Give Glory to God

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall not only see in truth but speak in truth. No longer will they seek practices to build themselves up – to glorify themselves. They will join the whole creation in glorifying God in all things – with their entire being.

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“Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
3 Then he took up his oracle and said:
“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor,
The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened,
4 The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open..” (Numbers 24.1-4)

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The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19.1-4, 14)

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The Cost of Discipleship and the Discernment of Spirits

28 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

30 Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”

32 And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.

33 Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region. (Matthew 8.28-34)

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This gospel reading has always made me chuckle. If Jesus is in town, fasten your seat belts ! !

It pushes to the surface our desire for God to heal and restore, but without any accompanying cost to us. We don’t want to have to adjust – let go or take up –  as a result.

Sometimes things get worse when Jesus heals and saves us. Take, for example, the healing of the two demon-possessed men. One of the results of the healing was the loss of a whole herd of swine! We can interpret the passage allegorically as an attempt to avoid having to deal with the everyday consequences of the salvific work of Jesus, but the fact remains. Someone lost their source of income.

The people of the town beg Jesus to leave ! ! Can you imagine having Jesus answer your prayer and then begging Him to depart from you as a result of the changes that healing necessitates?!

In another place Jesus is even accused of being inspired by the devil. See Matthew 12.22-30.

Three things stand out as “take aways” or ways in which I need to adjust the way I live.

First, the discernment of spirits is very important. I don’t mean becoming obsessed with the devil, thinking he is lurking around every corner waiting to pounce on me. I think you know what I mean. I do, however, need to have a health remembrance of the spiritual struggle of which I am a part and is going on within my soul.

Second, judging by appearances is seldom, if ever, a good idea when it comes to the saving work of God. Seeking to cooperate in the purification and illumination of my heart is a much more worthy object of my time and energy.

Third, perseverance in keeping the commandments and trusting that God is performing a good and perfect work is the rock upon which I can confidently stand. God’s work of salvation is, quite often, tumultuous. I must learn to hold fast in the midst of the salvific storm of God with a clarity of vision never wavering in my trust. I must learn to be willing to let go of anything that prevents me from consistently following/abiding in Jesus. Cost what it will, lead where it may. See, for example, Matthew 19.16-22 and other passages of a similar theme. There is no “cheap grace,” to quote Bonhoeffer. The saving work of God in my life is costly. If I pray, I need to be ready to embrace the full answer.

St. Ignatius of Loyola offers some guidance for us in this regard:

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Rules for understanding to some extent the different movements produced in the soul and for recognizing those that are good to admit them, and those that are bad, to reject them…

It is characteristic of God and His Angels, when they act upon the soul, to give true happiness and spiritual joy, and to banish all the sadness and disturbances which are caused by the enemy.

It is characteristic of the evil one to fight against such happiness and consolation by proposing fallacious reasonings, subtilties, and continual deceptions.

God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty. I said without previous cause, that is, without any preceding perception or knowledge of any subject by which a soul might be led to such a consolation through its own acts of intellect and will.

If a cause precedes, both the good angel and the evil spirit can give consolation to a soul, but for a quite different purpose. The good angel consoles for the progress of the soul, that it may advance and rise to what is more perfect. The evil spirit consoles for purposes that are the contrary, and that afterwards he might draw the soul to his own perverse intentions and wickedness.

It is a mark of the evil spirit to assume the appearance of an angel of light. He begins by suggesting thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own. For example, he will suggest holy and pious thoughts that are wholly in conformity with the sanctity of the soul. Afterwards, he will endeavor little by little to end by drawing the soul into his hidden snares and evil designs.

We must carefully observe the whole course of our thoughts. If the beginning and middle and end of the course of thoughts are wholly good and directed to what is entirely right, it is a sign that they are from the good angel. But the course of thoughts suggested to us may terminate in something evil, or distracting, or less good than the soul had formerly proposed to do. Again, it may end in what weakens the soul, or disquiets it; or by destroying the peace, tranquillity, and quiet which it had before, it may cause disturbance to the soul. These things are a clear sign that the thoughts are proceeding from the evil spirit, the enemy of our progress and eternal salvation.

