In our Christian living it is not so much thinking about God, nor His Son nor the Holy Spirit, it is something immeasurably greater, this is to be with God, to experience Him as the core of our being, and to experience the kind of God in which we believe. Thus Christian living is about manifesting those traits which Jesus did and taught about. If we want to know what these traits are we only have to meditate on the Beatitudes. These are the traits or virtues which belong wholly or in part to those who are members of the kingdom of God. We know from our Baptism that when we were made an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, that kingdom is implanted within us. So theoretically all Christians in their everyday living should manifest those virtues outlined by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the of Kingdom of Heaven."
.This kingdom of God is seated in our very hearts. Thus from our inner being there should come forth mercy and compassion, purity and meekness, humility and joy, forgiveness and tolerance, poverty and perseverance, as well as seeking with all our hearts the establishment of peace, justice and truth in this world. Above all His kingdom is about love and service.
"Mercy is a work which springs from the goodness of God, and it will continue to work until sin is no longer allowed to molest faithful souls." When sin no longer has licence, then the work of mercy will cease," said Julian.
Let us never see mercy as meaning "emotional pity" or simply being kind or practical to someone in time of need. Mercy can only be expressed by a willingness to forget self, and to make the deliberate and conscious effort to identify ourselves with others. As William Barclay says. "mercy is the reverse of self-centredness; it is something which those who concentrate on themselves can never possess in their hearts and can never show in their lives. It is the antithesis of selfishness. It is the attitude of the man for whom the needs of others are more clamant than his own, and the sorrows of others more poignant than his own."
In her novel "To Kill a Mockingbird, set in the deep south in America, Harper Lee has Atticus tell his daughter, Scout, that to understand any one, that is, to show mercy, she must get under another person's skin; she must live inside of that person so that she can feel and think as that person does. This is the Incarnation, is it not?
God is infinitely merciful towards us for our many sins committed over and over again if we sincerely repent them. Indeed mercy is the only claim we can make upon God.
That same mercy extended to us, must in turn be extended by us to all our brethren. Often it is much easier to be merciless than merciful, but this breeds contempt, pride and anger which work against the Holy Spirit. Being merciful on the other hand involves love, understanding and commitment, but it also leads to tenderness and gentleness. Loving our brothers and sisters means that we accept him/her for what he/she is, and knowing that he/she is just as fragile as I am.
When we are merciful we "have the same attitude towards our neighbour as God has, to think of men as God thinks of them, to feel for men as God feels for them, to act towards men as God acts towards them."
Mercy flows when we live out the great Commandment of Jesus Christ, and follow the example of Christ who always overflowed with mercy to all who approached him. Nobody was seen as a nuisance or an intruder; all received attention, and blessed abundantly. - a sober lesson for us who often help, not through mercy but from necessity.
Mercy can also be expressed as kindness. This is the most used meaning in Scripture. God's mercy towards the Israelites is this outgoing help from his heart when they were in need. (Ps.86)
Through His mercy God has kept His covenant (ps 89. God is rich in His mercy St. Paul tells us (Eph.2:4)
The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
Closely aligned to mercy is
COMPASSION or what I like to describe as SENSITIVITY.
This means being aware of others and their needs. In a sense it is all about anticipation. It is often said in a community of monks or nuns nobody asks or signals for anything at the dining table as each is expected to sense the needs of the other.
Perhaps we are rather good at sensing the material needs of others, but how sensitive are we to the emotional and spiritual needs of our brethren? Often there is a great poverty, loneliness and emptiness within many a soul. How often have you seen an old person sitting alone in a coffee shop, or taking the dog for a walk? Often these people are crying out for someone to listen to them. Sit with them while you have your coffee or walk with them, and let them pour out their heart to you; you do not have to say very much, except to show you care. That means a lot to them. What a wonderful way to spend our day to know we have brought some cheer and comfort into the lives of another, be it for such a short time.
Purity of anything means of the highest, of the finest, without blemish, without compromise, uncontaminated, unadulterated. When our Lord taught about purity it was spiritual and not ritual. It was what was in a man that defiled him. Thus it is not the outward action but the inward intention that is the real crux. Outwardly a person can be seen as being very virtuous, but inwardly full of sin. That is why our Lord condemned the Pharisees.
What purity means for us is that everything we do is done spontaneously without any thought of gain, recognition, worth or self-appraisal. All is done completely for God and for others. The self is entirely omitted. There is never any thought of pride, arrogance, desire, vanity or superiority.
Even an action which looks absolutely generous and even sacrificial may have in it some residue of self-satisfaction, of self-display, and of pride, even when we are scarcely conscious that it is so. In even the finest things there may be a lurking taint of pleasing self and courting the approval of men, even when we do not know it, until we rigorously search our own hearts. ... There is no way to the purity that [Jesus demands] ... other than death of self and the springing to life of Christ within the heart.
It is sobering to recall that it is only by having this purity that we shall be able to see and know God. Purity of living challenges us to ask each day are we knowing God more by being more open about ourselves and realistic about our intentions.
The man whose heart has been cleansed in Jesus and by the Spirit of God, the man whose motives, thoughts, emotions, desires are absolutely [unadulterated], will be given nothing less than the vision of God.
Of course that vision will be blurred for a time on our earthly pilgrimage, but when time is lost in eternity it will be fully revealed to us.
Following on from purity is
Meekness like so many of the virtues of the kingdom is often seen by the worldly in a very negative light. Hence a meek person is often described as being spineless, submissive and subservient. However a true meek person is a far cry from this, even though true enough meekness does involve being subservient, sometimes. I want us to see it as a trait which covers both ends of a spectrum - gentleness and strength. Gentleness always denotes a caring towards others, and a willingness to see others as more important than oneself. Strength denotes the sense of discipline not to give in to our sudden surge of anger, hatred, violence or vanity. Yet this act of self-control can only come from God. Self-control is not a show of our own mastery but that Christ is living more and more in us.
The whole meaning of meekness is truly shown in the Passion of our dear Lord - He cared for those who condemned and beat Him mercilessly, and bore all His suffering and torment without a murmur. It illustrated true obedience to His Father's will. He asks us "to learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart."
Meekness is closely aligned with humility.
Apart from love, the virtue of humility is preached more than any other in the New Testament, and by the Fathers and Mystics of successive generations. Our Lord's life demonstrated humility from the cradle to the cross, as did His blessed Mother. If you want to meditate on humility any time, simply use the Magnificat or the Mysteries.
Humility is essentially giving worth where it is due. If we acknowledge that all we have in goods and talents come from God then we automatically give Him the praise for whatever we have. We give God His worth because He is the source of all creativeness. This enables us in turn to rejoice with our brethren in their achievements and to see them as equals. Yet how often are we tempted and even succumb to being proud and boastful about our own achievements. Worse still we sometimes gloat over them even to the detriment of others. Sobering then to think of St. James' words: "Humble yourself in the sight of God." Each day is a wonderful opportunity to grow in emptying ourselves of self, which is pride, the cause of the first Adam's fall, and the opposite to humility.
Our constant prayer should be similar to that of the psalmist:
O Lord, my heart is not proud,
my eyes are not harsh;
I am not intent on great things
or achievements (ps. 131)
Mother Theresa has said that "humility is being honest". That is, humility is recognizing ourselves for what we really are, as God has made us. There is no pretension, no facade, but plain honesty. We should willingly accept the person God has made. Yet for many this is hard to do. If this is the case, ask yourself, can Love which became Man Himself ever create something unlovable and worthless? Yes, humility is living comfortably with ourselves as we are - moles and all - because we know that the Potter will mould this clay as He will.
Those who are truly humble live in poverty
We all know poverty means not possessing, and during the recession of the last few years we have witnessed much material poverty. However when our Lord spoke of poverty or being poor, he meant not only possessing few earthly possessions but acknowledging our spiritual poverty. This means in terms of our Christian living, that we fully acknowledge that without God and the gifts and blessings He freely bestows on us, we have nothing - we are absolutely destitute. The poor person trusts completely in God, knowing that He will provide what he/she needs. That person knows his/ her complete dependency upon God, and not on self and worldly possessions.
Another of the great virtues is
which flows from mercy and leads to forgiveness. No two people are exactly the same, even in a family. We are all different, with varied opinions and tastes on all kinds of things. We also live in a world to-day where most cities and countries are cosmopolitan. That means there are different cultures rubbing shoulders all the time. Tolerance means we are prepared to recognize that others think and express themselves differently from us, and we are prepared to learn from these peoples, and that indeed our lives are made richer by our sharing ideas and opinions. We all have so much to learn from one another. Tolerance turns us to awareness and away from condemnation; to love rather than hatred, to understanding rather than bigotry.
Tolerance flows into
How often should I forgive? Until 70 times 7 said Jesus to Peter.
One of the barriers to loving others is that we have never been able to forgive them for what they are, or for what wrong we feel they have done to us. "Charity will forgive not only seven times but seventy times seven."
It is no accident that forgiveness is described as the heart of the Gospel, and the backbone of being a Christian. In the Orthodox Church, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday is called the Sunday of Forgiveness. This surely emphasizes that before we seek forgiveness for our own sins sacramentally we should beforehand mend our broken relationships with whom we live and work. This means we not only forgive others but we seek forgiveness from them for our sins against them. Christ died for all of us and so all mankind shares in His act of forgiveness though penitence. We must never forget that our Lord's ministry was and is to call sinners to repentance; that is, each one of us. He wants us to know that we are always in need of forgiveness which He wants to lavish upon us when are truly penitent for our sins.
To those who say "I can forgive, but not forget", I say it is not true. Once we truly forgive, we forget because we have let that bundle go, and laid it at the foot of the cross. If we find ourselves still carrying it, then we have not truly forgiven.
Forgiveness means welcome, welcome back and rejoicing and celebrating in the power of forgiveness which is the kernel of the parable of the Prodigal Son. If I sin so easy against God and man, so too will others. So, when someone has committed sin, don't judge but surround that person with love and pray for healing through his repentance and forgiveness of sin. There is no point in asking for forgiveness for ourselves unless we are prepared to forgive others, and forget. "If your heart tells you that you forgave your brother, doubt not but God does likewise forgive you". As Christians we set the example of forgiveness and mercy, without which there can be no reconciliation in this world.
However if we find it difficult to forgive another person, one sobering thought should be how often must I grieve my Lord by my sins, by many sins. Is my brother's sin any worse than mine? Is the speck in my brother's eye any worse than the beam in my eye? We know that our Lord through His own temptations in the desert is able to be more compassionate towards us. In like manner "we ... having been tempted ourselves, ... [should] look upon others' defects with a more passionate regard" and imitate our Lord's compassion. That is why using the sacrament of penance regularly is so healthy as it enables us to see ourselves as God sees us and sometimes it is not very nice, and perhaps no nicer than the person we rub shoulders with every day. By acknowledging that, we should be more kindly disposed towards others.
There is always true joy when forgiveness flows forth because only then can peace be savoured.
At each Eucharist at the Pax we offer each other a sign of peace. That peace should be genuinely extended to all our fellow Christians. Then it must overflow to our commitment for peace in this world. This means in effect we have to work towards peace and harmony amongst all people living in this world. There is no such thing as a "just" war. Anything which destroys peace is against Christ. "Those who live by the sword, will perish by the sword." It also means we bring peace where we live, in our homes and families. If the pax at the daily Mass has any significance, it must be taken out into everyday situations.
Yet for many peace is seen in a negative light - a cessation from war and troubles or avoiding disputes or conflicts.
"Peace at any price" is just as negative as we all know Chamberlain discovered! Appeasing another is not peace, it is simply giving in. Like all the beatitudes, peace is a positive thing. It is interesting to note that our Lord did not refer to the "peace-lovers" but to the "peace-makers". Isn't there a world of difference? We can all think wouldn't peace be lovely? How marvellous it would be to live in a world where there were no wars. Yet there will always be war, factions, divisions and hate because we live in a fallen world. But what we have to try to mend is not so much the wars on another shore but in our own midst. To be a peace-maker within our families, at work, in our parishes, committee meetings etc. When we know that something is wrong in any or indeed all of these we have to act; but to act as Jesus would, in a healing and not a bull-dozing way. Peace means seeking the well-being of all.
The Hebrew word "shalom" does not only mean "peace" but also "right relationships". As a Christian it is only when we have right relationships with God, with our neighbour and ourselves that we can truly experience peace in that sense that our Lord gives it. No person is closer to God than he who labours for true reconciliation and healing for all, in other words a true peace-maker. How important peace is in the life of a Christian is brought home by St. Paul. How often does he greet his people in Rome, Corinth, Phillipi, Ephesus etc with words like this:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ep. 1:2) Perhaps there would be more peace in the world if we greeted everyone in like manner!
"The soul is immediately at one with God, when it is truly at peace in itself," so wrote Julian of Norwich many years after Paul.
So pray that Jerusalem has peace
Peace upon your friends!
May peace be seen in your walls
and peace in your homes.
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will pray for your peace;
for the sake of the House of the Lord,
I will pray that you be blessed. (ps. 122)
When we truly forgive we know not only peace but joy in our lives
One of the true marks of being a Christian is being filled with holy joy - that feeling which swells up inside and overflows into our everday living. As Christians one of the ways that joy is expressed is in our praises and thanks to God, both in public and private worship.
I will shout for joy ...
for my life is redeemed:
therefore my tongue, all day long
will sing your great love?
Our worship is a time to be full of joy. Our joy joins with that of the angelic hosts which surround the altar at every Eucharist. Our attending the Sunday Eucharist should be like the attitude of the Jews as they ascended the temple singing that glorious psalm:
I was glad when they said to me:
We will go into the house of the Lord.
For the Christian there is also the joy of expectancy to see what blessing we shall receive each day as well as waiting for the glorious moment when we shall at last see Him. Then our Lord Jesus Christ will reveal to us all the joys of heaven.
My soul is pining and sighs
with longing for the House of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing: Joy!
to You O Living God
PERSEVERANCE AND FAITHFULNESS
There are times, aren't there when we feel that living out the Christian life is too demanding - for one thing there never seems to be a moment for ourselves. It is at such times we need to recall and be reassured of our Lord's words that those who persevere to the end will know true joy.
Perseverance means being faithful to our Lord through all things and in every situation, even in those situations which are unexpectedly thrust upon us and change the course of the day.
Of course the only virtue which makes all the above possible is LOVE loving God and our neighbour. Without love we have not come out of the kindergarten on our pilgrimage journey. How right was Augustine when he said, "Love God and do what you like" because if we love God we shall want to do what pleases Him, and that is to keep His precepts.
All in all possessing these traits of the kingdom of God make us holy people.
We are indeed called to be holy people. Sometimes we have a misconstrued idea of holiness. When we say that Christians are called to a life of holiness, it does not mean going around with gloomy faces and a so-called pious or judgmental attitude. It has everything about being natural and accepting ourselves and others as we are and joyfully acknowledging God's presence in every person and situation. Thus our holiness of living means sanctifying the ordinary and mundane. It is living out the meaning of the Incarnation.
This was evident in the life of St. Patrick and what has become known as Patrick's Breastplate:
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie,
Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of the Christ,
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.