Tag Archives: Grace

Self Denial

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

—–Jesus

 

Self Denial is defined as – the willingness to forgo personal pleasures or undergo personal trials in the pursuit of the increased good of another.

Christian monastic asceticism(severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence) is remarkable for its balance, its sense of proportion. It does not overstress the negative side of the ascetic life, nor does it tend to flatter human nature by diminishing responsibilities or watering down the truth. It shows us clearly that while we can do nothing without grace, we must nevertheless cooperate with grace. It warns us that we must make an uncompromising break with the world and all that it stands for, but it keeps encouraging us with the hope of the happiness that lies ahead.

—— Thomas Merton


 

Self-denial is not very popular in our American culture. We are taught to want the best and more of it. A beer commercial once proclaimed, “You only go around once in life: Go for all the gusto you can.” The commercial is no longer aired, but the attitude permeates our society. Over and over we are urged to grab for all of life that we possibly can, and then go for more. An unprecedented number of Americans classify their religious status as unaffiliated or “none.” The concept of self-denial is an anathema to our society and, therefore, so is Christianity.

Nones

Jesus teaches his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. That concept just doesn’t speak to our society. Everything must have a payoff, a good result, be successful or it is just not worth doing. We in the church speak of what sacrifices are necessary to live the Christian life. Hypocrisy, ill will and scandals have unfortunately brought Christianity to aHypocrites screeching halt in our day. Many people have a hard time seeing that Christianity has any genuineness at all. We are no longer the focus of the marketplace or the leaders of society. Quite honestly, it seems as though we are being erased as if we never existed. We are either considered uneducated at best or mean hypocrites at worse. Our identity has become the purveyors of the “thou shat not “message. Why, you ask?

Because of the overall negativity of our message, much of the world has forgotten about the grace of God. This grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. In the secular world grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement. I would like to propose that both definitions are applicable to the follower of Jesus who practices self-denial. Merton says that we can do nothing without grace, and asserts that we must cooperate with grace. I believe that the Christian who lives in oneness with God by taking up of their cross is a person who is both receiving the unmerited favor of God and journeys through life with simple elegance. This life of self-denial is surprisingly freeing. We are no longer dragged down by competition, envy or even defeat. Now we can live in a world where God truly reigns. Simple self-denial makes God’s kingdom very real in the here and now.

Grace-1

The challenge is – do we truly believe in Him enough to practice self-denial and cross bearing? Tall orders these are, but ones that have an” other worldly” payoff. Those large numbers of “nones” that the pollsters tell us about have rejected the grace that comes with self-denial and can scarcely imagine what “grace freedom” really means. Grace freedom is the ability to live in the kingdom of God in the now and be excited about what is to come. The best things in life come by letting go.

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?


Prayer

Lord, I pray for the gift of grace that allows me to deny myself and take up my cross. That road is one that my mind will not let me follow, but I know that if I open myself to your grace I can see your mind and gladly follow. When that happens I have unimaginable freedom. The road is confusing, but I trust you.

Amen

1 Comment

Filed under Grace, Thomas Merton

The Time of Your Fervor

Many of the thoughts that I share are written at a coffee shop on Oak St. in New Orleans. There is nothing particularly inspiring about the shop. As a matter of fact, it is a bit run down and not the cleanest place in the world. In spite of that, the old shop has a special way of inspiring my thoughts. The reason is that it is an old bank building where my grandfather used to keep his Christmas Club account. Christmas Club accounts have gone out of vogue, but when I was growing up in the 1960’s they were very important. What is a Christmas Club? The Christmas Club is a savings program that was first offered by various banks in the United States during the Great Depression. The concept is that bank customers deposit a set amount of money each week into a special savings account and receive the money back at the end of the year for Christmas shopping. Because of that, every time I stepped into the old bank it was Christmas. I could try to imagine what I might get for Christmas. Somehow the old bank building still gives me a sense of Christmas. I am no longer six but in my sixties, but that old building still does something for me.

Anthony-of-Egypt-July-19Let me share some thoughts from one of my favorite desert monks today. Anthony of Egypt was the founder of the monastic movement. He fled to the desert to find peace with God. People from all over the known world traveled to see him and seek his wisdom. Here is a small portion of advice he give to a young monk, and just maybe to you as well.

“My son, do not stray away from God seeking what is perishable; but rather remember what you have decided in the time of your fervor, and do not forget the seal by which you were purified before. Remember the tears of repentance, and the prayers that were raised on your behalf, and flee from the evil thoughts lest you be lost. My son, leave your bed every night, and wet your bedclothes with your tears, and supplicate to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, your renewal, and for help in the good deeds so that you may inherit His eternal heavenly kingdom.”

—Anthony of Egypt

When we turn from God and seek the perishable, we forget the seal of our purification. Our salvation was sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus. He put Himself forth for our sins and failures. He who knew no sin became sin. And why -for you and me. Those times when we pursue the perishable treasures of life we forget the wonderful grace of God. Grace purifies that which cannot be purified. There is no other formula by which we can approach God other than grace. The Christian must discern between the perishable and the seal of grace.

We are urged to take time to remember what life was like before God so that we can realize all that He does for us. We come to God through repentance from our rebellion. A truly repentant heart is a tearful one. The monk advises us to remember the tears (feeling) of that time. As we turn around to follow God we are compelled to acknowledge our failures and seek to be more like Him. The tears, literal and symbolic, are a sign of the reality of our confession of faith. Never forget them.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These words were wisely written by the poet John Donne. Anthony advises us to remember the prayers that were and are offered for us so that we might keep on the right path. Perhaps nothing is more dangerous than forgetting the path that brought us to our present place. We must not forget our origin. That remembrance keeps us humble and allows us to grow. I cherish the prayerful support of all who journey with me. We all need to constantly be reminded that we are surrounded by evil, but we are also consumed in a blanket of prayer protection.

John-donne

May we spend our days in these remembrances that the wise monk sets forth.


Prayer

Now Lord, we set ourselves before you. We know from whence we came and the desolation of that place. That seal of salvation that you gave us is such a blessed gift which cannot be replicated or replaced. Our repentance is bathed in the tears of confession and our protection from evil is wrapped in a blanket of prayer. May we go through this day and everyday remembering these blessings.

Amen


Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers, Monasticism

Our Heart’s Condition

In his heart a man plans his course …..

Proverbs 16:9

THE COURSE OUR LIVES TAKE WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE CONDITION OF OUR HEARTS !

depressedIT’S IN OUR HEARTS THAT WE DETERMINE …..

 

  • WHO WE WILL LIVE FOR ?
  • WHO WE WILL SERVE ?
  • WHO WE WILL LOVE ?
  • WILL IT BE THE GOD OF HEAVEN OR THE GOD OF THIS WORLD ?

 

……….being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.

Ephesians 4:18

Leave a comment

Filed under Devotional Quotes, Sin

A Touch of Grace

“And this has been a comfort to me, that I choose Jesus as my Savior-by His grace. In my suffering and sorrow He has taught me that I should choose only Him for my salvation in my well being and sorrow.” 

 –Julian of Norwich

Julian Norwich 2Long ago Julian found a way to touch the grace of God in difficult times of her life. In our very trying and difficult world , we too, can find this grace and make challenging times of life opportunities for growth and grace.

 

Prayer Thought – Lord help me to find and understand grace as it is freely given by you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Devotional Quotes, Julian of Norwich

The “I”

“It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your “I” is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary “I.” No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.”

― Richard Rohr

Leave a comment

Filed under Devotional Quotes, Richard Rhor

CLEAR VISION

Luke 15:11-32

 He was born blind.  A perfectly formed, beautiful baby boy kicking his tiny legs and swinging his arms in a sea of darkness.  He had little hope for a quality life in first century Jerusalem.  His father daily led him to his unofficial, but reserved location near a small pool.  Others who had forfeited in some way God’s blessing spent their wretched days there – begging.  Some days he collected nothing.  Some days a hateful boy stole the few pennies resting in his cup.  Everybody in Jerusalem knew that either he or his parents had a great sin for which God was exacting vengeance by taking his sight.  They all wished they knew what that family had done wrong!

One day, just like thousands of other black days, Jesus passed by.  He put some mud on those sightless eyes, gave instructions to wash off the mud in a nearby pool, and left the man to respond in faith.  At first, he saw a blurry light, then large shapes.  He blinked quickly several times.  His vision cleared!  He could see!  Out of darkness!  When questioned by religious authorities already concerned about the miracle worker, the formerly blind man could only explain the phenomenon this way:  “Only one thing I know.  I was blind, but now I see.”  What joy!

Many of us born with sight, still have a clouded vision of Jesus.  We’ve allowed so much to distort our image of the Savior!  The Bible is full of stories of people who did the same.  Let’s learn from them.

He’d been in the field all day, but as he approached the house, it was evident something big was happening.  It was a party!  Why in the world, in the middle of the work week, with no previous notice would Father be throwing such a huge party?  Confusion gave way to anger when he saw him.  So, he was back – the spoiled little brother who took his inheritance and left home to have fun.  He’d lost it all!  The older brother couldn’t feel relief that his younger brother was alive, joy for his father, hope that things had changed – just ANGER!

Jesus was coming for lunch.  Martha had peeled the vegetables, cooked the lamb chops, mixed the fruit salad, and baked the bread.  She had straightened the house, set the table, washed up all the cooking utensils, mopped the kitchen floor, and dusted the living room.  Mary, her sister – sat!  Jesus and Mary were talking and laughing and Martha was jealous.  Why did Mary always get preferential treatment from everyone?  Jesus was telling Mary and Lazarus about his work, but Martha was too JEALOUS to listen!

He was young, handsome, wealthy, – a good man.  Although everyone thought he had it all – he knew he did not.  He spoke out of a sense of frustration when he inquired of Jesus, “What am I missing?  What’s this hole in my heart that my possessions cannot fill?”  Jesus, testing his commitment, suggested he give away all his possessions in order to clear up his priorities.  The rich young man wouldn’t even consider the suggestion.  He preferred his POSSESSIONS to Jesus.

The disciples were riding out choppy waves on the Sea of Galilee.   Jesus, not needing a boat, simply walked out on top of the water to join them.  Impetuous Peter wanted to walk on the water, too.  What a thrill!  Jesus probably chuckled to himself as he gave Peter permission to join him.  At first, Peter managed the miraculous, but after a few steps he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink.  Panic replaced exhilaration because SELF-RELIANCE replaced faith.

Pontius Pilate had a chance to be history’s greatest hero.  He had the power to set Jesus free.  He knew he should.  He recognized his innocence.  He vacillated in his judgment, but the crowd won out.  Pilate was people-pleaser.  He didn’t want trouble from the Jews and a reprimand from Caesar, so he compromised his integrity and ordered the death of the Savior.  He made a ceremony of washing his hands of the Messiah’s innocent blood, but OTHER PEOPLE kept him from allowing the stain to be washed from his soul.

James and John – brothers looking out for each other.  They didn’t feel completely comfortable with the question, but the obsession for power and recognition overshadowed the guilt.  They sucked in their breaths, and nonchalantly asked Jesus for a little favor.  The request – to sit on either side of Jesus on His heavenly throne.  After all, wouldn’t it be lovely to be recognized throughout all eternity as Jesus’ favorites?  How powerful the feeling would be as all the saints of all the ages took note of their importance.  Jesus dealt the brothers a powerful blow with His reply – they had missed the whole point!  Those who find their joy in service are great, not those who find their joy in POWER or RECOGNITION.

What clouds our vision of Jesus?  Like the blind beggar who responded in faith, let Jesus five you clear sight.  What joy!

Monica Boudreaux

Leave a comment

Filed under Grace, Humility

More through Grace

JulianThe passion came to my mind as a result of my prayers. I had a great empathy with the passion of Christ but it was clear that God could give me more through His grace.

—-Julian of Norwich

Lady Julian lived the simple life of a hermit, but she knew that she could experience limitless revelation through the grace of God. One of her great desires of life was to feel the pain and abandonment of the passion of Christ. This knowledge would allow her to better understand the depth of God’s extravagant love towards us.

Like Lady Julian, we can have more of God through His grace. Words could not adequately express how much more God wants to give to us if we only ask. We have long settled for second best, because we have depended on our ability and not his grace to take us on this quest. Julian urges us to call upon His grace.

She was keenly aware that she could never really attain her goal of viscerally experiencing the pain and sorrow of the passion of the Christ except through grace. The kind of grace that allows us to achieve beyond our ability or strength is what desire. What a sad fact it is that most people turn to “self-help” and expect to find the answers to life’s great mysteries in manmade formulas. This lesson of Julian is that grace is the way to achieve more.

1 Comment

Filed under anchorite

Seek and Desire

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.

——-Thomas Merton

The Seven Storey Mountain

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.

Related articles

Leave a comment

Filed under contemplative, Dedication, Faithfulness, Thomas Merton

You Are Not Like Us

X and P are the first two letters of Christ fr...

A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad; you are not like us.”

—–sayings of the Desert

What a fascinating statement for our times. The madness of our world is all around us. People are coming at us from all sides with words of discouragement and condemnation. As Christians, we are confused about our direction. What should we believe? Who should we trust? Is the idea of being a person of commitment so out of vogue that we come off mad ? I would say yes. The calling of twenty first followers of Christ is to be mad people in a mad world. Our madness is to proclaim peace, love, and joy to our world, and to offer the grace of God to all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antony of Egypt, Ascetics, Christian Living, Community, Desert Fathers, Madness, Missional Living, Monasticism, Uncategorized