Familiarity breeds….

Repost from 2012 with an addition

Walking on water, by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370. wikimedia.org

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds his disciples, “without me you can do nothing.”

Nothing. That’s quite definite.

After 25 years of working within the Church Institutional, I have found one astounding fact to be consistently true: those who serve as lay or clerical “professionals” in the Church very often tell me that as the years go on they find that their spiritual lives suffer atrophy.

I gave thought to this recently. Two common threads usually emerge as I dig deeper into their thinking. First, familiarity with holy things can, as the proverb goes, breed contempt. Second, as they come to know well the human frailties and baggage of fellow ecclesial personnel, the sacred seems to unravel and mystery gets demystified. Now, certainly not all I have known over the years have suffered this decline — and those are the people I have found myself most attracted to in order to discover their “secret.” Drawing from their wisdom, let me suggest what I think is the key difference: staying close to Jesus in prayer.

So simple it seems simplistic.

Convincing those who “work for the Church,” who are nearest to the Hearth that burns in the heart of the Church, that because they do religious work they don’t need — or have time to — pray is no doubt one of the Tempter’s most subtle and successful strategies. Severed from the source of spiritual power, we are vulnerable to becoming bitter, cynical, angry, tepid, lost. To be charged with leading people into the Mystery of God, while not oneself being intimately in communion with that Mystery is a recipe for spiritual stress and burnout. While the prayer-less may muster the zeal to sputter vague phrases about their work being their prayer, in their more honest moments when they are not “on,” they admit that their spiritual lives have suffered, their prayer has weakened and their sense of purpose in ministry has atrophied to near paralysis. No time left for being alone with the Alone, no room in the Inn for Jesus to be born in them.

[Let me insert here part of an email I sent to a friend who asked me how I could retain my “wonder and awe” as a Catholic in a Church that seemed to be filled with so many bored and cynical people…

…Catholic means, as James Joyce wrote in Finnegan’s Wake, “Here comes everybody.” Truly! The Church allows within its pale a remarkable diversity of humanity, who embody the living Tradition more or less, in ways great and small, with various faces marked by the unique histories of each. It’s the scandal of particularity, the scandal of the Incarnation at work, where God manifests the fullness in the partial; purity in the midst of filth; truth in the midst of error; joy in the midst of horror; passion in the midst of apathy; revealing the Way amid bumbling disciples and ineffable Light to skeptical or hostile rabbinic colleagues. I think — as I gaze Janus-like at the grandeur and the banality, the awe and the boredom, the clarity and the murkiness, and so on — of the imminent framework of divine Revelation, and how utterly disappointing it is to my un-redeemed inner purist who wants it undiluted, or my inner zealot who wants it extreme, or my inner artist who wants great artwork and not kitsch…and of the imminent framework that is the Incarnation: the Manger, the Flight, the Ridicule, the Hatred, the Spittle, the Jeering, the Whipping, the Cross, the Burial, and all of that being Raised Up in His still-fresh Wounds…then I settle into not inquiry or interest or argument, but faith. And I walk, even as I fall and rise — fall and rise in the midst of my fellow inglorious co-religionists whose sheep-smell I share. I have canonized saints about me, those democratic dead whose collective voice from Paradise, looking back into history, plants in me hope that if such tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and thieves, murderers and lustful men and women can permit grace to reconfigure them and raise them up among their sinful brethren to shine like the Sun, I can also consent thus again and again, and have hope along with those around me. In other words, the Incarnation does not permit me to be spiritual and not religious, because religion implicates me with that filthy, stinky, mediocre lot of flesh called humanity; while “spiritual” attempts the Gnostic rise above it all to contemplate the pure Forms that, though beautiful, are not real because Truth-Goodness-Beauty does not exist apart from the Cross. Saints were wholly fleshy spirits in earthen vessels, in a tired and weary world. But, as Hans Urs von Balthasar said so forcefully, “The saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ’s Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.” If I cling to this Mystery, I believe I will never lose wonder and awe. If I don’t, I’m lost.]

Stay in love

Just before we got married, my grandfather wrote a letter to Patti and me and said that one of the key secrets to their (at the time) 68 years of marital love was never to “lose the magnetism of that first moment when your eyes met, when you knew she was it; he was it. Keep that alive, and your bond will be unbreakable.”

Jesus said something similar in Revelation 2:4 to the Church of Ephesus: “I hold this against you: you have abandoned your early love.”

Those who are privileged to serve in the heart of the Church, in the midst of its humanity, must keep alive within the flame of God’s love for broken, fallen humanity; and always remember that each of us, as a recipient of divine mercy, must live out of that mercy (cf. Matthew 18:21-35).

These words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. capture the heart of what I’m after:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Do you hear me?

Repost 2012

Grandfather and Grandson Holding Hands --- Image by © Claudia Kunin/CORBIS

Grandfather and Grandson Holding Hands — Image by © Claudia Kunin/CORBIS

This week we celebrated the joyous memorial of St. Benedict [July 11], Patriarch of Western Monasticism. And yet again here at Omaha, we got another stellar homily.

The homilist opened with the opening words of St. Benedict’s monastic Rule, Obsculta, o filii…et inclina aurem cordis tuis, “Listen, O sons…and incline the ears of your heart.”

He repeated the word, “Listen,” and then left us in a lengthy silence that was wonderfully disquieting.

He then went on to reflect on the virtue of listening attentively to others “with the ears of the heart.” The seminarians laughed heartily as he spoke of those who talk incessantly:

You know them. They love the sound of their own voice. They listen little, speak much, and even when they do listen it’s only to leave time to build up pressure that will gush into a new torrent of words. We live in a noisy culture. We have to be sound-saturated. We compulsively and thoughtlessly “hit send” with our opinions and thoughts. In a world where no one really listens, no one really loves. From compulsive noise grows a culture of anxiety and depression, isolation and pain-killing. Listening with the heart means entering another’s world, the world revealed by words and gestures. It means caring about what they say. Listening with the heart is hearing with love. And the harder it is to listen, the greater the love expressed. Listening has the power to cure, to shine light into darkness, to dispel the clouds of despondency, to raise the dead. You can also kill someone with a spear or a sneer. Dismiss someone into the grave. The one who is truly capable of listening is the one who first knows they’ve been heard; really heard. And in being heard, they know they’re loved. Children’s sense of self is shaped and defined by listening love, or misshaped and deformed by being shut out and ignored … The best are those who know prayer of the heart, who know that God hears their cry. God’s name is “the One who hears the cry.” Small children who are consistently neglected stop crying because they no longer believe they are heard. They die inside. But God hears us, and God loves to hear us.

He then recalled with deep emotion — his voice cracked a few times — the times as a boy when he would dry dishes with his grandfather in the kitchen after dinner. He remembered the way his grandfather would speak to him — the tone, the facial expressions. But above all he remembered that his grandfather would listen to him with rapt attention and great delight. He said:

Any parent who’s honest knows, listening to a seven year old child is not always the most interesting thing in the world. But it was there at the sink that I learned the inner unity of listening and loving. My grandfather would punctuate my stories and comments with “ooh,” “wow” and “is that right?” Thinking back on those conversations now, I re-experience God’s tender fatherly love for me … I would dare say to listen in love to another is among the highest forms of redeeming grace in this life. Even the Sacraments, if you think of it, are all Gifts given in response to our cry — “Father, send your Spirit” — by a God who responds. In the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit *is* a listening God’s answer to our cry for recognition and love. God responds to our heart’s outpourings by pouring Himself out on us. What a model of ministry, brothers…

After the homily, all I could pray were those 6 words:

Incline the ears of my heart.

“Though war break out against me even then would I trust.” Psalm 27:3

Repost 2013

My wife and I suffered a number of miscarriages years ago. It was profoundly painful to endure, especially for her as she bore in her body our children’s death.

She found great comfort in a Canticle from the Bible that she first discovered when we’d pray the Breviary together. It quickly became her favorite Scripture text. It’s from the prophet Habakkuk. Here’s the section that resonated in her soul:

For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God. (3:17-18)

The greatest beauty of her witness to me was her ability to grieve in hope and believe these words not just in her mind, or even in her heart, but from her womb — which, in the Hebrew imagination, is the deepest seat of human compassion and the supreme icon of divine compassion. I think of the tender Isaian passage:

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me!”
[Thus says the Lord:]
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
Be without compassion for the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
I will not forget you. — Isaiah 49:14-15

When I first heard Kari Jobe’s song, Steady My Heart, I thought of Habakkuk’s profession of trusting faith, and of my wife. Listen:

Scattered thoughts on rest

Mother Teresa. originentertainment.com


I’ve always cherished the thought of heaven as eternal rest. God rested on the seventh day of creation, so we also get to rest. So Genesis goes. God commanded Pharaoh in Egypt to let his people go so they could worship in the desert, since worship required a day of rest from slave labor. The Gospel reading at Mass a week or so ago had Jesus telling his disciples, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). So many people I know are weary from their labors and burdened by life, searching endlessly for rest. They work hard, play hard, they entertain themselves to death, but they never seem to feel truly rested. Always restless. Our culture possesses an ethos of driven-ness that makes people feel compelled to stay busy, active, but they never seem to feel rested. What’s missing from our rest?

+ + + +

An elderly woman at a local assisted care facility said to me recently, “No one has any time anymore for a cup of tea.” Between the lines, I read: Just to be with me and allow a relationship to be born. Love requires rest.

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On the day we had the “Come to me” Gospel, the homilist made some striking points relative to rest. Authentic resting, leisure, he said, is the ability to simply receive the gift of life and love precisely as a gift gratuitously given to us by God. An unearned, unmerited gift. When you “come to Jesus,” who is the One through whom all things were made, you can cease your work and rest as you discover that the Creator simply loves you. And when you come with your burden of guilt and shame you can rest as you discover that the Redeemer calls you to cast all your sins into the abyss of His forgetfulness. In that moment of resting in Jesus you need do nothing impressive, be nothing important. He does not ask you to justify your existence. Those who can rest in this way find that the burdens and labors of life suddenly become light, just as a young man who has discovered the love of a woman has a skip in his step.

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I know a man who built a house for his wife over a period of years. Little by little. Almost every night after work, after dinner and family activities, he would work on the house for a few hours, and then work some more on the weekend with his dad and his buddies — who only exacted a salary of six packs. He told me that he had a photograph of his wife on the wall in the house under construction, and that he would move it from place to place on the work-site near wherever he was busy at the time. He said that picture of her face and her smile drove him on and made the work easy. “Working was like rest when I thought of her.”

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Thought of another way, Sabbath rest requires that you “becomes as a little child” (Matthew 18:3). Little children know how to rest and let down their guard with those they feel they can trust. When my children were small, my favorite thing was to see them fall serenely asleep on my lap, knowing they are loved. It gave me great joy. I found that even slightest smile of contentment from my child was enough to fill me with great delight. As I would experience this, I would imagine it being this way with God and pray that I could surrender myself in prayer. As I would see our children on my wife’s lap after nursing, I would think of Psalm 131:2:

Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
even so is my soul.

