The Ancient Way

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“Keep to the ancient way and custom of the Church, established and confirmed by so many Saints under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And live a new life. Pray, and get others to pray, that God not abandon His Church, but reform it as He pleases, and as He sees best for us, and more to His honour and glory.”— St. Angela Merici

My experience with the church has been that most churches do not like change. In my forty years of active clergy employment, I found that if I messed with the “traditions” of the church I was guaranteed conflict. Since most of the churches that I served were smaller older churches in changing communities or in small towns any change would generate conflict and  would fail most of the time.  This failure would most likely, at the very least, also risk the status of my employment. So I adapted and learned to focus on the spiritual formation of the few in such churches who were serious about serving God and letting the status quo have its way. This, however, was not the ancient way.

The problem was that this was not the calling God gave to me. As one called to be a pastor, I was tasked in leading those I served to the place where God wanted them to be. It was not to make the church larger in number (although many of the lay leadership said they wanted this but would do nothing to make it happen). My job was not to make people comfortable in their religious status by echoing a specific theological orientation (like “once saved, always saved”) or helping them project a particular cultural value (the Cowboy church). No, my calling was to try and lead them through the power of prayer and the influence of preaching to a deeper, more meaningful, and true walk in the will of God. I admit, most of the time I was a failure. The ancient way was not followed.

In my own spiritual growth, I have found passion and meaning in the ancient way of the church. The more I study (yes, I am still a student of my faith and strive to read at least one new book a week) on how to walk the ancient way, the more I understand the responsibility God has given to me is to pastor, a shepherd modeled after the twenty-third psalm. I am to seek this path even if I must do so outside of a profession or employment. The ancient way is the way of Jesus and the only way a person can follow this way is continually seek to live one’s life in the context of what Jesus revealed and what Jesus gave. To walk the way Jesus walked.

Jesus revealed to us what God had been doing throughout human history. Jesus became the ancient way. Because of human nature and failure, in order to worship God, there had to be a sacrifice. Sacrifice points to our reality. Sacrifice points to our thankfulness.  If there is no sacrifice their is no true worship. Jesus became the sacrifice and in order for us to worship him, we must come to His table of sacrifice we know as the Eucharist. If we do not share in the sacrifice of Jesus, we do not follow the ancient way.

Jesus also revealed to us the truth of the struggle. Being salt and light, wearing the armor of God, and joining together to use our spiritual gifts is how we fight this struggle. This struggle is not against other people (though often times the enemy used other people) but against the powers and principalities bent on our delusion and destruction. This is the ancient way, the way our Lord intended for the church to go.

The ancient way has never been an easy way. The multitude of denominations that claim Christian identity and truth is proof. I pray for God to bring a revival. A revival which will lead the faithful to either be a righteous remnant or a radical resurgence in which the ancient way is prayed and preached. I hope others are praying as well.

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To Whom Do We Give Our Time

“Let us make up for lost time. Let us give to God the time that remains to us.”
— St. Alphonsus Liguori

And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.  (Lk. 9:43-45 NRS)

The above passage is very troubling. It is troubling because of the explicit warning/command Jesus gives to his disciples and their failure to comprehend what he was telling them to grasp. This raises two very disturbing questions. First, why we they unable to understand and second, why were they afraid to ask him about this saying?

I believe the answer to both question is grounded in two certainties.  These certainties are human pride and human gullibility. I believe they cannot understand because of the work of those forces in the word that would keep us ignorant of the truth that play on our desire to be in control of what happens. I believe they fear to ask because of a natural human fear to be seen as being ignorant. We would rather live what we see as a “little lie”, pretending that we understand, rather than reveal our ignorance.

When these factors come into play, we miss the instruction and guidance that comes from God. We are unable to discern what is going on around us and thus we waste the time we have been given on our own desires and the cleaver deceptions of the demonic.

In order to learn from the mistake of the disciples, we must not fall into this trap. Jesus was handed over to men. Jesus was being totally transparent with his disciples. Total transparency is a true act of love. The disciples should have been willing to be transparent with the Lord about their confusion and inability to comprehend. True confession leads to real freedom of the soul. The disciples should have prepared for what Jesus told them. This world in not friendly to humanity. It is fallen. It has entities dwelling upon it that are so spiritually sick, so filled with hatred toward humanity that they live to damage and destroy us in any way they can. Our only defense against such an evil presence is God. These dark deceptors work to steal our precious time given to us by God in order to hinder faith and sicken our souls. They will try to get us to confuse social desires for religion and human knowledge of what we think about God for true love and faith. Love, true love is about giving our time and presence to the One we desire.

Finally, we need to understand the perfect love drives out fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 Jn. 4:18 NRS) When we give our time to God, even if we give it out of duty, it will turn into delight. When we give our time unto God (which includes giving God our complete attention, transparent and committed) we can avoid this mistake of the disciples and the fear will leave while the understanding pours in.

To have such discernment is the way we can truly, without self deception, give God our time.

Holiness is Hard

“Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.”
— St. Therese of Lisieux

I want to be holy! I seek it every day. I know holiness is all around me because God is all around me. I know holiness lives within me because God dwells within my heart. Yet, even though holiness surrounds me, is in me and seeks me as I seek it, search for it, and desire it above all things, I still struggle in my mind and heart to let its influence control my life. I am a sinner. Holiness is hard.

The reason holiness is so hard is because of the forces that seek to stifle it in our lives. Forces we often ignore, deny, or are ignorant. These forces power, purpose, and presence are determined to prevent our holiness. As we human beings live our daily lives there are activities and actions taking place around us continually that are working to enslave us to a domain of darkness. This strife has been going on since our creation. It is a strife aimed at God, the God who is love. It is a strife that hopes of creating hurt and sorrow within the divine heart. The Bible teaches that only a fool says there is no God. Only a greater fool does not understand our role as pawns the diabolical destiny of the powers and principalities attacking us. Powers and principalities whose insanity is to overthrow the One who is infinite and cannot be overthrown.

This darkness that draws us, deceives us, deludes us is the reason holiness is so hard. I believe this is why Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14 NRS) It is so easy for us to just go with the flow of most of humanity that ignores God’s continuous calling of the dangers we face. Yes, holiness is hard.

So what do we do? How can we, deceived distracted and self-oriented sinners, ever find the way to holiness as simple as St. Teresa makes it sound? How can we stand against such a difficult opponent who knows us better than we know ourselves?

I have found in my own life the only hope I have is through commitment and discernment rooted in a humility that is willing to take the chance of depending on God’s grace and the opportunities it gives those who are willing to enter into the process of purgation, illumination, and sanctification that God’s will gives to us. I have found it is only when we are willing to be serious about our spiritual lives that we can find the way that leads to holiness.

I have served churches who have embraced a theology of cheap grace and I cannot return there. I have served churches that are like hobbits who only like to hear what they already believe in a way that entertains them and inoculates them from the truth that surrounds them. I cannot go back. I now seek to be in fellowship with other followers of the way who understand holiness is hard. I search for the few who grasp the importance of spiritual process and daily (if not hourly) discernment. But most importantly, I ask God to use me in a way that will help others prepare for what is most certainly to come. I seek to ask them to join me in seeking to be holy even though holiness is hard.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
(Eph. 1:3-4 NRS)

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Indifference

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers.”
— St. Maximilian Kolbe

You would think I would be used to hearing the following words by now, “I don’t need to go to “church.” I can study my Bible and pray at home.” Still, every time I hear these words it is like getting slapped in the face.

I have no idea where this concept of religious individualism came into being, no, that is not true, I do know where it came from. It came from the father of lies. Jesus made it clear, when we enter into the process of salvation we enter into a community, the covenant community of the called out ones we know as the church. When a person does not find their gifts, their calling with this called out community, they have already be deceived into traveling a path leading to their own spiritual destitution. The father of lies has succeeded.

Yes, the church has been and is involved in allowing some terrible things to happen. I carry many, many emotional and spiritual scars from serving the church (I have also found my greatest blessings and hope in the church as well). Churches can be mean, heartless, and judgmental.  Churches will always have those who create conflict, are hypocritical, and have no idea what Jesus expects from them. This does not excuse us from our responsibility of seeking to be salt and light in the midst of the church as well as in the culture. It is never a good idea to let excuses create indifference.

Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock (himself) I will build my church. Jesus did not say accept me and I will build your faith on the golf course or the lake or in any other kind of leisure or alternative activity. Without the communal support and spiritual resources  that God gives to the church, we will slowly, but certainly, enter into a spiritual indifference that can and most likely will bring spiritual decline and decay.

It would be very wise for us remember and retain the truth the writer of Hebrews gives us in warning and encouragement, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
(Heb. 10:24-25 NRS)

Truth and Wisdom

“Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.”
— St. Juliana of Norwich

It is very easy for those of us who are followers of Jesus to get caught up in the remains of Christendom where our faith is lived not as a fully committed lifestyle, but an appendage to a life that gives intellectual ascent to the faith, is involved in the ritual activities, and believed this is about as far as they need to go.

As a seeker and student of discernment, I have come to understand the importance of discovering the holy and wonderful delight in God. I am continually surprised by God’s grace and God’s love for me. I have found that even in the depth of desolation, depression, and disquiet of the soul, the love of God is there for me. It refuses to allow me to live in deception. It continually shows itself in all that surrounds me. It is an undeniable truth.

In times of contemplation, God comes to me as presence, a presence I know is there but this knowledge is not always from the five sense but a reality beyond my ability to logically label or through reason confirm. It is because it is. It is a presence that confirms, convicts, or comforts me in ways I can only embrace. This is the wisdom God gives, a wisdom of peace that stills the soul to the still small voice that is always speaking.

As I reflect upon my life, I find a disaster. I have charged way to many windmills, engaged in way to much narcissism, and been involved in the most stupid, idiotic activities a human being can be involved in, yet there is the truth that God loves me and the wisdom of God’s forgiveness, thus as St. Juliana, I have been coddled in the  holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love. I am so very grateful.

 

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Trending: Likes, Followers, or Grace

“Great things are done through grace, and one attribute of the great things which grace enables the soul to do is their lastingness, their continuance, their permanent life and strength, as years roll past. I say, the works of grace are permanent.”
— Bl. John Henry Newman, p. 184, The Quotable Newman.

A measure of one’s fame (and sometimes profit) in our social media, internet-connected world is how many “likes” one gets for a picture, video or Facebook, twitter, or blog post or how many “followers” one can claim. It seems that many people now live for the purpose of finding or electronically publishing something that will “go viral.”

Why, why has this become so important? (Oh, by the way, I once had a blog, an attack blog, that at times got over 10,000 hits a day and yes, I was just conceited enough to think that was something.)

Today, these records of electronic observations is perceived as the new way to instant fame and/or notoriety.  But, as the old adage goes, “fame is fleeting” and what is viral today will likely be forgotten by next week. What do “likes” and “followers” accomplish?

At one time, my attack blog did bring about some change in a certain organization, but now, twenty years later I have to ask myself, “Was it worth it?”

Maybe if you have a company that get to advertise through your posting, then gets “likes” and “followers” will mean a person gets paid more, but how does it change our world? Will our “likes” and “followers” mean anything in eternity? Will our status with God depend on our “trending” or not?

The above quote from Newman speaks to what we should be paying the most attention, acts of grace. Acts of grace do change lives, make tremendous social impact, and in the end will be the most important elements of our lives. Yet rarely are they “trending.” Rarely do they bring and profit or notoriety in our current culture, but they will last for all eternity in the mind of God and in the soul’s who receive then with gratitude. There is a deep and powerful reason on of the most recognized and sung songs on this planet is the song, “Amazing Grace.” Something deep down inside of every human being there is an awareness of our need of grace.

I am thankful that I am now getting old enough, mature enough, and time-tested enough to grasp how much I owe to grace. Grace is never deserved but yet continuously bestowed. It can never be earned but is lavished upon us by God. And I know when I take my final breath in this world, it will be grace and only grace that will matter in eternity.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

                                                                                                         (2 Cor. 12:9-10 NRS)

That Which Lingers, Distracts

Jesus casts out demons

As a spiritual director, I understand that I must continually take evaluations of my own spiritual state. I also need to talk about what I find with my own spiritual director. This is not a painless task.

Sometimes, events take place in life that can wound a person’s soul so deeply that even when you seek to forgive them, profess to forgive then and even beg God to help you forgive them, they still linger, shadows of irritation and regret that just will not go away. Now I know the techniques that a person should use to let these shadows drift by. I have developed the skills of reframing the bad situations into manageable, if not even profitable experiences. Still, some of us have a personality type that just cannot get past actual or even perceived betrayals. These lingering shadows can even effect a person physically.

I have spent a lot of time searching the writings of the great spiritual directors of the past about this problem. Some have indicated that the best approach is to accept these lingering shadows as one’s thorn in the flesh and bear as a privilege. Others speak of developing a stronger spiritual armor that can ward off the attacks of these shadows when they come.

Without exception, they speak of these lingering elements as tools the enemy will use against a person. They will interfere with our prayers, disrupt our peace, and distract us in silence. They even can darken our joy and fill us with disquiet. There are times that these lingering distraction can provoke the emotion of anger. I am so grateful that the Lord has given me a gift of an alarm that will not let my anger respond as it used to respond. I do not let the sun go down on it.

In the past, there were times that I simply would seek to avoid the owner of the shadow thinking, out of sight out of mind. That strategy worked when I was younger and the damage done in the relationship could be overcome with a new situation, a new beginning. But now, the new beginnings do not work for people my age. The damage done in the relationship has a powerful impact on almost every aspect of my life. My spiritual director tells me now is the time for patience. Now is the time to let these lingering shadows know that the Lord’s stillness rules even over them.

So I continue to seek the sweet solitude of silence. I continue to seek the answers and awareness that comes with the practice of lectio and I turn to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius to guide me in recognizing the harm the lingering distractions can have. So again today I search for answers to this difficult dilemma.

And today, I believe I found another piece of the puzzle that will guide me to overcome the lingering that distracts.

“What really hurts is not so much suffering as the fear of suffering. If welcomed trustingly and peacefully, suffering makes us grow. It matures and trains us, purifies us, teaches us to love unselfishly, makes us poor in heart, humble, gentle, and compassionate toward our neighbor. Fear of suffering, on the other hand, hardens us in self-protective, defensive attitudes, and often leads us to make irrational choices with disastrous consequences.”
— Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 47     AN EXCERPT FROM, Interior Freedom

Amen

The Ignorance and Arrogance of Preaching

“Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
— St. Charles Borromeo

Preaching is both gift from God and developed skill taking the best from psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and the real events of life. Preaching is to handle the Word of God with care and much, much prayer. For true preaching, good preaching, does not just entertain, but it entertains so it can get past the barriers we put up against the spiritual world and brings change within the heart.

Often times, preaching is about spiritual warfare sending out information of where the enemy is attacking and providing the spiritual logistics to stand strong in the fight. Other times, preaching is a guide that takes us through a journey into our soul showing us the places which need develop and which ones are strong and steady. Preaching, done correctly, brings us into God’s presence and gives us glimpsed of God’s beauty and love.

This really deserves being said twice,

“Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
— St. Charles Borromeo

Three Necessary Things

“Three things are necessary to everyone: truth of faith which brings understanding, love of Christ which brings compassion, and endurance of hope which brings perseverance.”
— St. Bonaventure

I can remember the first day I went to school in Payson, Arizona. I was in the fourth grade. We moved often back then because of my father’s government job, but the move from Oregon to Arizona as an eight-year old was like moving to a new world. I was the new kid in the class arriving in at the middle of the first six-weeks period. I remember this particular time because I had just been introduced to the class, had taken my seat, and the teacher asked the question, “What do we all need to survive?”

I knew the answer to that, this was an easy one.

I did not know that the social rules of this new world include the law, “New kids don’t answer the question,” and so I raised my hand. I think this surprised the teacher so much that she, without thinking, called on me to answer.

I answered, “The answer is food.”

The teacher looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. After a brief contemplative pause, she said, “David, you are right, but what else do we need,” opening up the question to the class again.

A girl with curly blonde hair, who was obviously the class scholar, seemed quite perturbed as she waved her hand in the air that this insolent new student would even speak, said, “I believe, teacher, the answer you are looking for is water.” This was, of course, the right answer.

My answer was right, but it was not the only answer. In fact there are many more answers that would also fit. We human beings are really needy creatures. In fact, a psychologist named Maslow has developed a five-level pyramid that sets up a hierarchy of human needs.

Spiritually we also have needs, things necessary to our spiritual lives. Bonaventure’s words tells us we need “the truth of faith that brings understanding.” I have heard many people say all we need is faith. Yes, I would agree we need faith, but unless that faith is anchored in what is true all we have is a blind faith that must be supported by blind obsessiveness or unquestionable dogma demanding absolute loyalty.  Such a faith borders on a worship of manufactured certainty that will ignore any “truth” that would challenge it.

This is why developing as disciples, developing the mind of Christ is so important. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 NRS) Jesus goes on to say, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
(Jn. 8:31-32 NRS)

Yes, truth of faith which brings understanding is an essential spiritual need.

Next Bonaventure tells us that we need the love of Christ that brings compassion. I cannot help but wonder how a group of people could gather at a building they call a church and sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” and then ignore the plight of the people at the border or support politicians that will do nothing about the military weapons that are being used to kill innocent people in this country or the lack of health care for the poor? The words of the song do not seem to indicate the attitude of the heart.

Do the words spoken by Jesus have meaning to them, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” (Matt. 25:41-45 NRS)

Or remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Are these words just for others and not us? Is it okay now to not care or get involved when we see injustice? Is it now okay to put the good of making money above the suffering of human beings?  If we need anything spiritually in our age and culture, it is the love of Christ, Christ in us, that brings compassion rather than corruption.

Lastly, of the three essential, necessary needs Bonaventure speaks of the last one is the hardest, “endurance of hope which brings perseverance.” To be a Christian means to live in hope. Hope of our salvation. Hope of the Lord’s return. A hope that must face the reality of a world in which love grows colder by the day. A hope that must endure the scandals of the church, the divisions of the church and the teachings of a church that is more interested in relevancy than orthodoxy. Endurance and perseverance are words that imply commitment. They are words that speak of pain, challenge, and risk. But these two words, endurance and perseverance, are also spiritual gifts given to those who will make the commitment needed. These words are skills that can be obtained when they are important enough to put the effort into strengthening them.

Bonaventure speaks of these three necessary things for all people, but not all people can have them. Bonaventure lived in the time and context of a Christendom culture, that time has come and gone. We now live in a post-Christian culture that has not a clue of these necessary things. If we are to live as true Christians in this kind of world, we need head Bonaventure’s words and continually examine of lives in the light they give us.

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The Mind of Christ

“Walking by faith, let us do good works. In these let there be a free love of God for His own sake and an active love for our neighbor. For there is nothing we can do for God. But because we have something we can do for our neighbor, we shall by our good offices to the needy gain the favor of Him Who is the source of all abundance. Let us then do what we can for others; let us freely bestow upon the needy out of our abundance.”
— St. Augustine, p. 144
AN EXCERPT FROM, Augustine Day by Day

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  (Phil. 2:1-5 NRS)

Seeking to develop the mind of Christ is the main focus of Orthodox Christian spirituality. As one can see from the verse from Philippians, this focus is a process of growth formed in purpose and practice. It is an activity of life, a way of life that requires frequent attentions towards one’s wants and desires. These attentions should be comparative of the life we life with that of Jesus.

In order to accomplish this, we need to make the reading of the Gospels a very important part of our activity, our daily activity. We should read for insights into behaviors, reactions, responses and of course the attitude that Jesus exhibits.

Next, we should pray as Jesus prayed. We, like he, spend time alone with God. This time alone is not just to give God our requests (hint: God knows before we ask) but give God the time in silence and in openness to the Holy Spirit. The eastern church is much more apophatic than the west. They understand that to follow Jesus we must decrease so he may increase. This goes completely against our current, self-focus, cultural orientation. But, as Augustine brings out, this is what we need to do. This is what Paul brings out in the above passage. We must in humility regard others, to their interests, as more important than our own.

These are things not understood in a short blog, but in a spiritual search that begins with a simple, complicated, easy, hard paradox of an orientation, to seek the mind of Christ.