Virtue is bold and goodness never fearful. –Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare
No one ever said being a Christian would be easy.
Jesus sets some pretty bold expectations of us in the gospel. He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. He tells us whoever loves his father or mother or sister or brother more than Him is not worthy of the Kingdom. He tells us to lose our life for the sake of finding True Life. He asks Peter to put his trust so fully in Him that Peter is willing to step out of a moving boat and onto the waves of the sea. He tells His disciples (and us) to prepare ourselves, not for an easy life, but for rejection, persecution, humiliation, mockery, and ultimately death.
But sometimes I think we don’t really believe Him.
Image from Ted on Flickr
Sometimes I think we want the bold demands of the gospel to be for somebody else. As if only Abraham is called to leave the comfort of his home or only Elijah has to remain faithful in a faithless generation or only Peter has to trust God and step out of the boat. For the rest of us, rolling out of bed and muddling through five minutes of rote prayer is sufficient, right?
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. -Revelation 3:15-16
And sometimes I feel like we’re perfectly fine being lukewarm about God’s expectations. We’re not losing any sleep at night over whether or not we’re giving ourselves to God like Abraham and Elijah and Peter. Of course, we’d like to be seen by others as pretty ok people, and we’d like to tell ourselves that probably God is fine with us since we’re not doing anything terrible. Or we’re content with where we are spiritually since we’re at least busy–we go to liturgy, help out with a ministry, do service projects–all sorts of tasks that make it so we have no time to pray, read Scripture, speak to the saints, or examine our hearts (I think Jesus had a comment on this once…what was it…these you ought to have done without neglecting the others…yep, that’s it). We tell ourselves we’re giving it all we’ve got even when we know our efforts are rather half-hearted.
I know I spend an awful lot of time trying to convince myself that I really am giving God my everything, but in reality, it’s so obvious how little I am actually offering Him–how unwilling I am to repent, to be vulnerable, to make sacrifices, to take criticism, to stand up for what is good and holy, to bear the burdens of others. It’s very apparent whenever you scratch just the very surface of my life that I’ve made an offering a lot more like Cain than Abel, and I’m just as eager as Cain to get indignant when God demands more from me.
Now, I’m not going to try to guess what Christ is asking of you specifically–whether He’s calling you to sell everything you have to follow Him or to lay down your life for your friends or to drink from the cup He from which He drank–but I will venture to say that He wants so much more of your heart than you have yet given Him. Please, bother to find out. Listen for His voice by reading the Scriptures and being silent before Him in prayer. Take Him seriously when you are given a good thought. Be bold in virtue and fearless in goodness. Like the widow who put in her whole livelihood or the martyrs who were willing to die for the sake of the kingdom, don’t settle with lukewarm.
If you will, you can become all flame. -St. Seraphim of Sarov
Listen in to hear College Conference East 2016 workshop speaker Fr. Paul Abernathy describe what it means to live a sacramental life everyday.
Image from Ted on Flickr
Well, here we are! Less than one week away from the Nativity of our Lord.
Hopefully, you’ve all finished finals–if you’re still in school right now, keep fighting strong–I promise it’ll be over soon. You should check out our post on finals to get an added boost.
But most of us are at home, and the full brunt of the season has dawned upon us. Last-minute gifts are being acquired and wrapped at a breakneck pace; wild Santas roam every red-and-green shopping center; another artist has come out with another Christmas album.
This, I hope, will not become a typical post bemoaning the secularization of Christmas–that is not to say that the secularization of Christmas isn’t happening in a very tangible way, because it is. But I would not like to succumb to the temptation, to derail everything the world has thrown at us. That is, quite simply, not fair. There is great merit to Mariah Carey and well-dressed carolers, to finely-decorated houses, and, most especially, the proliferation of candy canes. It is tricky ground, to comprehensively condemn secular Christmas. All things with balance.
So, instead of a condemnation, I’d like to simply mention today, as I did in the aforementioned finals post, where our focus should lie.
I cannot, for the life of me, remember who precisely gave the sermon which I’m currently recalling–I’ve been preached to by three different priests/bishops in the past three weeks. I hope you can forgive me. If I had to say, I think it was Fr. John Baker of Christ the Savior in Chicago who reminded me of this (edit: upon further review, the call on the field is reversed. It was Fr. Michael Butler of Holy Transfiguration in Livonia):
When the wise men went to Herod and said: “Hey, that newborn king? Yeah, the Messiah, that one…uh, where is he?” Herod immediately turned to his scribes and the Pharisees and said, “What are these guys talking about?” The scribes and the learned men responded, “Oh yeah, there’s supposed to be a Messiah born in Bethlehem right now.” So the wise men went on their way, and Herod began plotting to kill this newborn king.
That inaccurate recollection likely tells you nothing new. It’s part of the Christmas story that you’ve heard many times before. However, something so crucial is missed in there, and that’s what Fr. John (probably? maybe? edit: Fr. Michael) pointed out in this sermon:
The scribes knew.
The scribes knew. The wise men from the east asked, and the wise men that Herod had–for that’s for whom Herod called, he called for his wise men, the men he expected to understand the prophets–the wise men that Herod had, answered. And they knew! They were aware that this was going down, that the Messiah may have just come into the world. They figured it out! They knew!
And they stayed with Herod. They did nothing. They aren’t really even heard from again.
This crucial point reminds me of the days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in John 13–it’s an extraordinary read, and I suggest you give it time today. However, there is one verse–verse 17–that is of paramount importance. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet, reminded them that they view him as the Teacher, reminded them of all of the examples he has given them, and then he says:
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. – John 13:17
It’s not enough to know things. And that simple, obvious little phrase changes the whole game.
Because it’s not enough–it simply isn’t enough–to know that Christmas is so easily made secular, is so easily stripped of its spiritual meaning. It’s not even enough to know that the Messiah has come–like Herod’s scribes did. They knew! But if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. Blessed are you if you act off of your knowledge. The enlightened aren’t blessed; the enlightened and active are.
This is wildly important. It isn’t enough to go to church on Sunday, when you know there is church during the week–the pre-feast and post-feast celebrations. It isn’t enough to know the Christmas story, when you don’t spend time taking in and supplying for the travelling, poor, and cold Marys and Josephs of the world. It simply isn’t enough to know, and it isn’t even enough to know and talk, to know and bemoan the secularization of this world, as this post endeavored to avoid doing.
The enlightened aren’t blessed; the enlightened and active are.
My encouragement to you, my friends, is to go to your church website, to text your priest, to ask your parents–something–and figure out what’s going on this Christmas season. Do a thing–any thing–that is indicative of this wonderful knowledge you’ve been blessed to receive, the knowledge of salvation and rejoicing and victory that doesn’t make it to many in this world. Be active this Christmas season.
The OCF Blog will take Christmas break with the rest of you, as an opportunity to recuperate, evaluate, and grow. We will return after the New Year–and of course, all of the College Conferences–on Monday, January 9th.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!