A thought for the day from St Athanasius

Like many people I have found the images in CharlieHebdo which mock religion, and in particular Christianity, somewhat difficult and troubling. The following words of St Athanasius are, however, both a help and a comfort:

Come now, blessed one and true lover of Christ, let us, with the faith of our religion relate things concerning the Incarnation of the Word and expound his divine manifestation to us which the Jews slander and the Greeks mock, but which we ourselves venerate, so that all the more from his apparent degradation, you may have even greater and fuller piety towards him, for the more he is mocked by unbelievers by so much he provides a greater witness of his divinity, because what human beings cannot understand as impossible, these he shows to be possible (cf. Mt 19:26), and what human beings mock as unseemly, these he renders fitting by his own goodnessand what human beings through sophistry laugh at as merely humanthese by his power he shows to be divine, overturning the illusion of idols by his own apparent degradation through the crossinvisibly persuading those who mock and disbelieve to recognise his divinity and his power.

Athanasius de Incarnatione Dei Verbi 1
tr. J. Behr (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press : 2011)

The Power of the Cross

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 
How do we live as a Church? How do we live out our faith in lives in an authentic and authoritative way? These are questions which trouble us in the Church, and so they should, for they lie at the heart of what it is to be a Christian, to follow Jesus; and they help us to understand that how we live our lives affects how we proclaim the Good News, the saving truth of Jesus Christ to the world and for the world.
It goes without saying that we, as human beings sin, we say and think and do things which estrange us from each other and from God. Recognising this is part of one might like to term Spiritual Maturity – recognising that we miss the mark, and fall short of what God wants us to be. If this was all that there was then we could quite rightly wallow in a pit of misery and regret, out of which we could never climb by our own efforts.
Thankfully the solution can be found encapsulated in this morning’s Gospel: Peter asks Our Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him – seven? Jesus reply, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’ looks back to the establishment of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8 – ‘You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.’ The jubilee of the Old Covenant is made real in Jesus – here is the forgiveness and the renewal for which Israel longs. It is radical, and powerful, and can transform us, and the world.
Jesus explains his message of forgiveness with the use of a parable, that of the dishonest servant: he owes a debt which he cannot pay, and begs for the chance to try. Yet, when faced with a debtor of his won, he fails to exhibit the mercy, the kindness which has been shown to him. For this he is rightly and justly punished, to show us who hear the parable that as we beg God to forgive our sins, so we need to forgive the sins of others.
It really is that simple, it is why when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray he says ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. As Christians this is how we pray, but these cannot simply be words that we say with our lips, they need rather to be actions in our lives – we need to live out the forgiveness which we have received. Thus the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s healing love can be poured out upon the world – to restore our human nature, to heal our wounds, and to build us up in love, for our own sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom.
We see this forgiveness in Paul’s Letter to the Romans – here are people learning not to judge others, learning to live as people of love, freed from all that hinders our common life together. If we consider for a second the fact that for three centuries Christians were persecuted for their faith – they were sentenced to death for preferring Christ to the ways of the world, and yet they were not angry, but rather lived out the love and the forgiveness which they had received, it was this powerful witness which brought others to believe and follow Christ.
We have to follow their example and try to live authentic lives together, forgiving each other, and living in love – putting aside the petty rivalries, the squabbles, the slights, all the little everyday annoyances. For how can we ask God for forgiveness and not be ready, willing and able to show the same forgiveness to our brothers and sisters? We would be hypocrites: more to be pitied than blamed for failing to grasp the fact the heart of the Gospel is love, and failing to live this truth out in our lives.
That is why we celebrate the Cross of Christ – the simple fact that for love of us Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon himself, and suffered and died for us, to show that there was no length to which God would not go to demonstrate once and for all what love and forgiveness truly mean. It is our only hope, the one thing that can save us from ourselves, from that which divides, and wounds, which separates from each other and from God.

It may seem utterly ridiculous that the Gospel promises unlimited forgiveness to the penitent, but how can we learn to forgive others without first coming to terms with the fact that we are forgiven. The slate is wiped clean, but this does not mean we can sit back and say ‘I’m alright Jack’ – we cannot be complacent, instead we are humble knowing that we rely upon God for dealing with things. Sin matters, it matters so much that Christ died for it, and rose again, to show us that as the Church we are to have new life in him. The Kingdom is here, now, amongst us – it is up to us to live it, as a community of truth and reconciliation, showing that same costly love which our Lord exhibits upon the Cross, and proclaiming that same truth to the world.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on Forgiveness

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these  two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 

Metropolitan Anthony on Forgiveness

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to receive it, to accept it.

We must consent to be forgiven by a daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and be forever grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing reintegrating power.

We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not  only do they not belong together, but they are mutually exclusive. to wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory.

Meditations on a Theme, Oxford: Mowbrays 1972:104-6

A thought for the day from S. Isaac of Nineveh

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the Cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake’ (Jn 3:16). This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes, if he had had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should draw near him freely, by our own mind’s love.

A thought for the day

From the Jerusalem Catecheses

The bread of Heaven and the cup of salvation 

On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.” Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.

Once, when speaking to the Jews, Christ said: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you. This horrified them and they left him. Not understanding his words in a spiritual way, they thought the Saviour wished them to practise cannibalism.

Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the Word, to the sanctification of the soul.

Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that by contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.