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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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“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

“Clothed with Humility”

“Humility is a virtue all preach, none practise, and yet everybody is content to hear. The master thinks it good doctrine for his servant, the laity for the clergy, and the clergy for the laity.” – John Selden

Several years ago, my eyesight increasingly did not serve me as well as it had.  For my entire life until then, I had excellent eyesight.  Then, I didn’t.  With my wife’s urging, I submitted myself to the eye doctor, who did strange things with my eyes.  She then handed me a slip of paper with odd numbers on it.  I then handed this paper to another lady, picked out some frames, and left.  Days later, I came back to receive a new pair of glasses.  Putting them on, I could see well again.  I did nothing.  But I went to the people that did this well.  The same is true for the veterinarian, the tailor, and the auto mechanic.  They do that which I cannot do.  I must submit myself to their expertise in order to receive their help.  If I act proudly and insist I know what I’m doing even when I don’t, then I cannot see, have a sick animal, an ill-fitting pair of pants, and a car that won’t run.

Humility involves knowing:  Knowing that I am incapable, that I cannot do some things.  Humility also involves action:  Acting in submission to those who can do what I cannot do.  For example:  I need saving.  But, I cannot save myself.  So, I submit myself to Christ, Who can save me.

 

God in his Holy Scripture commands us to be humble if we are to truly follow God the Father and Christ our Lord.

The prophetess Huldah says in 2 Chronicles xxxiv.27 – “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.”

The prophet Isaiah writes in lvii.15 – “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

The prophet Micah writes in vi.8 – “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Christ Himself says in St. Luke xiv.11 – “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

St. Paul writes in Philippians ii.3 – “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

St. James writes in iv.6 – “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Keeping with the Holy Writ, the saints and Fathers of the Church admonish us to humility.  St. Benedict is the father of western monasticism and founder of the Benedictine Order of monks.  A brief biography of him appears on the back of today’s bulletin.  Here is a section of Chapter 7 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, On Humility:

“The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. The Prophet telleth us this when he showeth God thus ever present in our thoughts, saying: “The searcher of hearts and reins is God”.

We are thus forbidden to do our own will, since the Scripture saith to us: “And turn away from thy evil will”. And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us.”

 

Not only does God desire us to be humble, but humility is the only realistic way of looking at the world, for it alone leads to truth.  Pride always leads us into warped perceptions of reality, similar to bad eyesight.  Pride leads us to think that we are more powerful than we are.  Pride leads us to act as if we were God.  And “God resisteth the proud.”

King Canute was king of England before the Norman Invasion almost one full millennia ago.  Here is a story of Canute according to the Historia Anglorum of Henry, archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1154 (The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, pp 198-199):

“…at the summit of his power, [King Canute] ordered a seat to be placed for him on the sea-shore when the tide was coming in. Then, before a large group of his flattering courtiers, he spoke to the rising sea, saying, “Thou, too, art subject to my command, for the land on which I am seated is mine, and no one has ever resisted my commands with impunity. I command you, then, o waters, not to flow over my land, nor presume to wet the feet and the robe of your lord.”  The tide, however, continued to rise as usual, dashing over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person.  Then the King leaped backwards, saying: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

The king himself knew that pretending to rule over the waves and sea was sheer foolishness.  Humility knows truth and spurns silliness and confusion.

Bishop Mortimer of Essex wrote a lovely little book on the Six Duties of Churchmen.  He also wrote a wise and solid tome called Elements of Moral Theology.  In that work, he writes:

“[The humble man] is ever judging himself as in the eyes of God, not in comparison with his fellow man.  Having a true judgement of himself, he recognizes that all his virtues are themselves the gift of God.  This is the heart of humility.  He does not exalt himself, neither does he despise his fellows.  He honors God and he honors his fellows as God’s creatures.  He honors every man truly in proportion as he finds him honorable in the sight of God.  He rightly and properly honors and prefers good men above bad men.  But he is not thereby proud, because he knows that both he and they owe what goodness they possess to God; the evil which they share with evil men is of themselves.”

Wishful thinking is the enemy of truth and humility.  God knows perfectly how things truly are in his creation.  He would have us know our true condition, so that we may rightly turn to him for help.  The teachings of Holy Scripture and the worship of Holy Church help us to become truly humble.

 

Clothing ourselves with the humility of Christ, we do not resist but rather accept His supernatural blessing and great might against sin and death.  Besides God’s grace and loving-kindness, humility is our greatest defense against sin of all kinds, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The world teaches us to envy those who have what we lack.  Modern politics tells us that we must resent those who have more than we have, even if we have enough.  Today’s fashion tells us that our clothes and personal products are outdated and make us look old, so we must buy, buy, buy more, newer, expensive things to keep up lest we fall behind.  Popular arts and music tell us that the beautiful things of yesterday are decidedly inferior to what is popular today.

