Romans 5:1-11; Matthew 6:22-33
There is nothing more important than learning to see our neighbors, ourselves, and all the blessings and challenges of our lives with clarity. That is simply another way of saying that we must come to see ourselves and our world truthfully in God. If we do not, our perspective will be darkened by our passions to the point that we will become blind to the glory of God shining brightly throughout creation. And when we become blind to the brilliance and beauty of all things in God, there will be only darkness in our souls.
Christ said that “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Our Savior is the light of the world, and to know Him means to participate in His divine energies from the depths of our souls. The eyes of our souls must become fully transparent to His light so that we will be able to obey His commandment: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)
If the light of Christ is not in us such that we gain the spiritual vision to know the Lord and see everything else in Him, we will inevitably end up serving at least two masters. Regardless of what we may think about our personal economic situation today, we are all accustomed to material comforts and pleasures beyond what previous generations could have imagined. The more we have of such things, the more we tend to want them and more of them, but even the greatest amounts of the best things of this world will never satisfy us or heal our souls. Like our first parents, we are inclined towards unrestrained self-indulgence that both drives and serves our pride. We think that we deserve whatever we want and easily become blind to the difference between our needs and our desires. Following that path leads only to constant worry and fear, for material possessions can all disappear in an instant. If we place our trust and hope in them, we will be filled with anxiety and resentful of anyone or anything that could take them away. Instead of making ourselves and others miserable by such pointless idolatry, we must remember the Lord’s teaching that, “the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
That does not mean, of course, that Christ promises a life of earthly ease and comfort to those who believe in Him. He continues to call His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. That is what the Martyr Hyacinth, whom we commemorate today, did when he refused to participate in pagan sacrifices as a courtier of the Roman Emperor Trajan. After being tortured, Hyacinth was thrown in prison, where he refused to eat food sacrificed to idols and died. His jailer saw two angels giving the saint glorious clothing and placing a wreath of victory upon his head as the whole prison became radiant with light. Hyacinth sought first our Lord’s Kingdom and participated in His glory not by anxiously seeking to build his place in this world or provide for the satisfaction of every bodily desire. Instead, he gained the spiritual vision to place faithfulness to Christ above all, despite the cost.
Regardless of their particular callings, all the saints saved their lives by losing them as they refused to gain the whole world at the expense of their souls. Saint Paul certainly endured hardships of many kinds and ultimately died as a martyr. He wrote that, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
Saint Paul gained the spiritual clarity to rejoice in his sufferings because the light of Christ had cleansed and illumined the eye of his soul. Because he shared so fully in the life of the Savior, he could see that obedience inevitably leads to suffering in this life, for there is so much in us and in our world that remains corrupted by disordered desire. There is profound tension between gratifying our passions and uniting ourselves to Christ in His great Self-offering for the salvation of the world. Saint Paul knew that the only way to make the struggles of our lives points of entrance to the blessedness of the Kingdom was to endure them with faithfulness, no matter the cost. He did not do so merely by his own strength, but “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” As St. Paul taught, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
True Christianity is not a system of beliefs, rituals, and morals through which we seek to gain food, clothing, shelter, the praise of others, or any earthly goal. It is not a form of legalism by which we hope to receive what we have earned from God, whether in this life or in the life of the world to come. Those who embrace a religion the chief symbol of which is the Cross must not focus on achieving success according to any worldly standard. Those who profess a religion which confesses that peace and reconciliation come through our Lord’s death and resurrection must seek to participate in the gracious mercy of the Savior, not to put God in their debt by their own accomplishments. Such distortions of the faith can never heal our souls or deliver us from constant fear, worry, and frustration. Indeed, they will have the opposite effect of further enslaving us to passions for pleasure, power, and pride that will never satisfy us or give us peace. They will teach us to remain in the spiritual blindness of trusting only in ourselves and judging everyone and everything according to what we think is in it for us.
When the Lord said, “Do not be anxious about your life,” He was not talking to people who would somehow avoid the inevitable pains and sorrows of our world of corruption. He was talking to His disciples as fellow Jews living under Roman occupation who would literally suffer and die for Him. Despite the many blessings of our lives today, we endure the difficulties and temptations of life in a world that has not yet entered into the blessedness of the Kingdom. War, disease, poverty, social strife, and death remain the common lot of those who live outside of Paradise. In order to avoid falling into the darkness of those who hope only in themselves, we must offer even our deepest pains, sufferings, and fears to God in faith, for He “shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Our faith and trust must be in the God with Whom “we have peace… through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because He has entered fully into death itself, risen from the tomb, and ascended into heaven, “we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” regardless of what difficulties we encounter in life.
In order to cultivate that kind of faith, we must mindfully open the eyes of our souls to the brilliant light of Christ. That means offering our concerns to God through prayer on a daily basis as we turn our attention to the words of the Jesus Prayer and away from worried, intrusive thoughts. It means reading the Psalms in order to learn how to cry out to God from the depths with persistent trust, instead of wallowing in despair. It means refusing to make gratifying any passion the measure or purpose of our lives. It means repudiating the idols we have been worshipping and struggling to seek first the Kingdom of God in how we live each day.
If we want to know Christ’s peace, which conquers even the fear of the grave, we must become radiant with His Light, which means that we must unite ourselves to Him in faith, hope, and love from the depths of our souls. Instead of stumbling in the dark and serving other masters, we must offer ourselves fully to the Savior for healing as persons called to become like Him in holiness. That is the only way to resist the idolatry that brings worry, fear, and despair. Let us devote ourselves to opening our darkened spiritual eyes to the radiant light of Christ, for He alone is our hope for entering into the eternal blessedness that heals every infirmity and sorrow. He alone can make even our deepest sufferings a point of entry into heavenly joy as we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”