When the enemy of our human nature has been detected and recognized by the trail of evil marking his course and by the wicked end to which he leads us, it will be profitable for one who has been tempted to review immediately the whole course of the temptation. Let him consider the series of good thoughts, how they arose, how the evil one gradually attempted to make him step down from the state of spiritual delight and joy in which he was, till finally he drew him to his wicked designs. The purpose of this review is that once such an experience has been understood and carefully observed, we may guard ourselves for the future against the customary deceits of the enemy.

In souls that are progressing to greater perfection, the action of the good angel is delicate, gentle, delightful. It may be compared to a drop of water penetrating a sponge.

The action of the evil spirit upon such souls is violent, noisy, and disturbing. It may be compared to a drop of water falling upon a stone.

In souls that are going from bad to worse, the action of the spirits mentioned above is just the reverse. The reason for this is to be sought in the opposition or similarity of these souls to the different kinds of spirits. When the disposition is contrary to that of the spirits, they enter with noise and commotion that are easily perceived. When the disposition is similar to that of the spirits, they enter silently, as one coming into his own house when the doors are open.

When consolation is without previous cause, as was said, there can be no deception in it, since it can proceed from God our Lord only. But a spiritual person who has received such a consolation must consider it very attentively, and must cautiously distinguish the actual time of the consolation from the period which follows it. At such a time the soul is still fervent and favored with the grace and aftereffects of the consolation which has passed. In this second period the soul frequently forms various resolutions and plans which are not granted directly by God our Lord. They may come from our own reasoning on the relations of our concepts and on the consequences of our judgments, or they may come from the good or evil spirit. Hence, they must be carefully examined before they are given full approval and put into execution.

Source: The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Translation by Louis J. Puhl, SJ

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)

 

Readiness – Hear See, Understand, and Keep

Text: John 16.16-33

There are no parables in the St. John’s gospel. Strange. And yet it would be accurate to say that St. John’s gospel is deeply parable-like in character. All through the gospel, people are mystified, confused, hard-pressed, and bewildered by Jesus’ words and deeds. That is, after all, the purpose of a parable.

Some people think a parable is a story that seeks to make a point clear using everyday examples. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

“As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4.10-13)

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15.8-9)

Jesus was speaking to those who had a readiness of heart to hear and understand and follow. So, really, receiving, understanding, and living it out are all aspects of the same reality. Hearing the word and keeping the word cannot be separated (John 12.47; 14.21).

The prerequisite for receiving the gospel AND living it out is a readiness of heart. A perceived need and desperation. The cost of discipleship must be outweighed by the benefit to put it bluntly (see Philippians 3.8-10).

Understanding a parable — the Gospel — IS THE POINT, of the parable, but only for those who are ready for it. Yep, a paradox.

Understanding the gospel is not related to high intelligence, or years of seminary study.  One can understand only when the heart – the very life of the person — has been broken open to truth – by the Holy Spirit (see Mark 2.17).

It is the way of the Spirit. It is, therefore, a dangerous tendency to artificially attempt to make the gospel “easy to understand” or “easy to receive” or even “easy to follow.” Jesus didn’t fudge on this and neither should we.

“These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’” (John 6.59-65)

Let’s take a step farther into this mystery of readiness. Such openness is not, however, just a prerequisite. It is essential to our ongoing life of discipleship. We grow/maturity in our capacity to understand as well as what we understand. We need a “ready heart” or a heart that yearns to hear more and more.

In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, there are several times in which the priest says, “let us be attentive.” In addition, the priest prays this before the reading of the Scriptures appointed for the day:

“Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

It is important to remember, then, that the Christian faith is a revelatory faith. Story after story in both the Old and New Testaments are about revelation, its prerequisite, and its fruit (illumination, purification, and deification). The narrative of the Scriptures are the “Church’s book.” It is certainly offered to the world. But, it is offered with the conviction that only those who are ready or “drawn by the Father” will hear and respond positively.

