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Archive for the 'Love' Category

We continued with our reading of Hypothesis I on “repentance in the avoidance of despair.” After giving us a foundation of many stories of God‘s infinite and boundless mercy, the focus of attention this evening is on the human response to this mercy.  Repentance is not a static reality. Rather, it is a source of protection, a cloak that one wears. We are not meant to simply remain in the sadness of having committed sins, but rather we are to rise and engage in the spiritual warfare that God’s mercy and grace gives us the strength to enter. We are to be combatants. Our weapons are not worldly nor are they rooted in ourselves but rather arise first from the grace of God and manifest themselves in our hearts as humility, obedience, self-sacrificing love, contrition. We are also shown that the impact of repentance is not limited to one person. Repentance when it is deep and true brings about miracles not only in one’s own life but in the lives of those around us. God’s grace and mercy overflows in response to the abundance of tears that an individual sheds on behalf of his sins and the sins of the world. The presence of penitents in the Church strengthens it and gives others who have fallen into sin hope of salvation and conversion of life.


Text of chat during the group

00:31:48 Eric Williams: PEWSLAG

00:56:07 Eric Williams: The ass saved the ass from himself!

00:58:25 Eric Williams: “Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” - Ephesians 6:10-17

01:03:47 The Pittsburgh Oratory: Erick we lost you.

01:16:38 Eric Williams: “Say: woe is me, alas, O soul, and weep; for thou hast been left and orphan so young by the blameless fathers and righteous ascetics. Where are our fathers? Where are the saints? Where are the vigilant? Where are the sober? Where are the humble? Where are the meek? Where are those who vow silence? Where are the abstinent? Where are those who with a contrite heart stood before the Lord in perfect prayer, like angels of God? They have left here to join our holy God with their lamps brightly burning. Woe is us! What times are these in which we live? Into what sea of evil have we sailed? Our fathers have entered the harbor of life, that they might not see the sorrows and seductions that overcome us because of our sins. They are crowned, yet we slumber; we sleep and indulge in selfish pleasures.” - St Ephraim the Syrian

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Tonight we began Homily 76 which focuses on the virtue of mercy and compassion. Isaac addresses the question of how one who lives in seclusion and stillness can fulfill the command of the gospel to love one’s neighbor. Isaac beautifully describes for us that only the rarest of individuals is called to a life that is completely wrapped in God and in prayer.  And in so far is this is true, they embrace all of creation as God Himself due to the radical communion that they share with Him. Beyond this, their life of radical seclusion from men may prevent them from actively showing mercy and compassion. The mercy and compassion is all embracing but one cannot tangibly reach out to others because of the life they’ve been called to by God.

However, those who live among others, no matter how few, must respond with mercy in the face of tangible needs. One must “leave God for God” as it were. When a neighbor is sick or starving one must attend to their needs without counting the costs. One’s religious life cannot become a form of resistance that blinds a person to the needs of others. We cannot use our religious practices as a bubble to shield us from others or any contact with them. To aid us in our understanding Isaac gives us a number of examples of those holy souls who despite the rigors of their solitude went the extra mile in attending the needs of others.

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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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We continued homily 71. Isaac is slowly guiding us through the virtues that bring us to our end point. Tonight we began with his definition of perfection. For Isaac, it is simply to love as Christ loves – a willingness to lay down our lives for others in order that they might come to know the fullness of life and love. Isaac puts forward the examples of Moses and St. Paul who asked God to allow them to be cast off if it would mean that others would be saved. Christ is our teacher in this regard. It is in Him and in His cross that we learn to love and are given the capacity to love.
From this Isaac moves on to speak to us about hope. It is an incredibly moving section of Isaac‘s writing. He elevates hope to its proper position in our life. It is one of the three theological virtues and it is precisely its ability to help us to see beyond the things of this world that allows us to love with the perfection that he describes. With hope we can see the promise of life that Christ holds out to us and so we can run with a swiftness. In fact, Isaac describes it as like running on air. No mountain, no river, no obstacle at all prevents an individual with hope from running swiftly toward the kingdom, with a heart aflame for the love of God. Isaac describes it as a kind of shortcut. Hope and its perfection brings together all the virtues. It leads a person to heedlessly give their lives over completely to Christ and allow Him to take up residence within the heart. Hope allows for a kind of holy madness to guide and direct a person’s life. It allows one to cast off any obstacle to living for Christ and living for Him alone.

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Tonight our discussion focused upon the conclusion of homily 69 and the beginning of homily 70. Both present us with an exquisite description of the nature and action of God‘s grace upon the soul; how we experience an alteration in the mind and indeed a struggle with our passions, with temptations and our falls only to be lifted up by the grace of God again. Isaac presents us with a vision of God who is intimately involved in our lives and seeks to draw us from glory to glory into the depths of his own life. He does that, however, within the context of our humanity and understanding that we must be drawn deeper through our struggles to see and comprehend the truth as he seeks to make known. God does not free us from the spiritual warfare and the struggle with temptation; rather He thrusts us into its depths to bring us to greater repentance and draw us back to himself and makes us steadfast in the faith, hope and love.  Our mind must die to the world and to the passions and be transformed by grace. The passions don’t die: we must die to self and sin and put on the mind of Christ. Grace, Isaac tells us, carries us in the palm of her hand. God will never abandon us in the struggle but is ever present to keep us from falling into despair.

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We continued tonight with homily 66. St. Isaac lays out for us the path to prayer and reveals to us its deeper meaning. It involves self-denial; a setting aside of the ego in order that one might be fully attentive to God. And so prayer is essentially self-renunciation shaped and guided by faith and fueled by desire.  
In so many ways we have to let go of our limited understanding of prayer and the shape that we typically give it in accord with our own will. Isaac would have us allow God to lead us into the depths of prayer guided by a love that is inestimable.
Our greatest obstacle is our selves – the many ways that we allow ourselves to be pulled towards other things. We seek fulfillment in that which is so much less than God and we lose sight of our hope. We freely give away, without effort, the love God holds out to us.
Isaac exhorts us to order our desire and longing toward God, to let nothing draws away from what He alone can satisfy. We must allow ourselves to hunger for He who is the Bread of Life - - for He who can satisfy us unto eternity.

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After having spoken to us in great detail about the ineffable consolation of faith and the experience of God‘s love in prayer, Isaac begins to teach us how we must be conformed to the mind and heart of Christ. In particular he emphasizes the absolute need for mercy. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful comes to light vividly in this passage. Through mercy we become the physician of our own souls. Giving this mercy to others brings us great healing. We are never to be those who seek vengeance but rather those who only desire the conversion and repentance of others so that they might come to experience the healing mercy of God. We are to be the conduits of this mercy in the world.
We closed with a challenging paragraph. Isaac warns us not to think that God fails to see our motives. We cannot be crafty or knavish in our actions or take the love and the mercy of God for granted or hold he cheap. Death comes to us quickly and unexpectedly and so we must live every moment seeking to love God and to love one another. 

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Tonight we continued our discussion of homily 64. It is rich in every way. Every sentence could be reflected upon for hours and once again Isaac does not waste a single word. The spiritual life involves allowing ourselves to be drawn by love and to love the things that draw us to God. We are to love humility, to love chastity, and to love contrition. All of these things free us from the impediments to experiencing the fullness of the life of God, free us from those things that prevent us from entering into the Paschal mystery and being transformed by it. Silence itself is to be treasured because in silence we allow God to speak a word that is equal to Himself. Silence illuminates like the sun, it removes ignorance and most important of all that unites us to God.

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We continued our reading of homily 64 where Isaac draws us ever more deeply into the heart of the spiritual life. He begins by emphasizing the fact that what God does within the human heart and the transformation that He brings about is far greater than anything that we might do in our own eyes or in the eyes of the world. To receive life from God is greater than our capacity to give or support life or edify others. Humility raises us up to acknowledge the truth about God and ourselves. In this sense humility provides something greater than any worldly knowledge we might possess. Furthermore, the humble heart and humble body allows one to draw close to God and to experience His peace. The more distant we become from God, the more agitated we become and begin to experience an internal disintegration. It is for this reason that Isaac tells us that we must love humility and not love the things that we seek to adorn ourselves with in the world. What could be more valuable than possessing the love and the mercy of God? What could be more valuable than adorning ourselves with virtue? This virtue, however, he warns us must not be the kind of posturing that we foster in the world that allows us to embrace a condescending spirit towards others. Such a virtue betrays a sickly conscience. We must always and forever see things through the eyes of God.

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Tonight we completed homily 63. Isaac begins to speak of us of the necessity of setting aside all possessions and possessiveness; of setting aside all thoughts and distractions in order that stillness might reign within the heart, where we might remove ourselves from the web of the passions. All of this is meant to allow us to hold on to nothing but rather to cling to God. We are to be turned toward the Lord completely. 
Prayer requires a long continuance and perseverance. Seclusion or solitude is necessary in order that the love for God might grow and develop and that we might come to see with the greater clarity the causes for loving God. From prayer, the love of God is born and so it becomes the most important thing for us as human beings. We are to become prayer as it were. This means developing a hatred for the world; that is, a true understanding of what disordered love does to us and what it cost. Only when we do this will we become truly attached to God and the blessings that he offers. We must “be-in-love” in the truest sense of the phrase. We must live our lives seeking God and his love as the pearl of great price.

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