Sunday, June 3 (O.S., May 21), 2018: First Sunday after Pentecost; All Saints; Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine (337) and Helen, his mother (327). St. Cassian the Greek, monk (1504).
Glory to Jesus Christ!
There’s something odd about the spiritual life.
Generally, we think about life as a process of acquisition. As we grow older we gain knowledge and skills, friends and possessions. Taking St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews as our guide to the spiritual life, however, points us in a different direction.
For the Apostle, the spiritual life is not about acquisition but, as he says, “laying aside every weight and sin” which would keep us from running “with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
Especially at the beginning to follow Jesus, “the pioneer and perfector of our faith” will often feel like a series of loses.
Jesus Himself alludes to this in His words to the disciples:
He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Hearing this, and with his usual self-effacing subtly, St Peter replies “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?”
If Paul would have me lay aside my sin, Peter reminds me that I must lay aside not only sin but “everything.” That is to say, I can’t love anything or anyone more than Jesus. Even those relationships that are the foundation of human life and have been with us from the beginning–father, mother, son and daughter–must be surrendered.
In their place, I am called to take up my cross and follow Jesus unreservedly.
As I said, especially in its first moments, the spiritual life often feels like a series of losses.
What is lost, however, is not “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands”–these are returned to us “a hundredfold” and with “eternal life” as well. The command to pick our cross and follow Jesus is not a command to hate our family, to despise the work we do, or to turn against our native land.
It is rather to give all these things their proper weight and value relative to God. What feels like a loss, isn’t really; it is an incalculable gain. Now we have all these things in Christ. And that which is in Christ will last forever.
When I stop demanding from family, or work, or country, or myself for that matter, what only God can provide, I am free to delight in these same things. The real sorrow of being a sinner is that my selfishness keeps me from loving family, work, country and yes, even myself, as they really are and as God would have me love them.
Instead of loving my friend, I am infatuated with my thoughts about my friend. The same thing happens in the other relationships and tasks that make up my daily life. They are idols of my own creation rather than what they really are meant to be for us: Messengers and channels of God’s love.
The problem, to put it directly, isn’t that I love father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, house, work, country or myself but that I fail to love them all. What I must give up to follow Jesus are my selfish illusions about life. I must give up the comforting half-truths I tell myself to avoid accepting responsibility for my actions.
Once we make this initial sacrifice something wonderful and awe-inspiring happens. We find by God’s grace an unimaginable willingness and ability to love. Saying “Yes!” to God allows us to in turn say “Yes!” to all creation.
When I stop seeking my own will and instead seek the will of God, I discover what it is to love because I discover what it is to be loved by the God Who created me.
It is because they experienced God’s love for them that the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, the saints,
…conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection.
Torture, mocking, scouring, imprisonment all these and worse paled in comparison to the saints’ love of God that followed naturally and in abundance from their experience of God’s love for them.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we are called by God to surrender everything so that we can receive those things that last: faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)!
Today we are called to surrender everything so that we can receive the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7)!
Today we are called to surrender everything so that we can receive the many gifts contained in the One Gift of Holy Spirit which received a short time ago!
Today we are called to surrender everything so that we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) the source of all good things!
Today we are called to surrender everything so that we become saints!