Paying attention

Wednesday of the Ninth Week of Luke

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The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 15: 1-10.

At that time, there drew near unto Jesus all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

St. Theophan the Recluse takes our Lord’s words in the Gospel today both to comfort and to warn us. He comforts us by reminding us how God Himself, the Almighty and All-Wise, is doing everything He can at every moment for our salvation, and he warns us by reminding us that, if we keep putting off repentance…then, one day, at a time we know not, it shall be too late, and we shall not even notice that we have lost our souls:

…The Lord seeks a sinner by guiding him to repentance. He arranges everything around him so that the sinner comes to his senses and, seeing the abyss into which he has been rushing, returns. All the circumstances of life are directed in this way – all encounters with moments of sorrow and joy, even words and glances. And the inner actions of Go through the conscience and the other righteous feelings that lie in the heart never cease. How much is done to convert sinners to the path of virtue, yet sinners still remain sinners! The enemy covers them in darkness, and they think that everything is all right, and all will pass. If anxieties arise, they say, “Tomorrow I’ll stop,” but they remain in their current state. Thus day after day passes; indifference to their salvation grows and grows. A bit more and it will pass over into being hardened in sin. Who knows whether conversion will come? – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 257

There is a constant paradox running throughout the entire New Testament: Salvation is easy – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Salvation is hard – “The kingdom of heaven is taken by violence.” “Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth to salvation, and few find it.” “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.”

Salvation is easy. Salvation is hard. Both are true.

Salvation is easy, because it is the work of God Himself, Who is All-Wise, All-Good, and All-Loving, and, moreover, is All-Powerful. His infinite and perfect wisdom is not only truth but also enables our weak minds to know His truth. His infinite and perfect goodness is not only the true good but also strengthens our weak wills to fulfill His commandments. His perfect, boundless, and eternal love is not only worthy of all love in return, but it also inspires our hearts with an unquenchable desire to behold the beauty of His countenance. He desires our salvation infinitely more than we do, and He has done, is doing, and will do everything for us. He is everything to us.

Salvation is hard, because God, desiring our free friendship, allows us to make it so if we so choose. Our first parents made it hard for all of us by the ancestral sin. And, despite the fact that Christ has overcome their sin in Himself and has given us every grace to overcome it in ourselves, we go on making it hard for ourselves, because we choose not to pay attention to what God has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He shall most certainly do for us in the future and in eternity, if only we let Him. We choose to imprison ourselves in a dark cave, the incomprehensible blindness of fallen human nature.

“Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts,” says David in the Psalms. Today, this moment, let us violently extract our minds from their infantile fascination with the vain and absurd epiphenomena of man’s vain strivings and lift them up above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Do something, anything: Read a psalm, say a prayer rope, take a walk and bless the Lord for His glorious creation. Kneel in repentance and cry to God to awaken you from the deadly state of insensibility, which the Fathers teach us is more dangerous even than great and obvious sins. He awaits you with love. Run to Him with all daring trust in His mercy.

How delightful! To be with God. What are we waiting for?

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