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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

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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“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

 

“Speaking the wonderful works of God”

 

God has spoken to Man throughout the ages.  God communed with Adam in the cool of the morning.  God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s.  God commanded Noah to build the Ark.  God chose Abraham and sent him on his journey, communicating to his through angels.  God spoke to Moses from the burning bush to lead the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt and gave him his sacred Law.  The tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God to the priests and people of Israel.

Yet even when the Ark was lost, God still spoke through the prophets of Israel, correcting and admonishing the priests, kings, and people when they grew lax with God’s Law and sought to worship themselves instead of God.  These prophets and the calamities visited upon the Israelites scattered many of them but sharpened and honed others.

Out of these others came Ss. Mary and Joseph, Ss. Elizabeth and Zacharias, and those who waited for the consolation of Israel.  The Son of God the Father became Man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Holy Ghost came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  God raised a great prophet in the elderly womb of St. Elizabeth.  As her son, St. John the Baptist, preached and prepared those hoping for the restoration of Zion to receive their king, Jesus grew in stature and wisdom until his Baptism by St. John and his ministry amongst the Jews.

Thus we understand the first two verses of Hebrews:  “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”

As we have worshipped in the cycle of Holy Church through the preparation for Easter, Pre-Lent and Lent, and thence through Passion Week and Holy Week, worshipping through the Passion, death, Resurrection, and then Ascension of our Lord Christ, so we come to the time Christ promised us:  Pentecost.

WHEN the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Christ gave the Holy Ghost to the Church to hold her accountable to what He taught her.  We are given the Holy Ghost in the Sacraments to bring God’s presence into our lives and accomplish all things necessary for holiness.  The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Holy Ghost, instructs us, seals us in the knowledge of God, and preserves the teachings of Jesus Christ.

 

From the Confirmation rite found in the Book of Common Prayer:  “Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear,”

Zechariah vii.11-12:  “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.  Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.”

St. John iv.22b-24 “…Salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Romans viii.9-11:  “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

I Corinthians ii.9-10, 12:  “But as it is written, 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. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God…. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”

 

We are comforted – strengthened – by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit also leads us into all truth.  The two come together in that teaching of Christ, that the Holy Ghost will preserve and keep us in the word of God from Christ.  He “brings all things to remembrance”.

In the Collect, God “didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit” and we beseech God to “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”.

Teaching the hearts of the faithful and granting us right judgement are both brought about by the first thing St. Peter does after receiving the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  He preaches.

He preaches that those who have not heard may hear.  He preaches that those who do not understand may understand.  He preaches that those who fail may be strengthened to succeed.  He preaches that the faithless may find faith.  He preaches that the stout-hearted give glory to God and lead others to glorify God as well.  He preaches by telling the truth that the authorities do not want to be told.  He preaches by speaking the wonderful works of God.

Will you stand up alongside the great apostle and speak the wonderful works of God?

 

“Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

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

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“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 sweet-smelling savour.”

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

 

The disciples who followed Christ literally followed where He went and did what He did.  They learned by doing.  In that sense, I was a disciple of my father in my early years.  I remember the first time I sat in front of my father on stage at our pre-school.  I crossed my legs the same way he did because, although I was scared in front of all those people, it was safe and right to imitate my daddy.  Disciples follow and imitate.  In this way, disciples are like children.  This is how St. Paul can open up this reading of Ephesians with “BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;” for followers and children are so very similar.

 

We are to imitate Christ.  One of the most famous and popular books of Christian devotion for all time, treasured by the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, John Wesley, and Robert E. Lee, is Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.  I strongly recommend each of you to consider reading it.

We are to imitate Christ’s loving-kindness.  We must walk in love.  Loving-kindness is the essential ingredient in following Christ – loving in our hearts, loving in our minds, loving in our bodies.  All that we do must be in love.  If we truly act in love, then we are imitating Christ.

The Prayer of St. Francis, written in the early years of the XX Century and not by him, faithfully sums up his teaching and offers us a most excellent understanding of living in love and imitating Christ.  A lovely needlework of this prayer is hung above our coffee pots next to the kitchen door in the parish hall.  I invite you all to recall Christ’s love of you and your imitation of Christ when you pass by this embroidered prayer.  This is the prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Throughout the history of Holy Church, imitating Christ and following the way of love has had several components.  One part has been the soul’s interior regard of love – recollection of love, intercessory prayer, and acts of devotion.  Another part has involved the soul deeply in participation in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  A third part has emphasized outward and physical performances of love.

 

Through our Incarnate Son of God, we are to imitate God.  We are created in his image, and although we, his handiwork, have been defaced by sin, the original stamp of God on us remains.  Our human nature has fallen into sin, but first God created it in his image.

Our part of Christ’s redemption of us is imitating God.  We are to imitate God, and the way we do that is through the love and sacrifice of Christ.  Christ sacrificed His high station in Heaven and His life upon the Cross for us to God the Father.  This is love.  Love and sacrifice go hand in hand.  Love without sacrifice is hollow and empty.  Sacrifice without love is meaningless and despairing.  Sacrifice in love redeems the world.  If you and I imitate Christ and sacrifice for one another in loving-kindness, you and I can move mountains.

We complain about budget deficits, empty pews, and lack of activities.  We complain about crooked politicians, policies working against God’s laws, and wicked behavior in high places.  We complain about broken families, alienated loved ones, and lost friends.  But we have an answer for all these:  Christ.

But when we say the answer is Christ, in our despair we cry out like atheists.  But what about right now?  What about those hurting people?  What about my hurts?  Yes, Christ cleansed us from our sin in Holy Baptism.  Yes, Christ has won the victory and will return one day in power and great glory.  But what about now?  What about my sick spouse?  What about my dead child?  What about my scorned neighbor?  Oh Lord, what about my lost job?

And by the answer, “Christ”, we mean the love and sacrifice of Christ lived out in our lives.  Christians are members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We imitate God in Christ our Lord.  We love one another not out of indifference, not until it becomes uncomfortable, but we love one another, as known persons with faces, unto sacrifice.

Like Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathitein in the second chapter of Job, we sit in the ashes with our grieving friend seven days and seven nights without saying a word.  And unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, we don’t get smart with our opinions starting on the eighth day.  We sit in the ashes with our grieving friend.  That is love and sacrifice, my dear children.

Remember how Christ said to turn the other cheek, to give the man who asks for a coat your cloak as well, to walk the extra mile?  Love does not involve what you can get away with doing.  We are to love unto sacrifice.  We are to enter into hurt ourselves on behalf of another.

That means that we listen to one another even when they irritate us horribly.  That means that we shut our mouths when someone wants to share their pain with us.  That means that we put our rear in gear and get off our duff, roll up our sleeves, and help someone out.  That means that we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  We move beyond our own comfort, our own self-satisfied opinions,and our own hurts to move out into the world of hurt and pain and sorrow and misery propelled by our Savior’s love and sacrifice for us, taking His healing balm into the world that knows original and actual sin and nothing but natural remedies, not a one of which avails.

We imitate Christ when we interpose ourselves between pain, sin, and disorder and our beloved brother.  On our wedding day, a family friend found me and kept kidding around with jokes until my brother and I walked out to the altar.  Stupid silly jokes kept me from getting anxious before the service on our big day.  That is interposing between disorder and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pick up the burden our brother must carry.  St. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear the Cross of our Lord on His way to Calvary.  A well-known example in the church of doing this is when the ladies of the parish provide plenty of food for a grieving family.  We ate chicken casseroles and ham for a month after my father died.  Our grief was so profound that feeding ourselves was difficult.  The ladies of our church fed us during that time.  God bless them for it.  This too is interposing between death and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pay what our brother must pay.  The Good Samaritan paid the room and board and medical costs of the wounded Jew.  Mrs. Day of Day’s Inn paid for the Mercer University education of one of my friends who lost her father fleeing from the Communists in Cambodia and arrived in America with nothing.  Mrs. Day had a fortune.  My friend had no money.  But thanks to Mrs. Day, she received a very nice private college education, became wealthy, and now helps spread that wealth to those who have very little themselves.  God bless both of them for it.  This also is interposing between poverty and our brother.

In his Epistle to the Galatians, vi.2, St. Paul writes:  “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”  We are not Christians if we do not bear one another’s burdens.  We are not followers of Christ if we do not walk the Way of the Cross.  We are not participating in Christ’s ministry if we do not interpose between sin, death, and wickedness and our brother.  Christ tells us in the Summary of the Law to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  This is how we spread the Good News of Christ.  This is how we serve to forward the Kingdom of God.  This is how we imitate God.  This is how we imitate Christ.

This holy season of Lent, each of you search yourself.  Examine your thoughts, your heart, and your actions.  Do you love your neighbor in your thoughts?  Do you sacrifice for your brother in your heart?  Do you interpose on behalf of your brother in your actions?  If you are like the rest of us, and you are, then you are failing to love like Christ somewhere in your life.

In prayer and fasting, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, find that place that needs changing.  Resolve to change that.  Say it out loud to yourself, write it down someplace where you will see it every day.  Change this.  God the Holy Ghost will ably assist you in conforming to Christ and doing God the Father’s holy will on earth.

 

“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 sweet-smelling savour.”

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

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“O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

 

Christ as Example of Obedience to God

 

Why do we do give alms and fast and pray and deny ourselves during Lent?  To a great extent, we do it so that we “may ever obey [Christ’s] godly motions in righteousness and true holiness.”

But how does obedience to the example of Christ help us?  To understand that, we must first go to the beginning.  Here is much of the second and the third chapters of the First Book of Moses, Genesis (ii.7-9 and ii.15-iii.24):

7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

9 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

19 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.

20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

 

Adam was utterly dependent upon God.  God gave him his life, gave him his mastery over all creation.  God created him a helpmate suited for him.  He depended upon God for all things.  He utterly trusted God.  God told Adam that he may eat of every tree in the Garden except only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And prodded by the temptations of the Devil, Adam’s own flesh, his wife, gives him the fruit of the tree, and he did eat it.  And his eyes having been opened, there was no way to unopen them.  There was no way to unring that bell.

Immediately Adam lost his faith in God, his trust in God the Father with whom he conversed in the Garden.  For you see, our first ancestors walked and talked with God in the cool of the day, innocent as lambs and naked as jaybirds.  But when Adam ate that fruit, his unexamined innocent trust in God collapsed like an old shack in a thunderstorm.

When we lost our innocent trust in God, our faith in the Almighty, then we lost everything.

Punishments are meted out.  But the main thing here is that Adam absolutely knew God in a personal relationship like two friends taking a stroll through a garden.  God gave Adam everything, except the poisonous knowledge that interrupted God’s plan of a lovely creation which glorified him.  Adam and Eve clothe themselves, hide from God, blame others, suffer curses, and are driven out of the luxurious Garden of nature at peace with itself and us.  We worry about environmental change now, but the greatest damage occurred when we lost the Garden, when the earth lost the Garden.

Adam threw away his experiential and existential love of and trust in God.  We and all the cosmos suffer for his great sin.

*That* is the proper context in which to understand today’s Gospel lesson.

For what Adam threw away, Christ picked back up.  When Adam sought to eat that which was forbidden to him by God and offered to him by Satan, Christ refused to eat that which was offered Satan and ate only what was offered to him by God.  Adam disobeyed, and we all therefore die.  Christ obeyed, and we all therefore live.  Christ brought us back to God by restoring the profound trust, reliance, and faith in God.  Christ was God become Man Who lived a perfect human life while remaining perfect God.  In Christ, God and Man are joined together.  We are saved through Christ, we become inheritors of eternal life in Him, and through the veil of His flesh we enter into Heaven.

 

There are very many parallels between this section of Genesis and our Lord Christ and even the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Indeed, God’s curse upon the serpent in Genesis iii.15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” is called the Protoevangelium, a glimpse at the Gospel to come.

Consider also Genesis iii.19.  God told Adam, “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.”  But Christ said in St. John vi.48-51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Moreover, St. Paul says in Romans v.17-19:  “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”  Where Adam brought in sin and death, Christ brought in righteousness and everlasting life.

So what has this to do with Lent?  We have just begun our forty-day adventure, preparing “our selves, our souls and bodies” for the great high Feast of Easter, the annual celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.  Today’s Gospel shows us how Christ, too, went through a forty-day trial in the wilderness.  Through faithfulness and trust in God the Father, Christ withstands the full force of Satanic temptation, alluring, powerful, and striking in the hour of greatest need.

God specifically told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This is a command not to do one thing.  And Adam did that one thing.

The Fall was predicated upon the only commandment God gave being broken.  But the penalty and consequences of this lapse into sin caused misery, suffering, and death for the entire cosmos.  We still fail to obey God in all we do and say.  We are still wounded by this vile infection of distrust.  So Christ had to come down from Heaven to become one of us and absolutely and completely live out a life of faithful righteousness.

 

We do not give alms and fast and pray and deny ourselves in order to get holy enough to be acceptable to God.  We can never make up for our sins and alienation from God.  God has accomplished the work of reconciliation, of salvation, in Christ our Lord.  We cannot add to it.  God provides everything we need both in the Garden of Eden eons ago and in Augusta today.

Our almsgiving and fasting and praying and denial of ourselves help us grow closer to our Lord Christ.  We are mystically joined in Him and made one body with Him.  The Holy Ghost within us uses our little offerings to grow more and more like our good Lord.  He makes our pitiful hearts like his Sacred Heart, full of loving-kindness and mercy.  Our feeble efforts at love are expertly and divinely guided by the Holy Spirit of God to become more like Christ’s great offering of love on the Cross.  That is why we give and fast and pray and deny ourselves:  So that we might love like God loves.

 

“O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”

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“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

While St. Paul seldom boasts in his letters, he makes up for it here.  But the Corinthians have it coming.  For even though he evangelized them, they turned their back on him as soon as the Judaizers followed him, preaching that the Corinthians had to follow the Jewish Law in order to be truly Christian.  Thus, they felt that they were superior to St. Paul and his apostolic teaching.  He shows in this Epistle that, if they had any reason to have confidence in the flesh, then he had more.  He shows that he places his trust in Christ, rather than in the Law, more confidence in his weaknesses, than his supposed strengths.  Like a fool, he boasts in his weakness and the sufferings he had endured for Christ.  He powerfully shows his anger at, and disappointment in, the Corinthians.

This boasting in Christ instead of in his own merits records for posterity the sufferings St. Paul endured as a minister of the Gospel and Apostle to the Gentiles.  Indeed, his account of suffering here far exceeds what is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  When we compare our suffering for the Gospel to his, we fall shamefully short.  We are pitiful compared to this hero of the faith who claimed his efforts were pitiful compared to Christ.  That should give us a proper perspective to consider our work on behalf of the Gospel of Christ.  What he freely gave again and again, we carefully guard and hold back again and again.

Let’s look at the Epistle verse by verse.

Verse 20:  “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”  The Corinthians have been duped and treated poorly, and yet they think themselves superior to St. Paul!  They have mindlessly obeyed, spent lavishly on, been taken advantage of by, and submitted themselves to false teachers, like fools following whatever goofy fad ensnares the Hollywood elite.  If they can hearken to such fakers, then they can listen to St. Paul.

Verse 21:  “I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.”  St. Paul says here, “as though we had been weak” although it was the Corinthians themselves who had been foolishly led.  He then leads into his major premise:  If anyone actually has reason to boast, you can be assured that he has more.

Verse 22:  “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”  Here begins the boasting, although he had reiterated that this whole line of commentary is foolish.  He is every bit as Jewish as the Judaizer heretics are.  They have no superiority here.

Verse 23:  “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.”  If he is every bit as Jewish as they are, then note too that St. Paul has suffered greatly for the Gospel of our Lord in work, scourgings, prison time, and being surrounded by death.  They have nothing on him one way, and they have nothing on him the other.

Verse 24:  “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”  Deuteronomy xxv.1-3 prescribes the maximum number of lashes allowable under the Law of Moses as forty.  In order to not inadvertently exceed this number, the number given was thirty-nine, so if they lost count, they did not violate the Law.  So St. Paul has received the maximum allowable scourging on five separate occasions.  This is not recorded elsewhere in Scripture.  We have here proof that St. Paul did many heroic things which were not recorded elsewhere in the New Testament.  We see here that the Jews persistently and with great determination attempted to shut St. Paul up.

Verse 25:  “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”  This verse is a traditional favorite of youth groups.  “Beaten with rods” was a Roman punishment, showing Roman hostility in addition to the previously noted Jewish hostility.  The whole world seemed to work against the Apostle to the Gentiles, seeking to silence the proclamation of the Good News.  He was stoned, the same punishment for which he held the coats of those who martyred St. Stephen.  He was shipwrecked three times before his voyage to Rome recounted in the Acts.  He spent “a night and a day” marooned in the open ocean, adrift at sea.  This is a tale of high adventure greater than one by Robert Louis Stevenson!

Verse 26:  “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”  He moves here to a nearly hypnotic repetition of where he had been in trouble.  What a catalog!  Who among us except the most seasoned travelers have even been to such a variety of places, much less suffered for our great Incarnate God there?  As for me, I think I have only been mildly in peril once by my own countrymen.  So many of our fellow saints have followed the way of St. Paul, have followed the way of Christ!  So much suffering, and for such a good cause!

