Christ the Teacher

Christ the Teacher

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXV: Total Abandonment to God, The Little Way

I think it is appropriate to speak of the Little Way of St. Therese at this point, especially after reading the part of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our life, Matthew 6:25-34, but rather seek first the Kingdom of God. 

If you have not read the Story of a Soul by St. Therese, I would highly recommend it.  If you prefer to listen to podcasts on your phone, especially as you drive to work say, you might want to try this first.  This is a link to take you to a series about St. Therese’s life, drawing heavily upon the Story of a Soul, by Fr. Jacques Daley.  You will not be disappointed.  It is wonderful.  And so is the book.  So, if you have been putting it off, please, do not put it off any longer.  This is a wonderful book that has the potential to change your life.  When you do buy the book, I also recommend the latest edition, the third edition.  It is the most up to date and faithful to the original as written by St. Therese. 

St. Therese suffered and loved much.  Yet, through everything was she was convinced of the love and presence of Jesus.  This is also remarkable because she had a very dry spiritual life.  Jesus did not shower her with consolations, or “good feelings” in regards to faith.  Most of her life was spent in the desert.  She often refers to herself as Jesus’ toy or a little ball.  When He didn’t want to play, the little ball was content to sit in the corner and wait.  Which was almost all the time!  Another image of Jesus that she often used was that Jesus was asleep in the boat. 

You may wish to read the two accounts of this in the Gospels.  Matthew 8:23-27 and Mark 4:35-41.  Jesus rebukes the disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?” Mark 4:40. 

To be honest, isn’t this me?  I want to rush to Jesus and tell Him to wake up!  “Get up and help me!  Now!  Look at my great problems!  Do something!”

Therese did not do this.  I was thinking about her and the Little Way just before going to prayer recently.  Psalm 112 was one of the Psalms I prayed that evening.  I thought, “What a beautiful prayer.  This reminds me of St. Therese.”  It really did.  Read this Psalm, especially the middle portion:

“For the righteous will never be moved;
He will be remembered for ever.
He is not afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is firm, trusting in the Lord,
His heart is steady, he will not be afraid.”

What a great few verses for Lent!  Anytime for sure, but if we view Lent as a time of growth, as a time in the desert, yes!  This is a time we must surrender all and put all our confidence in the Lord!  Truly, suffering may be assaulting you.  You wonder where Jesus is and why He is not answering your prayer!  Do not be discouraged.  Do not be afraid.  Jesus is with you.  He is by your side.  Yes, He may just be asleep in the boat.  But do not fear, He sleeps so that you will grow in your faith.  This is a great grace!  And the trial you experience has brought you to this moment when you have to choose: Do I trust in Jesus, or do I take matters into my own hands?  Do I go back to Egypt, so to speak, as the Hebrew people wanted to do while Moses was guiding them to the Promised Land? 

Another Psalm that is quite appropriate today is Psalm 137, the Babylonian exile.  We are in Babylon!  Our existence on this earth is exile.  So many in our nation give themselves to the “American Dream.”  Don’t fall for it!  It is an illusion.  It is an attempt to make our home here on this earth, in this country.  The American Dream says materialism and America is your savior.

No!  Jesus is our Savior!  This is not our home!  Seek first the Kingdom!  Do not trust in princes, (or your money, your job, the government etc.) trust in the Lord.  Yes, He might be asleep, but do not worry.  Our Lenten journey is a journey that should be awakening in us the reality that Heaven is our true home, not this earth as wonderful as it is.  Yes, we can enjoy our time here, this is true, but live as if you are in a tent.  Anything, everything we do here is temporary and is passing away except our love. 

Is Jesus asleep?  He often is.  I used to listen to those who said that if this was my experience of Jesus then there must be something wrong with me or my spiritual life or that I needed to get into a church that experienced Jesus.  If “my” Jesus was asleep, it proved that I was in the wrong place.  I understand better now, because of the Grace of Jesus, but also the intercession of St. Therese and the Blessed Mother.  (And I say Mary because what was her life?  What was her spirituality?  “Let it be done to me according to Your word.”  Yes!  She lived in total abandonment to God too!  And to Jesus her Son!)

