Saturday, December 5, 2015

To Begin Again

It is Advent. It's time to begin again, trying to be a disciple of Christ. Here are some words to ponder from Fr. Mark in Ireland:
So many people, brought low by life’s hardships, by their own weaknesses and sins, by tragedies, illness, losses, and betrayals, come very near to despairing of so much as the possibility of beginning again. The devil himself slithers like a venomous snake through our psyches, hissing, “Why begin again? You know that you will fall again? Why begin again? It’s all wasted effort. Why begin again? You shall only fail. Why begin again? It will change nothing. Why begin again? You are fatally flawed; your hopes are illusions. You will never emerge from the wreckage you have made of your life. Why begin again? Just relax. Take it easy. Go with the flow. You’re grand just as you are. Why begin again? You’ve tried it all before. Has prayer made a difference? Why begin again?” This is devil’s tired, old discourse. He may vary the words, but he never changes his message.

Pope Saint Leo the Great has an altogether different message. He speaks in the name of Christ. He speaks in the power of the Holy Ghost. He speaks with the authority of a Truth that can neither deceive or be deceived, a Truth that is invincible and incorruptible, a Truth that is utterly reliable, a Truth upon which one can build and rebuild one’s life, though it be altogether in ruins. Saint Leo says, “If in this life, it is difficult to persevere, it is possible, nevertheless, oftentimes to begin again”. The state in which you find yourself at present matters little; what matters is the state to which Christ is calling you: the state of grace, of holiness, of communion with the Father in the consolation of the Holy Ghost.
“You”, says Saint Peter, “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people God means to have for himself; it is yours to proclaim the exploits of the God who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Time was when you were not a people at all, now you are God’s people; once you were unpitied, and now his pity is yours”. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
Pope Saint Leo the Great also speaks to us of the necessity of moderation, of using created goods in a measured way, with restraint, avoiding all excess. Saint Leo speaks specifically of moderation in eating and drinking because for him, back in the 5th century, Advent was a season marked by fasting and abstinence, even as it ought to be for us today. Pope Saint Leo says:
By daily experience, beloved, it is proved that the mind’s edge is blunted by over-indulgence of the flesh, and the heart’s vigour is dulled by excess of food, so that the delights of eating are even opposed to the health of the body, unless reasonable moderation withstand the temptation and the consideration of future discomfort keep from the pleasure. (Sermon IX, On the December Fast)
What are some concrete examples of this? If I eat too much, I will feel heavy and bloated. Prayer, exercise, and study will be difficult. If I drink too much, I will find it hard to get out of bed the next day; my emotions will go from being abnormally intense to being altogether dull; my reason will be impaired. If I watch too much television, I will be disinclined to read things that require mental exertion. If I spend too much time in front of the computer, I will put myself at risk for mental fatigue which, in turn, can lead to general gloominess. Saint Leo was preaching a very practical Christian wisdom in his Advent sermon. He goes on to say:
It is the function of the soul to deny things to the body which is subject to it, and acting on its interior conviction, to keep back the outer man from things unseemly. Then will the soul, more often free from bodily lusts, sit at leisure in the inner temple of the mind, meditating on Divine Wisdom. There, away from all the noise of earthly cares, it may in silence enjoy holy thoughts and eternal delights. (Sermon IX, On the December Fast)
Moderation in food, drink, sleep, talking, and use of the social media are necessary for any man who desires to give himself over to watchfulness in prayer. Drunkenness, heaviness, and indigestion are impediments to prayer. So too are an unrestrained use of technology, an immoderate use of the social media, or any other compulsion, addiction or excess. (Read more.)

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