The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for July, 2010

Confirm Your Election

You’re the winner!  You have been called and elected!  God’s divine power has granted you all things that pertain to life and godliness, so that now you can actually become a partaker of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4).  There’s a place reserved for you in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven!

Wait a minute, though.  There’s something you still have to do before you claim your place in Paradise.  You have to “confirm your call and election” (2Peter 1:10—the rest of the citations will be from this same epistle, so go look them up yourself!).  Sounds simple enough.  What do I have to do, give the last four digits of my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, or the answer to some dopey security question?  Well, it’s not quite that easy, but it’s really important that we do this, because “if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

St Peter is of course preaching the Good News in this epistle, just as the other apostles do in theirs, and as Jesus does in the Gospels.  But even though the news is good—exceedingly so, I might add—that doesn’t mean we can just lazily bask in it and expect it thus to bear its intended fruit.   The Apostle makes this clear in several places.

After he says that God has granted us all we need to live a godly life, he says that this is because God has “called us to his own glory and excellence,” and that He has granted us his “precious and very great promises.”  Why has He done this?  It is so that “through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world,” and then be ready to share in his own divine life.  Well, all that is just great, and so far it looks like He’s doing everything and we don’t have to do anything at all.  What does it mean, then to confirm our call and election?

We must assume at the outset that if God has called us and made precious promises to us, we have at least to believe in Him in the first place.  But evidently faith is not sufficient for the confirming of our call and election.  The Apostle exhorts us: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…”  Now we’re starting to understand this confirmation of our election.  First of all, it takes much effort, and this is because faith needs to be supplemented with virtue (he lists several of them immediately).  That obviously means that faith alone is inadequate for salvation.  Otherwise, he would never have said to make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue. (What is the point of making such effort if it is irrelevant to salvation?)

What happens, then, when your faith is supplemented with many virtues (in St Peter’s words, if these virtues “are yours and abound”)?  Well, “they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This evidently means that if you don’t work to acquire virtue you will be an ineffective and unfruitful Christian.  And if you do not supplement your faith with virtue, then you are “blind and shortsighted”—terms that are never used in the Bible for the saved.

So it’s clear that the Gospel is “interactive” Good News; we have a definite and irreplaceable role to play if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We can’t elect ourselves; that is the work of God’s grace.  But Scripture says we have to confirm our election by supplementing our faith with virtue.  “For if you do this you will never fall”—which must mean that if you don’t do this you are likely to fall, or at least that it is quite possible for you to fall.  And that means that to put your faith in Christ is just starting out on the narrow path that leads to salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Confirming our election with a virtuous life means that our entrance into the eternal Kingdom will be “richly provided.”

The possibility of a fall is not merely a theoretical one, because the Apostle goes on to describe the things that were actually happening in the early Church: “false teachers” arose, who brought in “destructive heresies,” and the result of following them was “swift destruction.”  This is what the promises of God and the grace of Christ are meant to help us escape, and what our virtue-supplemented faith is meant to protect us from.  But if you do not add virtue to faith, this is what happens: “Whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.  For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘the dog turns back to his own vomit’…”

Well, that’s quite sobering (pretty gross, too, but hey, that’s a good analogy for returning to one’s sin), and it’s a good incentive to confirm our election!  But “the Lord is forbearing”—thanks be to Him!—“not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  And this “reaching repentance” is something that we may have to do repeatedly, especially if we have not yet supplemented our faith with sufficient virtue.  We’re likely to fall in that case, to be unfruitful, ineffective, and blind, as the Apostle said above.

So, once we realize that we have been called and elected, let us rejoice—and then get to work!  In the final verses of this epistle, St Peter warns the elect to “beware lest you… lose your own stability.”  That’s why he urges them (and us) to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Grow.  That takes effort, study, prayer, vigilance, in short: supplementing our faith with virtue.

Don’t waste any more time!  Confirm your election, and richly provide for your entrance into the heavenly Kingdom!

(Please Don’t) Go to Hell—Part 2

Just in case St Faustina’s vision from the last post was not enough, there is another famous vision experienced by the children of Fatima, when Our Lady showed them Hell and lamented that many souls go there because no one prays or offers sacrifices for them.  Sr Lucia describes it thus: “She opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear.”

Notice that she said that flames issued from within the damned souls, and were not merely around them.  This is what sin does to a soul, and a soul in mortal sin is even in this life preparing that torment from within.  It is as if the soul is trying to purge itself of the sin, but it is too late.  A soul in a state of sin, especially mortal sin, is in an abnormal state, one that is totally contrary to the way God made it and intended it to live.  So in Hell it turns against itself, as it were, trying to reject the disfigurement of it that sin has wrought, but again, all too late, and it must endure this painful inner contradiction forever.  (If you use some device or appliance in a way contrary to its manufacturer’s design and instructions, you will ruin it.  If you use your free will in ways contrary to your Creator’s design and instructions, you will ruin your life and lose your soul.)

One question that might be raised about such visions, especially the vision of the children of Fatima: how did they see forms of demons and souls when such purely spiritual realities are invisible to the material eye and have no physical form?  It can only be that the vision granted was adapted by God to the capacities of those to whom Our Lady was showing it.  If the spiritual realities of Hell are inaccessible to our senses while on earth, what is the point of granting a “vision” in which nothing can be seen, heard, or perceived?  But this is not to say that what they did see was in any way false, imaginary, or based on their own presuppositions of what Hell might be like.  The vision was given suddenly, without any preparation or indication of what they were about to see.  Plus, even if the spiritual reality of Hell was adapted to the perception of their senses, it is in no way any less horrifying than the images they actually were permitted to see.

Blessed Jacinta of Fatima seemed to be the most moved by the vision.  Her mission for the rest of her very short life was primarily to pray and offer sacrifices so that sinners would repent and not have to go to Hell.  After the vision, Our Lady gave them a prayer to pray after each decade of the Rosary, which many Catholics still pray today: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”  Therefore these accounts reflect not merely the interest that some people have in the more unsavory elements of the supernatural world.  The Mother of God came from Heaven to implore her children to pray so that people would repent and avoid eternal damnation.  The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are broken over the refusal of so many to believe in God and live the Gospel and the whole sacramental and spiritual life of the Church.  It is literally a matter of eternal life and death.  Blessed Jacinta, acquiring a wisdom far beyond her years through these divine experiences, said: “The sins of the world are very great … If men only knew what eternity is, they would do everything in their power to change their lives.”

Some people object that the teaching about Hell is frightening and therefore should not be preached, especially to children, who might become somehow damaged by it.  Well, God didn’t think it was too frightening, since He sent Our Lady to show it to three children, who subsequently became saints.  It’s true that there is much more to the Gospel than the threat of Hell, and the children were only given that vision after they had seen the Beautiful Lady and were taken into the Divine Light that radiated from her hands and were assured of going to Heaven.  But if the teaching and preaching of the reality of Hell and the consequences of sin are eliminated, many souls are in great peril of being lost.  People do not want to be afraid, so they think they must assert that Hell does not exist.

There certainly is such a thing as an unhealthy fear of Hell, an obsession or morbid preoccupation with the torments of the damned, or vain speculation on who is there or might be going there.  But there is also a healthy fear of Hell, and this is what the Gospel and the Church encourage.  A friend from Wyoming recently told me of a man in Yellowstone Park who, thinking he had a “great photo-op,” fearlessly placed his child on the back of a bison bull, and he was subsequently mauled by the beast, which was not at all amused by dad’s cool idea.  If the man had a healthy fear of large, wild animals, he would have escaped that terribly painful experience.  It is similar with the fear of Hell.  If we have a healthy fear of the consequences of sin, we can avoid the horrible eternity that awaits the foolishly unrepentant.

I would think that if I told people that a bridge had collapsed down the road, and if they kept driving in that direction they would go off the cliff and fall to a bloody death, or at least be severely maimed, they would be grateful for that warning and change direction.  Or if I were on a ship that was sinking and warned people to get out of their comfortable cabins to save their lives, I would think they’d appreciate the tip and follow through.  But no, those are negative thoughts: bloody crashes and rubber rafts in ice-cold water in the middle of the night!  They only want to hear happy, positive thoughts!  Well, I’m sorry, but many people are going in the wrong direction, and they are in danger by refusing to exit their comfort zones, and they need to be warned.  If Heaven keeps insisting on this, why do people keep ignoring or rejecting their only hope?

I haven’t had any extraordinary visions of Hell, but I’ve read enough of Heaven’s warnings to take it seriously.  The Church doesn’t require that we hold to any particular version of the precise nature of the suffering of the damned, only that Hell consists of the loss of God and of endless suffering in both body and soul (in the body only after Judgment Day).  Isn’t that enough?  All you need to realize is that Hell is a million times worse than the worst nightmare, the worst torment you can possibly imagine.  You think you have troubles here?  Just wait!  Some people don’t think that the loss of God is such a great torment, since they don’t pay any attention to Him in this life anyway.  But they don’t know who and what God is.  They will discover that God is the very life-breath of all He has made.  To be without God is to be like a fish out of water, flapping painfully and suffocating on the shore, but never dying, just suffering like that endlessly, desperately tormented, knowing the life-giving water you have left will never be yours again.  That’s only a very weak analogy of what “loss of God” means.

Anyway, you get the picture, I hope, at least enough to get you interested in doing whatever it takes to avoid such an unspeakably horrible fate.  I say to myself: if I can’t even bear the thought of Hell for a few moments, how could I endure being there forever?  It scares the you-know-what out of me, but it’s a healthy fear, for that horned beast isn’t going to maul me if I never go anywhere near it!

It’s still not enough to escape Hell in our own case.  We have a lot of brothers and sisters out there in the Body of Christ and the whole human family.  We need to pray and sacrifice, like Our Lady said, so that sinners will be open to receive the grace of repentance and thus go to Heaven instead.  I have begun to see this more and more as an integral part of my own vocation.  I have, over the past few years, engaged in what I call the Last Hour Mop-up Ministry, in order to win grace for souls otherwise unlikely to be saved.  I also have been praying the Divine Mercy chaplet for souls about to die in mortal sin, so that they may be saved.  I offer the Divine Liturgy at least once a week so that the infinite merits of the Sacrifice of Christ will be applied to all those who will die that day who are in a state of sin, so that they will be granted the grace to repent.  There’s nothing we can do for the souls already in Hell, but we can work hard to cooperate with God’s grace so that many souls can be saved who would otherwise have been lost.  Sacred Scripture exhorts us: “Save some, by snatching them from the fire” (Jude 23).

The best thing to do is, of course, to be so deeply and consistently filled with love for God that we sacrifice our lives without reference to the netherworld and its horrors, doing the will of God and keeping our eyes fixed on Heaven.  But we have to be concerned about the salvation of others.  Many people live heedlessly and are speeding toward the gates of Hell.  We cannot coerce anyone’s freedom to choose, but we can pray and fast and give our lives for the salvation of souls.  After all, how did we merit to be given God’s grace and the knowledge of divine things and eternal destinies?  The answer is, we didn’t.  It was a gift of God, likely in response to the prayers of our loved ones or some hidden saints we don’t even know.  Freely we have received; now it’s time to freely give.  You never know how may souls you can “snatch from the fire” by your prayer and sacrifice.

It’s something to think about during the summer.  Offer up the discomfort of the heat; open your car windows instead of running the air conditioner, as just one example of a little sacrifice.  It’s not easy to stay on that narrow and hard path to the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 7:13-14), but it’s a whole lot better to endure the heat here than hereafter…

(Please Don’t) Go to Hell—Part 1

Since this article is part of our newsletter’s summer issue, and our summers here are usually blazing hot, I thought it might be appropriate to write about a hot topic: Hell.  Now don’t run away, this is important, and it is more timely than you may think.  At a time when so many people, even Christians, do not sufficiently consider the seriousness of the Lord’s teaching on Hell, and some refuse to believe in it altogether, we need to affirm the truth and live accordingly.

First of all, there should be no question that there is such a thing as Hell.  The Son of God (whom we can trust to know what is true and what isn’t) has spoken of it many times, most often in the Gospel of St Matthew.  Why there is a Hell is not really for us to argue, for it is simply a revelation of God, who is Reality itself.  Why is there an Incarnate Son of God?  Why is there a Virgin Mother?  Why is there such a vast and beautiful universe?  Why is there something and not nothing?  It is all because God in his infinite wisdom has willed it so.  If you don’t happen to like or agree with anything God has made or revealed, that’s your problem.  Reality is not about what you like or don’t like; it is about what is.

We can, however, understand at least a little bit why there is a Hell.  People seem not to mind there being a Heaven, for everyone likes the idea of being happy forever.  But it seems that not too many people like the idea of being accountable for their actions, or the idea that choices actually have consequences: good choices have good consequences and bad choices have bad ones.  Most people reject the teaching on the existence of Hell because they have a sneaking suspicion that their preferred way of life would likely land them there, so they seem to think that it’s better to convince themselves that such a terrible thing simply cannot be.

Our souls are immortal, so they have to exist somewhere forever.  As strange as it may seem, some people don’t want to be with God and serve and love Him forever.  So they have to have a place to go.  The problem is, in God alone is all that is good, true, beautiful, joyful, blessed, pleasant, and every other possible type of happiness.  So if you reject God, you necessarily reject all that.  What, then, is left?  All that is evil, false, ugly, miserable, cursed, painful, and every other type of horrible torment (hence the vision described by St. Faustina below).  Most people would not say that they really do want all that, but they have to get their options clear: to choose God equals happiness and every kind of good; to reject God equals misery and every kind of evil.

Another point to consider, which I mentioned in an article a couple years ago [and which, now that I think of it, I republished here a couple weeks ago; so this will refresh your memory]:  This world is passing away, and all the things that people lust after in this world are earthly, material, and as such will not last forever.  But desire is something spiritual and remains in the soul.  The power of desire is a power of the soul, and the soul is immortal.  If one’s power of desire has habitually been directed toward that which passes away, toward that which is not of God, toward that which is against all that faith in Jesus stands for, then one will be found incapable of desiring God in the end, when God is the only goal of desire left in the universe.  One must then proceed in despair to the place where people eternally lust after things which no longer exist, for they refused in this life to direct their desire toward He-Who-Is, the only true fulfillment of the deepest longing of every soul created in his image.

So in order to end up in Hell, you don’t have to say explicitly: I reject God and choose everything that is not God.  All you have to do is ignore God and keep your desires fixed on things that pass away, and you will be stuck with unfulfillable desires for all eternity, which sounds a whole lot like Hell to me.

People often say (and these are usually the ones who have good reason to fear Hell and are trying to wriggle out of that uncomfortable position) that a loving God would never send anyone to such a place.  There are a couple things to be said about that.  First, God doesn’t want anybody to go to Hell—actually quite the opposite, as Scripture and the whole history of his dealings with mankind testify—and God hasn’t designed things so that some people necessarily must go to Hell, as if they were predestined to damnation (for then He really wouldn’t be a loving God).  But because He respects our freedom so absolutely—since it is a precious element of his image in us—He will sadly and reluctantly allow us, if we so insist until our last breath, to choose that which He does not want for us, that which is not good for us and which will be for our everlasting misery.

It is we, then, who send ourselves to Hell.  God doesn’t compel anyone to go there.  When it comes time for the judgment of our lives, He simply lets us see ourselves in the searching light of divine truth, and then we know without a doubt where we belong.  If we have rejected God and chosen what is evil and displeasing to Him during our lives, we will not suddenly be able to embrace Him in love and joy at our judgment, because by then we will have lost the capacity to love Him, to run to Him in joy and gratitude, and we will finally know it.  We’ll be stuck with a soul that we have set against Him, and that realization will create in us a chaotic mix of despair, anger, horror, self-hatred, and a kind of all-too-late gasp—What have I done!—as the truth sinks in that we have irrevocably discarded the only thing that was of any value.  We have missed the very reason of our being, exchanged the truth for a lie, and gambled away our heavenly inheritance for worthless set of fleeting and now-forgotten satisfactions.  At that point we know we do not belong in Heaven, the place of love and worship and selfless joy.  Therefore, in anger and despair (and a whole bunch of sour grapes), we decide that we don’t want to be there, and so we flee from the face of the Lord, trying to get as far as possible from those loving yet piercing eyes.  There’s only one place to get that far away from Him, and that place is called Hell.

People also ask, even if they do have some sense of justice in the recognition that unrepented evil must be punished, why it has to be forever, and not just, say, a thousand years or so, which ought to be sufficient to cure anyone of his bad attitude.  For one thing, it’s really impossible to judge the mysteries of eternity while we’re still stuck in time, because we can’t even think in the right categories in order for things like the eternity of Hell to make much sense.  But there are different ways of looking at it, and I’ll share one of them here, since it’s one of the ways I look at it, and which I already published in my first book, Joy Comes with Dawn.

It goes like this: “Those who die in a state of unrepented mortal sin have willfully cut themselves off from God, have spurned his repeated offers of mercy and hence of salvation, and have therefore rejected the atonement of their sins that Christ accomplished on the Cross. Man is utterly incapable of atoning for sin; only the God-Man could do it. So the punishment of the damned may perhaps be understood like this: since they have rejected Christ’s atonement for their sins, they now have to do it themselves, as it were. Hell is being forever burdened with your own sins, knowing—all too late—that Christ was willing to take them all away and receive you into Paradise, but you said NO. The damned have to bear intense sufferings for their sins, but all eternity won’t suffice for it—try as they might, human beings cannot atone for their own sins—yet they still have to stay in Hell until their sins are atoned for. You can’t enter Heaven if you are still in your sins. That’s why Hell lasts forever. That’s also why eternal punishment has such a different character than temporal punishment. God’s ‘punishments’ in our lives are actually graces, helps, instructions, and purifications, but none of that applies in Hell. Hell’s punishments are just that—punitive; they cannot be remedial or therapeutic. That time is past. The definitive rejection has been made toward God (God doesn’t reject us; He just accepts the consequences of our freedom, even if we use it to permanently reject Him). Now all that remains is the impossible task of suffering for one’s sins, which will never result in atonement.”

There is clear enough testimony in divine revelation that there is a Hell, that it lasts forever, and that it is not God’s will that anyone go there.  But we seal our own fate by the evil and selfish choices we make in this life, thus rejecting God and everything that He would have liked to give us.  Some people still try to dodge the issue by saying that even if there is such a thing as Hell, we don’t have to believe anyone actually goes there.  I’d like to share a couple of reliable testimonies to dispute that point.

First, a description from St Faustina, whose own comments on the vision she experienced put all those other arguments to rest: “Today I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of real torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it—a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire… the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned… I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.

“I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.” (Diary, #741)

To be continued…

New Age is Old Hat (Part 2)

We come now to the heart of the matter.  All the preceding considerations manifest various errors, delusions, contradictions, fuzzy thinking, and the often loony concepts and spiritual immaturity that characterize new age spirituality. That is quite enough to require urgent and thorough repentance and conversion. But there are other elements that even more directly place the soul in danger of damnation, especially for those who have left the Church for the sake of their new, evolved, higher consciousness.  They boast that they have left behind all the superstitions, fears, and restrictions of their childhood religion, when all that’s happened is that they’ve abandoned the frying pan for the fire.

Here’s the crux of it.  They don’t believe in sin, judgment, or Hell.  Those are all negative, stress-producing concepts that have no place in their enlightened and tranquil “I’m OK, you’re OK” world view.  There is no evil, I’ve heard them say.  Everything is good, and we are good, and when we die we’ll move on to a still higher plane of consciousness (if our karma doesn’t require us to come back as a gorilla or a frog), without passing through any sort of disagreeable experience like judgment.  For then we would have to give an account of our lives to our Creator, and we don’t want that.  Yet God has every right to make just demands upon his creatures.  It is his delight to reward those who are faithful to Him, and it is his right to punish those who are obstinately defiant.  This is real reality, like it or not.

The implications of their denial of these essential revealed truths are disastrous for their eternal destination.  If there is no sin (we are all little sparks of divinity), and if there is no judgment (the Universe is non-judgmental), and if there is no ultimate consequence for doing evil in this world, then “salvation” is a meaningless term and we have no need for a Savior.  Jesus Christ, then, was a fool (or perhaps just a deluded, though good-hearted, fellow) who died tragically to no purpose, thinking He was saving the world and reconciling sinners to the Father.  If we thus reject Christ as Savior because we think we have no need of a savior, all is lost.   It is pointless and ultimately harmful to assert that we have no sin.  To do so is falsehood and self-deception: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn. 1:8-9).  Instead of denying the obvious (to others, at least) fact that we are sinners, why not just turn to Him who takes away sin?   Only thus can we truly have joy and peace of mind, for we are living in the truth.  But if we once believed the truth and then subsequently chose to follow the lying spirits who deny the reality of sin and promise a judgment-free passage to bliss, things become worse.  “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2Peter 2:21).

The Apostle comments on this frightening state of affairs. He does not hold out hope for “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt… there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire… How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified…?” (Heb. 6:4-6 and 10:26-29).  It is one thing to be guilty of moral failures while struggling honestly to live the faith.  It is quite another to declare that you have no use for the Savior, affirming in effect that all Jesus taught about sin, judgment, and the hereafter is simply false.

Finally, I have a few words about another severe danger that returns us to the beginning of this article and our warfare with the deceptive spiritual enemies.  It’s this whole business of “spirit guides” whose sage advice is “channeled” from the beyond by those thus gifted.  This is very popular and very foolhardy.  They have no idea what kind of spirits they are dealing with, and since nothing is evil to them (and hence they see no need for discernment) they welcome anything that comes sliding down the channel to them from the “spirit world.”  Just because some spirit says he is your dead grandmother or Mahatma Gandhi, do you have to believe it?

Sometimes new agers speak of angels and spirit guides more or less interchangeably, which is another error in discernment, for the spirit guides are most likely demons.  OK, so maybe they are angels—fallen ones—but people don’t usually mean that when they speak of angels.  No one should trust them, even though it may at first seem that they are benevolent and helpful.  Demons disguise themselves as angels of light, as the Apostle warns (2Cor. 11:14), and the gullible fall for this ruse repeatedly.  The demons use a classic “bait and switch” technique.  They offer you one thing and give you another.  They win your trust by doing something apparently beneficial, or uttering some prediction that seems to come true.  The more you trust them, the firmer their hold on you will be.  Then they will start doing things you do not find so beneficial, but it’s too late—you’ve already signed on with them and they will not leave you alone.  And if you knew what they have prepared for your ultimate ruin, you would never have come within a mile of that first “channeling session.”

I don’t know how people who are otherwise intelligent can lack all discernment and good judgment when it comes to invoking unknown spirits.  But is there a way to tell good spirits from bad?  Of course.  First of all, never go to anyone who is a channeler of spirits.  You will never get the truth (or you might get some half-truth that actually deepens the deception), and you will never hear from God that way.  But the Bible gives a bit of advice in the way of a basic principle or two, like this: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [that is, that He is the incarnate Son of God] is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.  This is the spirit of antichrist…” (1Jn. 4:1-3).  To “confess Jesus” also means to hold to all that He said and did for our salvation.  The evil spirits cannot do this and will not advise anyone else to do it—one reason being that to confess Jesus is to reject the evil spirits!

The Church is our guide in these matters, which can sometimes be complex.  It is sinful folly to trust lying spirits when the Church offers 2000 years worth of accumulated wisdom, which stems directly from the revelation of God in Christ.  When we follow what God has revealed through Jesus and what is authoritatively taught by the Church, we know we will not be deceived.  The true spiritual guides are the saints whose writings and whose intercession help us to live in the truth.  In the history of the Church there have been some cases in which Christ or Our Lady or one of the saints has come from Heaven to give a message to some chosen soul.  But such cases are always discerned, monitored, and carefully investigated for a long time by competent authorities who judge their authenticity based on strict criteria to guarantee no deviation from what God has already revealed and what has been handed on in the Church’s tradition. There are also people in the world today who are filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and are faithful to the tradition of the Church, who can be helpful spiritual directors as well.  Why turn to dubious spirits who tell you whatever you want to hear (as they gradually pull you along the path to perdition), when the whole of Heaven is waiting to help?

We don’t need a new age, especially one that promotes old errors and lies.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  We can and should always go more deeply into his inexhaustible mysteries, and He will never be superseded by some new “master.”  The new age would relativize or reject Him altogether.  Much of their literature (I use the term loosely) implicitly or explicitly denies essential truths of our faith, like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the redemptive value of Jesus’ death and resurrection (for example, the “Course in Miracles”).  These are all clear warning signs that this stuff is not of God.

It seems to me that new agers are not all “bad people.” In fact, some (at least) are in many ways good people, only spiritually misguided and deceived, some very seriously so.  Dialogue with them may prove difficult or even impossible, due to the reasons given above, or simply because they don’t want the negative experience of dealing with someone who doesn’t receive the same vibrations they do (or who can cogently expose their counterfeit spirituality for what it is).  Therefore we turn to prayer and sacrifice, which can unmask and bind the demons that are deceiving them, and hopefully they will find true enlightenment.  Then we offer the Sacrifice, that of Christ, for them, so that He will cleanse and open their minds and hearts, and then they will know the truth that will set them free.  We worship the true God, so that his will may be done in those whom He has made, those for whom He sent his Son as their Savior.

New age philosophies and practices are indeed old hat and without merit.  But if they were merely old hat, passé, or harmlessly silly, we could simply wait patiently until reason and good judgment prevailed.  But they are in fact weapons wielded by the enemy of our salvation, by which he ensnares gullible souls and leads them down paths which end up in his own infernal abode.  Let us then be vigilant, prayerful, always giving the example of the true blessedness of life in Jesus Christ.  We ought also to invoke heavenly warriors like St Michael to do battle with those “spiritual hosts of wickedness” who disguise themselves as angels of light.  Let us pray that no one will ever reach old age still embracing the new age, for the sooner they are delivered from deceptive “spirit guides” and harmful falsehoods the sooner they’ll get back on that life-giving path to the Kingdom of Heaven.

New Age is Old Hat (Part 1)

[I decided to publish my articles for the summer edition of our monastery newsletter here, since I think more people will read them that way.  So the next few posts are not recycled articles but are hot off the press!]

It is not difficult to confront your enemies when you know who they are.  The Bible tells us that “we are not contending against flesh and blood,” that is, against other human beings, but rather “against the spiritual hosts of wickedness,” that is, all the demonic powers who hold sway during the time of “this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  But since Jesus has warned us that the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44), we have to be aware that our enemy is one who does not fight fairly. Many people who lack sufficient discernment have become deceived to the point that they do not recognize their enemy for who he is, and they even think he is their friend and benevolent guide.

The vast, amorphous, and fundamentally incoherent ensemble of beliefs and practices known as “new age” spirituality is a fertile field from which the enemy of the Kingdom expects an abundant harvest.  There’s not much new, however, about the new age package.  Much of it is actually old hat.  It is little more than a syncretistic mishmash of old, tried-and-failed “isms” like gnosticism, paganism, and spiritualism. A dose of theosophy and a touch of witchcraft are available for those so inclined.  Add a bit of science, technology, and a smattering of eastern religions to the mix, and you’re among the enlightened.  Practices range from more or less innocuous flower-child stuff or positive-thinking/visualization techniques to actually going off the deep end into wiccan nature worship and creepy occult arts.

All of it, however, expresses a basically self-centered approach to encountering spiritual powers for the sake of manipulating them to one’s own advantage (“attracting abundance” is one way they put it).  There is no place here for the true God, but instead you discover a veritable pantheon of mostly anonymous “spirit guides” and masters at your service—though they may adopt the names of famous spiritual figures of the past or even of your dead relatives.  All the above elements are generally selected a la carte and served up in best-selling gobbledygook (or gobbledy-books) by the rising stars in the contemporary zodiac.

New age spirituality is a trendy, fad spirituality (“spirituality lite,” if you will), which already is considered passé by most intelligent and serious seekers of truth who may have dabbled in it out of curiosity or a misguided spirit of adventure or rebellion against tradition.  But such a flaky form of spiritual life will not stand the test of time, nor will it be of any use in the face of the hardships that try men’s souls, for which the power of the Cross of Jesus is our only source of strength and fruitfulness.  In the meantime, however, it is claiming numerous victims for the powers of darkness, and it is not the will of the Lord that any of those He created should perish.  No matter how much you enhance your aura, and no matter how well-aligned your chakras are, it’s just not enough to make you fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Therefore I believe I ought to try to expose some of these deceits, not only because it is my business to help save souls, but also because some of my own dear loved ones have been deceived and are turning away from the living and true God and all the means of salvation with which He has enriched his Church.  The new age hydra has far too many tentacles for a thorough investigation here, so what I will do is simply examine a few basic points on which people become deceived and gradually withdraw from the truth.  Most of what follows is based on my experience with people who actually profess or practice these things.

It is not easy to find common ground for any sort of fruitful dialogue with new age adherents, because they don’t speak the same language Christians do.  Or rather, the danger is that they often do use the same terms, but they conveniently attach their own meanings to them.  So if we advise them to believe in God, they will say they do believe in God (but they mean something else by “God”).  Similarly, if we exhort them to believe in Christ, they may say they already do (but they mean something else by “Christ”—or even if some do mean Jesus Christ, it happens that they also believe in Shiva, Krishna, Oprah, and Deepak Chopra).  They may occasionally quote from the Bible if they find a passage that seems to support their viewpoint, but they’ll leave the rest of it untouched.  If we cite the Scripture “God is light” (1Jn. 1:5), they will heartily agree (but what they mean by “light” is not what the Bible means).  So they sometimes agree in terminology, but not in the meaning of the terms.  This is how the devil makes himself a slippery opponent; the ground is always shifting.

In the light-filled, non-judgmental, optimistically sin-free spiritual environment of new age spirituality, one of the oft-repeated bromides is “we are loved.”  This is fine at first glance, for we are loved, but the trouble is, they don’t usually get around to saying by whom we are loved.  It’s just a feel-good sentiment that relieves them from accountability to God for their actions.  We are loved.  By whom?  The “Universe”?  I know, it sounds dopey, but that’s one of their favorite ways of not having to say “God.”  But the universe can’t love; only persons can love.  And only the tri-personal God can love all of us all the time.  The universe is a breathtaking collection of stars, planets, and space, harmoniously ordered for our delight and for reminding us how wonderful our Creator is.  But matter and energy can’t love us.  God, however, can and does love us, and He would be very pleased if we would love Him in return—or at least not insult Him by substituting impersonal creation for Himself.  He also teaches us what love means: the reciprocity, the responsibility, the sacrifice that genuine love requires.  New agers like to be loved by the universe.  Go ahead, universe, make my day; just don’t impose any responsibilities on me.

They also like to attribute other activities to the universe, like arranging fortuitous events in our lives, creating “synchronicities” in our experience.  But the universe doesn’t do this.  It can’t.  It’s only a universe.  God can, though.  What do they have against naming God, attributing personality to Him?  Is there perhaps a sneaking suspicion that a personal God might have some uncomfortable questions for them about their faith or morals that the “universe” would never think to ask?  Can’t have that.  We are loved.

It seems at first a good thing when someone who may never have had much interest in God or religion begins to become “spiritual” and to adopt a set of apparently higher values.  It is normal that an inner spiritual longing would at last begin to surface.   We are created by God in his own image, and we are therefore meant to know and love Him, to seek that which is beyond ourselves, for the human soul was designed with the capacity to embrace eternal life.  Before the advent of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation of God, man could not be faulted for reaching out to “the divine” (another term used to avoid the word “God”) in various ways of his own devising, for God’s Word had not yet become flesh.  His existence was known through the things He made and his obscure activities in creation, so man was left to his own creativity to fashion a response.

But the time is long gone for having a legitimate excuse for making things up as we go along.  God has revealed Himself fully and for all time in his only-begotten Son, who has a name, Jesus Christ (we are not “collectively the Son of God,” as a tired old new-age mantra goes).  Now that God has spoken his definitive Word, who in turn revealed the Father in human words, we reject Truth itself if we still want to devise a contrary spiritual world-view based on our subjective preference or some kooky ideas we got from a book on the “metaphysical” shelf at the bookstore.  “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin” (Jn. 15:22).

Truth.  There’s another equivocal term in the new age lexicon.  But that equivocation is precisely the problem, because it adds relativism to the already numerous confused ingredients in the new-age gumbo.  A sure-fire dialogue stopper is the “my truth, your truth” response.  You can have the clearest, most cogent and rationally or theologically irrefutable position on any point of Christian doctrine, but it will go nowhere when faced with: “Fine. That is your truth. My truth is different.”  But if truth is one, which it must be by definition, then “my” and “your” are illegitimate qualifiers.  If mine and yours are different, then we’re not talking about truth, so use another word.  New agers often confuse truth either with one’s subjective perception of reality or with mere opinion or conviction.

No one questions the fact that people perceive things differently, due to a variety of factors in the senses, the mind, or even chemicals in the brain.  But again, to say what you perceive is true for you, and what I perceive is true for me, is to empty the term “truth” of its meaning.  If new-age relativists can’t find better words to describe what they are talking about, their position will be incoherent to people who actually know what words like “truth” and “reality” mean.

“Reality” is another equivocal term—it doesn’t really mean reality.  The tech-term “virtual reality” seems to have become a kind of updated expression of the “all is illusion” tenet of some oriental religions.  This position would be merely corny if it had no spiritual consequences.  This “reality is not real” approach is a kind of self-insulating one, a self-generated refuge from the stress and pain of life.  It is understandable (though still not acceptable) that people who have endured many stressful trials and painful experiences would hope to discover that all of that is illusory and that one can create one’s own comfortable “reality” with the proper attitude, visualization techniques, and the avoidance of all “negative energy.”

There certainly is no harm, and there’s even some benefit, in trying to see the bright side of things and trying to overcome tendencies to despondency or other bad fruits of stress.  But it is counter-productive to try to create a whole new world-view just so you can feel good about yourself and try to protect yourself from pain.  One should have the courage to face actual reality and not anesthetize oneself by buying into the lie that it is all illusion.  Let’s face it, life is hard, people can be malicious, we will sometimes get sick or experience setbacks and even tragedies: in short, we will suffer.

The answer to all this, however, is not to call it an illusion and then float up to a higher consciousness.  The answers are in the Holy Scriptures and in the grace of God, who is able to transform the harshness of life’s sufferings into something eternally meaningful, fruitful and even redemptive (but we don’t need redemption, see below).  The one who believes in Jesus faces reality squarely and accepts its challenges, knows that there is such a thing as objective truth, knows that the word of God is normative for all times and places, and lives accordingly in the peace and joy that come from hope in the complete fulfillment of all of God’s “precious and very great promises” (2Peter 1:4).  God has prepared such beauty and joy and inexhaustible wonders for those who love Him and are willing to accept the truth of his word and put it into practice.  Why throw it all away for a hodgepodge of dubious beliefs which constitute little more than a spiritual tranquilizer?

Another dish, an oriental one, in the spiritual smorgasbord of new-age lunacy is reincarnation.  I feel embarrassed for people who talk about their “past lives” and even throw away good money on charlatans who profess to be able to unlock the secrets of their previous incarnations.  Don’t they know how ridiculous they sound?  Sacred Scripture dismisses the whole charade in a single sentence: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  If God has already spoken clearly and settled the matter, why do they go off on these flights of fancy and even incorporate them into their spiritual world-view?  In many of the beliefs they embrace, there seems to be a deliberate rejection of Christianity, and this rejection somehow seems to be the passkey for entrance into their bizarre club.

To be continued…

Feeding Bodies and Souls

Jesus was hoping to have a little time for Himself to mourn the loss of his friend and cousin John the Baptizer, who was just murdered by King Herod.  That is why He went out to that “lonely place apart.”  And here is where today’s Gospel begins (Mt. 14:14-22).  As soon as the crowds discovered where He was going, they went there, and He found a large crowd waiting for Him.  Yet since Jesus lived not for Himself but for the sake of those He came to save, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

By evening, Jesus’ disciples tried to come to his rescue by urging Him to send the crowds away so they all could buy food in the villages.  Jesus’ reply probably made them wish they had kept silent: “You give them something to eat.”  Thrown into confusion, they spluttered: “But we have only five loaves and two fish!”  (There were over 5000 people in the crowd.)  Jesus indicated that He had a solution to the problem by saying: “Bring them here to me.”

Jesus is, as we say in the Divine Liturgy, “the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and the Father’s whole plan of salvation.”  There is a prefiguring of this event in the Old Testament (2Kings 4:42-44) when the Prophet Elisha fed 100 men with 20 loaves—and there was some left over—but as Jesus would say about Solomon and Jonah and the temple, there is something greater than Elisha here.

So Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish.  He looked up to Heaven, and blessed, and broke, and gave the loaves to the disciples.  Now they could fulfill his original command: “You give them something to eat,” because now they had something to give.  They suddenly had so much to give that those few loaves and fish fed the whole crowd and there were twelve baskets of uneaten pieces left over.  And that’s the end of the story.

But it’s really only the beginning of another story, one that is still in progress today.  It wasn’t Jesus’ mission simply to provide food for a hungry crowd. They would be hungry again the next day.  As He said in St John’s version of the same event, the bread that He gave them on this occasion was merely “the food that perishes.”  What He really came to give was “the food that endures to eternal life.”  He would go on to say that it is his own flesh that is this food, the Bread from Heaven, which He gives to his Church as the Holy Eucharist.  He still feeds the spiritually hungry, hundreds of millions throughout the world, with this heavenly Bread. Those who eat this Bread will not perish from hunger for God, for Jesus solemnly declared that those who eat his Flesh and drink his Blood have eternal life in them.  That is, Jesus Himself, the Source of eternal life, will abide in them and they in Him, and He promised to raise them up on the last day.

St. Matthew clearly indicates in his account of the feeding of the 5000 that this was a prefiguration of Jesus’ giving of his own Body and Blood to the disciples at the Last Supper.  He used the same sequence of words in both places: Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.  It is also significant in the Gospel that Jesus gave the bread to his disciples and told them to give it to the people.  That is what happens in the Church today.  Jesus’ disciples, the bishops and priests who have inherited the ministry of the apostles, have but little to offer: some bread and wine.  But as He did 2000 years ago, Jesus says again: “Bring them here to Me.”  So we do and He works his miracle, and then the priests give the miraculous bread and wine, which are now the very Body and Blood of Christ, to the people.  Those who celebrate the Holy Eucharist at the altar of the Lord are, as St Basil the Great describes them in his Liturgy, “servants of the New Covenant and ministers of the Holy Mysteries.”

The people ate and were satisfied, says St Matthew.  And so are we who eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ.  For as Jesus said, “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (Jn. 6:55).  And something still remains after the people eat and are satisfied, for Jesus’ abiding presence in the tabernacle continues to communicate the grace of his Holy Mysteries to all who would come to pray and worship in his holy temple.

We’re also celebrating some of the successors to the Apostles today, the holy fathers of the first six Ecumenical Councils.  They are the ones called by the Lord to feed his flock not only with the Eucharistic Bread from Heaven, but also with the doctrines of the true faith, handing on the word of God in its authoritative interpretation to all the generations that would follow.

I noticed that the Gospel for the fathers (Jn. 17:1-13) has some parallels to the Gospel of the day.  It begins with Jesus lifting his eyes to Heaven, just as He did when He was about to bless and break the loaves that would miraculously feed all the people.  In his prayer to the Father, Jesus said: “You have given [your Son] authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all those whom You have given him.”  This power to give life is similar to what Jesus said in his “Bread of Life” discourse after the multiplication of the loaves and in reference to the Holy Eucharist: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… He who eats of me will live because of me… This is the bread which came down from heaven… he who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:54-58).  Therefore it is clear that the Holy Eucharist is an essential element of what it means that Jesus has been given power to give life to those whom the Father has given Him.

“I glorified You on earth,” prayed Jesus, “having accomplished the work which You gave me to do.”  The whole of the Gospel is an account of Jesus accomplishing the work the Father gave Him to do.  And we see even in the short account of today’s Gospel from St Matthew that Jesus accomplished this work at great personal cost.  Think of how you would feel if one of your best friends had just died—and not of natural causes at the end of a long life.  John was only about thirty years old when he was murdered by an evildoer at the whim of a vindictive woman.  Jesus didn’t even have a chance to mourn for him, for the Father immediately gave Him more work to accomplish in the form of a crowd of people, who, as St Mark notes, were like sheep without a shepherd.  So the one who came into this world as the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep—for no man had greater love than this—had compassion on them and began anew to accomplish the work the Father gave Him to do: healing their sick, preaching the Gospel, and even feeding them when they got hungry.

Then Jesus’ prayer begins to focus on his disciples.  He gave them God’s word and they believed it, and now they were entrusted to hand it down to the next generation of believers, who would hand it down to the next, continuing until the Lord returns.  This is what Holy Tradition is, the faithful communication of the mysteries of the Faith which came to us from Christ through the Apostles and then all their successors to the present day.

This is like Jesus giving bread to his disciples, who were then to give it to the people. The truth and fruitfulness and saving power of the mysteries of God came from Jesus.  But it was the apostles’ task to communicate this grace to all the people.  It is the same with the Holy Mysteries celebrated in the Church.  It is the power of the word of Christ and of the Father working through the Holy Spirit that makes present the reality of the sacrifice of Jesus in his Body and Blood.  But it is the priests who are the instruments and ministers of the Mysteries, who receive from Christ the mission to bring to Him the gifts of bread and wine and then to communicate the miracle to the people, so that they can eat and be satisfied with the indwelling presence of their Lord and Savior.

“Now they know,” said Jesus to his Father, “that everything you have given me is from You.”  Sometimes the Father gets a bad rap, as if He is to be solely identified with the God of the Old Testament, whom people selectively characterize as vengeful, angry, and always threatening destruction and woe.  But Jesus says here that everything that He is handing on to the Church, which is everything He is and has done, is from the Father.  We say in the Divine Liturgy, quoting from the Epistle of James, that every gift is from the Father.  Every single one.  The sending of the only-begotten Son for our salvation, the Church, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, the love of our heavenly Mother, the intercession of the saints, the protection of our angels, the beauty of creation, all that is true and good and beneficial for our life and salvation: all is from the Father, and we would do well to remember that.

Finally, Jesus says in his prayer, concerning the apostles: “I am no more in the world, but they are in the world.”  It is now up to Jesus’ apostles and their successors to be good shepherds, to work tirelessly and sacrificially for the spiritual well-being and salvation of those whom the Father has given them.  And so, age after age, Jesus has compassion on the crowds of this world and has appointed disciples to “bring them to Me.”  It is not only gifts of bread and wine that the Church brings to Jesus to be transformed into the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation.  Through the prayer and sacrifice of the whole Mystical Body of Christ, souls are to be brought to Him, souls who are sick, in need, starving for lack of divine grace, sheep without a shepherd. There is much that can be done even by people who are not successors of the apostles in the priesthood, but who still must hand on and live the tradition of the faith as devoted disciples of Jesus, who are just as concerned as He is with the salvation of souls.

Everything that Jesus did in the accomplishment of the work the Father gave Him to do and in the handing on of the tradition to his apostles is, as the concluding line of this Gospel passage states, so that Jesus’ own joy might be fulfilled in us.  He loves us, He came to save us, He feeds us with his own flesh and blood, He is the shepherd of lost sheep, the One who has compassion on those who don’t give Him a moment’s rest!  We won’t know until we enter the glory of Heaven the depths of his infinite love for us, but let us begin today to follow Him more faithfully, more lovingly, more sacrificially.  Thus will the work He accomplished by the will of the Father bear abundant fruit in us and in those whom He has given us: that his joy may be in us, and that it may be complete.

More on Blessed Jacinta

I mentioned in my last post about my new relationship with the ingenuous little Fatima saint, the Blessed Jacinta, and about the good spiritual fruit that is already manifested because of it.  I’d like to share a bit more about her, about her holiness and asceticism, her love for Our Lord and for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and also another reason why it seems the Lord has brought her into my life.

I’ll begin with the last point.  One of things that most greatly affected this girl was the vision of Hell that was shown to all the children.  It was not that the horror of it damaged her psyche or anything like that—though it was something more fearful than she had ever seen before—but that it convinced her that she should do all she possibly could, in the way of prayer and sacrifice, to try to win grace for the conversion of sinners so they wouldn’t have to go there.  She would often remind her brother, Francisco: “Are you praying with me?  We must pray very much, to save souls from Hell… Why doesn’t Our Lady show Hell to sinners?  If they saw it, they would not sin, so as to avoid going there!”

If you’ve been following this blog for some time, you know I have similar concerns—which might be even greater if I was granted a vision of Hell myself!  But the whole purpose of the Mop-up Ministry and the Save a Soul Today ministry (see links in the side bar) is to rescue souls, especially those who are either “hard cases” not apparently likely to repent or who are at the last moments of life, still unreconciled to God.  These are the ones most in need of divine mercy.  I also offer the Divine Liturgy at least once a week for those who will die that very day and who are in a state of mortal sin, so that the offering of the sacrifice of Jesus for them will win them the grace of final repentance and hence keep them out of Hell.  So maybe Jacinta was sent to me to assist and encourage me in this work of trying to prevent souls from going to Hell.  You would do well, I think, to ask for her intercession if you know an unbeliever who is dying or someone who has fallen away from faith and the life of the Church.  If Jacinta was so concerned about the salvation of sinners when she was on Earth, how much more so now that she is in Heaven!

She was always praying and offering sacrifices, without a thought for her own comfort, for the conversion sinners and the consolation of Our Lord and Our Lady, who grieve over the sins of the world and the loss of souls.  I wrote in a previous post (“Heaven in Her Hands”) that during one of the apparitions Our Lady opened her hands and the Light of Heaven shone upon the children and penetrated their bodies and souls, taking them into a profound communion with God.  What I didn’t realize until I read further was that this Light of Heaven was granted to them three times, the final time being a revelation of the mystery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Sr. Lucia writes in her memoirs: “Our Lady told me on June 13, 1917, that she would never forsake me, and that her Immaculate Heart would be my refuge and the way that would lead me to God.  As she spoke these words, she opened her hands, and from them streamed a light that penetrated to our inmost hearts.  I think that, on that day, the main purpose of this light was to infuse within us a special knowledge and love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as on the other two occasions it was intended to do, as it seems to me, with regard to God and the mystery of the most Holy Trinity.  From that day onwards, our hearts were filled with a more ardent love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  From time to time, Jacinta said to me: ‘The Lady said that her Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.  Don’t you love that?  Her Heart is so good!  How I love it! … If I could only put into the hearts of all the fire that is burning within my own heart and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so much!’”

So it was love that fueled that inner fire in the young saint, love that moved her to offer sacrifices beyond those that could be expected of devout children and that even put adult believers to shame, love that moved her to disregard herself and her needs if only she could help sinners avoid Hell and come to the profound knowledge and love of God and of Our Lady that was granted to her from Heaven.  In her childlike simplicity, Jacinta didn’t realize how specially favored she was, and so she wondered why such graces were not granted to all, if that would help save them.   It wouldn’t have occurred to her that God was making of her a beacon to all subsequent ages, a shining example of devotion and self-sacrifice for the salvation of souls that we are meant to emulate.  God doesn’t grant extraordinary experiences to all, but He does show us examples of those through whom the Light of Heaven shines, so that we can not only have models of holiness to follow, but also benefit from their friendship and intercession.

I think we could learn a lot from the holy children.  While theologians try to explain, for example, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and many people don’t even believe it (either because of previous indoctrination or because they simply don’t give God credit for loving us that much), the children just refer to the Holy Eucharist as the “Hidden Jesus,” who is given in Holy Communion and whom they can visit in the tabernacles of the Church.  And in their simplicity, the children actually reached a profound level of mysticism.  Once, when Jacinta was very sick and not far from death, Lucia came to her after having gone to Mass.  “Did you receive Holy Communion?” she asked.  When Lucia said she did, Jacinta said: “Come over here close to me, for you have the Hidden Jesus in your heart.”  Another time, she described her inner intimacy and mystical communication with Jesus in her childlike way: “I don’t know how it is!  But I feel Our Lord within me.  I understand what He says to me, although I neither see Him nor hear Him, but it is so good to be with Him!”  Truly, the Lord reveals his mysteries to the little ones, while “the learned and the clever” argue about the minutiae of theology.

There’s one more point, and this concerns her brother Francisco, that testifies to the authenticity of their experiences and communion with God.  One would think that a child would be most attracted to the sensational aspects of these extraordinary experiences.  Francisco had seen a vision of the Lord in the sky during the incredible “miracle of the sun,” and He was blessing the world.  And he had seen Him in the light that shone through Our Lady’s hands. His comment after that great vision of the Lord in the sky: “I loved seeing Our Lord, but I loved still more seeing Him in that light where we were with Him as well.”  The intimate mystical communion with the Lord was more important to Francisco than the glorious vision in the sky.  That bespeaks a heart that has already matured very much and hence knows what is most important.

There’s really much more that can be said, but I won’t go on and on here.  I recommend the book of Sr Lucia’s memoirs, entitled Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words.  You will receive more insight into the characters and the holiness of the three extraordinary children: ascetics, visionaries, mystics, and children who loved to play and to pray, to sing and dance and do penance and love Jesus and Mary.  My own spiritual life has been renewed, not only because of my connection with Heaven due to my newfound friendship with Blessed Jacinta, but also and especially because of the whole mystery of Fatima, the Beautiful Lady from Heaven, and the great mystery of God’s love and mercy for the world that was so dramatically manifested there.  It is also an urgent call to live a life of much prayer and sacrifice, for the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are still grieved over the sin of the world, which is much worse today than it was in 1917.

Let us then pray to acquire the heart of a child that opens to God in all simplicity, love, self-sacrifice, and devotion.  And let us pray to be taken into that Light from Heaven—as much as God permits while we’re still on Earth—where we can learn the mysteries of the All-Holy Trinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Simply, Bravely, Joyfully

When I returned from visiting my family a couple months ago, a friend picked me up at the airport and offered me hospitality for the night.  The next morning we went to Mass at his parish, St Callistus in Richmond, CA.  The priest quoted something in his homily from a saint I do not remember, but I do remember one thing.  The saint said that we ought to live our daily lives “simply, bravely, and joyfully.”  In the context of the reading, this meant that we are not to live in such a way that we are constantly and anxiously scrutinizing ourselves. Rather, if we live with our focus on serving God and other people, we will become self-forgetful (in the best sense of the word), and so we will not become scrupulous or self-absorbed and, finding our joy in the Lord and his mercy and goodness, we will naturally advance in virtue unto holiness.

I would like to look briefly at these three elements of Christian life, but in reverse order, since I want to conclude with simplicity.  Yet the other two are indispensable. It is really impossible to live the Christian life well without joy.  I know because I’ve tried and failed.  Actually, I didn’t set out to live joylessly, but I have noticed in the periods in which I had little or no joy, life was nearly intolerable.  But there really is no compelling reason that a Christian should be robbed of joy.  What about suffering?  St Paul said he rejoiced in his sufferings, and St Peter said we should do the same.  St Peter says to rejoice because our sufferings are a share in Christ’s (1Peter 4:13), and St Paul says that we ought to do so because they are beneficial as offerings for the members of the Church (Col. 1:24), and because suffering builds character and virtue which strengthen our hope (Rom. 5:3-5).  But if we cannot reach the heights of mysticism or altruism in our own approach to life’s hardships, let us simply rejoice in the inheritance God is holding for us in Heaven, while our faith is tested by trials here below (1Peter 1:3-9).

We live joyfully because God loves us and promised eternal life to those who love Him back.  We rejoice because of all that Jesus has done for us to free us from our sins and open the way to Paradise.  So even if we are burdened with fatigue, illness, the stresses of life and even various calamities, there can still be a quiet joy undergirding it all, because we know where we came from and where we are going—and because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  I have discovered that when my joy is in the Lord, especially due to gratitude for his many mercies and graces, life takes on a whole new character, a certain brightness, a sharper focus on what really matters in life and hence a more zealous and hope-filled embrace of it.

Our joy will often be challenged, however, so we must live bravely as well.  Joy is not a kind of Pollyanna virtue, but one that is tried in the fire.  That is why bravery must be a dimension of joyful living, at least in a Christian sense.  It will cost us something to maintain self-control, equanimity, courage, and perseverance as we meet the demands and temptations of daily life.  Many people probably don’t even think of bravery as an essential element of a good life, simply because they routinely cave in to the pressures of life, live by their emotional reactions to everyone and everything, and succumb to every temptation that suggests itself.  There’s nothing brave about such an aimless and weak-willed life. But bravery is necessary if we are to be faithful to Him who loved us first, if we are to put the Gospel of Jesus into practice, if we are to be able to count as joy the trials we must endure for the sake of the perfection of our souls (see James 1:2-4).  I won’t go into the obvious need for bravery in “spiritual warfare” here, but let it suffice to say that if the joy of the Lord is our strength, we will have all we need to live virtuously in a vicious world, to be lights in the darkness, and to give good example to the wavering.  “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2Tim. 1:7).

Finally, we ought to live simply if we are to bravely and joyfully serve the Lord in this life.  It has been said that the whole of spiritual life is a quest to regain simplicity, the evangelical childlikeness that Jesus said is required if we hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Simplicity can, in part, be understood in a material sense, for the reduction of one’s superfluous possessions and desires for things results in greater peace and the leisure to focus more on spiritual things.  Reducing our own “conspicuous over-consumption” ought also result in extra alms to the poor, who don’t have the luxury of deciding which things they need and which they don’t.  They don’t even have what they really need.

I’m mainly concerned here with a spiritual simplicity, though.  I’m learning more and more that simplicity is important for maintaining both joy and bravery in our life in Christ.  Things can get unnecessarily complicated in spiritual life, and it doesn’t take too much reading of some spiritual authors to come to the conclusion that the spiritual life is intolerably complex. It seems full of so many confusing possibilities about just what might be going in your soul or your relationship with God that one might tempted to just give up and go rent a video.  It needn’t be that way, though it seems that the more “intellectual” one is, the more danger there is of pride and of creating all kinds of theories and studies and diagrams about the spiritual life while somehow missing out on the pure love of God, unceasing prayer and devoted obedience to his commandments.

A few posts back I quoted Jesus’ words about God revealing his mysteries to children (and the childlike) and hiding them from the learned and clever.  This is perhaps the heart of the mystery of spiritual simplicity. I’d like to return again to the children of Fatima (Francisco and Jacinta were beatified in 2000, Jacinta at ten years old being the youngest non-martyr ever to be thus confirmed in sanctity and glory).  The lives of poor, illiterate Portuguese shepherds is about as simple as one can get.  Yet because God chose to send Our Lady to them, they were initiated into the mysteries of Heaven and thus acquired a wisdom beyond the most educated of this world.

Listen to a few words of the nine-year-old Jacinta, based on what Our Lady told her (she was only seven when Mary first appeared to them): “If men only knew what eternity is, they would do everything in their power to change their lives… Priests must be pure, very pure.  They should not busy themselves with anything except what concerns the Church and souls…  Fly from riches and luxury; love poverty and silence; have charity, even for bad people… Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much… Tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary…”  I am finding peace with such saints, and their simplicity and directness about the things of God increase both my joy and my bravery in living the life to which God has called me.

In a way that I won’t attempt to explain here, but which I know as surely as anything else about my interior life, Blessed Jacinta has been given to me as a friend from Heaven, perhaps to teach me—the learned abbot—about prayer and sacrifice and devotion.  I loved her immediately and spontaneously, and the whole thing took me quite by surprise.  With Jesus I have to rejoice in the Holy Spirit about the Father’s gracious will (and sense of humor?): I now sit at the feet of a little girl who teaches me about the way to please God and to put into practice the words of Our Lady.  The simple way is the best way, the shortest way to God, as also the Little Flower St Therese, a perfect example of spiritual childlikeness (and hence one of the greatest saints), has said.  I find that there’s more even than reflection on the words and example of Blessed Jacinta (who never wavered in her commitment, despite the intensity of her sufferings) that helps me to live simply, bravely, and joyfully.

I ask Jacinta to pray with me and to accompany me when I have to make some sacrifice, and sometimes she gives me a little nudge if I’m getting a bit self-indulgent when I should instead be offering something for souls.  I find that the effort or self-denial involved in offering sacrifices or enduring various trials becomes sweeter when I sense her with me—and perhaps more importantly, I find myself more willing to do it.  This is not a small thing!  This child humbles me by the witness of her eagerness to accept any trial or suffering if only it would serve the cause of the salvation of souls.  What I struggled to learn, and tried (and often failed) to put into practice during 28 years in a monastery, she perfected in a very short time.  So now I have become the student of a little girl who far surpassed anything I’ve ever offered or endured for the Lord’s sake.  Yet I can hardly think of her or look at her picture without a smile or perhaps a tear of gratitude for the gift.  There’s something very right about all this; it resonates in my heart.  The little saint is helping me go more deeply in to my relationship with Jesus and with Mary, my spiritual life is become more simple and, from all indications, more fruitful as well. It as if I’m coming to the heart of the life of faith and prayer, with all superfluities and needless complications stripped away.  I’m being taught something here, and I’m trying to pass it on to you, and I hope that in the future I can do so more fully.

Simply, bravely, joyfully. It is the way to live, the way to serve, the way to pray, the way to love God and to open yourself to the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Ask the Blessed Children who know more about all this than you do.  Perhaps they will teach you, and take your hand and lead you, for such is the Father’s gracious will.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Gospel today (Mt. 9:27-35) begins thus: “As Jesus passed on from there…”  Where is “there”?  It was the house of Jairus, where Jesus had just raised a girl from the dead.  And on his way to Jairus’ house, Jesus cured a woman suffering from a hemorrhage.  Now two blind men are brought to Him, and immediately after that, a man with a demon who had made him mute was brought to Him.  How shall we understand what is going on here?  I think we have to begin at the end of today’s Gospel. The last verse is a summary statement which says that Jesus went about through their towns, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing all illnesses and infirmities.

I would venture to say that the key to almost everything Jesus said and did is found in that one expression: “the Gospel of the Kingdom.”  Jesus’ whole mission was about proclaiming the Kingdom of God, establishing it in this world as far as that is possible by his grace, and then reconciling us with the Father so that we would be able to enter this Kingdom in its eternal manifestation and fullness.

There are some prophecies of the Gospel of the Kingdom, most notably in Isaiah, and here are a couple of them which apply directly to Jesus and his works: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives… to comfort all who mourn… Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped… and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…” (61:1-2; 35:5-6).  Jesus Himself referred to such prophecies when John the Baptizer inquired as to whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah.  Jesus pointed out that He was doing precisely the things that were prophesied, and we find three of them in today’s Gospel: the opening of the eyes of the blind, the loosing of the tongue of the mute, and the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the poor and afflicted.

This preaching of the Kingdom is something that the Venerable John Paul II found worthy enough to be included in the new set of mysteries for the Rosary that he promulgated: the “mysteries of light,” or luminous mysteries.  While the other sets of mysteries proposed for our meditation refer to events at the beginning or end of Jesus’ life, or that extend into eternity after his glorification, these are mysteries that recall events in Jesus’ public ministry: his baptism, the wedding at Cana, the preaching of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration, and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.  So today as we proclaim the Gospel, we are in a sense celebrating that light-bearing mystery of Jesus’ own preaching of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus fulfilled this mission of preaching tirelessly.  We see in the Gospel today and in its wider context, that there was an almost unceasing parade of the sick and suffering brought before Him.  We almost never find Jesus relaxing anywhere. On one occasion, when He did try to take a little break, the crowds found out where He was going and got there before He did, and when He saw them He had compassion on them and began to teach them at length, not taking into account his own need for rest.  So we find Him saying things like: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came” (Mk. 1:38; Lk. 4:43).

We notice in today’s reading that Jesus tested the blind men just a bit to see if they would persevere in their petition for healing.  The text says that they were following him along the road, crying out for mercy.  But evidently He did not pay attention to them at that time.  For it says next that Jesus entered a house and the blind men came to Him there.  So they had not only to follow Him on the road crying out to Him, but also to follow Him into the house.  Jesus finally gave them his full attention, but He still wanted to test their faith. “Do you believe I am able to do this?” He asked them.  As soon as they said they believed He could, Jesus touched their eyes, and as often happens, the combination of their faith and his power resulted in a miracle of healing.  “According to your faith, be it done to you.”

Then, as He often did in the early part of his ministry, Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about it.  And, as often happened when Jesus said such things, they did exactly the opposite!  One can easily forgive them for this, and perhaps Jesus Himself, even though He probably rolled his eyes when He saw them telling everyone about the miracle, might have smiled a little to Himself at their childlike exuberance and unrestrained joy.

I’m reminded of the little Fatima visionary Jacinta, who, after the first apparition, was told by the other two not to tell anybody about it.  She kept saying to them, “Oh, what a beautiful Lady!”  Her cousin then said, “I can see what is going to happen; you’ll end up saying that to somebody else.”  Sure enough, she went home and told everybody about the Beautiful Lady from Heaven!  Later, when the others reproached her she said, with tears, “There was something within me that wouldn’t let me keep quiet.”  There must have been something within the two blind men that wouldn’t let them keep quiet either, and it was simply the burning desire to glorify God for his marvelous works.

After Jesus rose from the dead, the “cone of silence” was lifted, and the Lord’s command went from “tell no one” to “tell everyone!” “Go into all the world,” the Risen Lord said, “and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15).  We ought to hear that word ourselves. If the Lord has manifested his goodness to us, we should proclaim it; all his works are part of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the world needs to know that the Lord is alive and well pouring out his grace upon those who believe He can!  This is not to call attention to ourselves, but rather to Him who calls sinners out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Another sign of the Gospel of the Kingdom was manifested in the man with the mute spirit who was delivered from the demon and began to speak.  The demon had suppressed his ability to speak and so the man could not publicly praise God and testify to his works, but he began to do so as soon as the oppressive spirit was cast out and his speech returned.  The people, of course, rejoiced in all this, but the chronic naysayers, the Pharisees, grumbled that Jesus cast out demons by the prince of demons.  This just proved that they were among the blind who needed their eyes opened.  Unfortunately, they remained in their blindness, because unlike the other two blind men, they did not cry out to Jesus for mercy and healing.  Instead they remained critics, accusers, full of evil thoughts and closed to the gift of faith and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had more than once to reproach them for not being able to read the signs that were right before them, signs that indicated that the Kingdom of God was in their midst.  In the Gospel of John, it is never said that Jesus worked a “miracle,” only that He performed “signs.”  Jesus’ healings are signs of the Kingdom and of the salvation heralded by its coming; the healings and exorcisms were concrete manifestations of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

In the Old Testament, when God told Moses to mount a bronze serpent on a pole for the sake of the people’s healing from snake bites, the author of the Book of Wisdom said that this was a “sign of salvation.”  Jesus referred to that event when speaking of his own coming crucifixion (see Jn. 3:14-15). Therefore the ultimate sign is Jesus Himself, especially in the mystery of his death and resurrection.  When He had cleansed the temple, the authorities demanded a sign that would justify such an unprecedented act, and Jesus told them the sign would be that they would destroy the temple of his body and then He would raise it up in three days (see Jn. 2:18-22).  The Gospel of the Kingdom is definitively proclaimed in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.

So we see how the Pharisees, who were supposed to be experts in the Law and thus in the things of God, completely missed the signs of the Kingdom that were displayed before them.  Instead of glorifying God when Jesus gave the sign of casting out the demon and healing the mute man, they accused Him of being in collusion with the devil.  And when the great “sign of salvation” was raised up before their eyes—Christ nailed to the Cross—instead of trying to comfort Him as did Mary and John and the other women, or instead of proclaiming like the centurion, “surely this man was the Son of God,” they mocked and reviled Him. Thus their willful refusal to understand and be opened (like the eyes of the blind and the mouth of the mute), culminated in the worst blasphemy the world has ever known.

What about today?  Are there still signs of the Kingdom performed in our own time?  Indeed there are, for wherever the Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, signs will accompany it, as Jesus told his disciples.  The signs aren’t always physical healings, for the Lord alone knows which signs are necessary for bringing us into a deeper and more loving relationship with Him.

Some of the greatest signs are manifested when the grace of repentance is granted, when hardened and closed hearts open to the grace of God and respond with joy and thanksgiving and a radical change of life.  It’s harder to heal a soul than a body, for our free will has to be engaged every step of the way.  So when someone who was formerly turned away from the Lord suddenly turns toward Him, it is a real miracle and we should glorify God.  There will always be naysayers who attribute the miracle to some other cause, but who would want to end up like the Pharisees, bitter and self-righteous and blinded to the point of missing out on the gift of grace unto salvation?

There are many signs of the Kingdom granted by God, for He is generous and He desires our salvation even more than we do. But we have to have eyes to see and ears to hear, we need to pray for the capacity to perceive the things of Heaven that God places in our midst.  He is “everywhere present and filling all things” as we so often pray, so we need to be attentive, open, listening, watching.  Then we will discover that the whole of our life in Christ is a series of “luminous mysteries,” for all of them—the joyful, the glorious, and even the sorrowful—are bearers of divine light and truth and love.

So let us give glory to the Lord, who continues to heal infirmities of body and soul by the grace of the Holy Spirit and through the mystery of the communion of saints, and who thus proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom, until at last that Kingdom comes, and we who have believed and who have followed Him are invited to enter joyfully into the fullness of its power and glory.

What I’d Like to Say (Part 2)

Is there anything else I would say?  Perhaps it would be that you should join AA.  I don’t mean Alcoholics Anonymous (unless you need it).  I mean “Abandon Anxiety.”  It shouldn’t be hard to gain admittance to this group, since it has so few members (for so few qualify), and it is always anxious to gain more—no, I mean, it is always eager and willing to gain more.  See how the language of anxiety comes so easily?  Well, it does to me, anyway.  I think for me it is harder to abandon anxiety than to believe in Jesus or to renounce the world.  That may simply be part of my temperament, but I see that it involves a contradiction that I’m anxious to overcome.

You see, if I really believed in Jesus, with all that entails—especially the willingness to suffer for his sake and that of the Gospel—then of whom or of what should I be afraid, or what could make me anxious?  Even if there were some grave external threat to myself or to the monastery as such, if I trusted in God’s providence and will, I should still be at peace.  If it is his will that I or the monastery should come crashing down, who am I to argue with his wisdom?  I ought to trust that He knows what He’s doing and has something in mind that is for our benefit and salvation.

I suppose I’m more anxious about my own faults and weaknesses than any external threat, for the Lord has to be more cautious in navigating the labyrinth of free will, and it is in fact within my power to throw stupidly away my own salvation, which Jesus has suffered to win and which I (at least as far as I can tell) ordinarily desire quite heartily.  It’s one thing to say you believe in Jesus and even hope for salvation from Him, but when Judgment Day rolls around and all are handing in their multiplied talents while you are still trying to remember the place in the ground you buried yours, verbal professions of faith are quite useless.  So I tend to be a little anxious about that, though I also put my hope in the Lord’s mercy—really, the only hope anyone has, don’t kid yourself—knowing He has managed to save the likes of me in the past, and his mercy is not yet spent.

The Lord has had much to say about anxiety, and nothing good.  It’s all about giving it up.  Here are three sample passages of Jesus’ teaching on anxiety: “Do not be anxious” (Mt 6:25); “Do not be anxious” (Mt 6:31); and finally, “Do not be anxious” (Mt 6:34).  I think it’s not difficult to grasp the essence of what He is saying.  The difficult thing is trying to untie that knot in your stomach, the one that develops spontaneously without consulting your Scripture studies first.  It may seem to be an impossible task, but we’ve all our lives to get it right.  Trust in God is really a precious commodity.  It’s part of that package called “believing in Jesus”; one is not possible without the other.

St Paul finally reminds us: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).  So trust doesn’t exclude asking for help; just notice that the Apostle says we are to let our requests be made known to God “with thanksgiving.”  That says almost all we need to know about trust.  The fruit of grateful, trusting prayer is peace, beyond all understanding, which means, in part, peace when there may seem to be no logical reason for you to have peace in your present circumstances.

I suppose if you prodded me enough I might come up with other things I’d like to say if I had only one chance.  But I will leave you with just one more, and then your life will be complete: Live the Great Commandment.  Actually there are two of these, but they come in the same package and cannot be separated: Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then love your neighbor.  I don’t want to say here “as yourself,” since people like to go on all kinds of psychological detours about that, and then they become so self-absorbed as they try to discover if they really love themselves that they never quite get around to loving their neighbor.  So even if you don’t love yourself, or don’t love yourself rightly, love your neighbor anyway and you’ll come out ahead.

What could go wrong, spiritually seen, if your life is spent loving God and loving other people?  This gives us the opportunity to practice a host of virtues, not only that of religion in our direct worship and prayer to God.  In loving our neighbor we get to be patient, forgiving, generous, self-sacrificing, etc.  The Lord showed us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbor is anyone who needs our love, and, as a sort of corollary, He also told us that there’s no credit in loving only those who love us. We think love is a many-splendored thing when our beloved is likewise many-splendored.  But when we are called to love wholly unsplendored beings, aye, there’s the rub.

This Great Commandment business is quite demanding, and even though God is infinitely more lovable and marvelous and beautiful and awe-inspiring (and infinitely less cranky, rude, malicious, annoying or hurtful) than any human being could be, we still may find the Most High rather exasperating at times, simply because his ways are not our ways and we are clueless and impatient and afraid of suffering and all the rest.  So it may even be an effort sometimes to love God, at least as wholeheartedly, whole-mindedly, etc, as we are required.  But this is our life, the whole of it, essentially, and if we fail here, we are eternal failures.  So love God and love one another.  It’s the only right way to live and the only right way to die.

You may have noticed, in reading what I’ve had to say, that these four things—believing in Jesus, avoiding the world’s seductions, abandoning anxiety, and loving God and neighbor—are not just random ideas drawn out of a hat. They include and presuppose each other. (I must confess that I had no idea what I would say when I sat down to write this, so these elements were not part of a pre-meditated clever presentation!) They are all woven into the same seamless garment of life in God, life in this world that leads to eternal life.  If any of these falls out of the picture, your life will be thrown off balance, for you will be disobeying the word of God and will even be placing your salvation in jeopardy. (I might add that if you are in fact neurotically anxious, you can still be saved if you are faithful to the other three, but your life will still be pretty miserable, and I would spare you that.)  Know what is important; know what is not.  Live accordingly.  This is the simple and saving way.

So, that’s all I’d like to say.  If I never say anything else, do those things and you will live.  And may the blessing of the Lord be upon you, through his grace and love for mankind, both now and forever.  Amen.

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