St. Therese articulated this childlike surrender so well:

I tell you that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon one’s self like a child in the arms of God

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An Orthodox Jewish Rabbi in Hartford once shared with me a revolutionary insight on the Sabbath. He said:

The biblical word Shabbat, “Sabbath” does not mean “rest” in the sense of recovering from the exhaustion of work. Rather, he said, it refers to the delight a craftsman takes after his work is completed and he pauses to look with delight at the goodness and beauty of his work. “So,” he said, “when G-d rested on the seventh day, it was to gaze back at creation with delight and say, ‘Very good.’ When Jews shabbat, they look at creation with G-d and share his delight in its beauty and goodness, and then very naturally they worship him who is worthy of all our love. We also allow G-d on shabbat to delight in each of us — we are his masterpiece. Doing that every seventh day adjusts your vision so that the other six days you can share in divine work with the delight of G-d himself and see your fellow man through the same gaze of G-d.

So, it seems, heaven will be our chance for an eternity to shabbat and rest, delighting over the beauty and goodness of all God has made and redeemed, over all we have been privileged to co-make and co-redeem with him in this life, and — this amazes me most — resting in God’s delighted gaze on us.

When I was 4 my mom tells me that I said to her, as she pulled me around the block in a red wagon: “I love to look at your face.” That, to me, sums up heaven.

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The priest ended his homily by quoting from George Herbert’s poem, The Pulley:

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel in full on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”


Cardinal Edwin Frederick O’Brien. wikimedia.org

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. — 1 Cor. 4:10-13

Cardinal Edwin Frederick O’Brien was here in Omaha to celebrate Mass for the Institute. At the end of Mass he shared with us two quotes that knocked my socks off. All of us here on faculty and staff pursued him until he shared them with us. Feast!

The first quote was from early 20th American century co-founder of the Maryknoll priests, Bishop James E. Walsh, who was later made a missionary bishop in China. Here he succinctly described the heart of an evangelizing Christian:

The task of a missioner is to go to the place where he is not wanted, to sell a pearl whose value, although of great price, is not recognized, to people who are determined not to accept it, even as a gift.

The second quote was taken from a note sent by Bishop Louis William Valentine Dubourg to seminaries throughout France. Bishop Dubourg, who was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Louisiana and the Two Floridas in 1812, was looking for men who were willing to come to America to serve as missionary priests. Their role would be to establish new parishes and serve the French speaking immigrant Catholics in the region. As you read this “job description” and “benefits package” for priests, I want you to imagine what kind of priestly-hearted men accepted this invitation to come to America. “The men who responded,” Cardinal O’Brien said, “are the men of character we need in the priesthood of Jesus Christ”:

We offer you: no salary, no recompense, no holidays, no pension. But much hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death, an unknown grave.

And the Cardinal added, “And they came!”


Hopko-isms, Part II

Learning to love in marriage. That’s key. Marriage, in the Orthodox tradition, and in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 5, is clearly really only about one thing: having the singular and privileged opportunity to enter fully into Christ’s sacrificial death of love for his spouse, the Church. In marriage Christ invites you to learn from his example of loving a terribly difficult spouse. That’s the point of marriage. It’s an arena in which we are trained and formed to love the way God intended. Love in marriage is beautiful and wonderful, yes, but if it’s going to be real and lasting it’s also going to mean martyrdom. Laying down your life. But that’s not an unfortunate thing, that’s the whole point. For Christians, that is. Fidelity, suffering. Going from saying me-me-me to saying other-other-other. Killing your own will. St. John Chrysostom said, “Consider every day where you’re not slandered, falsely accused, opposed or rejected as a loss.” If you find marriage and family life hard because you have to do everything together, act in harmony and union with someone who can be tough to deal with, or oppose you, who’s different than you, thinks differently in some hard ways, then count no day in marriage a loss. You can’t be a freelance Christian. The holy Fathers say, “If a person falls, you can know they have chosen themselves as a spiritual guide.” St. Teresa says, “The self-directed are the devil-led.” If you choose yourself without submitting to another, it’s certain to crash. Isolation leads to insanity. If you say, “I love God much better when I’m away from all the idiots out there,” you’re deluding yourself.  Love is learned in community, where love is not just abstract and ideal but concrete, real, messy, irritating, un-ideal, pulling me out of myself again and again and again and again. Until I finally “get it.” Then deification comes.

My daughter Katherine used to wear a button that said, “It’s my father’s fault.” [raucous laughter in audience] Yes! Those who think, “Oh, Father Tom, I wish you were my dad.” I say, “You don’t know what you’re saying. Ask my children and they will set you straight.” I have to answer for what I have done, what I’ve failed in. But now that she knows that, it’s her problem. She has to figure it out and can’t blame me forever. We all have to come to terms with the fact that we were raised by sinful parents with all their own junk. Those who live on always angry and blaming will never become who they’re supposed to become. We have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt and work through it all. Parenting is a good cause of humility for parents, but it also gives children all the raw materials they need for the great struggle that makes saints. But only if they can accept the reality and let God’s grace get into it all.

After decades of theological study, priestly service, teaching at a seminary and being Dean of the seminary, I now realize that what my mother taught me as a child is the wisdom I’ve been seeking for seventy years: “Go to church, say your prayers and never forget God.” If you live these three things right, with all you’ve got, all other things will fall into place.

Back in the early 1980’s I was in Greece for a meeting of church leaders. The Easterners all complained at meeting about the state of the Church in persecuted countries under Communism and Islam; the  Westerners all complained about the secularism and materialism and hedonism and the godlessness. A young monk from Mount Athos said: “Brothers! We must have hope. We have everything we need. How can we complain? What kind of witness do we give when we complain of our hardships? We have been given by God something no one can take from us: we have the cross and our death in Christ.” Everyone was silent. How we face death and the cross is what proves everything. Does the world that opposes us see us as angry, complaining, protesting, bitter, condemning? In the eighth beatitude Jesus is clear how the Church should react to rejection: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!” Do they see that we simply hate sin or that we love sinners — that we are sinners! — and are ready to walk with them even if it means they want to do us in? Or do they rather see us doing the truth in love, with mercy and lots and lots of joy? Who wants to be part of that first community? Yuck. Seriously. I remember several years ago when I had a serious health decline, and developed heart disease. A nun, Mother Elizabeth, in her 80’s, came to visit me in the hospital. She said, “Father, you made it beyond 70 without a serious tremor in your life. No major health problems. Now is the moment of truth and we will see who you really are and what you really are.” I said, “Oh, thanks a lot Mother!” But she was right. Before we suffer hardships we’re just blah blah. But when it gets hard, how do I respond? If I live each day like that monk said, cross-bearing and dying daily with Christ, enduring well the thousand inconveniences and irritations thrown at me, with less self and more others each day, then I’m ready. I’m ready for the whole purpose of human life. It’s why I exist.

Back in the 70’s I gave a talk at a college on the Orthodox teaching about sex and marriage. In short, I had said that in the Christian understanding there are only two options: marriage or virginity. During the Q&A one student raised his hand — I’ll never forget him — and he said with an air of disbelief in his voice: “You really believe this?” I said, “I do.” He said, “Lifelong faithful marriage and no sex ever outside of marriage. I gotta say it, expecting someone to do that? It would have to be a miracle.” I replied — and I still love the answer I gave — “At least I can leave here tonight knowing at least one person understood my talk. It is a miracle. Without the grace of God in Jesus Christ, no one can be faithful to this teaching.” Jesus said it succinctly: “Without me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]. And nothing means nothing.

Hopko-isms, Part I


I was re-listening to a recorded lecture I had by Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko the other night to fill my late night insomnia with some light. The next morning, with great relish, I typed out the quotes I found most powerful. I’ll break it into 2 parts. Put on your seat belts, crash helmets and enjoy:

+ + + +

We enter into communion with God through love, which means love for all around us without exception, and especially our enemies and those who hate us. Until we are ready to love with very love with which God has loved us in Jesus — who is the Son of his love — by the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts, we will never know God. If you allow God’s love to penetrate into the marrow of your bones, you’ll get a fire in your bones and then you can love with his love. Pray every day like a baby bird, wide-mouthed begging, full of absolute trust, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim says that the whole spiritual life is acquiring the Holy Spirit. Ask. Seek. Knock. God can’t resist expectant, trusting, persevering faith.

Be aware! Consolation precedes crucifixions, exaltation precedes humiliations, divinization precedes degradation. That’s St. Isaac the Syrian. And this is the good news! Good because the cross of Jesus ensured that everything life throws at us can become a rung in the ladder to Paradise. God turns our downfall into our rising. Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Kenosis is theosis.

The holy Fathers say you should always pray to God about everything, so when what you seek does not happen you’ll know it’s not God’s will. But if you don’t pray you won’t know that it’s not God’s will, as there are some things God will not grant unless they’re sought in prayer. So not getting things we ask for is a big part of the story. But there’s always some grace seething in God’s answer, even if it seems it’s unbearable; if it seems things are crazy — they’re not crazy — well, actually, you can say that God is crazy as far as this world’s logic is concerned. The cross is a scandal and absurdity and madness — moronic! — but for us who have faith in Christ crucified and risen, at the Father’s right hand with open wounds, he is the power and wisdom of God. But you have to give yourself over to it for it to happen, you can hold nothing back. When you finally give in to him, that’s when his power unleashes. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So then Paul goes on in first Corinthians to boast of all the catastrophes of his ministry — these are the emblems of success.  Remember? He says [1 Cor. 11:23-27], “I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” How about putting that on your C.V.? See here, God’s success story!

The holy Scriptures — what can I say? We have to read them, contemplate them and put them into practice more than we breathe. It’s terrible that we like spirituality books, read books on theology and the saints and holy Fathers, but we don’t even know the holy Scriptures. That’s not right! All of the holy Fathers say everything in the Christian life has its foundation on the canonized Scriptures of the Church. St. John Chrysostom said that every cause of discord in Church comes from ignorance of Scripture and the irresponsible way men are made priests and bishops. He said that. Really. A constant theme among the great spiritual authors of the monastic tradition — like St Ignatius Brianchaninov — is trying to convince the monks to read the Scriptures. They’re too often more interested in reading books on spirituality or mysticism or deification than they are in reading holy Scripture. The holy Fathers all say: “This should not be! Repent! Scripture should be your primary love. This only is God’s inspired Word” There’s even a canon in the seventh Ecumenical Council that says a man should not be consecrated bishop if he cannot recite the 150 psalms from memory. Otherwise how can you teach the faith if you don’t know it by heart? The holy Scriptures should be our first love.

I know people who say, “Oh, yes Father Tom, we love to come to church because it makes us feel good, feel uplifted.” Well, okay, sometimes God consoles us in church in times of our affliction. Okay. But we go to church to get lacerated. I mean, if you see a church with a sign that says, “Come for soothing, upbeat, happy worship,” sue them for malpractice. First you have to be brought through the fire. You have to just stand there in church and let God’s purifying fire burn through you. Don’t look around and think critical thoughts, judging people’s outfits or the priest’s liturgical purity or how good you think his sermon was. Let God burn you through, let the Word of God pierce and cut through you and scrub clean your filthy mind and heart. Say, “I am ready to change, O God.” Or better, pray like the publican, with his head bowed low as the Pharisee up front babbles on about all the mistakes of his flawed neighbors — “O God, thank you for not making me like these idiots.” Rather, pray: “O God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Remember your baptism in the church was a plunge into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, not into self-improvement and healing. For us healing means: die and rise. Our festal meal consists of a broken Body and spilled Blood. It’s a pledge, when we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood, a consent to the same dying and rising happening to us, giving us the chance to love God and our enemies. Give it all over, let it all go, renounce yourself and be ready to be hated by all for him. Immerse yourself again and again and again into the Divine Liturgy which plants us firmly on Golgotha.