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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual growth’

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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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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