I no longer live, but Christ lives in me

Sermon from the spiritual father of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth

God's grace is bestowed on us at Church by virtue of God's love for every human being whom He had created in His image; His grace has a powerful impact on our lives - it acts like a fire that eats away all the things that are superfluous, passing and sinful. But this transformation is neither quick not painless. When a surgeon cuts out a tissue or removes a tumour he uses anaesthesia to protect the patient from the pain. In His act of cleansing, God uses no anaesthesia. We have to humble ourselves, for the sake of our neighbour, and for the sake of God, however unwilling we may be to do so. We may want to see things our way, but we are brought to realise that our view is incorrect because of the sin that is living within us, and because I we are too proud and selfish to admit it. The ultimate result of such healing and cleansing, which happens at church, is for us to be able to say: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2: 20). This is certainly a severe trial for the sinful man. We stumble and we fall into despondency, we grumble and we try to find excuses... Indeed, we go to great lengths to evade God's truth, but God's truth still acts on our weak spots like red hot iron.

The Scripture teaches us things that are difficult to accept because of man's sinful nature. How could one possibly love one's enemies? Why should someone who hates me be loved in return? How can one be expected to give to others, when he has so very little to begin with? Indeed, we have come into the habit of playing the game of give and take. We play the sport of making trade contracts and deals in ways that maximise our gains. But the scripture challenges us to reject the cost and benefit calculation and overcome our selfish selves. To the mortal, this looks like nothing less than death at the cross. Indeed, we are called upon to take up the cross, and to  crucify the flesh with its passions and desires ( Gal. 5: 24).

We tend to view the 'passions' as a product of sin, when in fact its meaning is not limited to being profligate, but also includes selfishness, putting one's own desires and gains first, and touting one's 'spirituality'. Passion would cause us to say to others: 'I am such a spiritual person, and I expect some acknowledgement for that'. When in fact we should be saying: 'I do not possess anything. A am worthless!" The greater the gift of God's love bestowed on me, the greater my understanding that I own absolutely nothing. But passions also represent an aspect of God's love: ... where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Romans 5: 20). In this way, God turns upside down the habitual hierarchy of individual deserts and positions on the ladder of spirituality. Looking at a nun, some might observe: "She has joined a monastery, and is wearing monastic clothing. How brave! How impressive!". Not necessarily. On the other hand, a vagrant on a city square may be far ahead of everyone else because he has peace in his soul and is praying for the world. All too often, all we can see is an outward appearance, but we rarely care to examine what is concealed underneath. However, being a Christian means leading an inner life with God. [Purity] does not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles (1 Peter 3: 3). Indeed, wearing a long beard does not make one a philosopher!

Hence, my friends, let us learn, before it is too late, to lead our inner lives and to de-emphasise our importance. When we have accomplished something, we will often make a point of letting the whole world know how selfless, hard-working we have been, and how we have shined as exemplary Christians. But this is not the way to go. We should all know very well that we are not as good as we would like to appear. It would be a good idea for many to carry with them a mirror, and look into it every time they become overwhelmed with pride: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? What a fine way to remember the old story that is filled with great wisdom!

But real life is more than a story. In life, we often try to evade God and hide away from Him despite having let Him into our lives; we ask him to fulfil our multiple desires - we want Him to do this and do that... Sometimes, we are not even clear about what exactly we want. But there is a simple way to find out - by putting ourselves to the test.

At some stage in my life, I worked as a freight handler, and there were many people around who used to promise a lot of things. But the truth of their words was tested by the arrival of a truckload of cement. Immediately, some would begin to complain of ill health, others would say that they were not in the mood. Only a handful would remain on board. They would be the ones who were not afraid of hard work and had the will to carry it through. Likewise, there are a lot of things that we might say in our daily lives, a lot of hopes and expectations that we might raise; but many would have a complete change of heart when it comes to making an effort. 'This is just too hard,' they might say. 'I am not ready for that yet'. What is it that they find so hard? To sin? Sinning is hard indeed, because it makes you feel bad afterwards. But what's truly easy is doing the right thing, because this brings the joy of living as a gift from God. The main lesson for us is that we should aspire to denounce sin, even though it is living within us. Let us say to ourselves: although sin may be living within me, I am not going to live with it. Sin is looking to seep through in my speech, looks and mind. But I am not living with it; I am living with God; I am living a life of purity.

Let us all strive to live pure and beautiful lives, the lives that match the splendour of the rich colours of this autumn -  red, yellow, and purple... The Lord has bestowed on Earth His Beauty and Grace: 'covering Yourself with light as with a garment,  (Psalms 103: 2). Man, too, should be filled with beauty, with the Holy Spirit living within him. Every human being is an icon. If I keep keep saying to myself 'I am an icon', would I be letting into me any evil feelings or thoughts? No. Instead, I would be giving to others, and ask for nothing in return. But living for myself, I am no longer an icon and not even a picture, but only a caricature of man. So let us all become icons. Recovery of ourselves as icons, however, would take a lot of work: we will need to restore everything within us that had been distorted and destroyed by sin. Icon painters who restore old icons know this very well. This is true for every one of us. We are on a quest to become a holy icon and embrace eternal life. Do not accept anything less than that. The devil will do you no good. It will only deceive you. So let us say, as Jesus did, when Satan was tempting him:  "Away from me, Satan" (Matthew 4: 10). Let us all remember and repeat Jesus' words.

O Lord! Glory to You! O Lord! Glory to You! O Lord! Glory to You!




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