Being a Christian means looking at the world from (the) central point, which gives us freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation. (The God of Jesus Christ, p. 35)
I began today’s sermon with a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI because I think that it sums up nicely the predicament that all Christians face in a time of distorted and distracted vision and unprincipled and ungrounded behavior. The only central point that contemporary man seems to study is himself and his own identity, which seems to be nothing more than a collection of carnal appetites and emotions that remain wholly unaccountable to any higher principles. Against this, Benedict intends to root and ground the Christian in the unchanging and unalterable central point of God’s wisdom and will. For it is only from this central point that man can hope to be lifted above the changes and chances of this fleeting world, as the Cause or Source of his being leads him progressively forward towards the realization of lasting freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation.
But to stay focused and concentrated on this spiritual central point of God’s revelation is not easy.We spend our days insanely and foolishly addicted to our cell phones, talking the hours away in gossip and complicating our lives and others’ with unnecessarily generated chaos and confusion. Our world is nothing if it is not a unity or ingathering of insane and inane distractions, all of which make the spiritual life well nigh impossible. And so we must examine how we can habituate ourselves to the spiritual central point of God’s meaning and intention for us.
The first step towards this spiritual central point would seem to call for a radical un-selfing. St. Paul tells us that we become servants to the lords whom we obey. If we selfishly choose to serve sin, we shall reap death. If we selflessly choose to obey God, we shall harvest righteousness. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. [For]when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (Romans vi. 19) St. Paul tells us that if we are now living from the central point of ourselves and not Jesus Christ, then we are freed from the obligations of righteousness because we have become the slaves of our own ungodly lusts. Far from revealing any familiarity with God’s goodness and true religion, we have allowed the surrounding world and those in it to form and mold our freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation.
As a consequence we are not full of the love of God that should generate the righteousness that leads to salvation freedom. Instead we have fallen into what is called acedia –spiritual sloth or indolence of mind, a mortal sin that earns all damnation. Geoffrey Chaucer says that because we are no longer praising and adoring God…no longer praying to God for the amendment of our sins…and no longer accepting works of penitence fit for the renewal of life by the Grace of God, we are possessed by the anguish of a troubled heart, with, as St. Augustine says, ‘sadness for goodness and joy for evil.’ As slothful men we do everything morosely and with peevishness, slackness, falsely excusing ourselves, with slovenliness and unwillingness…serving God negligently. (The Parson’s Tale) In other words, in the grip of extravagant sorrows and great fears, we despair of God’s love, because we are so self-centered. As slothful creatures, we conclude either that we have done too much and can never do enough, or can never do any good but only spread evil. We complain, pout, and sink into the doldrums of spiritual depression and dormancy.
St. John of Ruysbroeck adds this to Chaucer’s prognosis. He tells us that we have forgotten to acknowledge God’s Divine Generosity and to live out lives that are responsive to it. So by willfully refusing to be touched and transformed by the Divine Generosity, a man slinks into sullen sloth. Generosity is a liberal flowing forth of the heart which has been touched by charity and pity. When a man considers with compassion the sufferings and the sorrows of Christ, the Divine Generosity springs into his heart, which makes him offer to Christ, for His pains and for His love, praise and thanks, worship and adoration, with a joyful and humble surrender of body and soul, in time and in eternity. (The Adornment…., Book I, Ch. xix) God’s compassion, pity, mercy, and forgiveness of sins have been made flesh in Jesus Christ. The central point of God’s passion for us is revealed in the Divine Generosity of His holy life. If we look into this central point of Divine Generosity, we shall discover that Love which never ceases to approach, confront, challenge, and illuminate us. If we are willing, this same loving Divine Generosity will transform us into what we were always meant to be. But we can have this Love only if our spiritual senses are awakened and we discover our absolute need for Jesus Christ, the Forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection from sin and death, and the only way, truth, and life that can save us. Ruysbroeck continues: If a man…thinks upon the good which God has done to him, and his own failings: then he must pour himself forth into the generosity of God, taking refuge in His faithfulness and His mercy, turning to Him with trust and with a perfect and free intention to serve Him for evermore. (Idem)
