Tag Archives: GK Chesterton

Homily: Repentance Frees Me to Love

Sunday, March 18 (O.S., March 5), 2018: Fourth Sunday of the Great Lent; St John Climacus. Martyrs Conon, Onisius of Isauria (2nd c.). Martyr Conon the Gardener of Pamphylia (251). Virgin-martyr Irais of Antinoe in Egypt (3rd c.). Martyr Eulampius. St. Mark (5th c.). St. Hesychius (790).

Epistle: Hebrews 6:13-20/Ephesians 5:9-19
Gospel: Mark. 9:17-31/Matthew 4:25 – 5:12

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Today we commemorate our father among the saints John Climacus or St John of the Ladder. The saint’s title is a nod to his work on the spiritual life The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Read in monasteries during Great Lent, the Ladder sketches out the 30 steps or “rungs” by which the soul ascends from repentance to the intimate communion with God in which we come to share in the divine life (see 2 Peter 1:4).

Though written for monastics, there is also a great deal of wisdom in the Ladder for those of us who don’t live in a monastery. For example, St John tells his reader “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously.”

At first, this might seem less than encouraging. But this is only if we listen to the first half of what the saint says and ignoring the last half.

Yes, I will sin and I will sin daily. In fact, I’ll sin throughout the day in ways great and small. But this isn’t–or at least needn’t–be the whole story of my life. By God’s grace, we all have the ability to repent, to stand our ground “courageously”  when tempted to surrender to sin.

As does the whole of the Church’s tradition, Climacus places great importance on human freedom. Actually, after grace, human freedom is the only thing that matters for the saint (and Holy Tradition).

Simply put,

…no matter how much I’ve messed up,

…no matter how badly I’ve failed,

…no matter how serious the sins I’ve committed,

by God’s grace, I have the ability–the freedom–to begin again. And not just me. All of us can begin again.

When in the Divine Liturgy we ask God to grant us a life of “peace and repentance” what we are asking for is precisely this ability to begin again. To start over.

For many Christians, even those who are sincere in their love of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, the idea of a “life of repentance” sounds dreary.

Such a life sounds wholly negative.

Such a life sounds as if it were focused solely on their shortcomings.

Such a life sounds like life with a nagging wife or an abusive husband.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy) says that the because children are filled with an unbounded enthusiasm for life, they never tire of repetition. What was just done, they want to be done again. And “the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.”

God, however, Chesterton says is strong enough to bear repetition. Every morning God says to the sun “Do it again,” and again the sun rises.The “sun rises regularly” because God “never gets tired” of watching the sunrise.

Chesterton goes on to say that it isn’t from any necessity that compels God to make “all daisies alike.” And yet God, Who makes “every daisy separately” never tires “of making them” alike. “It may be,” Chesterton says, that God “has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

To live a life of repentance is to live a life in which we grow younger. It means to live a life in which we grow in innocence and the joy that only innocence can know.

To live a life of repentance means to remove from my life everything that compromises my freedom, that obscures from my eyes the beauty that God sees all creation and in each of us. Repentance frees me to love.

Though the world, and let’s be frank not a few Christians, see repentance as negative, St John Climacus and the Church’s tradition with him sees it as wholly positive.

You see, as I grow in my knowledge of God, as I grow in my obedience to Him, I begin to see creation as He sees it. This, after all, is what love does. To fall in love doesn’t just me I’m attracted to someone. To fall in love, to be in love means that I love what my beloved loves.

And to love God? To lay aside everything in us that would make it impossible for us to love Him? What does this mean?

If we love God, we don’t simply love what He loves. No, if we love God, we love as He loves, without qualification or limit.

Repentance changes us so that when we at creation, we the goodness and beauty that God sees.

Repentance, in other words, is how we grow in our ability to love God and so to love as God loves all that He has created.

And repentance means to see in ourselves the goodness and beauty that God sees in us. It is this experience that gives us, to return to St John’s advice, the courage to remain faithful in the face of our shortcomings and inevitable practical and moral failures.

No matter how successful I might be, no matter what accolades I receive, no matter how many people praise me, if I don’t know that I am loved by God I will feel myself to be a fraud and live a life of anxious striving.

If we truly love God, we won’t neglect the abilities God has given us but instead see them as they are. They are concrete means God has given us to grow in our love of Him and of each other.

A life of repentance is anything but a dreary. It is a wholly positive way of life in which we grow in our love for God, our neighbor and, yes, even ourselves as men and women who have first been loved by God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

We have been given a better way–the way of repentance. So let us from this moment on and by God’s grace and our own efforts remove from our lives all of love’s obstacles. Let us repent!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Gratitude & Respect for Conscience

Thursday, November 24, 2016: After-feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos & Celebration of American Thanksgiving

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17
Gospel: Luke 17:12-19

“The image we depict must not be that of one who is unlike God; for one who is harsh and irascible and proud would display the image of a despot.”

Saint Columbanus

There is something particularly American about Thanksgiving Day.

This isn’t to suggest that other countries, other cultures, lack a sense of gratitude for God’s bounties. Nor do I wish to suggest that other places don’t set aside a time for the public celebration thanks to God. Gratitude is foundational to all healthy cultures and communities—secular as well as religious—because gratitude is intrinsic to the human heart.
There is a deep human need to say thank you.

But like I said, there is something uniquely American about Thanksgiving Day. It isn’t the food. It’s not the gathering of families. It’s not even the hours and hours of football.
It is rather that, as we read on the back of the Great Seal of the United States, we who hold ourselves out as a Novus Ordo Seclorum, a “New Order of the Ages,” a new political order, a new kind of community, take the time to thank the Creator for His many gifts to us.

Ours is a secular country not in the sense that we think that religion—and specifically, Christianity—is purely a private matter to be tolerated only if it remains outside the Public Square. Rather, our “secularism” is based on a respect for the conscience of the individual.
Such respect isn’t meant to suggest that we are merely individuals, that we live in isolation from family, friends, and the myriad communities that make up any health person’s life.
It is rather to say that whatever our agreements or disagreements, we pledge ourselves to respect each other’s conscience.

This mutual respect for conscience isn’t an end in itself; this would be a radical form of individualism. Such a view of the person will corrode the life of any community.

Our mutual respect is different. It is rooted in the notion that divine grace doesn’t compel but persuades. God offers Himself freely to each of us in the secret depth of our heart.
It is this absence of divine coercion that is the pattern, the archetype if you will, of our Novus Ordo Seclorum.

And today, we set aside time to thank God whose grace and love and bounty is the foundation of our Nation.

In his essay, “What I Saw in America,” G.K. Chesterton said that we are “the only nation in the world founded on a creed.” He goes on to say that this doesn’t mean we “apply consistently this conception of a nation with the soul of a church” or that, somehow, America is exempt from “danger of tyranny.”

His point is that what Americans do, we do because of creed, of our respect for the hidden conversation between God and the human heart.

While we are grateful to God for His material blessings to us—for food, family and yes, football—what we are most thankful for is this conservation. It is this conversation that reveals our true dignity and worth as human beings and which services as the touchstone, the interpretative key and guiding moral principle of both the American Experiment and American culture.

Because we are, still, fundamentally a religious people, we tend at times to apply uncritically the biblical teaching about Israel or the Church to our country. This is wrong and it makes an idol of America.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t, judicial, find inspiration and guidance as a Nation in the Scriptures. Today’s epistle is one such example.

Paul tells us to the Colossians to “put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.” He goes on to say that above all they are to forgive each other “As the Lord has forgiven you.” This good word for the Church is an equally good word for our nation.

The love we owe our fellow citizens is necessarily different from the love we owe our family or our brothers and sisters in Christ. This love our fellow Americans is, necessarily, thinner, more abstract because it is love for the many millions of people almost all of whom we have never met and will never know.

But love it remains.

The form it takes is this: That respect your conscience. This doesn’t mean we agree with each other. Much less does it mean that we must agree with each other.

It does mean we must think well of each other and not take our differences—political or religious, moral or cultural—as evidence of malicious intent. You are not evil because you disagree with me and for me to say, or believe, otherwise is wrong and shameful.

Ironically, and here we can draw inspiration from the Gospel, it is the “foreigner,” the one who sees the American Experiment from the outside, who is often best able to express admiration and gratitude for the freedoms Americans take for granted.

We often say that we are a nation of immigrants. Another way to say the same thing is that we are a nation of men and women who risked all for the sake of freedom.

Whether they sought economic, cultural, religious or political freedom is secondary.

Freedom, by its very nature, is one and indivisible. To neglect, or worse, attack one form of freedom is an assault of all its other modes since none can exist without the others.

And freedom, in all its forms, is in the service of our response to the hidden prompting of grace.

It is to thank God for this freedom. Today we express our gratitude to God for the ability of the individual to say yes, however falteringly and inadequately, to the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:11-13, NKJV) .

Gratitude to God is not a feeling but an action. In the social dimension of human life, it is rather a matter of respecting the conscience of the individual. Such respect is no more important than when we disagree bitterly with each other.

Such respect requires that I think well of my fellow American and resist the temptation to ascribe malice as the motive for our differences whatever these differences might be.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory