December 20, 2018
As we continue with homily 51, Isaac begins to speak to us about some of the more subtle challenges that we face along the way. At no time are we to relinquish the hard one freedom over the senses. Either through extending rest from ascetical labors indiscriminately or through laxity and slackening our watchfulness of heart, we can wound ourselves in small or great ways through our sin. If we give free reign to the senses we also give free reign to our hearts and the attacks of the evil one.
Isaac understands that even the most experienced person in the spiritual life will at times slip into sin. However we must not persist in that sin and act toward God in a cunning way. We must not give ourselves over to the illusion that life will go on indefinitely or that we will have the opportunity to repent. We must keep before eyes the brevity of life.
Likewise, we must always be engaged in the work of the heart. There’s always the danger that our asceticism can simply be an end in itself, feeding the ego and self-esteem. If we do not possess a discriminating disdain for the things that are passing in this world and if we are not driven by our love for God, even the most disciplined person can be very far from the life and love of the kingdom.
Those whose hearts are conformed to God do not hate sinners but rather look upon all with compassion and mercy. We must understand that God has not acted towards us with justice but rather with mercy and love. And what other way can we look at another person who is harassed and mocked by the evil one than with sympathy. We must be heralds of God‘s mercy and goodness. Great care must be given not to project on to God our own understanding of justice, Hell, and retribution. We must always look to what God has revealed to us in his only begotten Son and understand that God is eternal love and mercy. It is this reality that we are tempted to change to fit our own imagination.
December 7, 2018
We continued with our discussion of homily 51 and once again Isaac through a kind of holy genius guides us deep within the truths of the gospel - In particular how we are to understand the nature of divine love and mercy and the hope that it brings to our soul and how it transforms the way that we look at others. He begins by warning us that asceticism absent a life of love and mercy is to be pitied. If we make ourselves castigators and chastisers we promise ourselves only a miserable life.
If we are weak in the spiritual life we must set ourselves with a strong resolve to at least strive within our limits. If we are not peacemakers we must at least not be troublemakers. If we are angry with others in our hearts we must hold our tongues and remain silent. If we judge others or allow them to be consumed by the anger of others, then we are accomplices and bear their guilt upon our shoulders.
In all of this, Isaac teaches us that humility is the key virtue that produces peace within the heart and leads us to the joy of the kingdom. Humility is truthful living, a willingness to see the poverty of our sin, to acknowledge the futility of our life without Christ.
We closed the evening by simply touching upon one of the most powerful teachings and reflections of St. Isaac. He tells us that divine hope uplifts the heart but fear of Gehenna crushes it. What does the love of God, he asks, tell us about hell? Do we desire the salvation of all as God himself desires it; or do we project our desire for retribution and worldly justice upon God?
November 8, 2018
Tonight we began reading homily 51. To say it was challenging is an understatement. Saint Isaac presents us with the gospel in its purity and challenges us to abandon our comfortable and limited perception of the truth; in particular our understanding of mercy and justice. Isaac, in stark terms, tells us that rash zeal and fanaticism have no place in the spiritual life and in our relationships with others. We are not allowed to give way to our desire to judge others according to our own sensibilities. We are to put on the mind of Christ and our love for others is to be cruciform.
Very often we take a morbid delight in assuming the position of power within relationships, enjoying correcting others when in reality we only add to their suffering. Furthermore, our rebuke of others only has the effect of undermining our own spiritual lives. Isaac bluntly tells us that to judge another is like a father slowly strangling his own beloved son.
We can only understand Issac’s teachings from the perspective of the life of Grace and Theosis. We must be conformed to and transformed by Divine Love in every way.
In the weeks and months to follow, St Isaac will draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s mercy and the beauty of the human person made in His image.