Sunday, March 16, 2014


Sometimes it seems that maintaining hope in the face of my own sinfulness is impossible. With each fall it is easy to become discouraged. And fall after fall the discouragement grows. "How can God pardon so many offenses?" we might often ask ourselves. I know I ask this very frequently. But, as always, the saints have nothing but words of hope for us.

Now, you'll have to forgive me, but I don't know where or who originated the following quotes, but nonetheless they provide a great source of hope. I remember reading or hearing a quote from one Eastern saint that was along the lines of "God desires to give us mercy more than we desire to receive it." Think of that. No matter how much we may desire God's mercy, He desires to give it to us even more! He stands ready to forgive us, even before we are ready to be forgiven.

I believe I've heard once as well that there is more mercy in God than there are sins in us. No matter how much we sin, there is always more mercy awaiting us. We simply have to ask for it, and we have to be willing to receive it; this implies that we must always be willing to change our lives where our lives need changing. The mercy is there, but we have to be willing to cooperate with God's mercy.

One last quote that has impacted me strongly lately comes from a Western saint, St. Alphonsus Liguori. It was the writings of St. Alphonsus that originally got me into reading the writings of the saints. His words are always so simple and to the point, and yet they are always so profound. In meditating on the reasons for our hope, St. Alphonsus has this to say: 

"God willed that we should be so inseparably united to Jesus Christ that He cannot be loved except that we  be loved with Him; nor can we be hated except that He be hated with us. But now Jesus cannot be hated (by the Father); therefore, we shall be loved as long as we remain united to Him by love."

Have you ever considered this; that the Father has tied his love for us so closely to His love for His Son that He cannot love the Son without also loving us! Nor can he hate us without also hating the Son! Talk about a personal "catch 22." But the Father would have it no other way.

So don't let personal sinfulness get in the way of your hope in God. God has bound His love for us with His love for His Son. And just as He raised His Son from physical death, He will raise us too from the spiritual death of our sinfulness. May heaven consume us!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Great Lent!!!

Please forgive my absence. I've been struggling through a spiritual dry-spell lately. I've had little to no inspiration; all spiritual reading and prayer have given little consolation; and I feel as though all zeal has been sucked from my soul. Just struggling to live day-to-day and to maintain something of a spiritual life has require a great deal of effort from me. I'm sure you all know how that goes.

However, as I woke up this morning it dawned on me; today is Ash Wednesday in the Roman tradition. Monday marked the beginning of the Great Fast for Catholics of the Byzantine and Maronite (and I presume the other Oriental Catholic) traditions. Great and Holy Lent is upon us! I don't know how I missed this. This great and holy season just sort of snuck up on me.

I've always loved Lent. For me it has always been a time to refocus my heart, mind, and energies on what matters most; i.e. my relationship with God the Trinity. So often I see folks get caught up in the rules of fasting and abstinence. I remember a Greek Orthodox friend of mine making a somewhat snarky comment about the ease of the fasting rules for Roman Catholics. I've seen other Catholics bemoan the relaxing of the fasting rules for their traditions (Roman, Maronite, whatever). I've often also gotten the feeling that friends of mine were looking critically over my shoulder to ensure that I was maintaining the fast. To me this all seems to miss the point of the season.

Fasting is important, don't get me wrong. We should definitely follow the rules for fasting according to our particular tradition to the best of our abilities. That last bit is the most important part; to the best of our abilities. Not everyone has the strength to pull off great feats of fasting. One wise move that the Melkites made several years ago was to establish norms for "beginner," "intermediate," and "advanced" fasting (although I don't believe they used that language). Essentially they established minimum norms while at the same time affirming their traditional fast and holding that up as a goal to work toward. Basically they said, "Here's what our norms are. Do what you can. Push yourself, but don't injure yourself."

But the whole point of fasting is not that we are not permitted to eat certain foods, or until a certain time of day, or what have you. The point of fasting is that we take our minds off of even some of our most basic physical necessities in order to refocus on the more important spiritual necessities, the "one thing needful" so to speak. Food is good (VERY good in my opinion), but it cannot be allowed to dominate our lives. We need to be reminded that God is our heavenly Father and that He does and will provide for even the most basic and mundane needs of our bodies while at the same time supplying the needs of our souls, our innermost person. The Great Fast, Lent, is a time to refocus on our relationship with God by reaffirming our complete and utter dependence upon Him. In a sense Lent is about humbling ourselves enough to admit our poverty without Him. We have nothing apart from God.

That is actually one of the reasons why repentance is meant to be a joyful event, not a guilt-trip. This morning, as I was reading one of the writings of St. Theophan the Recluse, I was reminded that repentance is meant to be joyful. Why? Because of what precedes repentance. Before we repent, we recognize that something is disordered within us and around us. We recognize that we have done wrong. We have injured ourselves and our neighbors. We recognize that we deserve punishment. But where do we turn? What hope do we have? If you watch the people of the world it is interesting and sad to see where they go: drugs, alcohol, sex, cutting, food, etc. Even a disordered focus on building a utopia here and now is a result of the recognition that something is not right. But we know from experience that any attempt for man to build utopia of his own power and will fails.

Repentance is about the recognition that something is wrong, but then seeing that God, through the incarnation, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and glorification of His Son, has offered us shelter from the evil around us. We just need to embrace Him. We need to come under the shadow of His wings, a shadow cast by the Cross, a Cross that gives us hope.

That's what repentance is all about. So whether your Church has strict fasting laws, relaxed fasting laws, or provides norms for both doesn't really matter. What matters primarily is the interior disposition as we follow the rules for the Great Fast. Are we looking over our shoulders to see what others are doing? Or are we looking within in order to untangle ourselves with the help of God's grace from the snares of the world, the flesh and the devil? Are we looking ahead to the open arms of our almighty Father in order to run into His embrace? May heaven consume us!