Join with Me in the Banquet Room of God and Give Him Thanks

“When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14.15-16)

We are invited to the banquet every day. It is good to enter into the great banquet room of God, the very day He has made. We are invited to rejoice and be glad in this banquet room. While it may not appear to be the banquet room of God’s victory, we do not judge by appearances. We have eyes to see the redemption of all things. It is all the more good and fitting to give thanks to God in concert with the faithful. Join with me at the beginning of each and every day, knowing it to be the banquet room of the Holy One, and take time to extol the greatness of God in our lives.

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Psalm 9.1-2
1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in thee,
I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High.

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O Existing One, Master and Lord; O God, the almighty and adorable Father: it is truly proper, right, and befitting the majesty of Your holiness to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You, to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only God Who truly exists, and to offer You this our rational worship with a contrite heart and in a spirit of humility, for You have granted us the knowledge of Your truth. Who can relate your mighty acts? Or make all Your praises known? Who can tell of all Your miracles at all times? O Master of all, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation both visible and invisible, You sit upon the throne of glory and behold the depths. You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, and immutable. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the great God and Savior, our hope. He is the image of Your goodness, the seal of Your equal likeness. In Himself He is expressing You, the Father. He is the living Word, the true God, the eternal Wisdom, the Life, the Sanctification, the Power, the true Light. Through Him was revealed the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth; the Gift of sonship; the Pledge of future inheritance; the First Fruits of eternal blessing; the life-creating Power; the Fountain of sanctification. Through Him every creature of reason and understanding is empowered, worshipping You and sending up to You the eternal hymn of glory, for all things are subject to You. You are praised by angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, and the many-eyed Cherubim. Around You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces, with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly, crying one to another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Your glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

With these blessed powers, O loving Master, we sinners also cry aloud and say: You are holy, most holy, and there are no bounds to the majesty of Your holiness. You are holy in all Your works, for with righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. When You created man by taking dust from the earth, honoring him with Your own image, O God, You set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of eternal blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when man disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was misled by the deception of the serpent, he became subject to death through his own transgressions. In Your righteous judgment, O God, You expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ Himself. For You, O good One, did not desert forever Your creature whom You had made. Nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but through the tender compassion of Your mercy, You visited him in various ways: You sent prophets. You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants, the prophets, who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the law as a help. You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us by Your Son Himself, through Whom You also made the ages. He, being the Radiance of Your glory and the Image of Your person, upholding all things by the word of His power, thought it not robbery to be equal to You, the God and Father. He was God before the ages, yet He appeared on earth and lived among men. Becoming incarnate from a holy virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being conformed to the body of our lowliness, that He might conform us to the image of His glory. For since through a man sin entered the world, and through sin death, so it pleased Your only-begotten Son Who was in the bosom of You, the God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, born under the law, to condemn sin in His own flesh, so that those who were dead in Adam might be made alive in Himself – Your Christ. He lived in this world and gave us commandments of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He brought us to knowledge of You, the true God and Father. He obtained us for Himself, to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us in water, and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as a ransom to death, in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending through the Cross into Hades that He might fill all things with Himself, He destroyed the torments of death. And rising on the third day, He made a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible for the Author of Life to be overcome by corruption. So He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the First-born of the dead, that He, Himself, might truly be the first in all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of Your majesty on high, and He will come to render to each man according to his works. (The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great)

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Psalm 145
1 I will extol thee, my God and King,
and bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless thee,
and praise thy name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of thy majesty,
and on thy wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 Men shall proclaim the might of thy terrible acts,
and I will declare thy greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of thy abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O Lord,
and all thy saints shall bless thee!
11 They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom,
and tell of thy power,
12 to make known to the sons of men thy mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of thy kingdom.
13 Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and thy dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to thee,
and thou givest them their food in due season.
16 Thou openest thy hand,
thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him,
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him;
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

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Christ our God, You are the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. You have fulfilled all the dispensation of the Father. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness always, now and forever… For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You, the Father of lights. To You we give glory, thanksgiving, and worship, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

We Understand/See/Know in the Context of Being Understood/Seen/Known

All is gift.

