THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not;
neither was their place found any more in heaven.
(Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron Saint or Angel for whom certain churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course since the time of the Reformation Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in narcissistic dread of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is needed, when the truth of the matter is that Jesus has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us too! We do well to remember that Christ invited the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for His conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a vision of man’s redemption. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as His creatures are right with God the Father, they must share in His life and His meaning. And so we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greek aggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies, but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that together with them we might resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from rational and free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin in found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created, since He had not yet made sun and the moon. So Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light, or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness must be an image for the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs and defines the life of all creation. So because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So sin is a spiritual problem, and it originates with pure spirits or angels who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is a rejection of God, borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that sin originates with those bad angels who envied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination and enlightenment depended always on the Light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Spiritual self-absorption or narcissism is always and ever darkness because it refuses to submit to the Creator’s Light, which alone gives being its meaning and purpose. Thus the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels, filled only with what God makes them to be, fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels tolerate God’s Light alone and cannot endure the ill will and malevolent darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are intellectual spirits, the reason and meaning of all creation is discerned and returned to God from them. In them we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. When that Word is made flesh, they are one with Him, one with Jesus, as He works redemption into fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they offer to surround us with Heavenly inspiration, holy thoughts, and divine aspirations.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name Michael means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Archistrategos, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his soldiers desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their role and vocation are to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Jesus. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they long for us to find in Jesus is the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and unbreakable communion with our Heavenly Father. So they encourage our spiritual cleansing, education, and unity with God. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. They come at Christ’s bidding. Moved by the Father’s Word, and driven by the Holy Spirit, they desire to stir us into that pattern which forever longs for God, loves Him, and serves Him in uninterrupted ecstatic adoration.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, until the end times there will be war on earth. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels are fighting constantly so that the victory of God’s Light over darkness in Heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ might be acknowledged and embraced. Their battle extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to lift us up and into the realm of spiritual unity with God. They do not selfishly bask in the fruits of their own accomplishments. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming.
William Blake reminds us that, It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God only. And this is that holiness which alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness, making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In closing let us hear the awe-struck gratitude of the poet at the passionate ministry of angels for us:
And is there care in Heaven? And is there love
In Heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: but O the exceeding Grace
Of Highest God! That loves His creatures so,
And all His works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked men, to serve his wicked foe!
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)
Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. Paul Claudel
Trinity tide is full of examples taken from Scripture that lead the faithful pilgrim into the experience of the Real Presence of God. And I am not speaking of somehow feeling God in the way that we feel the cold or heat, feel the pressure of another body against our own, or feel anything sensibly or tangibly. I am speaking of a kind of spiritual feeling, whose power and strength assure the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s inner being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual perception and sensation of God’s presence that halts and governs the uncertain and changing here and now of earthly existence, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. More specifically in relation to today’s Lections, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the power of God’s love in Jesus’ suffering and death. This is the kind of faith that finds His suffering and death to be the model and pattern for the man who would find everlasting life.
So let us travel back in time, and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D.. We find ourselves in the city of Nain. Nain is a desolate place emptied of any civil society. Dean Stanley tells us that on a rugged and barren ridge, in an isolated place, sits the ruined village of Endor or Nain. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: Miracles) The place is about eight miles south of Nazareth and has a population of about 1,600 Muslims, who descend from those who defeated and expelled the last of the Latin Crusaders. A Franciscan Church, renovated in the 19th century, sits silently waiting for pilgrims and the call of revival from within and without. Both the village and its church are rooted and grounded in the ancient grief and loneliness of the town’s most famous resident. Now when Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. (St. Luke vii. 12) We read that a widow woman’s tears have been augmented and advanced by the recent loss of her only son. Her neighbors are silent, fearing, no doubt, that their words would only stand to add to her pain. The soreness is acute and penetrating because her nearest and dearest both are gone. She does not express but most surely did feel that additional, How could God allow this too? or perhaps Why me…now? But she says nothing. Loss is loss and grief must be allowed to run its course. For now there seems to be no consolation, relief, or hope. With the psalmist this morning, she cries inwardly and spiritually, the sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (Psalm cxvi. 3)
But it is into this pain and agony of soul that Christ comes. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. (St. Luke vii. 13-15) When Jesus approaches, all are still. He as much says, with St. Paul this morning, I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) Christ comes into this situation as one who will bear the burden and shoulder the relief. He will offer a kind of compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words will be few, but their power swift and efficacious. His pity will upturn death and make new life. God’s Word, through Whom all things are made, acts upon the inner, spiritual man. The body dies, but the soul endures. God is ever with the soul and is now about to command its reanimation of the decaying corpse. The Word is spoken and the same Love that gave the mother joy when her man-child was born into the world now vanquishes death in the wake of new life. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. With the psalmist he sings, The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken…(Psalm cxvi 6-10) The young man speaks, and mirrors the thoughts of his mother’s heart. He has new life; so too does she. The Word made Flesh has given him words –speech that heralds new birth and new life, words of joy that respond to God’s Word. The Word made Flesh has given him words -words of new life, words emerging from spiritual and physical rejuvenation, words that will commence the spiritual awakening of the young man for a higher life, through which, indeed, alone the joy of the mother could become true and abiding (Trench, Miracles) as Archbishop Trench remarks. Only then do the others respond. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. (St. Luke vii. 16)
The point of this morning’s Gospel runs far deeper than the surface-level details of an historical event. Historical experiences must find their respective meaning in the truth that the Spirit brings. Think about the widow of Nain. She is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand she can mourn, despair, and give up on life because the last and final contributor to her comfort, peace, and joy has been removed. Since the familial source of her present joy and future hope is now gone, she might just as well die herself. Perhaps she has forgotten the power of God in human life. Perhaps nothing short of a dramatic surge of this power in her son’s resuscitation would pry her out of the jaws of his death, a death that even now is consuming and killing her. One thing is clear, Jesus will use the miracle to draw both her and us away from earthly sorrow and human weeping so that we might learn to lean solely on His power to carry us through another kind of suffering and death.
God in Jesus Christ is all-powerful. And yet this power is not to be sought out chiefly in the remedy for human illness or the reversal of human loss. Sometimes God surprises us, as He has in this morning’s Gospel Miracle. We do well to notice that the Widow of Nain did not seek out Jesus. Jesus sought her out. He, the Lord of Life, encountered a train of death and reversed its course. He gives the woman and her son another chance to follow Him into a more profound kind of suffering and death. He does this every day as doctors discover the secrets of His wisdom and give people a little more time to reverse the course of their death-bound lives.
Earthly suffering and death will visit us all. Sometimes it happens sooner and sometimes later. When it happens sooner, we call it an untimely tragedy. When it happens later, these days at any rate, we tend to sue. The adolescent age we inhabit kicks and screams at the unfairness of death. Not content to twist and contort the natural life into perverse and profane uses for which it was never intended, our age seems bent madly on finding a way to have it last forever. And woe betide the man, group, clan, or country that stands between the human will to power and its lustful determination to find a cure for death!
Of course the interesting thing about death is that we are powerless over it. No matter how hard we try, in the end, we cannot resist it. The best we can do is to try to delay its immanent arrival. But to what use? Today’s Gospel leads us into a far more difficult truth. Christ is Lord of life and death. And if this is the case, hadn’t we better start getting right with Him? He who called the son of the Widow of Nain out of death is calling us out of death here and now. Of course He calls us out of spiritual death. If we are alive to the world, the flesh, and the devil, in the eyes of God we are as good as dead. And this means that we have not, as yet, arranged to get ourselves right with God. Oh, you protest, but I am a good person. Indeed. Good people go to Hell. Yes, that’s right, good and respectable earthly citizens of the City of Man go to Hell because they have never needed Heaven and her Goodness. Only those who are suffering and dying inwardly and spiritually will reach the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who are suffering the all-powerful Word of Life to come alive in them, and who are thus dying to all else, will be saved. What kind of suffering does Jesus invite us into today? The suffering and death to ourselves that alone confesses that without God we are as good as dead. The suffering and death that confesses that God alone can generate Goodness in human life through the unmerited gift of His Grace. This is the suffering and death that travel up with Jesus to the Cross of Calvary in order to discover that the only power worth having in this earthly life is found in loving heart of God’s Crucified Son.
Again, today St. Paul says this to the Church at Ephesus: Faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. (Eph. iii. 13) St. Paul is suffering his own death so that Christ may live in Him and set him above it. He suffers too that others might join him in the spiritual death that is the first step towards salvation.
Oswald Chambers says this about our spiritual suffering and death.
No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a “white funeral” — the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection— a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. (My Utmost…Jan. 15) Have you been to your own white funeral yet? If not, welcome to it. I bet you didn’t know that this Church was really a funeral parlor!
May be able to comprehend with all saints what are the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. (Eph. iii. 18.)
In these words four things are noted, which are necessary to us for salvation. Firstly, charity, by which we love our friends and enemies. What is the breadth? This signifies the expansive nature of charity, which extends even to our enemies. Secondly, perseverance that we finally continue in charity: The length. That which is the length of charity is the length of perseverance. Thirdly, right intention, which we may set before ourselves God only as the reward of our actions: The height. This is that which lifts the soul on high, that God may be expected for a reward. Fourthly, that we may not fail in all these things through pride: The depth. It is humility, which places man in the lowest state in regard to Man, but in the highest state in relation to God. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (St. Luke xviii. 14)
I. On the first head it is to be noted, that for three reasons we ought chiefly to love our enemies.
(1)On account of the precept: But I say unto you, love your enemies…bless them that curse you, bless and curse not…That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven (S. Matt v. 44, 45)
The First Thing necessary to our salvation is Charity. Charity is God’s Love of the Goodness that He generates. It is the good of every nature and thus the hoped for perfection of every creature. To love all men, friends and foes, is simply to love them in God and God in them. It to love what they are made to be in the Mind and Heart of God, and thus it is to see and treat them as God does always. Charity suffers long and thus the heart is broadened to include the faith and hope in God for what all men might become.
(2) On account of the example of God. God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. v. 8-10)
The Love of God has been made Incarnate in the joining of humanity to Divinity in Jesus Christ. The Love of God has come down from Heaven to fetch us home to our Heavenly Father. The Love of God is made flesh in Jesus Christ most especially in His Salvific Death. For while we were yet sinfully nailing Him to His Tree, He loved us, He forgave us, and He still desired us to become His Friends on the Morrow of His Resurrection. Now that we believe and feel the power of His Resurrection, now that we are reconciled to the Father through the Love made Flesh that shed such Blood, we must perfect this love by sharing it with all other men.
(3) On account of our profit. For charity towards our enemies causes us to become sons of the Most High God. Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (St. Matt. v. 44)
If we would embrace the Forgiveness of Sins made Flesh, Jesus Christ, into our hearts, then we must pray especially for those who use us contemptuously and maliciously. We must pray for those who cannot bear or endure the love of God alive in our hearts. We must love them and pray that God will illuminate them to their sin and convert them so that they may join us on the journey to salvation.
II. On the second head it is to be noted, that for three reasons we ought to persevere in good.
(1) That we may avoid blame, since he is greatly blamed who begins and does not persevere. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. (St. Luke xiv. 28-30)
The Second Ingredient for our salvation is perseverance in goodness. We persevere that we might not be blamed for failing to embrace the means to our salvation. What we must embrace in an ongoing way is the charity of God given to us in Jesus Christ. The cost of salvation is our willingness to surrender to Jesus Christ, God’s Charity made flesh. We must set our eyes on our end, salvation, and the means to it, habitual surrender and submission to God’s will for us in Jesus Christ. We do this by daily dying to ourselves and coming alive to Him. In order to finish running the race to the Kingdom, we must persevere, with all resolution and determination, in opening up to God’s Grace and its sanctification of our souls.
