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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

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

 

St. Ephrem the Syrian is the first in the historical record who mentioned the Feast of All Saints, doing so before A.D. 373.  The Orthodox still celebrate the feast on its older day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, when we now celebrate Trinity Sunday

We derive the word, saint, from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.  To make something holy is to hallow it.  All Hallows means All Saints.  Thus, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve means All Saints’ Eve.

A saint is a holy person.  All whom God judges righteous and elects to go with him into everlasting felicity are saints.  In the end, there are only the saints and the damned.  If we persevere in Christ, we shall be saints too.

 

Sometimes, Christians on Earth are called saints.  But as with the wheat and the tares and the wedding banquet and the wedding-garment, some who will not persevere are mixed in with those who will.  We do not know who will be faithful and who will fall away.  Thus, we usually reserve calling saints only those whom we strongly suspect of profound personal holiness.

The Church acknowledges heroic Christians as saints.  The Body of Christ can discern what we cannot as individuals.  Dying the martyr’s death is a particularly good indicator of sainthood.  A holy life and performing miracles possibly indicate sainthood.  However, being a prominent Christian, such as a king or bishop, is not a trustworthy sign of sainthood.  A common quip amongst the saints is to the effect of:  ‘the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops and priests’.

Whether recognition of saints is formal, as with the Church of Rome, or informal, as with the Orthodox and Anglicans, it is not an individual thing.  All require the recognition of the Church.  Formal or informal, the Church gets a collective sense of a soul’s holiness and faithfulness.

 

Today, we worship together and celebrate the feast of all God’s saints.  The first documentary evidence for invoking the saints is from around A.D. 156, when the Church celebrated the anniversary of St. Polybius’ martyrdom.  The cult of relics, with its own Scriptural and theological support, reinforced the cult of saints.  In the Fourth Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem distinguished between the martyrs included at the Mass who pray for us and the regular dead whom we pray for.

Some of us are quite devoted to one saint or another.  Many of us learn lessons on how to walk the way of Christ from the examples of the saints.  We ask for the prayers of the saints.  But we may take our admiration or veneration of the saints too far, confusing the creature and the Creator by worshiping or adoring them.  That is idolatry.  An immeasurable gap between Creator and creature exists between the Lord God and the saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Truly, only Christ has the merits, the unburdened freely earned goodness and virtue, to bestow upon us.  We who sin can do no good thing without the burden of our sins.  We cannot repay the damage we have caused, much less add more atop it.  Only Christ was sinless, and only He performed holiness with what He innately possessed, for He is true God of true God.  We are not.  We derive our goodness from Him.  The saints do not have their own merits.  So, we do not invoke the merits of the saints, for theirs are the merits of Christ.

During the Medieval era, the veneration of saints gained some unbalanced additions.  The Reformation cleaned house, as it were, too far amongst Lutherans and Calvinists and not far enough amongst Romans.  Our relationship with the saints ought never obscure the fundamental truths of the Faith and the Persons and work of Almighty God.  The invocation of saints is a vital but subsidiary part of our Christian faith.

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates a great many saints in her kalendar.  The feast of the apostles Ss. Simon and Jude were last week and that of St. Andrew is at the end of this month, with many less prominent saints in between, such as the Martyrs of Uganda and St. Hilda.  But a great many saints are little known.  The Feast of All Saints includes both the recognized, or canonized, saints and the saints who died in obscurity.

The saints above intercede for us as we intercede for each other down here.  We pray for the dead, the Church Expectant.  The saints in glory, the Church Triumphant, pray for us.

Holy Church understands that the prayers of the saints are efficacious to us, but we know not how.  We know that the saints pray for us and this avails in our lives in ways we do not comprehend.  Fr. Knowles, the author of The Catholic Religion, said:  “Their holy prayers to God for us must aid our faulty ones to Him!”

 

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

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

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“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

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

 

“This world is not our home”

Christ did not say that His kingdom was not in this world.  Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world.  All men who live or who have ever lived are of this world.  We are all born of the corrupted seed of Adam.  But all who are born again in Christ are made into a kingdom not of this world.  God the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

Christ is not a king like the kings of this world.  He derives His authority from God the Father, who has given Him all authority upon Heaven and Earth.  His authority derives from on high, not from this world.

Christ’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom, it lasts through the end of the world.  Given from God the Father, this kingdom existed before the world and will outlast it.  God’s kingdom is strange to the ways of this world.  Christ shows that His government is above worldly government, which is corrupt and mortal.  His kingship is not after the manner of earthly kings.