The moment of relational understanding, seeing, and knowing is not the result of a talent we acquire. It is a gift we are given. What is more, this gift is giving in the context of all of these being true regarding us. It is because we are understood that we can receive understanding. It is because we are seen that we can see, it is because we are known that we can know.

This is the one of the root lessons of the story of the encounter between Nathaniel and Jesus.

All is gift. All is to be received with gladness and gratitude — eucharisto.

Pope Benedict XVI articulated this mystery beautifully:

“…the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” (Jn 1: 47). This is praise reminiscent of the text of a Psalm: “Blessed is the man… in whose spirit there is no deceit” (32[31]: 2), but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who answers in amazement:  “How do you know me?” (Jn 1: 48).

Jesus’ reply cannot immediately be understood. He says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (Jn 1: 48).  We do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.

His heart is moved by Jesus’ words, he feels understood and he understands: “This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man”. And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1: 49). In this confession is conveyed a first important step in the journey of attachment to Jesus.

Nathanael’s words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus’ identity: he is recognized both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the People of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements because if we only proclaim Jesus’ heavenly dimension, we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being; and if, on the contrary, we recognize only his concrete place in history, we end by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him. Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, October 4, 2006

All My Cares

“Just as I am without one plea…”

All my cares are “laid aside” as I behold and approach the altar of God set in the wilderness (or ruins if you prefer the urban image) of my everyday life. And where are these burdens/cares laid? They are placed into the love scared hands of Jesus. Oh that my own care-ridden and inconsistent asceticism/obedience by this “laying aside” would blossom into humility. Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner. Indeed, “I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But, Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy…”(1)

Beloved:  “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5.5b-7)

“Just as I am without one plea…” without one excuse or objection.

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” (Psalm 26.4)

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(1) “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” (BCP, 1928)

The Holy Mystery – The Fullness of Being In Union

I am not unmindful of the promise by which I pledged myself to deliver a sermon to instruct you, who have just been baptized, on the Sacrament of the Lord’s table, which you now look upon and of which you partook last night.

You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, consecrated by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what the chalice holds, consecrated by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through those accidents the Lord wished to entrust to us His Body and the Blood which He poured out for the remission of sins. If you have received worthily, you are what you have received, for the Apostle says : ‘The bread is one; we though many, are one body.’ (1 Cor. 10.17).

Thus he explained the Sacrament of the Lord’s table: ‘The bread is one; we though many, are one body.’ So, by bread you are instructed as to how you ought to cherish unity. Was that bread made of one grain of wheat? Were there not, rather, many grains?

However, before they became bread, these grains were separate; they were joined together in water after a certain amount of crushing. For, unless the grain is ground and moistened with water, it cannot arrive at that form which is called bread. So, too, you were previously ground, as it were, by the humiliation of your fasting and by the sacrament of exorcism. Then came the baptism of water; you were moistened, as it were, so as to arrive at the form of bread.

But, without fire, bread does not yet exist. What, then, does the fire signify? The chrism. For the sacrament of the Holy Spirit is the oil of our fire. Notice this when the Acts of the Apostles are read. (Soon the reading of the book is going to begin; today the reader is beginning that book which is called the Acts of the Apostles. He who wishes to advance has the source of advancement. When you come to church, put aside empty talk; concentrate your attention on the Scrip- tures. We are your books. Attend, then, and see that the Holy Spirit will come on Pentecost. And thus He will come : He will show Himself in tongues of fire. For He enkindles charity by which we ardently desire God and spurn the world, by which our chaff is consumed and our heart purified as gold. Therefore, the fire, that is, the Holy Spirit, comes after the water; then you become bread, that is, the body of Christ. Hence, in a certain manner, unity is signified.

You now have the sacraments in their order. At first, after the prayer, you are admonished to lift up your heart. This befits the members of Christ. For, if you have become members of Christ, where is your Head? Members have a head. If the Head had not preceded, the members would not follow. Where has your Head gone? What did you recite in the Creed? ‘On the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sits at the right hand of the Father. 5 Therefore, our Head is in heaven. Hence, when the ‘Lift up your heart’ is said, you answer: ‘We have [them lifted up] to the Lord. 55 Then, because this lifting up of your hearts to God is a gift of God and lest you should attribute to your own strength, your own merits, and your own labors the fact that you have your hearts thus lifted up to the Lord, after the answer, ‘We have our hearts lifted up to the Lord,’

the bishop or priest who is officiating also says: ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, because we have our hearts raised up to Him. Let us give thanks to Him, because if He did not give [the grace], we would have our hearts fixed on the earth.’ And you bear witness to this, saying: ‘It is right and just for us to give thanks to Him who caused us to raise our hearts up to our Head.’

Then, after the consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of God, because He wished us also to be His sacrifice, a fact which was made clear when the Holy Sacrifice was first instituted, and because that Sacrifice is a sign of what we are, behold, when the Sacrifice is finished, we say the Lord’s Prayer which you have received and recited. After this, the ‘Peace be with you’ is said, and the Christians embrace one another with the holy kiss. This is a sign of peace; as the lips indicate, let peace be made in your conscience, that is, when your lips draw near to those of your brother, do not let your heart withdraw from his. Hence, these are great and powerful sacraments. Do you wish to know how they are commended?

The Apostle says: ‘Whoever eats the body of Christ or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 56 What does it mean to receive un- worthily? To receive in mockery, to receive in contempt. Let the Sacrament not appear of trifling value to you because you look upon it. What you see passes; but the invisible, that which is not seen, does not pass; it remains. Behold, it is received; it is eaten; it is consumed. Is the body of Christ consumed? Is the Church of Christ consumed? Are the members of Christ consumed? God forbid! Here they are cleansed; there they will be crowned. Therefore, what is signified will last eternally, even though it seems to pass. Receive, then, so that you may ponder, so that you may possess unity in your heart, so that you may always lift up your heart. Let your hope be, not on earth, but in heaven; let your faith be firm and acceptable to God. Because you now believe what you do not see, you are going to see there where you will rejoice eternally.
St. Augustine, Sermon 227

Leaven of Life or Death?

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

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Mark 8.1-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labor Day – 2014 – Contemplating the Blessed Sacrament of Labor – Claw hammer, Stethoscope, Washer/Dryer, and Textbook

Today is Labor Day.

I was having lunch with some friends last week. The subject of Labor Day came up and one of them reminisced about how the parish he grew up in had a “blessing of the tools” on the Sunday before Labor Day. All of the members brought a tool that represented their labor. In the context of the Holy Eucharist, the tools were blessed.

What a great sacramental action. The priorities are rightly ordered. It is not our job to figure out a way to fit Christ into our workplace/career. It is just the opposite. We are to place our labor into the context of Christ Jesus. In Him we live and move and go about our daily labor.hammer

Oh yes. Lets let go of the wrong-headed categorization and comparisons of labor in terms of worth. And, it is folly to attempt to measure their worth over against one another or in convenient terms of salary, time/product ratios, etc. The arena of labor and the kind of labor knows no boundaries. It includes school, workshop, corporate desk, kitchen, hospital/clinic, orphanage, homeless shelter, etc. Your labor, no matter the kind, if in harmony with the commandments of God is holy unto the Lord.

And note that it is in the context of the Holy Eucharist. Our labor is a sacrifice of loving obedience to Christ as we abide/live in Christ.

So often we set our daily tasks over against our “time with the Lord” as if they are in competition for our devotion at a given moment. Jesus does not command an either/or regarding our relationship with Him and our daily work. The key is not to figure out a way to “balance the two” or “fit everything in.” Rather the key is to place one inside the other so they constitute a mysterious third option of the not dualistic “both/and.”

This is the Eucharistic option. This is the life-giving option. This is the enlivening option. This is The Way.

John 6.27-40 (RSV)
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Thank you, Lord, for the Mystery of Holy Labor – Liturgy – the work of our hands, minds, hearts, on behalf of all and for the benefit of all – in and through and of Christ Jesus.

Spiritual Warfare and the Holy Eucharist

The Divine Liturgy is according to the Holy Tradition both normative and essential to the Christian life. God never sent out a memo, as far as I can tell, that said “if you feel like it” or “if it works for you.” By means of the Divine Liturgy (Holy Eucharist) we appropriately engage in spiritual warfare. This is all pre-schism and pre-reformation. The affirmation is at the heart of the “apostles’ teaching” to quote Acts. Wow…

Today’s gospel (March 30, 2014) is Mark 9:17-31. It is a story about spiritual warfare. Here is a reflection from “Dynamis.” Notice the portion I have highlighted. The author of this reflection is passing on a crucial “given.” He says it as if you, the reader, are already aware of it and he is simply reminding you of it. The author of the reflection uses the term “Holy Mysteries.” Notice that the term is plural. In the Western Church we would say “Sacraments.” So, the long and short of it is that the Sacraments are essential weapons in our spiritual warfare. Wow…

Notice also some of the other weapons – the Word of God, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving – the cardinal disciplines of Great Lent. Just a note: all of these are essential to a healthy participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I have, after the reflection, also included a pre-communion and post-communion prayer that reiterate the spiritual warfare dimension of the Divine Liturgy.

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Basic Weapons: Mark 9:17-31, especially vss. 28-29: “His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.’” This passage does not simply provide another account of a healing by the Lord Jesus; it constitutes an “action report” from the battlefield of spiritual warfare. A father and his son are overwhelmed by the enemy (vss. 17=18). The disciples skirmish with the unclean spirit, but cannot dislodge it (vs. 18). Finally, the Lord enters and defeats the foe (vss. 19-27).

After the victory, the Commander instructs His trainees as to why certain weapons are crucial in spiritual combat (vss. 28-29). In the concluding verse, the Lord Jesus announces the approach of His great and final battle and His subsequent victory (vs. 31). This Gospel is directed to all of us who are engaged in constant spiritual skirmishes and battles.

It is helpful to begin our approach to these verses with a passage from Ephesians in which the Apostle Paul discusses the basic rules of engagement with the enemy. First and foremost, our strength comes from the Lord (Eph 6:10). We must use the armor He provides (vss. 11, 13) when we are confronted by the wiles and power of our foe (vss. 14-16). In addition, the apostle describes the weapons required to win the spiritual struggle: Holy Scripture, prayer, the holy mysteries, and watchfulness (vss. 10, 17-18). Although Saint Paul does not mention fasting, the Lord reminds us of that weapon in today’s passage.

Addressing the relationship between fasting and prayer, Blessed Theophylact says: “Both are necessary. Good sense dictates that . . . one . . . must not only fast, but also pray; and he must not only pray, but also fast, for true prayer is rendered when it is yoked to fasting” (Explanation of the Gospel According to Saint Mark, p. 77).

Saint John Chrysostom explains the connection: “He that fasts is light, and winged, and prays with wakefulness, and quenches his wicked lusts, and propitiates God, and humbles his soul when lifted up” (“Homily 57 on Matthew,” NPNF First Series, vol. 10, p. 356).

Let us thoughtfully review each of the five essential weapons of spiritual warfare. Holy Scripture – the life-giving words of God – is a must for discerning truth and the will of the Lord in the midst of the myriad attacks we endure. As the core of Orthodox tradition, Scripture provides us with the light to cut through the smokescreen of lies from the enemy.

