Purification and Illumination

I am learning SO much this lent, thanks to a coterie of very good friends who are my God chosen companions in the gospel pilgrimage of salvation. Most local, but two more distant.

Lent is a microcosm of our entire life of discipleship. The season in which that which is always true, our struggle for salvation, is emphasized. We choose it in these days in these circumstances so we may be able to choose it in all times and in all places. It is not intended to be a breathless race of moral athleticism but a realization and loving embrace of our authentic personhood.

The “what” question will always lead us to “now what?” and “what’s next?” The “who” question seeks to live in the “there is ‘now’ and ‘this’ and no ‘next.’” The “who” question is one eternal delight. The “what” question is an endless series of disappointing “not enough’s.”

The Prayer of St. Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life,
give me not a spirit of sloth, despondency,
lust for power, and idle talk.
But give to me Thy servant
a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see my own transgressions
and not to judge my brother;
for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen. St. Ephrem (306-373)

Prayer of St. Botheius

Grant then, O Father that this mind of ours may rise to Your throne of majesty; grant us to reach that fount of good. Grant that we may so find light that we may set on You unblinded eyes; cast You from there the heavy clouds of this material world. Shine forth upon us in Your own true glory. You are the bright and peaceful rest of all Your children that worship You. To see You clearly is the limit of our aim. You are our beginning, our progress our guide, our way, our end.

“O Holy One, give the spirit power to climb to the fountain of all light, and be purified.  Break through the mists of the earth, the weight of the clod, shine forth in splendor, thou that art calm weather, and quiet resting place for faithful souls.  To see thee is the end and the beginning, thou carriest us, and thou dost go before, thou art the journey, and the journey’s end.” St. Boethius (c. 480-525)

 

Seek Wisdom and Pursue It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, This is Messy Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doors/Gates of the Pilgrimage of Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

Leaven of Life or Death?

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

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Mark 8.1-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent – The Flame

Great Lent – A season to fan the flame of transformation in the Spirit by guarding, feeding, and nurturing it through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, dwelling richly in Word and Sacraments, and the fellowship of the Word and Sacrament; and by noticing, confessing, and addressing what threatens to blow out the flame.**

St. Theophan the Recluse, says:

From the moment when your heart starts to be kindled with divine warmth your inner transformation will properly begin.  This slight flame will in time consume and melt everything within you, it will begin and continue to spiritualize your being to the full.  Indeed, until this flame starts to burn, there will be no spiritualization, in spite of all your strivings to achieve it.  Thus the engendering of its first flicker is all that matters at this moment, and to this end be sure to direct all your efforts.

But while you must realize that this kindling cannot take place in you while the passions are still strong and vigorous, even though they may not in fact be indulged.  Passions are the dampness in the fuel of your being, and damp wood does not burn.  There is nothing else to be done except to bring in dry wood from outside and light this, allowing the flames from it to dry out the damp wood, until this in its turn is dry enough to begin slowly to catch alight.  And so little by little the burning of the dry wood will disperse the dampness and will spread, until all the wood is enveloped in flames…

Recollection of God is the life of the spirit.  It fires your zeal to please God, and makes unshakeable your decision to belong to Him.  It is, I repeat, the mainstay of the spiritual life; and it is, I will add, the base for your campaign against every passion that invades the heart.  The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology,” (London: Faber & Faber, 1966)

“…and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish…” Isaiah 42.3

** A couple of phrases from “Pray as you go” for Saturday, March 1, 2014 were used to craft this statement.

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.’”

Lent From Another Angle — Law Fulfilled in Love Not Law or Love

As Lent approaches we need to be reminded of the goal. The goal of Lent is not spiritual athleticism but an increase of love in and through disciplines that address the passions (vainglory, pride, and self-love). The goal is not more information about love but “lived Love” as Jesus the Christ lives and expresses His life in us and through us for the salvation of the world. This involves purgation and establishment and release.

One danger, and there are many, is legalism and pride in the observance of the very disciplines that are designed to bear the fruit of love.

The warning of Jesus is clear. As a matter of fact it is so important that in the Western Church, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, which is the passage in which Jesus issues His warning about legalism and pride is the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday.

Notice that Jesus does not counsel “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” He does not say, “Don’t observe the disciplines.” He doesn’t label them as unnecessary. For Jesus, it is not “if” but “how” the disciplines are observed. The form is not to be abandoned, but rather filled with right content – the humble and contrite desire for love. Indeed, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

So, the warning is not just a warning. It is an invitation that holds a promise – abundant life in Him.

Here is the counsel of Elder Paisios the Athonite on the subject:

A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for and be sensitive towards all people. Those who inconsiderately toss out comments, even if they are true, can cause harm.

I once met a theologian who was extremely pious, but who had the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a very blunt manner; his method penetrated so deeply that it shook them very severely. He told me once: “During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady.” But the way that he said it, crushed her. “Look”, I said to him, “you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads, not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also.”

Let’s not stone our fellow-man in a so-called “Christian manner.” The person who – in the presence of others – checks someone for having sinned (or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person), is not moved by the Spirit of God; he is moved by another spirit.

The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists. The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be.

I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. Someone who is truly in a spiritual state must possess and exemplify spiritual discernment; otherwise he will forever remain attached to the “letter of the Law”, and the letter of the Law can be quite deadly.

A truly humble person never behaves like a teacher; he will listen, and, whenever his opinion is requested, he responds humbly. In other words, he replies like a student. He who believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.

A person that begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, lacks true discernment. His actions exemplify a latent type of egotism that is hidden beneath this behavior; he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes.  Spiritual Counsels II: Spiritual Awakening, by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.17-20)

From my vantage point all of this is Good News to me a sinner.

Lent – Becoming More Him The Lover and Less Me The Judger

We get great satisfaction out of judging. We get great satisfaction out of solving. We get great satisfaction out of measuring. We have a need to know who is worthy and who is unworthy to help us navigate life.

You might even say, at some point, satisfaction turns into our sense of what fulfillment and love mean. The Word of God warns us that there is a line where one becomes the other. Where our identity get wrapped up in our ability and need to engage in these things. Richard Rohr said, “Our lust for certitude and our need to be right is what keeps us in conflict.” Well said.

The Scriptures and collect for today (and others just like it I could list but will not) in the Western Church run speak of a way of life that is exactly the opposition of judging, solving, and measuring. They speak of a God who loves and of His people who love. They do not speak of the suspension of a sense of right and wrong but of way completely different way of responding that does more to defeat wrong than any other alternative. A way of coming to understand and relate to right and wrong that does not end up robbing us of life instead of fostering life. After all, when did worthiness become the standard?? Thank goodness it was not the standard that governed whether or not He would go to the cross!!

Collect
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119:33-40
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.

35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.

36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.

37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.

38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.

39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.

40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”

So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The protests we throw up in reaction to understanding these passages (and other ones too) in any sort of practical sense as meaning just what they are saying are like a hermeneutical tsunami ! ! Certainly Jesus and St. Paul and the Old Testament writers could not have really meant for us to actually DO this ! ! What they REALLY meant was …

Solving, measuring, judging, etc. But now it is not others. Now it is God we are judging.

Now don’t get me wrong. The hearing and doing of these MUST be in the context of the Body of Christ across time and space and we can fall off into the ditch of literalism that is just as dangerous as the ditch of “explaining it all away.” What is required is a narrow path between these extremes. A path of impossibility. A path that is desperately in need of God’s wisdom at every moment. For indeed, doing these things (living this life) is impossible for man. But, it is perfectly possible for God. Or, to put it more aptly, for “The God-man.” For Christ Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.

St. Paul spoke The Mystery of possible impossibility when he said, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” St. Paul was/is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

St. Innocent of Alaska (1797-1879), in his classic, Indication of the Pathway into the Kingdom of Heaven, says,

“…without the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible not only to enter the kingdom of heaven but even to take a single step toward it. And therefore we must seek and ask for the Holy Spirit and have Him within us, just as the holy apostles had Him. But how we can receive or obtain Him, we shall soon see.”

It is Christ-indwelling in the person of the Holy Spirit, Who does all things in and through St. Paul. In and through you and me. What is require is humility. And, of course, humility at with all of this, is not what he think it is…

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk said,

“Try to know yourself, your own wickedness. Think on the greatness of God and your wretchedness. Meditate on the suffering of Christ, the magnitude of Whose love and suffering surpass our understanding. Ascribe the good that you do to God alone. Do not think about the sin of a brother but about what in him is better than in yourself …. Flee from glory, honors and praise, but if this is impossible, be sorry that such is your lot. Be benevolent to people of low origin. Be freely and willingly obedient not only to those above you but to those below …. The lowlier we are in spirit, the better we know ourselves, and without humility we cannot see God.”

“For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible …. Love believes and hopes …. It is ashamed of nothing. Without it, what is the use of prayer? What use are hymns and singing? What is the use of building and adorning churches? What is mortification of the flesh if the neighbor is not loved? Indeed, all are of no consequence …. As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed.”

We can, of course, take issue with St. Tikhon’s statements based on a belief that the institutional Church has gotten it all wrong and his words reflect a shame-based spirituality, etc, etc.  Be that as it may be or may not be. I agree, the institutional church and its members have fallen short of the glory they espouse to be sure. Reading the writings of the saints requires great care. But, the beautiful essence of what he said, when rightly understood and applied, still stands.

The Christ-ian life is not about “figuring it out.” No about doing good stuff in the name of Christ even our of what we would call a spirit of gratitude. The Christ-ian life is about “abiding in and being abided in” with a spirit of gratitude. It is about letting go of “my” life and receiving Christ’s life as my real life. That means Christ Himself performs in and through us what He comes us to perform. It means the criteria for wisdom is not solving, measuring, and judging but abiding faithfully and co-operating in the doing of Christ regardless of how the world solves, measures, and judges.

You may ask, “But how in practical terms?”

I say, “I don’t know. I see through a glass darkly. But, I see at least this much. All I know is this is the way. It does not suspend unconditional love or boundaries. It mysteriously upholds and fulfills them both.”

And that is an upward call that requires in my life a lot of transformation. The reality of this truth and the infinite saving beauty of it, I have only just begun to comprehend.

“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6.16)

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
‘This is the way, walk in it,’
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30.21)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14)

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.  Grant me to walk in this Way more than I have before.

Blind to the Plain Truth – Here Comes Lent

A friend of mine sent this link to me. It is well worth the read. It hit me hard.

It points out the degree to which all of us may (we almost certainly do, I believe) have a huge blind spot when it comes to encountering the Biblical text and/or living any aspect of the Christian life. The author of the post mentions only one such blind spot.

Again I say, I believe we all have such a blind spot(s). We are soooo “out to lunch” when it comes to our pontifications and presuppositions regarding our maturity and lack of “foibles” to use a term that gives us too much of the benefit of the doubt. They are reflections based on illusions and ways of approaching the disciplines that miss the mark. And here is the kicker, we don’t even realize it. The “emperor has no clothes.”

The problem is that we don’t even know we are blind until something happens that makes it obvious. That is what we call revelation. It invites/challenges us to repent and live a changed life by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the revelation is gentle. Sometimes its pretty rough.

Thee Judeo-Christian faith is revelatory. We must come to realize this ever more deeply. We must be at all times desperately in need to “a word from God” in the best sense of that term. It is possible to rightly read the Scriptures and rightly practice each and every discipline of the Spirit. But, the prerequisite is revelatory grace and making the adjustments that bring us into more complete agreement with the Truth that God reveals.

Lent is coming… Great time to ask God to show us where we are blind (where we are disconnected from Truth) so we can embrace the healing of our sight and engage in living life as someone who can now see. A great opportunity to ask the Lord to show us what influences how we listen to the words of Jesus in the context of Scripture, prayer, fellowship, ministry, and witness; and, in turn, how we respond to those words by the way we live our life.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on ME a sinner — a clueless blind pontificator.