Monday, November 26, 2007

muscular christianity

The one who takes upon himself
the humiliation of the people
is fit to rule them;
the one who takes upon himself
the country’s disasters
deserves to be king of the universe.
The truth often sounds paradoxical.
Tao te Ching #78

The spiritual life is full of paradoxes and seeming contradictions. For example, the Hindus teach that even though God pierced the senses to look outward, the wise look inward, and it is there that they see the deathless Spirit. My favorite example of paradox is the Tao te Ching, that ancient Chinese book of wisdom. It teaches things like (#63): Practice non-action; work without doing; taste the tasteless … reward bitterness with care. The demands of the Gospel are just as paradoxical, too; as I like to say, they are like swimming upstream: love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; give to those who cannot pay you back––things like that. Everything about Jesus’ royalty is as paradoxical as the Tao te Ching. (By the way, the Tao te Ching was written as a kind of instruction book for rulers, so very a propos to quote it in this context.) The Tao says, Great straightness seems twisted; great intelligence seems stupid; great eloquence seems awkward. Jesus says, The greatest among you is the one who serves, the one who lays down his life as ransom.

Some time ago I heard someone on the radio offering a commentary on the era of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, making comparisons to our own day and age. There was a lot of talk in that era about a “muscular Christianity,” and that the reason we were involved in certain military conflicts in the world was to “Christianize” those parts of the world with our muscular Christianity. It was a disaster in that time for complicated reasons. But the very term “muscular Christianity” made me wince a little, when I see it against the context of the Gospel portrait of Jesus. Jesus categorically rejected violence as a means of accomplishing anything for the kingdom of God. Peter writes that (1Pet. 2:23), When Jesus was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; and Paul says (1 Cor 1:25), God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. What Jesus ultimately conquered was death itself, and everything that leads to death, and all forms of death, and any form of violence or anger or retribution or vengeance or retaliation or exclusion that leads to death. Death, he said, has nothing to do with God––this is a God of the living!

When we get some kind of image that we can really hold on to, we hold on with all our might! Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, another one of those feasts we can really grab on to. After all the demands of the Gospel, all the paradoxes and non-sequiturs, after all the fuzziness of mystical theology, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief: now here is a God we can understand: Christ the King! It conjures up images for us of a “muscular Christianity.” Even for we Americans who have not been raised with royal blood lines, we still can conjure up images, like the Kennedy family or the Bush family, or rock stars, movie stars, sports figures. Jesus Christ Superstar! I think right away of the great churches in Europe, either the huge frescoes on the ceilings of basilicas, or the mosaics in the apses of the churches that were influenced by Byzantine Christianity––huge Christ figures, holding banners, flanked by angels and people falling to the ground overcome by his majesty and power, trumpets and timpani.

This could be kind of a muscular feast, Christ the King. Do not be fooled by it; let’s not think like the world. Let’s not be seduced into any kind of triumphalism. This feast may help us conjure up an image of a sleek and strong Jesus, which gives us a certain comfort. But Jesus is not sleek and strong in the Gospel we heard today. Jesus is the suffering servant hanging on a cross. Behold your king, the soldiers jeer. Behold your king comes, John’s Gospel quotes the prophet Zechariah when it tells the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem quoted on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey. Behold your king, Pilate says to the Jews, beaten and crowned with thorns and a mock purple cloak. Only the criminal, the scum of the earth, recognizes that this is actually where the real power is.

Jesus was put to death not because he was a rival superpower; he was put to death by the political super-power because he chose to be powerless. Jesus wasn’t put to death because he was upholding some kind of an objective code of moral or ritual behavior. He was put to death because he refused to condemn sinners, because he chose mercy over sacrifice; Jesus was put to death because he said, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Jesus was put to death because he said, Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. “The world,” the “rulers of this age” couldn’t and can’t stand to hear that, just as we can't stand to hear it when we think in the way of the world.