Prayer is our second essential weapon, and draws directly from Holy Scripture. In fact, we should become adept at using the language of Scripture to form our words of prayer. The Divine Liturgy, which is soaked in Scripture, demonstrates the method we follow.

The holy mysteries are the third weapon for disciples in combat. According to the pre-communion prayer of Saint Basil the Great, they move us to “boldness . . . increase of virtue . . . [and] keeping of [God’s] commandments.” The sacrament of communion shapes and molds our lives, making us resilient in Christ.

Fasting, in the manner prescribed by the Church, sharpens our spiritual awareness of what is happening around and within us. Let us carefully observe the days, seasons, and times of fasting, always following the directions of regular Orthodox practice as our guide.

Finally, watchfulness is the hallmark of Christ’s warrior at all times and in all circumstances. We are especially blessed to have the Jesus Prayer to aid us in the struggle against “the evil imagination, wicked deeds, and work of the devil” that seek to oppose us.

O Lord of mercies, enlighten the eyes of our understanding by Thy Holy Scriptures, enable us by Thy Spirit to pray as we ought to pray, strengthen our wretched souls and bodies through Thy Holy Gifts, help us to subject our flesh by abstinence and blameless fasting, and awaken us to cultivate watchfulness zealously that we may be victors unto the end.

—————-

Pre-Communion Prayer by St. Basil the Great
I know, O Lord, that I have communion unworthily of Thy most pure Body and Thy most precious Blood, that I am guilty and drink condemnation to.myself not discerning Thy Body and Blood, O my Christ and God. But daring upon Thy generous loving-kindness I come to Thee who hast said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Be merciful, therefore, O Lord, and do not rebuke me a sinner, but deal with me according to Thy mercy, and let Thy holy things be for my purification and healing, for enlightenment and protection, for the repulsion of every tempting thought and action of the devil which works spiritually in my fleshly members. Let them be for boldness and love for Thee, for the correction and grounding of my life, for the increase of virtue and perfection, for the fulfillment of Thy commandments, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the journey of eternal life, for a good and acceptable answer at Thy dread judgment, but not for judgment or condemnation. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer by St. Simeon Metaphrastes
Freely Thou hast given me Thy Body for my food, O Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart. Consume the thorns of my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and sanctify my reasonings. Make firm my knees and body. Illumine my five senses. Nail me to the fear of Thee. Always protect, guard, and keep me from soul destroying words and deeds. Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me. Give me understanding and illumination. Show me to be a temple of Thy One Spirit, and not the home of many sins. May every evil thing, every carnal passion, flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion. I offer Thee as intercessors all the saints: the leaders of the bodiless hosts, Thy Forerunner, the wise apostles, and Thy pure and blameless Mother. Accept their prayers in Thy love, O my Christ, and make me, Thy servant, a child of light. For Thou art the only Sanctification and Light of our souls, O Good One, and to Thee, our Master and God, we ascribe glory day by day. Amen.

Source for prayers

The Risk of Lent – An Increase of Love

I posted previously that the goal of Great Lent is an increase of love. Lent transforms us into not only the vessel of love but love Himself, by grace. Easter/Pascha is the fulfillment of Lent just as Lent is the precursor of Easter/Pascha. They are an organic whole without separation and without confusion.

AND all of this is a big risk. Or, to put it another way, this Way of Love requires us to open the gates of our life (inner and outer) to the whole of humanity. No more private spirituality. No more individual/private agendas of growth. The poor, stinky, rude, unkempt, disagreeable, disrespectful of humanity who we would rather not have upset our little applecart of private healing and self-created tools for navigating life come through the gates we desire to open to “just Jesus.” (I know this to be true based my own tendencies/predispositions, so please don’t think I am just pontificating from atop some ivory tower.)

So, the promise of Lent is the risk of Lent.

Lent is costly in terms of the disciplines to be sure. But it is even more costly in terms of the Spirit’s agenda – lived love, manifest love, love given and received.

I, for my part, need the reminder of the main point of Great Lent. In light of the main point, we really are in over our heads. We say and do things that are essential to our salvation but we are saying and doing things we really don’t understand or whose results we can never control. We are in way over our heads! That is, of course the way it needs to be. If we could comprehend it, it would terrify us so much we would never engage in it. Better to leave the comprehension of it all to later when it is, thank goodness, “too late to turn back.”

Pope Francis, in his remarks at his general audience, Wednesday, 12 February 2014, said this:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

In the last Catechesis I emphasized how the Eucharist introduces us into real communion with Jesus and his mystery. Now let us ask ourselves several questions that spring from the relationship between the Eucharist that we celebrate and our life, as a Church and as individual Christians. How do we experience the Eucharist? When we go to Sunday Mass, how to we live it? Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?

There are very specific signals for understanding how we are living this, how we experience the Eucharist; signals that tell us if we are living the Eucharist in a good way or not very well. The first indicator is our way of looking at or considering others. In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing his gift of self, which he made on the Cross. His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love; thus, he loved to be with his disciples and with the people whom he had a chance to know. This meant for him sharing in their aspirations, their problems, what stirred their soul and their life. Now we, when participating in Holy Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of men and women: young people, the elderly, children; poor and well-off; locals and strangers alike; people with their families and people who are alone…. But the Eucharist which I celebrate, does it lead me to truly feel they are all like brothers and sisters? Does it increase my capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and cry with those who are crying? Does it urge me to go out to the poor, the sick, the marginalized? Does it help me to recognize in theirs the face of Jesus? We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in his passion and his resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the most needy? For example, in Rome these days we have seen much social discomfort either due to the rain, which has caused so much damage to entire districts, or because of the lack of work, a consequence of the global economic crisis. I wonder, and each one of us should wonder: I who go to Mass, how do I live this? Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty? Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: did you see how this or that one is dressed? Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us because of an illness, a problem. Today, it would do us such good to think of these brothers and sisters of ours who are beset by these problems here in Rome: problems that stem from the grave situation caused by the rain and social instability and unemployment. Let us ask Jesus, whom we receive in the Eucharist, to help us to help them.

A second indication, a very important one, is the grace of feeling forgiven and ready to forgive. At times someone may ask: “Why must one go to Church, given that those who regularly participate in Holy Mass are still sinners like the others?”. We have heard it many times! In reality, the one celebrating the Eucharist doesn’t do so because he believes he is or wants to appear better than others, but precisely because he acknowledges that he is always in need of being accepted and reborn by the mercy of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. If any one of us does not feel in need of the mercy of God, does not see himself as a sinner, it is better for him not to go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive God’s pardon, to participate in the redemption of Jesus, in his forgiveness. The “Confession” which we make at the beginning is not “pro forma”, it is a real act of repentance! I am a sinner and I confess it, this is how the Mass begins! We should never forget that the Last Supper of Jesus took place “on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23). In the bread and in the wine which we offer and around which we gather, the gift of Christ’s body and blood is renewed every time for the remission of our sins. We must go to Mass humbly, like sinners and the Lord reconciles us.

A last valuable indication comes to us from the relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and the life of our Christian communities. We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes himself present and gathers us around him, to nourish us with his Word and with his life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there, from the Eucharist, and there always takes its shape. A celebration may be flawless on the exterior, very beautiful, but if it does not lead us to encounter Jesus Christ, it is unlikely to bear any kind of nourishment to our heart and our life. Through the Eucharist, however, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with his grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.

