Archive for June, 2012

Just what the Doctor ordered!

June 29, 2012

strong-and-healthy

All things medical seem to be on the minds of many people today.There’s hardly a single news broadcast that doesn’t feature a story about it.We wonder if “Obama-care” will pass through Congress and if it does, we wonder what the impact will be.Will there be adequate healthcare for the elderly, will families be able to afford coverage for their children, and will employers continue to offer insurance if there’s a public option, and so on? So, as I said, these seem to be very fearful and anxious times.

We are told that the answer to our fears is to just stay healthy. We are told that much of what we suffer could have been prevented. It’s just a matter of lifestyle choices. Therefore, it may be that in the future, our insurance and its cost will be tied to the lifestyle that we choose.I read somewhere that some states are trying to tie the cost of your premium to your BMI, or body mass index.Just the other day, I heard a dialogue between a student and a college administrator about the college’s new policy of making obese students take a class on losing weight or they would not be allowed to graduate.

So, preventive medicine may be just what the doctor ordered.I wonder though, if we all took better care of ourselves, would there be a need for so many doctors? I sometimes kid people by saying when we part company, “Stay out of trouble.” Then I add, “Well, I’m not sure about that because if you stay out of trouble, then I’ll be out of a job.”They just look back and smile. If we all stayed well, as much as possible, what would doctors do for a living?

We often speak of the Church as our spiritual hospital and that we are here because we are sick. There is preventative medicine –like prayer, fasting, and study-but because of our lifestyle choices, we have not followed the path to health. So, what would the Doctor order?

The Pharisees grumbled when Jesus went into the house of Matthew, the writer of the Gospel. After all, he was a tax collector, and they were the most hated people of all. Why would anyone in their right mind enter into a place filled with such uncleanness and spiritual disease? It is here that the Lord reminds them that the sick need a doctor.Then the Great Physician gives us his prescription: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”Mercy – this is a strange recommendation for the spiritually sick, or is it?

Every time we come to the Church, in fact any time we turn to the Lord, he meets us withmercy and not with judgment. If this were not so, then despair would most certainly kill us. Mercy renews us and strengthens us to continue our battletowards salvation.Yet, is the Lord’s mercy the only thing that Jesus meant? He did say earlier that the merciful would obtain mercy. So, mercy is something that we are to show as well.How might mercy be the very thing that the doctor ordered?

First, I can show mercy to myself.

I start with myself because I have found that if I have little mercy for myself, I will not be able to show it to others. I don’t mean that I simply justify and excuse everything that I do. I mean that I need to show mercy to my soul. I constantly hand my soul over to the robbers who take away for it everything that is good and leave my soul wounded and bleeding.Like the Samaritan, I could bind and dress my soul’s wounds. I could give it a little time to pray, a few morsels of spiritual reading, or an occasional visit to the hospital. Is that so hard to do? Why then, am I so reluctant to be merciful to myself?Like the Sadducee, the Pharisee, and the Scribe in the story of the Good Samaritan, I just pass by and show no mercy to my soul.I am too busy to bother.By showing no mercy to my soul, I find I have no mercy for others because my poor beaten and starve soul has nothing to give.

Then, I can show mercy to my family.

It used to be said that charity begins at home. I use to jest if charity begins at home, it usually stays at home. Yet, in truth, if I cannot show mercy at home, it is likely that I will not show it elsewhere.I used to counsel married couples who had a Christian orientation that they should try to practice the Sermon on the Mount in their marital
relationship.If Jesus said that if an enemy compels us to go one mile, we should go two. If we are struck on one
check, then turn the other. Most Christians would acknowledge that this is the way a Christian should act; yes that is until the Christian gets home, and then mercy sits outside the door.Disagreements occur between all loving couples and between parents and children.We all fail each other continually and the lack of mercy in a family can be shocking.I also counseled many couples bound for divorce, and not long into the interview, it was clear that mercy never lived in the house.

I can show mercy to my priest and to my Church.

The same truth applies here. If I cannot show mercy at Church, it is unlikely that I will show it elsewhere. Of course, disagreements are natural and we fail each other constantly.Yet, you would think that people seeking mercy from God would easily show mercy to each other.I would ask you to take a moment and look at your brothers and sisters in Church. What do you really know about them? What sorrows and burdens do they carry? If you don’t have a clue, then you never have to show mercy by binding up their wounds.Does your priest have wounds as well? I guarantee you that he does, and he has many burdens to carry. When you offer to lift them a little, you show mercy to your priest.