This world is the realm of power and politics and lording it over one another.  Violence and force do not bring people to the kingdom of God; persuasion and witness do.  While violence and force have their place in this world, governed as it is by the powers of darkness, they have no place in the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God sounds archaic, for it is a monarchy.  Christ is King.  Jesus is Lord.  We use ancient language to describe our relationship with Him.  The Roman Catholic Church goes even further by saying that cardinals are princes of the Church!

I suspect that we feel uncomfortable with the idea of Christ as our King.  We like Him very much as a baby in a manger.  I suppose other times we feel comfortable with God running things in heaven, looking out for us in his Godlike and almighty way.  But when it comes to subjecting ourselves to the rule of Christ in our daily lives, we sometimes hesitate.

When the early Church worshipped Christ, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not attend parishes that were most like what they wanted, make the service the way they wanted, or conform the teaching to be as they wanted.  Rather, they passed from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

And the world spat on them, as it had done before with Christ our king.  Converting to Christ is no way of accruing worldly honor.  The early Christians obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread, adding souls to the kingdom.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Christ is the anointed monarch of heaven and earth, of Church and of Creation.  The mission of Holy Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all.  We are members of His Body in that broken cosmos.  Each one of us has a high position.  Each one of us who answers the call and conforms to Christ is part of the greatest story ever told.

 

We are citizens of two cities – the city of God and the city of this world.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of this world.  How we comport our lives in this world is both informed by the eternal kingdom and influences our eternal lives.  Conversely, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth.

The zeal of the French Revolution and the political forces which followed it sought to destroy what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society.  This was his poetic phrase for those free associations of people mediating between the state and the individual.  The governments of this world count Holy Mother Church as one of those institutions which must be controlled or destroyed.

The Bishop of Rome created this feast of Christ the King in 1925.  I heard it told that he did so as a challenge to communism.  There is some truth to this, but the truth is bigger yet.  The run of politics throughout the world in the 1920s continues today.  From totalitarianism to liberal democracy, modern men are inclined to accord the state, the worldly government, as the comprehensive authority over humanity.  This was not always true.  The modern state is, well, a modern development.

Christians, ruled from on high by Christ our King, ought to doubt the health of this development.  Old governments, tyrannous they might be, never reached so deeply into the lives of their subjects.  Neither the Roman Senate nor King Herod could watch us like communists or Nazis, who in turn could never so thoroughly search our private lives like the big data of networked computers, sophisticated software, ubiquitous cameras, and tracked internet activity.

This world is not our home.

 

This past Friday was the Feast of Blessed Alfred the Great.  Our collect for this feast sheds a powerful light on the proper relationship between this corrupt kingdom and the Kingdom of God:  “O God, who didst call thy servant Alfred to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom….”  This part of creation is passing away.  Alfred the Great’s God-given task was to govern his earthly kingdom so to advance Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

I always crack a smile when we celebrate this Feast of Christ the King during an election season.  So we well should turn in the Prayer Book to the collects following Morning and Evening Prayer.  There, we find in A Prayer for Congress the petition that God the Father would be pleased to

direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of thy people; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.

The invasion of the Kingdom of God into this world would indeed bring “peace and happiness, truth and justice”, and “religion and piety”.  This would transform our world.

We ought not be bosom friends with this here haunted and broken kingdom.  We are sojourners in this world.  United with Christ, He has graciously translated us into His eternal Kingdom.  We have already begun our lives into eternity, which will be consummated on the day of doom, the day of judgement, the day when we have our new bodies and go to live with Christ forever whilst the damned are cast into the eternal flames.

As we sing in the second stanza of Hymn 209, O salutaris hostia:  “O grant us life that shall not end, In our true native land with thee.”  Our true native land is the Kingdom of God.  We were born into this world, the same world which did not welcome Christ.  But through our Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord, we boldly “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews x.19-20) and are translated from this dying kingdom to the eternal Kingdom of God.

 

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the many Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the pages of the pagan king of Buganda.  Concerned by encroaching colonial powers and the missionary struggles between Moslems, Romans, and Anglicans, the king doubled down on his worldly authority.  In trying the obedience of his worldly subjects, he demanded that his pages submit to him sexually.  The devout Christian boys refused.  For their disobedience to their earthly king and their obedience to the King of Heaven, they were martyred.  Nourished by their blood shed for their true king, Holy Church grew enormously in Buganda through witness and persuasion, not force and violence.

Our true home is with our Lord, where He reigns.  This world is not our home.

