Friday, August 18, 2017

even more than we thought

Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, St John Chrysostom tells us about storing up treasure in heaven. And we've heard about this for the last several days. But he says something new.

He says that we should store our treasure in heaven not just so that it's safe from rust and decay, but because it will yield a great and abundant crop. That's one metaphor. It's like we're planting seeds in heaven, and we'll one day see what they grow.

Another metaphor is that we are depositing our cash in heaven, and it will earn interest. In either case, we won't just find the treasures we secured in heaven waiting for us... we will find much more. We'll find what those treasures produced.

We can catch a glimmer of what that means when we consider what it means to save a person's life. You not only save them, but you allow them to have children, who then have children, and so forth until you've not only saved one man but you've enabled thousands to live.

We don't know what all awaits us in heaven. Eye hasn't seen and ear hasn't heard. God has been preparing a place for us for a very long time... Between the treasures we have saved, the riches they've produced, and the wonders He has created just for us....

We don't want to miss it.

God, thanks for giving us so much to look forward to.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

the reason we help

Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, we hear from a saint with an odd name. Saint Commodianus is his name. Fortunately when he grew up, they spoke Latin, so he was probably saved from being picked on by his classmates for having two unfortunate words contained in his name, like it is in English.

What he tells us today is summed up nicely on the back of the young lady's T-shirt in the pic above. But after saying this, St Commodianus then says something strange. He says, "I promise that whatever you give to the poor, God will give you back four times as much." That seems odd to me. Maybe he was following the idea of the tetris being a number of completion. In some ancient philosophies, they believed that the number four was the number of completion. So perhaps he was saying "God will pay you back completely for helping the poor." And I have experienced that in my life. There have been times when I've helped someone out and then received an unexpected income, usually around TEN times what I gave. I don't pretend to understand why it was ten times. Maybe St Commodianus could tell me.

But I think God would like us to grow beyond that thinking. And really, it's better for US if we do. Because if we're giving to the needy simply because we want God to bless us even more, then our giving is a form of selfishness. But if we give to those who need our help because we care about them... because we love them and want their lives to be better... then we WANT to give and we don't care if we get a reward in return. Just helping them is the reward, because making their lives better makes our lives better.

However, not all of us can start there, right? Many of us (maybe most of us?) don't care about those who need help like we should. So God, being patient with us, gives us an incentive to help them. He promises us that when we seek first His kingdom, and "do unto others" as we want them to do to us, and help "the least of these" in which we're actually helping Him... He promises that we'll get a reward for doing that. And He'll keep His promise, I know.

But let's also pray that He makes us more like Him. That He'll bubble up His love and goodness from deep inside of ourselves, so that we give out of a generous, thankful heart. I think actually BECOMING a generous, loving person is the greatest reward He can give us for obeying Him and helping people.

One step at a time.

God, thanks for teaching us to be more like You, patiently.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

we are all in this together

St Theodoret tells us today in A Year with the Church Fathers that we are given the opportunity to take care of the poor when God gives us riches.

And it brings to mind the loving philosophy of the amazing St Francis of Assisi. He not only considered all of us humans as part of one big family, but he even called the sun his brother and the moon his sister. He saw how God had made all of the cosmos in the generosity of creative genius, and put all of us here together to love one another and take care of each other.

We can't ignore the poor without hurting ourselves. When dogs and cats are treated unkindly, it hurts all of us, not just the poor animals. When we don't take care of the rivers and meadows and oceans, it all comes back around to hurt us in return. We have to take care of one another, as humans, for any of us to be whole and healthy. We must be good tenders of the animals and plants and the earth itself, or we will be hurt along with it.

Love goes a long way. It not only heals the sad divisions that fear and hate and racism try to cause in the human body, but it gives us the real reasons we need to take good care of our world, without the threat of climate change.

Beloved, let us love one another.

God, thanks for teaching us how intricately we are all related. Please love us through one another.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

when we answer our own prayers

Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, we hear from St Gregory the Great, who is telling his friend about how we should praise God in both blessings and when we are suffering. He says that God will sometimes allow suffering in our lives to purify us from some sins that we might have fallen into. And that in all things, good or bad, we should glorify Him for working it all for our good.

And then, he closes the letter with a mention that he's also sending funds to help alleviate his friend's suffering.

Sometimes God does that, doesn't He? He gives us the privilege of working THROUGH us to answer our prayers for our friends. There are times when we know our friend is hurting, and when we pray for them, He sends us to answer those prayers and help them.

There are, of course, times when He chooses NOT to use us to answer our prayers. And this is valuable for us, because if He sent us to answer all of our prayers, we might be tempted to pride, and to think that we have to personally resolve every problem, rather than leaving it to God to graciously supply all needs.

So should we desire to be the answer to our own prayers? I think the best answer is to become dispassionate. To be open to His calling us to help them, but also to be willing to let Him answer the prayer in a different way. Sometimes our friends might be embarrassed or hurt by our constantly being the ones to help them out.

In any case, we should pray for those needs that we know of, and trust Him to direct us to the ones He chooses to answer through us. Then we give Him the glory whether we're used or not.

Just remember, the best thing you can do in any situation is to pray. Whether He chooses to use us in the answer is up to Him.

God, thanks for sometimes using us to answer our prayers.... and sometimes not.

buying eternal treasure

St Cyril of Jerusalem talks to us very frankly about money today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He says there is absolutely nothing wrong with money, as long as we use it for good.

He encourages us to "buy eternal treasure" with our money, and even demonstrates a few ways that Jesus said to do it. That sounds strange, doesn't it? What's the exchange rate between dollars and heavenly treasure? Well, Jesus said it pretty clearly, Cyril points out. He said, "sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."

Does that mean God wants you to sell everything and go about penniless, begging for food? Well, I'm not going to say He isn't. Because that seems to be exactly what He called St Francis to do. Francis and his friends, including St Clare, did exactly that. They gave away EVERYTHING and begged for their food. Francis usually ate moldy bread, even if good bread was available, as a form of penance. So that's the extreme standard.

You are called somewhere along that spectrum. God wants you to give away some of your wealth, and give money to the poor. Take care of those who need help. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Love those who need love. That's our calling, and Jesus made it clear that how well we do that will determine a great deal about our lives after death.

Let's invest wisely.

God, thanks for showing us the divine exchange rate. Please help us invest in heavenly treasure.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

seasoned with hunger

St John Chrysostom talks to us today about the rich and the poor in A Year with the Church Fathers. He tells us that it's far better to have "simply enough" than to have more than we need. He paints a very elaborate picture of what the lives of rich people look like, and contrasts it with the lives of people who live simply.

The line that jumped out at me was when he says that the best seasoning for our food and drink is hunger and thirst. And you know what he means, don't you? When you've eaten a good deal of food already, the next course doesn't always taste that great. But when you've been out all day, working or running or doing something that worked up a sweat and an appetite, and then you come in and take the first bite of dinner... or even that first gulp of water... and it tastes like the best thing you've ever had.

When we step back and think about it, that applies to more than food. If you've been in bed for several days (from having a cold, maybe), you don't want to lie back down. But if you've been working hard all day, your bed feels so wonderful when you lie down in it. If you've been wandering around Florence all day, one more beautiful church can seem kind of ho hum after all of the others you've seen. But when you've been cooped up inside for a few days, say because of bad weather, the first time it clears up and you see the blue sky and sunshine, it can take your breath away.

I think St John is on to something. Maybe God designed us to appreciate things more when we've gone without for awhile. Maybe that's what lent and advent are for... to whet our appetites for the feast.

God, thanks for making us in such a way that to live simply is to live better.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

how we treat them now

St John Chrysostom talks to us today about power in A Year with the Church Fathers. He says that we should avoid riches because they give us the ability to hurt those who have hurt us, and that's not something we should strive for.

But it brings up a good lesson. How do we treat those who are vulnerable to our criticism? If you've ever worked in retail, you know how it can be. If you want to keep your job, you have to bite back the angry retort that you want to hurl at some people who treat "the help" execrably simply because they can and the retail worker has to take it.

How do YOU treat "the help"? Are you patient with them when they make mistakes? Do you say please and thank you to them, treating them with respect and recognizing their dignity?

This is a good test for us. Jesus said that those who do well with the little they're given will be given more. And that those who don't will find even what little they had to be taken away. I think power might be a good example of this teaching. If you use your power for good, God will give you more so that you can do MORE good. If you misuse your power, He will take away even the little you had.

Is this universally true? One glance at the political scene today tells you that God does not always take power away from those who misuse it. At least, not in the short term. But for those of us who follow Him, He teaches us by giving us things and by taking them away.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

God, please teach us to use the little power we have for good, to make people's lives better.