(2) That punishment may be avoided; for he deserves a greater punishment who, having tasted how sweet it is to perform good works, has not persevered in them. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them, according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 St. Peter 21, 22)
We persevere in God’s goodness and charity so that we might not be punished. Should we fail to persevere, we shall be punished far more severely than those that know not God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. ‘Only Christians go to Hell’, as my Grandmother used to say. Then we shall be like brute beasts and dogs that have returned to their own vomit or jumped from the bath into the swamp! If once we have known God and His Son Jesus Christ, woe betide us if we fail to persevere in the love once tasted with delight.
(3) On account of the reward to be acquired, for the reward is earned by perseverance alone. He that endureth to the end shalf be saved. (St. Matt. x. 22)
The point or purpose of perseverance is salvation. We hope to be saved. Salvation is not automatically guaranteed to us. We believe, we hope, and we love. If we persevere in embracing and perfecting these virtues, we shall be rewarded with salvation. So we persevere in order to be blessed with the vision and love of God. We seek to be blessed with the reward of unbreakable communion with our Lord.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that for two reasons we ought to expect God alone to be our reward.
(1)Because He alone is the true reward. I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward. (Gen. xv. 1) S. Augustine says, that God will be the reward of all in all, because He will be to us life and salvation, strength and plenty, honour and glory, peace and joy, and all good things.
The Third Thing necessary for our salvation is right intention. God alone is our reward. Any other reward is less than the reward of God’s perfect being, knowing, and loving forever.
(2) Because He will be an eternal reward. This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. (St. John xvii. 3)
God’s reward of Himself will be eternal to those who are saved. So what God bestows upon those who have the right intention of reaping the reward of God is eternal life with Him. One could be rewarded with a lesser gift, but all lesser gifts are possessed in Hell and thus in utter isolation from God, forever.
IV. On the fourth head it is to be noted, that humility, in three ways, preserves man in good.
(1) By defending him from his enemies. The Lord preserveth the simple : I was brought low, and He helped me. (Psalm cxvi. 6)
The Fourth Ingredient that procures salvation is humility. Humility keeps us simple, uncomplicated, like dependent children who must rely wholly and completely upon their parents. We are called to rely upon God our Heavenly Father. He condescends to us when we know ourselves to be ‘men of low estate’ in our own eyes.
(2) By promising increase of grace. God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (St. James iv. 6)
Humility promises us Grace. What we cannot do because we confess that we are weak, fragile, tempest-tossed, unpredictable, and sore tempted, God will do for us by the infusion of His Holy Spirit. We must confess throughout every day that we are in need of His Strength and Power to fight sin. We must ask the Holy Spirit to have the predominance and influence over our thoughts and desires. We must ask the Holy Spirit to realign our voluntary nature to that of God the Father.
(3) By leading man to eternal glory. Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. (Prov. xxix. 23)
If we are filled with humility, un-selfing, a radical acknowledgement of our utter need and then expanding desire and appreciative love and gratitude for God’s Grace, we shall be saved and carried into God’s Glory. Glory is that unspeakably beautiful, true, and good Nature of our God that He longs to share with the faithful. Glory is that end for which we were made. Let us begin to surrender to its irresistible Power beginning today. Amen.
GOD OUR ONLY MASTER
No man can serve two masters. (St. Matt. vi. 24)
THE Lord Jesus Christ shews in these words that God alone is to be served, and that no one is to be obeyed in opposition to God, and that no one is to be hindered from serving God. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. (St. Matt. iv. 10) There are five reasons on account of which we ought to serve God.
But all things serve God in a three-fold manner.
(1) By precepts given to them from the Creator Himself for their fulfilling. He hath also established them for ever and ever; He bath made a decree which shall not pass," (Ps. cxlviii. 6)
The Creator has made all things through His Word. Thus every nature is given the capacity to obey the Law imposed upon it by God’s Word or Precept, according to its capacity. Most creatures follow laws that they cannot violate. Angels and men are given knowledge and free will with which to know God and obey Him.
(2) In punishing those that rebel against the Creator.
Those who know God and willingly disobey Him are punished. Thus they serve His Law and reveal its power. Those angels who have disobeyed are forever alienated and divided from God. Man is alienated and separated by reason of the Fall of Adam, but may repent and return to God. But his repentance includes this punishment –that the habit of sin resists God’s Grace. Man’s punishment is the sin itself and the power that it gains over him while he is battling to surrender to God’s will. In this way man’s punishment reveals God’s Law. Man is subject unto it until he dies.
(3) In shewing kindnesses to His friends. For the creature that serveth Thee, Who art the Maker, increaseth his strength against the unrighteous for their punishment, and abateth his strength for the benefit of such as put their trust in Thee. (Wis. xvi. 24)
On the one hand, the creation resists the proud and arrogant man and punishes him for his disobedience to God. This comes to pass because the creation is treated as a false god and thus can do nothing less than disappoint and frustrate a man who wrongly divinizes it. On the other hand, creation is less resistant and more pliant to the man who uses her aright and sees her only as a means to deeper union with the Maker.
But the Lord possesses in us a three-fold right.
(1) The right of creation. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture. (Ps. xlv. 9.)
God possesses us because He has made us. God alone has decreed a Law for our being. We are His by right, and apart from Him we have no meaning or definition.
(2) By the right of purchase. Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold .... but with the precious Blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish. (1 St. Peter i. 18, 19) Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Cor. vi. 20)
God possesses us because He has bought us back, purchased us, and redeemed us through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ buys us back for the Father with His one offering of Himself once offered, as the only full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. We are God’s in Jesus Christ because He alone pays the price of sin to God. He pays the price by giving the whole of Himself back to God, though sin and death unjustly torture and kill His humanity in a effort to sever Him from the Father. He is the Ransom for sin because He uses it even from His Cross as the means of return to the Father.
(3) By right of the support of life. Who giveth food to all flesh. (Ps. cxxxvi. 25)
God possesses us by right of supporting our lives. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. He is the source and origin or our human perpetuity.
III. Thirdly, we ought to serve God on account of the dignity of serving Him.
We are dignified in being called to serve God. We are ennobled, solemnized, and blessed through the privilege of submitting to God. We are blessed as we are transformed by His Grace into what He intends for us to become.
He confers a three-fold profit in serving Him.
(1) A warlike triumph. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 St. Tim. ii. 3); Is there any number of His armies? (Job xxv. 3)
If we are to be dignified and ennobled by God’s Grace we must be battling and warring against evil as the soldiers of Christ. We cannot gain the victory if we are not naming, claiming, denouncing, radically amputating, and grinding to powder every sin in the Name of Jesus and by the power of His Blood. Then we must struggle to surrender to God’s Grace and allow the Holy Spirit to infuse us with holiness and righteousness. This process will be long, hard, grueling, and painful. Only soldiers can keep up the fight and gain the victory.
(2) The priestly dignity. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev. v. 10)
The dignity of becoming the hierarchs of the holy priesthood is conferred upon us by Christ the High Priest. We are invited into His Priesthood and His offering. His Priesthood is the Eternally Begotten Nature of His Divinity. He offering is the temporally generated sacrifice of His humanity. We are invited to become one with the Priest and His Sacrifice. Our future is that we shall reign as priests over the creation that will be perfected and reconciled to Him.
(3) Regal majesty. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. (1 St. Peter ii. 9) For to serve God is to reign.
We are called to reign with Christ. This means that if the Father rules and governs us through Jesus Christ, the Word, and by the Holy Ghost, we too shall reign and rule with Him. Being ruled and governed by God, we shall be dignified with the right to rule and govern the New Creation. We shall be rewarded with an eternalized human nature that is right with God and the whole of the Creation.
A three-fold necessity is laid upon us to serve God.
(1) Because he who is unwilling to serve God subjects himself to the servitude of his enemies.
If we do not need to serve God, we shall become the servants of His enemies. His enemies are collectively deprived of all meaning and truthfulness. So we shall be the slaves of sin forever if we do not respond to His desire for our service as what we need. What we certainly do not need is eternal damnation. We should see that this is to be shunned wholly and completely. Thus we need to serve God.
(2) Because he suffers the loss of every good thing.
If we do not need God, we suffer the loss of every good thing. All goodness comes from God. If we do not need Him, we shall be deprived of all goodness. Thus we shall be deprived of everlasting being that finds its meaning in, with, and through God.
(3) Because he is altogether weighed down under manifold miseries.
If we do not need God we shall not only lose all good things, but we shall be chained and enslaved to everlasting miseries. We shall hunger, thirst, be naked, in want of all things, and shall be punished perpetually if we do not need God.
Of course we serve God for our advantage. If it were not for God, we would find no advantage to life as Fallen Men. Our first advantage is that He longs to snatch us up and rescue us from our enemies. He desires to save us from those demons that would trample down the plantation of His Grace in our souls. So if we reach out to Him, He will rescue us from our enemies. We must remember, however, that it may not feel like a successful liberation at first since the Devil is still bruising our heels. But if we are patient we shall crush his head. (Gen. iii. 15)
(2) Ineffable exultation of heart. Serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with singing. (Ps. c. 2)
When we serve God we shall find the progressive growth of gladness, joy, and delight in our hearts. As His Holy Spirit sanctifies us, we shall grow in the knowledge and then the love of God. We shall experience the effects of His Goodness and shall then long for more and more of His healing love in our lives.
(3) The eternal fruition of all joys. Behold, My servants shall eat, but ye shall
be hungry ; behold, My servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, My servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed ; behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart. (Is. lxv. 13, 14) Where I am there also shall My servant be. (St. John xii. 26) For Jesus was at the right hand of the Father, that is in the highest good things of the Father, and there will He place those who serve Him. Blessed is that servant whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that He shall make him
ruler over all His goods. (St. Matt. xxiv. 46, 47) Well done, good and faithful servant .... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. (St. Matt. xxv. 23) To this joy may we be brought. May we thus serve the Lord out of absolute necessity. May we thus realize that if we don’t we shall not be saved. Amen.
[Addr-18] Divine Inspiration was essential to man's first created State. The Spirit of the triune God, breathed into, or brought to Life in him, was that alone which made him a holy Creature in the Image and Likeness of God. To have no other Mover, to live under no other Guide or Leader, but the Spirit, was that which constituted all the Holiness which the first man could have from God.
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. i. 26) Man is given life from God alone. Man is made in the Image of the Trinity. ‘The Image’ is the essence or substance of the ‘Our’, or the Three Persons. God alone moves to make all things out of nothing. All things have their being from God. God alone informs or defines all things and thus gives them meaning. God is the Guide, Leader, Ruler, and Governor of the created universe. Holiness is not infused into man’s life naturally, such that a man is by his nature holy. Holiness must be desired or freely chosen by the Man who can be made in the Image and Likeness of God or not. Man was not made holy. It is only when the rational creature chooses to obey God that holiness is generated by God’s Grace in the soul. Angels and men alone therefore are capable of being defined by the holiness that they choose to be made and defined by, just as God freely chooses to make and define all things.
Had he not been thus at the first, God in him and he in God, brought into the World as a true offspring and real Birth of the Holy Spirit, no Dispensation of God to fallen man would have directed him to the Holy Spirit, or ever have made mention of his Inspiration in Man. For fallen Man could be directed to nothing as his Good, but that which he had, and was his Good, before he fell.
Now, again, what man had before he fell from God’s Grace was the effect of obedience to his Maker through free will. Thus he enjoyed, if even for ever so short a period, holiness as the effect of God’s Grace. What a man has fallen out of is obedience as cause and holiness as effect. Thus, in some strange and mysterious way, man remembers his union and communion with God. What this means, in all likelihood, is that man remembers spiritually whence he comes. This is the memory of God in the image’s created integrity. It is hidden because of our Fall in Adam, but it is nevertheless constitutive of our innermost being and essence as humans. And so with God’s Salvation Response to our Fallen State we find that we are being carried back to the Good of our original condition. The Good which we have forsaken must come to us from without before we can rediscover it within. Thus the Good comes to us through the humanity of Jesus Christ, that then leads us to the Eternal Word, through which, in turn, we are reconciled to the Father. The Good that we discover is the original Word of God, by which alone we were once obedient to God and can be made obedient again.
And had not the Holy Spirit been his first Life, in and by which he lived, no inspired Prophets among the Sons of fallen Adam had ever been heard of, or any holy men speaking as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. For the Thing would have been impossible, no fallen Man could have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, but because the first Life of Man was a true and real Birth of it; and also because every fallen Man had, by the Mercy and free Grace of God, a secret Remains of his first Life preserved in him, though hidden, or rather swallowed up by Flesh and Blood; which Secret Remains, signified and assured to Adam by the name of a Bruiser of the Serpent, or Seed of the woman, was his only capacity to be called and quickened again into his first Life, by new Breathings of the Holy Spirit in him.
Now the Good originally bound man to God’s Word by an act of will by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit remains present to Fallen Man even after the Fall. Man is not totally depraved, otherwise God would have to save him by destroying him. Grace redeems and does not destroy nature. So a ‘secret Remains’ of the Holy Spirit remains within man, though He is imprisoned in flesh and blood. He shall find new life breathed into him through the pain and labor of temptation and child birth. In other words, the Holy Spirit will come alive in man now only by way of a long journey towards and then out of Christ’s Incarnation.
[Addr-19] Hence it plainly appears that the Gospel State could not be God's last Dispensation, or the finishing of Man's Redemption, unless its whole Work was a Work of the Spirit of God in the Spirit of Man; that is, unless without all Veils Types, and Shadows, it brought the Thing itself, or the Substance of all former Types and Shadows, into real Enjoyment, so as to be possessed by Man in Spirit, and in Truth.
The thing itself or the substance of man’s true life is to obey God in order that God’s will might issue forth into the goodness of the Holy Spirit. Man is made to come back into Communion with the Father, through His Word, and by the Holy Spirit. Thus, by moving through Christ’s Holy Incarnation, man can return to unity with the Father. But this is possible only if and when the Holy Spirit makes the Word flesh in the new members of Christ’s Body, the Church. The Real Enjoyment that the Holy Spirit brings alive in man is the actualization of God’s will in human life as the Word made flesh.
Therefore immediate Inspiration is as necessary to make fallen Man alive again unto God, as it was to make Man at first a Living Soul after the Image and in the Likeness of God. And Continual Inspiration is as necessary, as Man's Continuance in his redeemed State. For this is a certain Truth, that That alone which begins, or gives Life, must of all Necessity be the only Continuance or Preservation of Life. The second Step can only be taken by That which gave Power to take the first.— No Life can continue in the Goodness of its first created, or redeemed State, but by its continuing under the Influence of, and working with and by that Powerful Root, or Spirit, which at first created, or redeemed it. Every Branch of the Tree, though ever so richly brought forth, must wither and die, as soon as it ceases to have continual Union with, and Virtue from that Root, which first brought it forth. And to this Truth, as absolutely grounded in the Nature of the Thing, our Lord appeals as a Proof and full Illustration of the Necessity of his immediate indwelling, Breathing, and Operating in the redeemed Soul of Man, saying, "I am the Vine, ye are the Branches, as the Branch cannot bear fruit of itself, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much Fruit. If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a withered Branch; for without me, ye can do Nothing," John xv.
[Addr-20] Now from these Words let this conclusion be here drawn, viz. that therefore to turn to Christ as a Light within us, to expect life from nothing but his holy Birth raised within us, to give ourselves up wholly and solely to the immediate continual Influx and Operation of his Holy Spirit, depending wholly upon it for every Kind and Degree of Goodness and Holiness that we want, or can receive, is and can be Nothing else, but proud, rank Enthusiasm.
Now that man needs the Holy Spirit to incorporate him back into communion with God should not surprise us. At the first, Adam was able to obey God and continue in that state through the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God gives life and being to all things. The same Spirit enables irrational creatures to fulfill their ends and thus imitate their make imperfectly. The Spirit is the Person of the Trinity that is immediately present to all things as what gives life and enables creatures to realize the ends appointed for them by the Father and through the Word. Now because they are rational creatures, angels and men can perfect their God-given natures only by an act of will. So they must desire to be made faithful and obedient to God through His Grace alone. And yet for men this Grace is effectual only through the God-Man, Jesus Christ. For it is by way of participating in the Word made flesh, the Second Adam, that man is enabled to be returned or delivered back to the Father. The obedience and faithfulness of the Second Adam longs to be Writ Large in the new members of His Body, the Church, and by the ongoing inspiration of His Holy Spirit. Christ says that we must choose to ‘abide in Him’. ‘He is the Vine and we are the Braches’. But to abide in Him means that we must bear forth fruit, and this is accomplished through the direct inspiration and indwelling of His Spirit. Christ longs to be conceived, born, and perfected in all of us. And this comes about when His Spirit is not only animating us but is informing and defining our thoughts, words, and works. If Christ is alive in us then His Spirit will generate all manner of virtue in our lives, such virtue as is necessary for our salvation. But to have it, we must long for it with the deepest passion of our hearts. To be benefited by it, we must embrace what shall slowly but surely generate a wholesome and hearty enthusiastic love of it!
We open our mouths wide till God opens his hand, but after, as if
the filling of our mouth were the stopping of our throats, so we are speechless and heartless.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Have you ever found yourself in a form of suffering that bound you together with other people because of a common predicament? Our world is full of communities that meet together and bond because of a shared grief or sickness that seeks a common cure. Think about it; you must be familiar with groups like Cancer Survivor networks, Veterans organizations, Al-Anon meetings, Alcoholic Anonymous, and so on. If you haven’t been participant in any of them, you know that these communities meet to face and solve common problems that emerge from some kind of addiction, disease, trauma, or combinations of all. In each group, there is the hope for mutual and reciprocal assistance. In each group too there is always the danger of potential breakdown because of some individual eccentricity or form of selfishness. There are always times when the group must suffer one who doesn’t quite fit in, and seems rather alien to the copacetic coziness of the group dynamic. And yet, if the group is seriously committed to its desired end and is patient and longsuffering, the outsider might very well be tolerated and even welcomed eventually as one who has rather more than less to contribute.
In this morning’s Gospel we find the case of one such alien, who otherwise might not have been welcomed, but for the overwhelmingly desperate nature of the common disease. The man is the one non-Jew in a community of suffering Lepers. That the man was tolerated reveals how fatal illness or sickness has an admirable capacity to break down divisions and cut through prejudices that otherwise remain stubbornly in place. Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. The physical manifestations were deemed so hideous by healthy men that pious Jews and religious Gentiles alike judged it to be a sign of punishment for sin by the Divine. In any case, the leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is one such group that we encounter this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of the dangerous border that the Jewish people shared with their Samaritan neighbours.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii 12, 13) The lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help from one whom they trust will hear their plea. Their bodies are wasting away and decomposing, and yet their souls are alive to need for mercy. They have not despaired. The prayer of their hearts is that Jesus will be friend and neighbor to them. The who is my neighbor? of last week’s Gospel becomes the desperate cry of those who have found no friend in god or man. Their companionship in misery and suffering moves them to seek out the one neighbor whose mercy might assuage and lesson their pain. For, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) So they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) In last week’s Gospel we remember that Jesus likened Himself unto the Good Samaritan and not the Good Jew. Today this same Samaritan continues His work, but this time without need for bandages, oil, or wine. The image of physical need has been transformed into spiritual desire; to the inner hearts of wounded outcasts the spoken Word of the Good Samaritan is assurance enough that healing will soon follow. Men who are alive and conscious to their own sorry state must identify with the lepers’ cry: Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (Idem) When He says, Go…, they obey and trust in the power of His mercy. As Matthew Henry writes, Those that expect Christ's favours must take them in His way and method. (Comm: St. Luke, xviii) Obedience and trust must be of foremost importance to those who would supplicate the mercy of Jesus Christ. How the Lord’s mercy unfolds is in His gift and Wisdom and not with those who depend solely upon His pity. The Lepers seek out a cure but must receive it on His terms. Their external and visible disease reveals an inward and spiritual pain and suffering. Because their disease is so hideous, they do not dare to come near to Him with their infected bodies. So from their inner agony they long to touch His heart with words. He hears their words and responds with a Word. Go shew yourselves unto the priests. (Idem) He has sent His all-commanding Word into their hearts and so they cherish and treasure it inwardly and spiritually. It overtakes them outwardly and visibly. We read that, As they went, they were cleansed. (Ibid, 14) Nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were healed physically, were no doubt elated, and so they move on.
But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that Jesus heals always in order to inaugurate an inner and spiritual transformation. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (Ibid, 15,16) To the Jews, the Samaritans were to be shunned and alienated because of their ethnicity and race. Jesus shows us that this Samaritan is to be observed and imitated because of his faith and love. He, alone, is spiritually awakened and so returns to offer God thanks. Far from experiencing only the newly emerging healing of his body, he senses the birth of a spiritual awareness that awakens his heart to the power of God. For it was in his heart that he had felt most acutely the pain of an alienation and separation that had rendered him beyond the reach of his fellow men’s love. From the depths of the same spirit, he had longed for a friend, and so it is from here then that he is surprised by joy with the gift of newfound friendship offered to him by Jesus. Into this place, forsaken by all others, he finds that love that has travelled from the heart of God, through Jesus, and into his own.
So this outsider, this alien to Israel’s promises turns back. Unlike the other Nine, all Jews, this Samaritan feels bound first to the love and Grace of God in the heart of Jesus and not to the Law and the Commandments. No doubt the high priests of Jerusalem would have judged him alien and undeserving of their blessing in any case. But more importantly he turns back first to the source and cause of all healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises the Lord but with all the strength of his body’s newfound health, he runs and falls down at the feet of God’s powerful presence in Jesus Christ. His body was healed but his soul has been set free. His healed body now serves his liberated soul as he runs in all haste to thank the giver of such a gift.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan alone turns back. It takes an alien and outcast to perceive and know Jesus most truly. This Samaritan has found the Good Samaritan. This Samaritan had found a true friend and good neighbor. His faith is startling and profound. The others were healed by faith also. But as George Macdonald reminds us, this man had enough faith left over to bring him back, for his cure had been swallowed up in gratitude. (Miracles of Healing…) Jesus says to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19)
Today, dear friends, we each must ask: Where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel Miracle? In pondering an answer, we remember that it is one thing to worship as a community, to seek collective healing through Common Prayer, the Sacraments, and General Confessions and Thanksgivings. It is quite another for the same outward and visible signs to bear spiritual fruit in our souls. For that to happen, once we leave this place, we have two options. Either we leave God here, travelling forth into the Jerusalems of this world. Or we turn back in heart and soul, giving God thanks throughout the week for what we have received. Jesus gives Himself to ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel, and one turns back because his faith moves him to gratefulness. Jesus gives Himself to us this morning, literally in the conveyance of His most Holy Body and Precious Blood. Will we turn back and offer him thanks throughout the week for what we have received? Will we return to give Him thanks because we desire that this gift should grow in us and be shared with all others as what has healed our souls through an increase of faith, hope, and love? Are we here because we are being so healed in deed and in truth that nothing presses us with more urgency than the ongoing need to be grateful for a good work already begun in our lives? For if we desire to receive more than the benefits of group therapy, we had better recognize that we come into this place to thank the Lord for touching us where we are most in need of healing and sanctification. And then, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we are called to love and thank Him all the more, for being the One who truly is our neighbor. Only then with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, shall we hear the blessing of Jesus Christ the Good Samaritan: Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) Then we shall begin to understand, with G. K Chesterton, that, Thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. Amen.
FOUR FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. Gal v. 22.
It is certain that man ought to possess these fruits chiefly for three reasons. Firstly, on account of necessity. Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. (St. Matt. vii. 10) Secondly, on account of their sweetness, because they refresh the mind with ineffable delight, I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. (Cant. ii. 3)d Thirdly, on account of profit, because they confer many benefits.
The fruits of holiness and righteousness are needed by man, since without them his life is not characterized by what saves him. The fruits of holiness and righteousness comprise the object of man’s highest desire. All men by nature desire to know and to be happy. The highest happiness comes when man is in possession of the Supreme Good. The fruits of holiness and righteousness also confer on man many benefits. Through them he is bettered by sanctification that leads to salvation, and thus he benefits others.
Love is the first fruit and it fills a man with the love of God in Jesus Christ. The Love of God in Jesus Christ is shared with us through the coming of the Holy Ghost. When the Holy Ghost comes into us, we must ask Him to begin the process of conquering all that is opposed to His desire to save us. Thus we ask the Love of Christ in the Holy Ghost to saturate and penetrate our innermost being. If He does not, we are as those in whom the Holy Ghost lies dormant and sterile.
(2) Because every good and evil profits him who is refreshed by this fruit. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. (Rom. viii. .28) All things refers to all things good and evil.
When the Holy Ghost is infusing the love of God in Jesus Christ into our souls, we shall begin to be in a state of spiritual warfare. Many so-called Christians today have never reached this state. This is because they have not found their sins, claimed them, confessed them, and begun the warfare against their reappearance. The Holy Ghost leads us into this warfare. It requires patience, zeal, and courage. Good and evil will be at war within us, for as long as we live. If there is no warfare between good and evil in us, we are in terrible trouble. That we are still living means that God is giving us extended time to repent of the sins which we have not conquered. So we must thank God for the honor to wage this war within ourselves. We must praise Him also for allowing good to come out of evil, virtue out of vice, and something out of nothing through the victory of Christ’s Spirit within us.
(3) Because he who eats such fruit shall not die eternally. Charity never faileth. (1 Cor. xiii. 8.)
The third virtue of Love is that it never dies. If Love is one of the fruits of holiness, its greatest boom and boost is that it is infused in us as what shall never be destroyed. Thus we must embrace it with all the more earnestness, lest through sin we lose it. We must cherish and treasure, grow and multiply it in our hearts in cooperation with the Holy Ghost.
Spiritual Joy is found in that response to what the Lord has done for us already in Jesus Christ. Spiritual Joy comes about when with all thanksgiving, adoration, praise, celebration, magnification, and glorification we bless the Lord. This Joy must come by way of practice. But if it is not practiced, the Christian will be in danger of its eternal opposite –Sadness.
(2) Because it makes men live forever. There is no joy above the joy of the heart (Ecclus. xxx. 16.)
The fruit of Joy is deepest desire of the human heart. All men desire to be filled with a Joyfulness that cannot be taken away from them. That men seeks false forms of joy is a sign that deep within there lurks a passion and longing for the joy that will enable us to live forever.
(3) Because it leads those who eat it to the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Rom. xiv. 17)
The quality of everlasting joy is found only in the Kingdom of God, where we shall know even as we are known. (1 Cor. xiii. 12) The joy we shall experience has nothing to do with the fulfillment of earthly needs or pleasures. This joy will open our eyes to that uninterrupted communion with our Heavenly Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost.
III. The third fruit, PEACE, likewise has three great virtues.
(1) Because it protects man from all evil : The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philipp. iv. 7)
The fruit of Peace will defend us from all evils, or from all that threatens the Joyful Love of God for us and us for Him. This peace will carry out of the spiritual warfare and into a land where no one and no thing shall threaten our reconciliation with God the Holy Trinity.
(2) Because it causes men to become sons of God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (S. Matt. v. 9.)
Peace is a virtue that longs for all other men’s salvation. Christians too often live in a world of ‘us and them.’ That is a world of warfare. If Christians hope to be rewarded with the Peace of God in Heaven, they had better start practicing it on earth. This requires each Christian to be in love and charity with his neighbor, Christian and Pagan alike. Even if another Christian or a Pagan consisiders himself to be our enemy, we can become his friend in prayer. In prayer then we can yearn and long for our neighbour’s salvation. This is a kind of peace that leads to our becoming the children of God. The only warfare that should consume us is the warfare with sin in ourselves.
(3) Because in the place where the fruit is found God willingly dwells and rests. In Salem [i.e., peace] also is His tabernacle. (Psd. lxxvi. 2)
Now if we are praying for the virtue of Peace, God shall be found in us. Peace is that virtue that defines the desire of the Saint for all other men. If we desire to be filled with Peace, God shall dwell in us since His desire for all men is that they should be one even as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are one. God is at Peace and we should long for the same Peace.
Wrath is the enemy of God’s Wisdom. God’s Wisdom is His Truth and Reason for the creature. The creature is made to be embrace God’s Wisdom in order to perfect his nature. Not if we are full of ire, rage, wrath, and fury, we do not allow God’s Wisdom to move and govern our lives. God’s Wisdom requires us to see all other men and ourselves in Him. God’s Wisdom stops us, slows us down, and opens us to God’s desire for universal salvation. If we are full of anger and wrath, we deny God’s Wisdom and the means to it, which is Patience and Longsuffering. We then put ourselves in the place of God by judging and condemning rather than patiently praying in the light of Wisdom
(2) Because it preserves the soul of man. In patience possess ye your souls. (St. Luke xxi. 19)
Patience preserves the soul for further perfection. In patience the soul waits upon God and His Truth. In patience the soul waits upon God and His will. In patience man discovers the stillness and quiet of eternity, beginning here and now.
(3)Because it makes even bitter things sweet, so great is its sweetness. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations ; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (St. James i. 2-4)
Patience is essential to growth in sanctification. If we are not patient with the process of the Holy Ghost’s take-over in our lives, we shall fall back into sin. Trials and temptations are common to man. In fact Christ Himself has endured the same trials and temptations that beset us. Such is essential to the working out of our salvation. Patience means to suffer. We should count ourselves blessed to suffer as our Master has suffered. We should praise God for the suffering that brings forth perfection. Without patient suffering, we shall not be saved.