 

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

+ 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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Let us love our Lord God, let us love His Church: Him as a Father, Her as a Mother: Him as a Lord, Her as His Handmaid, as we are ourselves the Handmaid’s sons. But this marriage is held together by a bond of great love: no man offends the one, and wins favour of the other. Let no man say, “I go indeed to the idols, I consult possessed ones and fortune-tellers: yet I abandon not God’s Church; I am a Catholic.” While thou holdest to thy Mother, thou hast offended thy Father. Another says, Far be it from me; I consult no sorcerer, I seek out no possessed one, I never ask advice by sacrilegious divination, I go not to worship idols, I bow not before stones; though I am in the party of Donatus. What does it profit you not to have offended your Father, if he avenges your offended Mother? what does it serve you, if you acknowledge the Lord, honour God, preach His name, acknowledge His Son, confess that He sitteth by His right hand; while you blaspheme His Church?

St. Augustine, exposition of Psalm lxxxix

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From the 24th chapter of The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus:

“With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?  So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest….”

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

 

We teach what Holy Church teaches whilst we only hold that doctrines provable from Scripture are necessary for salvation.  Holy Church has taught for at least fifteen centuries that our Lady was carried off into Heaven upon her death.  Believing this, too, is not considered necessary for salvation, but it makes a great deal of sense and has been taught by Holy Church.

St. John of Damascus preached:

This day the Ark of the living God even the holy and living Ark, wherein once its own Maker had been held, is borne to its resting place in that Temple of the Lord which is not made with hands.

This day the spotless Virgin, who had been defiled by no earthly lust, but rather was enobled by heavenly desires, died only to live without returning to dust.  For being a living heaven, she took her place today among the heavenly mansions.

This is the great lesson of the Feast of the Assumption.  Our place is with God.  The one person who was not also God who set the most excellent example of obedience and devotion is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  God calls us to him.  Christ has opened Heaven to all believers.  St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr followed thereafter by dying for his faith in Christ.  Made regenerate in Holy Baptism, nurtured in the Blessed Sacrament, and living lives of love and obedience, we will live with God forever.

He Who condescended to be born of the Blessed Virgin is “the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father;”  Her son, the son she bore in Bethlehem, is the Son of God.  To protect against the Arian and other heretics who denied that Christ was God, Holy Church for ages has called the Blessed Virgin Mary the Theotokos, or Bearer of God.  The Latin and English appellations Mater Dei and Mother of God are not exactly similar in meaning, but they cannot be denied without doubting our Lord’s divinity.

The Virgin’s motherhood is imminently human.  She was and remains fully human.  Her carrying, bearing, nurturing, and loving her Son is deeply human.  Her motherhood is of her human nature.  Christ has two natures, the one from His Father, and the other from His mother.  Both are necessary for Christ to be one Person, both human and divine.

But when we speak to St. Mary, we speak to her as a saint in her own right.  Her authority over her Son ended when He came of age two thousand years ago.  The tender bonds of love between mother and child no doubt still carry on for them, but her sanctity was won by the merits of Christ in His life, death, and Resurrection, just like they are for the rest of us.  Yet we may still ask for her prayers, for as we read in St. James’ Epistle, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

If the power of a soul’s prayer depends upon her relationship with God, her participation in the divine worship of Heaven, and her increase in grace upon grace, then we may very well think that the prayers of the Blessed Mother are more effectual than those of other saints.  She is the exemplar of the faithful human soul’s loving giving of herself to God.  We read in St. Luke (xi.27-28):

And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.  But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

The Blessed Virgin is not the preëminent of saints because she is Christ’s mama.  She is the preëminent example of faithfulness and grace amongst all men.  Likewise, she possesses a purity and innocence exceeding all others.  St. John Chrysostom preached:

… If her kinship in itself could have profited Mary, it would also have profited the Jews, . . .  Yet, as long as his brethren cared only for their own interests, their relationship to Christ profited them nothing, but they were condemned with the rest of the world.

She is the greatest of saints because she shows us the fullness of the sanctified response of the soul of man to our loving and holy God:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord….”

We cannot give her too much respect and honor, so long as we remember that worship alone belongs to God.  We do well to remember that her holiness is the reflection of the burning and brilliant divinity rather than of herself.  So it is that by honoring her, we honor her Son, Whose grace alone made her this mirror of perfection.

The highest honor paid to our Lady is only dangerous when confused with the worship given only to our Lord.  The Seventeenth-Century Bishop of Chester, John Pearson, wrote:

We cannot bear too revered a regard unto the ‘Mother of our Lord,’ so long as we give her not that worship which is due unto the Lord Himself . . . .  Let her be honored and esteemed, let Him be worshipped and adored.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is more pious and ancient belief than article of faith.  But we know that when we die, Christ judges us, and if invited, we go to Heaven.  That our Lady died and went to Heaven is undeniable.  How and when she went to Heaven can be argued.  The Assumption highly honors our Lady and ought greatly to inspire us.  We, too, ought to increase in Christ, die in Christ, and then live with Him forever!

 

“With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?  So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest….”

+ 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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“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

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

 

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