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“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Paul noted the marvelous progress shown by the Christians at Colossae.  They bore evidence of good Christian life regarding our Lord, each other, and themselves.  St. Paul had heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus”.  He had heard of the love which they had “to all the saints”.  And he had heard of “the hope which is laid up” for them in heaven.  The Colossians had progressed beyond the basics of the Christian Faith, and St. Paul loved them all the more for it.

St. Paul knew that progress towards God continues on.  So, the Lord moved the Apostle to the Gentiles to make repeated intercession for the perfection of his brethren.  Five times he prayed for the Church at Colossae to continue to grow in the faith.  St. Paul knew nothing of resting on his laurels.  He prayed and preached and urged and loved until he was martyred in Rome.

God created us in his own image.  We love, we have a soul, we create.  God the Father loved us so much He sent His Son to be born of a woman, to die for our salvation.  St. Paul experienced conversion of his soul and increased in the Holy Ghost until he died and went to heaven.  Likewise, we follow our Lord Christ and the saints before us.  We put off the old man of sin and put on the new man of salvation.  Donning righteousness, we grow into Christ.

Spiritual growth is the maturity and continuation of our salvation.  As Christians, we are called to Christ, to His sacred Person.  Getting up and following Him, the journey changes us.  As we continue walking, we grow.  We are all lame and befuddled, running into each other and going in circles entirely too often.  But so long as we walk the way of Christ, we continue to progress in the Holy Ghost.  If we sit down and go no further, then we jeopardize our growth and our salvation.

 

What does this past progress and future perfection mean for the Colossians and for us?  Here are five theological words united by doctrine and their ending:  “Justification, sanctification, consecration, purification, and assimilation.”

Christ saves us in justification and sanctification.  As Fr. Francis Hall wrote, “Justification initiates sanctification, and sanctification affords the explanation and fulfils the implied promise of justification.”  Consecration, purification, and assimilation are aspects of sanctification.

Justification is Christ making us acceptable to God.  Christ makes us acceptable by His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Justification is both an instant and a beginning.  Christ’s death and His sanctifying work in us sets us on the way of becoming united with Christ.

Christ continues the work of justification through the Holy Ghost in the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is part of our salvation.  Our continuing growth in holiness cannot be understood apart from Christ’s saving of us.  The two are bound together.

St. Paul depicts an image of the mature Christian, full grown.  Spiritual growth is not just about the initial act of salvation.  Rather, we wend our way along the path our Lord went before us.  We respond to a calling.  Being called to the Person of Christ, we change along His way.  This sanctification is part of our journey.

Sanctification has three aspects:  consecration, purification, and assimilation.  We are set apart as holy, or consecrated.  We are made clean from our sinful ways, or purified.  We are made to grow into the likeness of Christ, or assimilated.

As members of Christ’s Body and justified by Him, we are a holy people united to Christ.  We are consecrated.  The Holy Ghost mystically joins us together with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, our sinful natures die, and we arise in Him.  Through Christ, the Holy Ghost sets us apart from sin.

If we are set apart, we cannot fall back to our earlier state of sinfulness.  To remain consecrated, we cannot sully ourselves continually with the filthiness of sin.  We must also be purified of all sin.  This second aspect of sanctification called purification assists in the retaining the state of the first aspect of sanctification called consecration.

Christ calls us to grow into the likeness of the divine nature of God.  He is God incarnate.  He is God with us.  As He lived, so are we to live.  He avoided all sin.  He lived in the will of God the Father.  He loved everyone.  He prayed for His persecutors and died for our sins.

This is the life we too must live.  This is the life which will let us live in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the image of God in which we were made.  We must join in the divine character of God.  We must assimilate into Godliness.  This is the third part of sanctification.

We are justified and sanctified to be made fit for eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Thus, we must go through this consecration, purification, and assimilation.  St. Peter quotes Leviticus when he writes, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” in 1 St. Peter i.16.  Our Lord Himself says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in St. Matthew v.48.  Only in the participation of the divine life of God are we fit to enter Heaven.

This sounds like a tall order.  It is.  But, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians iv.13).

