Friday, July 21, 2017

the greatest virtue


St Leo the Great talks to us about several things today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He is talking mostly about the authority of Peter, and how that authority carries down to him as pope in his time.

But one thing he says right at the end jumped out at me. He is humbly stating that anything he does right, in his work or in his prayer, can be attributed to St Peter. And the humility of that statement caused me to ponder the nature of humility.

When you learn the seven deadly sins, especially as pictured in Dante's Inferno, you find out that Pride is sin number one. It is the deadliest of the deadly sins. And Dante, along with many other great Christian thinkers throughout history, tells us that just as pride is the greatest vice, its opposite is the greatest virtue.

And of course we know that humility is the opposite of pride. What is humility? Well, we're told by the saints that humility is reality. Humility is what truly is. C.S. Lewis said that humility isn't thinking less of yourself... it's thinking of yourself less. It's focusing on others. On things outside of ourselves. Have you ever met someone who takes everything personally? If there's a traffic backup, "Why is this happening to ME?" If you don't call them one day, "Why are you mad at me??" In their world, everything is about them... because they haven't yet learned humility. They haven't learned that with a very, very small exception, nothing that happens in the world is actually about them. The exception is so small that you can really say that nothing is about them. Of the 7.4 billion people on the planet, all but a very small handful of them don't even know I exist. Of all the decisions that are made, all of the actions that take place, the percentage of them that have to do with me is so small as to be practically non existent.

When we realize this, it can be very liberating. It's not all about me! I can be free just to be a little human being. I can make mistakes, I can practice by trial and error, I can sin and be forgiven. Because I'm just a tiny little person in a great big world. That's humility.

God, thanks for teaching us humility. Please help us to walk in that freedom.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

healing His body

Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, St Augustine talks to us about unity in the body of Christ. We talked about this a few days ago, but it's an important subject. How can we work to heal these wounds in His body, the separation of Christians into groups that disagree with each other and even attack one another on occasion?

Here is a website that presents the Catholic perspective on unity. There are some practical things we can do on that website to bring healing to the body of Christ.

But what else can we do? I mentioned praying for unity in the last blog, and being patient and loving toward those in other traditions. But we can also WORK for unity. We can have dialogues with Christians from other churches than our own, and focus on what we have in common rather than what divides us. Find common ground. Learn to see each other as PEOPLE who are following Jesus, rather than lumping each other into our preconceived notions of errors in theology.

Once we find that common ground, we can build on it. We can learn to see that maybe God is working in their lives, too. That Jesus isn't restricted to an accurate theological system, but works in the hearts of everyone who chooses to follow Him.

God, please lead us as we work toward the unity You prayed for.

how scandal hurts us

St Augustine talks to us today about scandal in the church in A Year with the Church Fathers. His points is that we shouldn't blame the church for having sinners in it. Of course there are sinners in it... that's the point. The church invites sinners to come and learn to be free from their sins. That process takes time sometimes.

He goes on to say that of course we're going to see evil people living right beside good people, as that's what Jesus told us would happen. The wheat and the tares grow side by side. Only in THIS field, the tares sometimes "magically" get changed into wheat.

I know that happened to me. God had mercy on my sinfulness, and helped me to be one of the good guys. He's still merciful with me when I sin. How can I not extend that same grace and forgiveness to others?

We need to remember that grace and that forgiveness when scandal comes along. Scandal is a great evil, not because of the sin that is being reported, but because of the spreading of that news. Telling everyone about the evil that one man has done doesn't just hurt that man, it hurts everyone who hears about it. It makes the world a lesser place. It hurts the faith of those who hear the news, especially if that person is a Christian. And if that person is a pastor or priest, then it makes it more difficult for those who struggle in their faith to trust in God.

So the next time we hear about some scandal in the church, let's pray for the people involved, rather than spreading the gossip of the evil behavior. Then we're helping the person who sinned and we're helping those who are struggling in their faith.

God, thank You for giving us wisdom in dealing with scandal.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

apologies

hello, dear readers. my laptop decided to download some updates and install them tonight, and it's taking forever, so I'll post my blog tomorrow morning. sorry for the delay.

Jeff

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

all is vanity


St John Chrysostom talks to us about wealth today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He puts the phrase from Ecclesiastes, "Vanity, vanity... all is vanity" into a new light. I say new, but St John said this hundreds of years ago, we're just now finding it in our reading.

I've always taken the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes (Solomon is probably who it was) to be incredibly pessimistic. That the writer is saying, "It's all pointless. Our lives are without meaning." But St John puts a different spin on the phrase. He points out that all THINGS are vain. In other words, if we trust in STUFF to make us happy, we will always be unhappy.

There's a great story of Don Johnson, the actor who was famous for his roles in Miami Vice and in Nash Bridges, among other shows. He had it all... wealth, fame, power, boats, women, houses, every THING a man could want. But one day he was on his yacht in the middle of a giant party where everything he could want was in abundance, and he asked himself, "Why am I so unhappy??" The answer is that STUFF will never make us happy.

We really, truly need to take this to heart. Because there is part of us that still believes it will. Some of us believe that STUFF will make us happy entirely. Most of us have been taught that it won't, and we mostly believe it. But all of us are kind of hoping that we might win the lottery, because there's part of our brains that still think we'd be happy if we had STUFF.

Let's, for once, learn from those who've gone before us. Let's turn our backs on the promise of happiness from wealth and honor and power. Let's find our happiness where it truly lies: in Jesus, in our families, in our friends. Those are the things that will last forever. Let's invest our time and energy and money in those things... not in stuff that is vanity and will blow away in the wind.

God, thanks for teaching us the truth about stuff. Please help us to accept the truth and focus on what matters.

Monday, July 17, 2017

secret vices, secret virtues


St John Chrysostom talks to us in A Year with the Church Fathers about two types of secrets.

He says that when he preaches, he talks about those who are doing good and he talks about those who are doing evil. But no one knows who he's talking about, which benefits both of them. The ones who are doing good are not tempted to pride, and the ones who are doing evil are encouraged to amend their ways without shaming them in front of everyone.

But that reminds us that both of these things happen with the 7.3 billion people alive today. There are alot of people out there doing good, and we never hear about it. Jesus told us to keep our good deeds under wraps. (He also told us to shine our light for the world to see, but that's a matter of motivation and we talked about it in another blog) He said to pray in secret. Not to let our left hand know what our right is doing. In other words, don't make a big deal out of it when we do good. So millions of people are doing good every day, and we never hear about it. That should encourage you, with all the bad news you hear all of the time.

There is also a great deal of evil being done out there. And for other reasons entirely, we don't hear about most of that either. In a way, that's good too. Because as long as those doing evil think that it's not public knowledge, they (often) try to do better. They might see what they're doing is wrong, and turn from it. We should hope for that, and pray for it. Because we're all in this together. If they choose the dark side, they hurt the whole human family, including you and me.

So let's pray for those doing evil, that they might find the light. And let's keep doing good on the DL, knowing that millions of other people out there are doing the same thing.

God, thanks for secrets that help us.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

we are shepherd and sheep


Our friend with the crazy name, Aphrahat, talks to us today in A Year with the Church Fathers about shepherds. He points out how many people in the Bible were actual shepherds before they were called by God to take care of His people.

And of course, we have the 23rd Psalm in which we call the Lord our shepherd. And Jesus uses the metaphor multiple times during His ministry to teach us about how to care for people. When He reinstituted Peter, for instance, He told him three times to "feed My sheep". This, apparently, is how we demonstrate our love for Him.

But when we step back and think about it, we are both sheep and shepherd during our lifetime, aren't we? When we're children, obviously we are the sheep that our parents take care of. And when we grow up, we are the sheep that the pastor (which means "shepherd" in Latin) of our church takes care of. But in turn, we're also shepherds... we take care of those entrusted to OUR care. Whether it's our actual biological children, or those who need help that He calls on us to take care of, we are placed into the role of shepherd throughout our lives.

It's important for us to be good sheep, and to be good shepherds. If we are bad sheep we might be tempted to wander away, which puts the other sheep in danger. If we are bad shepherds, we neglect our sheep and they get hurt. So let's strive to simultaneously be good sheep and good shepherds.

To whom can you be a good shepherd today?

God, thanks for giving us a great metaphor from which we can learn about our lives. Help us to be good sheep and good shepherds.