Finally, I can show mercy the stranger and to my neighbor.

If I am merciful to myself, merciful to my family, and merciful to my church family, then I am better able to be merciful to strangers or to my neighbor.Again, we must be honest. What do we know about our neighbors other than that they are bothersome and irritating at times?The Lord said that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. God help me then because I don’t love my neighbors at all. Frankly I don’t really know much about them. If they have some personal problem, I’m sure that I’ll be the last to know. Life could beat them up and I wouldn’t see them because mercy does not guide my vision. If I am a merciful person, then I would have a merciful eye that would see the wounds in the manby the side of the road

“Go learn this,” the Great Doctor says. “I desire mercy instead of sacrifice. Happy are you when you show mercy, for you shall obtain mercy.”

Why we don’t get it

June 28, 2012

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.'” (Luke 18:11)

Somewhere on Facebook someone wrote  that in this modern world, few confess and even fewer repent.  Because of this reality, Orthodoxy today is a fairly shallow experience . We may feel drawn to the services, the ambiance, and even the disciplines of the Faith, but we seem to lack the one thing needed.  Lacking this one important thing, we just don’t get it.  Since we don’t get it, the fervor of faith wanes and vital piety vanishes.

We have problems, even persistent sins, but in spite of that we  believe that we are good people, fair people, even decent people. After all, we aren’t like those Baptists, or Buddhists, or atheists, or Muslims. We aren’t like those other sinners who we read about or hear about on the evening news. We work hard and raise our families and live as best we can within the law of the land. We love our country, pay our taxes, and try to do no harm. You see, we have a deep and fundamental belief in our goodness, and it is confirmed when compared to the sins of others.

Compare this attitude to St. Paul who said,   “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15) The chief of sinners – I may say it, but I really don’t believe it. I can think of many that are worse than I am and I can clearly point out why this is so. This  is clear proof that I am a prideful man and it is this pride that keeps me from true repentance. Oh, I will confess it all (when I get around to it) but I will not repent of it. I may say that I am the chief of sinners, but I will not  change my heart to believe it. Repentance means a real change, and I will not allow myself to change on this point. I know that there are worse sinners than me. After all, I am highly educated, a priest of many years, and a servant of the Lord. Me…the worst of sinners? You must be joking.

I make little progress in my spiritual life. This should be of no surprise when I know that God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. I am sorry that I sin, and I want to be forgiven, but I am not sorry enough to change.  This is why people like St. Mary of Egypt confuse me and mystify me. All those years away from the Church and away from the Sacraments, and yet her genuine sorrow and repentance lead her to spiritual heights I can’t even dream about. Of course, she was a harlot, and I am better than that!

I don’t get it.  Do you?

Cataracts

June 24, 2012

 

cataract

The light of the body is the eye….  Matthew 6:22

I was a young man when I met my first completely blind person. I happen to be visiting the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB).  A young man came walking down the sidewalk and sensing my presence, enter into a friendly conversation with me. I still remember being amazed at the young man’s intelligence and spirit, and warm friendliness. I wondered then as I wonder now what it must be like to be completely blind. Well, I had the experience of having an injury to one eye that caused me to be sensitive to light. So, for almost a day, I sat in a dark room with no windows and with both eyes completely covered. I gained a better appreciation of that condition, I can tell you.

Jesus uses the physical sense of sight to speak to us of what we might call “the mind’s eye.” Just as light comes through the physical eye and illuminates the mind, so our souls have a window or eye. And just as the loss of sight creates an inner and physical darkness, so the loss of vision in our soul’s eye also causes great spiritual darkness.  As the Lord pointed out, when this happens the darkness can be great and terrible.

I think that the first person I remember having cataracts was my grandmother. I remember how she struggled with the loss of vision. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of that which creates cataracts in the eye of the soul. He speaks of two things here, but to be certain, there are more things that can do it. The first thing is what do you fear and the second is who you love.

I’ve had relatives who have suffered with intense anxiety disorder. It is a terrible and debilitating condition. Thankfully, we found those who helped and so my family members have recovered and learned how to manage.  The Lord says that anxiety is that which clouds the eye of the soul. He asks again and again why we are so anxious about life and its demands. Of course, it is an anxious age in which we live and we can quote many reasons to be fearful, but the truth is that every moment in our history has been filled with reasons to be anxious. The problem is that, as St. Paul states, fear is used to bind us to our sins. To counter against this fear requires that we remember some things about the nature of God. If He manages all of creation, will He not also manage you? So what do you fear or who do you trust?