If you experience Jesus as asleep, do not be afraid.  Just pray.  Pray in confidence.  Pray in surrender.  Pray in truth.  You could pray the Psalms too!  They are a wonderful way to pray this spirituality. 

There are a number of references in the Psalms to this spirituality of waiting, of Jesus being asleep.  Here are a few Psalms and verses (Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition) that might encourage you.

Psalm 6:3
Psalm 10:1
Psalm 13:1-2
Psalm 119:84
Habakkuk 1:2

There are others, but you get the point, which to me is this: We must wait on the Lord.  There are those out there that say “name it and claim it” or they say if you had faith, real faith, your prayers would be answered.  Well, if these above references are in Scripture, I think the Lord is telling us something different.  He is telling us that He is in charge.  We must do HIS will.  He will not allow us to manipulate Him.  Yes, we might think we know how He should answer our prayers, but He knows what is best for us.  Let us practice this waiting on the Lord.  It is a journey.  It is a deep, deep, spirituality.  It contains a deep truth and a deep peace. 

Please take some time to meditate on these Scriptures and the Little Way of St. Therese.  Look up some things on the Internet about the Little Way.  There is so much. 

Be blessed in your waiting as you continue your journey through Lent. 

Dennis the Little

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXIV: Embracing our True Treasure, Matthew 6:19-34

What is it that you treasure the most in your life?  Most people say their families or their spouse and after that it is their friends.  Some people might even say God, or Jesus, or the Church.  Since I became a Christian and joined the Catholic Church in 1994, I have said all these things.  And in my mind, they are true.  But, if I was really honest, and really brutal with myself, how do I live my life?  How do my actions speak or the money I spend?  What do they say are the most important things in my life?  I think this is a good question to pull up on our radar screens anytime, but especially now that it is Lent, it is most apropos. 

In verse 21, Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart is also.  In verse 24, Jesus gives says: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” What is mammon?  It is riches, however you may define them.  In our materialistic culture, it mostly would have to do with possessions, money, or anything that gains you greater esteem in the eyes of others, or rather, what we think will give us greater esteem in the eyes of others.  These are the things we covet and desire.  Oh, and are they sneaky!  Oh!  How we justify our nights out with our friends or our football Sundays, our hunting weekends, or our shopping sprees, especially the ones we plan out just before school begins in the fall.  “Where is your treasure?” is a very important question to ask ourselves at least weekly if not daily. 

Every day, St. Therese would ask herself if she loved God more than anything or anybody else in her life.  This is what we must ask.  Is there anything that I put above my pursuit and love of God?

One thing that I must be constantly aware of is how much I work and worry.  We are a single income family.  I work three jobs.  I work about 70 hours per week on the average.  In verse 25, Jesus tells me, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.”  At the end of this section, He instructs us to seek first the Kingdom of God, then everything else will fall into place.

What does this tell me?  Well, first, we need to get our priorities straight.  God first.  Then family, friends, job etc.  Then, don’t worry.  Trust God that He will take care of everything.  Now, I wrote this as an “if-then” statement as if when we get the first part correct, then the second one begins or happens.  Well, my experience is that they grow together.  As we get our priorities lined up correctly, there will be an almost automatic response in our level of trust.

But there is also one danger here: It is all too easy to trust in oneself!  When we trust in ourselves too much and not in the Lord, then I think we put a road block in our journey to the Lord.  We don’t put Him first.  We put our work first, our solutions to our problems first, and we put our will first.  Part of putting God first in our lives is to put His will for us front and center.

So many people, even Christian people, tend to think that God wants us to have the abundant life.  And He does!  But all too many people interpret this as having money, having nice cars and nice houses.  A poll done a number of years ago among Christian people noted that 70% of us believed God wanted us to be rich.  My experience is quite different.  We run from suffering and trials.  In fact, many of us believe that when we encounter hardships that it is punishment from God!  I read a recent interview with Pope Francis.  In this interview, he stated that, “one can’t grow without crisis… crisis is part of the life of faith; a faith which doesn’t enter into crisis to grow, remains juvenile.”  This quote was in the following article:

When we encounter hardship it is often a cross given to us, fashioned for us, by Jesus Himself.  We must embrace our crosses.  And here is one reason why we must trust in the Lord rather than trust in ourselves.  We deceive ourselves all too easily.  Many, many books, many books written by the saints, tell us over and over again, “Do not trust yourself.”  Just two examples are The Imitation of Christ and Unseen Warfare.  This theme and exact quote, “Do not trust yourself,” is front and center in chapter one of each book. 

I would recommend that we take some time for meditating on our lives in the next few weeks of Lent.  How do I deal with problems?  Hardships?  Suffering?  What is my response when I receive a cross?  Hmmm.  My initial response is to complain!  Next, I blame someone else.  Then, maybe, sometimes, I’ll relent and do what needs to be done.  I see how I have trusted myself.  Now, that I see my error, I need to change this.  I must seek first the Kingdom, I must trust the Lord and not myself.  I must surrender my heart, soul, and my stubbornness.  I must repent and believe the Gospel. 

To end this article, I am going to give you a list of Bible verses.  You can read them in any order you like except the first two I will give you here: 1 Corinthians 4:20, “For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

I ran across this verse in my casual reading and it got me to wonder.  What is the power of God?  We often think of miracles and cures and the like, right?  Well try this on for size from 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”  The power of God is the CROSS!  It is Jesus hanging from His cross.  It is you and me uniting our crosses with His.  It is our suffering and trials, or as Pope Francis said in the above interview I quoted, it is our crises in our lives that mature our faith.  Now that you know this, read St. Paul’s letters again.  He is always talking about the cross.  Today, many will talk about the cross, but it seems that they are speaking about the cross of Christ as a distant thing.  It’s like this, “Jesus suffered.  Jesus carried His cross.  He died on the cross.  He did it for us.  Now we don’t have to.”  That is all true, except the last line.  We do need to carry our crosses as Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

People sometimes tell me how false my faith is.  They point out the crucifix.  “Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore,” they say.  Hmmm.  I beg to differ.  Start with Matthew 25:31-46.  It’s the final judgment, but it shows us where we encounter the living God: in those who are suffering.  If we believe in the incarnation of Christ, we will see Him in everyone, but especially those who suffer.  Jesus is helping us to carry our crosses.  The shortest, quickest way to encounter Christ is through the cross.  Yes, it signifies suffering, but it is also the sign of our salvation.  It is through the cross that we are saved.  And this is not just the cross of Christ, but we must unite ours with His.

OK, now the list.  Read these.  Pray over these.  May you find Christ in your sufferings and may He comfort you as you take up your cross daily and follow Him.  Oh, and this list isn’t exhaustive.  They are verses that I have picked up over the past two or three months as I have read through the Scriptures. 

1 Corinthians 4:20
1 Corinthians 1:18
Luke 9:23
1 Peter 5:8-9
Acts 14:22
Luke 21:19
Luke 14:33
Philippians 1:29
2 Timothy 1:8
1 Peter 4:13-14
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Isaiah 30:20
2 Corinthians 1:9
1 Peter 4:1
Hosea 4:3
1 Peter 4:19
2 Timothy 3:12
John 16:33

I would offer  these to you as part of our treasure, our little sufferings that bring us to a closer union with Christ, who is our life. 

Peace be with you.

Dennis the Little

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXIII: The Lord’s Prayer

Find the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 or in Luke 11:2-4.  One thing that is important is that the prayers are not the same.  Although many Bibles today write them the same way, Luke’s version is shorter. 

The Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition has Luke’s version like this:

Father, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.

And for Matthew’s version, here:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

Matthew’s version should be very recognizable.  Matthew’s version is liturgical.  Already by the time Matthew wrote his gospel, people were praying this prayer in the Liturgy.  And so it has come to us down through the ages. 

I’d like to highlight a couple of footnotes too.  “Our daily bread” can be rendered “our bread of the morrow.”  At the end of Matthew’s version, “evil” should be “the evil one.”  Later texts include “For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.”