Man must come to know himself as utterly in need of the Grace of God. So we must look into the central point of all reality and desire to be enflamed with zeal and passion, with hunger and thirst for righteousness, remembering that God is the Lord of all power and might. Fallen man derives his beginning, his middle, and his end from God. The Divine Generosity issues forth from the Lord of all power and might. God alone can lend to man that vitality, intensity, and stamina necessary to turn him away from himself and back to the spiritual central point of his salvation. He surrenders himself humbly to the Divine Generosity to secure his perseverance in sanctification. The Lord of all power and might desires to transform our zeal and passion into spiritual fortitude and courage so that despising annoying things, we will become mighty and vigorous to withstand evil sturdily and keep ourselves wisely from dangers that are wicked, wrestling against the devil. (Chaucer, Idem) St. John reminds us: Ye are of God, little children…because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 St. John iv. 4)
As zeal and passion become courage and fortitude from the central point of Divine Generosity, man is called forth to remember gratefully that God is also the author and giver of all good things. God is generous as He communicates the good to every creature in its form, pattern, purpose, and configuration. Every creature, in its mere existence, reveals a nature that is ruled and governed by God’s law for it. The creature follows a prototype and pattern that it did not invent and could never perfect by any power of its own. Men and angels alone can perceive, study, and understand this truth in creation. What they perceive in a deeper way is how the Divine Generosity is communicated to them as God thinks, creates, sustains, and perfects all creatures according to His loving purposes for them. Because God is the author and giver of all good things, our zeal and passion for Him should enlarge in response to His creative Wisdom, as we learn how to embrace practical reason or prudence, which increasingly enables us to undertake hard and grievous things wisely and reasonably. (Chaucer, Idem) I should have utterly fainted, but that I believe verily to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Ps. xxvii. 15)
Focusing on the central point of Divine Generosity, with increasing zeal and passion, we pray now that [He] will graft in our hearts the love of [His] Name. We must reverently and devoutly vow to make the Father’s name Holy in the whole of our lives: Hallowed be Thy Name. (St. Matthew vi. 9) We must solemnly and piously, lovingly obey the Father through the Son, counting ourselves worthy to suffer shame for the Name of Jesus (Acts v. 41), believing passionately that there is no other Name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts iv. 12), That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. ii. 10)
So we must yearn also for that zeal and passion that seek to be defined by God’s sanctification. Increase in us true religion. We desire to love God not only for the gifts of creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. (General Thanksgiving) With zeal and passion we must thankfully pray for the means of Grace and the hope of Glory (Idem), the Divine Generosity of the ascended Christ who intends to come alive in us by the motions of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul asks us, What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Romans vi. 21) But, Death is swallowed up in victory.O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Cor. xv. 54, 55) Our Lord invites us into His victory over sin, death, and Satan. In that Christ died, He died unto sin once. But in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid, 10, 11) If we love the Holy Name of Jesus, and are habituated to true religion, we shall be made free from sin that we might become the sons of God, being sanctified for our end, which is eternal life. (Ibid, 22)
Finally, our zeal and passion must be forever cultivated so that it can be diffused to others. Nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy, keep up in the same. Being sustained and perfected from the central point of God’s Divine Generosity, we must long to impart to others the Love that we receive. St. John Ruysbroeck concludes that none can feel true zeal save him who overflows with generosity…By generosity of heart all other virtues are increased, and all the powers of the soul are adorned; for the generous man is always blithe in spirit and untroubled of heart, and he flows forth with desire and in his works of virtue, to all men in common. Of all such Christ says: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’ in that day when they shall hear these words: ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you—because of your mercy,—from the foundation of the world.’ (Idem) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons