The Holy Mystery – The Fullness of Being In Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus is Drawing Near-Cry Out!

“As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18.35-39)

“As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, ‘Son of David, have pity on us!’” (Matthew 9.27)

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The crowds follow Jesus; nations and peoples believe in him. And now, see two blind men seated at the roadside (Mt 20.29f.). These are an image of those faithful who bind themselves to him by believing in the mysteries of his humanity. They long for illumination from on high; they ask for some ray of light concerning the eternal Word. Christ’s humanity is the road leading to salvation. It is through Jesus, by faith in the Incarnation and Passion of the Son of God that they strive to obtain what they desire. In fact Jesus passes by, so to speak, in the mystery of his mortal life; the work he accomplishes is the measure of his passage in time.

To make ourselves heard by him we have to shout out loudly; we have to overcome the noise and bustle of the crowd; we have to pray insistently and perseveringly. The impulses of the flesh are what besiege the soul like a rabble when it wants to behold the eternal light and which set themselves up against its attempts. It is the influence of the dregs of the society of fleshly men that comes to prevent the spirit’s meditation. We have to have very great spiritual strength to overcome all these obstacles.

Jesus said: “Everyone who asks, receives, everyone who seeks, finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened” (Mt 7.8). And so, when he hears those who, in their burning desire, come up to him, Jesus stops on the road, touches those blind men who are asking for light and enlightens them. O wonderful mystery!

It is Jesus passing by: his appearance in the frailty of the flesh is only for a moment. It is Jesus who stops: the eternity of the Word is unmoving, renewing all things, changeless in itself. Faith in the Incarnation in time prepares us to understand God’s eternal mystery. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Longing For Him Who Loves You – Repent Into the Embrace of God

Advent is the season of longing. It is when we give ourselves to the exploration of authentic yearning, desire, and longing. Not self-serving but self-giving and life-creating. We come to realize that desire, longing, and yearning are at the heart of who God is in Himself, how He is in relationship with us, and how we are to be in relationship with one another. That is saying a lot. Indeed, we have definitions of yearning, desire, and longing that could never allow for them to be statements about God’s inner life of communion. So, we need to realize these words are about fulfillment and not about progress. They are about something alive that is growing not about the assembling of a machine. They are personal/relational terms not mechanistic/propositional terms.

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Rejoice in the Spirit of Longing
[21] In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
[22] All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
[23] Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!
[24] For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10.21-24)

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The Pining of the Soul
“ Lord, my soul pines for your salvation” (Ps 118[119],81), that is to say in its expectation. Happy the weakness that expresses desire for a good that has not been gained but yet is passionately sought after. So who do these words refer to if not, from the origins of humankind to the world’s end, to the “chosen race, the royal priesthood, the people set apart” (1Pt 2,9), to every person who lived, lives or will live in desire for Christ, each in their own time?

The witness to this expectation is the holy old man Simeon, who exclaimed as he took the child into his arms : “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2,29-30). For he had received God’s promise that he would not taste death until he had seen Christ, the Lord. This old man’s desire – as we believe – was that of all the saints during the time that went before. This is why our Lord said to his disciples: “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see and did not see it, to hear what you hear and never heard it.”

Therefore all these people must also be counted amongst those who sing : “My soul wastes away on account of your salvation”. Never, in those days, was this desire of the saints set to rest, and from now on it will never be set at rest in Christ’s body, his Church, until the end of the world, until there comes “the Desire of all nations” promised by the prophet (Hag 2,8 Vg)… The desire we are talking about comes from loving “Christ’s appearing” like the apostle Paul. It is of this that he said: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Col 3,4). The Church in times of old, before the Virgin’s childbearing, included saints who desired Christ’s coming in the flesh. Today it includes other saints who desire Christ’s manifestation in his glory. From the beginning of the world to the end of time this desire of the Church will have no respite.
– Saint Augustine (354-430), Discourses on the Psalms, Ps 118, no.20

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Repent Into the Embrace of God
The Lord greatly loves the repenting sinner and mercifully presses him to His bosom: “Where were you, My child? I was waiting a long time for you.” The Lord calles all to Himself with the voice of the Gospel, and his voice is heard in all the world: “Come to me, my sheep. I created you, and I love you. My love for you brought Me to earth, and I suffered all things for the sake of your salvation, and I want you all to know my love, and to say, like the apostles on Tabor: Lord, it is good for us to be with You.”
–  St. Silouan the Athonite

Upward Call

People ask me why I chose the name “Upward Call” for this ministry.  The saints have consistently spoken of the Christian life, as a journey, a pilgrimage. What is more, they speak of it as an “ascent” — a journey upward (glorification) by going downward (humility). The way up is down. Another way, it seems to me, of speaking of the “eye of the needle.” The faithful struggle that can, if we say yet another “Gethsemane yes”, inform the meaning and significance of any and all struggles we may face.

Jesus goes “up” to Jerusalem to be “lifted up” and “descend” into the grave to be “raised up.” There it is again — paradox.

The gospel for today and the reflection on it by St. Augustine is a good example of the witness of the New Testament and the saints regarding the upward call. The life of ascent.

[51] When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. [52] And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; [53] but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. [54] And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” [55] But he turned and rebuked them. [56] And they went on to another village. Luke 9.51-56

 

The weight of our fragility makes us bend towards realities here below; the fire of your love, O Lord, raises us up and bears us towards realities above. We rise there by means of our heart’s impetus, singing the songs of ascent. We burn with your fire, the fire of your goodness, for it is this that transports us.

Where is it that you thus cause us to rise? To the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122[121],1). Nothing will bring us to it except the desire to remain there for ever. While we are in the body, we journey towards you. Here below we have no abiding city; we are constantly seeking our home in the city to come (Heb 13,14). May your grace guide me, O Lord, into the depths of my heart, there to sing of your love, my King and my God… And as I remember that heavenly Jerusalem my heart will rise up towards it: to Jerusalem my true homeland, Jerusalem my mother (Gal 4,26). You are its King, its light, its defender, its protector, its pastor; you are its unquenchable joy; your goodness is the source of all its inexpressible blessings… – you, my God and my divine mercy. Saint Augustine (354-430), Meditations, ch.18

And, of course, the passage that resonates in my deepest heart:

[7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. [13] Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [15] Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.  [16] Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3.7-16

Lord, grant me the grace to say my upward/downward “yes” today.

Encountering the Savior in and through a “Rule of Life” and the “Witnesses”

The “rule of life” is not magic. It can hinder our journey of theosis as much as it can foster it. The key is the attitude of the believer not regarding one thing but several things. We hear in the gospel today of the Pharisees. They certainly had a “rule of life.” They spent time in daily prayer consistently. What is more, they were dedicated to reading and reflecting on the “word of God” on a daily basis. They were faithful tithers, almsgivers, and practiced a lifestyle of fasting. They were dedicated to the growth and development of life and ministry of the synagogue and temple of which they were members.

According to Jesus, not only in today’s reading but on a number of other occasions, their “rule of life” was for naught. It did not count for anything.

Where does this point us? Do we conclude that a “rule of life” is the enemy of spiritual growth and transformation? Some Christians have, over the centuries, basically concluded that very thing in some shape or form. Indeed, I would contend, it is one of the most fundamental causes of visible division in the Church. I have attended gatherings where there was a lot of “scriptural searching” and “leadings” and “intense praying” but not a lot of Christ. (Hey, I am willing to admit it might have been me who was out of sync. and not seeking Christ but power or approval.)

So, if all of this is not about a “thumbs up or down” regarding the form our everyday life in Christ take vis-a-vis a rule of life, then what is it about?? It is about the witness of truth in and through form and content. It is about thinking that form can achieve transformation without the proper content. It is also about thinking that content can achieve transformation without the proper form (more of a tricky and subtle trap for the Protestant). It is about seeking and finding (and being found and encountered by) Christ in and through the rule of life that is a dynamic union of form and content engaged in with humility (a genuine desire to know Christ) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is about living in the midst of and heeding the faithful witnesses to the Way, Truth, and Life – Christ Jesus.

