Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Beyond the 10 Commandments: Practical Aids for the Spiritual Life

During Lent and Holy Week we are exposed to some of the most fundamental statements of our faith: The 10 Commandments (also known as the 10 Words or Decalogue) and the Baptismal Covenant. In the spirit of these foundational texts, and as resource for living them out, here are some other time-tested tools for living the Christian faith in daily life.

The Seven Capital Virtues

Humility: To live in right relationship with God and others; to be grounded in reality
Charity: Generosity through knowledge that all we have is a gift from God
Chastity: practicing a life of purity, free from corruption of self or others
Patience: a life of peacefulness and actions promoting peace
Temperance: practicing self-control and moderation, judging prudently
Kindness: charity, compassion, and friendship with an unselfish heart
Diligence: fortitude and steadfastness in work and service with personal integrity

The Seven Capital Sins

Pride: The lack of humility befitting a creature of God
Greed: too great a desire for money or worldly goods
Lust: impure and unworthy desire for some created thing or experience
Anger: unworthy irritation and lack of self-control
Gluttony: the habit of eating or drinking too much
Envy: jealousy of some other person’s perceived happiness
Sloth/Accidie: the choice to avoid God’s claim on our life to worship God and serve others.

Nine Ways of Participating in Another’s Sin
At the Great Vigil of Easter we definitively renounced “Satan, all evil powers, and all sinful desires.” The Christian must struggle in an unseen inner battle with these forces throughout life, as well as with the sinfulness around us. The following is a list of tools Christians may use to bring this wider struggle to consciousness. Each of these actions or omissions is a form of direct participation in what we have renounced before God:

By counsel (encouraging others to sin)
By command (using one’s position or authority to make others sin)
By consent (agreeing to the initiation of sinful action)
By provocation (egging another on to sin or making conditions right for sin)
By praise or flattery (encouraging another’s sin through emotional manipulation)
By concealment (hiding a sin so it may be committed freely)
By partaking (sharing in the sin, thus giving license and approval)
By silence (not speaking or acting in appropriate ways against sin)
By defense of the sin committed (actively trying to turn sin into a blessing)

The Chief Aids to Penitence
These are the elements of living the Gospel life (based on Christ’s own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount):

Performance of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy

The Chief Spiritual Works of Mercy
Those actions tend the spiritual needs of others; the first three may require special instruction; the final four are the obligation of all Christian faithful.

To instruct those without spiritual knowledge
To counsel those afflicted by doubt
To admonish those committing sin
To comfort the sorrowful
To suffer wrongs patiently
To forgive injuries
To pray for the living and the dead

The Chief Corporal Works of Mercy
Those actions that tend to the bodily needs of others, expressing God’s love and the justice of the Kingdom

To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To ransom captives
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To bury the dead

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
These gifts are given in Baptism and strengthened in Confirmation.

Fear of God

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
These are the characteristics (derived from Sacred Scripture) of people who are living in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. If one experiences growth in these areas—however small—one is truly showing forth the fruits of the Kingdom. If these characteristics are diminishing or absent, it means we are living according to the “spirit of the world.”


The Theological Virtues
These three virtues are provided by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 as the bedrock characteristics of all true Christian theology and

Charity (Love)

The Principal Feasts
To be observed by participation by a Christian in the Holy Eucharist (all parishes should make every effort to observe each of these); if your parish does not observe a Principal Feast, you should encourage the priest in charge to do so, or attend a neighboring parish that does.

Easter Day
Ascension Day
The Day of Pentecost
Trinity Sunday
All Saints’ Day—Nov. 1 (or the Sunday following)
Christmas Day—Dec. 25
The Epiphany—Jan. 6

The Sunday Obligation
Each Sunday is a Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A Christian should observe each Sunday by participation in the Holy Eucharist whenever possible, the exception being an absence worthy of a blessing (sickness, travel, performance of a work of mercy, &c.). When unable to attend the Sunday Eucharist, it is advised that a person make a Spiritual Communion (found in the "Eucharist" section of this Blog) and attend the Eucharist at the next opportunity.