The second thing that the Lord mentions about spiritual blindness is about who you love and to what do you owe your loyalty. He said that you cannot love God and love money (mammon) at the same time. It is like serving two different masters. I would like to make something clear. Money in itself is not the “root of all evil.” It is the LOVE of money that is the root of evil. It is this inner disposition that is at issue and it is this love blinds us so that we feel less dependent upon God. In the Torah, God tells Moses that the land that they will possess will not be like the land of Egypt. In Egypt, they “watered their garden with their feet.”  This refers to the pumps that they would work with their legs to bring up water out of the ground to irrigate their crops. With such a device, why worry about God or whether it rains today or not? I just work my little pump and all is well. However, in the new land, the people will have to wait upon God who decides if it will rain or not.

In the world today, you can ask many possibly embarrassing questions about people and they will answer. But if you want to get them angry, ask them how much money they make. The mere question will cause them to remind you that it’s none of your business. Why? Because we seem to determine our value and worth by how much money we make. There is a reason why we use money to value and validate ourselves. Say that I go up to the checkout person at the supermarket with a gallon of milk. His question to me is basically who have I served or what good have I done to deserve the milk. I reply that I have served others, but what proof do I have? I produce a certificate of service-in this case a 5 dollar bill- and so the milk is purchased and I am on my way.  What the love of money can do is to cause me to strive to gain it without being of service to anyone. If this is the case, I can cause much damage and mischief to myself and others. The damage done to myself is that my eye because blinded with cataracts.

So, just like those with cataracts have surgery to restore their sight, what can we do to restore our inner vision? Jesus again gives the prescription – “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  This saying alone is worth many sermons, but all I will say at this point is that if we want to keep our inner vision open to light, or if you need to restore your eye, this is the only way to go.

 

Call No Man Father

June 24, 2012

You can hear it in many comedy routines -a mother complains to her child, “Why don’t you call your mother more often?” I don’t know if I ever heard of a father complaining  in the same way. When my son went off to college, I found myself reminding him via the social media to call his mother. He eventually got around to it. I’m trying to remember if I called home after I went off to college. I don’t think I did.

In the Orthodox Church, we call the priest “Father.” It is an title that reflects both the position and work of the priest, and also is a term of endearment. Its shows the close relationship that he has with members in his parish. The hope is that over time a real trusting relationship will develop and the priest will be able to offer advice that is effective in spiritual life. Of course, this takes communication and plenty of it.

So, is it just me? It seems that few call the priest or only call where there is a problem. “Call no man father” has now be changed to “no call father, man.”  If I happen to mention this in passing conversation, the excuse is twofold. First, folks tell me how busy they are. There’s no time to call or it doesn’t come to mind. On the other side, some will say that they don’t call because they don’t want to disturb me because they know how busy I am.

Really? Would I say this to my local doctor? “Hey, I would have called for an appointment, but I know how busy you are.”  I don’t think so. Just as a doctor is paid to hear about physical complaints, a priest is called (and sometimes paid) to hear the spiritual complaints of his members. A priest goes through many internal states when the phone is silent for so long.  You begin to worry about what’s going on out there. Then, when folks come to church and tell you how bad a week its been, you wonder why they didn’t call.  I have a phrase that I misquote to make the point. “When the going gets tough, the tough…..call the priest.”  Folks laugh and nod, but still don’t call.  I remember part of an old poem: “When mom is sick, the doctor’s called, and he gets a big fat check. But Father, he is never called, and gets it in the neck!”

I’ve had the experience over the years of people asking me to be their “spiritual father.”  At first, I am shocked because anyone who knows me at all understands that I am no elder. I hope that I genuinely care about people, and I do want to help, yet all I can do is listen and offer what advice I have. So, I am honored that they ask me. However, I have found that when I do accept the position of spiritual father,  the calls are less frequent and sometimes stop altogether. It seems that taking on the parental role, even in spiritual matters, puts them in the “no call” mode.

Therefore, I’ve decided that I will only accept the role of spiritual friend. We call friends more than we call parents, so maybe this way I can talk more with people that I love and with whom I have a connection.  So, don’t call me Father unless you are using the title as an Orthodox should do in Church. Consider me a friend and give me call, will ya?