And, of course, the Scriptures are for those who do believe that they may mature in their faith, hope, and love, being transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus. As we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to break our hearts open, to soften our hearts, to “purify our hearts,” then, we will be illumined. We will “see God” more and more and be conformed to His likeness from one degree of deification to another.

True Treasure: Righteousness of Life – Right Knowledge and Relationship

The change from a life in which the heart is directed (tyrannized and imprisoned) to one in which the heart directs (set free to direct) is another way of saying “salvation.” It is the change from a life that is really death and death-giving to a life that is really life and life-giving. For, indeed, the heart is the center of human being.

When we recognize and accept the dignity of our human nature in Christ Jesus we can enter into a right relationship with all things. The end of delusion and ignorance. The restoration of sight –  comprehending and knowledge – of the truth of all things; the form and shape of our right relationship with them is illumination. This illumination is fulfilled, through repentance in all of its forms, in our deification.

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, born true man without ever ceasing to be true God, began in his person a new creation and by the manner of his birth gave man a spiritual origin. What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can fittingly recount this gift of love? Guilt becomes innocence, old becomes new, strangers are adopted and outsiders are made heirs. Rouse yourself, man, and recognise the dignity of your nature. Remember that you were made in God’s image; though corrupted in Adam, that image has been restored in Christ.

Use creatures as they should be used: the earth, the sea, the sky, the air, the springs and rivers. Give praise and glory to their Creator for all that you find beautiful and wonderful in them. See with your bodily eyes the light that shines on earth, but embrace with your whole soul and all your affections the true light which enlightens every man who comes into this world. Speaking of this light the prophet said: Draw close to him and let his light shine upon you and your face will not blush with shame. If we are indeed the temple of God and if the Spirit of God lives in us, then what every believer has within himself is greater than what he admires in the skies.

Our words and exhortations are not intended to make you disdain God’s works or think there is anything contrary to your faith in creation, for the good God has himself made all things good. What we do ask is that you use reasonably and with moderation all the marvellous creatures which adorn this world; as the Apostle says: The things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For we are born in the present only to be reborn in the future. Our attachment, therefore, should not be to the transitory; instead, we must be intent upon the eternal. Let us think of how divine grace has transformed our earthly natures so that we may contemplate more closely our heavenly hope. We hear the Apostle say: You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ your life appears, then you will also appear in glory with him, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen. Source: From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great

Once, But Now…

“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
     and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51.6, 10)

“Make me know Your ways, O Lord;
     Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
     For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.
     Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they have been from of old.
     Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
According to Your lovingkindness remember me,
     For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.
Good and upright is the Lord;
     Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,

     And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth

     To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 24.4-10)

Notice the link, in these Psalms, between purification and illumination. God reveals the truth – our condition and His love. He grants us grace to see the truth and respond to Him in repentance (embrace the truth as life-giving and be embraced by the fire of His love). We are purified. We see more deeply. Once we were blind but now we see. Once we were deluded, but no longer. Ignorance becomes knowledge and then wisdom.

Once I was blind but know I see. Once I dwelt in ignorance but now I know. Once I was dead but now I live. I invite you to look up the passages that these sentences are triggering. For example, John 9.)

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…If, therefore, you wash by a good life the filth that has been stuck on your heartl like plaster, the divine beauty will again shine forth in you. It is the same as happens in the case of iron. If freed from rust by a whetstone, that which but a moment ago was black will shine and glisten brightly in the sun. So it is also with the inner man, which the Lord calls “the heart”. When he has scraped off the rustlike dirt which dank decay has caused to appear on his form, he will once more recover the likeness of the archetype (Gn 1,27) and be good. For what is like to the Good is certainly itself good.

Hence, if a man who is pure of heart sees himself, he sees in himself what he desires; and thus he becomes blessed, because when he looks at his own purity, he sees the archetype in the image.
To give an example. Though men who see the sun in a mirror do not gaze at the sky itself, yet they see the sun in the reflection of the mirror no less than those who look at its very orb: So, he says, it is also with you. Even though you are too weak to perceive the light itself, ye if you but return to the grace of the image with which you were informed from the beginning, you will have all you seek in yourselves.

…For the godhead is purity, freedom from passion, and separation from all evil. If therefore these things be in you, God is indeed in you. Hence, if your thought is without any alloy of evil, free from passion, arid alien from all stain, you are blessed because you are clear of sight. Source: Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-395), Homélie 6 sur les Béatitudes

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God be praised for the mercy He has shown upon and poured within me a sinner.

The Kingdom of heaven is acquired by force

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8)

Truly a wonderful and often quoted verse to encourage the faithful. But, what does it imply?! The first indication of what the attainment of a “pure heart” involves occurs at the end of the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5.10-12)

And who are the persecutors? Are they people? Read Ephesians 6. They are spiritual forces of wickedness external to us and within us. In the most profound sense they are the “passions” at work within us. Those inclinations and drives that hinder the fulfillment of our union with Christ – theosis.

Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God is within us and that is where the warfare to attain it is waged. Our inner life is, among other things, an arena of combat. The acquisition of purity of heart is a violent journey.

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“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11.12)

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“Suppose there to be a garden with many fruit trees and other sweet-smelling plants, and that it were all well tilled and laid out for beauty, and that it had also a small wall by way of hedge to preserve it, and suppose that a vehement stream goes through there, though but a little of the water dashes against the wall and saps the foundation, it gets itself a course, and little by little breaks up the foundation, and finds entrance and tears its way, and roots up all the plants, and mars all the tilling, and makes it fruitless. So is it with man’s heart. It has its good thoughts ; but the streams of evil also are always near the heart, desiring to cast it down, and to incline it to its own side. Then if the mind be ever so little light, and yield to unclean thoughts, behold, the spirits of error have found scope, and have entered in, and have overturned the beauties that were there, and have destroyed the good thoughts and laid the soul waste.

As the eye is little in comparison of all the members, and the pupil, small as it is, is a great vessel, because it sees at one glance sky, star, sun, moon, cities and other creatures, and likewise these things, seen at the glance, are formed and imaged in the little pupil of the eye ; so is the mind in the heart, and the heart itself is but a little vessel, and yet there are dragons, and there lions, and there venomous beasts, and all the treasures of wickedness ; and there are rough uneven ways, there chasms ; there likewise is God, there the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the apostles, there the heavenly cities, there the treasures, there are all things.” St. Macarius of Egypt (300-391), Homily XLIII

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Joshua crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho. But Saint Paul teaches: “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the unseen powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,” (Ephesians 6.12). Those things that were written down are images and symbols. For Paul says elsewhere: “These things happened as an example; they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come,” (1 Corinthians 10.11). If, then, these things have been written down as a warning, well then!, why delay? Like Joshua, let us set out to war, attacking the greatest city in the world, namely wickedness, and let us throw down the arrogant walls of sin.

Would you look around for which path to take, which battlefield to choose? No doubt you will find my words extraordinary; nevertheless, they are true: limit your quest to yourself alone. In you lies the combat you are going to engage, within yourself the structure of evil and sin to pull down; your enemy emerges from the depths of your heart. It is not I who say this but Christ. Listen to him: “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy,” (Matthew 15.19). Do you realize the power of this enemy force that advances against you from the depths of your heart? Those are our real enemies. Origen (185-253), Homilies on Joshua, Number 5

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“If you want to serve God, prepare your heart not for food, not for drink, not for rest, not for ease, but for suffering, so that you may endure all temptations, trouble and sorrow. Prepare for severities, fasts, spiritual struggles and many afflictions, for “by many afflictions is it appointed to us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Acts 14,22); ‘The Heavenly Kingdom is taken by force, and the who use force seize it.’ (Matt 11:12) St. Sergius of Radonezh, Life, 10

