Our lives make sense. This may not always seem to be true, but it is. For each of us, there are inner principles that guide our decisions and prioritize our actions. Life is not entirely random.
Much of that inner sense of things is not conscious. The day becomes very busy, and we can’t stop and analyze each action and think about its meaning and purpose. Sometimes, you just have to drive the kids to school, go to the store, the doctor, two other places, and do a dozen things at home and have dinner on the table. Our inner sense on many days is just survival.
We are not particularly burdened by our hardships, not when compared to the stretch of history. But we often neglect the true principles of our lives. “Necessity” is a very empty principle for getting through the day.
The central point of the Christian life is the Cross. It is more than a single event in history. It is The Event in history and continues as an eternal presence. The Cross of Christ is the revelation of God’s true life in the world. The Cross is the proper shape of our existence. But what does that mean? Especially on a daily basis?
For one, it means that our true lives are not centered in ourselves. We are not created to be self-fulfilling. Our lives, especially in difficulty, find their right shape as we give ourselves to others. The Other and not the Self is the way of the Cross. This is extremely counter to our culture. Of course, the fullness of the Other is God. St. Paul says that our “true life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We can only find ourselves outside of ourselves. There are very practical ways of applying this in our lives.
Prayer is directing our hearts outside of ourselves and towards God. Pray.
Kindness places the other ahead of ourselves. Be kind.
Giving thanks acknowledges that our lives are not the products of our own efforts, but a gift from God. Give thanks always, for all things.
Forgiveness accepts the fact that our actions have consequences and the lives of those around us. The refusal to forgive is a radical separation of ourselves from others. Forgive. Forgive everyone for everything.
We do not exist to consume. We have our daily needs. Satisfying them is enough. If our true life is found outside of ourselves, then sharing what we have with others is the most natural thing to do with our possessions. Give stuff away. The more, the better.
Lying is the ultimate act of selfishness. It is an attempt to create a false reality that exists only in our own perverse attempt to remake the world and avoid the truth. Do not lie. Do not participate in the lie.
The Cross is the way of life. Learn to love the Cross. Make the sign of the Cross frequently. Indeed the Fathers say we should cross ourselves before beginning anything. And when we are done, we cross ourselves in thanksgiving. The Cross is the remembrance of God and the truth of our lives. Our lives are not our own. They belong to the Crucified God who invites His friends to join Him in the most pure act of love.
Love God. Love His Cross.
Thank you, Father.
A quick question. I once explained to a couple of friends that forgiveness is a restoration of relationship. My friends insisted, quite directly, that forgiveness does not require reestablishing relationship, one of them even went so far as to say that the had forgiven her ex but would “punch him in the face if he ever came near her again”. I replied that she had not forgiven him anything as she still held whatever was in the past against him.
Would you share further thoughts on the theme of forgiveness?
You were quite correct. It does restore relationship. Forgiving your enemies will get you crucified. It’s the way of the Cross. What your friend wanted was something more successful. The American Way.
Isn’t the restoring of relationship reconciliation? I can forgive from my heart someone who wronged me. But they may not forgive me.
Christ offers His forgiveness to all but many spurn being reconciled to Him. Hence, no reconciliation. Am I seeing this correctly?
Yes, but. In the NT, there is no particular distinction between the two.
“that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2Co 5:19 NKJ)
I should add that we should not see forgiveness as a snapshot, forensic moment. It is a dynamic. Forgiveness and reconciliation belong together, being two ways to speak of the same thing.
Thank you again, Father. This was and is (and forever will be!) timely.
Father, can you explain how the teaching you are giving in forgiveness would work in situations of domestic violence? I can see reconciliation as a goal, but reconciliation requires that the offending party admit their wrong doings and repent from them. I have experience in ministry dealing with domestic abuse and in the case I am thinking of, it was absolutely unsafe to allow the woman to return to the relationship because the man remained violent and abusive.
Indeed. Forgiveness has to happen at a distance in some cases. But the injured person would still be tormented if there were no forgiveness. Reconciliation – the fullness of forgiveness – is eschatological sometimes. It’ll have to happen after this life.
Thank you for this article and so generously sharing your gift in this forum. May God grant you continued strength in this ministry
“Prayer is directing our hearts outside of ourselves. ..”
I’ve understood prayer as going in and through, not outside, ourselves to meet God who is there for us where our true self is….a reconciled mind and heart reached by getting out of one’ s head or self so to speak. With the mind in the heart, then, one journeys and, by the grace of God, arrives at one’s true home. . The hidden life in Christ.
In gratitude for your work.
Thank you, Fr. Stephen for such a concise description of the Way of the Cross. It reminds me of Fr. Hopko’s Maxims. Sometimes we need a reminder of the basics.
Re: “We do not exist to consume.” This reminds me of a description of modern man’s existence (horror) by Alan Watts (who to my mind is kind of a westernized Hindu narcissist).
“For there is a growing apprehension
that existence is a rat-race in a trap: living organisms, including people,
are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let them out at the
other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run wears them
out. So to keep the farce going, the tubes find ways of making new
tubes, which also put things in at one end and let them out at the other.
At the input end they even develop ganglia of nerves called brains, with
eyes and ears, so that they can more easily scrounge around for things to
swallow. As and when they get enough to eat, they use up their surplus
energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all sorts of noises
by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and gathering together in
groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes grow such an
abundance of attached appliances that they are hardly recognizable as
mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering variety of forms.
There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form, but in general
there is serious competition as to who is going to be the top type of tube.
All this seems marvelously futile, and yet, when you begin to think
about it, it begins to be more marvelous than futile. Indeed, it seems
THE BOOK: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Father, how true your statement is. I have always viewed forgiveness as an individual task that proceeds Reconciliation, which takes two parties to accomplish. If I am the offender, I must admit my fault, ask for forgiveness and seek to make amends and set things right or in other words, repent for my actions for reconciliation to happen. The party I have injured may have forgiven me , but unless I then respond in making the situation right, then I am at fault for preventing reconciliation.
I am increasingly running to people who look at the human race in a way similar to Alan Watts’s quote and see the best thing for Planet Earth and all involved would be a mercy killing of the human race.
The scariest thing is that there is a small part of me that agrees with them. But I know God doesn’t feel this way, that He has a plan, that He has called them good, and so on. And I am His servant and therefore seek to have the mind of my Master. I of course see many wonderful things about our race, but some days the negative things seem to rain down like cats and dogs. I’m trying to get a handle on the best way to respond to this attitude.
Many times I feel like I don’t have the patience to forgive. Don’t get me wrong…. I want to forgive desperately and sometimes I think I have, but most of the time I fall very short. Just getting out of the habit alone of creating these false realities has been/is a tremendous struggle for me. Knowing that I sometimes have more ego than patience for understanding, is hard to admit. This was a great read. Many thanks Father.
Doggedly give thanks always for all things. What we are seeing is decidedly not the revelation of humanity, but the revelation of the Un-Man (a la Perelandra). This is the work of the enemy, not the work of man.
Not having context, I liked that quote.
It seems that the important thing is to always remember and pursue that line of investigation, thought, and acceptance of revelation which implicitly comes after
Dear Father Stephen,
Thank you for this beautiful blog. Do forgive me if I repeat something that has been said already – I’m just starting to read.
I thought I could say something about forgiveness. It really helps, I think, to ask for forgiveness first as we do on the Sunday before Lent. The reply in my church is “God will forgive.” It goes back of course to the Our Father prayer which the Lord gave his disciples – personally, that asking for forgiveness opened my heart more during that particular service than I ever had making the attempt to forgive ahead of it. That is such a wonderful service!
And I am reminded of the scene between the first St. Zosima (I think it was) and St. Mary of Egypt – when they met in the desert and spent a long time prostrate asking one another’s forgiveness. I’ve only just read your post about the dark places in the heart – somehow asking forgiveness opens up those dark places to the other person.
I am loving your blog. Thank you again.
Funnily enough, keeping a healthy distance, rather than meddling in others’ lives (a very ‘neptic’ notion –i.e.: linked to spiritual vigilance), affords us the fertile ground for forgiveness. This, in turn, is associated with our ability to retain the vision of others’ potential holiness and our own selfishness (rather than the reverse which is destructive). This vivifies the wholesome sense of our being the only ones who owe the “ten thousand” (Matthew 18:24) by making the relationship ‘God-and-me’ the assessor of all others. The force of the thought that “all others are saints” is an unfailing yardstick of one’s own movement towards saintliness. Humility, obedience, stillness, all, yield and cultivate this same fruit.
We can perhaps start by simply reminding ourselves that, given their context, their history, particular circumstances unknown to us, all others are holy and we ourselves are the only depraved ones. Besides, as a recent saint once said, a person whose nature and nurture would have normally predisposed him to have –for example- killed once a day and manages to kill once a week with great effort, will -against all appearances to the opposite- actually be holier than a person who would have normally performed a miracle a day and yet only performs a miracle a week.
Concerning having a low opinion of humanity, I would suggest that staying away from the media would help with this – decent folk don’t make the news!
I stay away from media more than most people. The reason I asked the question is that one source of this opinion is my 15 year-old son. He’s idealist and a perfectionist, an ideal environment for growing such opinions. My faith isn’t shaken by a 15 year-old, but I always like to “have an answer for the hope that lies within me”.
Good man! My eldest is 9 so I maybe have a few more years before he starts to get ideas about the world at large, particularly as we have no TV or newspapers. At the moment, I am trying to keep up with reading him from the lives of saints, hoping they will leave enough of an impression that he will be somewhat inoculated against the world’s dross.
Let us do what we can – Kyrie eleison.
Thanks for the link to Romans 8:20 and commentary. Very helpful to make that connection.
Greetings from Singapore,
Thank you so much, Fr! Always love your great insights on the scriptures.
May our Lord continue to bless you…
Hello Father Stephen,
You mentioned lying as being the “ultimate act of selfishness”. I have a problem with this. Didn’t Rahab the harlot lie to protect the hebrew spies? Didn’t Jeremiah the prophet lie to save his own life at the suggestion of the king? Didn’t Christian people lie to the Nazis to save the Jews that were hiding in their house in Germany during WWII? Didn’t Jesus Himself lie to His brothers when He told them He wouldn’t be going to the feast, but then He did go in secret? And yet none of these were attributed with sin in doing any of these things. We are commanded to love others as ourselves. Is not lying to protect others the same as loving them? Is not lying to protect ourselves the same as loving ourselves? Was David and his friends guilty for eating the showbread when they were hungry that the Law says only the priests were to eat? Does God desire mercy or a sacrifice?
I apologize for all of the questions. I mean no disrespect. I’m completely open to having my view corrected on these things. These are questions that I have thought about over the years and cannot see any other conclusion to them. But that may be due to my own limited and potentially flawed point of view.
There is always, in the examples you cite, the “double intention.” The lie is not an effort to create a false world, but to do a good thing. I would certainly lie to protect someone, and would counsel someone to do so. It is, if you will, a “deflection” of a blow, rather than a direct attack. It would more correct if I had said, “A lie, rightly understood, can be the ultimate act of selfishness.”