To be with God for all eternity, we must change.  We cannot stay as we are.  We are mortal.  God is immortal.  We are sinful.  God is holy.  We are selfish.  “God is love.”  We are made acceptable to God the Father by God the Son through God the Holy Ghost.  As Christ makes us acceptable through His death and Resurrection, so we must continually grow to become like Christ.  Set apart in holiness, purified of all sin, we assimilate into the perfect life of the Blessed Trinity.

 

Looking back to the epistle lesson, we probably find it incoherent to simply “walk worthy of the lord”.  We are called to become united with Christ through justification and sanctification.  What does this look like?

We must grow into and keep God’s will as it is known to us in Holy Scriptures, in Holy Church, and in our informed conscience.  In particular, Christians bear six basic duties in our progress towards God.  These are weekly worship, frequent Holy Communion, regular fasting, tithing, keeping a clean conscience, and keeping ourselves chaste.

If you are able, you have an obligation to attend Mass every week.  Due to my chronic illness, I was unable to regularly attend Mass over the course of two years.  I found it frighteningly easy to get used to it.  It is not good for the soul.  Regular attendance will not get you into heaven, but avoiding the worship of the Living God is no way to live with him forever.  If we will worship Him for all eternity, we had best get used to it now.

Almost all of us receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at every Mass.  In olden times, this was uncommon.  I am thankful that this parish is faithful in receiving the Blessed Sacrament so frequently.  Frequent communion often comes at the price of poor preparation to receive.  We should all strive to diligently prepare to meet our Lord on Sundays and other festal days.

Fasting has faded as a Christian discipline and reëmerged as matter of diets and fads.  When we read the Gospels and devotional aids, fasting confronts us frequently.  If you look at page Roman number fifty one, “LI”, of our Book of Common Prayer, we see two fasts, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and three sets of fast days.  The first set is the forty days of Lent, the second is all the Ember Days, and the third is all Fridays outside Christmastide and the Feast of Epiphany.

The Church Kalendar is particularly helpful in noting fast days.  Sometimes we see a distinction between fasting and abstention, with fasting being the reduction of amount of food eaten and abstention being the reduction of the quality of food eaten, usually meat.  Fasting is to be accompanied by prayer.  Fasting is only reserved for those physically healthy enough to fast and who do not need great physical strength in the course of their day.

Tithing can be a difficult subject.  Suffice it here to say that God has given us various amounts of material wealth to support our lives, and we have an obligation to return to him an appropriate amount in thanksgiving.  We should especially note that tithing is less a manner of fundraising or meeting a budget than it is a spiritual discipline of thanking God with our substance.

Keeping a clean conscience is a most critical method of pursuing sanctification.  There are two parts to keeping a clean conscience.  The first is to confess our sins, for by it we present to God our sins for Him to wash away.  This continues the work begun in us in Holy Baptism.  Perhaps you commit fewer sins than I, but I find the three-fold discipline of confessing my sins privately at night, daily and weekly at the Offices and Mass, and occasionally privately with a priest most helpful.

This brings us to the second part of keeping a clean conscience.  We are to avoid sin.  Sin is an offense against God, and sin is a state of brokenness between us and our loving Savior.  We are to flee from sin and to Christ.  We need to educate our conscience by learning right from wrong and seeking counsel on tricky circumstances when needed.  We need to exercise our conscience by avoiding occasions of sin and participating in the sins of others.  The more we educate and exercise our conscience, the less we will need to confess our sins.

Lastly, keeping ourselves chaste means seeking holiness in our sexual relationships.  Single or married, we are called to comport our sexual lives like the rest of our lives:  faithful and consecrated to God.  We cannot remain chaste when we lust with a roving eye or when we sleep with those whom are not our spouse.  Keeping ourselves chaste, like all these other duties, is fundamental to our journey of sanctification.

 

To “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing”, we ought to pursue God vigorously and to respond when he calls us.  Our ultimate end is with God, and our journey here on earth should take us to heaven with him.  Taking care of our fundamental obligations helps us work with Christ and the Holy Ghost and not against them.  Remember today’s epistle.  The Colossians began the race well, and St. Paul earnestly prayed that they would continue the course until their reward.

