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Tonight we lingered long over a mere four paragraphs from homily 74. Their beauty and their depth allowed no other option.

Isaac began by speaking to us of  the beauty as well as the fragility of chastity. This virtue, which gives us the capacity to love freely, is to be treasured and protected; for it can be lost even in old age when one might think it has become deeply rooted. Isaac’s vision of life is one of repentance; of continuously turning the mind in the heart to God and letting go of all obstacles that would prevent us from experiencing the deepest intimacy with him.

The path to that intimacy, Isaac tells us, is the Cross. This is the door through which we enter into the heavenly Mysteries. When we experience the affliction of the cross we also experience the consolation of the vision of God‘s love and presence. We never suffer in isolation.  The cross both reveals the love of God to us but also transforms us and draws us into the depth of that Love.

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Exceptional! This one word alone describes the essence of the section of homily 74 that we read this evening. Isaac begins to show us the subtle ways that our thoughts lead us astray. We often cannot recognize sin as it manifests itself and its many forms. Nor can we recognize the action of God and how He seeks to help us escape it and to escape our own pride. We are stiffnecked and we would rather look anywhere else than into our own hearts to understand the reason why we suffer so.  Isaac shows us how easily we shift the focus on to others and seek to blame them for our state. However, Isaac tells us it is God who holds out in hope, waiting to see if the afflictions that we bear and the cross that manifest itself in our lives will humble us and set us free.  If we would but humble ourselves and allow tears to well up from our heart then God would cast our transgressions into oblivion and raise us up to gaze upon His loving countenance.

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Tonight we concluded the final paragraphs of homily 72. It is as if Isaac is a bell, constantly ringing out to guide us through the darkness of this world and more importantly to draw us away from the wiles of the evil one. We are often oblivious to the subtle ways that the devil will hunt us down; in things concealed, or contingencies lying hidden in certain affairs, or in places.

In the face of this Isaac, the voice in the desert, cries out that there should be no limit to our willingness to toil for the things of the kingdom. We must start off the journey well and with clarity of purpose. We must ever be using our energy in the time given to us to pursue the life of virtue and to traverse the path of the Cross to its end. We must actively drive away from ourselves any kind of thinking that impels us toward repose. Zeal and eagerness must be fostered not in an equal but greater measure than that which we see given to the pursuit worldly glories or even to mere distractions.

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Isaac continues in homily 70 to instruct us about the nature of temptation and trials. These are not to be something that we fear or avoid. God allows us to be tempted not only to perfect our virtue but in order that we may comprehend something greater. Our participation in the cross through our infirmities or tribulations allows us to experience something of the suffering love of our Lord. If God allows us to experience the rod it is not evidence of punishment or discipline but rather of His desire to draw us closer to Himself. Our souls profit and are made sound through such temptation. Therefore, we are not to allow ourselves to fall into despair. Even if we are afflicted 1000 times we must realize that victory can come in a single moment. God can give us the strength, the courage and heart of a warrior.  And so we must not fear or give ourselves over to negligence or sloth.
 
In homily 71, Isaac begins to define for us three things: repentance, purity and perfection. In each case, the definition that he offers us is not what we might imagine. Isaac seeks to help us measure things in accord with the mind of God. Purity, for example, is the heart’s capacity to show mercy to all creation. Rightly ordered love allows us to see things with the eyes of God and so to see them with compassion and mercy. Repentance is not simply an episodic turning away from or confessing of one’s sin but mourn over it with a heart that understands the wound has been dealt to love. And finally, humility is our willingness to abandon all things visible and invisible. We cling to nothing - not even our thoughts about the things of the world. We cling only to God and seek Him above all things.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Our group began tonight with a very challenging question: what is it to deny oneself?  It is here that we are confronted with the full force of the gospel as reflected through the lived experience of the fathers. To deny oneself is to embrace the cross freely, to be ready for every affliction. It is the willingness to reject everything in this world to attain what Christ promises. We must be willing to be hated by the world as Christ himself was hated by the world, to prepare ourselves for complete dissolution for the sake of eternal life. 
 
It is a jarring reality and turns our worldview upside down. There must be a willingness within us to estrange ourselves from everything that produces slackness. Our desire for Christ and to share in His life leads us along the same path that he trod - into the desert to strip ourselves of the false self. 
 
This led us as a group to discuss what this means for us who live in the world. What does it mean to be a Christian, to embrace the fullness of the life of holiness that Christ has called us to?  Have we been so formed by the culture that we have created an image of Christ that allows us to remain focused on the world and not the kingdom?  How do we evangelize?  Do we settle for something less than being conformed to Christ in every way such that others encounter Him through us?  Do we live a life of perpetual adoration - a life that is a sacrifice of praise.

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Tonight‘s group was challenging as always. Saint Isaac begins to draw us into the heart of the gospel and the embrace of the cross. We must be willing he tells us to endure afflictions. We cannot draw near to Christ crucified without them or grow in righteousness.  There is no static position in the spiritual life. Truly speaking there is no spiritual life but only life in Christ and a single hearted pursuit of the Kingdom. The world beguiles us; constantly trying to pull us away from the narrow path; ensnaring even great ascetics. We must keep before our eyes the brevity of life and come to love the Lord and our souls so much that we also come to hate sin.  Furthermore, we must study the scriptures to rouse ourselves to faith and increase our fervor.  This alone gives rise to greater faith and desire for God. 

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The impact of sloth on the soul is often neglected and its significance minimized. St. Isaac the Syrian warns that without harsh tribulations of the flesh it is difficult for the untrained youth to be held under the yoke of sanctification. We must be willing to take upon ourselves the cross of the pursuit of virtue before sharing in its glory. Whenever the soul becomes heedless of the labors of virtue, he is inevitably drawn to what is opposed to them and thus becomes deprived of God's help and so subject to alien spirits. Every man who before training in the afflications of the cross completely and pursues the sweetness and glory of the cross out of sloth and for its own sweetness, has wrath come upon him. He lacks the proper wedding garment - the healing of the infirmity of his thoughts by patient endurance of the labor that belongs to the shame of the cross. A man whose mind is polluted with the passions of dishonor and rushes to imagine with his mind and ascend to the divine vision, is put to silence by divine punishment. "And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"

Theoria is rooted in virtue and becomes the receptacle and house of the knowledge of God.  It is in the body that we must pursue virtue and so we must engage in the rigors of asceticism.  We are not angels but rather fallen human beings who must purify the eye of the heart for the perception of the divine mysteries.

St. Isaac then begins to clarify the understanding of the word world.  The world is collective noun applied to all the passions.  Great care must be given in separating oneself from the world and with humility we must understand that depeneding on our state we may not perceive all the passions that hold us in their grip.

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