More on Judging By Appearances and Experience

Continuing on the theme of judging by appearances and our own experience… Here is today’s scriptural reflection from the Dynamis site that more deeply sheds light on the issue… We must affirm that on a personal and communal basis we are guided by the Spirit of Truth not by our convictions regarding appearances or the validity of our own experience.

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Pascha (May 19, 2015)

Some New Thing: Acts 17:19-28, especially vss. 24-25: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” The Apostle Paul, “as his custom was” (vs. 17:2), visited the synagogues in Athens (vs. 17) and also the agora – the city’s market center. There the masses mingled with philosophers from the classical schools, spending “their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (vs. 21).

As the primary bearers of Hellenistic culture, the Athenian philosophers naturally wish to bring the visiting apostle to a gathering at the Areopagus or Mars Hill (vs. 19). According to Saint Luke, the Stoics and Epicureans who “encountered him” (vs. 18) are especially curious about his “new doctrine” (vs. 19). Among the pagan schools of philosophy, these two dedicated the greatest effort to illumining the uncertainties of life and seeking truth concerning the divine. However, their efforts were based solely on human reasoning.

Saint Paul’s words undercut the Athenians’ basic assumption that the ultimate truth about life can be found by men through reason, using trial and error. We recall that in the Garden of Eden the serpent suggests this very approach, promising Adam and Eve “you will be like gods” (Gn 3:6).

Ultimately the Church, in the person of the Apostle Paul, brings the true light to Hellenized world, which “received the heavenly Spirit” and acquired “the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity,” as we sing during the liturgy after holy communion. This new faith made profound advances upon Western culture until the Enlightenment.

Gradually, the idea that mankind has the capacity to discern its own truth gradually regained ascendancy. Today, we are once again living in a world where the ancient lie rules. Scientific materialism and secular humanism openly attack the truth which Christ and His apostles taught.

What Paul shares with the Athenian philosophers is truly “some new thing” (Acts 17:21): the Word of life, sent by God’s own initiative, to enlighten mankind (vss. 30-32). The Athenians’ “unknown God” (vs. 23) is the Christ who has revealed Himself to the Church.

Christ is disclosed as the Maker of all things, visible and invisible (vss. 23-29). Saint Paul proclaims that the Lord has revealed Himself openly. As the psalmist says, “God is the Lord and hath appeared unto us” (Ps 117:26).

The ancient Hellenists and modern materialists alike believe we can decipher “the unity of all things contrary to the appearance of diversity.” Metropolitan John Zizioulas repudiates this view and its corollary position that God does not rule over the material world since “He too is bound by . . . necessity to the world and the world to Him” (Being as Communion, p. 29).

Saint Paul’s new thing directly counters this error, for he declares, “God . . . made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth” (vs. 24). God needs nothing, for “He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (vs. 25). The Creator existentially contradicts the ancient and modern lie that leads mankind on the impossible quest to know everything.

The apostle also addresses a related lie, initiated by Plato: “The world does not exist for the sake of man, but man exists for its sake.” Herein we find a denial of God’s infinite freedom as well as His gift of free will to us as persons who are intended to be “like” God.

Instead, the Apostle Paul says, “We are also His offspring,” i.e., free beings (vs. 28).  If we have accepted the lies of materialism, let us hasten to repent (vs. 30)!

O Lord, Thou hast made all things new.  Help us live in Thy likeness to eternal life.

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The Witness

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1.1-2)Elder Sophrony

“In Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit God gave us the full and final revelation of Himself. His Being now for us is the First Reality, incomparably more evident than all the transient phenomena of this world. We sense His divine presence both within us and without: in the supreme majesty of the universe, in the human face, in the lightning flash of thought. He opens our eyes that we may behold and delight in the beauty of His creation. He fills our souls with love towards all mankind. His indescribably gentle touch pierces our heart. And in the hours when His imperishable Light illumines our heart we know that we shall not die. We know this with knowledge impossible to prove in the ordinary way but which for us requires no proof, since the Spirit Himself bears witness within us.” Elder Sophrony

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.

What is Required of Me?

My journey of salvation is like standing in the surf. Some days the wind is calm and the waves tiny, no taller than my ankles. Then, suddenly, the wind kicks up, and set after set of giant waves crash against me. I must hold my ground and lean into them or be driven to the sand beneath them. The realizations (I hesitate, here lately, to use the word “revelation” for fear of being presumptuous) come in this way at times and hardly ever as solitary. It is not a “one-thing-at-a-time” thing.

It is, at one-and-the-same-time confusing and clarifying. Confusing in that there is a “sorting through” to relinquish what no longer fits and a reordering of what does belong in light of what has been revealed.

This tumultuousness requires me, to change the analogy, to receive this “new view” of “what is as it truly is more fully,” and struggle to let go of how I “have viewed” “what is.” This has its confusing and frustrating aspects. There is a necessary “not knowing” into which I find I must live for a time until the assimilation/integration gets worked out. “Change” really means “mature.” It is not that something has been added. It is, rather, that what I have understood has been corrected or my vision clarified so I can see what was hidden to me before. Adjustment, turning, letting go, and laying hold of are required. In essence, repentance. Not just a changed way of seeing but with it, by grace with faithful struggle, a more fulfilled – Truthful Way of engaging in Life.

I am invited to trust more fully. Active/invested stillness instead of an exhausting attempt to “figure it all out” in some way.

Jesus said,

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  Nicode’mus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’  Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew.” The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.’” (John 3.3-8)

Among the sayings of St. Seraphim of Sarov are these:

“Acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.”

“… the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

Father Boris Bobrinskoy, in his book, The Compassion of the Father says:

Living the life of Christ, letting oneself be penetrated by His Spirit, by His breath of mercy, constitutes Christianity. According to the Bible, that means acquiring the bowels of compassion and tenderness of the Father. According to the second chapter of Philippians, it presupposes having the same feelings as Jesus Christ, not in the sense of mimicry or external imitation, but a true “transfer” on a plane more important and fundamental than the psychological level. A transfer of presence, of life center, of grace and love must operate in us so that we might live in Christ, and Christ might live in us. Certainly, this transfer operates in a global, constant, and progressive manner, through the sacramental life, love, prayer, and faith. For us Christians, the Church is the place of apprenticeship of this transfer: its entire pedagogy, its sacramental and liturgical transmission, its spiritual methodology, and its ascetic experience of the inner life, what the Fathers call the unseen warfare against the passions.

What is required, in order for me to be a Christian? In essence, nothing less than a rebirth of my entire consciousness and its content. I must relinquish the entirety of what I “know” in all senses of that term for the “knowledge” of God and all things through Him in all senses of that term. There is, finally, no room of fitting the square peg of the Way, Truth, and Life into the round hole of my current consciousness and its content. My all-encompassing vision-conception-comprehension-interaction with and of reality must be crucified and die and a new one born that will mature. Not once but unceasingly – at all times and in all places. Nothing can fall outside the influence of this, the saving work of God. Cost what it will, lead where it may in the context of the Holy Tradition as I give myself to it oh so gradually but faithfully as I can at any one moment, intent on yielding to it more and more as I have the courage, by grace.

I am, thus, reminded, awakened to what is True and the Life I already possess in which I am painfully maturing. This is the shape and direction of my saving journey. I am on the Way. I struggle toward the fulfillment.

John Behr’s articulation of the movement of theological reflection in The Mystery of Christ,  is, for me, the articulation of what I call my spiral journey of salvation. One new friend has called salvation more of a “pulsating point.” I like that image too. I will probably adopt it as part of how I see my life in Christ. (Thank you Fr. Seraphim.)

“When the disciples encountered the risen Lord and began to understand the truth of God that he reveals, and indeed is, they were also confronted with the reverse side of this revelation: the truth that they had abandoned him at the time of his Passion… This encounter with the Lord and the subsequent recognition that one is a sinner, but a forgiven sinner, is the basic movement for further theological reflection.”

I struggle onward to have my words and life communicate the Truth. If, in any way, my words do not reflect the Holy Tradition, forgive me.

O Emmanuel

And so we come to the last of the O Antiphon days – O Emmanuel.o antiphons symbols

The great Advent hymn has a refrain that reiterates the main point that all the heavens and earth proclaim – God with us. Perhaps the greatest curse of the fallen universe is the delusional logic that concludes, “God is absent or distant.” God’s separation from us is a hateful illusion. As a result of sin and death, we may be in a broken relationship with God, but it is a broken relationship. We may not be on “speaking terms” with God but God continues to be present among us and to speak to us – making His appeal in a variety of ways. Indeed, He is in a mysterious sense, more present than ever as a result of our sin because of His great love for us and desire that none should be lost (1 Timothy 2.4). When we were in grievous danger God made His presence known to us “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1.1-2).

Martin Laird, writes compellingly of the never-absent and radically ever-present and ever-pressing God:

… this God we seek has already found us, already looks out of our own eyes, is already, as S. Augustine famously put it, “closer to me than I am to myself.” “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,” he continues, “you were within and I was outside myself.”

People who have traveled far along the contemplative path are often aware that the sense of separation from God is itself pasted up out of a mass of thought and feelings. When the mind comes into its own stillness and enter the silent land, the sense of separation goes. Union is seen to be the fundamental reality, and separation a highly filtered mental perception…. “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” (Psalm 62:1,6) (Into the Silent Land, pg. 8, 10, by Martin Laird, Oxford University Press, 2006.)

There is no such thing as “God absent.” To sing such a refrain would be absurdity itself. And yet, that is the refrain of the hymn of sin and death. Such singing, such behavior, is typical of those who we call “God” but who is not God but an idol. The proof that what we call “God” is not, in fact, God, can be summed up using a line from a Don McLean song, “American Pie.” Although he is not referring in any sense to God, the behavior pattern makes the point,

And the three men I admired most
The father, son, and holy ghost
They caught the last train to the coast
The day the music died.

Has the “God” we worship, “caught the last train to the coast?!” If so, he is not God. He is an imposter.

The feast of the Nativity is the once and for all, defining revelation; the unveiling in a unique and essential manner (incarnational), of what has been true all along – God is with us ! ! God with us, in our midst, while we continued to rail against Him, and spit on him, and scourge Him, and crucify Him, He is in our midst, providing for us – loving us. The Divine Liturgy reminds us and challenges us to proclaim, “Christ is in our midst. He is and ever shall be.”

O Emmanuel ! !

But, this is not enough according to God. It is not enough for God to become man. What?! Yes, it is not enough.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, says, in Article 460:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

According to St. Irenaeus in the Preface of Book 5, of his Against Heresies:

In the four preceding books, my very dear friend, which I put forth to thee, all the heretics have been exposed, and their doctrines brought to light, and these men refuted who have devised irreligious opinions. [I have accomplished this by adducing] something from the doctrine peculiar to each of these men, which they have left in their writings, as well as by using arguments of a more general nature, and applicable to them all. Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the Church, receiving [these truths], and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity (bene), has transmitted them to her sons. Then also—having disposed of all questions which the heretics propose to us, and having explained the doctrine of the apostles, and clearly set forth many of those things which were said and done by the Lord in parables—I shall endeavour, in this the fifth book of the entire work which treats of the exposure and refutation of knowledge falsely so called, to exhibit proofs from the rest of the Lord’s doctrine and the apostolical epistles: [thus] complying with thy demand, as thou didst request of me (since indeed I have been assigned a place in the ministry of the word); and, labouring by every means in my power to furnish thee with large assistance against the contradictions of the heretics, as also to reclaim the wanderers and convert them to the Church of God, to confirm at the same time the minds of the neophytes, that they may preserve stedfast the faith which they have received, guarded by the Church in its integrity, in order that they be in no way perverted by those who endeavour to teach them false doctrines, and lead them away from the truth. It will be incumbent upon thee, however, and all who may happen to read this writing, to peruse with great attention what I have already said, that thou mayest obtain a knowledge of the subjects against which I am contending. For it is thus that thou wilt both controvert them in a legitimate manner, and wilt be prepared to receive the proofs brought forward against them, casting away their doctrines as filth by means of the celestial faith; but following the only true and stedfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.

According to St. Athanasius in Section 54 of his classic work, On the Incarnation:

As, then, if a man should wish to see God, Who is invisible by nature and not seen at all, he may know and apprehend Him from His works: so let him who fails to see Christ with his understanding, at least apprehend Him by the works of His body, and test whether they be human works or God’s works. 2. And if they be human, let him scoff; but if they are not human, but of God, let him recognise it, and not laugh at what is no matter for scoffing; but rather let him marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us, and that by death immortality has reached to all, and that by the Word becoming man, the universal Providence has been known, and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. 3. For He was made man that we might be made God and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. For while He Himself was in no way injured, being impossible and incorruptible and very Word and God, men who were suffering, and for whose sakes He endured all this, He maintained and preserved in His own impassibility. 4. And, in a word, the achievements of the Saviour, resulting from His becoming man, are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in. 5. Better is it, then, not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but, after mentioning one more, to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvellous, and wherever a man turns his glance, he may behold on that side the divinity of the Word, and be struck with exceeding great awe.