For me, just like talk about snow and winter and sleigh bells can totally distract us from the real meaning of Christmas, I think all those images of Christ as King can distract us from how Jesus is the King of the Universe. In contrast to those images of royalty, blue blood and superstardom, let’s remind ourselves again of the images of how Jesus was and is a king. He was born in a barn (that used to be the way my mother scolded me when I acted rudely in the house, “What were you born in a barn?”); no wife or family; he seemed to have been a wandering beggar, at least a mendicant preacher. But these teachings, those are what really give us insight into the kind of king Jesus was, those same paradoxical teachings we mentioned above, but add to that things like, “The greatest among you must be the ones who serve,” which we hear over and over again in the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Mark, because the disciples just couldn’t get it. Jesus had to keep telling them over and over again (and so he tells us!), “Whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.” We imagine a king having servants and slaves and everything he wishes for and yet Jesus says of himself, “I have come not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many”; what kind of king is that? Then in the passion narratives––some kind of king!––at the last supper he takes off a cloak and wraps a towel around himself and washes his disciples’ feet. Some kind of king! What a disappointment! And it was therefore that God raised him on high and gave him the name above all other names. And then of course the greatest image right around the passion itself. The whole thing was a sarcastic mockery: the purple cloak, the crown made out of thorns, the sign over his head on the cross proclaiming him king, and offering no resistance as the thief next to him notes sarcastically. This is what the church would have us remember today, why she asks us to read this Gospel––because this is the kind of king Jesus not just was but is. Because, to follow up on that, when he comes back from the dead, if that were one of us, the first temptation would be to climb to the top of that parapet and say “Who’s king of the mountain now?” and reek a little revenge. But no, he comes back without revenge, without anger and says, “Peace.”

This is where Jesus is really a Taoist master: #78 says, The one who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people is fit to rule them; the one who takes upon himself the country’s disasters deserves to be king of the universe. The truth often sounds paradoxical. Paul tells us in the letter to the Colossians which we just heard, In him all the fullness was pleased to dwell. This is a marvelous word in Greek, pleroma, the fullness of divinity. But the only way to access that fullness, this source of the universe with which Jesus was filled, was emptiness, utter poverty. And it is because of that emptiness, poverty, total availability to the Spirit in thought word and action, and acceptance of the whole of the human condition, with its joys and griefs and pain and death shames and disasters, without offering any resistance to it, that Jesus was the king of the universe. That’s the kind of king Jesus is.

Ilia Delio in her book “The Humility of God” like no one else has pointed out to me not only how Jesus shows us what God is like (as Jesus says to Phillip in the Gospel of John, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father!”), but specifically what Jesus is witnessing to us is the humility of God, God’s choice to be powerless among us. When we look at Christ crucified we are learning something about God the Father as well. Ilia writes that “God is most God-like in the suffering of the cross.” What is shown to us in the cross is that the power of God is the “powerlessness of God’s unconditional love.” This is a love that “cannot be overcome by human power” and cannot “be conquered by human force.” God’s unconditional love, as shown to us in the weakness and powerlessness of the cross, is the power to heal and, beyond that, the power to transform death into life. (Delio, p. 96) And then she quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing before he was martyred about how the humility of God is such that he even allows “himself be pushed out of the world on the cross.” God on the cross “is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which [God] is with us and helps us.” The Scriptures point us precisely to God’s powerlessness and suffering, because God can only help the suffering.

At the end of the church year, we fix our minds on the last things, and we start to look forward to how Jesus will come again. Let’s not waste too much time staring in the sky waiting for a sleek and strong Jesus to come riding in his Hummer; more important is to do what Jesus has said to do now, and to realize that Christ is here now as he said, not in any sort of muscular way, not in the sleek and the strong. God, in Jesus, is still here among us, not beating anybody up, but rather seeking out the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding up the injured, healing the sick. Christ is here, as he himself says, in the hungry, in the thirsty, in the stranger, in the naked, the sick and the prisoner. Jesus is here whenever the fruits of the spirit are being manifested: wherever there is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, modesty evidenced in our relations with the world. Mother Teresa to me is a better example of muscular Christianity, gnarled up toes from walking the streets of Calcutta, beat up fingers from spending her days wiping filth and excrement from the filthy bodies of people dying in the streets, and calloused knees from hours of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament; and, as we have come to find out, going on despite years of spiritual darkness. That’s muscular Christianity, and those are the same muscles we should be developing. And the muscle of our brain, our mind, letting it be transformed by the Gospel. This is how we are meant to triumph.

Let’s remember that this feast is also about us: our Baptism anoints us to be prophets, priests and kings (and queens) in Jesus’ image. Do you remember the famous hymn of Lucien Deiss (of happy memory) that was sung so often some years back that was taken from the first letter of Peter? “Priestly, people, kingly people, holy people!” I love to remind people of this when we celebrate Baptisms that at our Baptism we were anointed along with Jesus, prophets, priests and royalty, that we use the sacred chrism on the infant, the same oil that is used to anoint prophets, the same oil that is poured over a priests hands when he is ordained, the same oil that is poured over a queen or king’s head when they are anointed (as we heard in the story of David’s anointing from the book of Samuel). Just as we share in the prophecy and priesthood of Jesus by virtue of our Baptism, so we share in his royalty. That’s why the church has us listen to St Paul letter to the Colossians on this feast also, to remind us that this feast is not just about Jesus: we give thanks because God has made us fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light, and transferred us into the kingdom of Jesus. Paul says that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesus bodily, and the Gospel of John begins by telling us that from the fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1:16). So let us pray that we too would be royalty as Jesus was a king––broken and poured out––so that we can exercise our dominion in the world in the way our king does, from the cross, the greatest as the servants, with the towel around our waist washing each other’s feet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SANGHA TALK: desert monasticism 3: origen


We skip back in history a little bit to talk about Origen, before we go to Evagrius, because he is going to be foundational for Evagrius, as well as John Cassian.
• (c. 185-c. 254) born in Alexandria, Egypt;
• his father was martyred during persecutions in 202, and he was only prevented from running after martyrdom himself by some kind of ruse by his mother
• received a great Greek education and became the head of Catechetical school in Alexandria
• even though he wasn’t a monk he lived a strict ascetical life of fasting, vigils and voluntary poverty––according to history even mutilated himself at one point: “If your eye causes you to sin…”
• he was imprisoned and subjected to prolonged torture under the persecution of Decius and eventually died in prison.

The charge has been made that Christian mystical theology is nothing but baptized Platonism, but it is with Origen that we begin to discuss specifically Christian mystical theology.
• He is definitely a student of Plato himself––he had the same teacher as the great neo-Platonist Plotinus––but what’s important is that Origen studies Plato as a Christian.
• Other great thinkers of the era such as Justin Martyr or Clement of Alexandria converted from philosophy to Christianity, but Origen comes at Platonism as a Christian.
• For most of the writers of this era, what we call the Patristic era, the mystical life is nothing other than “the ultimate flowering of the life of baptism,” the ultimate fruition of our sharing in Jesus’ death and risen life by virtue of having been baptized in water and the Holy Spirit.
• The same holds true for Origen: the mystical life is simply the working out of Christ’s union with the soul that has already happened with Baptism, the realizing of the communion between God and the soul that is already there, a dialogue between Christ and the soul. And Origen expresses this in language drawn from the great philosopher Plato.

But let’s state right up front: though highly influential Origen is condemned for a few things, and this is why, even in spite of being martyred, he has never been declared a saint:
• He believed in the pre-existence of souls and so was accused of metempsychosis––transmigration of souls, or re-incarnation!
• Denial of identity between the mortal body and the resurrected body
• Accused of interpreting Scripture only allegorically
• He also has a theory that was picked up later by Hans Ur van Balthasar called Apocatastasis: that death does not decide the ultimate fate of the soul (again similar to re-incarnation) but in the end all creatures, even the Devil, will be saved. This of course is what Holy Saturday and Jesus’ descent into hell is all about.
• This condemnation and suspicion will have a lasting effect. Evagrius is a student of his thought, and so was held in suspicion; and John Cassian is a follower of Evagrius and the desert tradition, and he too will never be canonized, though all three of them will have great impact on Christian mystical theology, and none so much as Origen himself.

the three stages

This is a favorite model of mine when speaking of the spiritual life. It will receive its most eloquent aritculation many centuries later from St John of the Cross. But here is Origen's version of it:

In the prologue of his commentary on the Song of Songs, Origen had written about how the philosophers (that is, the Greeks, Stoics and Middle Platonists) had taught of a three-fold ascent of the soul to union with the Divine.
• The first stage is ethike, as in the word “ethics,” which deals with the manner of life and the habits of virtue;
• then comes the stage of physike, like the word “physics,” which deals with the inner nature of things, their essential form;
• and finally comes enoptike, a very strange word to us, translated sometimes as “inspective” but roughly meaning the same as metaphysics.
o As Origen writes enoptike is “that by which we go beyond things seen and contemplate somewhat of the things divine and heavenly, beholding them with the mind alone, for they are beyond the range of bodily sight.”
o I hope that last bit sounds familiar because we are again in the area of the apophatic––those things which are beyond the range of bodily sight.

