to certain propositions.
  • Salvation is a relationship not only with God but with other humans and the whole creation.
  • Salvation, if conversation’s goal is shared life, is about shared life – union – the highest form of assent to the truth!
  • It validates the undeniable fact that we all have “inner conversations” going on within us and the most important one is “who am I?!” and “why am I here?!” and “does my life have meaning?!” All of those questions, we come to realize, are not, after all, “I” questions but “I/Thou” questions. This is what reconciliation is supposed to mean and be. Life giving interplay between persons committed to relationship in which there is a journey to a new place for both rather than a struggle to get the other person to “agree with me.”
  • The conversation is across time and space and involves the created universe not just the universe of ideas. (The Word is flesh too.)
  • The conversation bears a result or fruit. Notice I do not just the word product or result. Those are mechanical terms. No, the words must be organic. They must speak of the extension and reproduction and reestablishment of life.

This is all very risky and requires boundaries as well as inclusivity.

Remember that “noblest course” I spoke of earlier? Let’s revisit that for just a second. Articulation and intent can’t be divided. Why do we articulate in all the various ways we do so? Is it to unite or deepen the division? Is it to save or to punish and condemn? These are questions that go to the very heart of our definitions of what we conceive is going on with regard to the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Why does Jesus go to the cross? Is it about the wrath of God or the love of God?

The intention of our articulation is another way of saying our intention of relating to one another. Why do we seek to understand and be understood? Is it about wrath or love? Is it about control or reconciliation – moving to the new “place” that provides the opportunity for union? Is it about the reestablishment of relational union?

The Epistle of James speaks about the tongue and its power to condemn and to save. As far as I am concerned the word “tongue” includes actions as well as words. Our
identity/vocation is, in many and varied ways, to make the life-giving Word of God available in an accessible way to people in a life-giving way. It is our highest nobility as persons to do so.

Jesus’ articulation of God the Father in word and deed was/is, in His own words, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.”

At Great Compline for the feast of Theophany one of the canticles says:

Christ is baptized.
He comes up from the water.
With Himself He raises up the world.
He sees the heavens opened which Adam had shut
against Himself and His posterity.
The Spirit affirms the divinity,
since He rushes to join One Who is also divine.
A voice comes from heaven,
for from heaven comes the One Whom the Spirit affirms:
He is the Savior of our souls.

Christ Jesus articulates salvation not condemnation. His use of language that saves instead of condemns. Indeed, I say it again, He is the Word of salvation. Life in Him offers what the world never offers the conversation of salvation – reestablished union through mercy – for us all. So:

Therefore let us all run to the Jordan!
Let us see how John baptizes the sinless brow of One not made by human hands!
Let us in unison join in the Apostle’s song:
“The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all,
shining on the faithful and granting them great mercy.” Source

If we run to the Jordan – say yes to the invitation to endlessly saving conversation, where will it take us? I don’t know and yet I do know.

Let me note another risky aspect regarding verbal and non-verbal language. Here we spiral back around to where we started – mystery. Where will it take us? Deeper and deeper into the heart of God – into Truth, Way, and Life that is Incarnational and actual not simply conceptual or theoretical. Into paradox – into “I don’t know and yet I know.”

Paradox. Communication is paradoxical. Simply put, it is because communication is for the purpose of understanding. We desire to understand and be understood. And we are persons who seek it. Persons, not formulas and objects. Persons.

Language in all of its forms is our way of “putting words on” our need to commune with the “other(s).” But, our need for understanding, if it is to be fully realized, must move into the realm of mystery. If we really desire to understand, we will come to the realization that we will never stop. True understanding is a never ending quest. At one and the same time we understand and yet we know we have understood if we understand there is more to understand about what we have just understood ! ! That is the distinction between mechanical understanding and organic understanding. Saving or transformational understanding does or at least could result in relational union.

