I am climbing St. John’s Ladder

 

For the Lenten Sunday of St. John Climacus

I have come to the conviction that God is pleased with me.

This might seem like a ridiculous idea for those who know me. Spend a little bit of time with me and you will find me to be a foolish, silly old man who really ought to be farther along in his spiritual life than he is. After all, I’ve been a Christian since my youth, so how is it possible that I am still such a foolish, sinful, and silly old man?

Most Sundays, someone will say to me that they are ashamed because when they come to confession because they seem to confess the same sins week after week. They wonder if it will ever change. Sometimes, because of persistent sins, despondency sets in. They say, “It seems like I take one step forward and two steps back. Surely God is tired of me and isvery displeased with me.” Oh, I understand how they feel. At times, I hear the same voice- “you can’t get a leopard to change his spots.” In my case, it might be more appropriate to say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Yet, I have come to the conviction that God is pleased with me.

Centuries ago, it was decided that the Church was not meant to be a place where only the perfect would gather to meet. The Church was meant to be a place where sinners could gather so that by the ministry of the Church, they might overcome their sin. Confession became a place where those who were not yet perfect could come and find refreshment. Admittedly, there have been saints who took the fast track, who by martyrdom or great ascetic feats reached heights of piety and perfection. Yet, they seem more like the exception than the rule. 

So, I have come to the conviction that God is pleased with me.

For most of us, salvation (theosis) will be a long, long journey of one step forward, and two steps back. God is pleased with us precisely because we are trying to climb this ladder and its a struggle. The Lord said that there would be a whole lot of people who won’t struggle for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In fact He said the road that most people travel is a broad and straight and carefree road. It’s easy going on that superhighway because like Interstate 81, there are no stoplights. Those on the easy road do not stop to question their motives or their destination. 

The ladder of the  Kingdom is much different. It is one rung at a time and you cannot climb it road without struggle and effort and here are many stops and starts on the ladder of divine ascent. Since we are trying to climb, to question and to struggle with ourselves, God is most pleased with us even if its one rung up and two down. 

Giving up is a constant temptation when its one up and two down.  At that point we should ask ourselves what will be at the end  if we take the spiritually carefree way. I once read a story of a desert monk who struggled mightily with lust. This had been going on for years and years, until one day, a great monastic saint came to the monastery. Upon hearing of the monk’s terrible struggle, he prayed to God that the brother would be set free from lust. The next day, the monk came to the great monastic and asked him what he had done. “Brother, I saw that you were in great distress and I learned that you had been fighting this passion for decades. So, I asked the Lord to relieve you of it.” The monk began to cry and pleaded with the saint to ask the Lord to return him to his former state. The Saint was amazed and asked why he would want such a thing. The monk replied, “Because by this struggle I was attaining salvation. Now that it is gone, what am I to do?”

I am climbing St. John’s ladder-one rung at a time,. One rung up, and often I slip back two. I am sad that I have slipped back, but shall I stop? No! I will reach again and step again and this time I will try to hold on a bit harder. Why? Because my Father is pleased that I am on the ladder, that’s why. Know this strengthens my arms and gives me resolve.

Climb, my brothers and sisters, though your arms grow weary from the effort. For by struggling for the next rung, God is so pleased with you.


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