Fast Days (BCP p. 17)
The Church recognizes the following days of absolute fast (excepting for health reasons):
Ash Wednesday
Good Friday

Days of Special Devotion
The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and

Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week,
except the feast of the Annunciation.

Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the
Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter
seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday (details about the observance of a Friday devotion may be found elsewhere on this Blog).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saving the Church

‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
Luke 6.38

How often we hear people speak of needing to “save the Church,” as if the Church were an automobile company about to go bankrupt, or a political campaign nearing collapse! The recurrent theme of “how we can save the Church” is one of the strongest signs that our era is uniquely unable to understand what the Church is, and the mystical character of its life.

When we speak about “saving the Church” we are really saying that it is a purely human creation—ours to create and ours to destroy. To believe this is really to practice an unacknowledged atheism. The Church doesn’t need us to save it; it saves us. In simple terms, the visible Church is Christ’s risen mystical Body here on earth, and it will remain until the consummation of all things at the end of the ages. Until then, it is to live and share the Gospel freely and truly.

The Church was not born in a boardroom but in a place of prayer. It did not start by a vote but by a gift from God. It is not kept going by the limited efforts of mortals but by communion with an inexhaustible source: the Holy Trinity. 

The Church is a partnership between humans and Christ. We are the branches; he is the Vine. We are the members; he is the Head. We are never in charge, but we are always responsible for using the gift of New Life in Christ properly, creatively, and lovingly. For this to happen, we must have the “mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16) 

When we have this mind, Christ is living and working through us, and the Church is being and doing what it is meant to.  We stop being concerned with “saving the Church,” and start thinking about how we—the Church—live out the Gospel. We want to do this well, to please Our Lord. We want to do this creatively and with joy. We need a clear way to think about this, because there are so many complexities, so many grey areas in life.

Perhaps one of the best ways to determine if we truly have the mind of Christ is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 6:38. Christ tells us that we are to be judged by the measure of our own generosity. If we give of ourselves deeply on all levels—our love, our concern, our time, as well as our finances and other resources—then we are following Christ, who gave everything “for the life of the world” (John 6:51) so that we might share in His life eternally. 

We need to look at the practical side of our life, such as our daily and weekly schedules, to see what they say about us. Are we being generous with God in time spent in prayer, study, and service? Do we hurry back home and close the doors of our life to everything and everyone except an electronic screen? What measure of our life are we sharing with others—for by that measure we are and will be judged, and by the measure of its members is the Church judged in each era. It is not in some consumer “product” or easily-calculated form of “success” that the Church is measured, but in the reality of its communion in God’s active, creative love.

No one else may decide this matter for us. We all must look deeply within ourselves in prayer to see the truth. Even if we find there a certain lack or a shallowness of spirit, the good news is that God is awaiting the moment when we turn to him in humble simplicity and say: “Fill up the emptiness, Lord!” The Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism will direct us to live lives of balance, wholeness, and mercy in such a way that we acquire the mind of Christ, living with both exterior generosity and inner simplicity. It is never too late to seek this help and guidance. It is the one true power we possess: to open or close the gates of our heart.

The Church knows times when it is stronger or weaker on earth; it experiences seasons when it is more or less faithful in its institutional life. There are moments when the observable Church shines with a radiance pointing directly to Christ, and other moments when, sadly, it seems largely to point to the brokenness of humans. In those weak moments, we are tempted to think we must “save” the Church…but thinking this way only points more emphatically to the wrong thing. 

Each day every true Christian recommits to this simple and mysterious fact: Christ is Lord, and through our cooperation, he is saving the Church eternally 
for its beautiful and holy work. By acquiring Christ’s mind, by living generous lives and walking consciously and humbly in the presence of God, we share what we have received—and the Church is “saved” once more by God being “all in all.”

Now: live this way each day, and all concerns for the Church will disappear!