St. Maximus the Confessor says this about the revelatory – making known – aspect of the Incarnation:

The Word of God, born once on the level of the flesh, is always born willingly for those who desire it on the level of the spirit, because of his love for men. He becomes an infant, forming himself in them by the virtues; he manifests himself in just the measure of which he knows the one who is receiving him is capable. It is not through any ill-will that he diminishes the manifestation of his own majesty; it is rather that he weighs the capacity of those who desire to see him. And so, though the Word of God is always manifested in the life of those who share in him, yet because the mystery is transcendent, he remains always invisible to all.

Thus the holy Apostle, in wise consideration of the meaning of the mystery, says: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever’ – he knows that the mystery is always new, that the mind in understanding it will never deprive it of its freshness. Source

So, one of the keys to knowing is knowing you don’t fully know and seek to do so and it will take forever. Some have called this the “beginner’s mind.” It is the sweet spot of knowing you don’t know and yet that is how you know.

Our knowledge is partial but not statically so. Our knowledge is gaining width, depth, and height (Ephesians 3 and I Corinthians 13). Why? Because it is relational – conversational. Our vow of ongoing conversation – conversatio morum – is essentially our baptismal vow of relational immersion and fidelity in which we are knowable, inviting others in and saying yes to the invitation into the life of others. It is the scariest and the most rewarding aspect of human life.

St. Augustine speaks of it Eucharistically. Indeed, it is the very heart of the Divine Liturgy. After all we do call it “Holy Communion.” And indeed it is that in more ways than many of us might have been willing to acknowledge:

What man knows all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ and concealed in the poverty of his flesh? Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich. When he made mortality his own and made away with death, he appeared in poverty; but he promised riches, riches that were only deferred – he did not lose riches that were taken way from him.

How great is the abundance of his goodness which he hides for those who fear him, which he perfects for those who hope in him! Our knowledge is partial until what is perfect comes. To make us fit to receive this perfection, he who is equal to the Father in the form of God and made like to us in the form of a slave, transforms us to the likeness of God. The only Son of God, made son of man, makes many sons of men sons of God. The slaves, sustained by the visible form of the slave, he frees and makes children so that they may see the form of God.

We are God’s children; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. What are those measures of wisdom and knowledge, what are those divine riches, except what is sufficient for us? What is that abundance of goodness, except what fills us? Show us the Father, then, and it is sufficient for us.

In one of the psalms someone says to him from among us or within us or for us: I shall be filled when your glory is manifested. He and the Father are one: whoever sees him sees the Father also. So then, he, the Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory. He will bring us back, he will show us his face; and we shall be saved, we shall be filled, he will be sufficient for us.

Until this happens, until he shows us what is sufficient for us, until we drink him as the fountain of life and are filled, – until then we are exiles from him and walk by faith, until then we hunger and thirst for justice, and long with a passion beyond words for the beauty of the form of God; – until then, let us celebrate his birth in the form of a slave with humble devotion.

We are not yet able to contemplate the fact that he was begotten by the Father before the dawn, but let our minds dwell on the fact that he was born of the Virgin during the hours of night. We do not yet grasp that his name endures before the sun, but let us acknowledge his tent placed in the sun.

Though we still do not behold the only Son abiding in his Father, let us remember the Bridegroom coming out from his bridal room. Though we are still unready for our Father’s banquet, let us acknowledge the manger of our Lord Jesus Christ. Source

The genuine “I don’t know,” that is spoken by someone that leans into relational knowing and being known is rare. It is wisdom. It is The Way.

One day some old men came to see Abba Antony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and he replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Antony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know’.” Source

The space into which the revelation of the Son of God shines and abides is the heart of the man and woman who knows they do not know and desires to know; the heart of the man and woman who is alone and realizes “it is not good for man (and woman) to be alone” and seeks to no longer be alone but rather to become one again – the reestablishment of relational union not only with God but with others and the whole created order. And this not in some vague philosophical way. No, it must be a union of body and spirit. To know and be known in fullness of being now and ever and to ages of ages.

God is communicating. Using language to articulate the inexpressible, Himself. He is the message He speaks. The ultimate articulation of Himself is His sharing of Himself. This is why the Holy Eucharist is normative and essential to our salvation. The conversation of relational union is salvation. Behold the Lamb of God. Behold the Word made flesh. Behold Christ Jesus revealed in and as Love. Behold the other and yourself in the beholding of Christ Jesus in love.

The paths of true understanding that arise out all of this are many and intriguing and saving.

Holy Things Are For The Holy — Really? Really!

In the Divine Liturgy, just before the faithful are invited to receive the body and blood of Christ, the celebrant says, “Let us be attentive! Holy things are for the holy.”

The faithful respond, “One is Holy, the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.”

On the surface, it seems, the exchange would be saying, “you can come and receive these holy things (the body and blood of Christ) only if you are as holy as Christ Himself.” In turn, that would, on the surface, seem to disqualify everyone from receiving. After all, we are not as holy as Jesus.

So, why does that dialogue occur? Surely it could not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.

We hear it that way because it touches broken need that is still operative within us to merit God’s love and gifts. And, it is supposed to do just that, to challenge us and yet invite us…

Truly, holy things are for the holy. And truly, only one is holy – the Lord Jesus Christ. AND, we are holy because we have been united with Jesus Christ. So, the holiness of Jesus Christ is our holiness. It is important to register that this is not a “borrowed” holiness. It is really our holiness!! What is His is ours!! God is not pretending we are holy.

That challenges, I dare say, a lot of presuppositions about what salvation is… Is it pretending or is it real? Are we just patched up versions of the old broken persons or new beings? Are we living from Sunday to Sunday attempting “one more time” to get it right this time?

“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table, O Lord,” the prayer of humble access says in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. And how misunderstood is that prayer!!!!! In that prayer and every other pre-communion prayer like it, we are saying just the opposite of what we seem to be saying. In and of ourselves, in the presence of God, we are not “worthy” and should never presume to “draw near” receive communion. But we do not approach in and of ourselves. We approach in and of Christ Jesus. In fact, that is a lot of the point of what has occurred during the Holy Eucharist – being able to “draw near” attentively and legitimately “in and of Christ.” We abide in Christ. We are of Christ. We are holy by grace not by pretending. We, during the Liturgy “wake up” to who we really are and approach as we truly are, consciously and without pretending.

So, is there no room for striving. Well, yes and no. There is no room for striving if that striving is for a work we can show God for the purpose of proving our worthiness. That would be boosting and there is no room for that (see Ephesians 2). But there is room for striving if it is for the purpose of abiding in Christ Jesus and  co-operating with the Holy Spirit in the expression of the union we enjoy with in our thoughts, words, and deeds (working out the salvation that has been worked into us). There is no desire to boast in this kind of striving. There is a desire to bless the world and be blessed as a result. A desire to live what we celebrate – the Holy Eucharist.

Pope Francis puts it this way in his audience of October 2nd:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In the Creed, we confess our faith that the Church is “holy”. But how can we say that the Church is holy when she is all too evidently made up of sinners? Saint Paul helps us to see things aright when he tells us that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy” (Eph 5:25-26). The Church is inseparably one with Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is not ourselves, or our merits, which make the Church holy, but God himself, through the infinite merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. God calls all of us, as sinners, to be redeemed, renewed and made holy in the communion of the Church. So the Church constantly welcomes everyone, even the greatest sinners, to trust in God’s offer of loving mercy, and to encounter Christ in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Let us not be afraid to respond to Christ’s call, to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit and to pray and strive for that holiness which brings true joy to our lives.

We can boldly draw near, not in our own righteousness (our own worthiness in the sight of God apart from Christ as a result of how “good we have been this week”) but in His. But, His righteousness is our righteousness. This sheds light on the sacrament of reconciliation. It is, among other things, letting go of a very basis sign of needing to be righteous in and of ourselves in the sight of God – to be worthy.

