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Posts Tagged ‘St. Augustine’

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

St. Augustine, exposition of Psalm lxxxix

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“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

 

Judgement

 

In the Tuesday night Bible study we have been reading the fifth chapter of St. Mark.  In this chapter, people fall down before Christ and worship Him.  One is a demoniac; another is a leader of the synagogue; the third is the woman with a hemorrhage.  Reading about them and studying the Gospel, I have often asked myself how they, alone of all the people around them, knew to bow before and worship Christ.

So when I think of the end of today’s Epistle, which recounts four Old Testament prophecies of Gentiles worshipping the Lord, I again wonder how folks recognize divinity and whom to worship.  I learned about God from my earliest days.  My mother first took me to church in her womb, I was Baptized as an infant, and I remember early days standing next to my father as he sang hymns in worship and praise of God.

I did not have to judge whether or not to give worship to God then.  But I had to do that later, as I was becoming a man.  Then I had to look around and figure out what all this foolishness was about.  I cannot speak to every person’s reasons, but I came to a lively faith in Christ as an adult after acknowledging the wisdom of my fathers, the logic of belief in philosophy, and, importantly, through the generous and self-sacrificing acts of love and goodness on the part of a Baptist coworker.

Did you see what I did?  I measured Christ and found that He fit.  This is a terribly arrogant thing to do, but in this world and in my life I needed convincing over and above my raising.  The same thing happened when I felt called to become a Catholic.  I had to use my judgement, poor as it was, to determine where God was calling me.  Indeed, I spent too long as an Episcopalian and could have become Anglican Catholic years before.  But I didn’t, which shows how we can make faulty judgements which God will correct over time.  We are never so old or so wise that our judgement is unimpaired and perfect.  We are never so old or so wise that we don’t need correction from time to time.

 

In the Office of Institution which the archbishop read right here almost two months ago, we read:

“And as a canonically instituted Priest into the Office of Rector of —— Parish, (or Church,) you are faithfully to feed that portion of the flock of Christ which is now intrusted to you; not as a man-pleaser, but as continually bearing in mind that you are accountable to us here, and to the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

According to the Book of Common Prayer and Archbishop Haverland, I am to bear in mind continually that I am accountable to him here on earth and to our Lord, “the Chief Bishop and Sovereign Judge of all, hereafter.”

An explicit part of my work here as rector is to hold myself up for judgement by our bishop and by Christ.  I shall be judged both here on earth and there on the Day of Doom, that is, the day of reckoning or day of judgement.

When we let ourselves be held accountable by others, we hold ourselves up for judgement.  Mrs. Gladys Fox and Mrs. Sam Nechtman have done excellent work straightening and keeping up our financial records over the past year and a half.  Last year, their work was scrutinized by a committee led by Mr. Leroy Walker for the explicit purpose of holding their work accountable.  They voluntarily held themselves up for judgement.  And their work was measured and judged to be excellent.  This is judgement.

 

When we behold the fig tree and see that it now shoots forth leaves, then we remember that trees shoot forth leaves during Spring.  Thus we arrive at the judgement that Summer is nigh at hand when the fig tree shoots forth leaves.

We measure the observed event by what we already know and that results in a judgement.  We observe that we have lied to our sweetheart, we remember that lying is a sin, and thus we derive from these two facts the fact that we have sinned.  This is what Christ refers to when He says in St. Matthew vii.1-2:  “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The measuring stick by which we judge others is the same one by which we shall be judged.  Therefore even being selfish, we ought to show others great all-encompassing mercy so that Christ will show us great mercy at the Last Judgement.

Yet we do not do this.  Oh, sometimes we do.  Perhaps we have grown more generous over time, a mark of spiritual maturity.  But we perceive things incorrectly.  Even the best and most spiritual Christian views himself with poor eyesight.  As St. Paul says in I Corinthians xiii.12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

We see through a glass darkly; we know only in part.  When we get to Heaven after Christ’s Judgement of us, then we shall see “face to face” and “know even as also I am known.”  But for now, we know imperfectly.  And we know ourselves less perfectly than we would ever suppose.

Indeed, each of us should understand that the “old man” inside of you, the struggling sinful man inside of you, keeps you from seeing yourself clearly.  If you hearken unto God’s Word and live the life of Christian adventure working diligently at your prayers and confessing your sins regularly, then you stand an excellent chance of understanding what is right and what is wrong.

But despite this, being a frail and fallible human being despite your wisdom and strength, you will misjudge yourself often and regularly.  We dare not trust our own judgement of ourselves.  And it is precisely because we shall be judged by Christ with the standards with which we have judged others that we may experience a profound grace from Christ regarding our failed confessions.  Showing mercy to our struggling brothers, sisters, and neighbors is how we judge in the loving-kindness with which Christ died for us on the Cross.

 

We must have compassion on our fellow creatures because we must adjust our judgement to Christ’s, and Christ is the Incarnate God, and, as St. John tells us, God is love.  This is why the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.  The two are inextricably bound together, tighter than the tightest knot.  God created us to love us.  God came down to earth to love us and save us.  God taught us to love each other and to love him too.  If we would behold our vilest neighbor as Christ beholds him, then our hearts would melt with divine love.  We would give him the choicest seat, kill the fatted lamb, and put a ring on his finger.  We would never in a million years – which is but a drop in the bucket of eternity, by the way – keep recounting past acts in ways that exalt our own role and denigrate our neighbor.

And this is the type of thing I hear all the time in this parish.  I recognize it because it is one of my sins too.  But Christ will damn us for this sin if we do not release it.  We can have no part of it.  We must throw it down at the feet of Christ, fall on our knees, and say,

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We must thrust aside all sins and naughtiness if we dare to face Christ with certainty on that Last Great Day, when Christ will pronounce truth and Judgement over all Mankind in general and over every single one of us in particular.

 

Therefore, we ought to do three things:

First, we must diligently search our hearts after studying the Holy Scriptures and bathing ourselves in prayer so that we may find and repent of the many sins which are weighing us down like stones in the pockets of a drowning man.

Second, we must relentlessly practice compassion and self-sacrificial loving-kindness with every single person in our lives, particularly in our families, in our parish, and in the faces of those whom we despise.  We must serve others by acting like servants for them alongside our Saviour Christ.

Third, we must conform our opinions, understandings, and judgements to those of Christ our Lord.  St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourselves.”  Each of us have parts of the Gospel which are hard for us to hear.  For some, it is holding on to a cherished notion.  For others, it is keeping score of offenses, real and imagined.  For others, it is living in anxiety and fear of the things of this world.  For yet others, it is trusting in this world’s goods instead of storing treasures in Heaven above.  We must acknowledge before God that He is greater than we are, that he is wiser than we are, that he is smarter than we are, and so we must conform ourselves to his holy self.

So:  Confess your sins, love thy neighbor, and conform to God.  Do these things, and you will be in far better shape to answer to Christ our God and our King, the great Judge Eternal, on the Day of Doom, the Day of Judgement, when the disposition of all men will be made for eternity.

 

“And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

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

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“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

 

Fr. F. P. Harton, Dean of Wells in the Church of England and great scholar and believer wrote:  “Humility consists in seeing oneself truly, as one is in the sight of God, nothing more nor less, realizing that one’s whole being, with whatever is good in it, is God’s though defiled by one’s own sin; and in desiring that place and those things only which God wills for us, loving His will above all things and one’s own not at all.”

Humility is not a popular virtue, but a necessary one for the Christian soul.  Why?  Because God loves humility.

–        In the Magnificat, the wonderful song of St. Mary:  “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

–        In St. Luke xviii.13-14:  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        Also, the same in today’s Gospel:  “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

–        St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, prayed:  “Diffidam mihi, fidam in Te.”  Let me distrust myself and put my trust in Thee.

Our prayers are not magic.  They are not incantations that effect a change in the world.  Instead, our prayers are conversation with the great Creator and Redeemer of the world.  The only way our prayers are efficacious and effect change in the world is when we come to God as we are, without pretense, without deceit, and without pride.  If we come to God to seek his face, but spend our time preening in front of a spiritual mirror, looking only at ourselves, then our time is wasted.  We must see who and what we are and then let go of ourselves to reach out and cling to safety to the great sovereign Lord of the universe.

Philippians ii.3:  “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”  If I think that I am better than another person, then I fundamentally misconstrue that person’s relationship with God, God’s relationship with me, and my relationship with that person.  If I think that I am better than another person, then I am wrongly and sinfully giving myself higher honor than another.  And what does Christ say of this in today’s Gospel?  “Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

When we sin, when we see that sin in ourselves, let us humbly turn to the Lord our God, and seeing his great love for us, confess our sin and turn from it entirely.

Fr. Bede Frost said:  “Humility … consists in a true knowledge and acknowledgement of what one is….”  Humility lies in accepting that we are so very weak and God is so very strong, that we are so very wicked and God is so very good, that we are so very thoughtless and God is so very mindful of us, that we are so very weak and unable to help ourselves and God is so very powerful and ready to help us.  We act in humility when we behold ourselves as we truly are in right relation with each other.

Any way we act towards our neighbors which is not grounded in love is foolish, for it is not building us treasure in heaven.  Our default position regarding others is to use them to get us what we want, whether we want recognition and respect, whether we want advancement and profit, whether we want good feelings, or whether we want darker things.  Christ did not come to us for His Own sake, for Christ needed nothing, for Christ is God.  No, Christ came to us to save us from the mess we have made.  Christ did not come to profit from us, but to give us blessings upon blessings, to save our lives for all eternity, to show us loving-kindness and heavenly grace.  If we walk in the way of the Cross, then we too will suffer and die, but we will live in love and live for all eternity.

Our primary responsibility to God is to love him; likewise, our primary responsibility to our fellow man is to love him.  And if we love like Christ, then we love our fellow man even, or especially, when he is not lovable, when he hates us, when he mocks us, when he insults us, when he lies to others about us, when he sins against us – all these things in no wise bar us from loving him, but indeed show that he needs our love more than ever.  In all humility, we see that we, too, are sinners and have done others wrong, have done God wrong.  We have no superior standing to answer insult with insult, hate with hate, sin with sin.  Seeing ourselves as we really are, sinners who have hurt our neighbors and hurt our good God, we humbly love one another as Christ has loved us.

Once we have taken our blinders off and taken a long hard look at ourselves, and knowing what we know about ourselves, we are to always treat ourselves harsher than we treat others.  All the great saints have done the same.  The holiest teachers of Christian morality throughout the ages – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Alphonsus – have applied exceptional rigor to their own spiritual lives while acknowledging the weak humanity in the lives of others.  We should all pull a breath, give our neighbor a break, and come down on ourselves doubly hard.  Examine your conscience so carefully and regularly so never to let those who hate you truly condemn you of something you have not condemned in yourself already.

I understand that a couple of weeks ago that Fr. Rosenkranz said that anxiety and prayerful living were contradictory.  Let me add to that:  Anxiety and humble living are contradictory.  St. Luke xii.27-28:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  The Lord will provide for us; do not worry, he loves us and sends us good things.

Yet our anxiety comes from a perception of ourselves in the world which is wrong and leads us to desiring things we ought not to desire, to expecting things which never come, and to feeling dissatisfied with the lot the Lord has given us.  Our anxiety betrays our mistrust of the providence of God the Father.  This is not accurate; this is a false view of God and his creation; this is no good.

There are two ways to gain humility:  Following Christ and accepting humiliations.

To follow Christ means, after having taken a good look at oneself and learning of our profound and utter poverty of soul, and then moving on from there, that we behold Christ as He is in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, in His infinite Being, and in His unimaginable goodness and reaching a profound feeling of Him or a deepened faith in Him.

To accept humiliations means to practice humility in the best and foremost way of practicing it:  Not only to experience, not only to acknowledge, but to embrace and to accept the humiliations which come your way during the course of your life.

To accept a rebuke is one of the most powerful spiritual acts you can commit.  To truly thank another for his criticism of you frees your soul.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is something I hope that we learn in the process of growing up, but many an adult try to slip out of bad consequences.  It is no lie that priests ought not to grant absolution to a criminal who is unwilling to answer for his crimes.  If we resist the humiliation or make light of the slight, then we are not accepting the humiliation.

Accept your humiliations and learn from them.  Learn that you are fallible.  Trust not in your own righteousness.  Accept that you have only one savior, and you are not him.  You cannot truly trust in Christ, to lean on Him for salvation, if you really think in the back of your mind that you can pull this off by yourself.  You can’t.  He can.

When we seek to avoid humiliations and deep time with Christ and wish to find our own way to humility and loving-kindness, we err again.  We will not find our own special way to quick and easy humility.  One of the great benefits that older converts to Christianity bring us is an ignorance of the childish faith we passed through to become adults.  They convert to Christianity, wait for virtues to spring up everywhere, and realize that saying “I believe” does not finish their Christian walk.

I will be dead honest with you:  The Christian walk is very difficult.  Many do not make it.  They fall out along the way.  The devil tempts them away.  The world tempts them away.  Their own vices and flesh tempt them away.  Christ’s walk led Him to death on Golgotha, and you can expect the same.  Oh, you might die in your sleep, but that doesn’t make walking the walk instead of talking the talk any less difficult.

Pride is a deadly sin, and its antidote is humility.  Our society thinks very little of humility, and humility is often portrayed as self-abasing untruths.  A lady will put on a grand party, the food, the music, the company will be all excellent, everyone will be impressed, and when complimented she will say, “Oh, I know it’s nothing, but it’s the little bit I could do.”  That’s a lie.  It was a grand party, and everyone had a grand time.  Pictures from it made the newspaper.  It may not advance your salvation a whit, it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but feigning incapacity when excellence has been witnessed is false and self-flattering.

The antidote to the sin of pride is neither more lies nor more sin, but rather more truth – truth told from God’s perspective.

 

“…Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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

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“And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

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

 

Here are verses 16 through 19 of the Gospel lesson:  “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.  Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me:  and again, a little while, and ye shall see me:  and, Because I go to the Father?  They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while?  we cannot tell what he saith.  Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me?”

There are three ways to interpret all these iterations “ye shall not see me” and “ye shall see me”.

First, some interpret this to mean that while Christ was dead, the disciples could not see Him, but they would see Him after His Resurrection.  Today’s lesson comes from the part of St. John’s Gospel which we call the Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper.  That is, this lesson comes right before Christ’s Crucifixion.

St. Augustine of Hippo held another way to interpret this.  After His Ascension, the disciples will not see Christ, but that after their deaths, they shall see Him in Heaven.

A third way, taken by many saints, interprets this recurring phrase to reference Christ’s Second Coming.  So the first “little while” is the time after Christ’s Ascension, and the second “little while” is until Christ’s return in glory.  The disciples could behold Christ with their eyes until He ascended into Heaven, thereby preparing a place for us, but removing Him from our sight.  And since we know that Christ will come again, we know that we shall all see Him then.

Like the Nicene Creed says:  “And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead;”

And lest we think that Christ’s saying “a little while” excludes the possibility of thousands of years passing from His Ascension to His Second Coming, let us consider the words of the Psalmist:  (xc.4):  “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, * and as a watch in the night.”  We do not experience time the same way God does.  “A little while” might mean a few minutes or a few days, or it might mean until the end of the age.

 

(Verse 20)  The next verse merits closer attention:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

The disciples sorrowed when their Lord died, and they rejoiced after His Resurrection.  The world (those enemies of Christ who put Him to death) rejoiced when He died, while the disciples were sorrowing.  The experience of those faithful in Christ will be different from the experience of the world around us.

And this is something all believers should keep in mind when we push forward and strive through the tears and afflictions of the present in order to reach forward and grasp the joys eternal.  We have a promise:  “but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”  No matter how bad life gets here on earth for the Christian, there are joys waiting for us in Heaven.  No matter what physical pain, what family conflict, what financial poverty, what oppression by the world, the flesh, and the devil, Christians will meet relief and joy when we pass on to Christ.

Therefore, we should weep for the world, we should weep for those who do not know Christ, and we should diligently study our faith, practice our faith, and share our faith with others.  The world has no hope of joys to come for all its delight is in the present hour.  This is all they have.  Only in Christ can we find eternal joy.

We must pass through the veil of sorrow to enter into the joy to come, like we must pass through the veil of Christ’s flesh in order to gain access to the Holy of Holies in Heaven.

This travail we experience is out entryway into life everlasting.  We must suffer the agonies of death so that we may live in the peace and goodness of Christ forevermore.

Why must we suffer so that we may have joy?  Why must we die so that we may live?  Remember the words of St. Paul in First Corinthians (xv.36):  “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:”  In this world broken by the Fall, to pass on to life, one must first go through death.

All this talk of suffering and travail leads us to the next verse.

 

Verse 21:  “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.”

St. Alcuin of York wrote:  “The woman is the holy Church, who is fruitful in good works, and brings forth spiritual children to God.  This woman, while she brings forth, i.e. while she is making her progress in the world, amidst temptations and afflictions, has sorrow because her hour is come….”

Indeed, Christ says “for joy that a man is born into the world”, not “a boy” or “a child”, but “a man”.  That woman in travail is a figure of the Church, who is the Bride of Christ, our own mother, who brings forth spiritual children for God.

The Venerable Bede complements this understanding of the woman in travail being Holy Mother Church and the man who is born into the world being us:  “Nor should it appear strange, if one who departs from this life is said to be born.  For as a man is said to be born when he comes out of his mother’s womb into the light of day, so may he be said to be born who from out of the prison of the body, is raised to the light eternal.  Whence the festivals of the saints, which are the days on which they died, are called their birthdays.”

We are born to eternal life; then shall we see Christ and be glad.

 

The last verse (22):  “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

The disciples who were with Christ in the body were to miss Him, and then they would come to see Him again.  They would “weep and lament”, but then their “sorrow shall be turned into joy.”  They would undergo the travail of sadness before joy which “no man taketh from you.”  As we read in Psalm xxx (v. 5):  “heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

We must trust in Christ.  We will see Him face-to-face on that last great day, the day of doom; each one of us; you can count on it.  He gave His life for us, and He will judge us.  We must resolutely follow Him through death into the glory that awaits us on the other side.

 

“And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

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

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