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Posts Tagged ‘St. Gregory the Great’

Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

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

 

This verse exemplifies the theme of utter renunciation found throughout the Gospels.

Fishing was a prominent industry in the Sea of Galilee, so Ss Simon and Andrew were leaving behind a stable and prosperous future.  Here, the brothers leave their livelihood behind to follow our Lord.  In a moment of decision, they left their nets and followed Christ.

“Follow me!” is a manly command from Christ.  Indeed, Follow Me is the proper name of the statue we called Iron Mike at Fort Benning, of a Korean-War-era soldier leading men into combat.

St. Andrew and his brother could support themselves and their families with their fishing, but making a living differs from making a life.  They left their nets and followed the Living God to a more meaningful existence.  They became fishers of men and bold missionaries eventually martyred on their missions.  They did not follow a school of thought or pious notion but a Man, a divine Person, the Son of God, their friend Jesus.

St. Gregory the Great, a pope devoted to missions and St. Andrew wrote:

Peter and Andrew had seen Christ work no miracle, had heard from him no word of the promise of the eternal reward, yet at this single bidding of the Lord they forgot all that they had seemed to possess, and ‘straightway left their nets, and followed Him.’

We see this ready obedience to instantly follow Christ in the New Testament.

Further along in the Gospels of St. Mark (x.28) and St. Luke (xviii.28) we read :  “Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.”

St. Luke shows Christ calling various men.  In ix.59:  “And he said unto another, Follow me.”  (St. Luke ix.61-62):  “And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.  And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Christ demands our obedience to His call.  Each of us must make a decision to the command given to Ss Peter and Andrew.  Consider St. Luke xii.20, after the rich man accumulated great wealth:  “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:”

One of my personal favorite verses of Scripture is from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians vi.2.  Quoting Isaiah il.8, he writes:  “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

 

That now of immediacy is an interesting thing.  In that moment, that now, you can hold your breath, you can stand still, but you cannot keep it.

The now, that moment when swimming in which you are present, but within the flow of movement from what has been to what will be.  Each moment when swimming, you can feel the water flow over your skin, you can feel the resistance of the water as you move forward.  But each moment is a snapshot of our lives in time.  How can we feel the flow of our bodies in the water in a moment?  This is a paradox.

We follow Christ in a moment of immediacy amidst a journey with Him.  The now is not isolated; it is but a moment of our lives:  This moment, this most important moment.

 

Also consider what we do with our hearts and with our bodies.  When President Carter said he had lusted in his heart, he thereby acknowledged that he had effectively committed adultery in the eyes of God.  For we are culpable for what we have done in our hearts.

While you and I may not have been called to renounce our family and work to follow Christ, we ought to be willing to do so in our hearts.  He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God.  Yet many a farmer keeps ploughing with his body whilst following Christ in his heart.

You and I may not be called to shed our blood for Christ, as St. Andrew and his holy brother did.  Yet we ought to be willing to do.  Each moment is the moment we ought to turn to our Lord and follow Him.

 

As our hearts wander from our Lord, so must we turn back to Him.  We always do this in our now.  This very moment is always the moment to return to Him.  As we slip and fall along the way, so must we accept the Lord’s help in picking us up and setting us back on His path.

1 St. John i.8-9:  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We cannot confess the sins we are currently committing, for we have not turned from them.  But if we confess our past sins now, we head off into a future of righteousness in Christ.  We must drop what we are doing and follow Him.

 

Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

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

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“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

 

“So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.”

All men have evil in them, and some men have good besides the evil.  In this present age of the Church, there is good mixed with bad, one with the other.  We must suffer the bad with the good, until the day of judgement.

Consider the parable of the wheat and the tares, in St. Matthew xiii.24-30.  The sower sowed wheat in his field.  At night, the enemy sowed tares in it.  The wheat and tares grow up together, but the tares are not weeded out lest by pulling them the wheat is pulled too.  Come harvest-time, the two will be separated, and the tares burnt.

All men are wicked.  Only some men are good, and they by God.  Consider the Last Supper (St. Matthew xxvi.21-22):  “And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.  And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  The apostles knew they were evil.

