3 October OS 2015 – Friday of the Twentieth Week after Pentecost/2nd Week of St. Luke, St. Dionysios the Areopagite
In today’s reading from the Apostolos, St. Paul declares his desire to know Christ alone and the power of His resurrection:
Brethren: I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) – Philippians 3: 8-19
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” What a noble soul, enflamed with total love for Christ, with the desire to know Him and please Him alone! We must pray always to have such single-mindedness, such wholeheartedness. Our chief problem is that, to the contrary, our minds are fragmented and our hearts not whole.
Where does this come from, the fragmentation of the mind, which causes us so much distress, which disables us for useful spiritual, intellectual, practical, and social behavior? It is both an old problem – one might say the oldest problem – and in some ways a new problem, relating to our peculiar circumstances in time and place.
The oldest problem is the Ancestral Sin. God created the minds of our First Parents to be whole – pure mirrors reflecting perfectly the Divine Truth, shining continually with the pure-hearted contemplation of the endless perfections of the Divine Nature and the beauties of creation. With the Fall, man broke this mirror into thousands of little pieces, each of which reflects some part of the divine light of truth, whether relating to God or to creation, but in a distorted way, and disconnected from all the other parts.
This mirror of the intellect regains its primal wholeness and clarity by the grace of Baptism, but the impressions of the fallen world and fallen society break it and smudge it again. It experiences the Christian life as a continuous struggle to restore this brokenness. It experiences prayer and spiritual reading as the struggle for attention.
Our circumstances today aggravate the problem. Countless demands on and enticements for our attention surround us, and very few people today can go through the day without being exhausted by thousands of competing impressions and without being drawn into a virtual world of unreality. For our sanity – much less our salvation – it is urgent and imperative that we cut out the distractions that are in our power to avoid.
Try this: Make a list of the distractions you are forced to deal with by your real duties, whether at work or in your family, and then make a second list of the unnecessary distractions you choose, because you cannot resist turning on this or clicking on that, looking at this and listening to that. Make a resolve and ask God to help you to carry it out: Go through one day without paying any attention to the items on the second list. At the end of the day, note how you think and feel. It will likely be a change from your state of mind and feelings on most days, and the change will be for the better. Say your prayers, and then next morning wake up and say your prayers, and then…do it all over again. Being calm and focused may actually become habit-forming.
The purpose of all this is not to “improve oneself” and “become a more efficient person.” Life is not a self-improvement project, and the saints often do not strike people as being very efficient. The purpose is for the mind to be able to pray during the day, for the heart to be attracted to what the mind is thinking about, and for us thereby to become whole again, as our First Parents were in Paradise.
O Holy Apostle Paul, whose mind was given over completely to the thought of Christ, pray for us!