[Addr-15] A religious Faith that is uninspired, a Hope, or Love that proceeds not from the immediate Working of the Divine Nature within us, can no more do any Divine Good to our Souls, or unite them with the Goodness of God, than an Hunger after earthly Food can feed us with the immortal Bread of Heaven.— All that the natural or uninspired Man does, or can do in the Church, has no more of the Truth or Power of Divine Worship in it, than that which he does in the Field, or Shop, through a Desire of Riches.— And the Reason is, because all the Acts of the Natural Man, whether relating to Matters of Religion or the World, must be equally Selfish, and there is no Possibility of their being otherwise. For Self-love, Self-esteem, Self-seeking, and Living wholly to Self, are as strictly the Whole of all that is or possibly can be in the Natural Man, as in the Natural Beast; the one can no more be better, or act above this Nature, than the other. Neither can any Creature be in a better, or higher State than this, till something Supernatural is found in it; and this Supernatural something, called in scripture the WORD, or SPIRIT, or INSPIRATION of God, is that alone from which man can have the first Good Thought about God, or the least Power of having more heavenly Desires in his Spirit, than he has in his Flesh.
Left to our own devices and relying upon Natural Instinct and Human Reason, we shall surely never discover desire, affection, or love for God. And this should not surprise us since when we are self-reliant, self-possessed, self-driven, and self-motivated, we begin and end with the perfection of ourselves by ourselves. Of course, as St. Augustine shows in the Twentieth Book of his City of God, such a possession of the Supreme Good is neither supreme nor lasting. It is merely ‘the best happiness that a man can make out of his unhappy state.’ How could it be otherwise? Its imperfect perfection is the best that man can produce through the most advanced efforts of reason. But reason does not save a man. Only faith in God’s Grace can save a man, since what a man has faith in is the undeserved and unmerited Work of God that alone can redeem and reenlist reason into the service of the Good. So what a man needs to find is that the Divine and Supreme Good can be obtained perfectly and permanently only when God’s Word and Spirit begin to work in his soul. Now this means that a man must pray that God will speak His Word and breathe His Spirit into his life. Without the Divine Communication and the Divine Energy, man will not receive the Grace that is needed to sanctify and save him. Now to be sure, this Grace is neither easy to obtain nor quick to embrace as a habit of life. First, the humble, faithful, and earnest pious pilgrim must come to see that he is in dire need of such great Grace. Second, he must come to see that this Grace is only available to him because it has been made flesh in the life of God’s own Son, as what alone has reconciled his fallen human nature to God. Finally, if he longs to be ruled and governed by the Word of God through the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit, he will, at last, be blessed with the Word that is being made flesh in him by the same Spirit.
[Addr-16] A Religion that is not wholly built upon this Supernatural Ground, but solely stands upon the Powers, Reasonings, and Conclusions of the Natural uninspired Man, has not so much as the Shadow of true Religion in it, but is a mere Nothing, in the same Sense, as an Idol is said to be Nothing, because the Idol has nothing of That in it which is pretended by it. For the Work of Religion has no Divine Good in it, but as it brings forth, and keeps up essential Union of the Spirit of Man with the Spirit of God; which essential Union cannot be made, but through Love on both sides, nor by Love, but where the Love that works on both sides is of the same Nature.
For religion to be built truly on Supernatural Ground, a man must surrender to God’s will. It will do no good to spend one’s life examining God from a distance through reason. Such is better than never having examined Him at all or better than nothing. The man who strives to find God through reason stands atop a mountain from which he can see God. Yet there is a vast infinite distance between the God he sees or knows and himself. The problem is that with all his knowing he knows not the most important thing –i.e. how to get to God. He might deceive himself into thinking that his reason can carry him to God, but, at the end of his transcendental visionary moment, alas, he is sorely disappointed by the call of the mundane. Only God can take man back to Himself. And this by way of the Common Life of the Savior, where the mundane and the Heavenly meet in the common drudgery of human life as suffering and death acclimate man progressively to the motions of God. Now for man to live religiously towards God, he must be in possession of the one Love that defines both the heavenly and earthly natures. A man cannot come into possession of this Love without being made a very member incorporate in the Mystical Body of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ alone, in his two natures, is moved by one Love. His Divinity serves and ministers to His humanity; His humanity surrenders to and obeys His Divinity. The one Love of God and His Goodness moves Jesus Christ, and then is offered to the pious pilgrim as the only means to true religion that leads him home to Heaven.
[Addr-17] No Man therefore can reach God with his Love, or have Union with him by it, but he who is inspired with that one same Spirit of Love, with which God loved himself from all Eternity, and before there was any Creature. Infinite Hosts of new created Heavenly Beings can begin no new Kind of Love of God, nor have the least Power of beginning to Love him at all, but so far as his own Holy Spirit of Love, wherewith he hath from all Eternity loved himself, is brought to Life in them. This Love, that was then in God alone, can be the only Love in Creatures that can draw them to God; they can have no Power of cleaving to him, of willing that which He wills, or adoring the Divine Nature, but by partaking of that eternal Spirit of Love; and therefore the continual immediate Inspiration or Operation of the Holy Spirit, is the one only possible Ground of our continually loving God. And of this inspired Love, and no other, it is that St. John says, "He that dwelleth in Love, dwelleth in God." Suppose it to be any other Love, brought forth by any other Thing but the Spirit of God breathing his own Love in us, and then it cannot be true, that he who dwells in such Love, dwells in God.
The Love with which God loves Himself for all eternity is the Love that Jesus Christ brings into the world. The Father loves His Wisdom. His Wisdom is the Love of the Father. The Spirit of Love is the fiery knot that forever proceeds between them, and into which the Son longs to bring all men. So Christ invites all men into this Love. It is no new love, but Eternal Love which has been from the beginning that now becomes the basis of man’s cleaving to God. As members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, men can find affection and inspiration to love God once again because the Holy Spirit of Divine Love is deepening, broadening, expanding, and perfecting His presence in them. Thus we should, dearest brethren, pray that the Holy Spirit of Love, which eternally passes between the Father and the Son, might sweep us up into His unbreakable embrace. Safe and secure from all alarms, then we shall love Love, and through it bring others into His irresistible Desire.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons