Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Greater Appearance than the Transfiguration

Below you will find an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Transfiguration of Christ.  The entire sermon may be read at NewAdvent.org. All people have the promise to see Christ in a far greater brightness than the disciples did on the mount of transfiguration, because He will appear in order to judge every single person that has ever lived or will live.  As St. John Chrysostom so eloquently states it, "No man will there appear rich or poor, mighty or weak, wise or unwise, bond or free; but these masks will be dashed in pieces, and the inquiry will be into their works only."  

The threat of judgment is a sobering thought.  To accept the thought can bring about an opportunity for transformation, though.  If I am slighted, or hurt, or caught up in the middle of some distressing situation where I would normally become angry, yell, speak ill, or become vengeful, it is the thought of my own judgment that can calm me down and hold my will captive to God.  If it is present in my mind that my behavior in that moment - even every idle word (Mt. 12:37) - must be answered for by me, then I will choose my words with caution and discretion, as well as my actions, thoughts, and heart.  We are not given anyone else to judge and to bend according to our judgments other than ourselves (and maybe our children as we guide them in choosing good over evil, but even that with compassion and respect for the adults they one day must be!).  

That judgment is assured also clarifies Christ's commandments in the gospels. He has acquired everything we need for our rehabilitation and adoption into the household of God, and He has left us with instructions that tell us how to use that rehabilitation and adoption.  He's accomplished everything for us, given us the fullness of His grace and kingdom within us by the Holy Spirit in His Church, leaving to us only what pertains to free will.  That is the only thing He has left to us to rein in under His reign, though even there He gives us great assistance through His grace and sacraments.  If it is only free will that I must be concerned about - with all of heaven ready to support it - then that is truly an easy yoke and light burden.  

And when it is in that one area, my free choice, that I fall short, it then is all the more shameful and sad.  What more can Christ do for me than what He has already done?  What more can He give?  What more can He teach?  What more can He promise?  

Of course the answer is 'nothing more.'  The mystery of a man or woman's salvation lies in his or her freedom.  The mystery of the crucified and risen Christ's victory lies in that His kingdom advances without overturning but instead upholding free will.  He does not have to force us, but wins us over by truth and love.  And when in our freedom we embrace Christ and endeavor to be the friends of Christ (Jn. 15:14), then we become living mysteries ourselves in the Christian sense of the word - i.e. living sacraments of the kingdom.  And in this friendship lies true freedom that no man can take from you, for it is hidden with Christ in God.

In connection with my thoughts above, I am linking the article from which I found the icon of the Last Judgment.  The article is entitled, "The Basis of God's Judgment."


From Homily 56 on St. Matthew
by St. John Chrysostom

6. And when they heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Matthew 17:6-8

How was it that, when they heard these words, they were dismayed? And yet before this also a like voice was uttered at Jordan, and a multitude was present, and no one felt anything of the kind; and afterwards again, when also they said, It thundered, John 12:28-29 yet neither at that time did they experience anything like this. How then did they fall down in the mount? Because there was solitude, and height, and great quietness, and a transfiguration full of awe, and a pure light, and a cloud stretched out; all which things put them in great alarm. And the amazement came thick on every side, and they fell down both in fear at once and in adoration.

But that the fear abiding so long might not drive out their recollection, presently He puts an end to their alarm, and is seen Himself alone, and commands them to tell no man this, until He is risen from the dead.

For as they came down from the mount, He charged them to tell the vision to no man, until He were risen from the dead. what they were about.

7. Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord.

But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.

For as it is with the judges; when they judge publicly, the attendants drawing back the curtains show them to all; even so then likewise all men shall see Him sitting, and all the human race shall stand by, and He will make answers to them by Himself; and to some He will say, Come, you blessed of my Father; for I was an hungered, and you gave me meat; Matthew 25:34-35 to others, Well done, thou good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Matthew 25:23

And again passing an opposite sentence, to some He will answer, Depart into the everlasting fire, that is prepared for the devil and his angels, Matthew 25:41 and to others, O thou wicked and slothful servants. Matthew 25:26 And some He will cut asunder, and deliver to the tormentors; but others He will command to be bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness. Matthew 22:13 And after the axe the furnace will follow; and all out of the net, that is cast away, will fall therein.