Origen is deeply rooted in the Scriptures; for him the encounter with the Divine comes through an encounter with the Word.
• He is concerned with the soul being one with the Word, who we know to have been made flesh in Jesus.
• Origen first proposes the three levels of meaning of Scripture: literal, moral and allegorical (of which he preferred the last which got him in trouble); later in the tradition of lectio divina this developes into the four levels of meaning of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral (tropological) and unitive (anagogical)
• Origen finds this same pathway, the three stages of the soul’s ascent, in the Scriptures. He uses three Wisdom books as examples: the Book of Proverbs, he says, deals with ethics; physics is dealt with in Ecclesiastes, and finally, of course, enoptics, the contemplation of God, is what the Song of Songs is all about. In his Commentary on the Song of Songs he writes

"The soul is not made one with the Word of God and joined with Him until such a time as all the winter of her personal disorders and the storm of her vices has passed so that she no longer vacillates and is carried about with every kind of doctrine … Then also she will hear ‘the voice of the turtle dove’, which surely denotes that wisdom which the steward of the Word speaks among the perfect, the deep wisdom of God which is hidden in mystery. "

Origen also insists on the idea of a progression through these stages, that they are successive, and even writes about Jesus going through them. Let’s talk a little about each of stage.

The first stage of the soul’s ascent, ethics, is the formation of virtues, which is actually pretty obvious, but we will deal with it more a little later.
• By the time it reaches St John of the Cross, this stage will be known as the purgative stage. (release!, yamas)
• The second, physics, is the stage of “natural contemplation,” a seeing into the true nature of things. We know it best as the illuminative stage (receive). This is two-fold, negative and positive.
o On the positive side, Origen teaches that the only way we can know anything of divine reality is through some image, some hint found in created things. God has placed in all creatures some teaching and some knowledge of invisible and heavenly things through which the soul can climb to spiritual understanding. We will see this come to full fruition in Francis of Assisi for whom everything in creation is a sign of the wonder and love of God. This is natural contemplation, in which the wisdom of earth leads us to seek the source of those things.
o On the negative side, at some point in life we also realize the transience and futility of all created things. Perhaps this is why Origen chose Ecclesiastes as emblematic of this second stage, because it begins:

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Like Plato, Origen thinks that the aim of these first two ways is to subdue the body to the soul, to order the body through the mind. So far, there is no problem, but as we move on we run into trouble area.
• After the body is subdued to the soul, we are then to “free the soul from the body.” And so the final stage, enoptike, what St John of the Cross will call the unitive stage, is mainly something the soul looks forward to after death, when the soul becomes nous and is free to contemplate invisible reality.
• Now perhaps you can see the impetus behind him mutilating himself, and the trouble with his thinking that the mortal body and the resurrected body have nothing to do with each other. Christianity is about the redemption of the body, the flesh and all creation!
• We have to be very careful with this language about “freeing the soul from the body”! This is Platonic language, not biblical language! In here is hidden an easy tendency to see the body as a “tomb for the soul” as Plato did instead of a temple of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. It is easy to see the body as an anchor weighing down the soul instead of an instrument of salvation.
• Here is where we really need to Christianize our language, and to root everything in the Incarnation of Jesus: the flesh is not bad! Otherwise the Word never would have paid it the great compliment of taking it! Let’s remember that Christianity is based on the fact that Jesus came back from the dead with a glorified body––it was the body that was raised from the dead, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father.
• In our efforts to de-mythologize these events in the life of Jesus in our modern era––just like Origen’s tendency to prefer only the allegorical meaning of Scripture––we might be at risk of throwing out the whole point of the Incarnation!

Let’s balance this out and maybe apply a corrective to the imbalance of Origen.

I have been very struck lately by the language that my confrere Bruno Barnhart has been using especially in his book, The Future of Wisdom. He suggest that the language of “ascent,” which we are using here in the soul’s ascent to God, must be complemented by the language of “descent.
• This is also the move from Baptism to Eucharist: perhaps the experience non-duality with the Divine being a good descriptor of the baptismal experience, but then we move to be broken up for and passed out to the world in world and service, and incarnating that union with the divine in our lives.
• To balance this teaching let’s remember that the ascent is only the first part of it, the foundation, the beginning and not the end.
• The movement then gets set up in the spiritual life of Baptism–Eucharist, breathing in-breathing out, knowledge of our identity becomes power in us, power to co-create and to participate.
• There is a common tendency in all spiritual traditions to become removed from the body, from matter, from the earth, but this is a salient feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition (in spite of the early monks’ neo-Platonist tendencies): that we are concerned with incarnating the incarnation.

Some notes from Bruno to end:

The working out of the Christ event takes place at an incarnation depth beyond the level of our consciousness and thought.
• The marriage of East and West ultimately is to be found in the event of the Incarnation through which the human person awakens to the non-dual divine light as one’s own identity
• and consequently to the divine power within oneself as one’s own generative freedom, the capability of creating a human world. (FW, p. 143)
• In the course of history this wisdom (participatory consciousness) has been eclipsed by human rationality.

What comes from this is a certain marvelous freedom or autonomy and with it the related sense of a distinct identity, of a personal self based on these two things––the non-dual divine light as my own identity and the generative freedom that divine power gives me.
• That freedom-autonomy, that sense of distinct identity, with its concomitant energy, become the pivotal transitional point on the way from Christianity to the modern secular West (FW, p. 122)
• of course that is what disappears in the reditus of the eastern contemplative enstasy, samadhi, absorption, in the soul’s interior ascent to God of the Greeks, of the rishis, of the Buddhists, of the Taoist hermits.
• But if instead of seeing it as the peak of the mountain we see it as the fountain of life-giving water, the summit becoming the source, then our exitus, our going out of ourselves in participation the eucharistic movement can truly lead to ecstasy, and the summit becomes again the source.
• This could be specifically Christianity’s contribution to the conversation, because Christ’s basic gift to humanity is this autonomy and freedom based on the knowledge of Being.

the good gets better

(Reflections on Malachi 3:19-20 & Luke 21:5-19)

Here on earth we suffer…
the attacks of monsters, owls and savage beasts.
But terrible though these attacks are,
behind them God is acting
and giving us something of the divine
which will give us the brilliance of the sun,
for here below both body and soul
are refined and fashioned like gold and iron, linen and gems.
Like these things,
our soul and body will not attain their full beauty
until they have been trimmed and shaped
and changed from their original form.
All they have endured in this life at the hand of God
––and he is love itself––
is meant only to prepare us for eternal bliss.
The truly faithful soul,
well versed in the secrets of God,
lives in peace, and,
instead of being frightened by what happens to it,
is comforted, for it is quite certain that God is guiding it.
It accepts all things as a manifestation of God’s grace,
ignores itself and thinks only of what God is doing.
Love inspires it to perform its duties most carefully and faithfully.
A soul completely abandoned to God
sees nothing clearly except the action of grace…
de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence

Huston Smith teaches that, whereas he South Asian-Indian religions––Hinduism and Buddhism––concentrated mainly on psychological development of the individual; and the east Asian religions––Confucianism and Taoism––concentrated on the social dimension of the human person, the concentration and therefore gift of the Abrahamic family of religions has been its attention to the natural world and the created order. And because of that what grows out of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three marvelous gifts: modern science, the idea of progress and the notion of the individual and his or her individual rights. It’s the second of those two that the concerns me today, the notion of progress, which comes directly from its sense of time.

Huston Smith further suggests that because the Abrahamic family of religions took its shape from a people who for most of their history were either displaced persons or oppressed persons, it is a tradition forged by social underdogs, and there is only one direction for an underdog to look––up! In their formative periods the Jews were constantly filled with hope amidst their oppression; they were always a people of waiting––to cross over into the Promised Land or for something to throw off the yoke. This then gave the Judeo-Christian-Islamic perspective of history an “upward tilt of expectation” that eventually was to lead to the idea of progress, because progress has an obvious relation to time. When they witnessed the novelty that time brought with it, there arose a sense of the possibility that that which is novel or new might be better than what is old. As a friend of mine likes to quote (from the recent movie Into the Wild), “The good gets better.” When this took shape in the Jewish mind it crystallized into the doctrine of the coming of the Messiah; when it moved into Christianity that changed into the second coming of Christ. Huston Smith goes so far as to say that when it moved into a secular version in the 17th century it became the doctrine of historical progress; and finally in the 19th century even Marxism, for all its heretical tendencies, converted this same sense of optimism about time into the idea of the coming classless society. (My confrere Bruno might say another child that forgot who its parents were.) But the idea is the same: that there is going to be a great day.

I think it is important to keep this in mind as whenever we talk about the end of the world or the second coming as Christians do in the days just before and early in Advent. One of the things that separate Christians from other traditions is our sense of time. We don’t think that time just goes round and round in circles––“just one &#%@ thing after another,” as Winston Churchill said. For us time is going somewhere; history is going somewhere; evolution is going somewhere. It’s not simply about me working out my salvation either––in this lifetime or in another re-incarnation: all of human history itself, the evolution of the human race is going somewhere, heading toward something. The great Franciscan saint John Duns Scotus was one of the first theologians to articulate an evolutionary view of Christology. He taught that history and creation were like a pyramid whose capstone is Jesus; Jesus is the height of the evolution of the human person, and of human consciousness. And all of history is now heading toward that height as well, when, as St Paul says, God will be all and all in Christ. Time is going somewhere; history is going somewhere; all creation is going somewhere––that’s why we pray “world without end, Amen!” Where is it going? St Paul says in 2 Cor (3:18) “from one degree of glory to another.” That’s why we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” God will be all in all in Christ. The good gets better.

It’s this essential optimism, this sense of the benevolence of the universe that we should carry in our hearts, and that should characterize our attitude toward the world. We don’t freak out about world events, even when planes fly into buildings full of people, even when our candidate does or does not look like he or she is going to win the election. We could concentrate on the blazing fire of God that is going to reduce all things to stubble (as we hear in the prophet Malachi); or we could concentrate on the fact that that same fire will become in us the “healing rays” of the sun of justice (as we also hear in the prophet Malachi). The fire of God that is coming on the earth is the fire of love! Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire to the earth! How I wish it were already blazing!” That fire––facing the unconditional love of God––might be punishment to the enemies of God but it becomes healing for God’s friends and, as Abba Moses said, if we want we could be all fire.

We could concentrate on all the calamities that may or may not surround our day and age; or we could concentrate on the faith that tells us that “not a hair on our head will be destroyed,” and that “by our perseverance we will secure our lives.” Among scared people there’s always a temptation to divide the world into the good and the bad, as we hear Malachi doing by separating the proud and the evildoers. That too in a sense comes out of our lack of trust in the benevolence of the cosmos that God has created, our failure to see goodness at work even in things that may seem dark to us at first. But the line that separates the good from the wicked isn’t between us and others––it crosses right through the middle of our own hearts. The root and stubble that is going to be burnt is going to be burnt out of my own heart, and then my real self created in the image of God will arise, the sun of justice will rise in our hearts, and we will be all fire, light for the world.

I focus in immediately on the last line of the Gospel: By your perseverance you will secure your lives. What are we persevering in? Faith, hope and love, those three cardinal virtues. We persevere in faith in the Gospel, a leap of faith in the beatitudes that tell us that the meek shall inherit the earth. We see calamities and insurrections and wars; it appears that evil is overcoming and we are tempted to give up on the Gospel; we are tempted to compromise the demands of the Gospel––even in the name of the Gospel! But Jesus says, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” We persevere in hope in the benevolence of the universe. Earlier in the Gospel of Luke Jesus has said, “Do not fear my little flock. The Father is glad to give you the kingdom!” While everyone else is running around saying the sky is falling, by your perseverance you will secure your lives. We persevere in love, love for this big blue marble and all its creatures, for our earth and all the sacraments of the earth, all the myriad ways that God shows us love, all the means God has put at our disposal to work out our salvation, not the least of which being time and history themselves. By our steady perseverance on this long slow road we will secure our lives.

Many people in this day and age come along giving us quick easy answers to very complicated questions, quick fixes and political expediency, from the left and from the right. Paul tells us what our attitude should be: we don’t freak out; we don’t worry. We work, quietly. We mind our business and work toward bringing the reign of God’s justice to the earth. It may not be anything fancy nor look heroic. It’s the long slow, boring, tedious work of faith in the Gospel of Jesus as the bedrock on which we base all of our decisions and actions; of letting that hope permeate our attitude and outlook on life; the long suffering work of learning how to love, a love that is patient, kind, slow to anger. By our steadfast perseverance we will save our lives and aid others in their salvation as well.