Christ is the Light shining in the midst of the darkness, not alongside it ! ! AND, we are to be the light shining in the darkness, not alongside it – He in us and we in Him as one by the action of His grace ! !

I have already provided several resources for your fruitful reflection on the theme of “God with us.” But, here are even more to help you continue on your pilgrimage to the Christmas crèche, where you and I along with all the other pilgrims can affirm the radical proclamation of God’s faithfulness – He has, is, and ever shall be in our midst.

Fr. Thomas

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Veni, Veni Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. Refrain

Latin, Com­bined from var­i­ous an­ti­phons by an un­known au­thor, pos­si­bly in the 12th Cen­tu­ry
trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851

O Emmanuel – English: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Some Relevant Scripture Reference:
Isaiah 7:14; 8:8
Matthew 1:23
Haggai 2:7

Relevant verse of Veni, Veni Emmanuel:
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Micah 5.1-4
[1] Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike upon the cheek
the ruler of Israel.
[2] But you, O Bethlehem Eph’rathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
[3] Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
[4] And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

Psalm 80
[1] Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
thou who leadest Joseph like a flock!
Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
[2] before E’phraim and Benjamin and Manas’seh!
Stir up thy might,
and come to save us!
[3] Restore us, O God;
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!
[4] O LORD God of hosts,
how long wilt thou be angry with thy people’s prayers?
[5] Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
[6] Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors;
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
[7] Restore us, O God of hosts;
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!
[8] Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt;
thou didst drive out the nations and plant it.
[9] Thou didst clear the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
[10] The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
[11] it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
[12] Why then hast thou broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
[13] The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
[14] Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
[15] the stock which thy right hand planted.
[16] They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance!
[17] But let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand,
the son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself!
[18] Then we will never turn back from thee;
give us life, and we will call on thy name!
[19] Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!

Hebrews 10.5-10
[5] Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
[6] in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.
[7] Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
[8] When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),
[9] then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
[10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1.39-45
[39] In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
[40] and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth.
[41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
[42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
[43] And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
[44] For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.
[45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Today is the commemoration of St. John of Kanty. From all the reading I have been able to do, he is an icon of light in the midst of darkness; a bearer of the fruit of the Spirit. More can be learned about him here and here.

Sources:

http://www.catholic.org/clife/advent/advent.php?id=7

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.toc.html

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.toc.html

“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?!”

The gospel reading in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Eucharistic lectionaries is John 10:22-30.

“The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’ (Jn. 10.22-30)

The question that the opponents/critics of Jesus were asking was, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” I could distance myself from THAT question and say, “At least I know THAT much. Those poor, pitiful, misguided Jewish leaders. Why couldn’t they SEE what was SO obvious?!”

But, if I am really honest, I need to consider where the question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is present in my life.

Honestly, I find myself asking that question quite often. Jesus has a tendency to “push my passion buttons” For example, my over active “need to know” and use of that knowledge as my source of security in the midst of difficult circumstances. Contrast that need with the invitation and challenge to do what He says and trust Him for the “results.” I am one of opponents and critics of Jesus when I demand (subtly of course) that He play according to MY rules of timing, results, approval, success, etc.

Jesus answers His critics by saying, “I told you …” What?! The fact is Jesus DOES tell me He is the Messiah. He tells me MORE than enough to satisfy genuine faith. But, He is telling me in ways that refuse to satisfy my “passions.”

What are the passions? They are those drives or needs, sin and death active within me that deny the Lordship of Christ and desire to keep me off track in my discipleship. They war against the work of the Holy Spirit. And, when I am living, asking, and seeking to hear the voice of God from the place of my passions, I don’t hear it. The passions are the opponents/critics of Jesus that roam around inside me asking questions of Jesus that sound like a desire to continue to acknowledge His Lordship but are, in reality, looking for ways to effectively deny His Lordship in how I live my everyday life.