The old prayer of humble access and every pre-communion prayer like it is our re-articulation of what God has been saying during the entirety of the Divine Liturgy — “you are worthy, you are loved.” We must re-articulate it in such a way as to establish, however, that the worthiness is not ours in and of ourselves but ours (truly ours) in and of Christ Jesus. This mystery of an “unworthy worthiness” and “holiness”  and the journey of living it more and more consummately is salvation. In Christ Jesus we are holy without pretending. What is His is ours. Who He is by nature, we are by grace.

The beauty of salvation. The elegant mystery of mercy. The artistic perfection of faith.

Truly, “holy things are for the holy… Draw near in faith.”

Come to the feast — Eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart…

Again I dwell on the splendor and sweetness of the Eucharistic feast – the mysterious fulfillment of the promise that we would have joy in fullness regardless of our circumstances.

In the temple of old, the faithful chant and sing…

Psalm 117 (118)
[15] Hark, glad songs of victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
[16] the right hand of the LORD is exalted,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
[24] This is the day which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
[27] The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar!
[28] Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to thee;
thou art my God, I will extol thee.
[29] O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever!

In the temple built anew that fulfills the old which is His very Body, the faithful chant and sing…

Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
come into the daylight’s splendor,
there with joy thy praises render
unto him whose grace unbounded
hath this wondrous banquet founded;
high o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.

Now I sink before thee lowly,
filled with joy most deep and holy,
as with trembling awe and wonder
on thy mighty acts I ponder;
how, by mystery surrounded,
depths no man hath ever sounded,
none may dare to pierce unbidden
secrets that with thee are hidden.

Sun, who all my life dost brighten;
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy, the sweetest man e’er knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth:
at thy feet I cry, my Maker,
let me a fit partaker
of this blessed food from heaven,
for our good, thy glory, given.

Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee,
let me gladly here obey thee;
never to my hurt invited,
be thy love with love requited;
from this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
through the gifts thou here dost give me,
as thy guest in heaven receive me.
Source: Oremus Hymnal

A reading from “The Commentary on Ecclesiastes by St. Gregory of Agrigento

“Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favours your works.” (Eccles 9.7)
If we want to explain this sentence in an obvious and ordinary way, we rightly assert that it appears as a just exhortation by which the Preacher admonishes us to embrace a simple rule of life dedi­cated to sincere faith in God and joyfully eat bread and drink wine in peace of mind; not to slip into evil conversations, nor wander into roundabout paths; but rather to dwell always on good things and, insofar as we can, benevolently and kindly come to the aid of the poor and needy. We must abandon ourselves precisely to those sentiments and actions in which God himself takes delight.

However, the anagogical explanation brings us to a higher knowledge and teaches us to consider the celestial and mystical bread which has come down from heaven and brought life to the world; and with a right heart to drink the spiritual wine, namely, that which issued from the side of the true vine immediately at the moment of his saving passion. Concerning these, the gospel of our salvation says: Taking bread and giving thanks, Jesus said to his disciples and Apostles: Take this and eat it: this is my body, which is sacrificed for you in remission of sins. Similarly, he took the cup and said: All of you must drink from it, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. Hence, those who eat this bread and drink this mystical wine really rejoice and exult and can exclaim in a loud voice: You put gladness into my heart.

Furthermore, I believe that even in the Book of Proverbs the Wisdom of God subsisting in himself, namely, Christ our Saviour, referred to this bread and wine when he said: Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed, indicating the mystical participation in the Word. Indeed, those to whom these words are to be applied, because of their merits, at all times present their vestments as works of light no less resplendent than the light itself, as the Lord says in the gospels: Your light must shine before all so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father. In this way, oil may perpetually be poured out over their heads, that is, the Spirit of truth, who protects and preserves them from any sinful offence. Source: TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ORDINARY TIME, WEEKS 18 to 34: YEAR II