The Heart – Inner Wilderness for God

If we are to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness, it is important to realize that the “inner wilderness” of the soul is the most important one to prepare. The nature of the preparation is, what the Scriptures and the saints refer to as “purification.”  The “pure heart” is the dwelling of God. This pure heart not only receives its savior but continues to receive Him, in a descriptive manner of speaking, by maturing in the reception. Call it the consummation in all aspects of the inner person of what is already and unceasingly true in the holy of holies of the heart. The inner wilderness, in which the tabernacle of the Lord is located, is transformed to reflect the glory residing there. The glory expands as the purification continues. What is, is even more so, if that makes any paradoxical sense (?!) The silent reality of the God-man, “Truth reigning,” a communion of peace and joy and hope and, and, and, … is enjoyed/lived. When did this “begin?” I know not. I need not know. I need to participate. I do know I participate and do so even more so though I dare not measure it lest I hinder His expansive transformation and gift to me of me in Him. That is enough.

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“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3.16-19)

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We read these words in the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ The Lord wishes to find a way by which he might enter your hearts and walk therein. Prepare this way for him of whom it is said: ‘Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ The voice cries out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way.’ This voice first reaches our ears; and then following it, or rather with it, the Word penetrates our understanding. It is in this sense that Christ was announced by John.

Let us see, therefore, what the voice announces concerning the Word. ‘Prepare,’ says the voice, ‘the way of the Lord.’ What way are we to prepare for the Lord? Is it a material way? Can the Word of God take such a way? Ought we not rather to prepare an inner way for the Lord by making the paths of our heart straight and smooth? Indeed, this is the way by which the Word of God enters in order to take up his abode in the human heart made ready to receive him.

How great is the human heart! What width and capacity it possesses, provided it is pure! Do you wish to know its greatness and width? Look at the extent of the divine knowledge that it embraces. It tells us itself: ‘God gave me sound knowledge of existing things that I might know the organisation of the universe and the force of its elements, the beginning and the end and the mid-point of times, the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons. Cycles of years, positions of the stars, natures of animals, tempers of beasts, powers of the winds and thoughts of people, uses of plants and virtues of roots.’

Thus, you see that the human heart knows so many things and is of no small compass. But notice that its greatness is not one of size but of the power of thought by which it is capable of knowing so many truths.

In order to make everyone realise how great the human heart is, let us look at a few examples taken from everyday life. We still retain in our minds all the towns which we have ever visited. Their features, the location of their squares, walls, and buildings remain in our hearts. We keep the road which we have travelled painted and engraved in our memories; and the sea over which we have sailed is harboured in our silent thought. As I have just said, the human heart knows so many things and is of no small compass.

Now, if it is not small, and if it can grasp so much, we can prepare the way of the Lord there and make straight the way where the Word, the Wisdom of God, will walk. Let each of you, then, prepare the way of the Lord by a good conscience; make straight the way so that the Word of God may walk within you without stumbling and may give you knowledge of his mysteries and of his coming. Celebrating the Seasons, by Robert Atwell.

The Heart of Christ Jesus — My Heart

The sacred heart of Jesus the Christ is big enough to embrace and contain the whole universe.

By grace, our heart is to become over a lifetime of purification, illumination, and deification, the heart of Jesus the Christ. His heart is to become our heart…

Indeed, “blessed are the pure in heart.”

“The purer the heart is, the larger it is, the more able it is to find room within it for a great number of beloved ones; whilst the more sinful it is, the more contracted it becomes, and the less number of beloved it can find room for, because it is limited by self love, and that love is a false one. It is pleasing to God when a man begins to notice His action in the heart, because He is the Light and the Truth, whilst the Devil is powerful only through darkness, deceit, and falsehood; reveal his falsehood, place it before the light, and all will disappear! The future life is the perfect purity of the heart, which is now only gradually purified, and which is at present more often shut and darkened by sin and by the Devil’ s breathing into it, and only at times, under the influence of God’s grace, brightens and sees God, being united to Him most truly during prayer and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. ” -St. John of Kronstadt

The Wonders of the Law

Pre-Lent is a time to prepare for the Lenten Pilgrimage. Repentance is one of the big themes.We also begin to ask some hard questions. Repentance brings up the question of the Law.  Here are a couple of the questions that repentance and the Law prompt: “How do we view the ‘Law’ of the Old Covenant if I live in the New Covenant?” Or, to put it another way, “What is the relationship between the Law and the  believer?” I don’t propose to answer that question in this post. I propose to provide in what follows some resources to bring to the struggle of faith to do so.

