Apr 23, 2009

The Best Training Ground

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 1
Second, there are the anchorites or hermits, who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time, and have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life. Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against evil. They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their members to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God's help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind.

[Comment by Joan Chittister, OSB, The Rule of Benedict]

If any paragraph in the rule dispels the popular notion of spirituality, surely this is it. Modern society has the idea that if you want to live a truly spiritual life, you have to leave life as we know it and go away by yourself and "contemplate," and that if you do, you will get holy. It is a fascinating although misleading thought. The Rule of Benedict says that if you want to be holy, stay where you are in the human community and learn from it. Learn patience. Learn wisdom. Learn unselfishness. Learn love. Then, if you want to go away from it all, then and only then will you be ready to do it alone.

There is, of course, an anchorite lurking in each of us who wants to get away from it all, who finds the tasks of dailiness devastating, who looks for God in clouds and candlelight. Perhaps the most powerful point of this paragraph is that it was written by someone who had himself set out to live the spiritual life as a hermit and then discovered, apparently, that living life alone is nowhere near as searing of our souls as living it with others. It is one thing to plan my own day well with all its balance and its quiet and its contemplative exercises. It is entirely another rank of holiness to let my children and my superiors and my elderly parents and the needs of the poor do it for me.

Apr 18, 2009

Dulling of the Senses

God assures us in love: "I do not wish the death of sinners, but that they turn back to me and live" (Ezekiel 33:11).

"Life is only lent to us," a Jewish proverby instructs...Long life, in other words, is given for the gift of insight:  to give us time to undertand life and to profit from its lessons and to learn from its failures and to use its moments well and make sense out of its chaos. That, perhaps, is why we expect the elderly to be wise. That, perhaps, is why we look back over the years of our own lives and wonder what happened to the person we were before we began to see more than ourselves.

The problem is that there is a lot of life that dulls the senses. Too much money can make us poor. Too much food can make us slow. Too much partying can make us dull. Only the spiritual life enervates the senses completely. All life takes on a new dimension once we begin to see it as spiritual people. The bad does not destroy uorthodoxcandless and the good gives us new breath because we are always aware that everything is more than it is. The family is not just a routine relationship; it is our sanctification. Work is not just a job; it is our exercise in miracle making. Prayer is not just quiet time; it is an invitation to grow. We begin to find God where we could not see God before, not as a panacea or an anesthetic, not as a cheap release from the problems of life, but as another measure of life's meaning for us.

Clearly, living life well is the nature of repentance. To begin to see life as life should be and to live it that way ourselves is to enable creation to go on creating in us.

- Joan Chittister, O.S.B, The Rule of Benedict: Insight for the Ages

Apr 10, 2009

The Incurable Sore of the Soul

My appreciation to The Handmaid for posting this excerpt from St. Macarius on her website, Christ is in Our Midst!

For those of us who are of the Orthodox faith, this Saturday is Lazarus Saturday.
For Lazarus also, whom the Lord raised up exuded so fetid an odor that no one could approach his tomb, as a symbol of Adam whose soul exuded such a great stench and was full of blackness and darkness. But you, when you hear about Adam and the wounded traveler and Lazarus, do not let your mind wander as it were into the mountains, but remain inside within your soul, because you also carry the same wounds, the same smell, the same darkness.

We are all his sons and we all inherit the same stench.

Therefore, the passions that he suffered, all of us, who are of Adam’s seed, suffer also. For such a suffering has hit us, as Isaiah says: “It is not a wound, nor a bruise, nor an inflamed sore. It is impossible to apply a soothing salve or oil or to make bandages” (Is 1:6). Thus we were wounded with an incurable wound. Only the Lord could heal it. For this he came in his own person because no one of the ancients nor the Law itself nor the prophets were able to heal it. He alone, when he came, healed that sore, the incurable sore of the soul.

Let us, therefore, receive God the Lord, the true healer, who alone can come to heal our souls, after he has borne so much on our behalf. For he is always knocking at the doors of our hearts in order that we may open up to him and that he may enter in and take his rest in our souls, and that we may wash his feet and he may take up his abode with us. For this purpose he endured many sufferings, giving his body over to death and buying our ransom from slavery so that he, coming to our soul, might make his abode there.

~St. Macarius, Spiritual Homilies, 30

Apr 3, 2009


More from The Mountain of Silence, by Kyriacos C. Markides

(Fr. Maximos): I remember in high school reading an argument in a religious textbook that stated that logic leads us to the conclusion that there must be a God so that justice may be dispensed.  It saw God as some kind of supreme justice.  Given that there are so many injustices in the world, sooner or later they must be dealt with by God, who will punish those who commit injustices.

This just goes to show...the kind of ethos that is being cultivated and how far removed it is from the spirit of God. Do you know what an old saint once said?  "Never call God just because God is not just," according to human measures of justice, that is.  The saint reasoned: "How could God be just when He requests of us that when someone comes to grab our possessions, we do nothing but let him take them? And if he asks of us to go one mile with him, we go two? And if he gives us a slap on one cheek we turn the other also? Is this justice?" He died for the sake of those who hated Him, who spat and kicked Him, for the sake of the entire World. When Christ was in human form and was about to die, he did not pray for his apostles but for those who were crucifying Him. He did not tell the disciples, "Just you wait and you shall see what I'll do to them once I get resurrected!"  We have so many examples of martyrs and saints who demonstrated this form of Christian love. When the young martyr Stephanos was being stoned to death, he prayed for his assailants.  He knelt down while his last words were, "Please, Lord, do not hold this sin upon them"' ...the justice of God is not the justice that we entertain in our minds.  It is important for people to realize this so that they may not lose faith and become cynical when they are confronted with difficulties.

(Markides): There is so much injustice around us...so much disease, so much death and destruction, so many tragedies of all sorts.  Good people suffer, even saintly people, and then the question naturally comes to mind, "Where is God?  Where is His justice?"

(Fr. Maximos): God's justice...works in mysterious ways, beyond the reach of our intellects. Real justice...is for God to help us through His Grace to rectify that which truly wronged us.  And what is that?  Our estrangement from our Divine nature.  Real justice means the attainment of Theosis, the reunification with God who created us in His own image.  We are endowed with the potential of becoming gods through Grace.  Our ultimate goal is reunion with our Maker, our real homeland and final destination.  It is exactly at the core of our being, ontologically speaking, that we have been wronged through the Fall.

(Markides): If I understand you well...that means justice ultimately implies our reentrance into Paradise, the return of the Prodigal Son to the palace.

(Fr. Maximos): Precisely.