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Tonight we read the conclusion of homily 60 and all of homily 61. These few pages were some of the most beautiful that we have encountered. Isaac captures for us not only the meaning and purpose of afflictions, trials, and temptations but reveals to us the presence of the love of God within them. We never suffer in isolation and anything that we endure is permeated by the grace of God. To understand and see this clearly only increases a person’s desire for God as well as their willingness to embrace the cross as it comes to them without fear or anxiety.

Tonight we continued our reading of homily 60. It is perhaps the most striking and challenging of passages that we’ve considered. Isaac draws us into the very heart of the mystery of the cross and causes to view our identity from an eschatological dimension. In other words, he invites us to view our life in light of eternity. The path to this is narrow and difficult. It turns our view of the world upside down. But in and through it we are shown in a striking way the beauty of the love of God and the destiny that is our - sharing in the Divine Life.

Tonight we concluded Homily 59 and began homily 60. St. Isaac picks up where he left off by discussing the centrality of the Cross in the life of the Christian. The path of God and the path of virtue is the cross. We must not avoid this reality but rather seek to embrace it in faith and trust in God‘s providence.  
It is this trust in God‘s providence that is the subject matter of homily 60. We must pray as those who do not seek to put God to the test. God acts in hidden ways to strengthen us and to lift us up in the midst of our trials and tribulations. How often do we pray in a utilitarian fashion, seeking to avoid trials or to force God’s hand; thinking that we can manipulate circumstances through our piety or through our goodness. God sees all things and most of all he sees what we need for our salvation. We must be willing to say “Thy will be done” and let that be the heart and substance of our prayer.

Tonight we continued reading homily 59. Saint Isaac seeks to draw us into the mystery of the cross as God’s path for us. It is not to be feared or avoided but rather seen as the path of love that unites us to God and His redemptive work. In fact, St. Isaac tells us that it is the distinct way that God brings us benefits, helps us to grow in virtue. It is also how we come to imitate the saints in their love for and embrace of the cross. Far from being sullen about the trials that we experience, we should gradually come to see that God permeates everything that comes to us in this life. Nothing is outside of his providential care. We know we are under God’s care when he perpetually sends us griefs. The path of God is a daily cross.

Our discussion began this evening with homily 58. Here Isaac speaks to us of the importance of willing the good. We must learn to seek virtue with all of our heart. In order to do this we must understand, however, that we will need God’s help and grace and we must  support it all with unceasing prayer. Likewise, we must ask ourselves the important question: “is it pleasing to God?”; and in the end we must be willing to say “Thy will be done”.  The good is discerned by much prayer, watchfulness of heart, tears and compunction and again ultimately God’s grace. This alone protects us from pride and seeking to embrace whatever desire falls into our hearts.
Homily 59 begins by telling us that we cannot have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. Our every concern must be with loving God and doing his will. So often we succumb to the illusion that we need material things in order to support our identity as well as our life. But Isaac reminds us that if we seek the kingdom before all things, God will provide. He will give us what is necessary. We must not simply work for worldly rewards. If we become overly attached to material things in this world God at time to allow us to experience trials in order that we might see where our faith really lies.
We continued tonight with homily 57 and read it to its completion. Saint Isaac gives us perhaps the most profound explication of humility among the fathers. Without humility all virtue is in vain. The Lord’s concern is with the soul’s amendment not with a self-willed “traffic in sin under the guise of divine pursuits.” Failings are not a problem for Isaac. If anything they produce humility in the soul; we come to see with a greater clarity our poverty and our need for God’s mercy and grace.  
Isaac tells us to seek humility even in the gifts that we receive from God. If they don’t help to produce humility within us, Isaac tells us, we should ask God to remove them from us. 
We must get used to the fact that afflictions are a part of our life as Christians and they give birth to humility. We must not think of our life and growth in virtue outside of them, otherwise we open the door for pride.
We can come to the point that we love pride. When this happens we esteem our own knowledge and intellect and we fall into a kind of derangement of mind. It is then that repentance becomes an impossibility and the worst of evils manifest themselves. Such a radical turning away from God leads men into insanity. Thus we must beg for humility as the mother of all virtues. And in this humility we must never try to outsmart the demons but rather let the light of Christ overcome the darkness within us.
Tonight we began homily 57. Isaac starts by telling us “Blessed is he who lives a vigilant life in this world”!  Vigilance is one of the central teachings of the fathers and it behooves us to ask ourselves what it looks like in modern times. What does it mean to be vigilant in age so filled with distraction, noise and temptation?  Once again Isaac tells us that there is no Sabbath for us in this world, no day of rest when it comes to seeking the Lord and living a life of virtue. We cannot be under the illusion that we can outwit the demons who never rest. We must live in hope and and hope alone. He who is virtuous must place his trust in God not himself. The one deep in sin though can hope that God in His mercy will come to his aid and lift him up in his poverty.  He need only turn toward God with a repentant heart. 
Isaac quickly moves the discussion toward the absolute importance of humility. He tells us “the man who has a foretaste and in truth receives the recompense of good things is superior to him who possesses the work of virtue.” Virtue is the mother of mourning and mourning leads to humility. We must never attribute virtue to ourselves but only to God. It is He who lifts us up like a child to gaze upon us face-to-face. But we must allow Him to lift us. We must acknowledge that He raises us out of our sin.
Tonight we completed the homily 56. It was both challenging and beautiful. Every word of Isaac strikes to the heart and each example raises us up in our understanding not only of his teaching but of what it is to be a human being. Isaac began tonight, once again, by speaking to us of the profound resistance we have as human beings to embracing the strength God has given us in will and intellect to grow in virtue. We convince ourselves of our weakness and so all that is good seems impossible. Isaac shows us that even the pagan philosophers were capable through their will and intellect of pursuing the truth heroically and even being willing to die for that truth. 
This should strike the Christian to the heart, knowing that we have received the fullness of the truth in Christ along with every grace and blessing to live a godly life.  We must in every way let the love of Christ compel us and embrace every discipline that will foster virtue and purity of heart and so draw us closer to him.

Tonight we continued reading homily 56. Isaac begins to guide us through a reflection on the nature of affliction and how it leads to the perfection of virtue and love. This is something that is often very difficult even for Christians to embrace. The cross always remains a stumbling block for those of the world and, in so far as it is a stumbling block for us, we are not fully alive in Christ. We cannot live in an unholy alliance with the world. Christ alone must be our joy and all idols must be set aside, most especially our own ego. Isaac uses the example of the natural virtue of philosophers. Even through discipline of their intellect and will they could achieve a high level of heroism and virtue. As Christians we must understand that we cannot rationalize our sin as being due to weakness of will or tell ourselves that we are not capable of living the life of the gospel. Naturally God has created us for Himself and now he has given us the grace to share in a godly life. He has called us to deification.

Tonight we concluded homily 55. Isaac discusses the nature divine fear, which is not fear of God but rather fear of losing what is most precious - our virtue.  Such fear makes us vigilant and prayerful. 
At the beginning of Homily 56 Isaac addresses how God makes use of involuntary afflictions to heal us and strengthen us. Like a surgeon, the Divine Physician delicately and with great mercy operates corresponding to the severity of the illness.

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