Here is a wonderful reflection by Don Schwager to which I have added a quote from the Rule of St. Benedict. It touches on a couple of the points I have articulated.

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; 8 they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; 10 now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.”

11 But Moses begged the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, `With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'” 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.

Psalm 106:19-23
19 They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

Gospel Reading:  John 5:31-47
31 If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; 32 there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.

39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men. 42 But I know that you have not the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Meditation: Do you know the joy of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – and a life freely submitted to the wisdom and knowledge of God’s word? Jesus’ opponents refused to accept his authority to speak and act in the name of God. And they refused to believe that he was sent from the Father in heaven. They demanded evidence for his claim to be equal with God. Jesus answers their charges with the supporting evidence of witnesses. The law of Moses had laid down the principle that the unsupported evidence of one person shall not prevail against a man for any crime or wrong in connection with any offence he committed (see Deuteronomy 17:6). At least two or three witnesses were needed.

Witnesses to Jesus’ true identity
Jesus begins his defense by citing John the Baptist as a witness, since John publicly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and had repeatedly borne witness to him (see John 1:19, 20, 26, 29, 35, 36). Jesus also asserts that a greater witness to his identity and equality with God the Father are the signs and miracles he performed. He cites his works, not to point to himself but to point to the power of God the Father working in and through him. He cites God the Father as his supreme witness.

Jesus asserts that the Scriptures themselves, including the first five books of Moses, point to him as the

Messiah, the promised Savior. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they did not believe what Moses had written. They desired the praise of their own people and since they were so focused on themselves, they became blindsighted to God. They were so preoccupied with their own position as authorities and interpreters of the law that they became hardened and unable to understand the word of God. Their pride made them deaf to God’s voice.

God reveals himself to the lowly of heart
Scripture tells us that God reveals himself to the lowly, to those who trust not in themselves but in God alone. The lowly of heart listen to God’s word with an eagerness to learn and to obey. The Lord Jesus reveals to us the very mind and heart of God. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit he opens our ears so that we may hear his voice and he fills our hearts and minds with the love and knowledge of God. Do you believe that God’s word has power to set you free from sin and ignorance and to transform you to be like him?

Saint Augustine of Hippo (430-543 A.D.) wrote:

“As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for study.”

Daily Quote for Lent:

Christ is our Master who teaches us, by Augustine of Hippo, A.D. 430-543
“There is a Master within Who teaches us. Christ is our Master, and his inspiration and his anointing teaches us. Where his inspiration and his anointing are lacking, it is in vain that words resound in our ears. As Paul the Apostle said: ‘I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.’ Therefore, whether we plant or whether we water by our words, we are nothing. It is God Who gives the increase; His anointing teaches you all things.” (excerpt from Sermon on 1 John 3,13)

The fellowship of the faithful in the Spirit is a school for transformation and service, by St. Benedict, A.D. 480-543
“And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13) and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.” (excerpt from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict)

 Source and credits: www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word

Epiphany/Theophany – Making Known and Being Known

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

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

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

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

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

This sharing is essentially relational and not propositional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jesus Prayer: A Fitting Advent Discipline (updated)

Those of you who know me, know that I am always refining and adding. It seems the Truth won’t let me write something without showing me more as a result of what I wrote. That, then leads me to revise or add to what I previously wrote (or said) so it matches, more perfectly, the Truth. It is a constant process of realizing and revising and realizing and revising — on and on and on… (But then that is the whole journey of transformation in a nutshell, isn’t it?!)

My last blog post is a case in point. So, here, below the dashed line, is my revised (better – more truth filled) version of what I posted yesterday.

——————————————–

Advent is about yearning. Not superficial yearning. Deep, edgy, risky yearning. An “out beyond,” cost what it will, lead where it may” kind of yearning. Indeed, a yearning that is unceasing.

The Jesus Prayer is the Advent prayer. It has all the qualities just articulated.

The Jesus Prayer is the unceasing prayer of the righteous person. It avails much (James 5.16). I hear in the word “much,” that James intending us to understand him to mean “everything.”

For, indeed, it is the groaning for union with the One who placed the yearning in us by design.

Let me take time and space to unpack all of this.

St. Augustine is most often quoted at this point:

“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee…”

Another way of saying “union with God” is “Sabbath rest.” For, don’t the Scriptures from Isaiah to Hebrews to Revelation speak of the new heavens and the new earth? Don’t they speak of the “universal shalom” of God? (See Living the Christian Year, by Bobby Gross for the use of this beautiful term.) The prophets and the glorious company of the saints cry out (yearn/groan) for it!

“So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4.9-11)

Again, St. Augustine speaks of this yearning in his reflections on Psalm 38.

“A psalm to David himself, on the remembrance of the Sabbath.
What doth this recollection of the Sabbath mean? What is this Sabbath? For it is with groaning that he ‘calls it to recollection.’ You have both heard already when the Psalm was read, and you will now hear it when we shall go over it, how great is his groaning, his mourning, his tears, his misery. But happy he who is wretched after this manner! Whence the Lord also in the Gospel (Matt v.4). called some who mourn blessed. ‘How should he be blessed if he is a mourner? How blessed, if he is miserable?’ Nay rather, he would be miserable, if he were not a mourner. Such an one then let us understand here too, calling the Sabbath to remembrance (viz.), some mourner or other: and would that we were ourselves that ‘some one or other!’ For there is here some person sorrowing, groaning, mourning, calling the Sabbath to remembrance. The Sabbath is rest. Doubtless he was in some disquietude, who with groaning was calling the Sabbath to remembrance.…”

Our groaning/yearning for Sabbath rest begins now and will never end. We groan in our brokenness for union with God in Christ Jesus. We groan in our union for ever more consummate union with God in Christ Jesus. We will yearn for eternity in our full righteousness for more and more consummate union with God in Christ Jesus, for God is eternally inexhaustible in His knowability. So, our yearning is multifaceted – mysterious. It is our heritage by design. Eternal Sabbath delight. (Heaven will never get boring.)

The Psalmist notes this multifaceted source of our groaning/yearning/longing. Our longing for ever more consummate delight in God begins in our brokenness:

“For thy arrows have sunk into me, and thy hand has come down on me.There is no soundness in my flesh because of thy indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin… Lord, all my longing is known to thee, my sighing is not hidden from thee.” (Psalms 38.2-3 9)

This longing is unceasing, St. Augustine says:

“’I go mourning all the day long.’ ‘All day long,’ that is, ‘without intermission.’ By ‘all the day long,’ he means, ‘all my life long.’ But from what time hath he known it? From the time that he began to ‘call the Sabbath to remembrance.’ For so long as he ‘calls to remembrance’ what he no longer possesses, wouldest thou not have him ‘go mourning?’ ‘All the day long have I gone mourning.’”

Why an unceasing longing even in our brokenness? The “remembrance of the sabbath” inscription at the beginnning of Psalms 38, doesn’t, I propose, speak only of David’s remembrance of all the sabbaths he enjoyed, but also of the inherent remembrance of the sabbath rest of our lost union with God. Because our “fallenness” does not include the destruction of our yearning for God. It remains like a splinter in the illusion/delusional mind of fallen mankind. This faint echo never leaves us no matter how far we have fallen. Here we begin to turn a corner. In our consideration of The Jesus Prayer, we must now realize that it is the very essence of prayer, and as such, the very essence of the groaning/yearning:

For, indeed, as the elder told the pilgrim,

“…St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions. ‘First of all, thee should be prayers offered’ (1 Tim. 2:1). The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ… The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Consequently, our only contribution toward perfection in prayer, the mother of all spiritual good, is regularity and constancy.” The Way of the Pilgrim (pg.8)

