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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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“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

 

“Baptized into Christ’s Kingdom”

We are subjects of two kingdoms.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of these United States, or whatever country you hail from.  How we live our lives in this green land of America is both informed by our Heavenly King and will influence our life in the hereafter.  Also, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth in this great country of ours.

 

Now the kingdom of this world is not simply the domain of Satan, even though St. Paul does call it “the power of darkness”.  The kingdom of this world is that broken part of Creation, of the cosmos, that does not claim Christ as Lord.  Whereas we like to think that the saving work of Christ in the cosmos is expanding, in our own culture we see little evidence of it.  Think for instance of thirty-five years ago, when the popular television series M*A*S*H sympathetically depicted a chaplain amongst its characters.  Such a thing is foreign to television today.

Indeed, university students are increasingly told that their faith holds no bearing – or only poses a burden – on their education, when the original universities were explicitly Christian.  Unelected judges overturn same-sex marriage bans and abortion restrictions partially on the claim of there being no reasonable or non-sectarian basis for them.  In several states of this Union, courts and legislatures require citizens taking out any insurance plan to pay for elective abortions, regardless of their consciences, even though it is simply avoided.

But despite all this and the recent news out of Houston with sermons being demanded of preachers, other governments in the kingdom of this world have had it much worse.  This Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the dozens of Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the sex slaves of the pagan king of Uganda and refused his lustful desires.  For their disobedience to the king of this world and their obedience to the High King of Heaven, they were put to death.  Earlier, the king had grown angry with the missionaries from the Church of England and the Church of Rome as they kept criticizing him and his support of Moslem missionaries.

This past week in Morning Prayer, we read in First Kings about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, how the righteous prophet squared off against the wicked monarchs of Israel.  But before Elijah, Samuel warned Israel against having an earthly king, warning them in I Samuel viii.18:  “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

 

Worldly governments clearly fail to set out a righteous course for us to live in.  But the government of Christ the King exemplifies all good and glorious things.  Our worldly governments tell us that things which are clearly wrong are right; the government of Christ the King unerringly tells us what the wrong things are with such accuracy and precision that we cannot actually avoid them perfectly.

Today’s Epistle mentions “the inheritance of the saints in light”.  This refers to the Kingdom of God.  In the next verse, “the power of darkness” is the antithesis of the Kingdom.

“And he is the head of the body, the church:”  Coming right after speaking of “all things” and spiritual beings, this shows that the last verses here, vv 18-20, demonstrate an equivalency between the cosmos and the Church.  This is tied to the universal mission of Holy Church, to bring all people to Christ and His kingdom.  The work of the Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  Later in ii.10, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all, and we are members of His Body in that cosmos and Holy Church.  Each one of us is part of something epic and big.

 

Now, there is one way into Christ’s Kingdom:  Holy Baptism.  We read in St. John iii.5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  This is our passport, our entrance; this is how we immigrate from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  When we are buried with Christ and then share in His Resurrection, we join with Him mystically and sacramentally.  When Christ commands His disciples at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He says,

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Before we are Augustans, Georgians, or Americans, before we are black, white, or any other race of this world, before all these things, we are under the banner of Christ our King.  By virtue of our supernatural sacramental Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord, we are brothers and sisters of the Nigerian schoolgirl held in some African camp more fully than we are brothers and sisters to our natural sister who does not believe.  By virtue of our belief in Christ our King, we are brothers and sisters of the impoverished but faithful Haitian farmer more than we are brothers and sisters to our unbaptized brother with whom we grew up.

 

So what does this new citizenship look like?  We read in Ephesians v.1-5:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

First, we must walk in sacrificial loving-kindness.  We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is unbelievably difficult, but we have no alternative.  God is love, and we are to conform ourselves to God.

Second, we are very specifically told to avoid wicked behavior.  After all, Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  So we are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting.  We are not to be whoremongers, unclean, covetous, or idolaters.  Essentially, we are to pay attention and keep the Ten Commandments.

We are to love and we are to keep moral lives.  Third, we are to give thanks.  It is no mistake that each of our regular services in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to thank God for the goodness in our lives.  We are to thank God for our lives, God himself, other people, and all the goodness of God.  Love without thanks is hardly love indeed.

 

Today’s Epistle begins, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

Moving from darkness into light reminds the Christian soul of the Exodus, especially the miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  While Moses his prophet stretched out his hand, the Lord caused the wind to blow on the sea, exposing the seabed so that the people of Israel could escape from Pharaoh and his army, freeing them to reach the Holy Land.  So likewise, we are in bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of this world, no matter how fine it is otherwise to us.  And God brings us out of “from the power of darkness”.  Through the miracle of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we transfer from one side to the other.

 

Having passed from the old way of death to the new way of life, Christ having given us the forgiveness of sins, so we are to imitate our God and King.

The way we worship is to obey.  And we become like Christ.  When the early Church worshipped Christ their God, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not visit and attend congregations to find out which ones were the most like what they wanted, asking to make the service the way they wanted, requiring the teaching to be like they wanted.  In all things, they obeyed Holy Church, they obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is also the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Almost like the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex over eleven hundred years ago, our king is our best man, the man who exemplifies our ideals, the man whom we seek to emulate.  Blessed Alfred the Great, King of Wessex was one such king of this world; Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is the king of the whole cosmos and of the whole Church.

With God, we know who is king.  We know that His rule is always right and holy.  We know that we have no say in His rule.  And indeed, while God wants our whole selves, our souls and bodies, we actually live in great freedom, freedom from sin, death, and Hell.

God the Father calls us to live our lives in the service of Christ our King.  We are to live meek, humble lives in penitence and holiness, avoiding sin, and loving our God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

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

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“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. “

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

 

“Life in Unity with God”

Today’s Epistle moves the argument from the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ to a strong exhortation on Christian ethics.  These six verses combine a plea for Christian unity with the theological foundations of Christian unity.  So we are here looking at the highest ideals of Christ’s Body, the Church.

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

The first verse begins with three items:  St. Paul as prisoner, walking worthy, and the subject of vocation or being called.  St. Paul cannot be with the Ephesians because he is currently held prisoner, and this gives him a moral edge.  He is suffering for the Faith, and so he has a right to speak with authority.  He is not ashamed to assert this authority.

The phrase “walk worthy” shows that this life is not to be talked about but lived out.  We actively walk our Christian life, actively engaging in this world and in our common life together.  The use of vocation comes from the Latin, “to call”, which we aptly capture in our word, “calling”.  A calling and a vocation are the same.  And the Christian walk is a result of being called by our Lord into that life.

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

St. Paul here lists three virtues as key to the Christian walk to which we have been called to by our Lord:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Also recounted in Colossians iii.12-13, these virtues let us live together in unity with God, unity which has already been proven to transcend the differences of Jew and Greek.  These virtues are the foundation of God’s holy plan for our individual lives, our lives together in Christ, and the life of the entire redeemed cosmos, or created order.  The harmony amongst Christians is the first-fruits of the universal harmony of the whole cosmos in Christ our Lord, heralded in the Revelation of St. John.

First, lowliness and meekness are humility – not haughtiness of spirit and self-assertion.  We are not to vaunt ourselves over others.  We are to take our place and do what we are called to do without assuming we know better and pushing others aside so that we may do better.  Our rota system of coffee hour, wherein a Sunday is assigned to the willing who has authority over refreshments after Mass for that day, gives us each an opportunity to thrive in serving others while not crowing about our superiority and not pushing others aside so that we may have our turn.  Each of us who volunteers for this ministry has a turn, and no one may add to and change that turn without that party’s permission.  We each get to serve others as well as we can without strutting or pushing.

Second, long-suffering is a better translation of makrothumia than patience, because it not only means enduring provocations but refusing to give up hope for improved relations.  Patience can give the sense of only suffering for a while until the problem goes away.  Long-suffering, as here written by St. Paul in the Scriptures, shows that the end result is good, holy, and right relations between brethren and the firm practice of hope as that holy result is worked out.

Christians don’t just give up and walk away from difficult relationships.  Christians dig deep and love like Christ loves until a good relationship flourishes.  Long-suffering means that we must not only endure but change into the image of Christ so that we may grow in loving-kindness.

Third, forbearing one another in love is the culmination of these three holy virtues with which we live out our high calling.  We do not simply shrivel up so that others may flourish around us; instead, we live boldly in Christ-like loving-kindness, forgiving those who sin against us while striving with all our might not to sin against others, thereby building up godly relationships with our brother and with our neighbor, just as Christ commanded us in His holy Gospel, St. John xiii:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

“Endeavouring” can also be translated, “taking pains” – that is, a great striving and work of the whole self.  This involves initiative, not waiting around for someone else to start working.  This is attached to the calling, our vocation in God.

St. Paul has previously mentioned in Ephesians i.10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”  This is the end to which we are heading.  This is that “unity of Spirit” which Christ has in store for us and for the entire cosmos.  Any impairment we suffer with regards to unity is an impairment of the whole world.

By our failure to love one another as Christ loves us, we fail to live out the Eschaton, the holy end to all times which Christ has been bringing us.  We work against Christ when we hold grudges, when we vaunt ourselves in front of others, when we work to silence others, when we work to politic our way into getting our peculiar lovely thing accepted by the group.  All those things are not even worthy of secular societies.

