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151. Petitionary Prayer
(Justice Will Be Done)
Divine providence does not early arrange what effects are to occur; it also arranges the causes of these effects and the relationship between them...in the case of prayer we do not pray in order to change God's plan, but in order to obtain by our prayers those things which God planned to bring about by means of prayers, in order, as Gregory says, in order that our prayers should entitle us to receive what almighty God planned from all eternity to give us...
God gives us many things out of shear generosity, without being asked. The reason why He wants to give us some things in response to our petition is that it is profitable for us to acquire a certain confidence in running to Him and to recognize that He is the source of all that is good for us.
--St. Thomas Aquinas, Suma II-II, PWTA
God does not need my prayers, I do. Prayer puts me in contact with my Source. The greater my contact with God, the more I recognize my need for Him and the more the blockages to His grace are removed from me. Jesus clearly indicates that the reason for diligent and persistent prayer is to increase faith which is the prerequisite for many blessings.
As it asks in Luke 18:8: When Jesus comes for me at the end of this life, will He find any faith in me? If my prayers were answered quickly, would I pray less often?
152. Childlike Faith
(I Will Not Fear Or Loose Heart)
When Theresa was on her deathbed, her sister Pauline asked her to explain what she meant by "remaining a little child before God." Theresa replied:
It is to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father; it is to be disquieted about nothing,....having no other occupation but to gather...the flowers of love and sacrifice, and offering them to God in order to please Him.
To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of His little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God's treasure. Finally, it is not to become discouraged over one's faults, for children fall often, but they are too little to hurt themselves very much.
--St. Theresa of Lisieux, Her Last Conversations, PWTL
St. Theresa lays out three characteristics of a child-like faith: expect everything necessary from God, do not attribute to myself the virtues I practice, and, do not become discouraged over my faults. These were important even in Old Testament times of war, as noted in the Bible reading. The army of King Jehososhaphat was to expect God to fight for them, not to assume that their fighting skills were their own, and not to become discouraged if their faith was not perfect and, thus, they felt fear. As long as they acted in accord with God's word and showed up for the fight, victory would be theirs---and it was.
How do I avoid becoming preoccupied with my shortcomings?
153. The Nature of Desire
(I Will Store Up Heavenly Treasure)
For desire is drawn toward three things: the pleasure of the flesh, vain self-glory, and the acquisition of material wealth. As a result of this senseless appetite it scorns God and His commandments, and forgets His generosity; it turns like a savage beast against its neighbor, it plunges the intelligence into darkness and prevents it from looking towards the truth. He who has acquired a spiritual understanding of this truth will share, even here on earth, in the kingdom of heaven and will live a blessed life in expectation of the blessedness that awaits those who love God.
--St. John of Damascus, On the Virtues and the Vices, Philokaiia
Pleasure of the flesh, self-glory, and material acquisitions are the three worldly desires that drive both God and my neighbor out of my life. King Rehoboam split the Kingdom of Israel due to his lust for power and possession. King Herod lost his life by his pride and self-glory. Jesus warns me to store up heavenly treasure, not earthly, for where my treasure is, there will my heart be. The choice is truly mine.
Do my desires for worldly things outstrip my actual need for them? Which area is my greatest weakness: pleasure, vanity or greed? What void in my life is this weakness trying to fill? How can this void be truly filled?
(I Will Not Deceive Myself)
Be on your guard against the tricks of the demons. While you are praying purely and calmly, sometimes they suddenly bring before you some strange and alien form, making you imagine in your conceit that the Deity is there. They are trying to persuade you that the object suddenly disclosed to you is the Deity, whereas the Deity does not possess quantity and form.
--Evagrios the Solitary, On Prayer, Philokalia
"Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise." I do not know to what extent the demons try to deceive me. I do know that my own ego, self-centeredness and pride are always popping up on my spiritual journey. I have had times when I was sure I understood the connection of events and people (of course, I was somehow always prominent) only to find out later how self-deceived I was. In addition, I've often felt a calling or vision to do something which later evaporated like mist. In these cases, while I don=t believe that "callings" need to be permanent, I suspect that at least some worldly self-delusion is involved.
In what ways am I spiritually self-deceived? Do I have spiritual mentors that I can reflect with to reduce these self-deceptions?
155. The Body of Christ
(Do This In Remembrance Of Me....)
Since it was the will of God's only-begotten son that men should share in His divinity, He assumed our nature in order that by becoming man He might make men gods...He offered His body to God the Father on the alter of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed His blood for our ransom and purification...But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us forever, He left His body as food and His blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine. ...Christ Himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this? No other sacrament has greater healing power, through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift....spiritual delight is tasted at its very source and...we renew the memory of that surprising love for us which Christ revealed in His passion.
--St. Thomas Aquinas, PWTA
"Take it. This is my body. This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many." "Through this gift, sins are purged, virtues are increased and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. He assumed our nature in order that by becoming man, He might make men gods." Thanks be to God for the love shown in this mystery.
What does Abeing made into a god@ mean?
156. Praying the Way You Can
(God Hears Me)
What an extraordinary thing it is, the efficiency of prayer! Like a queen, it has access at all times to the Royal presence, and can get whatever it asks for. And it's a mistake to imagine that your prayer wont be answered unless you've something out of a book, some splendid formula of words specially devised to meet this emergency. If that were true I'm afraid I'd be in a terribly bad position....I just do what children have to do before they=ve learned to read; I tell God what I want quite simply, without any splendid turns of phrase, and somehow He always manages to understand me. For me, prayer means launching out of the heart towards God; it means lifting up one's eyes, quite simply, to heaven, a cry of grateful love, form the crest of joy or the trough of despair; it's a vast supernatural force which opens out my heart, and binds me close to Jesus.
-St. Theresa of Lisieux, Autobiography, PWTOL
"I can't sleep, I'm suffering too much, so I am praying."
"And what (her sister Celene asked) are you saying to Jesus?"
"I say nothing to Him. I love Him."
-St. Theresa of Lisieux, Her Last Conversations, PWTOL
According to St. John, "...if we ask anything of Him in accordance with His will, He hears us....we know that what we have asked Him for is ours." St. Theresa would say the same thing whether or not we ask God using words. Her loving presence before Jesus was her prayer.
Must I always pray to God using words? Will I re-dedicate myself to meditation;
just being in Jesus' presence?
157. Beyond Human Knowledge
(God's Foolishness Is Wiser Than Human Wisdom)
Knowledge of created beings is one thing and knowledge of the divine truth is another. The second surpasses the first just as the sun outshines the moon. Knowledge of created beings increases the more we observe the commandments actively; but knowledge of the truth grows the more we hope in Christ.
--St. Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness By Works, Philokalia
By spiritual knowledge, I do not mean wisdom, but that unerring appreciation of God and of divine realities through which the devout, no longer dragged down by the passions, are raised to a divine state by the grace of the Spirit.
--St. Theognostos, On the Practice of the Virtues, Philokalia
"...the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." "Knowledge of the truth grows the more we hope in Christ." Unlike worldly knowledge, knowledge of the spirit comes not so much from study as from faith and hope in Jesus. Some of the knowledge is intuitive and experiential, not logical. Studying the teachings of the Church instructs me on how to interpret this "knowledge".
In what ways do I have an appreciation of God and divine realities?
158. Being Devoted
(Without Love I Am Nothing)
When the intellect forgets the purpose of true devotion, then external works of virtue bring no profit.
--St. Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness By Works, Philakolia
Fasts and vigils, the Study of Scriptures, renouncing possessions and everything worldly, are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them. It is useless, therefore, to boast of our fasting, vigils, poverty and reading of Scripture when we have not achieved the love of God and our fellow men. Whoever has achieved love has God within himself and his intellect is always with God.
--St. John Cassian, On the Holy Fathers of Sketis, Philakolia
Am I a Pharisee at heart? Do I try to prove my own worthiness through my good deeds regardless of my motives, my attitudes and my feelings surrounding my actions? Many times, yes. I very often want to "do the right thing" even if my inner life is in disarray. Today's readings make the strong point that unless my actions are motivated by true love of God and neighbor, they are probably motivated by ego-fear, and will not profit me spiritually. I must always work on my inner life.
In what ways are my "good deeds" motivated by fear?
159. The Kingdom of God
(Jesus, Thy Kingdom Come)
We pray "Thy kingdom come" because the kingdom of heaven signifies the glory of paradise...This kingdom is most desirable for three reasons:
a) Its supreme righteousness. Here below the wicked are mingled with the good, whereas in heaven there are no wicked and no sinners.
b) Its perfect liberty. Although all men desire liberty naturally, here there is none; but in heaven there is perfect liberty without any trace of bondage. In fact, not only will all be free, but all will be kings. This is because all shall be of one will with God: whatever the saints will, God shall will; and whatever God wills, the saints shall will....
c) Its wondrous wealth. Take note that whatever man seeks in this world, he will find it more perfect and more excellent in God alone.
--St. Thomas Aquinas, Three Greatest Prayers, PWST
"The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed...the smallest of seeds...but once it is sown it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of sky can dwell in its shade." While it is true, as St. Thomas says, that the Kingdom of God is known for its righteousness, liberty and wealth, Jesus' parable also indicates that it is known for its universality. I cannot imagine that the mustard tree offers shade to some birds but not to others. In the same way, the tree does not grab the birds and drag them to its shade. The birds want the protection and claim it. The Kingdom of God is for all people. They must, however, want it and go toward its light.
In what ways do I refuse admission into the Kingdom of God?
160. Being Myself
(I Will Not Bury My Talents)
Jesus has been gracious enough to teach me a lesson about this mystery, simply by holding up to my eyes the book of nature. I realized, then, that all the flowers He has made are beautiful; the rose in its glory, the lily in its whiteness, don't rob the tiny violet of its sweet smell, or the daisy of its charming simplicity. I saw that if all these lesser blooms wanted to be roses instead, nature would loose the gaiety of her springtime dress--there would be no little flowers to make a pattern over the countryside. And so it is with the world of souls, which is His garden. He wanted to have great Saints, to be his lilies and roses, but He has made lesser Saints as well, and these lesser ones must be content to rank as daisies and violets, lying at His feet and giving pleasure to His eye like that. Perfection consists simply in doing His will, and being just what He wants us to be.
This, too, was made clear to me--that our Lord's love makes itself seen quite as much in the simplest of souls as in the most highly gifted, as long as thee is no resistence offered to His grace.
--St. Theresa of Lisieux, Autobiography, PWTOL
"To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--each according to his ability." "Our Lord's love makes itself seen quite as much in the simplest of souls as in the most highly gifted, as long as there is no resistance to His grace." Jesus and St. Theresa make a similar point: even though some have greater gifts, all are necessary for the functioning of the Body of Christ in this world. Without the variety of gifts, we world all be the poorer. We need only to be open to God's grace so that our life expresses the love of God in all of its diversity.
Am I content to be a handsome carnation as opposed to a sickly orchid if that is what I am meant to be? Am I in resistance to the gifts and talents that God has given me? Am I in rebellion against who and what I really am?
161. Detachment From Worldly Things
(God Has Made Me Laugh)
To anyone among you who is oppressed by a sense of worthlessness and inability to attain holiness, this is our message: if he attains dispassion he can see Jesus, not only in the future, but coming to him here and now with power and great glory. Though his soul, like Sarah, has grown old in barrenness, it can still bear a holy child, contrary to all expectation; like her he can still say: "God has made me laugh."--that is, God has granted me great joy after the many years I have spent in sorrow, dominated by the passions.
--St. John Kapathos, Texts For The Monks in India, Philokalia
Self-control and strenuous effort curb desire; stillness and intense longing for God wither it.
--St. Thalassios, Philokalia
Discipline and effort coupled with meditation and an intense longing for God will help curb worldly passions and give birth to spiritual joy. It may feel like childbirth but the resulting spiritual growth will make it worth the pain of ego-death. It is important to fight any discouragement in attaining holiness. The Lord promises success!
How do I handle spiritual discouragement?
162. Redirecting Your Attention
(I Will Put On The Lord Jesus)
The Holy Spirit, out of compassion for our weakness, comes to us even when we are impure. And if only He finds our intellect truly praying to Him, He enters it and puts to flight the whole array of thoughts and ideas circling within it, and He arouses it to a longing for spiritual prayer.
--Evagrios the Solitary, On Prayer, Philokalia
Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God...
--St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, Philokalia
ALet us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light ...the Lord Jesus...and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.@ A If the Holy Spirit finds our intellect praying to Him, He enters it and arouses it to a longing for spiritual prayer.@ Lord Jesus, may you empower my feeble efforts at holiness and spiritual growth. Amen.
How can I take steps to think and do nothing without a purpose directed towards God?
(I Will Listen To And Teach True Doctrine)
When Christ Himself spoke to Paul and called him, He could have opened his eyes at once and made known to him the way of perfection; instead He sent him to Ananias and told him to learn from him the way of truth, saying: Arise and go into the city, and there you will be told what you must do.@ In this manner, He teaches us to be guided by those who are advanced on the way, so that the vision rightly given to Paul should not be wrongly interpreted; otherwise it might lead later generations presumptuously to suppose that each individual must be initiated in to the truth directly by God, as Paul was, and not by the fathers...
--BSt. John Cassian, On the Holy Fathers of Sketis, Philokalia
A wise man is one who accepts advice, especially that of a spiritual father counseling him in accordance with the will of God.
--BSt. Thalassios, On Love, Self-Control and Life in Accordance with the Intellect, Philokalia
As I read these words of the saints of the eastern church, the words of Jesus come to mind: "Salvation is from the Jews." While all faiths have valid spiritual experiences, how the experiences are interpreted may not be so. Other spiritual masters in all world religions have done many of the works of Christ. How are they different from Jesus? For one thing, many of the non-Christian faiths conceive of God as either an impersonal machinery that runs the universe or, in fact, don't necessarily believe in a God at all. One of the necessities for Jesus to have been born a Jew is to demonstrate that God is a God of love who sacrifices for His children out of love.
How can I increase my readings of the Old Testament and the traditions of the early Church?
164. Does God Talk in Riddles?
(Jesus, Reveal To Me What Has Lain Hidden)
Because the letter kills and the Spirit gives life, it is indispensable that we enter the interior of spiritual discourse with a quickening spirit. We remind ourselves and others that, in the future, the whole of Scripture will be our (mental) dress; the old, as well as the new, will be the means of allegorical understanding, because as we read in the Old Testament: I will open my mouth in parables; I will speak in old mysteries (Ps 78:2), or again, as it is written in the New Testament, Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds and without parables he would not speak to them (Matt 13:34). The heavenly talk of the prophets and the apostles is not to be wondered at; it is brought forth by prayer, not by the usual way that men write. Much will vanish easily if it is gotten readily; great things, which are the true thing, held in the interior, will be brought together, that the blessed sayings of God will be separated from other writings by their worth and type.
BSt. Eucherius of Lyons, Letter to Veranus, CCEL
I do not believe that Jesus talked in riddles thus trying to hide truth from the crowds. He told stories that could be understood at several levels and interpreted in various ways depending on where the listener was at both spiritually and mentally. As St. Eucherius says, wisdom that is brought forth through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures will become apparent as God separates the wheat of wisdom from the chaff of the story.
Do I try to understand the parables of Jesus with new eyes each time I read them?
165. Humility: King of the Virtues
(Lord, Hear My Prayer And Restore Me)
I shall tell you something strange, but do not be surprised by it. Should you fail to attain dispassion because of the predispositions dominating you, but at the time of your death be in the depths of humility, you will be exalted above the clouds no less than the man who is dispassionate. For even if the treasure of those who are dispassionate consists of every virtue, the precious stone of humility is more valuable than them all: it brings about not only propitiation with the Creator, but also entry with the elect into the bridal chamber of His kingdom.
--BSt. Theognostos, On the Practice of the Virtues, Philokalia
King Manasseh of Israel had totally rejected the Lord by going so far as to have his sons burnt to death in the ritual fire offerings of one of the pagan cults. Israel was then conquered by Assyria and Manasseh was taken to Babylon in captivity where he learned humility. After this, he was restored to Israel and he changed his ways by worshiping the Lord alone and abandoning the pagan practices. Why was this so? According to St. Theognostos, humility is more valuable than any virtue. From humility, all virtues follow.
In what ways do I humble myself before the Lord? In what ways do I need to continue to work at this?
166. A Night Time Prayer
(Let Me See Your Face When I Awake)
Jesus Christ my God, I adore you and thank you for all the graces you have given me this day. I offer you my sleep and all the moments of this night, and I ask you to keep me from sin. I put myself within your sacred side and under the mantle of our Lady. Let your holy angles stand about me and keep me in peace. And let your blessings be on me. Amen.
--St. Alphonsus Liguori, LF
"But I in my uprightness shall see your face and when I awake, I shall be filled with the vision of you." St. Alphonsus' lovely little prayer echos the Psalm but both, I think, carry the connotation not only of regular sleep, but death. The ultimate meaning of this prayer is that when I awake from the dream of life, I will be filled with the vision of God, including the angels and Saints. May I be ready!
When I am going to sleep, do I feel prepared to awaken to the afterlife? How can I further prepare?
167. The Benefits of Prayer
(O Lord, May You Be Attentive To My Prayer)
Prayer is in its essence the union of the soul with God. Its effects and fruits are a pure soul, collection of inner forces, reconciliation with God, tears, forgiveness of sins, a bridge that leads us above and over temptation, a wall of protection against sorrows. It is the work of angels, a food for all spiritual beings, the joy of eternity, a divine action, a source of virtues, a treasury of graces; it is spiritual progress, the food of the soul, revelation, the exclusion of faintheartedness, a prop for our confidence, a comfort in grief.
--St. John Climacus, P
Nehemiah 1: 4-11
While St. John Climacus lists the various benefits of prayer (no less than twelve), Nehemiah demonstrates the proper attitude and way to pray. Prerequisites include fasting and mourning. The prayer itself includes praise of God, profession of sins both individual and communal, and petitions in accordance with God's promises. There is also great perseverance (praying night and day). While prayer may seem like hard work, look at the benefits! They make the effort seem small.
How many of these benefits of prayer was I aware of? Can I think of additional benefits?
168. Mystery of the Cross
(The Lord Will Pass Over You)
We venerate the wood of thy Cross, O thou who lovest mankind, for upon it thou, the life of all, was nailed. O Savior, thou hast opened paradise to the thief who turned to thee in faith, and thou has counted him worthy of blessedness when he confessed to thee crying, "O Lord, remember me." Accept us like him, as we cry: We all have sinned. In thy merciful kindness, remember us.
--Eastern Orthodox Service, P
"...the life of the creature is in the blood and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the alter for your lives..." "We venerate the wood of the Cross, O Thou who lovest mankind, for upon it Thou, the life of all, was nailed." For me, these passages express the most difficult mysteries of salvation: why is blood and sacrifice (scapegoating) necessary? While in the Old Testament it doesn=t appear to have much to do with love (does the sacrificed lamb love those who have killed it?), in the New Testament, it is the central point. It is, in Jesus, the ultimate expression of love.
Does the fact that Jesus shed His blood for me make me love Him more than if He died in bed of old age?
169. The Love Of Jesus
(God Loved Me Before I Was Conceived)
It is certain that on the tree of the Cross the Heart of Jesus beheld your heart and love it. By his love he won every good that you shall ever need, that you shall ever have. In God's love and mercy he prepared for us all the general and particular means of salvation, including our good resolutions.
Just as an expectant mother prepares cradle, linen, swaddling cloths, and perhaps a nurse for the child she expects, so our Lord, knowing you before you were even conceived, prepared all that would be necessary for your salvation and all else needed for your happiness. Such are the things that attract your soul to the devout life and urge you on to perfection.
How deeply must we imprint this on our memory! I have been loved so tenderly by my Savior that he thought of me in particular even by the little ways that attract me to him. How much, then, must we love Him in return?
--St. Francis de Sales, Introduction To The Devout Life, LF
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." It was not only Jeremiah, Paul and the other great souls of the Bible that God knew intimately before they were born, He also knew me and you. As St Francis de Sale says in his own beautiful way, just as a mother prepares everything for her child before it is born (maybe even before it is conceived), the Lord prepared all that would be necessary for salvation and happiness to the smallest detail. How His sacred heart must mourn when one of these little souls that He has prepared for so personally and lovingly is aborted.
What are my attitudes about abortion?
170. A Prayer of Praise in Sickness
(Lord, Only Say The Word And I Shall Be Healed)
Christ, give me strength: your servant is not well. The tongue that praised you is made silent , struck dumb by the pain of sickness. I cannot bear not to sing your praises. O, make me well again, make me whole, that I may again proclaim your greatness. Do not forsake me, I beseech you. Let me return now to your service.
--St. Gregory of Nazianzus, P
I've juxtaposed the prayer for self-healing by St. Gregory with the centurion's prayer for his servant's healing to make a point. Faith is critical for healing. Both prayers are petitionary but in the case of the servant, it is not known if he had faith at all. It was important, however, that someone had faith and prayed. Thus, the importance of petitionary prayer.
Do I spend enough time praying or others--whether or not they have faith?
171. A Healing for Depression
(Lord, Put A New Song In My Mouth)
Just as day declines to evening, often after some little pleasure my heart declines into depression. Everything seems dull, every action feels like a burden. If anyone speaks, I scarcely listen. If anyone knocks, I scarcely hear. My heart is as hard as flint. Then I go out into the fields to meditate, to read the holy Scriptures, and I write down my deepest thoughts in a letter to you. And suddenly your grace, dear Jesus, shatters the darkness with daylight, lifts the burden, relieves the tension. Soon tears follow sighs, and heavenly joy floods over me with the tears.
--Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx, P
Abbot Alred had a surprisingly modern and simple cure for his bouts of the blues. Spending time with nature. Praying and meditating. Reading Scripture and journaling his feelings. And suddenly, Jesus' grace shatters the darkness, draws him out of the pit of destruction and puts a new song in his mouth.
What other spiritual remedies for the blues can I try over and above those noted by the Abbot?
172. Committing Myself to God
(Lord, Into Your Hands I Commit Myself)
Into thy hands, O Lord, we commit ourselves this day. give to each one of us a watchful, a humble, and a diligent spirit, that we may seek all things to know thy will, and when we know it may perform it perfectly and gladly, to the honor and glory of thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
--5th Century Sacramentary, P
Luke 23: 44-46
The final words that were on Jesus' lips as He died on the Cross can be on our lips every day that we live. We commit ourselves to God's loving hands and pray that His will be done with us, to us, and through us. Like Jesus, we do this with a watchful, humble and diligent spirit. Like Jesus, we will know that by doing so, darkness will become light, suffering will turn to joy, and death will turn to eternal life.
When I pray, can I picture myself being held by the eternal arms of God?
173. Extending God's Grace
(Jesus, Make Me Your Servant)
O Lord, our Savior, who has warned us that thou will require much of those to whom much is given, grant that we whose lot is cast in so goodly a heritage may strive together more abundantly by prayer and by every other means to extend to others what we so richly enjoy, that as we have entered into the labors of other men, we may so labor that others in their turn may enter into ours, to the fulfillment of thy holy will, and the salvation of all men.
--4th Century Prayer, P
Jesus "did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." I am to extend to those around me the blessings that I have received just as others, whether or not I recognize it, have extended blessings to me and helped to shape my physical and spiritual life and well being. In fact, my prayer life must extend blessings not only to humankind but to all of creation. This is the power of prayer and our calling!
In what ways can I pray for all creation? In what ways can I back this up with action in accordance with God's will?
174. The Sorrow of Knowledge
(My Plea Is For Clear Perception)
I was vainly puffed up, and increased wisdom; not the wisdom which God has given, but that wisdom of which Paul says, "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." He speaks also of the multitude of knowledge, not the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, but that which the prince of this world works, and which he conveys to men in order to overreach their souls, with officious questions as to the measures of heaven, the position of earth, the bounds of the sea. But he says also says "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." For they search even into things deeper than these- inquiring, for example, what necessity there is for fire to go upward, and for water to go downward; and when they have learned that it is because the one is light ant the other heavy, they do but increase sorrow: for the question still remains, Why might it not be the very reverse?
--St. Dionysius of Alexandria (AD 200-265),A Commentary On the Beginning of Ecclesiastes, CCEL
"...he who stores up knowledge stores up grief" but, "if you seek wisdom...the knowledge of God you will find." If the author of Ecclesiastes (3rd century BC) and St. Dionisyus (3rd century AD) believed that learned people spent too much time trying to acquire esoteric knowledge, how much more so today with knowledge doubling every decade or so? How much of it is necessary? We have obviously survived without it quite nicely for thousands of years. It is not that knowledge is bad but that knowledge just for the sake of knowledge--simply to avoid having to look into myself and learn to know myself--is a distraction from my real reason for being here.
In what ways do I like to acquire facts simply to avoid uncomfortable feelings or uncomfortable questions about life?
175. The Pre-Existent Mind of God
(God Created Heaven And Earth)
In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self-originated and, so the speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all...Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists....Then again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture.
Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.
--St. Athanasius, The Incarnation, (AD 297-373), CCEL
"In the beginning, God created heaven and earth." "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God." It is interesting to note that after all of the theories on the creation of the universe over the last two thousand years have been explored, cosmologists are starting to sound like theologians. When all is said and done: In the beginning...God....
Do I take comfort that God, through Jesus the Lord, created the universe and saw that it was very good?
176. Greed Wounds
(Life Without God Is Futile)
In truth, to those who occupy their minds with the distractions of life, life becomes a painful thing, which, as it were, wounds the heart with its goads, that is, with the lustful desires of increase. And sorrowful also is the solicitude connected with covetousness: it does not so much gratify those who are successful in it, as it pains those who are unsuccessful; while the day is spent in laborious anxieties, and the night puts sleep to flight from the eyes, with the cares of making gain. Vain, therefore, is the zeal of the man who looks to these things.
--St. Dionysius of Alexandria, A Commentary on the Beginning of Ecclesiastes, CCEL
It is true! My desires for increase do not gratify me even when I am successful since I would desire more still. (This is especially true in retirement planning!) If I am unsuccessful, the pain is sharper still. Greed, in all of its forms, is a curse and an addiction, since I am not aware of how the emptiness can be filled so that I can be truly satisfied.
What do I believe will truly satisfy me? What do I desire over and above the "basics"?
177. God Alone Exists
(I Long To Put On My Heavenly Home)
For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so they were now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it, for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.
--St. Athanasius, The Incarnation, CCEL
"We do not wish to be unclothed but to be further clothed so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." "They were now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again for God alone exists." Since I was created out of nothing, without God's sustaining power through Jesus, I will return to nothing again. It is only by God's grace and love that He clothes me with His Spirit, His Likeness, which allows me to exist in His Kingdom for eternity. Praise God!
How do I feel about becoming non-existent? How do I feel about being swallowed up by life?
178. Christ's Kingdom
(Saving Justice, Peace, And Joy Are In The Kingdom Of God)
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we look for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off, since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.
--BSt. Justin Martyr AD 110-165, First Apology, CCEL
The only time in Scripture that Jesus literally fled to the hills was when His followers wanted to make Him an earthly King! Jesus knew that His Kingdom was not of this earth and his followers, like St. Justin Martyr, understand this well. They were willing to die for their belief in the Kingdom of God; a place of righteousness, peace and joy. This is something they were not to experience in this world.
In what ways am I searching for a heaven on earth?
179. Proof Of The Resurrection
(Disobedience Brings Death...Obedience, Life)
For reflect upon the end of each of the preceding kings, how they died the death common to all, which, if it issued insensibility, would be a godsend to all the wicked. But since sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up, see that ye neglect not to be convinced, and to hold as your belief, that these things are true. For let even necromancy, and the divinations you practice by immaculate children, and the evoking of departed human souls, and those who are called among the magi, Dream-senders and Assistant-spirits (Familiars), and all that is done by those who are skilled in such matters Blet these persuade you that even after death souls are in a state of sensation; and those who are seized and cast about by the spirits of the dead, whom all call demoniacs or madmen, ....and all that has been uttered of a like kind. Such favor as you grant to these, grant also to us, who not less but more firmly than they believe in God; since we expect to receive again our own bodies, though they be dead and cast into the earth, for we maintain that with God nothing is impossible.
--BSt. Justin Martyr, First Apology, CCEL
There is much proof that spirits live after death, even in the pagan world. It is constant Christian tradition, however, that one cannot contact the dead at will. In the case of Saul, it was God's will that Samuel appear to him. The medium only provided the occasion. In any case, if souls are sensate after death, why can't they live again if that is God's will?
Why would I even want to contact the dead to learn about the future?
180. God's Power Can Raise The Dead
(The Dead Will Come Back To Life)
Moreover also, that His power is sufficient for the raising of dead bodies, is shown by the creation of these same bodies. For if, when they did not exist, He made at their first formation the bodies of men and their original elements, He will, when they are dissolved, in whatever manner that may take place, raise them again with equal ease: for this, too, is equally possible to Him. And it is no danger to the argument, if some suppose the first beginnings to be from matter, or the bodies of men at least to be derived from the elements as the first materials, or from seed... (This is) a matter which seems to have exceedingly confounded some, even of those admired for wisdom, who, I cannot tell why, think those doubts worthy of serious attention which are brought forward by the many.
--BAthenagoras (2ond Century Philosopher/Christian), On the Resurrection of the Dead, Chapter III, CCEL
"O my people, I will put my spirit in you that you may live....I have promised and I will do it." Besides the obvious allusions to the resurrection of the dead contained in Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones, an additional allusion is apparent. God can and does resurrect me each and every day by giving me His Spirit. Many days I feel like the walking dead with no real life in me, plodding through my routines. When I pray to God for life, His Spirit empowers me to live again in the joy of His presence.
When I feel dead emotionally, physically, and spiritually, how do I cope? How am I empowered to rise form the dead and go on?
181. A Midnight Prayer
(Bless The Lord)
Having risen from sleep, I offer Thee, O Savior, the midnight song, and I fall down and cry unto Thee: grant me not to fall asleep in the death of sin, but have compassion on me, O Thou Who wast voluntarily crucified, and hasten to raise me who am prostate in idleness, and save me in prayer and intercession, and after the night's sleep, bless me with a sinless day O Christ, our God, and save me.
--St. Macarius the Great, Prayer Book
This portion of a prayer from the Book of Daniel is a mighty, cosmic hymn of praise. I think it is the greatest such hymn in the Bible. While St. Marcarius prays for blessings, the hymn invites all creation to bless the Lord.
What does this mean? In what ways can I bless the Lord? Why is blessing the Lord necessary for my salvation? (Obviously, God doesn=t need it.)
182. A Prayer of Jesus
(May We All Be One)
Whoever you are who approach,..., stop a little and look upon me, who, though innocent, suffered for your crime; lay me up in your mind, keep me in your breast. I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men, came here as a messenger of offered peace, and as a full atonement for the fault of men....Bend your knee, and with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the cross, and with lowly countenance stooping to the earth, which is wet with innocent blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times bear me and my admonitions in your devoted heart. Follow the footsteps of my life...If these memorials shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a perishable world, from the fleeing shadow of earthly beauty, the result will be, that you will not venture, enticed by empty hope, to trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in the fleeting years of life....
--Lactantius, 4th Century, Poem on the Passion of the Lord, CCEL
This prayer, from a fourth century Church Father, is the earliest first person meditation of Jesus that I have found outside of the Bible. It is a predecessor of similar later works like the Imitation of Christ, God Calling and A Course of Miracles. I find these first person meditations very inspiring. And why shouldn=t such works be considered Ainspired@, if they don=t contradict Scripture? Jesus= prayer is that we all be one, and a part of His Body. If we are one, He can inspire us with His Spirit whether or not this takes the form of actual words.
Am I ever so inspired by Jesus that I can sense His Spirit and Words?
183. Bedtime Prayer to the Father
(Eternal Life Is Knowing God)
O Eternal God and King of all creation, Who hast granted me to arrive at this hour, forgive me the sins that I have committed today in thought, word and deed, and cleanse, O Lord, my humble soul from all defilement of flesh and spirit. And grant me, O Lord, to pass the sleep of this night in peace that when I rise from my bed I may please Thy most holy Name all the days of my life and conquer my flesh and the fleshless foes that war with me. And deliver me, O Lord, from vain and frivolous thoughts, and from evil desires which defile me...
--St. Marcarius the Great, Prayer Book
Notice the difference in the prayers to the Father of St. Marcarius and Jesus. St. Marcarius prays to the Father to forgive him, cleanse him and deliver him while Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him so that He may glorify the Father. As one becomes more Christ-like, the nature of prayer changes from asking for specific things to glorifying God in all things.
Is the nature of my prayer starting to change?
184. An Easter Vision
(I Will Never Forsake You)
Take away the linen cloths, I pray; leave the napkins in the tomb: Thou art sufficient for us and without Thee there is nothing. Release the chained shades of the infernal prison, and recall to the upper regions whatever sinks to the lowest depths...You rescue an innumerable people from the prison of death, and they follow in freedom to the place when their leader approaches. The fierce monster in alarm vomits forth the multitude whom he had swallowed up, and the Lamb withdraws the sheep from the jaws of the wolf.
--Venantius Fortunatus, 4th century, On Easter, CCEL
In this powerful Easter vision, Jesus is seen rescuing countless souls from the prison of death and the jaws of Satan. Since in eternity there is no time, the power and love of AJesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever@.
Do I take comfort in the fact that Jesus is my Redeemer?
185. Bedtime Prayer to the Son
(I Give Thanks To God Through Jesus)
O All-Ruler, Word of the Father, Jesus Christ, Thou who art perfect, never in Thy great mercy leave me, but ever abide in me, Thy servant. O Jesus, Good Shepherd, of Thy sheep, deliver me not to the revolt of the serpent and leave me not to the will of Satan, for the seed of corruption if in me. Lord, adorable God, Holy King, Jesus Christ, guard me asleep by the unwaning light, Thy Holy Spirit by Whom Thou didst sanctify Thy disciples. O Lord, grant me, Thy unworthy servant, Thy salvation on my bed. Enlighten my mind with the light of understanding of Thy Holy Gospel. Enlighten my soul with the love of Thy Cross. Enlighten my heart with the purity of Thy Word. Enlighten my body with Thy passionless Passion. Keep my thoughts in Thy humility. And rouse me in good time to glorify Thee, for Thou art supremely glorified, with Thy eternal Father, and the most Holy Spirit forever. Amen.
--St. Antioch, Prayer Book
St. Antioch asks Jesus to enlighten his mind, heart, spirit and body. St. Paul indicates that he prays constantly to the Father through Jesus. Part of the enlightenment is realizing that the Father is the Source of all blessings and Jesus is the Channel through which they are accomplished. It is one of the mysteries of our Faith.
Am I gradually being enabled to accept and be enlightened by spiritual truths?
186. A Case Against the Death Penalty
(Hate is Murder)
For it is not the part of a righteous judge to define requital on the principle of like for like, but the originator of evil must pay his debt with addition, if he is to be made better by punishment and render other men wiser by his example. Therefore, since it is ordained that Cain pay the penalty of his sin seven fold, he who kills him, it is said, will discharge the sentence pronounced against him by the divine judgement....Cain supposed that he would be an easy prey to everyone, because of their being no safety for him in the earth...and of his being deprived of the succor of God...but Scripture proves his error... For to men suffering punishment, death is a gain, because it brings relief form their pain. But thy life shall be prolonged, that thy punishment may be made commensurate with thy sins...
--St. Basil the Great, Letter CCLX, (CCEL)
St. Basil indicates that the punishment for a crime should be greater than the impact of the crime itself, short of the death penalty, for the person to be corrected by the incarceration and to be an example to others. The goal is correction, not torture and death. The hope is that the person will have a change of heart, repent, and have God give the person a new life and save his soul in the process. I pray that the al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists will be open to having such a change of heart!
What are my feelings on the death penalty?
187. Bedtime Prayer to the Holy Spirit
(The Spirit Will Guide Me In All Truth)
O Lord, Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, have compassion and mercy on Thy sinful servant and pardon my unworthiness, and forgive me all the sins that I humanly committed today, and not only humanly but even worse than a beast--my voluntary sins , known and unknown, from my youth and from evil suggestions, and from my brazenness, and from boredom....--for I have done all of this and much more--have mercy my Lord and Creator, on me Thy wretched and unworthy servant, and absolve and forgive and deliver me in Thy goodness and love for men, so that, lustful, sinful and wretched as I am, I may lie down and sleep and rest in peace. And I shall worship, praise, and glorify Thy most honorable Name, with the Father and His only-begotten Son, now and ever, and for all ages. Amen.
--St. Ephrem the Syrian, Prayer Book
According to the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth because He testifies to the truth about sin (the basic sin is refusal to believe in Christ), righteousness ( Jesus returned to the Father in spite of his earthly disgrace) and condemnation (Satan has been condemned by Jesus= death). St. Ephrem prays to the Spirit to guide him to truth abut his own sinful nature.
Do I truly want to know the truth about myself?
188. Doubt Isn't Defeat
(Blessed Are Those Who Hear The Word Of God And Keep It)
By a sword is meant the word which tries and judges our thoughts, which pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of our thoughts. Now every soul in the hour of the Passion was subjected, as it were, to a kind of searching...Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest...Even thou (Mary) thyself, who hast been taught form on high the things concerning the Lord, shall be reached by some doubt. This is the sword....He indicates that after the offence at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself, confirming their heart in faith in Him. In the same way we saw Peter, after he had been offended, holding more firmly to his faith in Christ. What was human in him was proved unsound, that the power of the Lord might be shown.
--St. Basil the Great, Letter CCLX, CCEL
Even the faith of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was tested by what her Son endured and what others said about Him. Ultimately, she is not blessed primarily because she was the mother of Jesus, but because she "heard the word of God and kept it." Her faith, though shaken, was confirmed and strengthened. The same was true with St. Peter.
When I have doubts and my faith is shaken, do I still trust in Jesus' words?
189. Prayer For Forgiveness
(Return, Rebellious Children, And I Will Heal You)
O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who alone hast authority to forgive men their sins, overlook in Thy goodness and love for men all my offences whether committed with knowledge or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation Thy divine, glorious, spotless, and life-giving Mysteries, not for punishment, nor for an increase of sins, but for purification and sanctification and as a pledge of the life and kingdom to come, as a protection and help, and for the destruction of enemies, and for the blotting out of my many transgressions. For Thou art a God of mercy and compassion and love for men, and to Thee we send up the glory, with /the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
--St. John Damascene, Prayer Book
While Jesus alone has the authority to forgive sins, as members of His Body, as channels for His Spirit, we are also given a share of His authority. By my forgiveness of people, events, and the world, I am healed. As I am healed, the healing is imparted to all those with whom I come into contact and all of those for whom I pray. My salvation is not just for me; it is for all.
What people or events do I still need to forgive? Does knowing that my forgiveness not only frees me but also those around me, make it easier to forgive?
190. God's Anger
(God Nurses NO Lasting Anger)
I have often observed, Donatus, that many persons hold this opinion, which some philosophers have also maintained, that God is not subject to anger, since the divine nature is either altogether beneficent, and that it is inconsistent with His surpassing and excellent power to do injury to anyone; or, at any rate, He takes no notice of us at all, so that no advantage comes to us from His goodness, and no evil from His ill-will. But the error of these men, because it is very great, and tends to overthrow the condition of human life, must be refuted by us, lest you yourself should also be deceived, being incited by the authority of men who deem themselves wise.
--Lactontius, On the Anger of God, (CCEL)
Psalm 103: 8-12
While I would like to dismiss the Biblical accounts of God's anger as the projection of human qualities into God by the authors, it is also true that we are created in God's Image and our characteristics have a godly counterpart. It appears that anger is an aspect of God's holiness and His absolute demand for loyalty. What I interpret as God's anger is a parent's chastisement of a rebellious or uncomprehending child. Of course the child, wanting his own way, experiences the purification process as painful and controlling. This, however, is not the parents intent.
Does this mean that parents are wrong to correct their children? Does God not have the same right, or obligation, to correct us for our own ultimate happiness?
191. A New Day...A New Start
(Discipline Bears The Fruit Of Righteousness)
Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly joys. Lord, deliver me from eternal torments. Lord, if I have sinned in mind or thought, in word or deed, forgive me. Lord, deliver me from all ignorance, forgetfulness, cowardice and stony insensibility. Lord, deliver me from every temptation. Lord, enlighten my heart which evil desires have darkened. Lord, I being human have sinned, but Thou being the generous God, have mercy on me, knowing the sickness of my soul. Lord, send Thy grace to my help, that I may glorify Thy holy Name. Lord Jesus Christ, write me Thy servant in the Book of Life, and grant me a good end. O Lord my God, even though I have done nothing good in Thy sight, yet grant me by Thy grace to make a good start. Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace. Lord of heaven and earth remember me, Thy sinful servant, shameful and unclean, in Thy Kingdom. Amen.
--St. John Chrysostom, Prayer Book
Hebrews 12: 11-14
Every day is a new day to strive for "that holiness without which no one will see the Lord." To achieve that holiness requires discipline which at first seems a cause for pain but ultimately brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. There is no failure in falling. The only failure is not to get up and start anew.
Is my faith and conviction strong enough to weather the tests of every day living? If not, how can I strengthen it?
192. A Declaration of Faith
(Glory To The Father, Son, And Spirit)
There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal. And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from god, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men. Image of the Son, Perfect Image of he Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all. There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything super induced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abideth ever.
--Gregory Thaumaturgus, 3rd century Church Father, (CCEL)
This alternative Creed, older than the Nicean Creed used in Church, contains a staggering number of names for God and qualities of God including: Father, Efficient Word, Wisdom, Power, Eternal Image, Begetter of the Perfect Begotten, Lord, Only of Only, Likeness of Deity, Invisible, Incorruptible, Immortal, Eternal, Holy Spirit, Life, Son, the Cause, Holy Fount, Sanctity, the Supplier, Leader of Sanctification, and Trinity. When I read it, I am overwhelmed by the majesty and mystery of the Trinity. St. Paul's writing on the Trinity in Ephesians is equally overpowering. I don't think that I could believe in a God I could fully comprehend. There would be no mystery or majesty but only a larger version of myself (ughhh! How egotistical!)
Do I expect to fully comprehend God in this life?
193. The Devil's Last Laugh
(The Son Was Revealed To Destroy The Works Of Satan)
Afore time did the devil deride the nature of man with great laughter, and he has had his joy over the times of our calamity as his festal-days. But the laughter is only a three days pleasure, while the wailing is eternal; and his great laughter has prepared him for a greater wailing and ceaseless tears, and inconsolable weeping, and a sword in his heart. This sword did our Leader forge against the enemy with fire in the virgin furnace, in such wise and after such fashion as He willed, and gave it His point by the energy of His invincible divinity, and dipped it in the water of an undefiled baptism, and sharpened it by sufferings without passion in them, and made it bright by the mystical resurrection; and hence with by Himself He put to death the vengeful adversary, together with his whole host. What manner of word, therefore, will express our joy of his misery? For he who was once an archangel is now a devil; he who once lived in heaven is now seen crawling like a serpent upon earth; he who once was jubilant with the cherubim, is now shut up in pain in the guard-house of swine; and him, too, in fire, shall we put to rout if we mind those things which are contrary to his choice; by the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power unto the ages of the ages. Amen.
--Gregory Thaumaturgus, On All the Saints, (CCEL)
This powerful piece of sermon, by an early Church father for the Feast of All Saints, describes the victory of Jesus and the crushing defeat and fall of Satan. This victory can be witnessed in the exorcisms of Jesus. Amazingly, as members of His Body, Jesus has given us a share of this authority over the powers of evil as long as we use the power of faith in Jesus and not our own feeble strength. With the power of Christ, we can do greater things than He did when on earth. Why doesn=t this power of Christ manifest itself more often? Our lack of faith is the answer.
Do I believe that I can have the power to vanquish evil in the Name of Jesus?
194. The Calling of the Magi
(All Gods Will Prostrate Themselves Before The Lord)
And the king forthwith gave orders to bring in all the interpreters of prodigies, and the sages who were under his dominion. And when all the heralds sed with their proclamations, all these assembled in the temple. And when they saw the star above Pege, and the diadem with the star and the stone, and the statues lying on the floor, they said: O king, a root divine and princely has risen, bearing the image of the King of heaven and earth. For Pege is the daughter of the Bethlehemite Pege. And the diadem is the mark of a king, and the star is a celestial announcement of portents to fall on the earth. Out of Judah has arisen a kingdom which shall subvert all the memorials of the Jews. And the prostration of the gods upon the floor prefigured the end of their honor. For he who comes, being of more ancient dignity, shall displace all the recent. Now, therefore, O king, send to Jerusalem. For you will find the Christ of the Omnipotent God borne in bodily form in the bodily arms of a women. And the star remained above the statue of Pege, called the Celestial, until the wise men came forth, and then it went with them.
--BJulius Africanus, 3rd century Church father, Narrative of Events Happening in Persia on the Birth of Christ, CCEL
Whether it be Dagon, the god of the Philistines, prostrating before Yahweh; Pege, the god of Persia, prostrating before the new-born Christ; or my ego, prostrating itself before the spirit of Jesus within me and others, the message is the same. All old gods are left behind in the light of new revealed truth.
Am I open to putting aside my old gods of the ego: power, wealth and fame?
195. The Proper Attitude Towards Prayer
(O God, Be Merciful To Me, A Sinner)
And this Hannah..., who was a type of the Church, maintains and observes, in that she prayed to God not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly, within the very recesses of her heart. She spoke with hidden prayer, but with manifest faith. She spoke not with her voice, but with her heart, because she knew that thus God hears; and she effectually obtained what she sought, because she asked it with belief....And let not the worshiper...be ignorant in what manner the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not with eyes lifted up boldly to heaven, nor with hands proudly raised; but beating his breast, and testifying to the sins shut up within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. And while the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man who thus asked, the rather deserved to be sanctified, since he placed the hope of salvation not in the confidence of his innocence, because there is none who is innocent, but confessing his sinfulness he humbly prayed, and He who pardons the humble heard the petitioner....
--BSt. Cyprian, Treatise IV: On the Lord=s Prayer, CCEL
St. Cyprian points out the qualities and conditions that make prayer heard by God including silence, modesty, faith, heart-felt need, humility, confession of wounds/errors and patient reliance on the divine mercy. While I believe that God hears all prayer, these qualities and conditions make me receptive to receiving God's answer whether or not it is to my liking.
Am I open to hearing God's answer to my prayer even if it is not what I wanted or expected?
196. Christian Warfare?
(I Will Offer Terms Of Peace)
All the spoiling then, which Rome was exposed to in the recent calamity- all the slaughtering, plundering, burning and misery- was a result of the custom of war. But what was novel was that savage barbarians showed themselves in so gentle a guise, that the largest churches were chosen and set apart for the purpose of being filled with the people to whom quarter was given, and that in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged; that into them many were led by their relenting enemies to be set at liberty, and that from them none were led into slavery by merciless foes. Whoever does not see that this is to be attributed to the name of Christ, and to the Christian temper, is blind; whoever see this, and gives no praise, is ungrateful; whoever hinders anyone from praising it, is mad. Far be it from any prudent man to impute this clemency to the barbarians. There fierce anger and bloody minds were awed, and bridled, and marvelously tempered by Him who so long before said by His prophet: I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes; nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from them.
--St. Augustine, City of God, Chapter 7, CCEL
The Jews were more lenient to enemies of war than the surrounding nations. At best, however, the Jews made slaves of all vanquished peoples. Generally, if the enemy was from a distant country, all males would be put to death and all women and children taken into slavery. If the enemy lived nearby, all souls were put to death, including children. St. Augustin's description of the fifth century sack of Rome by the Germanic tribes indicate a humanity that goes well beyond Old Testament teaching and may be considered an aspect of the Christianizing of the ancient world.
How much mercy am I willing to offer al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners of war?
197. The Providence Of God
(The Lord Is Kind To The Ungrateful And Wicked)
To the divine providence it has seemed good to prepare in the world to come for the righteous good things, which the unrighteous shall not enjoy; and for the wicked evil things, by which the good shall not be tormented. But as for the good things of this life, and its ills, God has willed that these should be common to both; that we might not too eagerly covet the things which wicked men are seen quually to enjoy, nor shrink with an unseemly fear from the ills which even good men often suffer.
--St. Augustine, City of God, Chapter 8, CCEL
I have often believed that adverse circumstances in my life were a form of punishment while pleasant circumstances implied that I did something right, or at least that I prayed correctly. As I grow spiritually I realize, much to my chagrin and astonishment, that I have grown much from the adversity while the good circumstances brought no lasting joy or growth! St. Augustine's words on God's providence regarding worldly things are very pertinent here. What I consider good or bad becomes increasingly ambivalent depending on where I am at spiritually. What becomes more important is my attitude and my ability to look beyond myself and my ego as the center of the universe, and to look toward what is best for my ultimate good and the good of others.
Am I willing to grow up and mature spiritually?
198. The Restraint Of Human Freedom
(I Will Not Spend My Life On Human Pleasures But On The Will Of God)
...He (God)...placed man at the head of the world, and man, too, made in the image of God, to whom He imparted mind, and reason, and foresight that he might imitate God; and although the first elements of his body were earthly, yet the substance was inspired by a heavenly and divine breathing. And when He had given him all things for his service, He willed that he alone should be free. And lest, again, an unbounded freedom should fall into peril, He laid down a command, in which man was taught that there was no evil in the fruit of the tree; but he was forewarned that evil would arise if perchance he should exercise his free will, in contempt of the law that was given. For, on the one hand, it had behooved him to be free, lest the image of God should, unfittingly be in bondage, and on the other, the law was to be added, so that an unbridled liberty might not break forth even to a contempt of the Giver...
--BNovatian, 3rd century Church father, Concerning the Trinity, CCEL
1 Peter 4: 1-6
The point made by Novatian and St. Peter is well taken. Freedom, without self-restraint, would result in my reverting to the carnal desires of my fleshly nature including debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and wanton idolatry. Worst of all, the lack of self-restraint would ultimately result in my contempt for God. And since I am created in God's image, a spirit, this contempt of God would result in my self-contempt and convert me into a self-willed evil spirit!
Do I really understand the importance of self-restraint to my salvation?
199. The Wrath Of God
(God Will Destroy Those Who Destroy The Earth)
...If we read of His wrath, and consider certain descriptions of His indignation, and learn that hatred is asserted of Him, yet we are not to understand these to be asserted of Him in the sense in which they are human vices. For all these things, although they may corrupt man, cannot at all corrupt the divine power... He is simple and without any corporeal comixture, being wholly of that essence, which, whatever it be, He alone knows, constitutes, His being, since He is called Spirit. And thus those things which in men are faulty and corrupting, since they arise from the corruptibility of the body, and matter itself, in God cannot exert the force of corruptibility, since, as we have said, they have come, not of vice, but of reason.
--BNovatian, 3rd century Church father, Concerning the Trinity, CCEL
Revelations 11: 18
While I do not pretend to understand the Book of Revelations and the other apocalyptic literature of the Bible, I do know that God's wrath is a purifying fire that will destroy the forces of evil (those who destroy the earth) and establish the reign of God where all things will be created anew.
Do I fear the purifying fire of God's love?
200. The Sermon On The Mount
(Blessed Are The Pure In Spirit)
If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount...I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself. For the sermon itself is brought to a close in such a way , that it is clear there are in it all the precepts which go to mold the life.... He has sufficiently indicated, as I think, that these sayings which He uttered on the mount so perfectly guide the life of those who may be willing to live according to them, that they may justly be compared to one building upon a rock. I have said this merely that it may be clear that the sermon before us is perfect in all the precepts by which the Christian life is molded....
--BSt. Augustine, The Sermon on the Mount, Chapter 1, CCEL
The Beatitudes, and the Sermon itself, express the fact that the old, false values of the ego-centered world (wealth, power, fame) are disappearing and a new, spiritual world is being born. Who is Blessed? It is the poor in spirit, those who morn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness. These values and characteristics are not considered very high by the world's standards but they constitute the standard in the Kingdom of God.
Am I learning to mold my character on the Kingdom of Heaven, and not the earthly culture in which I live?
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