Friday, August 11, 2017

the sun warms a traveler

St Gregory the Great tells us about the wiles of Satan today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He was talking to his fellow Christians at the time, right after a very heavy persecution. Things had lightened up and the government was no longer hunting down Christians and killing them. So Gregory gave them some advice.

His advice reminds me of one of Aesop's fables. In that story, the cold North wind and the Sun have a conversation. They decide to see who can divest this one man traveling down the road of his cloak. The Wind blows and howls for all he's worth, but the traveler only pulls his cloak around him more tightly. After hours of this, he finally gives up and says to the Sun, "Let's see if you can do any better!"

The Sun, of course, warms the traveler and makes him comfortable. Then he warms him a little more, and the traveler takes off his cloak in order to cool off. It's a simple story, but a profound one when it comes to our lives as Christians.

Think of the cloak as our faith. When our ancient enemy assails us from outside, through pain and sadness and even depression, we pull our cloak of faith tighter around us and we grow. But when that tempest is past, and we grow comfortable, and then the culture around us heats up just a little more, we're tempted to cast our faith aside.

What can we do then? Well, if we share our cloak with those who are still battling their external foes (because in our case, it's not so much the wind and persecutions as it is disease and sadness and depression, which those right next to us can still be experiencing even when we're warm and happy), they are warmed, and we no longer experience the oppressive heat inside the cloak alone, but the sharing breathes fresh air into our cloaks.

St Gregory warns his readers to hold fast to their faith through persecution and through temptation. If we focus on loving others, it makes both of those things simpler, because our thoughts are not on ourselves, but on those we love.

God, thanks for giving us the cloaks of our faith. Please help us to share them, and in the sharing, for them to grow larger.