Christ the Teacher

Christ the Teacher

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Our Attitude in Suffering

How well we suffer is dependent upon our attitude in suffering.  Do we complain when trials come upon us? Do we blame others? What should our attitude be?  Well, for a little warm up, I’d like to share some scriptures with you.

Read Psalm 49.  Basically, we pray in this Psalm that we understand that everyone will die.  The rich, the poor, the wise, and the foolish will all come to perish. All our wealth will be passed on to someone else.  Part of this death, and part of the life that precedes it is going to have to deal with suffering, whether you are rich, poor, wise, or foolish.  we all have to deal with suffering. So, we may as well learn how to suffer well.

This is from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord,
   your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
   who teaches you to profit,
   who leads you in the way you should go.
O that you had hearkened to my commandments!
   Then your peace would have been like a river,
   and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;

Isaiah 48:17-18

“Your peace would have been like a river….”

Often, I hear people refer to verses like this one and make the point that by following the Lord, He will make life peaceful and happy, life will be sweet.  They see this (or other similar verses) as a proof that following God will save us from suffering, or at least suffering that comes from the punishment we receive from disobeying God.  

This interpretation is wrong on a number of points.  When we suffer, it really isn’t God punishing us. Sometimes, it is the evil of others that cause the righteous to suffer, for example.  Sometimes we make bad decisions, not necessarily sinful ones, that cause us to suffer. Anyway, one thing the Lord is telling us through the prophet is that even if we suffer, we can inner peace, even joy, and other positive emotions.  Perhaps it is only through our trials and suffering that we truly come to trust in the Lord and stop trusting ourselves.

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.”
2 Corinthians 4:16.  

Our inner nature is being renewed every day.  Oh yes, the outer nature, our bodies and what people see is often “wasting away” with age or illness.  Yes, this can take a toll on us. And I don’t mean to minimize this in the least. We can suffer greatly in the body.  Look at cancer treatment as one example. People can suffer horribly and often they still die. But, as Jesus says, we must seek the Kingdom of God first.  We must place Him at the center of our lives. Then what we truly need will be given. Perhaps this is a long life, or perhaps it will be a short life, but no matter what, whatever is best will be given for our salvation.  In this we must trust. We might suffer for it, but through whatever we encounter, we must bring ourselves back to the Lord.

Our culture today does not have this attitude.  We seek pleasure and a long life. Whatever impedes this is called evil. We must try to view life through the lens of the divine and also look to the lives of the saints.  What was the life of Jesus on this earth? He suffered. What about the saints? Oh, they suffered too. So, when we suffer, we must see that we are in good company.

We often talk glibly about communion.  Looking at this word more closely, isn’t it true that to have communion with someone is to become one, or in union, with that person?  We “go” to communion, or we “have” communion at church. But do we? Do we really have communion with our Lord? Do we have union with the saints?  What about those people more intimate to us? Do we have a communion with them?

We might do well to ponder on this idea of communion and ask ourselves how this can manifest itself in our lives.  Our culture pretty much tells us it is good to be together and have fun, but how often are we encouraged to give our lives to another and draw near to them and suffer, even to suffer ourselves, as we become the caregiver or perhaps help them in a sacrificial way.

I remember reading an article about 15 years ago by someone who advocated that we NOT sacrifice for others.  We deserve to live our lives free from the encumberment of others. She told a story of a young woman who put her life on hold to take care of her parents who were suffering a health problem.  This woman, a young woman, was admirable to me. She was abused in her young life. She went to live on her own and was very successful. As her parents aged and declined she felt a guilt of sorts and felt she needed to care for them.  She quit her job and moved back in with her parents and cared for them until they died. She really gave up her life for her parents. What a great and wonderful thing! But not so for this author. She belittled this courageous woman and said she made a poor decision and that she had no responsibility to her parents but only to herself to “make something of herself.”

Is this what we have become?  

I do not recall if this woman was any kind of a Christian or even a spiritual person, but what she did speaks to me of what kind of thing a person who loves Christ would do, if it were at all possible.  Not all of us have the means perhaps to do what she did, but I hope and pray that each of us are able to take on some sort of suffering for the betterment of another person, to be able to sacrifice for another.  We might even help ourselves. This experience might even save ourselves. It would certainly save us from the passion of being selfish, but it may also even save us for eternity with the Lord.

Yes, we will all die as the Psalmist says above.  Our outer selves will waste away. Recognizing this might just be one of the most important ideas of life and living.  It might save our souls. It might set us free to become who we were truly meant to be. It might go a long ways to helping us reach out to other people to help them and allow ourselves to be helped.  We will need that too, you know. There will come a time when I need help, even just to live and to walk and to eat. I need to help others too. I need communion. And maybe it is a little suffering that will open my heart to this need for communion, with others and with the Lord.  Or that we see the suffering of others that causes a change. I pray that I can be like that woman I read about many years ago who laid her life down for love of another.

Peace be with you.

Monday, April 16, 2018

On the Trials and Suffering of LIfe

“Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 12.

We don’t want to be persecuted.  We don’t even want to be treated differently.  We even want to be treated better than others. Persecution?  Oh, this separates us into opposing camps almost, those that wish to appease the culture and those who fight against it.  Another way to see it is one camp will be blessed today with earthly blessings, the other camp will someday enjoy heavenly blessings.

I heard a quote once, and I am not sure who this was, I guess it was Father Thomas Hopko.  He said, “The function of the Church is to break your heart.” What he meant was that we so easily get into pride, people pleasing, and thinking that in our home parishes that all should be easy and light.  No! Our local parishes function to guide us on the road to spiritual growth. The local church exists to dash the illusion that the spiritual journey is always sweet and light. On the contrary, the spiritual life is the narrow path, the difficult road, it contains things we would rather not encounter.  And when we encounter these things, it is as if our feelings are hurt and we suffer, we are in pain to a certain degree. Our hearts are broken. And they will remain broken hearts and we will be in danger to leave the Church and go our own way unless we realize that this truly is the path, the narrow way, the way that leads to repentance and the Kingdom of God.

Here is a very long quote by St. Silouan the Athonite:

In the beginning we’re drawn by God with the gift of grace, and once we’ve been drawn to Him, then starts a long trial period. Our freedom and trust in God are tested, and tested hard.

At first, our petitions towards God, whether small or great, even our pleas which have only just been expressed, are usually fulfilled in a swift and marvellous way by God.

When the period of trials comes, however, then everything changes and it’s as if the heavens are closed and He’s deaf to all our supplications.

For fervent Christians, everything in life becomes difficult. People’s behaviour towards them worsens: they cease to respect them; don’t make allowances for them as they do with others; and pay them less than the legal minimum wage. Their bodies become susceptible to diseases. Nature, people, everything turns against them. 

Even though their natural talents are no fewer than those of others, they don’t find favourable conditions to put them to use. On top of that, they endure many attacks from demonic forces and the final blow is the unbearable sadness caused by Divine abandonment.

That’s the height of their suffering, because the whole person is afflicted on every level of their being. 

Does God abandon humankind?.. Is this possible?..

And instead of the soul experiencing God’s proximity, in its place comes a feeling that He is infinitely far away, so far that He’s unreachable, beyond the astral worlds and that all appeals to Him are helplessly lost in the vastness of cosmic space. The soul internally intensifies its cry to Him, but sees neither help nor attention as yet. That’s when everything becomes burdensome.

Everything’s accomplished with a disproportionate amount of effort. Life is filled with toil and we experience a churning feeling that God’s curse and fury are weighing down on us.

When all these trials have passed, however, then we see that God’s marvellous providence has been carefully protecting us in every aspect of our lives.

Experience of a thousand years, [Saint Silouan is speaking as a Russian and this was the length of time from the conversion of the nation to Christianity] handed down from generation to generation, says that, when God sees the faith of the soul of those struggling for Him, as He saw Job’s faith, then He leads them to abysses and heights that are inaccessible to others.

The stronger and more complete our faith and trust in God, the greater the measure of the trial and the plenitude of experience, which can become extremely profound. Then it becomes clear that a limit has been reached, one which humankind can’t cross.

St. Silouan beautifully captures the essence of the Christian life.  Yes, this is what happens. Most people want to cut out the part of suffering.  We view suffering in our lives as a disapproval from God or even punishment from Him.  No! This is not true. This is the demons whispering into your ear to lay down your cross and not follow Him!  Yes! Remember what Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it,” Luke 9:23-24.

Jesus did not carry a cross so we don’t have to.  He carried His cross to show us The Way. And the Cross is The Way, it is our way, it is the only way.  

“If you would enter into the mystery, then, like Christ Himself, you must become small, weak, poor, misunderstood, and willing to be broken.  You cannot know Him if you refuse to be like Him. This is the only path that is truly Christian. Outside this mystery, there is nothing to be known, nothing that will save,” Father Stephen Freeman.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Defending the Faith

Happy Easter to all Western Christians.  To the Christians of the East you have one more week.  Palm Sunday is today and Holy Week is upon you. Then the great celebration of Pascha.  Yes, this is our crowning feast! The feast of feasts. Our most important day of the year.  The doors of Heaven are opened for us because of what the Savior has done. We, His followers, have been given our crosses, our tasks to do so that we can enter through this narrow gate, this narrow way that He has opened.

“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints…” Jude 3

Recently I have received hate emails that disparage our ancient faith.  These emails speak of the “evil of the Eucharist,” and “the delusion of our faith.”  Of course these emails would come to me at nearly the time of our redemption. These people, writing for none other than the devil himself, don’t want us to confess our sins one to another that we may repent and begin a new life again, the new life that is won for us by our Savior, that new life that He offers us by giving us His very Body and Blood, a new life that is nourished by the Sacred Mysteries (or Sacraments), and the surrender that comes as we join ours with that of the Savior becoming evermore one with Him as  become more and more like Him.

“For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” Jude 4.

No!  Don’t fall for the lies!  Oh, we Catholics and Orthodox have our differeneces to be sure, but we have so much more in common.  We must not forsake the Tradition that has been handed down to us from centuries past, the wisdom of the saints and Fathers and Mothers that has almost entirely rejected by those who read a few texts from the Holy Scriptures and then say they are so moved by the Holy Spirit (the devil in disguise)  as to start their own churches. Oh my! Lord save us from this narcisistic and prideful delusion!

Yes, my friends, stay close to Mother Church!

“The Lord’s uncreated divine grace acts as a mother to us and doesn’t only preserve us from all ills, but also comforts our spirit with the sweetness of its presence.  And it inspires us with courage to undertake renewed defense and attack. In sufferings and in our trials in general, our spirit is expanded and our spiritual knowledge increased.  “In my sorrow you saved me,” (Psalm 4:1 LXX) by Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos.

Just look around at our culture.  The Church is under attack. We must stand firm.  Doctrine is important. If you are Catholic, don’t give up one inch of your faith.  If you are Orthodox, don’t give up one inch of your faith. Don’t give in to the seduction of the evil one. He comes all dressed up as sugar and spice.  Look at the left wing politics in our nation! It is evil dressed up as love. Don’t fall for it. Hate mail, notes on my windshield, letters in my mail box, knocks at my door, and other people who have sought me out over the years are so eager to tell me of the evils of my church.  Perhaps they have assaulted you with their filth. Stand firm. Our faith is a saving faith. Stand with a church that has weathered the storm for many centuries. Don’t join in with someone who has been around a few years or a decade or a century. That cannot be, nor is, it the faith of the ages.  

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Acquire the Spirit of Peace and Many Will Be Saved

We deceive ourselves.  We are gullible.  We believe things we read and hear.  Truth has become a subjective thing in our culture.  Truths taught by the Bible or the Church and accepted as truth for centuries seem to fall by the wayside in our present culture.  Many, if not the majority, do not believe things taught by the Bible or the Church anymore.  These are perilous times.  What can we do to protect or even enlighten ourselves and to provide these things for our families?

Do the spiritual disciplines as I have written of recently.  As much as you can, employ all of your senses while doing these things.  I am speaking of things like standing in prayer, bowing, prostrations, or using incense, and speaking prayers aloud with your voice.  Pay attention at church.  Listen.  Feel.  Be aware.  Be present and be watchful.  

I think it is an important  to remember that at Liturgy we do use all of our senses.  We listen to the words of the prayers and the the Holy Scriptures, we feel the movements of our body and we stand, kneel, do prostrations, sit, and walk; we see the holy icons or statues, we see other people, we see the priest, we see all the things going on in the church; we smell the incense and we see its smoke rise.  We recall our prayers rising to heaven as incense, and near the end of the Liturgy, we come forward and we receive our Lord who is near and we taste Him.  Yes, all of our senses our employed during the worship.  This brings the Lord near and the worship service brings us an experience of Him.  This worship is different than the worship in other churches.  I will refrain from saying that it is better or more holy, but it is the ancient way, it is the way marked out to worship God given in the Bible.  

The reason to me that it is important is that it gives us a sensory experience of God.  God is real.  We see that in the Liturgy.  We sense that, we sense Him in the Liturgy.  He is with us.  He is near.  We desire to take this with us always.  We want to live this reality in our everyday lives.  

And so we are inspired to live a quiet life with God at the center.  Yes, Liturgy should inspire us.  It is inspiring.  It is ancient.  It is ancient worship.  No frills here, no entertainment, just Biblical worship.  And we make this Liturgy the center of our life.  The prayers we pray at home should have some sense of this Liturgy or some connectioin to it.  

And so our daily lives, all of life not just our prayer life, should reflect this attitude, these things that happen during the Liturgy.  We recall God and who He is and how He wants us to be.  And hopefully this happens even before we get out of bed!  Our worship of God strengthens us to do the disciplines but also by doing the seven disciplines, we strengthen our ability to worship.  It all goes together.  By doing both, we keep ourselves from deception.

I think of the phrase of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand around you will be saved.”

I think what he is hinting at has little to do with doing great things, rather keeping the little things.  It is about living the teachings of Christ.  Being satisfied.  Being humble.  And having the qualities of being silent rather than judging and condemning others.  Just go through the disciplines.  Do them in a quiet way.  You need not blow a trumpet as you go through your day and proclaim to others that you are fasting or that you are not judging.  No, just do them in a quiet and peaceful manner.  Just do them.  Stake your life on them and all the teachings of Jesus and you will have peace because you are building your life on something firm and stable, you are building your life on Jesus.

Peace be with you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why Do All These Things?

Looking back on my recent posts, I have written about the Sermon on the Mount and also the spiritual disciplines.  Someone can rightfully ask, “What good is all this?”  Or, “Why should I do all these things?  Isn’t this trying to earn my way to heaven?  Isn’t this just a whole lot of doing?

Well, my first response is, “What is my attitude while I am doing these things?”  

If each of us asks that question, hopefully, then whatever we do, we will do it with the right purpose.  Remember, the first discipline is to acquire humility.  If we do not get humility right, then we might be tempted to think we deserve Heaven, or that we could somehow earn our way, or think that I am better than “those” people or “that” person.  No, we must be willing to take the last place and hold the attitude that I deserve none of God’s gifts.  If my attitude is not humble, then nothing matters.  It will not matter what I do.  If I have pride in place of humility, I will have hell rather than Heaven, I will have selfishness in place of love, I will have a distorted self love rather than a love of God and neighbor, and I will be the most pitiful of men.

All the spiritual disciplines must be accomplished through love and humility.  We must be fearless.  We must know that even in our failures that the love and mercy of God will conquer all, even our own failures and our lack of love and humility.  We will be judged on love, but we take comfort that even in this judgment, God is merciful.  

To me there is something going on while we do things, while we discipline ourselves.  You know how we learn things.  We read, we watch videos, we listen to speakers, right?  We take information in.  But I ask you, how much of that information goes towards really changing your life?  We read the Bible.  We read the lives of the saints.  We read the teachings of the Fathers.  But what changes in our lives?  Do we come to treat people better?  Do we love people better?  Do we become more humble and usable to God?

In doing, in trying to do the disciplines outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, we learn things that we can’t read in a book.  Honestly, one of the first things I learn is how frail I am.  I learn many things about myself, but the first is that I cannot do these things very well.  I fail miserably.  The more that I grow, the more I see just how miserable that I am.  Not necessarily in my outward behavior, but in my attitude and my thought life.  

One example I can give is adultery.  Following the Old Testament law, I have never committed adultery.  Not once.  But if I apply the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, the New Covenant law, oh my goodness!  I think I fail nearly every day.  Then I learn that what I pray in the Jesus Prayer is true: I am the sinner.  I am, as St. Paul would say, the worst of sinners.  There is one line in the Prayer of Ephraim, “O Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother…”  Yes, I am getting acquainted with this line.  This is a powerful prayer.  If you have never prayed it, I would encourage you to do so.  Prayed over a long period of time, it is a good teacher in humility, especially if you do the prostrations.  So, here, if you would, you can see how just by praying the prayers, fasting, prostrations, a little bit of doing, I am learning just how wretched I am.  It is more than a mental exercise or a line read from a book.  It is experiential.  I use the prayers, the written down prayers such as the one by St. Ephraim, and of course the Psalms, to lead me into self knowledge and understanding.  One thing that I know, now more than ever, is that I do not deserve anything.  Oh, I have always known this, at least mentally.  But there is something different when you learn this lesson through life and your spiritual life.  One thing is for sure, I know that I do not go to Heaven on my own power, no way!  I have to trust that what St. Therese is true: that our sins are like a drop of water in the great furnace of the Lord’s love.  I am learning that my drop of water, my drop of sin is really like a bucket compared to my good works, which truly would be a drop.  My drop of good works, my drop of virtue is so small.  There is little that I can do that is good, and so I continue to repeat, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

This might be depressing to some folks.  We are created good.  Our egos are fragile and we cannot bear the truth about ourselves.  Perhaps this is another point of doing these disciplines: We are somehow strengthened in the doing.  I cannot explain it other than to say it is grace and this is how grace works.  No, we do not earn it and yet there is something that we must do.  

Take our Father in faith Abraham.  How would God have reacted if, when told to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham replied something like, “Well, OK, but you know Lord that nothing that I do can earn your love, so rather than sacrifice my son Isaac, I’ll just love you in some other way.  OK, Lord?”  

Or our Mother Mary, when the Archangel Gabriel came to her.  Her reply was, “yes.”  We tend to forget the law at the time, the Old Testament law that said the penalty for adultery was stoning by death.  Mary showing up pregnant without being married would have been cause for stoning to death.  But she said “yes” anyway.  She trusted God in her action.  In her actions, she learned about trusting God much more than just reading something in a book and then making some type of mental assent to this idea and labeling it faith.  No, there is something we learn by doing that is far, far more deep than ideas or claiming to believe an idea or even to say something like, “I believe in Jesus.”  Well, that really isn’t saying so much unless we back it up with lifestyle, and doing certain things, and making certain decisions that put our faith to the test (read James chapter 2).

The disciplines are just a start, a warmup.  They prepare us for actually sticking our necks out!  And you know, we are headed into a time when we will have to answer for our faith.  “Happy clappy” Christianity is worthless.  The “MTD” gospel will save no one.  The cultural war we are engaged in has progressed to the point where people are losing their jobs for their faith.  Others have lost their businesses.  I recently read of a case in California where a teenager was taken from his parents by the courts because he wanted to pursue “trans” treatment and become a woman.  His parents refused and the case went to court.  

Here I will close by encouraging all of us to stand with the Truth.  Remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?  Go back and read some of my articles about him.  Or read up on him on the Internet.  He stood with the truth and suffered.  

I will leave you with Luke 12:49-53: Jesus the Cause of Division

49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

The footnote in the Orthodox Study Bible shares an interesting point about verse 51 that I will also share with you:

There are  two kinds of peace.  False peace, to which Christ refers here, is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring issues of truth.  Genuine peace is reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and surrender to truth.  Genuine peace has division as a byproduct because not everyone wants truth.  In the fallen world, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19)

Look up the 1st Corinthians verse.  The Greek word used in verse 18 is actually the word we translate as “schisms” and in verse 19, the word is “heresies.”  

Get ready for battle.  Get ready to embrace truth.  Get ready to suffer.  I am not telling you to go out and look for suffering, it will come to you all by itself just by living your faith.  Just don’t be surprised when it happens.  It will happen.

One last thought about the disciplines.  This is what “ascesis” is.  It is the training, the exercise.  St. Paul talks about it.  The early Christians took it very seriously.  What athlete does not train?  What army does not ready itself for battle?  So too, we Christians must prepare ourselves for when the battle comes to us.  If we do not train ourselves, we will not say “yes” as Mary did.  We will not obey the Lord as Abraham did.  We will fail the test. Our faith will not stand up in the heat of the furnace.  The world mocks us for being sinners.  Do not let your sin, your lack of perfect behavior, unsettle you.  This is why we Christians repent daily, or even more often.  We know we are sinners.  We know we are unworthy.  Yet, we know who our Lord is also.  He is the merciful one and we stand with Him.  He will not abandon us.  Our sin does not, and will not, condemn us to hell.  Only our lack of repentance can do that.  Our Lord will fight for us.  We are weak.  He is strong.  Stand with Him.  Call on Him.  He will help you.

May His peace and blessing be upon you now.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Spiritual Disciplines VIII, Self Accusation

“For the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Of course you will recall that verse 1 of this chapter was in the last article about the spiritual disciplines: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Today we take this one step further and we look at ourselves and pronounce ourselves, “guilty.”

But self accusation is not merely finding fault with ourselves or taking the blame for something, oh no, rather it is a process of finding out who we really are.  When we accuse ourselves, we are coming to grips with who I am and we come to self-knowledge.  
We typically just blame others for our problems, don’t we?  The danger in this is that we deceive ourselves in our attempt to deceive others.  Saying, “It’s not my fault,” does not lead us into truth.  In Orthodox spirituality we are taught that everything is our fault.  Far from being a stick that is used to beat us, it is a pointer that is used to teach us.  Because the truth is, my problems are my fault.  Even if I can say that I really, truly did nothing to deserve this bad thing, if I go back far enough, there is a decision somewhere along the line that put me in this situation.  Therefore, it is my fault.  Now, don’t take this to be a negative thing.  It is a positive movement because it reveals who we are.  This is a positive.  And it reveals our need for Christ.  And in the case when something really and rarely might not literally be my fault, it is an opportunity to be like Christ for He took on the sins of the whole world.  I might be asked to bear innocently the sins of my spouse or my best friend.  Not so much, right?  Oh, painful to be sure, but you want to be like Jesus, correct?  Well, take up that cross.  Bear whatever suffering might come to you.  Do not be bitter, rather find your way to love.  Love your way through whatever trial besets you.  Be like Christ.  Do it for the one you love.  Or find the love of Christ in the trial you bear for the other person.

In accusing ourselves, the saints say that, “We enter into the joyous process of seeking and recovering our true person through finding the truth in our situation.”

Looking at our lives, especially within the family, how many of our arguments are about assigning fault?  You know, “Who did this?”  “Who broke that?”  “I didn’t do it!”  “Well I know I didn’t do it so you must have done it,” and the argument goes on.

We do not want to “take on the other’s sin, do we?  But sometimes it is just better to do so.  Take one for the team!  And by doing so we grow in the spiritual life.  Accepting the wrong of another is a big step to finding out who you are.  Just as owning up to something when it is your fault and just saying so.  We really learn what it is to be generous.  We learn what unconditional love is all about.  We learn how stingy and selfish we can be.

You know, work is a great place to blame others too.  We don’t want to look stupid.  We don’t want to mess up a potential job promotion.  And guess what?  You being honest just might mess up your job promotion.  It has worked this way for me on at least two occasions.  I had two jobs in the past where in choosing to do the right thing, caused me to look bad to my superiors and hence, all chances of being promoted went out the window.  Sometimes, I look back and I regret my action.  Perhaps, and there is no guarantee of course, but I wonder what could have been.  Then, I have to pause, and remember that I chose to seek the truth and live the truth.  And sometimes, there is a consequence for living the truth.  Living rightly does not always mean you will get the promotion, the better job, the bigger house etc.  Living that way is not the way of Christ but the way of the world.  We have to be careful about who we seek when we live a life seeking rewards.

This idea self accusation is not restricted to the Gospel itself.  St. Paul mentions it also in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8.  

Now, this takes work!  and humility!  

Work on your sin.  Name it.  Look at those instances when you’d like to blame others.  Let them bounce around in your heart and mind.  What does Christ say?  Oh yes, you’d like to tell them off.  You’d like to do this or that back.  You want to tell others and clear your name.  You want to let people know that this thing is not your fault.  OK.  Sometimes you might be innocent.  If you are like me, that actually might happen…. rarely.  I find solace in that this is the seventh discipline.  This is the culmination of the spiritual life.  This is the mountain, so to speak.  It is difficult.  Yet, here we must toil, work, pray, fast, accuse ourselves, and repent.  By repeating this process, which includes the previous six disciplines, we eventually and little by little become free.  The saints tell us that we reach a point when we are not tempted to react to the sin of others because we are focused on our own sin.  

The last sentence in the above paragraph, hmmmm, well this may have happened to me sometimes.  This would not be my norm, but I am making progress.  I find that it is good to listen to or read the news from time to time, especially when it comes to some of the social issues.  The gay marriage and transgender items that come up especially when it comes to what is being taught in school really disturbs me.  And I have to remind myself of this principle.  

As St. Paul then continues in 1 Corinthians 11:31, “But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.”  

This is Jesus in Matthew 7:1 just stated another way.  And so, I must remember to judge myself and leave others to the Lord.  Then, I will escape my own harsh judgment that is coming later.  Yes, I need to keep my own judgment in mind, I am talking about the one that will come at the end of my life.  My deeds, my words, and my thoughts, yes, I will be judged on them all.  It is a good idea to get a grip on this side of death and deal with all these things as the Lord and St. Paul instruct us.

As you get into this more and more, you will notice that it sounds very similar to the Little Way of St. Therese.  Yes, there is a suffering of sorts when something happens and you would love nothing more than to lash out or to defend yourself.  No, be silent.  Here is a small cross prepared for you by Jesus to move you forward in love.  Be thankful.  Do not be bitter.  Let your motivation be the love of Christ.  

So, there you have it, the seventh of the spiritual principles.  It is simple, isn’t it?  Simple yes, easy?  No.  This takes time and a whole lot of surrender.  As all of the disciplines, it is love that will strengthen us: love of the Lord.  

As we progress through Lent, let us be mindful of the disciplines.  Pray, fast, give alms.  But remember to be humble, trust in God, and release your judgment.  Finally, look at yourself.  The fault is yours.  Be willing to see that.  Maybe you cannot bear it today.  Maybe not even next year.  But there are times when you will see.  The grace is given.  Open your eyes.  You will see.  Accept this, not as something that is negative or punitive, rather, it is a sign of love and a call for you to love more deeply.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Be willing to love greatly and deeply.  

May this lead you to peace in the Lord.

Happy Lent.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Another School Shooting. Things Must Change. I Must Change.

I responded to a post on a friend’s facebook page about the school shooting in Florida last week:

It’s terrible. Guns may be part of the solution to the killing, but only part. What about all the stuff on TV and video games? We deaden our senses to killing. Or, how does the government solve their problems with others? We send in the SEALS and then our politicians brag about killing so and so on the nightly news. We send cruise missiles and destroy things, and oh if they kill civilians, oh well, and if they kill the “targets” we rejoice. People who commit terrible crimes we give them the death penalty And somehow this serves justice. We don’t want that baby, we take mommy to Planned Parenthood and kill the baby. If grandpa has dementia there is a pill that can fix that too. And if you can’t kill grandpa in your state, you can always go to Oregon. Yes, adults fix many problems by killing. We have taught our kids very, very well. They are smart. They don’t do as we say. They do as we do.

Why are we shocked when our youth kill?  Why are we shocked when suicide among young people is a leading cause of death?  We have sown the seeds of destruction and only have ourselves to blame.  We have medicated ourselves into dysfunction and death.

I am a substitute teacher.  I love talking to students, especially high school.  For the most part, I find them to be bright and eager to learn.  Yet, there is a downside here, something is missing.  Often I ask students, if they have anyone in their lives who tells them they are good.  They typically laugh at me.  When they realize that I am asking a serious question, they respond in unison: “No!”  Rarely, perhaps one class in three, will have a student who will say that yes, a parent or sibling really does affirm them and say that they are good.  

I do not know how many youth truly believe that they are good.  I do tell them that they are good.  I look them in the eye.  Sometimes, it happens that kids get choked up.  I had senior girl in high school start to cry one day.  She said, “No one has ever told me I was good.”  I find comments like this truly incredible!  And I do mean it when I tell these young people that they are good.  I mean it because this is how God has created us.  Oh sure, we mess things up, but as I tell the young people, we must separate what we do from what we are or who we are.  We all sin and do bad things, but that does not make us bad.  

I think this is a symptom of our culture being too utilitarian.  We are what we do.  Just ask anyone who they are when meeting someone for the first time and they will almost always respond with their profession.  “I am a doctor or teacher or …..”  We must separate ourselves from that.

And television.  I think we are very naive about television and its power to shape and form our youth and into adulthood.  Father Richard Rohr, in a talk about 25 years ago, said, “The message of TV is that you are what you have and you haven’t got enough.”  Yes.  I think this is absolutely true.  About 15 years ago I cancelled my cable.  I did go on DISH for a year or so but otherwise, I have been TV free ever since.  Oh, I do have a computer and we are able to watch movies or Youtube, but we are very selective of what we watch.  

And video games.  Even the ones that are less bad are very addicting.  This cannot be good for our youth, or adults for that matter, to spend so much time glued to a screen.  We are creating a generation that cannot sit still and appreciate a beautiful sunny day, while enjoying the view, getting lost in the beauty of the moment without the need for thinking a single thought.

And religion.  I think how we view ourselves comes from a distorted view of who God is.  We allowed the “Fire and Brimstone” God to rule far too long, the God of fear and punishment just is not true.  We somehow started to believe that a God of love must be a permissive God and we fell into a trap of trying to be perfect.  That did not work.  The backlash is the MTD gospel: Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism, which is really devoid of any power to heal or change someone.  It is merely a vague idea that God is there and if I am good I will go to heaven.  This is really a product of poor catechesis and few examples of authentic faith to follow.  Look up the Wikipedia article on this.  If you have never heard of it before, you will see that this is how we are today.

I do have a proposal, a solution, to these school shootings.  It involves our culture, how we raise our kids, how we situate ourselves in the world.  Many people in our society say that we need to return to God, and I agree, but it cannot be this vague, MTD kind of God.  It must be rooted in something deep, something worth living and dying for.  

Here are my thoughts.

First, read The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.  I have had many people tell me that they have heard it is false, or bad, or whatever.  Well, I’d counter that it is probably people who espouse the MTD gospel that are saying this.  Read it.  It is a very important book for our times.

Second, I’d recommend that you find a faith, a God, that is bigger than you. My complaint against so much religion in our culture today is that it basically teaches people how to control God to get what you want.  It demands no change from a person, but merely reinforces what that person wants out of life anyway.  I read a poll once a number of years ago given to Evangelical Christians, although it probably applies to most of us, and to one of the questions about wealth, 80% of people said God wanted them to be rich.  Here is a huge problem.  We associate faith with being wealthy.  Could that have anything to do with living in the most materialistic nation that has ever existed?  We misinterpret what Jesus says about the abundant life.  

Orthodox priest of blessed memory, Father Alexander Schmemen said, “There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life since Christ becomes merely a symbol for all that we live and want already without Him.  This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism and hedonism.”

And I believe we are living the fruit of exactly this kind of faith if you can even call it faith.

What faith should we adopt?  Well, for me I am a traditional Christian and as such I would point you towards the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church, but I would also warn you that you must ground yourself!  Don’t just go to Liturgy and expect everything to fall into your lap!  You must repent!  You must fast and pray!  You must live the life that is given to us.  Don’t fall for the cheap, liberal interpretations that are often handed to us by some priests out of laziness or because they want to be popular with the people.  As far as I am concerned, liberal Christianity leads noone to a holy life or to God.  It pretty much leads us into thinking we are god.

The most recent posts in this blog, the last 30 or so, deal with the Sermon on the Mount and the spiritual disciplines espoused by Jesus in this sermon.  Start here.  Change your life.  Start praying and fasting.  We are in Lent now.  Make it real.  Make yourself real.  Become leaven.  You and me as individuals cannot change the world.  You and me are not the loaf of bread, but can we be content to be leaven?  Are we content to become small?

And so, here comes my ultimate point for number two, explore the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Start with Wikipedia.  You can check out some posts I have done on St. Therese and the LIttle Way on this blog.  Beyond this I won’t give you a lot of details as that is not the focus of this article.  But I believe that teachings like the Little Way, which in reality is a very condensed and profound rendition of the Gospel of Jesus, is our way through this mess that we find ourselves in today.  It is non-violent teaching, it is not punitive, views God as the God of love, and sees ourselves as small.  One incredible statement by St. Therese that I just find wonderful is that she says, “Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own.  Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus’ arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him.”

To Therese, being little was everything.  It meant that we keep in mind our nothingness and that we expect everything from God and that all we have is from God.  He is our Father who loves us.  There is no cause to worry about anything.  We can have total confidence in HIm.  I will write more about the Little Way in the future.  

My third recommendation is this: Be careful with electronics.  Your smart phone, television, and video games are dangerous.  They can easily lead you astray.  Disconnect your cable.  Never play violent or sexual video games.  Put your smartphone down from time to time, and as this is Lent, perhaps a modern day fast is to fast from your phone at least for portions of the day.  

Just these three things can change us.  I believe it, but we must be diligent, not naive.  It might be popular among conservatives to say we need to put God back into school, but I don’t think that will change anything.  God needs to be lived and if He was truly lived at home and in the culture at large, I do not believe we would be experiencing this level of violence in our culture.  If you agree, please share this post.  Perhaps we can start something, but it will take more than me, it will take more than you.  We must work together and work hard.  Pray hard.  We start by changing our own lives.

Please pray on these things.  More later.

Peace always.