The wonders of the Law are revealed, fulfilled, and consummated in and through Christ Jesus. This work of revealing, fulfilling, and consummating does not end with Christ Jesus even though He is the end of it – where it points and in which it lives. The Lord intends to manifest all of it in Himself in the Church and through the Church – the community of the faithful. The Law – Christ Jesus – must live in our midst and we in the midst of it/Him. We are meant to bear much fruit – bear Him… That, of course, involves discerning God’s will in my/our life. God has shown us what is good and perfect. If we walk in what He has shown we will be purified and prepared to receive what He desires to show us, that we may walk in it as well.

The goal of discipleship is not of moral improvement (the Law in Jesus clothing) but of union with God. Fr. Stephen, via one of his blog posts puts it this way:

“This conformity is not a moral conformity – we are not struggling to be like sons of the Most High – we are not struggling to be like sons of our Father in heaven. Within the commandment – Christ is also offering true union with God – a share in His life. He is also offering a clear sign of such a union, as noted in the saying of St. Silouan.”

“It is possible for someone to be ‘moral’ or to live ‘ethically’ without wonder, without joy. But it is not possible to live a life united to Christ without wonder and joy. St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the 4th century, said that ‘Man is mud, whom God has commanded to become god.’ The moral life, lived apart from union with Christ, will never rise to the level of God’s true commandment. Only the transforming grace of God can do such a work in us. God is looking for something more than a few good men.”1

Here are a couple of passages of Scripture to go along with a quote from one of the early Church Fathers that shed light on this aspect of the Mystery of the union between Christ and His Church.

Psalms 19

[7] The law of the LORD is perfect,

El Greco's "St. Jerome"

reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
[8] the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
[9] the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
[10] More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
[11] Moreover by them is thy servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalms 119

[14] In the way of thy testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
[15] I will meditate on thy precepts,
and fix my eyes on thy ways.
[16] I will delight in thy statutes;
I will not forget thy word.
[17] Deal bountifully with thy servant,
that I may live and observe thy word.
[18] Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of thy law.
[19] I am a sojourner on earth;
hide not thy commandments from me!
[20] My soul is consumed with longing
for thy ordinances at all times.

“Open my eyes that I may consider the wonders of your Law” (Ps. 119[118].18)
Jesus put spittle on his eyes, placed his hands on him and asked him whether he could see anything. Knowledge always comes by degrees… It is only after a great deal of time and a long apprenticeship that we are able to attain perfect knowledge. First the impurities are removed, blindness goes, and thus light enters. The Lord’s spittle is perfect teaching: to teach perfectly it comes from the Lord’s mouth. The Lord’s spittle, which comes forth, so to speak, from his substance, is understanding, just as the word coming forth from his mouth is a cure…

“I see people looking like trees and walking”: I still see the shadow but not yet the truth. The meaning of these words is: I can see something in the Law but as yet I don’t perceive the blazing light of the Gospel… “Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly.” He could see, I say, everything that we can see: he saw the mystery of the Trinity and he saw all the holy mysteries contained in the Gospel… And we, too, see them since we believe in Christ, the true light.

Saint Jerome (347-420), priest, translator of the Bible, Doctor of the Church
Homilies on Saint Mark’s Gospel, n°8, 235 (trad. SC 494, p. 143)

Purification – illumination – deification… and on and on and on by stages in fruitfulness and glory…

God Bless,

Fr. Thomas

Notes   1. Quotes from Fr. Stephen can be found on his blog “Glory to God for All Things”. The titles of the two posts quoted are: “Why Would Anyone Want to Forgive an Enemy?” and “Right, Wrong and the Image of God”