Keeping the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”:  We have unity in the Holy Ghost; we must work and strive manfully to maintain, to keep this unity.  Our unity together as members of one Body is an act of God, not an act of man or great work by the Christian community.

And what is “the bond of peace” more than loving-kindness?  In Colossians iii.14, which echoes this verse, the bond is love.  Peace is the bond, the glue, the structure which holds together this Christian community of loving-kindness.  These are certainly not the bonds in which St. Paul was being kept.

The “unity of the Spirit” is the “unity which the Spirit creates”.  It is both inward and outward unity which Christians most especially are to exhibit.  We must have real inward unity of hearts and love, but we must also have true outward unity of lack of external divisions.

 

The next three verses get poetic and are thought to be related to a Baptismal liturgy.  The ethics of the first three verses blossom into the confession and worship of the latter three verses.

In the Old Testament, we read the Shema of Deuteronomy vi.4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”  This evolves some by Zechariah xvi.9, “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.”

St. Paul elaborates this in I Corinthians xii.12-13:  “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

 

So:  “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

 

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

This one hope of our calling is the actual work of hope and not just a general disposition to hopefulness.  This work of hope of our vocation is granted to both Jew and Gentile and is tied in unity in the Holy Ghost.

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,                     

“One Lord” reminded both the Jews and Gentiles that they have but one lord, and this when there were many little lords abounding.  Ephesians opens in i.21 with the triumph of Christ over all other lords, both worldly and otherworldly.

“One faith” reminds us that there are not several faiths, but one faith, faith in Christ Jesus, the catholic and apostolic faith, the orthodox faith, eschewing all heretical and heterodox faiths.

“One Baptism” reminds all Christians that there is only one way into the Christian life – Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord.  Indeed, St. Paul mentions Holy Baptism in Ephesians five other times.  This poetry sounds like something said at a Baptism, perhaps even an early liturgy.

St. Paul does not bring to mind Baptism in vain.  Each recollection of baptism brings to mind and encourages the faithful to steadfastly continue walking the Christian walk in their behavior as well as their words.  The ethical challenges of the first three verses naturally bring themselves to the Baptismal language of these last three verses.

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

The Greeks loved to play with prepositions, and this is what St. Paul does here.  The “above all” shows transcendence, or how God the Father is beyond the cosmos.  The “through all” shows omnipresence, or how God the Father is present everywhere at all times.  The “in you all” shows immanence, or how close God the Father is to you everywhere.

 

We are given a poetic and theological vision of the things of God along with the virtues necessary to reach it and experience it in our own lives.  The ideal Christian walk is made manifest in our lives through the love of God and the practice of the holy virtues necessary to our life together:  Lowliness and meekness, longsuffering, and forbearing one another in love.  Let us remember our Baptism, even with holy water when we enter the nave for Mass, and recall that our life is lived with God when it is lived with one another in the unity of the Holy Ghost.

 

“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

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

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“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

“Loving our Neighbor through Good Works”

In St. Mark’s Gospel, this healing and the healing of the Syrophoenician woman which precede it together form a turning point in Christ’s ministry.  This healing in particular shows the firstfruits of salvation from the Jewish Messiah which will come to the Gentiles after Pentecost.  Although this miracle is done privately, it is a very inclusive miracle.  Instead of healing only one of the Chosen People, Christ the Messiah heals a man from outside the Old Covenant.

Travelling with His disciples amongst the Gentiles, Jesus fulfills two Messianic prophesies.  These include Isaiah xxxv.5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” and Ezekiel xxiv.27, “In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD”.

God has power over hearing and speech.  Exodus iv.11 reads, “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?”.  Christ is a Jew, but He is God Incarnate.  He has power over hearing and speech.

St. Matthew 11.2-6 shows that Christ is doing the works that the Christ was prophesied to do according to the Forerunner, St. John Baptist:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

 

31:  JESUS, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.

In this part of St. Mark’s Gospel, Christ and the disciples left the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, the site of ancient Phoenicia and modern Lebanon, and headed back towards Judea.  They stopped off in the area of the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  These are ten Hellenistic, or culturally Greek, cities east of Samaria and Galilee, across the River Jordan.

Christ had already healed the demoniac possessed by Legion whilst visiting there before, so His reputation probably preceded Him.  According to Acts ix.2, this area was evangelized early.  Decades later, some Christians fled to one of these cities from Judea during the last war between Rome and the Jews.

32:  And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.

The people of the Decapolis asked Christ to heal this man.  His own people asked on his behalf.  They intercede to the Son of God for his healing.  The week before last, a small group of us gathered to pray for others.  We’ll be doing that again in a few weeks.

Every Sunday and every Mass we lift up the names brought to us by the members of Christ’s Body here in this parish to God the Father Almighty, joining them in the mystical and eternal sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Eucharist, the good gift.  We bring those we know and love to the attention of God so that he may heal them and have mercy upon them.

The local Gentiles interceded on behalf of their deaf friend who couldn’t speak to the Messiah of Israel.  They showed faith and love:  Faith that Christ could heal him and love for him that he might be healed.

33a:  And he took him aside from the multitude,

Privately, away from the public.  This is normally used for Christ alone with His disciples.

Christ avoids making miracles in public and seeks to avoid public praise for them.  He does not seek His own glory but the healing and mending of the bodies and souls of the lost.

Pseudo-Chrysostom tells that Christ took aside the man privately, “teaching us to cast away vain glory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct.”

Indeed, pride is incompatible with thaumaturgy or wonderworking.  Pride is a sin against God.  God gives the good gifts which we work amongst our fellows.  It is through Christ that we do good works.  Sin and good works are incompatible and irreconcilable; sin and good works in Christ cannot exist together.  We must give up pride and seeking after glory for ourselves or we can no longer do good works in Christ.

33b:  and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue;

This seems rather vulgar and unbecoming the founder of our religion.  Yet this putting his hands inside his mouth and spitting makes sense.  Christ actually touched the man, showing that this world is part of God’s creation.  Christ the Son of God uses his perfect fingers and sacred spittle to touch the man in ears and on tongue to heal part of creation which has fallen away from God.

34:  and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

Christ heals the man with six actions:  taking aside, putting hands in the ear, spitting, touching the tongue, deep groan (“sighed”), and command of healing.  This is like our liturgical action at Mass and other services such as Baptism and Confirmation.  He looked up to Heaven.  He said ephphathah, the Aramaic word for “be opened!”  It serves as a word of power, which is not a magical incantation of superstitious nonsense.  This is a direct command from God to be healed.  As the earlier quote from Exodus iv.11 showed, Christ has the power of God to heal the deaf and mute.

St. Bede says that from Heaven comes all healing, which is why Christ looked up.  All we can do for healing also comes down from Heaven.  Whether it be our medical technology or the wise word properly delivered into the ready ear, all our help comes from our Creator and Redeemer who gives us all good things in the first place.  God uses our hands like he uses the hands of Christ for the good of our fellow man.

Likewise, the good we do must not be good only in our eyes but in the eyes of God as well.  Thus, we ought to always keep a healthy suspicion upon ourselves and watch ourselves to ensure that we do God’s work and not our own particular preferences.

35:  And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.

“His ears were opened” literally means is ‘his hearing was opened’, referring to the act of hearing not to the thing of ears.  We do hear through our ears, but the ears being restored was secondary to Christ restoring the hearing.  We see that today with the new cochlear implants which do not fix the ears but restore hearing.

36:  And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;

God is now at work among the Gentiles.  He has said, “be opened!” and they now hear, and proclaim, and are enthusiastic.  Christ will not finish His work among the Gentiles directly; but His apostles will carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, performing great works in His Name.  God’s plan of salvation requires we sinful humans to proclaim Christ to the world.

“so much the more a great deal they published it” – published in the sense of ‘they proclaimed it’, with the religious note of proclamation.  When I preach or proclaim the Gospel, I am publishing it.  Think of publish glad tidings, tidings of peace!  I do not publish in the manner of printing a book or magazine, but rather in proclaiming to the hearing of others personally.

It goes on, “And He charged them that they should tell no man.”  Pseudo-Chrysostom: “By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers, but in the cross and humiliation.”  Wherefore it goes on, “but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.”

We ought not to seek praise for that which we do well and to praise those who do well to us.  Praise is not our due; even the Son of God did not seek praise.

As for those who seek the approval of others (St. Matthew vi.1-2, 5):

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Christ tells us to refrain from doing our duty in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Christ often refrained from performing healings in public so to avoid receiving men’s praises.  Both by word and example we are to serve humbly and obediently, willingly sacrificing our pride upon the Cross.  Remember, we can do no good thing on our own, but only insofar as we participate in Christ.

37:  and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Once the people know that the man they brought forward to be healed has been healed, they get excited and pass on the news.  This is not what Christ wanted.  He healed the man because Christ is the Son of God come into the world to save us, and healing our bodily ailments is one portion of that salvation.  Today’s healing is a foretaste of tomorrow’s incorruptible bodies.

When we follow in His way, the Way of the Cross, we ought to leave others better off for having known us.  I know of many ways in which many of you have made the lives of your fellows better in this vale of suffering and tears.  It is incumbent upon us to serve our fellow man, not as an end unto itself, not as a means of gaining glory for ourselves, not even as a means of gaining glory for God, but to show forth the love of Christ unto those whom He came to save, our very own neighbors.

 

“He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”

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

 

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