Being a wicked person does not exclude one from God’s call.  The Church contains both good and evil until the Last Judgement.  When the king judges, he will separate the bad from the good.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:”

Now the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is filled with guests.  Both the good and bad were invited, but the bad are not to remain bad.  They are to put on new clothes fit for the king’s feast:  wedding-garments.  The King then comes up to behold his guests and ensure that they properly honor the marriage of his Son and the Church, delighting in those properly attired and condemning those improperly dressed.  This is the Last Judgement.

Alas, as the king enjoys the company of those who have finally heeded the call to the joyous feast, he finds one who has not put off his old ways.  There is only one who has done so, for those who continue to serve wickedness after coming to faith are all of but one kind.

St. Gregory the Great wrote,

What ought we to understand by the wedding garment, but charity?  For this the Lord had upon Him, when He came to espouse the Church to Himself.  He then enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment, who has faith in the Church, but not charity.

 

“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”

The Christian who continues in his beloved sin can produce no excuse.  He stands mute.  Questioned by God, there can be no blustering or denial as the angels and the world bear witness against the sinner.  He has no words.

Indeed, the one who has carried the stink of his former life to tKhe great feast seems surprised.  Perhaps he did not consider that he was unprepared.  He sat at table with his fellows in good cheer until light shone upon his soul and his filth discovered.

 

“Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Many people never set off with a right foot.  They distract themselves with the affairs of the world.  They seethe in resentment against the good God.  Others accept the invitation but do not finish the course.  They tire and fall away.  They cannot shake loose of their favorite delicious sin.  Many are called, but few are chosen.

These terrible closing words warn us that on the last great day we might be represented by the one who wore not a wedding-garment.  If we do not continue to the end, we will not prove suitable for our high calling.

This parable warns us that we have no claim on the privileges of God’s kingdom if we are unwilling to change into the likeness of Christ.  Answering the door to our heart is not the same as welcoming Christ to live in us.

 

What is this wedding-garment?  St. Paul writes in his first epistle to St. Timothy (1 Timothy i.5):  “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:”  In 1 Corinthians xiii.1, he says, “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.”  Pure and undefiled love is the wedding-garment, without which we are cast out of the king’s banquet and into the outer darkness of eternal torment.

If we have such love, then we ought have no fear of being cast out of the feast.  As loving-kindness grows, so must desire wane.  Every soul possesses wickedness.  We must starve that sleepless unending maelstrom of desire which moves the evil inside us and replace it with the self-sacrificial loving-kindness of Christ our Lord.  Remember with St. John (1 St. John i.8-9):  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  At the Lord’s Feast, we dress ourselves in righteousness and love lest we give offense to God’s purity and holiness.

This divine love:  What are we to do?  Later in this same chapter of St. Matthew (St. Matthew xxii.37-40) we read:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

We were born in grace, but that grace was polluted.  Throughout history we see the human story, poor souls crying out for redemption from the bondage of sin and death.  We see propitiatory sacrifices made to gods to sway their favor towards us.  We see moral goodness coëxisting with unspeakable horrors.  We know what we are.  We are more than a mess.  We are more than conflicted.  We hide evil within our breasts.  The only effectual remedy is to crucify our wicked nature upon the Cross of Christ, the Cross of love.  Our bonds of continuing sin and dark desires will bind us body and soul for all eternity if we do not change into the loving-kindness of Christ.

Faith is necessary but not sufficient.  As St. James wrote (St. James ii.19), “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  St. Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, yet devils fearing his healing powers loudly acknowledged Him the Son of God.  So faith is needed, but without love it is incomplete and thus ineffective.  Again we find in 1 Corinthians xiii.2:  “Though I have all knowledge and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

But as faith without love is incomplete, this godly love requires faith, too.  How can you love the Lord your God without faith in him?  Psalm liii.1:  “THE foolish body hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  St. Augustine preached, “Possible it is that ye may believe that Christ hath come and not love Christ.  But it is not possible that ye should love Christ, and yet say that Christ hath not come.”

The wedding garment is faith completed by love.  Faithful and loving Christians love Christ, love their neighbors, love their enemies, love one another.  It is difficult indeed to love our enemies, but they are our neighbors too.  If you have difficulty loving your enemy, consider our Lord, torn asunder, hanging from His Cross, saying (St. Luke xxiii.39) “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

The first martyr, St. Stephen the Deacon, after rebuking the Jews and asking the Lord to receive his spirit, then prayed (Acts vii.60), “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”  His last prayer, his last words, were for his murderers.  That is loving your neighbor.

Shall we applaud ourselves for accepting the invitation to dine with the King?  For when we examine our hearts as we shall one day be judged, we see all manner of vile and abhorrent offenses against divine love.  Have we done our duty towards God?  Have we forgiven those who have offended us?  Have we begged forgiveness from others for having offended them?  Have we not crowed as we have seen our rivals humiliated and thwarted?  Have we not crossed on the other side of the road when we saw our neighbor in need?  Have we not cursed God when we had not our own way?

Look at your neighbor who offends you and your neighbor whom you offend.  Behold this person.  Can you see that he is a man whom God has made?  Do you hate him because he is God’s precious creation?  Even the saints argue with each other.  But insofar as God has made this man, we cannot revile or spite him.  We may hate the evil which others do, just as we hate the evil which we do, but we do not hate the soul lovingly created by our Heavenly Father.

Insofar as any of us are evil – and we are all partly evil – it is through disobedience to God, particularly in not loving him and not loving our neighbor.  Of this, we are all guilty.  What we despise in others resides in our own hearts.  Every man has sin.  God loves his creation and hates the disobedience.  God preserves the man and cures the sin.  When we are finally made whole, we shall remain entirely human but without a spot of sin, filled with love, like our Lord Christ.

To live the life of love, we must extend His self-sacrificial loving-kindness in our lives.  It is easy to love our friends and family.  Beasts and birds have this sort of love.  The sparrow does not look after his offspring thinking that they will look after him in his old age.  Rather, he feeds them out of natural paternal affection.  The bird neither reflects upon his actions nor hides secret intentions.  We have, lurking somewhere in our hearts, an inclination to provide for our young.  But we still must labor against our unnatural inclinations to greed and sloth in doing so.  Even when we love our spouses and children and friends, we have not yet that unblemished wedding-garment.

We must extend the love in our lives to God.  We love God in our hearts.  We love God with our souls.  We love God with our minds.  We love God when we draw near to him, and when we draw those we love towards him.  We draw our husband towards God.  We draw our sister towards God.  We draw our friend towards God.  We draw our enemy towards God.  These are not pleasant words but a harsh challenge.

Do we draw those whom we despise towards God?  We most likely are afraid of the answer.  Yet each of us have known those loving souls who elevate those around them, who draw them towards light and goodness, towards God.

St. Augustine said:

So let charity be advanced, so be it nourished, that being nourished it may be perfected; so be ‘the wedding garment’ put on; so be the image of God, after which we were created, by this our advancing, engraven anew in us.

 

“And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless.”

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

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“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

 

Our worship is the first and foremost thing that Christ wants us to give to God.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”  We are to give our good God everything.  We are to give him more than our heart, but our soul and mind as well.  We are to withhold nothing from God.  We are to freely offer ourselves to God.

Our worship of God is our primary and ultimate purpose.  This is why our primary reason for gathering together this morning is not to enjoy fellowship, or to improve ourselves, or to better learn the Scriptures or God’s will for us, or to enjoy music and beautiful liturgy.  All of that is at the very best secondary.  All of that serves the main purpose:  To worship God.  God created us to live and walk with him in the Garden of Eden.  By our ancestors’ sin, we fell from grace and that immediacy of our presence with God.  When people tell you that they can talk to God just fine without the Church, the Body of Christ, or without Christ, the Son of God, or without the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity, or without the Sacraments, the sure and certain means of grace given to us by Christ, then know that such people are spouting nonsense, getting in touch with their inner voice at best and communicating with Satan and his demons at the worst.

