See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools,
But are wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
(Ephesians v. 15, 16)
In this morning’s Epistle St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us to walk circumspectly. Circumspection comes to us from the Latin word circumspecere. It means literally to look around. St. Paul is urging his Greek audience look around before walking. Of course, St. Paul uses the word walk in a spiritual manner. By walking, Paul means moving through wisdom and prudence. We must think before we speak and act. We must look around; we must move cautiously. Otherwise, we turn into fools. Foolish men do not think before they speak. They are swift to speak and slow to hear. (St. James i. 19) They are immersed in what is around them. Consumed with the things of this world, what they see drives their senses and excites their passions. Fools do not look around and deliberate before they choose and will. Fools do not see the world in and for God.
We are not called to be fools but wise men. Wise men know not only that the world around us is full of temptations to covetousness and greed. Wise men see also that the world is not theirs. It is God’s world. Wise men see the beauty, truth, and goodness in the whole of the cosmos that they have not created and do not sustain. They are overwhelmed by the power, wisdom, and love of God painted onto the canvass of creation. They see also that creation can be known and used to better enable man to pursue God in leisure and at peace. Thus, wise men can learn how to redeem the time. With such a view of creation in mind, man can move on to redemption. Wisdom teaches wise men that they are fallen and in need of realignment with God. Wise men can come to believe that the eternally-begotten Son of God, who makes and molds, informs and defines all things, is the same Jesus Christ who longs to reconcile all men to God. Wise men see that creation is God’s, man is God’s, and that both can be perfected through Christ’s redeeming of the time.
St. Paul tells us this morning that we are called to be not unwise but understanding what the will of Lord is…and to be filled with the Spirit. (Ibid, 18) He means the Holy Spirit. But what is the nature of this filling? Paul Claudel describes it this way:
It is the Holy Spirit –ardent, luminous, and quickening by turns –who fills man and makes him aware of himself, of his filial position, of his weakness, of his discontent in his state of sin, of his dangers, of his duty, and also of his unworthiness and the inadequacy of everything around him. Through man the world inhales God, and through him God inhales the world….and continually renews his knowledge of it.
The wisdom of God is made present to us through the Holy Spirit. We come to know ourselves. We come to understand our need for Christ and His Sacrificial Death and our need for the ongoing work of His Resurrected Life. We come to see that the Holy Spirit desires to give us more than just wisdom or knowledge. Through the Holy Spirit, we can inhale God…and in the same Spirit, God inhales the world.
But how can we be inhaled by God and then inhale Him? It sounds strange to our ears. Claudel is using an image to picture how God intends to take us into His presence and how we should respond. You see, the Holy Spirit not only reveals the wisdom of God to us but also desires that such wisdom should indwell our hearts and change our lives. God does not need us but desires that we should be made right by His wisdom. We see another picture of the process in this morning’s Gospel Parable. In it, Jesus illustrates our end as a marriage feast that we should prepare to attend. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding….(St. Matthew xxii. 2) The king is God the Father, and He is preparing for the marriage feast of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the end times. The Son is the Holy Bridegroom, and He desires the Church to become His Bride. God, through the Holy Spirit invites all human beings to come to feast on His wisdom and His love. Through the Holy Spirit, God sends out invitations through His servants. Yet we read that they would not come. (Ibid) A second invitation is sent out. Perhaps this will establish the urgency of God’s desire to take us in or inhale us. But we read that those who were invited, made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. (Ibid, 5, 6)
The Parable really speaks first about those who are too busy to be inhaled by God’s Holy Spirit and then about those who violently reject it and so murder those who bring God’s gracious invitation. In response to their foolish obstinacy, we read that in the end times God the Father will send forth his armies of angels to destroy [the] murderers and burn up the city. (Ibid, 7) What we learn is that those who have no time for God’s wisdom, in the end, are the real fools. Those who cannot be bothered enough with God, who have better things to do, or who resent the presence of God in His creation as the only true redeemer, will be rewarded for their foolishness. They may be fair-weather Christians who are hot and cold, lazy pagans who are spiritual but not religious, or they may be card-carrying Atheists who, for whatever reason, hate God or even the idea of His existence. At any rate, not wanting to be inhaled by God, their desire will be rewarded, and they shall be exhaled, even forever.
But before we get too excited about what this means for us –since, presumably, we come to church to inhale God, we had better read the rest of the Parable. What do we find? God’s wisdom and love still alive in the hearts of His friends through the Holy Spirit. So, He sends them out again. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. (Ibid, 9, 10) Down through the ages, the friends whom God has inhaled are always carrying His desire to the nations. To the marriage feast, they bring in men and women who are both bad and good. They are sinners who are working the evil out of their spiritual lungs and welcoming good into their lives. They are not yet perfect but are human beings who are daily dying to sin and coming alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) These are honest men and women who come to Church so that Christ can wash away their sins and fill them with His righteousness. So far, so good. But what do we read next? And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Ibid, 11-14) What is this business about the wedding garment? It seems that in the end there must be a difference between the bad and the good who are members of Holy Mother Church. The bad are present but have not been inhaled by God. The good have. St. Gregory the Great tells us that this wedding garment is charity or the love of Christ offered to the Bride. Many come to church with faith, he says, but if they have not charity, they have not been inhaled by God through the Holy Spirit. (Hom. xxxviii) They do not embrace the wisdom of God’s love. Because they have not been inhaled by God’s love, they cannot inhaleit themselves. The wedding garment is that charity of God, clothing the heart of man, whose wisdom decrees that love received must love in return. Those who have faith and even hope but have not inhaled the love of God through the Holy Spirit cannot be saved because the essential nature of God’s wisdom has been lost.
My friends, we are called today to inhale God. Inhaling God means receiving his Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to ourselves (Oswald Chambers) and becoming that capacity, that receptivity which no longer offers any obstacles to the will of its Creator. (Claudel, 179). The “I” must die; we must lose ourselves, even our individual and narcissistic urges and callings, our attachments, everything that stands between us and God. Walk in love, the Apostle says, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Ibid, 1) Christ has loved us; we are inhaled by God. Let us inhale Christ also. God’s wisdom is greater than man’s foolishness. In psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we can inhaleChrist. God’s love inhales us, and we are invited to die and to rise. God’s wisdom is the love of Jesus Christ that inhales us through the Holy Spirit. As we are inhaled by the Holy Spirit, if we walk circumspectly, we shall conquer all sin and embrace all virtue. As we inhale the Holy Spirit’s love, our love for God will be converted into love for others. The love of God is the wedding garment. If we are not clothed with it, we can only stand to conclude that we have not inhaled God’s love. Or perhaps we have inhaled it withoutexhaling. The same conclusion must be drawn: we are not fully clothed with the wedding garment. God’s inhaling us is offered and we find the new air that we ought to breathe. God wants us and all others to walk circumspectly, to redeem the time, and in being inhaled by Him to catch others up into the breath and the wind of God’s love. God wants us to inhale others. Inhaling others will reveal that God’s wisdom is at work conquering our foolishness by loving our fellow men into being inhaled by God’s love also. Then, though our world may go to Hell in a handbasket, we shall have redeemed the time.
May it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the
Doctrine delivered by [St. Luke], all diseases of our souls
may be healed…
(Collect: Feast of St. Luke the Physician)
Today we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Luke the Apostle. Saints Jerome and Eusebius tell us that he was the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, if you begin with St. Luke’s Gospel, you will find that it leads logically and chronologically into Acts. In the Ancient Church, the two books were called one –Luke-Acts. We know that St. Luke was a Greek and was born in Antioch- the city where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. He is first mentioned in history in St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, in his Epistle to the Colossians (iv), and finally in 1 Timothy iv. We learn from the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke that he was a native of Antioch, by profession a physician. He had become a disciple of the Apostle Paul and later followed Paul until Paul’s martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84. We know from Luke himself that he was not an eyewitness to the historical life of Jesus Christ and Holy Tradition tells us that his Gospel account is pieced together mostly from the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul does not group St. Luke with those of the circumcision, and so we judge that he was a Gentile. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks of St. Paul and his companions often using the third-person plural they. When he switches the first person plural we, we surmise that Luke has joined their company. St. Luke died in Boetia in central Greece, and his relics are now in Constantinople. He is the Patron Saint of bachelors, bookbinders, brewers, butchers, glassmakers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, physicians, painters, surgeons, and sculptors.