The Jesus Prayer sums up the journey of salvation/transformation; namely the dynamic interplay between revelation and repentance that takes the form of a transformed life. We must, if we are to find and live out our Sabbath rest in Christ, not only come to know the Truth (be confronted with it), but embrace the truth. We must be “disillusioned.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of this in Life Together. St. Augustine spoke of it many centuries before:

“For my soul is filled with illusions, and there is no soundness in my flesh” (ver. 7). Where there is the whole man, there there is soul and flesh both. The “soul is filled with illusions;” the flesh hath “no soundness.” What does there remain that can give joy? Is it not meet that one should “go mourning”? “All the day long have I gone mourning.” Let mourning be our portion, until our soul be divested of its illusions; and our body be clothed with soundness. For true soundness is no other than immortality. How great however are the soul’s illusions, were I even to attempt to express, when would the time suffice me? For whose soul is not subject to them? There is a brief particular that I will remind you of, to show how our soul is filled with illusions. The presence of those illusions sometimes scarcely permits us to pray. We know not how to think of material objects without images, and such as we do not wish, rush in upon the mind; and we wish to go from this one to that, and to quit that for another. And sometimes you wish to return to that which you were thinking of before, and to quit that which you are now thinking of; and a fresh one presents itself to you; you wish to call up again what you had forgotten; and it does not occur to you; and another comes instead which you would not have wished for. Where meanwhile was the one that you had forgotten? For why did it afterwards occur to you, when it had ceased to be sought after; whereas, while it was being sought for, innumerable others, which were not desired, presented themselves instead of it? I have stated a fact briefly; I have thrown out a kind of hint or suggestion to you, brethren, taking up which, you may yourselves suggest the rest to yourselves, and discover what it is to mourn over the “illusions” of our “soul.” He hath received therefore the punishment of illusion; he hath forfeited Truth. For just as illusion is the soul’s punishment, so is Truth its reward. But when we were set in the midst of these illusions, the Truth Itself came to us, and found us overwhelmed by illusions, took upon Itself our flesh, or rather took flesh from us; that is, from the human race. He manifested himself to the eyes of the Flesh, that He might “by faith” heal those to whom He was going to reveal the Truth hereafter, that Truth might be manifested to the now healed eye. For He is Himself “the Truth,” (John xiv. 6). which He promised unto us at that time, when His Flesh was to be seen by the eye, that the foundation might be laid of that Faith, of which the Truth was to be the reward. For it was not Himself that Christ showed forth on earth; but it was His Flesh that He showed. For had He showed Himself, the Jews would have seen and known Him; but had they “known Him, they would never have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Cor. ii. 10). But perhaps His disciples saw Him, when they said unto Him, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us;” (John xiv. 8). and He, to show that it was not Himself that had been seen by them, added: “Have I been so long with you, and have ye not known Me, Philip? He that seeth Me, seeth the Father also.” (John xiv. 9). If then they saw Christ, wherefore did they yet seek for the Father? For if it were Christ whom they saw, they would have seen the Father also. They did not therefore yet see Christ, who desired that the Father should be shown unto them. To prove that they did not yet see Him, hear that, in another place, He promised it by way of reward, saying, “He who loveth Me, keepeth My commandments; and whoso loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father; and I will love Him and” (as if it were said to Him, “what wilt Thou give unto him, as Thou lovest him?” He saith), “I will manifest Myself unto him.” (John xiv. 21). If then He promises this by way of a reward unto them that love Him, it is manifest that the vision of the Truth, promised to us, is of such a nature, that, when we have seen it, we shall no longer say, “My soul is filled with illusions.”

Prayer, in its most essential form – the dynamic of revelation/repentance/transformation…, precedes and fills all the spiritual disciplines. Indeed, it fills (or will come to fill over time) to fullness all things in the life of the disciple of Christ Jesus. Hear more from St. Augustine on this matter,

“I have roared with the groaning of my heart.” You observe the servants of God generally interceding with groaning; and the reason of it is asked, and there is nothing apparent, but the groaning of some servant of God, if indeed it does find its way at all to the ears of a person placed near him. For there is a secret groaning, which is not heard by man: yet if the thought of some strong desire has taken so strong hold of the heart, that the wound of the inner man finds expression in some uttered exclamation, the reason of it is asked; and a man says to himself, “Perhaps this is the cause of his groaning;” and, “Perhaps this or that hath befallen him.” Who can determine, but He in whose Eyes and Ears he groaned? Therefore he says, “I roared with the groaning of mine heart;” because if men ever hear a man’s groanings, they for the most part hear but the groaning of the flesh; they do not hear him who groans “with the groaning of his heart.” Some one hath carried off his goods; he “roareth,” but not “with the groaning of his heart:” another because he has buried his son, another his wife; another because his vineyard has been injured by a hailstorm; another because his cask has turned sour; another because some one hath stolen his beast; another because he has suffered some loss; another because he fears some man who is his enemy: all these “roar” with the “groaning of the flesh.” The servant of God, however, because he “roareth” from the recollection of the Sabbath, where the Kingdom of God is, which flesh and blood shall not possess, says, “I have roared with the groaning of my heart.”

And who observed and noticed the cause of his groaning? “All my desire is before Thee” (ver. 9). For it is not before men who cannot see the heart, but it is before Thee that all my desire is open! Let your desire be before Him; and “the Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee.” (Matt. vi. 6). For it is thy heart’s desire that is thy prayer; and if thy desire continues uninterrupted, thy prayer continueth also. For not without a meaning did the Apostle say, “Pray without ceasing.”  (1 Thess. v. 17). Are we to be “without ceasing” bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says, “Pray without ceasing”? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we “pray,” this, I believe, we cannot do “without ceasing.” There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever else you are doing, if you do but long for that Sabbath, you do not cease to pray. If you would never cease to pray, never cease to long after it. The continuance of thy longing is the continuance of thy prayer. You will be ceasing to speak, if you cease to long for it.

Who are those who have ceased to speak? They of whom it is said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matt. xxiv. 12). The freezing of charity is the silence of the heart; the burning of charity is the cry of the heart. If love continues still you are still lifting up your voice; if you are always lifting up your voice, you are always longing after something; if always longing for something absent, you are calling “the Sabbath rest to remembrance.” And it is important you should understand too before whom the “roaring of thine heart” is open.

Now then consider what sort of desires those should be, that are before the eyes of God. Should it be the desire for the death of our enemy, a thing which men flatter themselves they lawfully wish for? For sometimes we pray for what we ought not. Let us consider what they flatter themselves [in thinking] they pray for lawfully! For they pray that some person may die, and his inheritance come to them. But let those too, who pray for the death of their enemies, hear the Lord saying, “Pray for your enemies.” (Matt. v. 44). Let them not pray for this, that their enemies may die; but rather pray for this, that they may be reclaimed; then will their enemies be dead; for from the time that they are reclaimed, henceforth they will be enemies no longer. “And all my desire is before Thee.” What if we suppose that our desire is before Him, and that yet that very “groaning” is not before Him? How can that be, since our desire itself finds its expression in “groaning”? Therefore follows, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.”

From Thee indeed it is not hid; but from many men it is hid. The servant of God sometimes seems to be saying in humility, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.” Sometimes also he seems to smile. Is then that longing dead in his heart? If however there is the desire within, there is the “groaning” also. It does not always find its way to the ears of man; but it never ceases to sound in the ears of God.

The universal, unceasing, every fulfilling and evermore fulfilling shalom of God in Christ Jesus. For this we long, and strive. Behold a mystery. The unceasing prayer – the groaning – is not something we can observe and analyze or judge. Sometimes it is hear with the ears and seen in our very bodies. Sometimes it is invisible to the observer. Yet it pervades us. It pervades the whole universe (Romans 8.22). Its pervasive character within in all creation and even within us personally and corporately is too deep for our words and explanations. We yearn for it and enjoy it and yet yearn for it evermore deeply. We are one with those who have gone before us in the yearning. The prophets and the saints:

“Depart not from me. Make haste to help me, Lord of my salvation” (ver. 22). This is that very “salvation,” Brethren, concerning which, as the Apostle Peter saith, “Prophets have enquired diligently,” (1 Pet. i. 10). and though they have enquired diligently, yet have not found it. But they searched into it, and foretold of it; while we have come and have found what they sought for. And see, we ourselves too have not as yet received it; and after us shall others also be born, and shall find, what they also shall not receive, and shall pass away, that we may, all of us together, receive the “penny of salvation in the end of the day,” with the Prophets, the Patriarchs, and the Apostles. For you know that the hired servants, or labourers, were taken into the vineyard at different times; yet did they all receive their wages on an equal footing (Matt xx. 9). Apostles, then, and Prophets, and Martyrs, and ourselves also, and those who will follow us to the end of the world, it is in the End itself that we are to receive everlasting salvation; that beholding the face of God, and contemplating His Glory, we may praise Him for ever, free from imperfection, free from any punishment of iniquity, free from every perversion of sin: praising Him; and no longer longing after Him, but now clinging to Him for whom we used to long to the very end, and in whom we did rejoice, in hope. For we shall be in that City, where God is our Bliss, God is our Light, God is our Bread, God is our Life; whatever good thing of ours there is, at being absent from which we now grieve, we shall find in Him. In Him will be that “rest,” which when we “call to remembrance” now, we cannot choose but grieve. For that is the “Sabbath” which we “call to remembrance;” in the recollection of which, so great things have been said already; and so great things ought to be said by us also, and ought never to cease being said by us, not with our lips indeed, but in our heart: for therefore do our lips cease to speak, that we may cry out with our hearts (Heb. iv. 9).

What is required is to have the direction (maturing movement) of the groaning be toward Christ Jesus. For this we struggle. For this we yearn. For this, indeed, is the proleptic dynamic of the “upward call.”

Source for the quotes from the writings of St. Augustine can be found here.

The Jesus Prayer: A Fitting Advent Discipline

Advent is about yearning. Not superficial yearning. Deep, edgy, risky yearning. An “out beyond,” cost what it will, lead where it may” kind of yearning. Indeed, a yearning that is unceasing.

The Jesus Prayer is the Advent prayer. It has all the qualities just articulated.

The Jesus Prayer is the unceasing prayer of the righteous person. It avails much (James 5.16). I hear in the word “much,” that James intending us to understand him to mean “everything.” For, indeed, as the elder told the pilgrim,

“…St. Paul clearly states that prayer should precede all actions. ‘First of all, there should be prayers offered’ (1 Tim. 2:1). The Apostle’s directive indicates that the act of prayer comes first; it comes before everything else. The Christian is expected to perform many good works, but the act of prayer is fundamental because without prayer it is not possible to do good. Without frequent prayer it is not possible to find one’s way to God, to understand truth, and to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only fidelity to prayer will lead a person to enlightenment and union with Christ… The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26). Consequently, our only contribution toward perfection in prayer, the mother of all spiritual good, is regularity and constancy.” The Way of the Pilgrim (pg.8)

Prayer, in its most essential form, precedes and fills all the spiritual disciplines. Indeed, it fills (or will come to fill over time) to fullness all things in the life of the disciple of Christ Jesus.

Behold a mystery. The unceasing prayer – the groaning – is not something we can observe and analyze or judge. It is too deep for our words and explanations. What is required is to have the direction (maturing movement) of the groaning be toward Christ Jesus. For this we struggle. For this we yearn. For this, indeed, is the proleptic dynamic of the “upward call.”

Hear St. Augustine on this matter,

“I have roared with the groaning of my heart.” You observe the servants of God generally interceding with groaning; and the reason of it is asked, and there is nothing apparent, but the groaning of some servant of God, if indeed it does find its way at all to the ears of a person placed near him. For there is a secret groaning, which is not heard by man: yet if the thought of some strong desire has taken so strong hold of the heart, that the wound of the inner man finds expression in some uttered exclamation, the reason of it is asked; and a man says to himself, “Perhaps this is the cause of his groaning;” and, “Perhaps this or that hath befallen him.” Who can determine, but He in whose Eyes and Ears he groaned? Therefore he says, “I roared with the groaning of mine heart;” because if men ever hear a man’s groanings, they for the most part hear but the groaning of the flesh; they do not hear him who groans “with the groaning of his heart.” Some one hath carried off his goods; he “roareth,” but not “with the groaning of his heart:” another because he has buried his son, another his wife; another because his vineyard has been injured by a hailstorm; another because his cask has turned sour; another because some one hath stolen his beast; another because he has suffered some loss; another because he fears some man who is his enemy: all these “roar” with the “groaning of the flesh.” The servant of God, however, because he “roareth” from the recollection of the Sabbath, where the Kingdom of God is, which flesh and blood shall not possess, says, “I have roared with the groaning of my heart.”

And who observed and noticed the cause of his groaning? “All my desire is before Thee” (ver. 9). For it is not before men who cannot see the heart, but it is before Thee that all my desire is open! Let your desire be before Him; and “the Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee.” (Matt. vi. 6). For it is thy heart’s desire that is thy prayer; and if thy desire continues uninterrupted, thy prayer continueth also. For not without a meaning did the Apostle say, “Pray without ceasing.”  (1 Thess. v. 17). Are we to be “without ceasing” bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says, “Pray without ceasing”? Or if it is in this sense that we say that we “pray,” this, I believe, we cannot do “without ceasing.” There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever else you are doing, if you do but long for that Sabbath, you do not cease to pray. If you would never cease to pray, never cease to long after it. The continuance of thy longing is the continuance of thy prayer. You will be ceasing to speak, if you cease to long for it.

Who are those who have ceased to speak? They of whom it is said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matt. xxiv. 12). The freezing of charity is the silence of the heart; the burning of charity is the cry of the heart. If love continues still you are still lifting up your voice; if you are always lifting up your voice, you are always longing after something; if always longing for something absent, you are calling “the Sabbath rest to remembrance.” And it is important you should understand too before whom the “roaring of thine heart” is open.

Now then consider what sort of desires those should be, that are before the eyes of God. Should it be the desire for the death of our enemy, a thing which men flatter themselves they lawfully wish for? For sometimes we pray for what we ought not. Let us consider what they flatter themselves [in thinking] they pray for lawfully! For they pray that some person may die, and his inheritance come to them. But let those too, who pray for the death of their enemies, hear the Lord saying, “Pray for your enemies.” (Matt. v. 44). Let them not pray for this, that their enemies may die; but rather pray for this, that they may be reclaimed; then will their enemies be dead; for from the time that they are reclaimed, henceforth they will be enemies no longer. “And all my desire is before Thee.” What if we suppose that our desire is before Him, and that yet that very “groaning” is not before Him? How can that be, since our desire itself finds its expression in “groaning”? Therefore follows, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.”

From Thee indeed it is not hid; but from many men it is hid. The servant of God sometimes seems to be saying in humility, “And my groaning is not hid from Thee.” Sometimes also he seems to smile. Is then that longing dead in his heart? If however there is the desire within, there is the “groaning” also. It does not always find its way to the ears of man; but it never ceases to sound in the ears of God. Source

 

Shepherd of (Pilgrim) Souls, Refresh and Bless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be what you see; receive what you are.”

What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended. But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report. But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter. As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.”

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on Saint Augustinethe wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right. So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?”

My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play?

We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen! “On The Eucharist,” Source: Sermon 272, St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)