 

“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Today is the Autumnal Ember Friday, one of three Ember Days this week.  St. Matthew’s feast takes precedence, but the two have something essential in common.

Ember Days are days of fasting and abstinence, a special little time spaced every quarter year devoted to fasting and praying for the Sacred Ministry.  As early as the Fifth Century, a pope preached a series of sermons on the Ember Days, and ordinations were preferentially done on them.  The Book of Common Prayer includes them still, even though the Church of Rome, in her usual manner, has transformed them into something entirely unrecognizable.

This is the collect given in the Book of Common Prayer for all Ember Days:

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles (xiii.47-49):

For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.  And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.  And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.

The Sacred Ministry serves as Christ’s Sacramental, teaching, and governing ministers participating in His ultimate ministry of reconciling God and Man.  So we teach and preach the Holy Scriptures.  We act in Christ’s stead in feeding His people with His Body and Blood.  We forgive your sins in His Name.  We witness marriages as He did at the wedding in Cana.

Priests have the cure of souls.  My favorite saints, a parish priest, is often called by his position and title, the Cure d’Ars.  Some priests hold positions called curacies and are called curates.  Our ministry, our Sacred Ministry, is nothing without Christ, His calling of disciples, and His curing of both our ailments and our fundamental illness, sin.

Saint Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today, was a Jewish tax collector for the Romans.  The Romans did not have an internal revenue service.  They farmed out the taxes to disreputable and tough men who would coerce locals to pay, and for which service they took a percentage.  No wonder the Pharisees found Matthew, also named Levi, and his associates unclean!  All decent Jews in Judaea would find them objectionable.

But, we read today’s Gospel and find Christ saying that

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.  But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:  for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

In his Gospel, St. Matthew wrote (xviii.12-14):

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?  And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Think upon the author of the First Gospel.  Reflect upon Christ calling him as he sat taking money from his fellows.  See how Jesus called out to him, “Follow me”, and watch as Matthew gets up, leaves all behind, and follows his Lord, our Lord.

Christ calls us all to Him.  Pray for those whom the Lord has called to assist Him in His labor of love amongst us.  And St. Matthew:  Pray for us.

 

“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Leprosy remains an awful disease today, but it was a plague in ancient times.  Leprosy wrenched poor souls from the company of their families and neighbors, shunned into isolation.  Leprosy was, not only a lingering death of living decomposition, but, a social death.  Cleansing rituals and reëntrance into society were tightly regulated.  Samaritans and Jews notably lived apart, yet here lepers of both sorts found themselves bound together, joined as outcasts.

The Gospel lesson opens with ten lepers who keep their distance but entreat Christ to have mercy on them.  They are piteous, yet they seek more than His pity.  They pray for healing:  The restoration of their flesh and the return to the company of their peoples.

Christ does not heal them with a word.  Rather, he commands them to present themselves to the priests in accordance with the Law.  As I said last Sunday, Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to replace it.  “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”  The priests would examine them and declare them clean, officially receiving them back into the community.

The ten are made clean when they leave Christ to obey His command.  Christ does not heal them where they were.  He does not heal them with a word or even spittle and mud.  They find restoration when they heed Christ’s direction.

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”  Like the publican who would not lift his eyes up to Heaven, the Samaritan leper fell down on his face.  He could not heal himself.  His heart brimmed with gratitude.

The Samaritan is not the only one who had faith.  Christ told the leper that “thy faith hath made thee whole”.  But the nine Jewish lepers had been cleansed too; they differ in that they did not return to give thanks.  They had also been cleansed by faith as they obeyed Christ and headed off to present themselves to the priests before they were healed.  But they did not respond with gratitude by returning “to give glory to God” for their cleansing.

 

Ingratitude is a leprosy of the spirit.  Ingratitude isolates us in selfishness.  It raises barriers between people due to hurt feelings.  It does not bind us together but teaches us not to care for others.  It teaches us not to trust.  It teaches us not to love.  It sullies the soul and rips asunder the innumerable connections forming the fabric of civilized society.  This social sin hurts us individually in our relationships with God and man and harms the social world we – and our neighbors – live in.

It is not a stretch to consider how we are lepers.  Leprosy is a disease of the flesh.  Our ingratitude at the good gift of Christ’s own self is a disease of the spirit.  Christ is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”  He sees us in all our grotesque lesions.  Yet He embraces us still.  He loves us so much, He would see us whole.

If our neighbor could see us as Christ sees us, as monstrous lepers with putrid sores, failing limbs, rotting lips, and decaying skin, he would run from us in horror and disgust.  Perhaps this is why those reveling in the stench of their own sin often seek each other out for company.  Others who do not share their affliction cannot abide them.

The lepers approach Christ and pray Him for healing.  They know their flesh rots.  They cannot deceive themselves as we can.  Christ commands that, whilst sick, they present themselves to the priests to be declared clean.  This is a bold act of faith to leave the Lord and seek the priests to present themselves whilst still putrid.  As they obey in faith, they find themselves healed.

‘Show us a miracle’, the skeptics demand.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xvii.20), “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”  Lively faith, trust in and obedience to the Lord, is the path to holiness.

Restored from deadly sin, we are reunited in communion with Christ.  We confess and receive absolution from our sins before we receive the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord upon bended knee.  When you love people for a long time, you offend each other.  When you address these failures and offenses forthrightly, you open the way to restoring that which is broken.  That the one leper who best lived life in the Lord was a strange Samaritan from outside Israel shows us that everything broken can be healed in Christ.

 

If a friend was to forget a single gift once given, then we could forgive him.  But God gives us good gifts every day.  Withholding thanks, much less acknowledgement, is cruel return for such continual blessings.  Truly, God lacks nothing.  We can offer him nothing he needs.  Rather, we need all things from him.  Although God does not need our thanks, it is only “meet and right so to do”.

The age-old name of the Mass in Greek is the eucharist, the good gift.  This wondrous Sacrament commemorates the Lord’s gift of Himself to us for our salvation.  Being the mysterious recapitulation of Christ’s self, it signifies God’s grace and love to us.  He not only deigned among us to dwell.  He not only gave Himself up for our sins to overcome Hell and death.  He also gave us His Sacred Body to eat and His Precious Blood to drink in a spiritual feast and heavenly banquet.  Thus reminded and enlivened, how could we fail to thank Him by living lives worthy of His great gift?  Not only did God give Himself for His enemies, but He then gave Himself as their food.  God is great beyond comprehension.

As we thank God for the gift of himself and for the blessings he has given us, so too we also ought to thank God for the blessings given to others.  By thanking God for the gifts he has given our neighbor, we crucify envy and increase in loving-kindness.  Our gratitude detaches from self-interest and purifies, making it more genuine.  We in no wise can continue to envy those whom we heartily thank God for their blessings.

Likewise, we ought to recount and gratefully acknowledge even the smallest gifts God gives us.  All we have is his.  Even the smallest gift God gives is marvelous for being the gift of God.  Continual remembrance and thanksgiving for small gifts trains our hearts to pray without ceasing.  Nothing God has made is without importance.  Taking care to give thanks for his small gifts reminds us of God’s wonder and constancy.

Indeed, we ought to go beyond giving thanks for God’s small gifts and his gifts to others.  We ought to thank him for our indignities and sufferings.  Only pride tells us that we are, in ourselves, worthy of something.  All we have is from God.  We have nothing to call our own.  To say that we deserve something solely from our own effort is to err.  The contrite soul acknowledges both good and ill things worthy to be of thanks.  Dare we truly think we have not offended?  Nothing we endure is wholly undeserved.  God sees with his own light; indeed, all light is of God.  He sees everything, including the things we would rather hide in the darkness.

As one advances in spiritual direction, living in religious community, or hopefully even parish life, we learn to thank each other for admonitions and corrections.  One of the most painful experiences of my life involves a moment of truth-telling, wherein I was called on hypocrisy I had blissfully ignored.  This is yet more true of the Lord.  As we grow in virtue, the more we see our faults.  The holiest saints urgently insist of their own sinfulness and unworthiness.  With bad eyesight, we cannot tell how far away or how dirty those fuzzy things out there are.  The clearer we see, the better we ascertain our true deserts.

There is a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.  I have been reliably told by some atheist veterans that this is not true.  What is true is we tend to pray when in distress.  Avoiding death tops the charts.  But people also pray to find lost keys, fix computer printers, and meet next month’s rent.  The ten lepers in today’s Gospel certainly needed healing.  That they prayed Christ to save them is worthy.  It demonstrates faith.  Yet praying for things when we need them is not evidence of a habitual orientation of our hearts towards God.

 

Out of hundreds of possible examples throughout Holy Writ, I like Psalm xcii.1-2:  “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy Name, O Most Highest; To tell of thy loving-kindness early in the morning, and of thy truth in the night season;”

Gratitude is central to a living faith.  Gratitude flows from the heart full of God’s love.  We pray in thanksgiving after receiving the “good gift” of Holy Communion.  We sing God’s praise throughout our services.  In the Sacrament of Confession, we give thanks after God forgives us our sins.  In Morning and Evening Prayer, we cherish the General Thanksgiving:  “Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men;”

 

George Herbert’s poem, Gratefulness, begins:

 

Thou that hast given so much to me,

Give one thing more, a grateful heart.

 

After tears, sighing, and groaning, he concludes:

 

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;

And in no quiet canst thou be,

Till I a thankful heart obtain

Of thee:

 

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;

As if thy blessings had spare days:

But such a heart, whose pulse may be

Thy praise.

 

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

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In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Putting on the Whole Armor of God”

My dear children, we are all in danger.  We are all under attack.

The serpent in the Garden beguiled the woman and tempted the man, bringing sin and death into our world and our lineage.  We are made to live forever, yet we continue to drop off despite our best efforts to hang on.

Each one of us is assailed every day, beset by temptation and trial, the “wiles of the devil”.  Have you ever wanted another fifteen minutes’ sleep instead of showing up to work on time?  Would you rather do something in your home instead of say your prayers?  Then you are under enemy fire through temptation.

In the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp around the end of the First Century, we read of what those condemned to die faced (2:4 – 3:1) “The devil tried many devices against them.  But thanks be to God, his might did not prevail over any.”

We read in the Revelation of St. John xii.7:  “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,”  We are in a fight whether or not we recognize it.  Before we can put up an adequate defense, before we can recognize that we need a savior, we must realize that we are in terrible shape, and the enemy relents not, continuing to attack us in our weakness as well as our strength.  We are in danger, for we are under attack.

We are insufficient to the task of defending ourselves against the powers of evil.  We ourselves are influenced by the taint of wickedness and sin.  We are surrounded by evil intelligences seeking our destruction.  The rest of humanity, also under the influence of sin, distorts our sense of righteousness and entices us to follow it.  We need help.  We need divine help.

 

But thanks be to God, we read in this epistle lesson, as well as many other Scripture verses, that God has defended us.  “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

This is not a new concept.  Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in lix.17:  “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.”

St. Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians x.3-4:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”

 

Of course, using armor and weapons in this warfare means that we cannot fight naked, unarmored, and unarmed; that is, without help from outside of ourselves.

How are to be strong except in the Lord and the power of his might?  All strength comes from God; all salvation comes from God.  There is no one to help us but God.  We have no life except in God.

We have the very Son of God, our noble captain.  We have all the faithful saints as our comrades.  We have Truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Ghost as our armor.  We go forth in prayer, perseverance, and supplication.  Christ has already won the ultimate battle on the Cross.  Christ defeated death on that Cross.  And yet we still fight the good fight.  Christ has gone on to open Heaven to us, but He has not left us alone.  He has sent us the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Ghost.

 

With these spiritual protections and the very presence of God, we should not fear in the face of the ancient enemy or the contemporary ally of that enemy.

King David sings in Psalm lxxi.2:  “Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may alway resort:”  This is a prayer, which is answered by God’s promise.

Psalm xxvii.1:  “THE LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? * the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”  Without God, we are weakened in darkness, caught by our enemies.  We are caught by death, by hunger, by thirst, by nakedness, by unpopularity and loneliness, by disease, by icy coldness and scorching heat.  Without God, we are utterly at a loss, destitute, defeated.

“MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”  How are we to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might?  St. Paul continues on and tells us that we are to “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

We as Christians are not alone.  First and most importantly, we are members grafted onto Him, the True Vine, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We are members of Christ by His gracious allowance.  He is most generous and courteous to us.  Through our Holy Baptism into His death and Resurrection, He accepts us as members of His Body.  We are never alone, for we are in Christ.

We as Christians are not alone.  Second and most graciously, others are also members of Christ alongside us.  We have brothers and sisters uncounted throughout the world and across time.  St. Mark xii.26-27:  “And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living:”

We are forever alive in Christ; in Christ we all have eternal life.  We are right now the brothers and sisters of all the saints whose names we read in the Holy Mass – and have been read for many centuries – along with all the saints who appear in the back of the bulletin, along with those whom we pray for that we have known, along with saints we will never personally know until Heaven.  We are members of Christ, yes and true; but we are also members one of another.  We had better grow close to each other here and now, for we will be seeing each other for all eternity.  And not just us, but many others born and those yet to be born.  We are a powerful army, the great host of the Lord God of Sabaoth.  We are members of Holy Church.  We are the chosen, the elect of God Almighty.  The world may turn its back on us, but first it turned its back on Christ, our High King and brother through divine adoption.

Psalm xviii.1-2:  “I WILL love thee, O LORD, my strength. * The LORD is my stony rock, and my defence;  My Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; * my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”

Even in the Old Testament, King David sang of the great power, support, and defense of our great, good, and powerful God.  He sang that we trust him.  He sang that the Lord was his “buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”  Buckler, or shield:  David used God to defend himself.  Horn:  David called upon God to assist him and summon help in time of need.  Refuge:  David used God to hide himself in him, to rest assured that his enemies would not destroy him.

This is why we flee to Christ.  He is God Incarnate.  He is the Almighty Sovereign Lord God of the Universe Who has come down amongst us as a little baby in tiny Bethlehem.  Bethlehem in Hebrew is Beth Lehem, or House of Bread.  Christ is Heavenly Bread sent down from Heaven for us to eat, like manna.  But unlike manna which lasted for but a day or two and gave nutrition only for a day or two, Christ’s own Blessed Body gives eternal life.  Christ is God, and Christ offered up His Body for us to eat and offered up His Blood for us to drink.

Yesterday, our young Mr. Jordan Hewett received the completion of his Baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  He has now literally entered into the communion of Christ by communing with His Body and Blood.  He has eaten the Bread of Heaven.  He has drank Christ’s own Blood poured out for the life of the world.

Christ died on the Cross so that our newest communicant might be saved, and Christ offered him His Body and His Blood so that Jordan might receive Divine Medicine, the only cure and stay against death, disease, and decay.  Jordan has partaken of everlasting life, like so many of you have!  We are defended against “the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We are here to put on “the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

We are weak, but He is strong.  So we wrap ourselves, not in the temporary flag of this mortal country, but in the Flesh and Blood of our Lord Christ.  We put on the whole armor of God, which is God Himself!  We bury ourselves deep into the bosom of our Lord so that all the ailments of this world cannot touch us.

Oh, but we are still subject to “the rulers of the darkness of this world.”  Unless Christ returns first in power and great glory, we will die, we will draw our last breath, our eternal spirits will separate from our bodies, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  But lest we forget the words which follow, recall that we will rise again, “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

Christ is God.  Christ is Lord.  We are fully vested in Christ, and Christ will redeem us, Christ is redeeming us, and Christ has redeemed us.  We are entirely secure and safe in our Lord Christ.

Christ is our savior and our friend, He Who delivers us from the power of Hell and brings us into everlasting life through His Body and Blood.

Christ guards us and wards us with powerful arms and armor, so that each of us may:

take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

We do this not alone by ourselves, but constantly “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”

We are never alone.  We are saved by the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are mighty in the Holy Ghost.

 

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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