For Beginners Only: Building Our Spiritual House

  Where do we begin in the spiritual life?  Is it best to focus on one or a few virtues and spiritual disciplines?  Should we start with the Jesus Prayer or with the reading of spiritual classics like the Philakalia?  St. John the Dwarf, one of the Egyptian Desert Fathers, compares building the spiritual life with building a house and offers very insightful comments about how this is to be done.   I…

Faith and Moral Freedom

Farming is one of the most concrete examples of faith.  Farmers spend a great deal of money, very often going into debt to buy seed, fertilizer and equipment only to sow the seed and fertilizer into the ground.  The harvest will not come for several months, and there is very little the farmer can do but wait.  Jesus spoke a great deal about sowing and reaping and used it as a metaphor…

The Interactive Work Of The Holy Spirit

When the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, there are two miracles.  One miracle is that the disciples spoke in new languages, and the other is that the people heard the disciples speaking in their own languages.  The Holy Spirit changed not only how the disciples “declared the wonders of God,” but also how those listening heard what was declared.   We find a similar phenomenon in…

Family Life and Spiritual Warfare

Someone recently wrote me the following: Can you please give us a word regarding the topic of “how to overcome thoughts of pride in our hearts that inevitably come after labouring on good works for our families and people around us.” I have been struggling with that lately. How is it that we can reach a point where we don’t count and remember the good we have done for others? I would…

The Face of Disfigured Piety

I have been reflecting on some conversations I’ve had over the past little while in the light of my meditation on what Flannery O’Connor said about the face of good being grotesque because in human beings good is always something under construction.  (Please read my blog, “Good’s Disfigured Face,” before proceeding.) My meditation could be read to be suggesting that the only form of brokenness that we have to see past to…

Good’s Disfigured Face

Some of you know that I am a fan of 19th century English literature.  My favourites are Dickens, Hardy and Twain.  I haven’t much enjoyed 20th century fiction largely because I have found it too harsh, hopeless and often gratuitously salacious for my tastes.  However, a few years ago I became interested in a twentieth century Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh, particularly his novel Brideshead Revisited.  I was uncomfortable with the marital immorality…

Arguing

My bedtime reading these days has been the letters of Sts. Barsanuphius and John.  I enjoy reading these letters because they almost always send me to sleep with an edifying thought of practical spiritual wisdom.  In letters 540 and 541 the Saints are asked how one should deal with a conflict with a superior.  The specific situation is as follows: One of the Fathers of the community is accompanying a Brother on…

Two Rich Men

In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus interact with two rich men, but we are told that only one of them is saved as a result of their interaction.  The first, in chapter 18, is a ruler who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  The second, in chapter 19, is a tax collector who seeks merely to see Jesus as he passes through the city.  Both men…

The Muskox Response To COVID-19

Last night I watched an episode of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet on Disney Plus.   It was about Dr. Oakley treating an muskox.  The episode is called, “One Angry Muskox.”  In order to treat this animal, they had to tranquilize it, but before they could tranquilize it, they had to separate it from the herd.  And the reason they had to separate it is what I want to talk about.  They had…

Self-Importance

St. Basil the Great, in letter 156, responds to a priest asking for advice and help to resolve a conflict between two parties—we don’t know whom or what the parties are.  St. Basil is asked to intervene in person, or at least by a letter.  St. Basil’s response to this priest instructs us on the spiritual disease of self-importance (which is what some Fathers refer to as self-esteem).   Self-importance is a tricky…