Abba Peter said, ‘We must not be puffed up when the Lord does something through our meditation, but we must rather thank Him for making us worthy to be called by Him.’ He used to say it is good to think about each virtue in this way.
—–Abba Peter of the Desert
Clearly, the wise Abba articulates to us that all virtues come from our relationship with the Almighty. This point of view eludes so many people today, because we live as though virtues are man-made. How many times have you heard the expression, “I am a self-made man?” Granted, there are many people who have worked and studied diligently to accomplish their goals. In the midst of such thinking we are called to look higher and outside of ourselves for the source of our success. By taking this approach we do not limit our potential, but it explodes because God is the center of our lives.
What would the world really be like if God were always the core of our plans? Perhaps we would find it easier to forgive, to say I’m sorry, to turn the other cheek, to give credit to others, and to suddenly discover that the Spirit of God truly dwells with man. This sort of acknowledgement would make for a much kinder and gentler world. Our world would be free of vicious competition and jealousy, because it would no longer be about our ability but about God’s gift expressed through us.
You are worthy because the worthy God is living in you.
- The Self-Made Man (stkaallen.wordpress.com)
The seeds of contemplation and sanctity have been planted in those souls, (all people of good will)but they merely lie dormant. They do not grow. In other words: sanctifying grace occupies the substance of their souls but never flows out to inflame and irrigate and take possession of their faculties, their intellect and will. God will not manifest himself to these souls because they do not seek him.
Merton’s wisdom tells us that we can only achieve true unity with God when we seek it with our whole beings. God has implanted within each of us the seeds that will bring us to full fellowship with Him, but it is our mission to brings forth the fruit offered by these seeds. His grace is a gift that gives each one the capacity to fully possess the salvation of God.
Our desire to see ourselves fully sanctified with our creator is the lifelong mission of the Christian. Many a person has gone through life, many times a good life, without fully claiming the wonderful grace of God. Merton warns that Christian growth is a proactive venture, because God does not force Himself upon us. We are called to seek and desire Him.
- The Meaning of the Contemplative Life (christoschicago.wordpress.com)
- Pilgrimage (tbolto.wordpress.com)
Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He was born to serfs in December of 1468 or 1469 in Yelokhovo, near Moscow (now in Moscow). It’s believed, he was born on the portico of the local church where his mother prayed for easy birth. He is thought to have died in 1552 or 1557
St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is named after the saint. Originally an apprentice shoemaker in Moscow, he adopted an eccentric lifestyle of shoplifting and giving to the poor to shame the miserly and help those in need. He is thought to have had the gift of clairvoyance. Once a man came to the shoemaker asking for good boots that would last him for years. Basil laughed and said the man did not need the boots as he would die tomorrow, and it happened just as Basil said.
He went naked and weighed himself down with chains. He rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church, and especially for his violent behavior towards the innocent.
When he died on August 2, 1552 or 1557, St. Macarius, Metropolitan of Moscow, served his funeral with many clergy. Ivan the Terrible himself acted as pallbearer and carried his coffin to the cemetery. He is buried in St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which was commissioned by Ivan IV to commemorate the capture of the Khanate of Kazan. The cathedral is also known as “The Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moa”. In 1588 Tsar Fedor Ivanovich had a chapel added on the eastern side above the grave of Basil Fool for Christ.
While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, “Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.” After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord’s servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,” ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.
For several years now I have been on a pilgrimage of prayer-an excursion that has brought me to many different places and ideas, but in the end the greatest inspirations come from the fathers of the faith. Some of these fathers, like John Knox, come from the reformation. Others are from the desert or monasteries, but all have testimonies of the power of prayer to transcend all barriers. The mere fact that Queen Mary, enemy of all things protestant, would have a good word about the prayers of John Knox speaks volumes about the power of prayer.
Have you neglected prayer in your life? Have you limited the nature and scope of your prayer? Do you fail to spend time simply in the presence of God? If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not allowing God to bless you as fully as He might. Set aside a place, a time, a manner of prayer that is yours and yours alone. I’m afraid that the corporate prayer of worship is not enough to truly feel the complete awe and majesty of God in your life. Besides, if you come to worship primed and ready, the blessings will flow like a torrent rather than a gentle stream.
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. Many religious traditions (Buddhism, the Christian Desert Fathers) include practices that involve restraint with respect to actions of body, speech, and mind. The founders and earliest practitioners of these religions lived extremely austere lifestyles, refraining from sensual pleasures and the accumulation of material wealth. They practiced asceticism not as a rejection of the enjoyment of life, or because the practices themselves are virtuous, but as an aid in the pursuit of physical and spiritual health.
From these ascetics much of our prayer and contemplative practices were given to us. In these day of stress and multiple pressure of life we can learn much from them. One of these ascetics was medieval mystic Ignatius of Loyola. Today I present a very simple practice known as the Daily Examen. The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience. Here’s how it works.
At the close of each day find a quiet place, and perform these tasks.
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
I believe that these simple steps can change your perception of God and yourself.
A pastor once told a story about a visitor to a heavy-duty grease factory. When they arrived they were ushered into a large room, and a tour host introduced them to the company history and the number of employees at work producing the best machine lubricants in the world. They toured the noisy factory with lots of machinery and wheels whirling, mixing, and packaging. This place was full of activity.
As the tour ended, one of the visitors said, “I didn’t see a shipping department.” The guide responded, “Well, we don’t have a shipping department because it takes all the grease we make to lubricate our equipment and keep the wheels turning.”
If you were asked, you would likely say that was a waste of effort. We all know that goods are manufactured to be distributed. The purpose of a factory is to produce goods to be used by people outside of the plant. The church, however, is a grease factory of its own. Year after year we turn inward and forget that the purpose of the church is the transformation of the world. We spend the bulk of our resources keeping the wheels turning. Jesus sent us into the world to make a difference, and we must turn away from ourselves to be effective.
Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, ‘Why do you avoid us?’ The old man said to him, ‘God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.’
—–sayings of the desert
The heavenly hosts have but one will, but men have many directions. At first glance it seems Arsenius is advocating total isolation, with further thought, there is perhaps a deeper meaning. Men are so scattered and confused when attempting to follow after God. We search in many directions, and fail to find peace with God. Constant discussion and speculation dominate our lives, and no truth is found. For thousands of years men have discussed and debated the meaning of miracles, healings, suffering, and have found few answers. The Abba calls us to put God first, and with that decision, we can have the freedom to find His will. Putting God first can be as simple as beginning each day in prayer, or having a time of silence to keep our focus. The Abba warns that we must not abandon God to be in the world.
Once the order was given at Scetis, ‘Fast the week.’ Now it happened that some brothers came from Egypt to visit Abba Moses and he cooked something for them. Seeing some smoke, the neighbors said to the ministers, ‘Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.’ The ministers said, ‘When he comes, we will speak to him ourselves.’ When the Saturday came, since they knew Abba Moses’ remarkable way of life, the ministers said to him in front of everyone, ‘O Abba Moses, you did not keep the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment of God.’
—–sayings of the desert
It is a difficult thing to discern sometimes whether we are acting out of religious piety or truly following the commands of God. Our community, like the community of Scetis, can confuse the two. Men have a way of making so many rules, and often these rules are just a pretense of following God. The practice of His presence is far greater than keeping the commands of a church, a class, or a community. God’s commands are made for the good of His creation. Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” The commands of God are not meant to burden, punish or diminish our value, but to allow us to know God’s love and mercy and share it with the world.