Verse 27:  “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”  We see here that not only has he suffered grave dangers, but he has survived in brutal discomfort.  I got a little chilly the other week.  Despite my own disease, I suffer not from watchings, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness.  When I think that I have it rough, I can think of the saints of old – and of today elsewhere in the world – and remember that we are promised no comfort save that of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  The correct perspective of our actual situation helps us govern our emotions and expectations, keeping us faithful and drawing us closer in loving-kindness to the Son of God.

Verse 28:  “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”  And what follows the tribulations of torture, shipwreck, fasting, nakedness, and such?  The burden of “care of all the churches”.  Think of that the next time we welcome Archbishop Haverland to our fair parish.  Daily external hardships are only part of the apostle’s suffering.  The internal weight of the care of parishes, the burden of pastoral authority, the cure of souls is of such import that St. Paul mentions it in this privileged place in his list.

He remembers the churches he has founded.  He prays for them.  As we can see in his letters, also called epistles, St. Paul is constantly sending someone to visit a church for him, constantly pressing on to another mission site, disputing publicly in yet another city, being thrown into yet another jail for challenging the authority of the leaders of the synagogue.  St. Paul certainly cares for this church in Corinth, but he cares for many others as well.  This alone should chasten the Corinthians that they have been singled out for such a rant.  But St. Paul cares about the churches which he has not even visited, putting the Corinthians even more to their shame.

Verse 29:  “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”  Many Christians throughout his mission field are weak and many suffer indignations every day.  And St. Paul is right there with them in body and in spirit.  He is weak when they are weak.  And he burns when they are offended.  He is not ashamed to say that he is weak; remember, he started today’s Epistle with saying as much.  And indeed, this leads to the next verse.

Verse 30:  “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  St. Paul “will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”  This is madness in the eyes of the world.  Glory in my infirmities?  Infirmities are to be dismissed, saying “that’s nothing”, or they are to be denied, like saying that instead of being disabled I am “otherly abled”, or infirmities are to be pitied and raged against with anger and venom.

But our apostle is doing something different than our broken and deranged natural inclinations would have us do.  He is glorying in his weakness.  He is completely dependent upon his good God.  The entire world is against him, Jews and Romans both.  Yet he perseveres.  This is all due to Christ and to Him alone.  St. Paul knows that all the merit in the world is as nothing compared to the incomparable gift of grace in the Incarnation of Christ, His death upon the Cross, and His Resurrection with power and great glory.  When we acknowledge ourselves to be the weak creatures compared to the sovereign power of God, we open ourselves up to be the grateful beneficiaries of the grace, merits, and goodness of Christ.

You cannot receive anything in a closed fist.  Who of you would cross your arms across your chest and hopes that somebody would let you have your turn to hold the baby?  Who of you would duck your head away when your honey leans close for a kiss?  Who of you would come to Holy Communion and close your hands and your mouth and expect to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ?  You can’t normally receive what you are not open for.  And as St. Paul learned on his way to Damascus, the only way to receive grace when you are not open to it is to be struck blind and knocked to the ground.

As we approach this holy season of Lent, I challenge each one of you to find two things to change your life so that you are more open to receive grace.  I ask you to drop some impediment to God’s grace in your life.  Normally, this is in the form of a Lenten fast.  Have you been hitting the bottle too hard lately?  Drop the booze.  Too much sugar lately?  Cut out the sweets.  Suspect that television, delicacies, or loose talk is interfering with your relationship with God?  Change it up.

I furthermore ask you to add some particular aid to receiving God’s grace this Lent.  Walk the Stations of the Cross every Friday with us.  Say Mattins with us before Sunday School.  Attend a weekday Mass each week.  Make a Lenten Confession.  Dig into your St. Augustine’s Prayer Book and say a devotion to the Sacred Heart each day.

Add one discipline and subtract one distraction and you will see an improvement in your spiritual life this Lent.  I dare you.  Will you dare try?

 

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.”

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

 

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“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

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

 

As we journey through our Lenten wilderness, part of our work is cleaning out of us all forms of unrighteousness.  Yet, when we spiritually cleanse ourselves, we leave ourselves open for the return of all forms of unrighteousness.  We must chuck out the bad and then haul in the good.  We are not to be empty houses, but temples of worship to our Lord God.

Some tell us that to be spiritual we must dissolve our individuality into the sea of eternity, or of nothingness.  Some say that we must empty ourselves out in order to be in touch with the universe.  But the religion of Christ declares that a man is a man made from “the dust of the ground” and by God’s own design will eat and be filled.  We require being full – drinking from the Living Water, eating our Saviour Christ’s Body and drinking his Blood – and we hold that we join together when we eat together.  Christ in His resurrected body ate fish by the seaside.  He multiplied the bread and fishes so that many could eat and be satisfied.  He told the woman at the well that if she asked, she could drink of water “springing up into everlasting life.”  We are neither created nor destined to be empty, but to be filled; and not merely to be filled, but to be filled with goodness.

When we empty ourselves, we do this properly and safely only to prepare ourselves to be filled with good things.  It is hard to divest ourselves of habits and thoughts which do not glorify God.  We conquer by replacing.  The oldest intact pagan temple in Rome, the Pantheon, is also the oldest standing building in the world still in regular use – It has been a church of Jesus Christ for a millennium and a half.  Anything that God created, no matter how far it has fallen, can be redeemed by our good God and put to his holy purposes.  Ground upon which the blood of sacrificed men, women, and children poured can be hallowed and used for holiness, purity, and loving-kindness.

There is not a single one of us who can stray from God so far that he cannot be redeemed.  There is not a single one of us so base, so poor, so lonely, so foul, so beaten down, so dejected, so rejected, that he cannot be saved and sanctified and held up as a beacon of the light of Christ before all mankind.  Not a single one of us is worthless, but every single one of us is not right with God until justified by Christ.

Each of us must take out the trash of our lives:  the impure thoughts, the petty jealousies, the murmuring mouth, the wandering heart, the covetous eyes, the lying lips.  All of this garbage must get out and hit the street for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to dispose of.  But once we have emptied our house, swept and garnished it, it will be inhabited by worse devils if we do not have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us.  Our bodies, our minds, and our souls must be thoroughly inhabited by the God of all creation so that we are filled with the Holy Ghost and made into living temples unto God, beacons of light and love and purity in this fallen and corrupt world.  We must undergo conversion of our whole selves, lest we die.  We must reject anxiety and worry and control and fear in order to be filled with serenity and joy and peace and charity.

There are those in our society who claim no need for Christ but try to live commendable lives.  I have such folk in my family; you probably have such folk in your family.  We can eat properly, exercise wisely, speak softly, love fully, and all such wholesome things, but we cannot thereby truly connect ourselves to the profoundness of our God, who undergirds everything we see, everything we think, and everything we imagine.  We can grow firm fit bodies and develop clean wholesome minds and live crisp moral lives, but without God, we only form ourselves in our own image and thereby die without enjoying everlasting life in communion with the loving God who made us, became one of us, and suffered alongside of us.

We build ourselves up in vain, only to see our creations snuff out suddenly or decay slowly, without any hope or duration.  Fleeting moments of insightful connection to the rest of creation are a cruel taste of what will be denied for all eternity unless one is intimately tied to Jesus Christ.  Our house is put in order only to be abandoned, doors and windows open and ready to receive thieves, weather, and critters.  Without Christ, all our efforts are vain attempts to touch beauty and joy and eternity.  Holiness and godliness are but a breath away, but by focusing on ourselves, we turn away and spurn our loving God, seeking our own righteousness (which will never come) and mocking the righteousness of God.

“The last state of that man is worse than the first.”  It is better to lie ignorant in the gutter of daily pleasures and selfish concerns than it is to try to save oneself, for the man lying in that gutter of filth has no illusions that he is saving himself.  Better for a man to never give a thought of a savior than to think that he is his own savior, for the man who has never thought of a savior can be won for Christ.  He is ignorant, and that is pitiful, but not as outrageously sad as the fool who says in his heart that there is no God, only himself.

As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, let us take stock of how we have garnished our own house.  Pay no attention to our neighbor’s house; we cannot be his savior, only Christ can.  Inspect our closets, our larders.  Examine our bookcases and our bedrooms.  Are we honoring God in every room of our lives?  What do we need to change?  And, before we toss out the old, what shall we put in its place?

 

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

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

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“THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

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

 

The word “charity” in the Authorized Version is the same as the Latin word “caritas”, the Greek word “agape”, the Hebrew word “chesed”, and the “loving-kindness” of Miles Coverdell.  Contemporary translations which use “love” for this are sadly weak.

Charity is not an emotion in our gut.  Charity is not a sweet sentiment.  Charity resides in the part of the soul called the will, in that part of our interior life which moves the intellect, that causes us to act upon the cosmos.  Charity is fundamentally connected to action.  We do not have charity passively, we have this Godly kind of love in the very seat of all our actions.  We cannot truly love in lack of action, unless we have chosen to refrain from acting in order to serve others.  At its heart, charity is the self-sacrificial love of Christ.

Divine love is not safe.  If you stand too close to it, you can feel its heat.  Charity transforms that which it touches, as well as the one who willed it.  Jesus’ Crucifixion is the most loving act in the universe.  Sentimental safe love is no love at all but rather is a mockery of the self-sacrificial loving-kindness exhibited by the Son to each human being.  Agape love is more powerful than death, because it is most directly connected with Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth and time and space.  Everything that exists is held in this love of the great Triune God.  Without God’s will for us to exist, we would not even disappear into dust; we would snuff out of all that is in the blink of an eye.  This does not mean that God is capricious and willful and dangerous so much as God is faithful and loving and constant.  We abuse and ignore and mock God’s great gift of loving-kindness through our capricious and willful and dangerous actions.  We falsely blame God while God the Son bears the cost of our true blame.

This agape love is the central part of the Religion of Christ.  Christ came into the world to save sinners – because He loved us.  Christ died on the Cross to save sinners – because He loved us.  Christ ascended into Heaven to prepare for us a place – because He loved us.  Christ spoke the socially unacceptable truth boldly and publicly to the poor and to the powerful because He loved us.  When we deny Him, we do not love Christ, but we hate him.  When we do not worship Him, we do not love Christ, but we hate Him.  By our silence, by our complicity, by our acquiescence, by our excuses, by our irreverence, by our selfishness, by our love of money, by our love of our own particular and peculiar ways, we do not love Christ, but we hate Him.

An example of how we hate our neighbor instead of loving him is how we address the contemporary acceptance of disordered sexual relationships.  Now, we need not shout from the rooftop or harangue strangers on the street about this mire so many of us find ourselves in, but we should be living out publicly and sharing in private the virtue of chastity.

Chastity is mocked nowadays.  Many defenders of it mistakenly mean only keeping away from naughtiness if single and not straying if married.  But chastity is a virtue grounded in sacrificial love, of keeping holy a most wondrous gift from God that each of us has been entrusted with.  Instead of encouraging others in acts of joy and holiness we either condemn sinners or make excuses for them.  In either this condemning or excusing we do not love others as Christ loved us.

This became a powerful concern of mine in my first ministry position as a Methodist youth minister.  I beheld this motley crew of seventh through twelfth graders and delighted in their individuality, precociousness, and vulnerability.  Each was made in the image of our Creator and redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  And each was either facing or shortly to be facing a distorted and broken and dizzying range of increasingly adult temptations.  As I pondered the potential of her heart broken from extramarital sex, his sexually transmitted disease, her unmarried pregnancy, his hastily and ill-considered marriage, and her abortion, my heart broke and my knees sagged under the load.

How was I to encourage them and build them up?  My response then was to warn them of these many potential pains and sins and the goodness of Christian morality.  Today, I would use my greater years of wisdom and Christian formation and hold forth loving-kindness in chastity to them.  I would teach and exhibit real Christian love.  I would give them something to aspire to instead of something to shun and avoid.  I would hold forth the kind of love shown by God to us and best summarized by St. Paul here in First Corinthians.

Charity, love, caritas, loving-kindness, agape, sacrificial love; this is all the eternal thing which will be with us after Christ returns again to judge the quick and the dead.  In heaven, we have no need of hope.  Before the face of God, we have no need of faith.  But we will always need love.  The more we practice loving our God in living lives of great holiness and avoiding all sin, faithfully praying to God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, the closer we arrive, with God’s grace, to the love which each of us will have in eternity with God.

Loving-kindness is the ultimate ideal of the Christian life.  All our Lenten sacrifices and disciplines and spiritual exercises are meant to bring us closer to Christ.  Divine love involves suffering, and our simple little self-sacrifices are meant to bring us closer to Christ.  We are to have an unfeigned unpretended divine “love motivating and sustaining all our thoughts and actions.”

While I hope everyone comes and brings folks to our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper this week, if you had to choose between the two, I would prefer you come to worship on Ash Wednesday.

I commend to each of you keeping a holy Lent.  Lent is an annual opportunity to grow closer to God and walk henceforth in his holy ways through the forty-day wilderness through prayer and fasting and acts of devotion.  Commonly in modern American “Christian” culture, we are encouraged to give up something for Lent.  This is okay only in relation to a more comprehensive program, or balanced diet, of Lenten discipline.

Sometimes we decide for Lent that we will attend Mass every Sunday, pray every day, tithe our 10%, and avoid specific instances of sin.  However, we act wrongly if we make a special Lenten effort to go to Church every Sunday, pray every day, tithe our income, and avoid sin for these forty days.  We fail to keep our Lent holy if we focus on doing those things because those are precisely the things we are obliged to be doing every day.  They are not above-and-beyond; they are ordinary duties.

Baptized Christians are expected to attend the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ every single Sunday.  A parishioner once informed me of plans to miss Sunday, accompanied by a report of where the obligation was to be met.  While that was unexpected, it was also most appropriate, and I expressed my thanks for this.

I do not rail and preach on this often, but it is a rule of Christian conduct that Christians spend their Sundays worshipping their Lord.  Failure to attend – not receive – Mass on Sunday except in case of sickness is normally a sin before God and should be repented of and confessed.  I would love to spend my Sunday afternoons carrying the Blessed Sacrament from home to home communicating those too sick to make it here on Sunday.  A way to exceed minimum expectations with an extra Lenten devotion is to attend a weekday Mass or Stations of the Cross.  But understand that God expects us at Mass on Sunday.

Baptized Christians are expected to pray to God every single day.  If we do not pray every day and promise to start praying during Lent, then we are doing only what we ought to have been doing already.  However, if we take on the discipline of praying the Lord’s Prayer upon rising, at noon, and before retiring at night, that would be taking on a Lenten discipline.  We would be fulfilling our Christian duty, but we would place ourselves under the accountable discipline of praying a certain prayer thrice daily.  If I as your priest were to ask you how your Lenten discipline were coming along, you could tell me: “Fairly well.  I have missed two times so far.”  It is a wholesome thing, it is more than minimum, and it is countable.  We could see how well we are doing and think about how we could perhaps improve.

Another example would be deciding to give 10% of income in Lent.  Supporting God’s Church through the bounty he has given is not optional for the Baptized Christian.  We must support Christ’s Church financially if we have money, and we ought to give 10% if we are able.  However, making a special Lenten financial commitment is laudable.  Quitting Starbucks or cable television and giving what we save to the Missionary Society of St. Paul would be an excellent idea, so long as our obligation to support the parish with the tithe is fulfilled.  Again, the guiding principle is to exceed our minimum normal obligations in a measurable way so to gain spiritual discipline and grow closer to Christ’s love.  After all, we study before examinations and practice before races.  Lent is our time to pay careful attention to our spiritual state by walking the path of self-denial with Christ.

Finally, saying that we are going to cut out gossiping with friends, ridiculing others’ work, or trying to discern the future with astrology is the same thing as saying that we are going to stop visiting prostitutes or holding up liquor stores for Lent.  We have an absolute unconditional duty to our good God to avoid each and every sin.  Attempting to take on a Lenten discipline of avoiding sin is rather blasphemous.  Saying the Lord’s Prayer thrice daily, attending weekday Mass, and giving to the mission society are all optional.  Avoiding taking the Lord’s name in vain, lying, stealing, adultery, and dishonoring your parents is never optional.  Indeed, I encourage any of us who commits these sins to seek out a wise priest to hear our confession and absolve us from our sins.

However, giving up something which is not a sin might make a good Lenten discipline.  Participating in Lenten abstinence by giving up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays as recommended by our Church is a standard and wonderful thing to do, provided you are physically fit for it.  Another common Lenten discipline is the one I mentioned before, giving up something in which you delight.  Chocolate is not sinful.  However, if you particularly like chocolate, then giving up chocolate in order to take one tiny step towards our walking with our Lord in the wilderness of Lent would be a good idea.  It is also measurable, so you could tell that you had only slipped up three times.  If each time was with chocolate ice cream, then you have curbed your appetite and learned a little something about yourself.

Whatever we give up for Christ, let us remember that we are giving it up for Christ.  This is why giving up cigarettes or trying to lose weight may not be such a great idea for Lent, lest we be tempted to desire the social or health benefit more than we desire to grow closer to Christ.

We discipline our souls so to better inhabit eternity with God for the same reason we discipline our bodies so to better win a race:  If we do not discipline ourselves, we will be in no condition to achieve our heart’s desire.  This Lent, I will discipline my own unruly self so that I can love more like God loves.  Will you join me?

 

“THOUGH I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

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

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