In essence, the world tells us that what we have, no matter how virtuous, how beautiful, and how good, is inferior to what drives the crowds mad today.  And heaven forbid that a follower of new things takes offense at you for sticking with your hard-fought-for understanding of the Gospel and what is good.  The world puts the burden on you to not offend those who follow popular unwholesome ways!

St. Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ to mean our sinful nature.   In older times, people understood that their problems were first and foremost problems with themselves.  Instead of encouraging suspicion towards our own thoughts and action, today’s thought celebrates whatever distortions and perversions lie within our sinful soul.

Therefore, politics must be the reason I do not have that which I am entitled.  God forbid, people today understand that their personal barriers to wholeness are actually the things which God has given them and define them!  So instead of recognizing that I have personal interests which, if indulged, will take me further from God and righteousness, I am to let my lusts and passions drive me into an understanding of myself as good just the way I am.  Since I am therefore okay, then whatever problems I have are of my environment and not myself.  If I am lustful, I thus perceive that I have the right to pursue sexual conquests.  If I am envious, I thus perceive that I have the right to judge others and whisper against them.  If I am angry, I thus perceive that I have the right to hold others to a standard to which I do not hold myself.

Holy Church teaches us that humility is the opposite virtue of one of the seven deadly sins:  Pride.  Instead of reveling in pride, we are to reject pride in all its forms.  This means that we must change the way we live.  Our sinful nature will fight to prevent the grace of God from washing our souls clean of it.  We must be strong and follow Christ’s example.

The third source of sin in our lives is Satan.  His Satanic Majesty is not an impersonal force; he is real and he is out to get us.  Satan is much more like a roaring lion, lurking around “seeking whom he may devour”.  Satan seeks to undo the restorative work of Christ our Lord.

We are in grave danger if we lack humility, for we push God’s grace away from ourselves.  And we need God’s grace to protect us, for the wicked accuser of souls, Satan, roams right outside our door, waiting for us to slip and leave ourselves defenseless.  He is an angry, hungry, old, fallen archangel, a devourer of souls.  He is an intelligence beyond genius, with thousands upon thousands of years of experience in foiling man.  And he wants to eat you up.

Whenever we push God away and declare we don’t need the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, Satan is waiting right there with his mighty jaws open to snatch us away and take off with us into perdition.  We need humility if we wish our souls to be saved.  We need humility if we wish to escape the fires of Hell, where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

 

Each of us faces temptation from the world and the devil.  And each of us faces our own sinful nature, our unique and tumultuous inner distortions of soul which confuse us as to what is right and what is wrong.  We lie to ourselves even when we think we are telling ourselves the truth.  We agree with what other people tell us when we like what they say, and we disagree with what other people tell us when we don’t like what they say.  We constantly try to cut deals with God.

But God’s truth is not what we like and dislike.  God’s truth stands fast forever.  He will make no deal with us.  We must accept Christ as our savior and lord of our life or not accept him.

We must kneel down in our hearts and offer up our petulancy and willfulness and accept the teaching of Almighty God in Holy Scripture and Holy Church.  We must strive to grow in humility.  We must acknowledge that we are incapable and follow Christ and Him alone.

 

“ALL of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

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

 

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“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

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

 

Spirit and flesh.  We hear those words, and we think of spirit being intangible things and flesh meaning our body.  But that’s not how these words are used by St. Paul, or indeed the central tradition of Christ’s Church.

In my chaplaincy residency, people confused the spiritual with the mental or emotional constantly.  I remember sitting around the conference table and realizing that the Presbyterian, Episcopalians, Lutheran, and the liberal Baptists were speaking of one thing and the conservative Baptist and I were speaking of another.  We meant the spiritual realm, the realm of angels, demons, and God; the realm in which we men only partially live.  The modernist Christians meant our emotions, how we feel, our thoughts, and our non-physical comfort.  When St. Paul speaks of the Spirit, he means the Holy Ghost.  When he speaks of spiritual things, he means supernatural non-physical things.  He does not mean the realm of our thoughts and emotions.

Likewise, his use of the word “flesh” can lead to confusion.  Am I not made with spirit and flesh?  If by that I mean my physical meat and bones, then yes.  Did not our Lord Christ take on human flesh when the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously conceived?  If by that I mean the entirety of our humanity, then yes.

But St. Paul uses the word flesh differently.  His use of this word flesh is reiterated in the Prayer Book order for Holy Baptism, wherein we speak of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The World,

Moslems and Hindus and atheists put Christians to torture and death every day because Christians follow Jesus and not whatever false idol is placed before them, whether it is Mohammed, Kali, or the Communist Party.  Many Christians in physically safer places fight manfully against the temptations of modern secular society, against the allure of luxury, against the prevailing mores of extramarital sex, against selfishness as a lifestyle, against institutionalized greed.  These fights are all fights against the world.  The world, in Christian terminology, is the world of sinful man.  It is not the Smokey Mountains and New Zealand.  Allah-worshippers burning down your church and old flames seducing you into adultery are both part of the temptations of the world.

The Flesh,

St. Paul writes about the “lust of the flesh” in today’s Epistle.  He is speaking of the fallen part of our humanity, that broken and evil part of ourselves that pulls us over and over again into sin, into spiritual jeopardy.  This flesh is the sinful nature of our souls – our eternal self which includes our body.  Christ says to cut off the offending member and we gasp.  Or we yawn.  But when it comes to our sinful habits that we relish, we do not want to cut that off from us.  Look at yourself, my good people.  You know your foibles.  You know your frailties.  You know which of the deadly sins you are most likely to commit, which sin is most delicious to you.  After all, if you did not find that sin delightful, you would not fail the trial and commit the sin.

No, we each have our own peculiar and individual delights, the taste of which will send us down to the fiery pits of Hell to live with Satan forever.  Is lust your problem?  Greed?  Gluttony?  Anger?  Sloth?  Each of us has major weaknesses where we are very susceptible to cowardly run from the good fight and seek our own pleasure.  And the rest of our sinful nature collaborates with this traitor in our soul.

This bent propensity within ourselves is what St. Paul calls “the flesh”.  If the world is the temptation around us, then the flesh is the temptation within us.

And the Devil

Each one of us has – and do not under any circumstances kid yourselves, you have been found guilty of crimes committed against God – every one of us struggles mightily with exterior temptations and interior temptations and wickedness.  But evil also comes to us in the person of that fallen archangel, Satan.  He tempts us primarily in the imagination.

Satan cannot make us sin.  He cannot control our will.  That part of ourselves that makes our decisions is flawed and weak from sin, but it is ours, not Satan’s.  However, Satan can entice us in our imaginations.  When we are thinking of something wholesome, the devil will whisper naughty things into our imagination.  Before we know it, we are thinking of something naughty.  We get a whiff of the pleasure it would bring us.  Whether we dwell on and delight in this naughtiness is up to us, but if we resist this time we can count on Old Scratch coming back around to tempt us again later.  This is the temptation of the devil.

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism arms us with supernatural gifts and brings us through death into the promise of everlasting life.  New life in Christ puts us in the battle on the winning side.  But battles are dangerous.  We get hurt in this battle.  We get tired.  We start wondering:  “When will it ever end?”  We bow down and cannot hardly think right.

And so we more fully understand the list of sins which St. Paul gives us and the list of the fruit of the Spirit.  We need help in distinguishing between right and wrong, goodness and wickedness, truth and falsehood.  We are complex flawed creatures who need help, who need a guide, who need a standard to judge our actions and thereby our hearts correctly.

Like a GPS device, like a blood pressure test, like balancing our checkbooks, we need to see where we are at and what we need to improve to get where we are going.

So St. Paul writes, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like….”

Think on these.  Are you guilty of these?  Oh, I doubt you have murdered anyone recently.  But wrath?  Strife?  Heresies?  Drunkeness?  Hatred?  Lasciviousness?

If so, then St. Paul continues:  “…they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”  If we are committing anything on this list above, then we know that we are definitely on the wrong track and need to back up and turn around; we need to repent.  Think on that.  If we are letting sedition or drunkenness into our lives, we are on the road to Hell.  We have bent ourselves into destruction when we do these things.

But Blessed Paul the Apostle does not leave it there.  He goes on to the fruit of the Spirit:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”  When we are living lives of meekness and gentleness, then we are on the right track.  When we are sharing peace and joy with our brothers and sisters and neighbors, then we are leading lives according to the Holy Spirit; we are bearing the fruit of God’s presence within our hearts.

We have two ways set before us, the way of life and the way of death, the way of Heaven and the way of Hell, the way of goodness and the way of wickedness.  We cannot overcome the dark forces of sin and death merely by following the law, by acting rightly in all our affairs.  We have darkness within us that will bend our perception of what is right and wrong.  We have darkness within us that leads us to consider ourselves above our neighbors when we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We must get outside help for us to live lives of holiness.  We need Christ.

St. Paul finishes this epistle lesson with:  “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”  Our sinful nature, our flesh, our old man must suffer death; we must put our sinful self to death.  And that sinful part of ourselves is actually a part of ourselves.  We will hurt mightily as this dead flesh of ours dies.  But it must die.  Like rotten gangrenous flesh in a wound, we must scrape off the old to save the rest.

We hear hard stories of survival where the wolf must chew off his own leg to escape from the trap or where the hiker must cut off his hand to loose himself from an accident.  We must cut off those parts of ourselves which keep us from our good and loving God.  We who are baptized are to inherit the kingdom of God, and we shall, but we cannot bring our sin with us.  And we cannot bring those rotten parts of ourselves which lead us over and over again into sin with us.

My dear children, obey your baptismal vows and manfully fight and “continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”  This very day, make a firm resolution to put away from you your deepest most intractable sin.  And the Holy Ghost will help you every step of the way.

 

“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

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

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