God has given us himself in direct supernatural revelation so that we can surely and certainly approach the throne of grace in heaven.  We do this by worshipping God with our all, holding nothing back.  If we give God our heart without also giving him our mind, we are actively disobeying the first great commandment.  As creator of the world and author of our lives, God is all we ever had.  As redeemer and sanctifier of our souls, God is all we can ever have.  God is our all.  God demands our all.

 

Isaac Williams said:  “First take care that the heart be right, for to the heart of the worshipper God looks.”

The purity of heart, the transparency of soul which occurs in worship can be marred and disfigured by grudges and ill-will.  In our grand and incomparable liturgy, we hear the words of the invitation to confession:  “YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways….”  We clear our consciences in the confession and receive the assurance of God’s pardon in the absolution.  We must be right with God and man, with Christ our Lord and our most difficult and irritating neighbors, in order to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.”

The mere act of approaching the altar exposes “our selves, our souls and bodies” to the presence of the Almighty God of the universe.  Our finitude, our limitedness, our smallness come to mind as we approach the infinite Deity.  To commune with God necessarily demands that we ourselves have some touch of the purity and loving-kindness that he has.  We cannot make ourselves pure, for that is God’s prerogative and power.  But God commands us to get right with each other, to reconcile to each other.

In the entire history of the Christian Church, the norm has been to approach the altar in worship with no sin.  In the earliest days, the faithful Christian was supposed to remain out of serious sin after his baptism.  As the years progressed, the faithful Christian was supposed to make a private confession with sacramental absolution.  Our Eastern Orthodox brethren still hold to this ancient standard.  Our Roman brethren have reduced this to making a confession once annually.

One of the Duties of Churchmen is to keep a clean conscience.  To confess your sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance at least once a year is too hard a burden to demand for all, but the duty to carefully guard, examine, and prune your conscience as God would have you is the absolute least you can do.  We Anglican Catholics have substituted a cycle of public confessions in the offices and the Mass instead of the requirement of sacramental confession.  Each of us must faithfully prepare for each service by examining our consciences and whole-heartedly confessing our sins in our prayer of confession.

I ritually wash my hands in the sacristy before I even come out to the sanctuary.  I ritually wash my hands again during the offertory before the great Eucharistic prayer begins.  We ought to be clean when we come before the Lord.  While our neighbors might not appreciate it, we do not have to be clean on our outside – I would rather you come to Mass after having mown the grass than have you not come at all – but we must be clean on the inside, clean in our consciences, right with our neighbors, right with God.

 

Hear again what Christ told his students:  “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”  We are to reconcile with our brother if he has something against us!  The duty, the requirement, the necessity if you wish to live forever in Christ is to seek out the one who “has ought against thee” and reconcile with him before approaching the altar with your gift.  This isn’t the soft and cuddly pastel Christ that we like to think about!  This teaching of Christ judges us!  We stand convicted by the words of Christ to his hearers, for we do not obey Christ’s teaching.

St. Gregory the Great said: “Lo, He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance.  Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.”

If we have ought against our brother, we do not need to seek reconciliation with him.  To do right by our brother who has offended us, we need to forgive him.  We do not need to tell him that we have forgiven him.  We do not need for him to acknowledge that we have forgiven him.  All we need to do is forgive him.  Then we no longer have ought against our brother.

If you and I have mutually offended each other, then I must forgive you for the injury done to me, and I must go to you for reconciliation so that you may forgive me for the injury done to you.  We need not forgive each other at the same time.  I do not even need to let you know that you offended me.  My duty is to forgive and to seek forgiveness.  I have no business judging whether or not you have behaved yourself and forgiven me properly.  No man has the competence to do so, and no man has the authority to do so.

We have an obligation to ask pardon of those whom we have offended.  Furthermore, we have an obligation to pardon those who ask pardon of us.  All this is to be done with an honest and forthright mind, with no dissimulation or dishonesty.  Asking pardon of our sin when we fully intend to sin again is a mockery of asking pardon and is an additional sin added to the first.  To say we are sorry when we actually delight in our action is adding lying upon hurtfulness.  Lying is in league with accusation, and both of these are part of Satan’s realm rather than Christ’s.  Falsely apologizing and falsely forgiving plant us more firmly with cancer, disease, warfare, strife, and death over against loving-kindness, gentleness, good humor, procreation, and life.

 

We cannot count on God’s mercy upon us when we systematically and incautiously deny our mercy upon others.  “Judge not, let ye be judged” is no lie – so as we judge, so will we be judged.  If you constantly rule for yourself in your mortal state, you can count on the Infinite Judge of Righteousness to rule against you in your immortal state.

John Wesley said:  “For neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love: but this will make them both an abomination before God.”

The gift of loving-kindness is the greatest offering we can bring to worship our God.  Who cares about the perishable riches of this world compared to the imperishable riches of love?  “God is love.”  “The greatest of these is charity.”  Nothing raises us so close to heaven as loving-kindness among those who have died to sin and risen in Christ.  The sacrifice of our self and sinful pride in the service of loving one other is the greatest gift we could offer.

We are prone to excusing our everyday little sins.  We wink at our sins and say to ourselves, “Well, that’s just who I am!”  We manage not to keep track of them and to lose sight of them once committed.  But do we ever keep track of those offenses committed against us by others!  By counting offenses committed against us and forgetting those offenses committed by us, we sin against truth and lie.  But God sees all and knows all.  He sees the sins we commit but forget, and he knows that we absolve ourselves of those sins but condemn others for their offenses.  Furthermore, he knows that we seek not the truth, but our own advantage.

We sin against others, forgive ourselves, hold others’ sins against us, and then lie about it.  We are doubly damned for our every sin, for we are liars as well as offenders.  God is love, and in hating our brother we hate God.  God is truth, and in despising truth we despise God.  We hate and despise God daily and then sweetly present ourselves disheveled without preparation on Sunday mornings and expect to receive God’s blessings for our great service.  Instead we ought to examine our consciences every day, beg our brothers for their forgiveness, meekly forgive the offenses they have committed against us, and quietly prepare to approach the altar of God.

 

Pseudo-Chrysostom said:  “See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies.”

My dear children, we must get right with God.  “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God wants us to be with him.  He gave up His own Son to be born one of us by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to live as one of us in Nazareth, to teach His people among the nation of Israel, to suffer and die upon the hard wood of the Cross so that all men everywhere at all times might be reconciled to Him and through Him to God the Father.  God wants us in a bad way.  You matter to him.  He knew you in your mother’s womb.  He wants you.

For us to have a proper relationship with him is hard because of our sin, our separateness, our brokenness.  And by sin I do not just mean those condemned in the Ten Commandments, although they are a breathtakingly good start.  We must not only not murder our brother, we must also not nurse anger towards our brother.  We must not only not commit adultery, we must also not lust.  We must not only not commit the outward and public sin, but we must also root out of our hearts the inward and private sin which we dare not share with the world.  God knows that we harbor such evil inward thoughts, even when we are not completely aware of them in ourselves.

This is one of the main reasons we ought to confess our sins to our priests – searching our consciences and verbally confessing our sins is so horrible and distasteful that we earnestly despise and hate our sins for being ours.  We wish nothing more than to remove those sins far away from us, and Christ has given authority to his priests to speak that forgiveness to us.  We cannot make ourselves right with God, for God is all powerful and we are too weak and corrupt.  But we can fight manfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We cannot win the victory, for Christ has already won the victory.  Christ says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

God has given us Christ to make us right with him.  We must trust in Christ, rely on Christ, believe in Christ, rest in Christ.  We must be united with Christ, with His Body and with His Blood.  We are to renounce all the things which lead us away from Christ, those things which stand between us and Christ.  And my good people, the grudges between you and your brother are getting in between you and Christ.  We must turn away from the altar to reconcile with our brother who has ought against us so that we may with purity of purpose “go unto the altar of God, even unto the God of my joy and gladness.”

 

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

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

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