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Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’

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

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

 

“Preparing for Death”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

The Resurrection Life

 

St. John Chrysostom preached:

“Our first man is buried: buried not in earth, but in water; not death-destroyed, but buried by death’s destroyer, not by the law of nature, but by the governing command that is stronger than nature. For what has been done by nature, may perchance be undone; but what has been done by His command, never. Nothing is more blessed than this burial, whereat all are rejoicing, both Angels, and men, and the Lord of Angels. At this burial, no need is there of vestments, nor of coffin, nor of anything else of that kind. Wouldest thou see the symbol of this? I will show thee a pool wherein the one was buried, the other raised; in the Red Sea the Egyptians were sunk beneath it, but the Israelites went up from out of it; in the same act he buries the one, generates the other.”

The Resurrection doesn’t make sense to our natural selves, making better sense when talked about in analogies to Israelites and Egyptians.  What does Christ’s Resurrection mean?

 

Christ is our new Adam.  Death came into the world through Adam.  Romans v.12:  “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

But eternal life has come into the world through the new Adam, Christ.  I Corinthians xv.45:  “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”  In a sense, God has re-made creation through Christ.

Sin is a shattered state of alienation and decay which entered into God’s good world through Adam’s sin.  Since Adam is our progenitor, this disease came to afflict us all.

But Christ has taken up our nature into Himself.  He is God, but He has taken on human nature.  Through that nature, He died on the Cross.  With His Resurrection from the dead, this new Resurrection life has entered into our nature as well.  Christ’s Resurrection has exalted our human nature, and insomuch as we share in Christ’s Resurrection by mystical joining with Him, so we share in this sacred exalted human nature as well.

Death and new birth are both accomplished together in the same action of Holy Baptism.

Now, we who have joined in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism are joint-heirs with Him.  We are graciously part of Him.  We share in His Resurrection.  We are living in what we can call a foretaste of that which is to come, after our bodily deaths when our bodies will be resurrected and rejoined with our souls.  Then, we shall suffer no sickness or sin, no decay or death.  But the great effect is after we die on this earth at the general resurrection of the dead, when we are rejoined with new and glorified bodies.

 

Because of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, we are also participating in heavenly grace and the promise of everlasting life in Christ’s Holy Sacraments, especially Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

In Holy Baptism, we are regenerated – literally born again – by water and the Holy Ghost.  We die like Egypt and come out like Israel in the Red Sea.  When we are baptized into Christ, our sins are mystically washed away, and we pass from this sinful world into the beginning of the Resurrection Life which Christ has both won and created for us.  All our sins are forgiven us.  We are introduced into the inheritance of everlasting life.  We are grafted into Christ’s Body the Church and are so united with Christ.  We begin receiving the benefits of everlasting life here and now.

In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we sacramentally and mysteriously yet truly eat the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are united with Christ in this Sacrament.  All the supernatural virtue of the Sacraments comes from being united with Christ.  All this goodness comes from Christ.  Christ is the eternal Son of God Who existed before the Creation of the heavens and the earth.  And yet He is a man from Judea.  He has identified Himself with us, bringing us all manner of goodness which God alone can provide.

Holy Baptism opens us up to the possibility of experiencing other sacraments as well.  I participate in the ministry of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Order only after having been forgiven my sins and united with Christ’s Body in Holy Baptism.

 

Besides everlasting life and the Sacraments, a third way Christ’s Resurrection affects us is Christian morality.  The natural morality of upright and virtuous pagans is an entirely different matter than Christian righteousness.  The righteousness which flows from Christ is not a propositional ethic.  That is, it cannot be summed up in a set of precepts, statutes, or laws.  The Ten Commandments are different for Christians than they were for Jews and certainly different than they would be for non-believers.

Those who do not claim faith in God see these laws as different rules that can be obeyed and disobeyed.  The usefulness of a commandment of God can be appropriated without belief in God.  You can obey it or disobey it as you see fit.

The Jews differ from Christians in that they find in God’s commandments a way to be faithful and true to God.  They cannot divorce the law from the law-giver.  But Christians differ from the Jews as well.

The closer the Christian becomes with God in Christ, the more the moral laws become guideposts for us instead of harsh laws and static rules.  In loving-kindness with Christ, we shall not murder with our hands or in our hearts, we shall not commit adultery with our bodies or in our eyes.  We grow in the Holy Ghost, being little homes for the Holy Ghost, gaining clear understanding of the horror and pain of sin and death and of the delight and wonder of love and mercy.  We therefore seek to act morally for the sake of God’s glory and in relation with God’s love but not for the human results of acting morally.

Think of Christian righteousness as a matter more like the imitation of a child with his parent than like a subject obeying the laws of his king.  The child imitates his mother or father on the inside of himself; he seeks to grow up to be like his parent.  While the subject might use the language of child and parent, he does not seek to imitate his king.  He seeks to obey him.  This law is external; it comes from outside the self.

As we grow in righteousness, we find ourselves increasingly “in harmony with the eternal plan of God.”  Our souls grow increasingly converted, and we begin to behave in accordance with our good God Who saved us and sanctifies us.  Here, moral growth is tied to spiritual growth.  God listens to our prayers best when we listen to him and when our petitions and intercessions most fully intend “thy will be done”.  So our very lives become more resonant with the things of God and become imbued with self-sacrificial loving-kindness.

So we see that Christ’s Resurrection opens the door to everlasting life for the likes of you and me, participation in the life of Christ in the sacraments, and revolutionizes morality.  In all of these, we are changed.  The Christian lives in Christ.  Our “old man” dies the death, and indeed he must die if we are to live.  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot hedge our bets.  We are all in or all out.  I invite each of you to ponder Christ in your hearts so that you may fully embrace His Resurrection.

 

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

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

 

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