There is a sense in which my question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is really a question about the Lordship of Christ Jesus in my life. In other words, “If you are the Messiah, then act like one by telling me everything I BELIEVE I NEED to know in this circumstance.” I think that is exactly what I am doing – doubting His Lordship. IS He my Messiah/Lord when I am unwilling to obey/follow Him without “knowing everything” or, at least, the amount I THINK is reasonable for Him to tell me?? Today’s passage is about testifying to the Lordship of Jesus in those times when a greater degree of trust is required of me by the Lord God. The Holy Spirit makes no compromise or peace with the passions. His desire is to seek and destroy them, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances when my passions are most obviously active and the stakes are the highest in my life and the life of others.

The urge to ask Jesus, in the heat of the difficult circumstance, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (and, I would add, from John 6.30, “… what sign do you do, that (I) may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?”) betrays a need, on my part to repent. It is an opportunity to turn my self-centered question into a true yearning for the Lord to powerfully act in whatever way is suitable to accomplish His purposes, so I might rejoice in the revelation of His glory.

Fr. Thomas

New Revelation vs. Deeper Revelation

“My child, do not expect a new Revelation. I shall only speak to thee of the things which have been told to men from the beginning. What may be new will be the particular attention given to certain aspects of the eternal truth.” In Thy Presence, by Fr. Lev Gillet, pg. 11

What I hear Fr. Lev Gillet saying goes to the very at the very heart of the traditional understanding and application of the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus – the God-man.

I have been involved, over the years in many conversations in which the concept of a “new and deeper understanding of the revelation of God in Christ” was used to validate policies and practices in the Church that flatly contradicted what has been understood by the Church at all times, by all, in all places since the time of the apostles.

I have never quite understood how such a rationale could be articulated let alone put into place through concrete policies and actions. The reason I find this approach to be an insult to the Holy Tradition issues from my training. My mentors plowed deeply into my mind a deep commitment to  a “conciliar” understanding and application of the Scriptures.

There is a difference between a deeper understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ which is unchanging and a purported understanding of the revelation that represents a clear and obvious departure from what the Church has come to understand the revelation means and requires of the faithful.

If, in fact, as the Church Fathers contend, the Church has been and is the Spirit-filled and directed community in union with the Living Christ, in its understanding of the revelation of the Good News and its application, then any change that might be contemplated by any part of the Church must, inevitably, be submitted for consideration by the whole Church; participate in that consideration, and abide by the decision of the whole Church regarding the contemplated change.

One aspect of a conciliar understanding of the revelation of God in Christ is inner consistency. That means that no matter how deep our understanding of any aspect of the revelation might become, it will have a “sameness” to all of our previous understandings of the same aspect of the revelation. This sameness witnesses to the integrity of not only the revelation but our interpretation.

Of course, integrity does not disqualify diversity. Diversity is no enemy of unity in the arena of the Church’s life or the validity of its comprehension of the practical meaning of the Word become flesh for our salvation. From the beginning of the Church’s life, regional diversity of understandings and applications have been common. However, these diverse understandings and applications have been build upon an underlying common understanding.

A second aspect of the conciliar character of the Church’s relationship with the revelation is that any decision must be in agreement with what has been understood at all times, in all places, by all over all the way back to the apostles.

The Church, if it is the Church, is One. This is the Church’s conciliar understanding of our Lord’s words in John 17. This chapter is like a doorway to many other passages to be sure.

It might be fair to contend that all of the Church’s problems are the fruit of its repudiation of conciliation and its refusal to embrace re-conciliation (the re-establishment of conciliation as a foundation stone of its operation and of its practical union).

The likelihood of another “Ecumenical Council” is slim. Why? Well, consider, for a moment, what would have to happen for that to take placd. Each and every denomination would have to submit its entire understanding and practices to the mind of the Church as it was last understood when the Church was one in practice. In other words, the whole Church would have to repent – die to the mind it has that caused and sustained the inner division and be born to its authentic mind (its only mind), which is the mind of Christ.

In my opinion, and that is just what it is, an opinion (and not I am sure all that humble), the only way for the Church to move ahead with authenticity is to tackle the issue of its own division. The Church’s division is, perhaps, the most convincing proof of its repudiation of a conciliar understanding and application of the Gospel.

Fr. Thomas