Because St. Luke’s Gospel and Acts are full of descriptive detail and precision, the Medievals venerated him as a painter. For they read that onto the canvas of the ancient world St. Luke had painted a series of detailed frescoes, beginning with the conception of St. John Baptist and Jesus Christ, continuing with the earthly mission, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, and culminating in the Pentecostal Descent of His Holy Spirit into the new life of the Church, which he found most fully expressed in the life of St. Paul.
In addition, with the skill and care of a surgeon or physician, St. Luke carefully observes and records the spiritual sickness of the pagan world that Christ dies to save and then rises to heal and sanctify through His Earthly Body, the Church. So, he points us to that final restoration to God the Father that Jesus Christ longs to accomplish through us. This reconciliation is the spiritual ingathering of fallen and sick humanity into the hands of God’s Loving Physician who heals, sanctifies, and saves his spiritual patients. St. Luke the Physician describes how Christ the Surgeon confronts the cancer of man’s sin and through His suffering and death heals all men of it. Out of death, Christ will raise up a new body for man –His own, through which all men who believe can find the spiritual health that leads them home to Heaven.
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God…And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all. (St. Luke vi. 12, 17-19)
The Lord, whose history St. Luke unfolds, is the Eternal Healer, the Great Physician, and the Heavenly doctor who comes down from His throne of glory to apply a surer remedy and lasting cure to man’s sick sinful state. His records include the healing of the physically sick or handicapped, the mentally tormented and possessed, and the outcasts and forgotten. His clinical mind describes the nature of man’s spiritual sicknesses and records the healing balms and treatments that Jesus will apply either through six Miracles or eighteen Parables that are not to be found in the other Gospels. On the whole, if we were to generalize, we could say that St. Luke has a firm handle on man’s multifarious forms of suffering and of Jesus’ incessant desire to cure them all. In the parables of theProdigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, Dives and Lazarus, the Publican and the Pharisee, with seven others, we find illustrations of suffering and humility that supplicate mercy and forgiveness in the healing power that Christ brings. In the six miracles unique to Luke’s Gospel –the Healing of the Ten Lepers, the Widow of Nain’s son, the Ten Lepers, the Centurion’s servant and two others, we find the affliction and anguish that alienate man from God, and then of Jesus’ loving determination to forgive, heal, and save.
Thus, we have an exhaustive record of Jesus the Good Physician in St. Luke’s Gospel. Now, how does this apply to us today? St. Luke’s writings are all about how human life begins, continues, and ends in its encounter with Jesus Christ. His history of Christ does not end with Christ’s Ascension back to the Father. In fact, if the truth be told, the meaning of Christ’s life only really begins as St. Luke continues his story with The Acts of the Apostles. For it is then that Christ begins to take up new life in the Body on earth that He will form out of the hearts and souls of all believers. St. Luke shows us that Jesus Christ has only just begun the work of our redemption. That work commences from Heaven and down to Earth as Jesus Christ comes alive in all believers through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
But we all know that it is not easy to become members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and aim for Heaven. St. Luke reminds us that the Pharisees of old, the religious men of Jesus’ time, murmured against His ministry while he was still on earth. Why does [He] eat and drink with publicans and sinners? (Luke 5:30). Jesus’ response to religious people in all ages is this: They that are whole need not a physician: but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 15: 31,32) Christ comes into the world to heal sinners of a spiritual sickness called sin. The Church should always be a hospital for sinners en route to salvation. The Church must be the place where Christ’s Good News and Word made flesh are preached over and over again, until Christians confess that they are always sick and in need of a physician. (Idem) Religious presumption and pride only spread the contagion of sin, postponing or forsaking the inevitable need for that spiritual healing without which we cannot be saved.
St. Luke invites us to discover the hard truth that we Christians are sick and diseased inwardly and spiritually. Romano Guardini reminds us that Christ did not come to be a social worker who eradicates world poverty or a physician who cures men of every bodily ailment. Christ was always about much more than that. Guardini writes, Christ saw too deeply into suffering. For the meaning of suffering, along with sin and estrangement from God, was to be found at the very roots of being. (How Christ relieves our Sufferings) Hidden deep and concealed beneath our conscious lives are the bleeding inner wounds of our broken inner selves. Our true inner selves are alienated and estranged from God. Christ healed the sick of his own day because they were ostracized from society because their illnesses were judged to be punishment for sin. The sick and maimed felt that their sicknesses had exiled them from God’s mercy. Jesus takes their weakness and turns it into an occasion for them to become models and patterns for all who should be forgiven and thus returned to the road of salvation. To Jesus, those who had been deemed furthest from God’s gift of redemption now became the instruments and tools of the character that leads to salvation. [If a sick man] approached him in an open-hearted, petitioning state of mind, the power simply proceeded from Him to do its work. (Idem) The sick man was asking to be healed so that he might reenter the spiritual community. Depression, melancholy, and loneliness had cast a pall over the sick man’s life. But all of this was brought to Jesus with the hope that Jesus could heal the body and, more so, the soul. Jesus will use earthly illness and its healing to establish the model for the character that seeks out spiritual healing for the spiritual illness of sin.
Long ago Christ the Word of God came into our midst. Never once did He forget the meaning of His mission to all men. Christ came to take on the predicament of human suffering caused by sin. He is the doctor and He is the cure. In the last analysis, suffering for [Christ] represented the open road, the access back to God-at least the instrument which can serve as access. Suffering is a consequence of guilt, it is true, but at the same time, it is the means of purification and return. (Idem)
St. Luke embraced that same Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who was alive and well in the life of St. Paul. From pages of his Acts, he shows us how St. Paul and others endured the healing and spread the cure to the nations of the world. This is the healing of God’s Great Physician. Christ took the sufferings of mankind upon Himself. He did not recoil from them, as man always does. He did not overlook suffering. He did not protect Himself from it. He let it come to him, took it into his heart…. Christ's healing derives from God. It reveals God and leads to God.... By healing, Jesus revealed Himself in action. Thus, He gives concrete expression to the reality of the living God. To make men penetrate to the reality of the living God-that is why Christ healed. (Idem) There is no sin which Christ cannot cure, there is no pain which He cannot relieve, and there is no sadness which His joy cannot conquer, provided we, with St. Luke, seek out His remedy for our sin.
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 for whom certain chapels, 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 fear 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 -the everlasting Word of God, has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us also! We do well to remember that God the Father sent the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration, He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a conversation which Jesus had with them concerning the Redemption of the World. 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 He indwells His creatures, they share in His goodness and truth. Thus, 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 we might join them and 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 their 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 these rational, free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin is 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 the sun and the moon. St. 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 which hovered over the deep must be an image of willful ignorance and bad-will that characterize the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs all of creation. Because the good angels are wholly informed by 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)
Sin is a spiritual problem. It originates with the pure angelic spirits who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that the bad angels envied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination depended always on the Light of God’s Power, Wisdom, and Love, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Self-absorption is always and ever darkness because it refuses to find its meaning in the Creator’s Light. Thus, the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels are everything that God intends for them to be. They fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels embrace God’s Light alone and cannot endure the presence of the malevolent ill will and 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 the first Created Light, in and through them we find the meaning and truth of all creation. They are the Created Light that illuminates the creation. 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. They embrace Christ the Word and His Redemption for fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they surround us with Heavenly protection and assistance.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Arcistrategoς, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his army desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their vocation is to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Christ. 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) From Jesus Christ they bear the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and union with our Heavenly Father. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. The desire of the Holy Spirit moves them to bring to us what Christ hears from the Father. What they see of the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit they share with us as that Divine Desire that should stir us to adoration and imitation.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, there will be war on earth until the Second Coming. 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 reveal to us the victory of God’s first Created Light over darkness in Heaven. The pattern has been established in Heaven and it extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to strengthen us in our war against the powers of spiritual darkness in high places. They lend us their unceasing submission to God with courage. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
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. This holiness alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that we must become as little children.Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (St. Matthew xviii. 3,4) The angels are the first Created Light. They are the first offspring and children of God who depend upon Him wholly and completely for their safety, goodness, and happiness. They lend their childlike wonder, awe, wisdom, and love of God to us. So, with the poet:
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)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: