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351. An Unholy Alliance
(I Will Not Allow Sin To Reign Over My Body)
I saw, said the saint, a Soul and a Body conversing with one another, and first, the Soul said: my Body, god has created me to love, and to enjoy myself; I wish, therefore, to go where I can best accomplish this design; and to have you accompany me in a friendly way, since it will be to your advantage also. We will go through the world; if I find anything which pleases me, I will enjoy it; you can do the same when you find anything which pleases you; and let him do better that can. The Body answered: Though I may be obliged to do whatever pleases you, yet I see that you cannot accomplish all that you wish without me. Therefore, if we are to set forth together let us come to a perfect understanding before we start in order that we may not fall out by the way...To prevent this (trouble), I think it would be well to take with us a third companion, some just person who has no share in our partnership, and to whom all of our differences could be referred. ...Let it be Self-love, who lives with us both; he will see that I have what belongs to me, and I shall enjoy with him. He will do the same for you, and thus, both will be satisfied.....Self Love: I consent, and shall find it greatly to my advantage. I shall give each of you what belongs to him, for this will not injure me; and thus I shall live on equal terms with both. But if either of you should wrong me, and deprive me of my support, I shall immediately have recourse to the other, for on no account would I be deprived of my own subsistence.
--St. Catherine of Genoa, Concerning the Discourse of the Soul With the Body and Self-Love , and Also of the Spirit With Humanity, CCEL
The only way for this alliance to work is for the soul to be imbued with the Holy Spirit and for Self-love to recognize that its ultimate happiness is in listening to the leading of the Soul. The Body will complain for awhile, but it will submit. The worst case would be to have either the Body or an undisciplined Self-love running the show.
What coalition of body, soul and self-love controls my life? Am I happy with the result? Can I change it?
352. Love And Virtue
(Anyone Who Loves Jesus Will Keep His Word)
Having thus spoken of the good works of these, he again recurs to His grace....Because this comes not of any pains, nor of any good works of ours, but of love, and yet not of love alone, but of our virtue also. For if indeed of love alone, it would follow that all must be saved; whereas again were it the result of our virtue alone, then were His coming needless, and the whole dispensation. But it is the result neither of His love alone, nor yet of our virtue, but of both...For tell me, what would Paul have profited, how would he have exhibited what he has exhibited, if God had not both called him from the beginning, and, in that He loved him, drawn him to Himself? But besides, His vouchsafing us so great privileges, was the effect of His love, not of our virtue. Because our being rendered virtuous, and believing, and coming nigh unto Him, even this again was the work of Him that called us tp Himself, and yet, notwithstanding, it is ours also. But that on our coming nigh unto Him, He should vouchsafe us so high privileges, as to bring us at once from a state of enmity, to the adoption of children, this is indeed the work of a really transcendent love.
--St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 On Epistle to Ephesians, CCEL
Lord Jesus, I thank you for Your great love for me. May You enable me to respond to Your love with holy action, both interior and exterior. While all that is holy is You, and comes from You, teach me, Lord, to have the right attitude, the right will and the right discipline to cooperate with Your love. Amen.
While God=s love is unconditional, do I recognize that my response to Him is anything but unconditional? If God did not discipline me, could it be said that He really loved me? Do I expect God to ignore my rebellion against His love?
353. Evil Is As Evil Does
(I Will Not Rebel Against The Lord)
I must beg you also to consider that, if you represent some other being as the cause of evil to men, he also, in so far as he acts in them, and incites them to do evil, is himself evil, by reason of the things he does. For he too is said to be evil, for the simple reason that he is the doer of evil things, but the things which a being does are not the being himself, but his actions, from which he receives his appellation, and is called evil. For if we should say that the things he does are himself, and these consist in murder and adultery, and theft and such-like , these things will be himself. And if these things are himself, and if when they take place they get to have a substantial existence, but by not taking place thy also cease to exist, and if these things are done by men, -men will be the doers of these things, and the causes of existing and of no longer existing. But, if you affirm that these things are his actions, he gets to be evil from the things he does, not from those things of which the substance of him consists.
--Maximus, Bishop of Jerusalem, From the Book Concerning Matter, or in Defense of the Proposition that Matter Is Created, and is Not the Cause of Evil, CCEL
God created all things and they are good. Only man has the power of free-will and can choose to do good or evil. But, as Isaiah says, Athe whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased@. If I go to the great healer, I can choose to renounce evil and instead, choose to do the good which God created me to be and do.
How do I justify the evil things that I do? How can I renounce these behaviors?
354. Rejoicing In Adversity
(I Give Thanks For You To God)
Holy indeed are all the Epistles of Paul: but some advantage have those which he sent after he was in bonds: those, for instance, to the Ephesians and Philemon: that to Timothy, that to the Philippians, and the one before us (Collosians): for this also was sent when he was a prisoner....But why do I say that these Epistles have some advantage over the rest in this respect, because he writes while in bonds? As if a champion were to write in the midst of carnage and victory; so also in truth did he. For himself too was aware that his was a great thing....And this he said, that we should not be dispirited when in adversity, but even rejoice.
--St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 on Epistle to Collosians, CCEL
Even in prison, Paul gave thanks to God for the faith of the Church=s and remembered them in his prayers. Why was he able to do this? Because God Ahas rescued us from the ruling forces of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of the Son that He loves, and in Him we enjoy our freedom...@. Even if I am in bodily shackles, I can still be spiritually free.
Do I sense the freedom that Jesus has won for me even in the midst of adversity? How can I increase this sense of freedom?
355. The Soul=s Plight
(I Am No Longer A Slave But A Child Of God)
And thus they went traveling through the world, each seeking to gratify his own desires, and living according to his own pleasure. the Soul looked after the Body, and granted it many things that it esteemed necessary; but , day by day, its appetites increased, incited by Self-Love, which bound them closely together, that they might not become divided. Everything appeared to them reasonable and necessary. They were never willing to deny themselves anything, and if they were not permitted to obtain every day something new, some fresh nourishment, they murmured, and complained that they were injured. Thus was the Soul finally led into an unfathomable sea of earthly love and delight, which effected in her so great a transformation, that she could no longer think or speak of anything, except according to the will of the Body and Self-Love. If she wished to turn to her own concerns, overpowered by her disorderly appetites, she dared not speak; and, in her discontent, she reflected within herself: I am greatly displeased and dissatisfied to be obliged to condescend, in so many things, to the Body; and I fear that feeding it, under this plea of necessity, will lead to my taking part in its gratifications, and thus finally losing the greater for the less. Seeing both of you so craving, makes me fear that you will give me so much to do, that you will change me from spiritual into earthly; for, after tasting earthly things, I shall lose my relish for heavenly ones. I fear, too, lest the intellect should be defiled and the will corrupted. Help me, O my God!
--St. Catherine of Genoa, Containing the Discourse of the Soul with the Body and Self-Love; and also of the Spirit with Humanity, CCEL
It comes down to this: Who do I want to be my master? Who do I want to serve? If I want to serve the body and the ego, I will get temporary pleasure but long-term misery and dissatisfaction. Ultimately, it will lead me to spiritual death and my life shall have been no different than that of an ox or other dumb beast. Even worse, the ox has no power of free-will, but I have chosen to be a dumb beast and have no one to blame but myself. If I want to serve the soul, I will get temporary pain and complaint from the body but long-term satisfaction and joy. Ultimately, it will lead me to eternal life; a life I have chosen but a life enabled by Christ. Life or Death. Fire or Water. Joy or Misery.
What do I choose?
(My Righteousness Must Surpass That Of The Law)
If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy, but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behoves that such an one, if (already) enrolled among the clergy, should cease (from his ministry), and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.
--The Canons of the 318 Holy Fathers Assembled in the City of Nice, in Bithynia, CCEL
While the reading from the Canons and Matthew refer to physical self-mutilation, is emotional self-mutilation any better? I remember as a child trying desperately not to feel what I was feeling in reference to my alcoholic father. I also remember as an adolescent desperately trying not to feel my emerging sexual feelings. I am not convinced that either attempt has made me a holier or healthier person, just more neurotic.
In what ways have I emotionally self-mutilated myself?
357. Zeal For Truth
(God Will Grant A Covenant Of Peace)
But since he that hath begun a good work will finish it, faint not in furthering the Spirit's power, nor leave half-won the victory over the assailants of Christ's glory, but imitate thy true father who, like the zealot Phineas, pierced with one stroke of his Answer both master and pupil. Plunge with thy intellectual arm the sword of the Spirit through both these heretical pamphlets, lest, though broken on the head, the serpent affright the simpler sort by still quivering in the tail. When the first arguments have been answered, should the last remain unnoticed, the many will suspect that they still retain some strength against the truth.
--Peter, Bishop of Sebasteia, to Gregory of Nyssa, Letter 2, CCEL
While zeal for God is a good thing, I think that it can be completely misused. Is being God=s Aavenging angel@ a holy and noble cause whether it is as a Christian crusader or a Muslim suicide bomber? Anyone that acts out of fear, hatred or self-regard is not acting from Godly motivation but from the ego and the devil.
In what ways has my zeal for God become a smokescreen for intolerance and fear?
358. Illness: Spiritual Vs. Bodily
(I Will Be Made Clean Both Inside And Out)
What squeamishness is this, pray, that thou canst not sit down in company with the poor? What sayest thou? He is unclean and filthy? Then wash him, and lead him up to thy table. But he has filthy garments? Then change them, and give him clean apparel. Seest thou not how great the gain is? Christ cometh unto thee through him, and dost thou make petty calculations of such things? When thou art inviting the King to thy table, dost thou fear because of such things as these? ...If thou will consider also the guests themselves, thou wilt see that the one are within (the prideful wealthy) just what the others are without; blind, maimed, lame; and as are the bodies of these, such are the souls of those, laboring under dropsy and inflammation. For of such sort is pride, for after the luxurious gratification a maiming takes place; of such sort is surfeiting and drunkenness, making men lame and maimed. And those who live in giving of thanks, who seek nothing beyond a sufficiency, they whose philosophy is of this sort are in all brightness.
--St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 on the Epistle to the Colosians, CCEL
Many of those I judge beneath me or shun due to their outer appearance, like the destitute and homeless, may well be beautiful souls on the inside who can teach me much. Many of those that I admire due to their outer appearance, like the rich and powerful, may well have very deformed and abused souls and I should not try to emulate them. I should never judge someone by surface appearances but by their actions and character.
How can I counteract my tendency to judge others, whether positively or negatively, by their appearance or what they own?
359. Discerning God In The World
(I Will Open Myself At The Prompting Of The Will Of God)
What shall I say of those two brethren who lived beyond that desert of the Thebaiid where once the blessed Antony dwelt, and , not being sufficiently influenced by careful discrimination, when they were going through the vast and extended waste determined not to take any food with them, except such as the Lord Himself might provide for them. And when as they wandered through the deserts and were already fainting from hunger they were spied at a distance by the Mazices (a race which is even more savage and ferocious than almost all wild tribes, for they are not driven to shed blood, as other tribes are, from desire of spoil but from simple ferocity of mind), and when these acting contrary to their natural ferocity, met them with bread, one of the two as discretion came to his aid, received it with delight and thankfulness as if it were offered to him by the Lord, thinking that the food had been divinely provided for him, and that it was God's doing that those who always delighted in bloodshed had offered the staff of life to men who wee already fainting and dying; but the other refused the food because it was offered to him by men and died of starvation. And though this sprang in the first instance from a persuasion that was blame-worthy yet one of them by the help of discretion got the better of the idea which he had rashly and carelessly conceived, but the other persisting in his obstinate folly, and being utterly lacking in discretion, brought upon himself that death which the Lord would have averted, as he would not believe that it was owing to a Divine impulse that the fierce barbarians forgot their natural ferocity and offered them bread instead of a sword.
--Abbot Moses, The Conferences of John Cassain, CCEL
God mostly acts through ordinary channels like people and nature, and rarely through agencies that defy natural law. Reflection and meditation are ways of discerning God=s voice telling me to act.
Do I feel the tug of motivation to do it? Do I have the means to do it? Does the thought of doing it bring me joy? Is it in accordance with God=s will? What is preventing me from doing it?
360. Cleaning My Own Closet
(Physician, Heal Thyself)
And in truth it is a greater miracle to root out from one's own flesh the incentives to wantonness than to cast out unclean spirits from the bodies of others, and it is a grander sign to restrain the fierce passions of anger by the virtue of patience than to command the powers of the air, and it is a greater thing to have shut out the devouring pangs of gloominess from one's own heart than to have expelled the sickness of another and the fever of his body. finally it is in many ways a grander virtue and a more splendid achievement to cure the weaknesses of one's own soul than those of the body of another. for just as the soul is higher than the flesh, so is its salvation of more importance , and as its nature is more precious and excellent, so is its destruction more grievous and dangerous.
--Abbot Nesteros, Conferences of John Cassain, CCEL
When I try to Aclean someone=s closet@ (point out their flaws and try to heal them), I must be very careful that I am not projecting my own distaste for cleaning my own closet. A recent example concerns a friend of mine. His wife is a bit of a Aclutter bug@ and sharply pointed out the fact that he left a few coffee grounds on the kitchen counter. She did not realize the irony of her remarks and my friend just smiled and lovingly pointed out the humor of her comment. They both had a good laugh.
In what way do I still need to clean my closet? (These are the areas where I must not try to fix others.)
(Whether For False Motive Or True, Christ Is Proclaimed)
In every case, as we said, we must look not at the progress of the work but at the intention of the worker, nor must we inquire to begin with what a man has done, but with what purpose, so that we may find that some have been condemned for those deeds from which good has afterwards arisen, and on the other hand that some have arrived by means of acts in themselves reprehensible at the height of righteousness. And in the case of the former the good result of their actions was of no avail to them as they took the matter in and with an evil purpose, and wanted to bring about-not the good which actually resulted, but something of the opposite character, nor was the bad beginning injurious to the latter, as he put up with the necessity of a blameworthy start; not out of disregard for God, or with the purpose of doing wrong, but with an eye to a needful and holy end.
--Abbot Joseph, Conferences of John Cassain, CCEL
While God can, and will, bring ultimate good out of circumstances, my own motives will determine whether I receive the benefits of this goodness (defined as growth in my character and holiness). If my motives are wrong, I will experience confusion, frustration and unhappiness. If my motives are good, I will experience clarity, peace and joy.
In what ways have my actions resulted in blessings in spite of my reasons for acting?
362. Interior Vs. Exterior Cleanliness
(God=s House Should Be A Place Of Prayer)
First, we certainly must not think that the (ancient Greek) philosophers such chastity of soul , as is required of us, on whom it is enjoined that not fornication only, but uncleanness be not so much as named among us. But they had a sort of merikh, i.e. some particle of chastity; viz. continence of the flesh, by which they could restrain their lust from carnal intercourse : but this internal purity of mind and continual purity of body they could not attain. I will not say, in act, but even in thought. Finally Socrates, the most famous of them all, as they themselves esteem him, was not ashamed to profess this of himself. for when one who judged a man's character by his looks looked at him, and said "the eyes of a corrupter of boys", and his scholars rushed at him, and brought him to their master and wanted to avenge the insult, it is said that he checked their indignation with these words: Stop my friends, for I am, but I restrain myself. It is then quite clearly shown not only by our assertions but actually by their own admissions that it was only the performance of indecent acts, i.e., the disgrace of intercourse, that was by force of necessity checked by them, and that the desire and delight in this passion was not shut out from their hearts.
--Abbot Chaeremon, Conferences of John Cassain, CCEL
While Abbot Chaeremon may well be correct in his assessment of the spiritual condition of the more saintly AGreeks@ or heathen, I don=t think that it is entirely fair. I don=t think that Socretes was restraining his natural inclinations to win the praises of his fellows or to hide his faults but to attain sanctity. I think that he wished to have his curse lifted, as did St. Paul with his Athorn in the flesh@. Even as a Christian, I must restrain some of my natural inclinations that just don=t go away because I want them to. It requires work on my part, and grace on God=s part, to slowly transform my body-temple from Aa den of thieves@ to a Ahouse of prayer@.
In what ways have my natural inclinations been transformed by the grace of God? What areas of my life still require transformation?
363. A Call For Mercy
(I Am Bound To Have Pity On My Fellow Servants)
Those sainted martyrs, accordingly, who were once with us, and who now are seated with Christ, and are sharers in His kingdom, and partakers with Him in His judgement, and who act as His judicial assessors, received there certain of the brethren who had fallen away, and who had become chargeable with sacrificing to the idols. And as they saw that the conversion and repentance of such might be acceptable to Him who desires not at all the death of the sinner, but rather his repentance, they proved their sincerity, and received them, and brought them together again, and assembled with them, and had fellowship with them in their prayers and at their festivals. What advice then, brethren, do you give us as regards these? What should we do? Are we to stand forth and act with the decision and judgement which those (martyrs) formed, and to observe the same graciousness with them, and to deal so kindly with those toward whom they showed such compassion? Or are we to treat their decision as an unrighteous one, and to constitute ourselves judges of their opinion on such subjects, and to throw clemency into tears, and to overturn the established order?
--Dionysius, To Fabius Bishop of Antioch, CCEL
When Jesus indicates that I should be forgiving, it should be as God forgives, which is unconditionally and forgetfully. As long as the hurt comes to mind, I have not forgiven. As long as I add Aifs@ to my Acontract of forgiveness@, I have not forgiven. If I do not forgive in the way Jesus indicated, I am merely feeding my ego=s desire to be self-righteous and holding my own happiness at bay by still expecting my proverbial Apound of flesh@ in payment for the wrong done to me.
If I desire unconditional love and forgiveness for myself, what right do I have to prohibit the same for others? Do I realize that by not forgiving I am primarily hurting myself?
364. Chrism Of Healing
Why also need I mention the acts of Abbot Abraham, who was surnamed the simple from the simplicity of his life and his innocence. This man when he had gone from the desert to Egypt for the harvest in the season of Quinquagesima was pestered with tears and prayers by a woman who brought her little child, already pining away and half dead from lack of milk,; he gave her a coup of water to drink signed with the sign of the cross, and when she had drunk it at once most marvelously her breasts that had been till then utterly dry flowed with a copious abundance of milk. Or the same man as he went to a village was surrounded by mocking crowds, who sneered at him and showed him a man who was for many years deprived of the power of walking from a contracted knee, and crawled from a weakness of long standing, they tempted him and said, "Show us, father Abraham, if you are the servant of God, and restore this man to his former health, that we may believe that the name of Christ, whom you worship, is not vain." Then he at once invoked the name of Christ and stooped down and laid hold of the man's withered foot and pulled it. And immediately at his touch the dried and bent knee was straightened, and he got back the use of his legs, which he had forgotten how to use in his long years of weakness, and went away rejoicing.
--Abbot Nesteros, Conferences of John Cassain, CCEL
I wonder what happened to this woman and man after they were healed. Besides increasing their faith, I imagine that they put their faith into practice using the areas of their lives that were healed. I can see the woman helping other women with young children, perhaps becoming a wet-nurse. I can picture the man helping others convalescing from joint problems, perhaps as an early example of a physical therapist.
How have I used the healed areas of my life for the glory of God and the benefit of others?
365. The Superiority of Unity
(I Will Be Perfectly United In My Beliefs And Judgements)
Dionysius to Novatus his brother, greeting. If you were carried on against your will, as you say, you will show that such has been the case by your voluntary retirement. For it would have been but dutiful to have suffered any kind of ill, so as to avoid rending the Church of God. And a martyrdom borne for the sake of preventing a division of the Church, would not have been more inglorious than one endured for refusing to worship idols, may, in my opinion at least, the former would have been a nobler thing than the latter. For in the one case a person gives such a testimony simply for his own individual soul, whereas in the other case he is a witness for the whole Church. And now, if you can persuade or constrain the brethren to come to be of one mind again, your uprightness will be superior to your error; and the latter will not be charged against you, while the former will be commended in you. But if you cannot prevail so far with your recusant brethren, see to it that you save your own soul. My wish is, that in the Lord you may fare well as you study peace.
--Dionysius, To Novatus, CCEL
Jesus, I thank you for allowing me to prepare this anthology and meditation book. May it be used for your glory. May You use it to promote peace and unity among the various Christian groups and may it bring others knowledge of the Christian faith. Amen.
In what ways does my life promote unity in my family and community?
366. Penance And Mercy
(God Sees My Efforts To Renounce My Evil Ways)
Concerning wilful murderers let them remain protractors; but at the end o life let them be indulged with full communion. Concerning involuntary homicides, a former decree directs that they be received to full communion after seven years (of penance), according to the prescribed degrees; but this second one that they fulfil a term of five years.
-Canon 22 and 23, CCEL
The holy life requires a changed and purified character. This requires effort including repentance and the making of amends. While I may not have to publicly humiliate myself and beat myself with a proverbial stick, I still need to show sorrow for my shortcomings, be willing to make restitution for my wrongs, and to suffer whatever legitimate consequences my activities may bring upon me.
Do I show sorrow for my shortcomings? Am I willing to ask God for the grace to change from the inside out?
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