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun; Matthew 13:43 or rather more than the sun. But so much is said, not because their light is to be so much and no more, but since we know no other star brighter than this, He chose by the known example to set forth the future brightness of the saints.

Since on the mount too, when He says, He did shine as the sun, for the same cause did He so speak. For that the comparison did not come up to His light, the apostles showed by falling down. For had the brightness not been unalloyed, but comparable to the sun; they would not have fallen, but would easily have borne it.

The righteous therefore will shine as the sun, and more than the sun in that time; but the sinners shall suffer all extremities. Then will there be no need of records, proofs, witnesses. For He who judges is Himself all, both witness, and proof, and judge. For He knows all things exactly; For all things are naked and opened unto His eyes.Hebrews 4:13

No man will there appear rich or poor, mighty or weak, wise or unwise, bond or free; but these masks will be dashed in pieces, and the inquiry will be into their works only. For if in our courts, when any one is tried for usurpation, or murder, whatever he may be, whether governor, or consul, or what you will, all these dignities fleet away, and he that is convicted suffers the utmost penalty; much more will it be so there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unafraid

'A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter."

The Law of Moses forbade anyone to touch a leper, for they were unclean (Lev. 5:3). Yet the Lord Jesus touches this leper, and in so doing He cleanses the leper from his leprosy. Has the Lord broken the Law? No. Why? Because the one that touches the leper shares in his uncleanness, is made unclean by it, and becomes guilty for failing to preserve himself in purity. Does Christ become unclean? No, but rather His purity overcomes the uncleanness of the leper to make him clean and pure. If anyone else had touched the leper, he or she would be subject to the infection, corruption, and disease that comes from mingling with what is unclean (in this case, leprosy). Why? Because anyone else is born into the world under the sway of the devil, whose power over us is death. And the sting of death - the sting that we are stung with - is sin. And the power of sin - that is, what highlights it and makes us see it but cannot deliver us from it - is the Law.

But Christ is not under the power of the devil. He is conceived by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. As He says before going to His crucifixion, "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me" [Jn 14]. The Lord Jesus is God's Son, very God from very God, begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father, but who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was made Man. He is the Life of the World, and all things that are made have been made through Him. He is not bound by the devil, He is not subject to death and corruption, He commits no sin. In essence He has no need of the Law, because the Law is given to sinners so they will have knowledge of their sin. The Lord Jesus is Lord over the Law, and the one who comes to fulfill it.

So in this way we see that the Lord was not careless about the Law, or disobedient to it (as a Jew circumcised into the Law on the eighth day). He is Lord over it, uses it according to its purpose, and upholds it. How does He uphold it? He tells the one cleansed to show himself to the priest - whose job it was to certify if one was cleansed of leprosy - and to offer the sacrifice prescribed in the Law. In this way the Law witnesses to the priest and the people of God that this one that was unclean, this one that was required to wear disheveled hair and torn clothes and live away from everyone else in exile - this one can come home to his family and friends, for he is made well and whole again.

We know that what the Lord Jesus does for the leper is just a microcosm of what He had come to do for all people of all time. If for the leper the Lord Jesus touched his leprosy, for us He touches our stinging sin with His precious blood, taking away our sins in forgiveness. If for the leper the Lord Jesus crosses the barrier of isolation by reaching out to touch him, for us He crosses the barrier of death by the death of His cross. And as the leprosy was taken away, so has death's hold on us been taken away, and with it the devil's grasp on us. Christ made the leper free from physical illness and exile, but in us He breaks the hold of sin, death, and the devil and implants the kingdom of God within us.

That is the great triumph of Christ, that He accomplishes a cleansing for the whole human race - even the entire creation. His resurrection from the dead has opened the kingdom of heaven to all that will put their trust in Him and obey His voice.

I think many of us naturally want to recoil from people like this leper - and I mean people who seem disadvantaged to us, like people who are visibly impoverished, or visibly impaired in their body or mind, or clearly overcome with circumstances we would not wish on anyone. I think at some level we recoil because we are afraid it's contagious - not necessarily in a literal way, but maybe in such a way that their problems will become ours, and we will be sucked down into their misery. And this is frightening.

But the Lord Jesus teaches us to be unafraid of other's misery. He does this by securing our joy. He does this by becoming our life, our meaning, and our love. He does this by training us to say no to all the false joys in the world, with their false security: money and possessions (give them to the poor), pride (see Publican vs. Pharisee), lust of the eye (pluck it out!), food (fast and pray), and whatever else makes us take no thought of the kingdom (deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow). One by one we are encouraged by our Lord Jesus to dig up what we find in our heart that stands between us and the kingdom planted therein by Christ. And when we recoil from those people who need goodness and love, we can be sure there is something that needs to be dug up, because we are afraid of what cannot hurt us, instead of encouraged by the One who wishes to crown us with glory! But when we train our free will in the way of Christ, the love of Christ flows and gains momentum, and all things become new - in our lives and in the lives of the people we reach out and touch.

Christian love can be bold, because Christ Jesus is the guarantor of that love, and He will back it up 110%.



Monday, February 10, 2014

Our Mother Tongue

"In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed." [Mk. 1:35]

The day before the Lord Jesus had been in Simon Peter's house. He spent the day healing the multitudes and casting out demons. So the next day He rises before dawn - that is, while it is still dark - and went to a deserted place. He got away from everyone in order to pray. This is a distinguishing feature of the Lord Jesus' life. He prays regularly. Raised in a pious home He was taught to pray. And though He has great compassion on the people that come to Him, He still makes the effort to pray.

Do we think about God as One who prays? Well here we have God Incarnate, that is, the Word Made Flesh. God has become a human being just like us, except without sin. So what the evangelist St. Mark is showing us is how a real Man lives. It seems like it's just a glimpse, because soon the disciples track Him down and off they go to continue the Lord's mission of preaching and casting out demons. But we definitely see the One who is God praying, and it is because He is God's Son, and it is because His is a real Man.

And that is the stage upon which we join the Lord Jesus. We are fallen men and women, but Christ died to cancel our fall, rose to initialize our new life, and in the Church has adopted us into the family of God. In Christ we are real Men and real Women - truly Man as He is. So where is prayer in our life? Our life is hidden in Christ, who has ascended to heaven to rule, to fill all things. So that is where our conversation belongs - in Christ, in heaven.

Earthly life demands much from us without us being famous or working miracles as it was with our Lord. Do we talk to God? The Church has given us the words, which hearken back to our Lord's own instructions to say, "Our Father...," and use the same psalms and Scriptures He used in His earthly prayers. But do we put forth the effort? And when life gets in the way, do we push back to make sure the conversation between our souls and heaven itself does not fall away?

We have been given a great gift in Christ, in Baptism, in the Church. The fullness of the kingdom of heaven is entrusted to us for our benefit. But we can lose track of it. We can bury it. We can disregard it. And we can cover it up so that it makes no difference in our life. If we pray, though, as our Lord prayed, this cannot happen. It is the soul that becomes numb to God without us knowing, and it is prayer that keeps the soul warm through closeness to God, if you will.

A lot can be said about prayer, but I only wish to say that a Christian cannot rightly omit it. If prayer is missing from our homes, then our homes lack Christianity in some sense. The Lord Jesus knows it takes effort to maintain a prayer life! But it is how we learn the language of heaven and make that blessed place's language our mother tongue. Amen.