In the fear of God and with faith draw near. Receive the Body of Christ; taste the fountain of immortality. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Shepherd of (Pilgrim) Souls, Refresh and Bless

arrowI love the Divine Liturgy. I find in it a fathomless treasure. It, along with Holy Baptism, constitute the normative and essential cornerstone of the Holy Tradition — our environment of transformation — the Way, Truth, and Life. This morning I am blessed by the “way” in which it encourages us and provides the very opportunity for us to be nourished by the example, companionship, and voice of a great cloud of witnesses with whom we share our discipleship. The journey, the pilgrimage of our salvation (our camino of transfiguration). See, among so many other Biblical passages, Hebrews 11-12. This is a company that exhibits the characteristic of mutuality We give and receive the transformative power of fellowship in the Spirit.

The head of this great company of witnesses is Christ Jesus Himself. He was not immune to the need for the encouragement of those with whom He shared life in the Father (see Matthew 26).

One of my favorite Eucharistic hymns is “Shepherd of Souls”:

Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless
thy chosen pilgrim flock
with manna in the wilderness,
with water from the rock.

We would not live by bread alone,
but by thy word of grace,
in strength of which we travel on
to our abiding place.

Be known to us in breaking bread,
and do not then depart;
Savior, abide with us, and spread
thy table in our heart.

Lord, sup with us in love divine,
thy Body and thy Blood,
that living bread, that heavenly wine,
be our immortal food.

Our Lord shepherds us by, among other things, being an example to us of life in the Father and, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, offering us this very same example in the life of our brothers and sisters in the faith not only in our own generation but across the boundaries of time and space.   This example is Eucharistic food for us. By it we are nourished to walk the way (the camino of sainthood).

St. Augustine voices this mystery in his reflection on Psalm 38 (39):

The just shall see and be afraid, and hope in the Lord.”
Those who already have their feet firmly fixed on the rock should be a model for the faithful: As St Paul says, become a model for the faithful. The faithful themselves are just. They take notice of those who outstrip them in goodness, they imitate and follow them. How do they follow them? The just shall see, and be afraid. They shall see, and be afraid to follow the wicked ways when they see that some better people have already chosen good ways. They say in their heart, in the same way as travellers are accustomed to, when they notice others walking on the road with supreme confidence while they themselves are still unsure of the road, and in two minds about which way they should go. They are not going this way without good reason, when they are going to the place where they want to go. And why are they going this way with such confidence other than because it is dangerous to go that way? Therefore the just shall see, and be afraid. They see a narrow road on the one side, they see a wide road on the other. On the one they see only a handful, on the other quite a crowd. But if you are just, do not simply count them, but weigh them up. Bring a well-balanced pair of scales, not one you have adjusted, because the name you yourself bear is ‘the just one’.

The just shall see, and be afraid – this refers to you. Do not spend your time, then, counting the hordes of men and women who take the wide roads, filling tomorrow’s circus, celebrating the city’s birthday with their shouting, while at the same time befouling the city with their evil living. Do not follow them, then! There are many of them, and who could possibly count them? But there are only a few who take the narrow road. I am telling you, produce a pair of scales, weigh them. Compare the amount of chaff it takes to balance a few grains. This is what the faithful just who are follow­ing should do.

The just shall see, and be afraid, and hope in the Lord. It is like what there is in another psalm: I have lifted up my eyes to the hills. By hills we understand the spiritual elite of the Church, significant and outstanding figures, outstanding for their solidity rather than by their pride. It is through them that all Scripture has been dispensed to us. These are the Prophets, the evangelists, the sound teachers. That is the place to which I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from which help will come to me. And in case you think that this help is human, the psalmist goes on to say: My help is from the Lord who has made heaven and earth. The just shall see, and be afraid, and hope in the Lord. Source: TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ORDINARY TIME, WEEKS 18 to 34: YEAR II

At All Times and In All Places … Let Us Be Grateful

Celebrant    Let us stand well. Let us stand in awe. Let us be attentive, that we may present the holy offering in peace.
People          A mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.
Celebrant    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
People          And with your spirit.
Celebrant    Let us lift up our hearts.
People          We lift them up to the Lord.
Celebrant    Let us give thanks to the Lord.
People          It is proper and right to worship the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit: the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.

Celebrant   It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You brought us into being out of nothing, and when we fell, You raised us up again. You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come. For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit; for all things that we know and do not know, for blessings seen and unseen that have been bestowed upon us… (The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

From “The Homilies on Matthew,” by St. John Chrysostom
Let us give thanks to God throughout our lives. For how wrong it would be, if every day we enjoyed his blessings in deed, and yet in word gave him no return, and that too when an offering of gratitude would but increase our advantage. For God needs noth­ing from us, but we need everything from him. So our thanks are of no profit to him, but they make us more worthy of him. For if the memory of their kindness towards us deepens our love for our fellow men, how much more will the perpetual memory of the Lord’s goodness to us make us more eager to keep his commands.

For the best safeguard of a kindness is to remember it with everlasting gratitude. That is why that awe-inspiring and life-giv­ing sacrament which we celebrate at every gathering is called the Eucharist. It is the commemoration of many blessings and the culmination of divine providence, and teaches us to give thanks always.

For if to be born of a Virgin was a great miracle, and the amazed evangelist wrote of it: All this happened, what can we say of the Lord’s sacrifice? For if the Lord’s birth was called all this, what should we call his crucifixion, the shedding of his blood, and his giving himself to us as a spiritual feast? Therefore we must give thanks to him continuously, and let thanksgiving be the motive of all we do and say. And let us give thanks not only for our own blessings, but for those of our neighbours too. Thus we shall be able to rid ourselves of envy, and increase our love and make it more sincere. For to continue to envy those on whose behalf we give thanks to the Lord will be impossible.

Therefore the priest too, when that sacrifice is set before him, bids us give thanks for the whole world, for the old dispensation and the new, for all that was done for us before and all that awaits us hereafter. For this sets us free from earth and turns us towards heaven, and makes angels out of men. Even the very angels, in heavenly choirs, give thanks to God for his goodness to us, as they sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men in whom he is well pleased.

But what is this to us who are not on earth and are not men? It means a great deal, for it teaches us so to love our fellow-servants that we rejoice in their good fortune as if it were our own. It is for that reason that St Paul in all his letters gives thanks for the blessings of the whole world. So let us too give everlasting thanks for all the gifts, large or small, that are given both to ourselves and to others.

 

Taste and See that the Lord is Good

The Gospel reading for today invites us to contemplate the mysterious character of God, and His divinely instituted environment for our salvation, the Holy Tradition. It is an invitation to experience an even more complete expression of joy in our everyday life by embracing the challenge to continue (persevere in) living the resurrected life of Christ Jesus.christ chalice

John 14.7-14
[7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”
[8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
[9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’?
[10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
[11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
[12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
[13] Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
[14] if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.

God is unseeable and unapproachable

The Scriptures tells us that God is “the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15). “No man has God at any time” (John 1.18). Indeed, He is the One Whom “no man has seen nor can see”(1 Timothy 6.16).

He “dwells in unapproachable light.”(1 Timothy 6.16)

And yet, God is not only seeable but commands men and women to approach Him and touch Him!!

“No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1.18)

“All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.27-28)

“…we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’ (John 1.14). ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9).

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1.1-4)

“And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24.38-43)

The saving paradigm is characterized by mystery. Mystery “includes” in a unique way. It is uncompromisingly inclusive of what, in any other environment, would see as an “either or.” It articulates a way of living a “both and” life without becoming vague and indecisive. Just the opposite. When we maintain a need to solve what we perceive as a problem of “either or,” we are, many times, opting out of God’s mysterious will and opting in for a knowable will. Indeed, the will of God, like God, is both knowable and unknowable at the same time. Yikes…

In the “either or” paradigm God as unseen and unapproachable is inherently inconsistent or contradictory to God as seeable and approachable and touchable. The perceived need is to relate to God as one of these and then the other. Back and forth. It is a life of pendulum swings between extremes. In contrast, the matrix of the Kingdom is one of union. In order to encounter God as God in spirit and truth, we cannot do so in an “either or” mode but in a “both and” mode. The apostles did not create a “both and” environment in order to relate to God as unseen and seen, unapproachable and approachable. Rather, they received a matrix that was divinely instituted. Indeed, they received the environment that was/is the very life of God Himself. The boldness and effectiveness of the ministry of the apostles issued forth from the fertile environment which is the Trinitarian/Incarnational life of God. In Him they lived and moved and ministered. As disciples of the risen Christ Jesus, we are not recipients of a message that proclaims a repackaging of our paradigm. Hope and life are not the fruit such a repackaging or reinventing of the old. The Gospel is a message of hope because it offers a completely new life. That new life is the source of hope to those who have no more hope.

We are invited by Jesus, just like the first disciples, to die to one matrix of life and be born to another no matter where we find it – in the world, inside ourselves, or even within the church. Unless we do, to take the subtlety of the mystery even deeper, we will not be able to “see the kingdom of God” let alone “enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3.1-10
[1] Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode’mus, a ruler of the Jews.
[2] This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”
[3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
[4] Nicode’mus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
[5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
[6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
[7] Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.’
[8] The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”
[9] Nicode’mus said to him, “How can this be?”
[10] Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?

It is this life that is offered in and through the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is the Mystery of God. It portrays, offers, and is the very experience of the Life of God. The Divine Liturgy is faithful to the radical command of Jesus to not just lay eyes on Him but eat and drink Him!! Because of this we hear:

“It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.”

“No one bound by worldly desires and pleasures is worthy to approach, draw near or minister to You, the King of glory. To serve You is great and awesome even for the heavenly powers. But because of Your ineffable and immeasurable love for us, You became man without alteration or change… Therefore, I implore You, look upon me, Your sinful and unworthy servant, and cleanse my soul and heart from evil consciousness…”

In the fear of God and with faith draw near. Receive the Body of Christ; taste the fountain of immortality. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-c.208), Bishop, theologian and martyr, articulates the Mystery in this way:

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5.8). True, since the Father cannot be grasped, “no man can see God and live” (Ex 33.20) in his majesty and inexpressible glory. But in his love, his goodness to us and almighty power, he does go so far as to give to those who love him the privilege of seeing God…, for “what is impossible to man is possible to God” (Lk 18.27). Of himself man will not see God; but God, if he wishes, will be seen by men, by those he wants, when he wants and as he wants, for God can do all things. In former times he was seen according to prophecy thanks to the Spirit, then he was seen according to adoption thanks to the Son, and he will be seen in the Kingdom of heaven according to his fatherhood. For the Spirit makes us ready beforehand for the Son of God; the Son leads us to the Father; and the Father gives us an immortal nature and the eternal life that follows from this sight of God for all who see it.

For those who see the light are in the light and share in its splendor, and so those who see God are in God and share in his splendor. And God’s splendor gives life: therefore, those who see God share in his life. Against the Heresies 4, 20, 4-5 ; SC 100

Borrowing from our cultural narrative that seems to articulate a need to take a serious look at our presuppositions, Morpheus says to Neo, “Welcome to the desert of the real…”

Fr. Thomas

The Doors of Repentance — The Gates of Paradise

The readings from the Roman Catholic lectionary for today are the following:

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138:1-2a, 2b-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11
Luke 5:1-11

These texts and the reflections attending them from a variety of sites I use on a regular basis nourish me in several ways this morning.

First, they remind me of the revelation-repentance-commissioning/revelation pattern of the Jesus Prayer. I am struck by the archetypical pattern displayed in both the calling of Isaiah and Simon (see also the calling of Saul of Tarsus?!)  not surprisingly, therefore, this is the order of the Divine Liturgy. The “order” speaks of the life-giving Lord. See below, #3,regarding the term “ordinary.” The reflection that confirmed and deepened that realization can be found here.

Second, the readings also speak, when read in a larger “order” offered in the gospel of Luke, of the gradual (orderly) call not sudden (isolated and individualist) call of Simon. A reflection that nurtures this revelation can be found here:

Third, I am always delightfully blessed by the term “ordinary” in its liturgical/sacramental usage. Scott P. Richert, offers these words:

Definition: Ordinary Time refers to all of those parts of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year that aren’t included in the major seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter). Ordinary Time is a feature of the current (post-Vatican II) liturgical calendar. In the traditional Catholic calendar (before 1970), the Sundays of Ordinary Time were referred to as the Sundays After Epiphany and the Sundays After Pentecost.

Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. Thus, Ordinary Time is in fact the ordered life of the Church…

Spiralling to a revisiting of the first reflection to which I referred you, by Larry Gillick, S.J. we hear this about “ordinary”:

We move along ordinary, (the word means “ordered” or “orderly” not boring), days which have their unordinary moments. The liturgy of the Eucharist is an ordinary exercise of an extra-ordinary event. The grace of the Eucharist experienced in community, moves us out and back to the orderly living of this unusual vision of life which is Christianity.

We prepare for the celebration of this weekend’s liturgy by receiving the sacraments of each moment, each person, each invitation and interruption. God is never not-giving, not-offering, not preparing us for living what we receive. Grace orders or gives form to chaos and disorder.

The Divine Liturgy is essential and normative for many reasons. Among them is the fact that it offers us the vocabulary to refer to everyday life as “ordinary life.”  ordinary life is Eucharistic life.

So, the “order” of a thing or person is the pattern or larger progression or movement of which it is a part. I remember taking the math section of the standardized tests -SAT, ACT, etc. – and being asked to “name the next number in the following series.” (1, 3, 11, 43, ?) the idea was that each of the listed numbers was included because it spoke of a larger progression of which it was a part (4a-1=x). The numbers were included and received their meaning/identity because they were in harmony/union with a larger prototype or master definer. Numbers can be related to as isolation things or as part of a set. 3 is 3 because of 1, 2, and 4… 3 can never mean anything outside of that relational context… What is more, the 1,2, and 4 don’t mean much without 3. So also each of us and the events of our life. There is a mutual interdependence – a union – spoken of that transcends the individuality. The individual/isolational dies and the personal/relational is born.

God bless you today as you stand knocking at the doors of repentance in response to the voice within that offers the promise of new life — the Gates of Paradise (ongoing transformation) — in the Lenten/Pascha Pilgrimage (the journey of “joyful sorrow” – the “Lenten Spring”).

“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.”
(From: Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, trs., The Lenten Triodion (London 1978), p. 101.)

Fr. Thomas

The Divine Liturgy — Eden Redux but not Revision — Enter the City

Meditatio:

The Divine Liturgy as a redux of the encounter between Adam and Eve and the Lord in the garden in which He says that they may eat of every tree in the garden but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Divine Liturgy is a rehearsal of how the Lord intended for that encounter to have developed. Be blessed by the parallels. Don’t forget to include in your consideration the record of the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Emmaus, St. Paul’s warnings about how to approach the sacrament, the vision of the City of God and its activities in Revelation, etc., etc…. Our salvation involves an actual (real) revisitation of the event not for the purpose of rewriting the story but for the purpose of redeeming the story by means of the very same action. (No room for the merely symbolic here. Nothing of the shallow meaning of the word remembrance.) That opportunity does not lead us back but leads us forward. Salvation is not circular nor is it simply linear. It is a spiral. We revisit in order to move forward. It is, therefore, for your further consideration, a real participation in the beatific feast or the Kingdom consummated spoken of by our Lord.

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas