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Tonight we concluded Homily 40. Saint Isaac speaks to us of the tactics of the enemy to pull us away from unceasing prayer and to lead us into every form of negligence and laxity. The enemy watches for all the ways that we are slothful and inattentive to the small things of daily life that open us up to sin.   
 
Wisdom is found in the man who is ever watchful and who sees nothing of his day to day life as insignificant. He labors for God in every way, not preferring the comforts of this world but willing to sacrifice all to know the sweet repose of living in the Lord’s love.   With courage of heart he seeks to do the will of God with exactness so as to sharpen his conscience. In this he possesses confidence towards God and becomes bold in His ways.  True virtue is found in living in Christ and seeking the purity of heart that allows us to be free of the passions and filled with desire for the kingdom.
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St Isaac led us through a wonderful study of the methods the devil uses to war against those who seek to live for God and walk by the narrow way. 
 
The devil will wait patiently for some who begin the spiritual life zealously; not because he fears them but rather because he holds them in contempt. He waits until their zeal cools and they grow lax and overconfident. He allows them to dig their own pit of perdition for their souls through wandering thoughts. 
 
With the courageous and strong, the devil seeks to drive a wedge between them and their guardian angel. Craftily the devil convinces them that their victories come through their own strength and force. The devil imitates the guardian angel and convinces them to follow dreams as if true in order to lead them astray. 
 
Finally the devil will actively present the warrior with fantasies masking the truth and thus deluding their mind. He leads them to ponder shameful thoughts. He will even present them with actual physical temptations once thought to be overcome. 
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Beginning with Homily 38 and moving into Homily 39, St. Isaac treats of the struggle with sin and temptation and the methods of the devil. The starting point is not to fear temptation. Such fear reveals an avoidance of hardship and lack of zeal for the Lord. We are not promised happiness or peace in this world but affliction. Thus we are to enter the spiritual battle with strong resolve - a willingness to sacrifice all for love of God and virtue. The devil will urge us to ease our labors but we are to be unrelenting in the fight. 
 
The devil begins by observing our weapons and watching for a weak and infirm will. He will the let loose with full force upon us in order to shake our resolve and to overcome us with fear. God often allows us to feel the full brunt of these temptations if only to reveal our doubt and coldness.  We must confront the devil with fearlessness and ardor.  Anything less makes us tempters and mockers of God. He did not create us simply to enter and leave this world but made us for eternity. This is the lens through which we must view our lives. 
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We began our discussion of St Isaac’s 37th Homily with his teaching about the importance of separating ourselves from the things of the world so as to make the ascetical struggle easier.  The struggle is easier when the sources of temptation are at a distance. We must in fact flee from those things that cause warfare and not associate with that which fights against us. The stillness and purity that is gained through asceticism must not be thoughtlessly thrown away; For even the memory or imagination of certain things can bring us harm. Thus we must guard against becoming overconfident so as not to trample our consciences. Various examples of this were discussed. 
 
St. Isaac then moved on to consider what is the beginning of the spiritual war and where does one start the fight. Fasting and Vigils are the signs of our hatred for sin and desire for God. They are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Day and night they lead us to God - humbling the mind and body and making us ever watchful and discerning. Discussion ensued about what this means for those living in the world and how it they are to be fostered. 
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Tonight‘s discussion of homilies 32 and 33 focused upon Saint Isaac’s teaching that we should not approach the life of faith as if it were simply self improvement. We must beware of seeking our joys in the things of this world or reducing God to something manageable and controllable rather than an all enveloping mystery. The poverty that we experience in our moral life and psychologically and emotionally simply at times has to be in endured. We are drawn in to the perfection of God by grace. We do not make ourselves perfect. More often than not we are humbled by our weaknesses until we rest solely upon the grace of God.
 
We continue to struggle of course,  but we must avoid extremes in behavior - excesses in satisfying our appetites or too great a rigor that leads to despondency.  Our life is Christ and often our greatest struggle as human beings is to let go of the illusion that lasting joy can be found in any other place.
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The group began by continuing to reflect upon the final paragraphs of Homily 30 wherein St Isaac emphasizes the uniqueness of man, in particular our corporeal nature and our reason and free will. It is this reality the shapes our spiritual struggle. We need to understand our strengths and limitations. 
 
In Homily 31 Isaac moves on to discuss the importance of vigilance in the moment - not looking to the past or to others but struggling today with what we are faced. We must valiantly engage in the battle and bear the recompense for our sin in a spirit of hope and joy. We are not to blame others for our sorrows but see them as rooted in our sin and as opportunities for virtue and healing. 
 
Finally at the beginning of Homily 32 Isaac introduces us to the fiercest of struggles - learning to abhor sin with our whole heart and the resistance that we face in this task. Only through this can we then develop a true love for virtue. This struggle is the unseen martyrdom of the spiritual life - the bloodless martyrdom that we experience daily.
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Tonight's discussion was on Homily 9 and focused on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary sin, the effects of laxity and heedlessness in the spiritual life, the need to remain stalwart in spiritual warfare, courageously entering into the battle and understanding that it may leave us wounded and permanently scarred. We should fear only the devastation that comes from trampling on our own conscience, willingly reaching out our hand to the devil and so taking the path of perdition. 
 
The unfortunate focus in our culture and the culture of Church today is on pursuing individual freedom, fulfillment and satisfaction in this world over and above the pursuit of holiness of life and purity of heart. Our time in this world is short and we must lives as those who understand the urgency of conversion.
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The foundation of all that is good, St Isaac the Syrian tells us in Homily 8, is the knowledge of one's own weakness, realizing the need for God's help.  It is the Mother of humility and the birthplace of deep and abiding prayer. 

From such prayer comes all good things to be found for the spiritual life. It is the refuge of help, light in darkness, a staff of the infirm, medicine in sickness and a sharpened arrow against spiritual enemies. 
 
The more one prays the more one comes to treasure the gift and to cease pondering vanities. One learns to crave God and to seek Him out constantly. 
 
In His compassion God allows us to be humbled - to correct and to heal. Temptations and afflictions become profitable because they purify the soul of pride and also teach the soul to fight and remain in the arena with fortitude and courage. 
 
Thus, in all things we are to be grateful and we must acknowledge that the trials we experience are the fruit of negligence and laxity. Trials come to awaken us to the urgency of the moment, to jolt us out of our complacency and to teach us that every moment is freighted with destiny. We are temples of God the Most High and we must not take such a reality lightly or hold the grace we receive as cheap.
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St. Isaac once again teaches us that we must fully and wisely engage in the spiritual battle - fighting on the right battlefield and making use of the right remedies to heal wounds. He warns us never to treat any sin as slight; for ignoring any sin will eventually make it our master.

Above all we must not be overly confident in our own strength but rather trust in divine providence and the manifestation of that providence in God's angels. They are always there interceding for us, revealing our enemies and fortifying us in the struggle. They show us how close God is to us.

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In the final paragraph of Homily Four, St. Isaac exhorts us to die to all things and the doings of the world that give rise to the passions.  He acknowledges that there is a a kind of madness to this as seen from a worldly perspective and that reality gets turned on its head.  But it is only when we trust to the Lord by embracing this path fully that we will experience the sweetness of spiritual inebriation.  Though difficult, he encourages us not to lose hope for the mere movement of toward God and the mere expression of desire for holiness brings with it a flood of grace and mercy.

Homily Five begins by reminding us that we have received all that we need through the revelation of nature and the scriptures to guide and direct us in the spiritual life; especially the reality of our own mortality.  Death gives rise to the question of the meaning of our lives and what path we are going to pursue.  We cannot, however, approach these realities and think that we can stand still or refrain from offering any response.  "Whoever does not voluntarily withdraw himself from the passions is involuntarily drawn away by sin."  There is no static position for us as human beings.  We must withdraw from the causes of the passions and set ourselves toward the good; realizing that God honors not wealth but rather poverty of spirit, not pride but humility.

In the spiritual battle, we must engage "manfully", that is, with courage.  We must not doubt God is our Helper in the good work otherwise we will be scared of our own shadow.  If we hope in Him, however, we will experience Him as one who manages our "household", that is, our heart and sends His angels to strengthen and encourage us.

Never hold any sin to be slight.  To love God is to hate evil and our sin, no matter how grave or small in our eyes. And having made any strides in the spiritual life, it must be seen as mere fidelity and obedience to what is commanded of us.  Pride must have no place within us.

Sin must be fought and healed with the right remedies.  Lack of chastity cannot be healed by giving great alms and fasting does not overcome avarice.  In place of the loss of sanctity God requires sanctification.  Lack of chastity must be restored to purity.

 

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