The heart fills with trust and hope by pondering on Jesus’ words recounted in the Gospel: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). Let us live the Eucharist with the spirit of faith, of prayer, of forgiveness, of repentance, of communal joy, of concern for the needy and for the needs of so many brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will fulfil what he has promised us: eternal life. So be it!” Source

Thomas Merton says this about the priesthood. And, I believe it applies to all who engage in the Holy Eucharist, not just “the priest”. So, when he says priest, fill in your name.:

“If you are afraid to love, never become a priest, never say Mass.  The Mass will draw you down upon your soul a torrent of interior suffering which has only one function:  to break you wide open and let everybody in the world into your heart.  For when you begin to say Mass, the Spirit of God awakens like a giant inside you and bursts the locks of your private sanctuary.  If you say Mass, you condemn your soul to the torrent of a love that is so vast and insatiable that you will never be able to bear it alone.  That love is the love of the Heart of Jesus, burning within your own heart and bringing down upon you the huge weight of His compassion for all the sinners of the world.” Source

In light of all this, it is, perhaps, appropriate to add this quote:

John 6.67-69
“Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”

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.

Unceasing Incarnation – Struggling to Walk In Our Vocation as Theotokos and Bethlehem

During the “reflecting on the writings of the saints” portion of my quiet time this morning I was reading today’s reflection from the Passionists website and realized that, in the Roman Catholic Church, today is the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The reflection, which can be found here, includes this statement:

From very early in the life of the Church Christians have believed that Jesus, who is the Christ, is fully human and fully divine. This was formally defined as a doctrine of the faith during the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in the year 431. The Council expressed this belief by giving Mary the Greek title Theotokos, which means: The-One-Who-Gives-Birth-To-God! In English translation this is frequently expressed as: “The Mother of God” or “The God Bearer”.

Christmas is proleptic. It draws us forward ever more deeply and completely into itself – His Way, Truth and Life. Our life, if it is a Christmas life, is not our own and yet it becomes truly ours by being a Christmas life. We gain our life by letting go of “my” life.

It is appropriate, as we journey through Christmas, to begin to let the other shoe drop, and ask, “If Christ is born of Mary then in what way is His dynamic incarnation – unceasingly being born – occurring now?”

So, the fruitful journey of addressing the question resulted in what follows. Perhaps it will be beneficial as you struggle with that same Christmas question.

I came across this quote, somewhere, that attributes to Meister Eckhart these words,

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago, and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be mothers of God.  God is always needing to be born.

So, the Theotokos is the icon of the disciple as “Christ-bearer.” This message is the whole point of the great Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight…

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today…
(Phillips Brooks)

I am the Christ-bearer. My life is the address where those who are being invited to come and see the incarnate Christ show up. I am Bethlehem.

That led me to these two quotes from Meister Eckhart:

God enters into you with all that is his, as far as you have stripped yourself of yourself in all things. It is here that you should begin, whatever the cost, for it is here that you will find true peace, and nowhere else. Source

A man should shine with the divine Presence without having to work at it… One must be permeated with divine Presence, informed with the form of beloved God who is within him, so he may radiate that Presence without working at it. Source

So, I spiraled back around to the idea of “unceasing incarnation.” That led me to a quote from the writings of Franciscan priest and writer, Richard Rohr who has put it succinctly,

God is into giving away God.  That’s all God is doing is giving away God.  There’s nothing else.  That’s God’s job description.  I want to give away some more God.  And God is trying through every metaphor, every act of creation, every moment of time to reveal a little more of God. Source

That triggered Eucharistic thoughts. The poem by the English poet and Anglican priest, George Herbert:

Love
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.’

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

So, Christmas is an invitation to come and “truly see” what is really going on in the world. Indeed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8)

The pure in heart are those whose vision is the Christmas vision. The pure in heart truly have the “Christmas spirit.” They truly seek and see and serve Christ “at all times and in all places.”

Once again, more from Meister Eckhart:

All beings
are words of God,
His music, His
art.

Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps  in our  souls.

Every act reveals God and expands His being.
I know that may be hard
to comprehend.

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.

“I AM can be spoken by no creature but by God alone. I must become God and God must become me, so completely that we share the same ‘I’ eternally. Our truest ‘I’ is God.” Source

Wow, what an amazing journey of revelation. God grant me the spirit of joyful repentance to adjust my life so this is more how I live my life in practical ways during 2014.