Beyond this, from what I have read over the years, there are two things that really stand out to me, that are important to how we typical Christians live our lives.  First, from the stand point of salvation, we live in a nation that is by and large protestant.  The understanding is that it is faith alone that saves us and that if we have faith, God forgives us.  The problem is, Jesus doesn’t say that.

The prayer that Jesus gives us to pray says, “…forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us,” (Luke’s version).  In Matthew’s version, Jesus even points out after He gives the prayer to His disciples that, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Gosh, sounds kind of serious.  And it is!  Our being forgiven is directly tied to our willingness to forgive others!

The other comment I have is about “daily bread.”  This is not the common, ordinary bread that we eat at our dinner table.  No, daily bread is a bad translation.  The Greek word is “epiousios,” which is the supersubstantial bread or “above the essence.”  This bread is not merely material bread for earthly sustenance.  This is the bread for spiritual health and eternal life.  Read John 6 to find out what that bread is!  There is one bread that is used to feed the 5,000 (verses 1-14).  There is another bread later in the chapter to give us eternal life, but the people still sought Him out for that earthly bread (6:26).  In the next verse, Jesus tells them not to labor for this bread, rather the bread that endures to eternal life.  The last part of the chapter is devoted to the Bread of Life: Jesus, Eucharist.

There are many more important points to the most important of prayers.  I have merely highlighted two points that I have read about many times from many different authors and speakers.  Here is a talk (transcript available for you to read if you prefer) by a true expert, Fr. Thomas Hopko:

One final note, and I bring this up because many traditional Christians feel intimidated if they are in a situation where their protestant friends are praying.  They tell me often, “Wow, they can really pray!”  Don’t feel bad.  Don’t feel that your prayers are any less.  The fact is, if we read history and if we read the Bible, this isn’t how it was done in the ancient church.  First of all, as Fr. Tom will tell you in his talk, the Lord’s Prayer is A PRAYER!  It is to be said!  Jesus didn’t say to talk things over with our Father or share our feelings or pray for a new car or boat or a new job.  In fact, there is nothing earthly about the prayer.  All the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer deal with the spiritual life and our responsibilities in the spiritual life.  And all our other prayers have to agree with the Lord’s Prayer because it is the foundation of how Jesus says we should pray (Matthew 5:9, “Pray then like this…”).

It is interesting to note Acts 2:42 also.  It says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” 

Gosh, that sounds a lot like a traditional church today, doesn’t it?  We gather for Liturgy, we follow the teachings of the Apostles, there are specific liturgical prayers, and we break bread (Eucharist).  Yes, some Bibles say “prayers” here.  I think they know what is going on, but this is not correct.  The Greek says, “THE prayers.”  The ancient and early followers of Christ prayed specific prayers.  There was a prayer book (Psalms) and there were specific prayers that were said at liturgy.  This is not to say that people couldn’t use their own words to pray.  Of course not.  But let’s be careful and let’s be honest.  I have had many people tell me that my prayer books are worthless.  “Prayer must come from the heart, YOUR heart,” they say.  Excuse me.  But there are no better prayers than the Psalms.  The Psalms are the prayer book that God gives to us.  It would be a good idea to pray them.  And yes, they do touch the heart and after some time, they will instruct your heart and become the prayers of your heart.  Then you will be praying to and worshipping the Father in Spirit and in truth.  The prayers of your heart will truly be lining up with Jesus and the Lord’s Prayer. 

In closing, please pray about this.  Listen to or read Fr. Tom’s talk.  Take prayer seriously this Lent.  Grow in prayer by praying the Psalms or using your prayer book daily.  This would be a better approach to prayer than “winging it.”  The danger of winging it in prayer is that you end up praying for YOUR OWN WILL!  We Catholics and Orthodox have nothing to be ashamed about when we pray prayers written on a page of a book.  These prayers have stood the test of time, they are often the prayers of saints, and many of them are prayers from God Himself. 

Thanks for visiting my blog.  I am praying for you!!

Peace be with you.

Dennis the Little

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXII: Matthew 6:1-18, the Spiritual Disciplines

Christian Spirituality XXII: Matthew 6:1-18, the Spiritual Disciplines

Lent is soon upon us.  Ash Wednesday is March 1.  The Orthodox begin Great Lent Sunday evening, February 26.  We will hear many references to fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  Hearing is one thing.  Doing is quite another.  My hope is that we all will do something, however small or large, this Lent.  Perhaps we can hear the Lenten disciplines through the Parable of the Sower and gain a little insight into why they are important.

Read Marks account of this parable in 4:1-20.

Notice that this parable occurs pretty early in Mark’s Gospel.  It comes right after the section when Jesus says that, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”  The section that follows it is about a lamp (4:21-25) and how silly it would be to hide it under a basket.  In other words, what we do, in some way, will be visible to others.  While our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is to be done in secret, there will be something visible to others.  Our spiritual exercises do have an effect on the world around us and on people.  Something happens.  Things change.  Spirituality is more than just something happening between our ears or in our emotions. 

The section after the lamp is about the Kingdom of God, the harvest (4:26-29), and the mustard seed (4:30-32).  These all relate to the smallness of things in the Kingdom and yet how they make a difference, a profound difference.  This last section in this chapter (4:35-41) find Jesus asleep in the boat while the storm rages.  I am reminded of the Little Way of St. Therese.  For her, Jesus was asleep, but this did not shake her confidence in Him.  Everything was from and for Jesus to Therese.  His will was the only thing that mattered.  You see, Therese did not need consolations and received very few during her lifetime.  This is Jesus asleep.  He didn’t have to come to Therese’s aid every day to rescue her out of some difficulty.  Her confidence in Him was stellar and unwavering.  And so for us, if she is to be a lesson for us, when we face dark circumstances or some suffering, we do not need to panic.  We are to remain steadfast in faith, trusting that the Lord is near.  If you do not feel His presence, do not worry, do not be afraid.  He merely sleeps. 

Now, to the Parable of the Sower.  I want to focus on the soil.  We are that soil.  First, notice what a farmer does.  When spring comes, does he go out and just throw some seeds on top of the ground and hope for rain and nice weather?  No, he must work the soil.  He must prepare it to receive the seed.  There is plowing to do, fertilizer to be applied, and tilling.  I am not a farmer so I do not know all the things that must be done, but I do know that the soil must be worked, prepared, and made ready to receive the seed in order for the farmer to get a good crop. 

And so it is with us.  Seed lands on four kinds of soil in this parable.  What kind of soil are we?  Are we the path that is hard and barely sprouts the seed?  Are we the rocky ground?  Are we the soil that had thorns growing on it?  Or, are we the good soil that produces the thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold?  How do we produce the fruit?  Somehow, somewhere along the way, the farmer in this parable prepared the soil.  The same is true in the spiritual life.  We must tend to the soil of our hearts.  We do this through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, or literally what almsgiving means is acts of mercy.  These things till the soil of our hearts.  They nourish us and soften our souls, they rid ourselves of weeds or bad habits we may have acquired that make living the spiritual life more difficult. 

So, now, what are you going to do with your Lent this year? 

I would recommend spending some time meditating on the Parable of the Sower.  Spend some time with Matthew 6:1-18.  Set some reasonable goals along with your Spiritual Father.  There is a war going on for your soul.  It is easy to see wars happening in the world.  There is violence of all sorts.  But you know, these visible signs are all symptoms of the deeper and spiritual battle being waged for souls.  Take your actions seriously.  Pray, fast, and give alms as if your life depends on it.  It does!  And it matters for everyone!  Our prayers are powerful!  Our fasting matters and does make a difference!  Our acts of mercy change the amount of hate in the world. 

You might say that your life does not change when you fast or pray or give alms.  On one hand you are correct, such is the amount of evil in our lives and in the world.  Each of us must develop eyes that see and ears that hear to be able to take it all in, because there is a difference.  Every act of goodness makes the universe better just as every act of evil and sin pollutes the universe.  Each of us must amend our lives as best we can.  Be diligent.  Be courageous.  Join the battle.  Do not be of this world, but be of God.

Another suggestion I have is to spend some time reflecting on forgiveness.  There is a wonderful article/interview by Fr. Tom Hopko on the website In Communion.  Find it here

The entire article is very helpful.  I would emphasize the last page or two as it explores our personal forgiveness.  Fr. Tom encourages us not to limit our forgiveness to a mental exercise.  We need to feel the pain we experienced when we need to forgive someone.  We need to taste that same bitterness when we are the one who needs to be forgiven as well. 

This is enough.  One thing about Lent is that we must not attempt to do too much.  I remember the monks at Blue Cloud Abby would tell me that for Lent, each monk went to the abbot to review their personal Lenten disciplines.  It was a danger that the monks try to do too much.  In the end, they might attempt more than they could reasonably do, only to become frustrated and do nothing.  I will leave you with this same advice.  Do something small.  Do it with great devotion and love for the Lord.  Fast, pray, do alms.  Do the basics.  Keep it simple.  Till the soil of your soul.  Receive from the Lord what He has to give to you. 

Peace be with you.

Dennis the Little

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXI: You Shall Love Your Enemy, Matthew 5:43-48

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.” 

Many years ago, I listened to a priest who said that if you want a litmus test on how Christian you are, this is it.  As Jesus continues, it is easy to love those who love you.  It is easy to do kind things for those who do kind things to you.  What is difficult, what challenges our faith is to be kind and to love those who hate us, who do nasty things to us. 

So, how have I done over the years?  This is one of the great struggles isn’t it?  It is one thing to give our mental ascent to something, such as loving our enemy, and actually doing it.  Oh, I am 100% on board with the idea of loving my enemy.  Depending on the situation, oh! How I fail. 

We go through childhood and our younger years accumulating an assortment of wounds.  People treat us poorly, our parents perhaps even abused us, or we made some bad decisions and now we are reluctant to trust others or even our own judgments or perceptions.  When things happen to us or when others treat us poorly today, it triggers deep seated memories or prejudices and we react automatically.  Perhaps we become defensive.  Maybe we run.  Maybe we respond in kind.  In these moments, we are not loving the enemy.  We are erecting a protective wall and doing our best to save and defend ourselves.  In the modern world, we tend to live as individual islands.  Perhaps these are the reasons that it becomes difficult or impossible to love the enemy, because we see others as individual islands too.

The teachings of ancient Christianity would never entertain this notion of being separate or individual.  There is a Russian proverb that comes to mind that the only thing we can do alone is go to hell.  The goal of Christianity is union and communion with God and communion with each other.  I am not me and you are not you.  My neighbor is myself.  Our lives are intimately entwined together.  This can be difficult to see in the modern world as we have erected other protective walls and we participate in the various struggles for individual rights, nevertheless, it is like the butterfly effect.  When I do something, even in the privacy of my home, it does have an effect on others.  What you do affects me as well.  In America, our communities are very weak, even our church communities, but still there is a connection.  Our actions matter, even private ones, because in reality, there is no sin or virtue that is entirely private.

When we hate anyone, we are refusing to see that we are one, that somehow there is communion between me and that other person.  It is there and for life to truly blossom, we must find a way to live this communion in a deeper way.  We must become vulnerable (oh how we moderns shy away from this concept – and all too often, myself included!) to each other.  This opens the door to solidarity and serves to take down walls.

In our American politics, we hear of a wall being built between the U. S. and Mexico.  While we need to have some control over the borders and who enters etc., isn’t this wall symbolic of how we have become as a people and as Christians in America?  We are pretending that there is no communion, that there are people we can hate as enemies and we can try to keep them out.  No, I cannot support spending billions of dollars for a wall.  Whatever problems we have now, I am afraid that other worse problems will develop when we have a wall.  The wall will give us a false sense of security.  Walls are meant to separate.  The Gospel is meant to unite.  The same is true with our personal lives: we erect walls because we feel insecure.  The remedy is to step out in faith, not build bigger walls.

And so it is with our enemies, or those who do not like us.  We must reach out, somehow, to them and build a bridge rather than a wall.  This is our spiritual battle.  We would rather not work out our difficulties.  We would rather judge or condemn.  We would rather ignore.  I certainly include myself in this, especially “ignore.”  I am a pro at ignoring problems. 

So, what is the point of my little article?  Well, if we are going to make a difference, if we are going to change our attitude, I’d recommend doing what St. Therese did in her Little Way.  Smile at people when inside you know you would rather not.  When someone does something to offend you and you would like to respond with an angry word, don’t!  Respond kindly or not at all.  In short, the battle lies within your own heart.  Be like Jesus who did not respond or defend Himself at His “trial,” and Who teaches us to turn the other cheek.  This is so difficult.  But do it little by little.  You cannot wake up one day and do it all.  No!  It happens little by little.  And it happens through on going prayer, an illumined reading of Scripture.  And most of all a desire to be like Jesus in every way.  It takes a total abandonment to become more and more like Him.  As St. John the Baptist would say, “I must decrease and He must increase.”  Or as St. Paul said, “It is no longer I who lives, but He who lives in me.” 

Perhaps the first step is just seeing that the people who do me ill are not separate from me.  However bad they are, they are God’s children.  We must cultivate the idea that they are loved, deeply loved by their creator.  Is their sin really any worse than my own?  Probably not.  Perhaps what offends us most is that either we notice it or it may be directed at us.  We should not despair nor should we teach ourselves to hate.  We must nurture that spark inside of us to choose to love, at least as much as we can.  Again, this doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time to grow.  And it can happen as many, many saints show us.  Let them be our example.

And ultimately, the purpose of this is to literally change the world.  It is an ancient teaching of Christianity that we are intimately intertwined with each other to the point that there is no private sin.  Our smallest and most private sin affects the entire universe.  And so do our good deeds, so does the mercy we show to each other, so does the love that we share!  Let us live a life of repentance for all the sin we participate in.  Let us use this same repentance to change the direction of our lives and the purpose with which we live.  We can change the world.  You don’t have to become big and important to do it either.  Be humble, be small, and do everything you do with great love.  

Peace be with you.

Dennis the Little

Monday, February 13, 2017

Since I am in the middle of a series of articles about the Sermon on the Mount and Christian spirituality, I thought you would like this article by Fr. John Chryssavgis that appeared in In Communion way back in 2004.  It is a wonderful rendering of the Beatitudes that is a challenge to how we situate ourselves in the world.  The Beatitudes demand a response from us in how we live.  Fr. John goes a good job at confronting our lives and attitudes.  I hope you are edified by this piece and that it provides a challenge for you and your life.  May Jesus be the best part of your day today!

Find Fr. John's article here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Christian Spirituality XX: An Eye for an Eye and Resisting Evil, Matthew 5:38-42

Many people quote the line, “An eye for an eye.”  This line has caused me a few arguments in the past.  It usually comes up in a discussion about capital punishment or something in relationship to criminal activity.  I don’t think most of us are using this verse in the proper way.  We are using it with an Old Testament mentality, which was a great leap forward, but we don’t want to go there today.  Let me explain.

In those most ancient of times, justice had a way of becoming vengeance and the punishment often did not fit the crime.  If someone caused me to lose a goat, and if I had a lot of powerful friends, I might come in and burn down your barn and maybe kill your whole flock.  Anger and revenge were in the driver’s seat.  Might made right. 

It might be good to read the passages in the Old Testament about the concept of “An eye for an eye.”  Here is a listing:

Exodus 21:12-37
Leviticus 24:10-23
Deuteronomy 19:1-21

Jesus does away with the mentality of “an eye for an eye.”  This whole section uses the formula, “You have heard…, but I say to you….”  Too many of us don’t hear this.  Jesus is saying that the old idea doesn’t apply anymore.  He is inaugurating a new idea.  If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, we must follow His teachings.  He says, “Do not resist the evil one.”

Now, on one hand, yes!  We are to resist evil!  Absolutely!  We are not to fight against evil with the methods of evil, however.  We are not to use violence.  According to St. John Chrysostom, we resist the evil one by giving ourselves up to suffer wrongfully.  This is how we prevail over evil.  As he says, “Fire is not quenched by another, but by water.”

I think of St. Therese and the Little Way.  We must embrace our little nothings, those little trials and sacrifices that come our way.  The little slights serve to keep us humble, or teach us to be humble.  Smile when you meet someone who mistreats you or doesn’t like you.  Say hello.  Give a friendly greeting.  Find some way to show them little acts of love and kindness.  As St. Paul says, “Overcome evil with good, Romans 12:21.

Look at how we have toiled, bombed, fought, and killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  After all this killing the Taliban is still strong.  From the ashes of what used to be these countries, ISIS has sprung up to unleash a new and even greater evil upon the land.  They target Christians and are brutally cruel.  Is this what we get for a two trillion dollar war?  The human cost is staggering as well.  Over 100,000 civilian deaths (some estimates approach 250,000) and every day more are added to the total.  We fight violence with violence.  We do not listen to the Gospel.  And so the cost is very high. 

In contrast, look at what happened to the Soviet Union and the evil that they exported all over the world.  You could make the case that there was some violence here and there in small wars and skirmishes all over the globe, but not a battlefield war.  The forces of good did engage the forces of evil directly, but it was not on a battlefield that included guns and tanks and killing.  I am biased, but the greater battle was fought by people like St. Tikhon and many faithful priests in Russia, most of whom were killed, often crucified on the doors of their church.  It was fought by Pope John Paul II, who supported the Solidarity movement in Poland and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring down the Iron Curtain.  Who can measure the effect of his prayers and the final affect this had on the evil empire?    

There were countless people who prayed.  What about the angels and the saints?  There prayers for sure confronted evil directly.  Yes, it took seventy years, but the Soviet Union fell.  If fell without a war, without a shot.  It crumbled before our eyes.  It was unbelievable to those of us who were around back then.  We were reading about Gorbachev or watching things on TV and all of a sudden, the news report said that the Soviet Union was no more. 

Of course, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan deserve credit for the fall of the Soviet Union too, but I offer this event to you as evidence that we can trust Jesus, prayers, and the Gospel.  The Gospel works.  Guns, bombs, intimidation, and wars do not.  We are an instant culture.  We want everything now.  Those of us who want to live the Gospel must get rid of that idea.  We don’t just say a prayer and get what we want.  Sometimes, surely, but most of the time, we must suffer with reality, with truth, with evil. 

In my morning prayers today, I prayed Psalm 143.  This is a special Psalm to me and one of my favorites.  I remember well the day when I was visiting the monks at Blue Cloud Abby.  Life was terrible.  Harrison had cancer.  Life was difficult, filled with so many trials.  I joined them for prayer and this was part of the prayers that day.  This line grabbed me for the first time, and still does today:

Verses 3 and 4, “For the enemy has pursued me; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.  Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.”

Even today, I often feel crushed and in darkness. 

As I look ahead to my prayers on Friday, there is another Scripture that will be prayed.  It was one that came up in the Divine Office when my life was probably at its darkest.  It was May 2002.  I did not know if I could go on, then I picked up my prayer book.  One of the prayers, in part, was from Habakkuk.  The end of Chapter 3 goes like this:

Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the hinds’ feet,
He makes me tread upon my high places.

Being crushed and waiting upon the Lord is not easy.  Jesus does not say it is or will be easy.  He directs us down the narrow path.  It is narrow for a reason and most people will not go there, even many Christians do not want to bother with the narrow way.  I encourage you to trust Jesus.  He is the way.  This way is not easy, not popular, but it works.  It may take seventy years.  It might take 400, if we recall the slavery of the Hebrew people in Egypt, but do not give up.  Prayer matters.  What we do matters.  Confront the evil in your life.  Don’t follow culture, follow Jesus.  Resist the evil of our age with peaceful means and with prayer.  Don’t give in to ‘an eye for an eye’ mentality.  Turn the other cheek and pray for your enemies.  This is how we change evil, through prayer and non-violent resistance.

Peace always.